Tag Archive: Community Baptist Church Elmendorf Texas

Hearing the “Voice of God”

hearing the voice of god

Spend enough time around Evangelicals and you will learn that not only do they talk to God, they also hear God talk to them. In any other setting “hearing” voices will land you in the hospital on a 72-hour psych hold, but if the voice being heard is GOD, then hearers of this silent utterance are considered sane, rational beings. Evangelicals believe God not only speaks to them through the words in the Bible, he also audibly, yet silently, speaks to them during prayer and meditation and at random moments throughout the day. Evidently, the Christian God is able to carry on millions of silent conversations with his followers at the same time. Awesome, right? Too bad, this same God is not very good at making sure everyone he is talking to is hearing the same message.

Evangelicals say they hear the voice of God, but often different Christians hear different things, often wildly contrary to what God told someone else. I noticed this particularly during church business meetings. Members were expected to pray and seek the will of God on the matter of business before the church. After, “hearing” from God, members were expected to be of one mind — Greek for “agreeing with the pastor.” As anyone who has ever attended a Baptist business meeting will tell you, unity of mind is rarely on display. If everyone is supposedly “hearing” the voice of God, why are there so many competing viewpoints? What color should we paint the auditorium, the pastor asks? Let’s seek God’s mind on the matter! You would think that God would tell everyone BLUE. Nope. God, ever the jokester, whispers to various members different colors, sowing discord among the brethren.

Years ago, I started the Somerset Baptist Church — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation in southeast Ohio. The congregation first met in an empty storefront. After a few months, we moved to what was then called the Landmark Building. We rented the entire second floor for $200 a month. One day, I was out and about and stumbled upon an old abandoned Methodist church building — five miles east of Somerset, on top of Sego Hill. I made some inquiries about the building, and found out that it was for sale. I told the congregation about my exciting find, asking that they would pray about us buying the building. After a week or so, I held a business meeting, thinking God had told congregants the same thing he told me: buy the building! Imagine my surprise when it became clear to me that the church was NOT in favor of buying the building. I was so depressed. How could they NOT hear God’s voice? I thought. Yes, the building was $20,000, a large sum for a fledgling church, but I believed God never ordered anything he didn’t pay for. Dejected, I called the Methodists and told them we wouldn’t be buying the building.

Several weeks later, the Methodists called me and asked me if the church had changed its mind about buying the building. Before I could respond, the man said, make us an offer, Bruce. I shot a quick prayer to Jesus, asking him what I should do. As sure as I am sitting here today, I heard him say, offer them $5,000. I thought, $5,000? The Methodists will never accept such a low offer. But, not wanting to disappoint Jesus, I made the $5,000 offer. The man said, we will talk it over. Sure enough, a few days later, the Methodists called to tell me that they accepted my offer! I thought, PRAISE JESUS, we are going to have our own building. All I had to do is convince the congregation that the voice they thought they heard at the business meeting was not God’s; either that, or in the intervening weeks God had changed his mind. Fortunately, the church heard MY voice, and we bought the building.

Silly story, I know, but I think it aptly illustrates the idea that God speaks to people. I wanted something — a church building — and I got my way. I heard the voice of God countless times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, and, without exception, what God was saying perfectly aligned with what I wanted, needed, or desired. God’s will be done, as Evangelicals are wont to say, was actually Bruce’s will be done. 

In late 1993, Pastor Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, extended to me an invitation to become their co-pastor. I prayed about the matter, deciding that God wanted me to stay as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. I “wanted” to move to Texas, but God said NO, or so I told myself anyway. Several weeks later, I was pondering the future of Somerset Baptist, and all of a sudden, I started crying. In that moment God spoke to me, telling me he wanted me to move my family to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. Wait a minute, didn’t God “tell” you several weeks before that he wanted me to stay in Ohio? Yes, he did, but evidently, he changed his mind. Never mind the fact that the Bible says, I am the Lord thy God and I changeth not and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I called Pat Horner and asked if the offer was still open. It was. You see, God had told them that I was going to be their co-pastor, so me — uh, I mean God — changing his mind was just confirmation to them of what he said to them. Two months later, I packed up family and worldly goods and moved to Texas. My tenure at Community lasted all of seven months — an unmitigated disaster.

Another silly story, I know, but it again illustrates how crazy it is to think God “speaks” to anyone. God didn’t tell me not to move, nor did he tell me to move. There is no God, so the only voice I was hearing was my own. The NO and YES were in my mind and reflected the struggle I was having about whether I wanted to continue pastoring Somerset Baptist Church. I spent eleven years at Somerset Baptist, living in poverty the whole time. For five years, my family and I — all eight of us — lived in a 12×60 mobile home fifty feet from the church building. I was worn out, burned out, and tired of being poor, yet I loved the congregation. What was it then that caused me to change my mind?

We heated our mobile home with coal and wood. We also heated the church and school building the same way.  We were running out of wood, so I asked a man in the church if he could get some wood for us to burn, He said, sure. Several days later, the man dumped a pickup load of wood in the parking lot and quickly left. I thought, it would have been nice if he had stacked it, but okay, he at least got the wood for us. I gathered up some of the wood, took it inside and put it in our Warm Morning stove. I quickly found out that wood was unusable — too wet and green to burn. At first, I was angry over the wet wood, but then I began to cry. This one event — not a big deal in and of itself — pushed me over the proverbial edge. I was done. Is it any surprise, then, that God changed his mind and told me he wanted me to move to Texas? A good salary and a new 14×70 mobile home awaited me. A congregation thrilled over the prospect of me being their co-pastor awaited me. A young, fast growing congregation awaited me. New challenges and opportunities awaited me. I said NO to all of this because I had a sense of loyalty to the people at Somerset Baptist. Most of them had been members for years and walked beside me as we built the church. I felt guilty over thinking about leaving them so I could have a better life; so my family would no longer have to live in poverty. But when the wet, green wood was dumped in the parking lot, my thinking changed. Enough, I thought, and God agreed with me.

Now, I am sure that my critics will pick these stories apart, suggesting that I was the problem, not God; that the voice I was hearing was self, and that if I had been more spiritual, I would have heard God’s voice and he was would have directed me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. I don’t believe that for a moment. There is no God, so I couldn’t have heard his voice. All my decisions reflected were the struggles I was having over life and the ministry. The voice I heard was my own, giving life to my wants, needs, and desires.

Bruce, I don’t care what happened in your life, I KNOW God speaks to me. How do you KNOW it is God’s voice you are hearing? What evidence can you give for such a claim? Why do God’s silent utterances to you almost always match your own wants, needs, and desires? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe the voice you are hearing is your own? Yes, the Bible contains stories about God speaking to people — from God speaking to Moses from a burning bush, to God telling Abraham to murder his son Isaac, to God speaking to the crowd at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus told his disciples: my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. How can any of us know that it is God speaking? There’s absolutely zero evidence for God speaking to anyone. Evangelicals are free to believe that they have heard the voice of God, but they can’t expect non-believers to accept their stories as true without some sort of verifiable proof.

Believing God speaks to you is a matter of faith, a faith I do not have. Most often, hearing the voice of God is harmless, but there are times when hearing his voice leads to dangerous, harmful behavior — including murdering your children and taking a twelve-year-old girl as your virgin bride. Evangelical missionaries John Allen Chau and Charles Wesco lost their lives because they believed that they had heard the voice of God commanding them to go reach the lost for Jesus. Why would God tell these men to leave their houses and lands and go to the mission field only to kill them days later? What a cruel, schizophrenic God. Or, perhaps God has nothing to do with this; perhaps the only voices these men heard were their own; perhaps their deaths rest on the shoulders of the myriad of pastors, professors, and parents who whispered in their ears about the wonders of serving God in a foreign land and the rewards that would await them if they became missionaries.

Think I am wrong? Just ask God to tell me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, Have You Ever Seen Someone Who Was Demon-Possessed?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Geoff asked: Bruce, in your many years of pastoral ministry have you ever come across what you would consider demonic possession or any strange paranormal stuff? Have you ever heard of anything that you would consider legitimate?

I had no exposure to or experience with demonic possession until the mid-1990s. Before then, I didn’t put much stock in demon possession. I thought it was an excuse used to cover up bad or bizarre behavior. In 1994, I left Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio and moved to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Community’s other pastor, Pat Horner, was a big believer in demon possession. He even believed that Christians could be oppressed by demons. This openness to all-things-demonic caused congregants to believe all sort of outlandish things. One woman thought that every time she heard a coyote howl, it was her unsaved husband. Another woman believed in generational curses; that demonic possession and oppression could be passed down from generation to generation. What I learned during the short time I was at Community was that if a pastor believed in demonic possession, so would his people. I remember in the early 1990s when I embraced Calvinism, I thought I would have mutiny on my hands, but what I found was that church members changed their beliefs to fit mine (with a few notable exceptions). Most Evangelicals believe whatever their pastor believes. Their theology is borrowed from the men who teach them. This is not surprising since Evangelicals are taught to seek out like-minded churches. What’s fellowship? It is a bunch of fellows in a boat rowing in the same direction. Diversity of belief is discouraged or condemned.

I have attended a number of charismatic churches where the “gifts of the Spirit” were supposedly in full operation. These full-gospel churches had all sorts of demonic activity going on their midst; or so they said, anyway. Again, if you are looking for demons, you will find them. There’s a religious version of McCarthyism practiced by many Evangelical pastors and churches. Here a demon, there a demon, everywhere a demon.

As an atheist, not only do I reject the notion of the existence of the Christian God, I also reject the belief that there is a tangible, real Devil. People can’t be demon possessed because there are no demons to possess them. The behaviors that are called demonic possession are either fake, learned behaviors, or signs of mental illness.

I have never seen any sort of paranormal activity. I have experienced several things for which I have no explanation. When these things happened, I attributed them to God or Satan. Now? I am content with saying, I don’t know. I take the same approach with prayer. Almost all of my “answered” prayers came from human intervention. The few I can’t explain? I don’t know, but they are not enough to convince me that there is a God. Evangelicals see God in the unexplainable, but I all see a question without, so far, an answer.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Independent Baptist Songs: The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe

julia ward howe

From time to time, I plan to post lyrics from the songs we sang in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I grew up in and pastored. Unbelievers and non-Fundamentalists might find some of these lyrics quite interesting, and, at times, funny or disturbing. Enjoy!

Today’s Independent Baptist Song is The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe. I was able to find a video of this song being sung by Squire Parsons, David Phelps, and Bill Gaither’s Homecoming Friends.

In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. One night, the song director — a man who had been born and raised in Massachusetts — asked the congregation to stand and sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Unaware the war of Northern aggression was not over, the song leader thought everyone would joining in singing. Several quite angry congregants refused to stand or sing, letting it be known that they weren’t going to sing a Yankee song. Up until that point, I had never seen anyone protest the singing of a song. Touchy, Southerners!

The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.”

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

Video Link

Wikipedia gives the history behind the song:

[George] Kimball’s battalion was dispatched to Murray, Kentucky early in the Civil War, and Julia Ward Howe heard this song [John Brown’s Body] during a public review of the troops outside Washington D.C. on Upton Hill, Virginia. Rufus R. Dawes, then in command of Company “K” of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, stated in his memoirs that the man who started the singing was Sergeant John Ticknor of his company. Howe’s companion at the review, The Reverend James Freeman Clarke, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the fighting men’s song. Staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington on the night of November 18, 1861, Howe wrote the verses to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”  Of the writing of the lyrics, Howe remembered:

“I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.” So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”

Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first published on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly of February 1862. The sixth verse written by Howe, which is less commonly sung, was not published at that time. The song was also published as a broadside in 1863 by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia.

Both “John Brown” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” were published in Father Kemp’s Old Folks Concert Tunes in 1874 and reprinted in 1889. Both songs had the same Chorus with an additional “Glory” in the second line: “Glory! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!”

Calvinist David Leach Says I Am a Morally Bankrupt Reprobate Who Hates Jesus

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994

Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

David Leach, a Fundamentalist Calvinist from Texas, recently left the following comment on a post titled Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser:

That you consider me an “ill-informed judgmental ass” will not be keeping me up nights. The moral and spiritual assessments of reprobate, morally bankrupt, angry men never moves me much. You hate Christ, why would I expect better than abuse from you? In fact, I do not. The ugliness and darkness you hid as you feigned Christian faith is no longer concealed. You dropped your disguise when via some dark inner prompting, or preference you decided to quit pretending. So, you are free (for a season) to spew your absurd and putrid nonsense as pleases you.

You say ” I want the telling of my story to be a warning,” In a small, sad way your wish is granted. You do serve as a warning. Your departure is a grim reminder of the veracity of I John 2:19. You are a warning against spiritual smugness, pretentiousness and presumption. You are an object lesson of reprobation. I shall seize on your example, as God gives opportunity – of how deceived the human heart is capable of being. This is not gloating or some childish tit-for-tat – indeed, I am grieved for you, for your family, for the sin and destruction you leave in your unholy wake. Yours is a sad, tragic story. No matter how bitter, and mean-spirited and nasty you are – I am indeed sorry for you. How dreadful will eternity be for you.

….

Finally, you indicate you and your Jesus (whoever that “Jesus” might be) got a “divorce.” Well friend, it seems to me that you and the true Jesus were never married….no matter your complaint, objection and obfuscation to the contrary.

Now know I will not again reply. I will never again visit this creepy little anti-Christian, anti-God blog. Rail against me as pleases you. Mock me among your equally pathetic God-hating companions. It’s of no consequence.

….

The Lord have mercy on your blighted soul.

In 1994, I moved from Ohio to Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. You can read about my experiences at Community in the series titled I Am a Publican and a Heathen. Pat Horner, the founder of Community, was my fellow pastor. Joe Maldonado, a former member of Community, pastored nearby at Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church. Through Pat, I became friends with Joe. Tim Conway, a man who hailed from Michigan, was a fairly new member of Community. Tim, along with his fiancée Ruby, helped me start new churches in Floresville and Stockdale, Texas. I also encouraged Tim to start preaching. Tim is now the pastor of Community Baptist Church in San Antonio.

tim conway

Tim Conway, preaching at nursing home. Conway is now pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio.

David Leach is friends with the aforementioned pastors. Evidently, he is greatly offended by me daring to tell my story; daring to write about my experiences with Community Baptist Church, Pat Horner, Joe Maldonado, and Tim Conway. Leach also doesn’t like that I labeled him an “ill-informed judgmental ass.” I stand by my comment. Leach has made no effort to read my story or attempt to understand how someone such as myself might end up where I am today. Instead, Leach has taken the few facts he thinks “knows” about me and my time at Community and has judged me wanting. As Fundamentalists are wont to do, Leach takes his rigid theological dogma, adds what he has “heard” about me, sprinkles in a few posts on this site he has bothered to read, and out of the oven comes the bullshit pie comment above.

Posts that Mention Pat Horner, Jose Maldonado, or Tim Conway

I Am a Publican and a Heathen Series

Why I Became a Calvinist Series

Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes

Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser

Taking Off the Sheep Clothes — the Musings of a Wolf

Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian

Bruce, You Were Religious, but Lost

Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes

calvin and hobbes tv 2

Last week, I wrote a post entitled, Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God? Today I want to deal with another catch-all Bible verse, Psalm 101:3:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Evangelical preachers love this catch-all verse because it allows them to demand of congregants abstinence from seeing and using things or having contact with people, churches, and ministries they have deemed “wicked.”  Whether something is wicked is determined by the pastor’s personal interpretations of the Bible, social, cultural, and religious experiences, and personal preferences. In other words, something is wicked because the pastor says it is, end of story. Since he is the man of God, the one chosen by Jesus to lead and teach the church, congregants are expected to believe and follow his “Biblical” pronouncements. If he says a certain behavior or inanimate item is wicked, then congregants are expected to nod their heads up and down and say, Amen brother, preach it!

Things labeled “wicked” are considered off-limits — Kryptonite to true Christians. Congregants, wanting to be obedient to God and his man, the pastor, bow — at least outwardly — to the subjective pronouncements of church leaders. Diversity of opinion and freedom are discouraged, if not outright forbidden. Congregants are expected to fall in line, obey, and follow Pastor Pied Piper. People who dare to think for themselves and publicly disagree with the man of God are told to either conform or leave. In some churches, non-conformity is viewed as rebellion against God’s established order. Erring congregants are brought before the church to be critiqued, judged, and disciplined. People are given two choices: excommunication or submission.

In 1994, I found myself, as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, at odds with my fellow pastor, Pat Horner. (See I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) I disagreed with Horner — the founder of the church — on a number of issues, and due to the increasing hostility of our disagreements, I decided to resign from the church and move back to Ohio. Horner informed me that I couldn’t resign and that since the church decided whether I could be a member, it was up to them to decide whether or not I could resign. I, of course, refused to obey his pronouncements. I packed up my family and our meager belongings and returned to Ohio. As we were leaving, Horner had gathered congregants together for a disciplinary meeting. The subject? What to do about the Bruce Gerencser problem. I was deemed wicked and rebellious by Horner and his sycophants, and after the “facts” were presented, the church excommunicated their co-pastor. In their minds, my refusal to play by Horner’s rules was grounds for excommunication. To this day, the church continues to consider me a heathen. My current atheistic beliefs and lifestyle are proof to them that excommunicating me was the right thing to do. Polly and our six children were not excommunicated. Horner and the church decided that my family was under my satanic control, and should not be held accountable for my “sins.”

My excommunication is a good example of a pastor determining what is “wicked” and then demanding that congregants not set that wicked thing before their eyes; the wicked thing being a flesh-and-blood human being. This catch-all verse can be used to label people, inanimate objects, and behaviors “wicked.” Pastors, then, are able to bend and mold congregants to their wishes; that is, unless they have a rebellious member such as Bruce Gerencser. Then, church discipline is used to cut the offender from the church and put the fear of God into the hearts of congregants.

The churches I pastored, with one exception, didn’t excommunicate rebellious church members. Instead, I was the gatekeeper. I determined who stayed and who had to go. If I determined through much prayer and fasting — just kidding, my determinations were based on my personal opinions, beliefs and practices — that someone was no longer a good “fit,” I would encourage them to seek out a church that would better meet their needs.

Over the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I ran off a lot of good people whose only crime was that they disagreed with me on a matter of doctrine or practice. Instead of embracing differences of belief and practice, I demanded fealty to my beliefs, interpretations, and practices. For many years, I believed it was sinful to own and watch TV. In my mind, if there was ever a human invention that was wicked, it as the television. I am sure Polly and my children can remember our TV being unplugged and having a piece of paper taped over the screen that said, I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s some of what I had to say:

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it. How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps. What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

….

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

….

calvin and hobbes tv

I replayed the aforementioned battle over TV numerous times in my life. The object of my righteous anger changed, but the end result was the same: that which I deemed wicked had to go, and if congregants really, really, really loved Jesus, they would agree with me and excise from their lives that which the man of God labeled sinful. The goal was holiness, so who wouldn’t want to be as pure and holy as possible? Congregants would try to conform to my pronouncements, but for the most part all this did was turn their lives into a game. Church members lived one way at church or in my presence and another way when away from the Holy Spirit — AKA the Preacher or Pastor Bruce. Little did they know that I did the same. Try as I might to live out the teachings of the Bible and to strictly govern my life according to my interpretations of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, I failed too; not because of a lack of desire or commitment; but because I set for myself and others an impossible standard. I was human, as were the people I pastored. Much like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, Evangelicals have wants, needs, and desires. They do what they do because they are human. No matter how much Evangelicals preach, pray, and deny their humanity, in time their “flesh” wins.

And that’s okay. Life is meant to be lived, not denied. Evangelicals love to say, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. The humanist version, however, goes like this, only one life, twill soon be past, and then you’ll be dead. There’s no God, Jesus, church, or preacher to please. All that really matters is this present life. Love, laugh, and enjoy your brief existence on planet Earth. It’s the only one you’ll ever have. Each of us determines for ourselves how we want to live. As an atheist, I still have  certain “wicked” things I won’t set before my eyes; you know, things such as women with size 20 bodies in size 10 spandex, fat men like me parading around in public with no shirt, and Fox News. That’s about it. Each to his own, I say.

Did you grow up in a church where Psalm 103:1 was used to label things, people, and behavior wicked? Did your pastor demand congregants live according to his moralistic pronouncements? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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“Feeling” God

feeling the holy spirit

One of the proofs given by Evangelicals for the existence of the Christian God is that they “feel” Him in their lives. Countless Evangelicals have said, I KNOW my God is real because He lives in my heart! Among Charismatics and Pentecostals, this “feeling” God is taken to extremes, resulting in speaking in tongues, bodily contortions, and all sorts of physical phenomena. Even among Baptists — especially South of the Mason-Dixon Line, God’s presence can be evidenced by those “feeling” God running the aisles, standing on pews, waving towels/hankies, raising hands, and shouting AMEN!

I have been asked numerous times whether I ever “felt” God in my life. Such questioners want to know if what I had was a head salvation, one rooted in the intellect, and not the “heart.” Never mind the fact that humans do not have “hearts” in the sense that Evangelicals use the word. The Bible, in fact, says, as a man THINKS in his HEART so is he. Biblically speaking, the heart is the mind, the intellect, and not the blood-pumping organ. Who hasn’t heard a sermon about missing heaven by eighteen inches — the distance between the human brain and heart.  That said, when asked if I ever “felt” God, the answer is an emphatic, no-doubt-about-it YES!

Let me give several examples of when I “felt” God.

One of my favorite get-alone-with-God places was the auditorium of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was a rural church, and I would, on many occasions over the twelve years I pastored the church, sit in the quiet, empty auditorium and speak out loud to God. On more than a few occasions I “felt” not only God’s presence, but also God speaking to me.

Another occasion of “feeling” God also took place at Somerset Baptist in November of 1993. Several months prior, Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas had extended to me an invitation to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. After praying over the matter, I decided God wanted me to stay in Somerset. In November, I was kneeling in my office praying, when all of a sudden I “felt” God’s overwhelming presence. God said to me, I want you to become co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. I began to weep uncontrollably, telling God that I would do whatever it was He wanted me to do. The rest of this story can be found in the series, I am a Publican and a Heathen.

Music has played a part in my “feeling” God. Hearing songs such as I Can Only Imagine by MercyMeBecause of Who You Are, Use Me Here, Nails in Your Hands by Everybodyduck, and Who am I, Praise You in This Storm, and Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns, often elicited deep feelings of God’s presence. There were times that I was so overwhelmed by God’s presence that I was weeping uncontrollably and had to pull the car off on the berm until my tears subsided.

I also “felt” God when certain hymns were sung. In particular, singing It is Well With My Soul often resulted in me “feeling” God. It should not be surprising, then, that many Evangelicals “feel” God while engaged in singing praise and worship music. The lyrics and music are deliberately crafted to bring worshipers into the “presence” of God. I have personally witnessed and experienced all sort of emotional experiences during praise and worship sessions. It was if God personally showed up and was in the midst of the congregation.

Let me give one more example of “feeling” God. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I preached thousands of sermons. There were numerous occasions while I was preaching that I “felt” God and I could see that others “felt” God too. I have been in services where the presence of God was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. I have seen countless people “feel” God as He took my words and used them for His honor and glory. Or so I thought, anyway.

I know for certain that I have “felt” God, and that “feeling” Him was a regular part of my life as a Christian, both before and during my time in the ministry. How, then, do I square this fact with what I now know to be true — that there is no God?  Early in the deconversion process, this question troubled me. I knew that I had “felt” God. I knew for certain that God had visibly and deeply moved me emotionally. Based on these experiences, how could I now say that these intimate connections with God were not what I claimed they were?

Were these experiences real? Of course they were. I grew up in a religious culture where it was common for people to “feel” God and to have Him speak to them through prayer and Scripture. God was everywhere, and those who sought Him would find Him. I read numerous books authored by Christian mystics going all the way back to the Puritan era. I desired more than anything to be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Any honest evaluation of my Evangelical upbringing will conclude that “feeling” God was very much a part of what it meant to be Christian. While salvation rested not on subjective feelings, but the objective words of God, “feeling” God was a reminder that you were God’s child and he was always with you.

Understanding “feeling” God became clearer to me when I examined other emotional experiences in my life. Watching my grandchildren play can, at times, elicit similar feelings, as can making love and having an intimate, quiet night on the town with Polly. In recent years, Polly and our youngest son graduated from Northwest State Community College and our youngest daughter graduated from Bowling Green State University. As I watched each of them walk the aisle and receive their diplomas, I was overwhelmed emotionally, my mind flooded with gratitude and joy over their accomplishments — accomplishments that would NOT have happened had I remained an Evangelical pastor.

I have similar feelings watching certain movies. The same can be said for sporting events. Several weeks ago, I stopped by a high school track meet to take some photographs. One of events had a runner who was definitely not as good as the rest of the competitors. I watched as she got farther and farther behind, until she was half a track behind everyone else. Yet, while everyone else was cheering the winners, I found myself deeply moved emotionally over the last place finisher’s determination and grit.

I now know that “feeling” God is as real as other emotional experiences I have had in my life. God need not be real for me to “feel” Him/Her/It. Practitioners of non-Christian religions can share similar experiences of “feeling” their God or being overwhelmed emotionally. Feeling such things are a part of our DNA. Sadly, Evangelicals think that their “feeling” God is objectively true, and all others are false; that there is a BIG difference between “feeling” God and the emotional experiences humans have through relationships and interactions with the natural world. Who among us can look at the star-filled skies and not feel a sense of awe and wonder. Must we believe in God to have such feelings? Of course not. All of us have the capacity to feel, no God needed.

Did you “feel” God as a Christian? How do you explain these experiences now that you no longer believe in God?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Missing Out On Life When Jesus Owns You 

ct studd quote

Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (i John 2:15)

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (John 9:4, Romans 13:12, 2 Peter 3:10)

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1,2)

These verses and others became the primary motivators of my life for much of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. My belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God — a book written by God, not men — caused me to believe that, as I read these verses, God was speaking directly to me. I knew that God had saved me and called me into the ministry, and that if I devoted every moment of every day to following after Jesus, this would be time well spent. I knew that life was short, death was certain, hell was hot, and judgment was sure; that soon Bruce Gerencser was going to die and that he was going to stand before a thrice holy God and give an account for what he did with his life. Using the Disciples as my examples, I set out to leave everything that mattered to me and follow Jesus. This meant that, even though I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman and would over the years have six precious children with her, everything was secondary to my call to the ministry and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. As anyone who knew me in my Evangelical days will tell you, I was a true blue, on fire disciple of Christ. My goal in every one of the communities I pastored was to preach the gospel to as many people as possible and to motivate Christians to set aside the things of the world, focusing instead on the present and coming Kingdom of God. I knew that congregants would never be more than what was modeled to them, so I did my best to be a shining example of someone who loved God and took seriously the commands and teachings of the Bible. How this worked out in my life is tragic, a somber reminder of what happens when people give themselves over to fanaticism.

As I contemplated writing this post, I thought about all the things I missed out on or didn’t get to see because my mind was totally focused on the ministry and reaching people with the gospel. Not helping matters, was the fact that I was perfectionist, which later developed into full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).  Everywhere I looked there were sinners in need of saving. How could I take time off from work or go on a vacation as long as there were people who needed to hear the gospel. While I certainly would’ve loved to have spent more time with my wife and children, how could I justify doing so when there were so many people living in sin, seemingly without having anyone in their lives willing to tell them the truth about their eternal destiny. I quickly developed what I call the Elijah syndrome, that I was the only prophet remaining that was willing to do all that was necessary to preach the gospel to lost and dying sinners. It should come, then, as no surprise that I often worked seven days a week, frequently preaching five to seven sermons during that time. When I wasn’t preaching, I was busy knocking on doors, visiting people in the hospital, handing out tracts, working on the church building, transporting people to services, and talking to people in need of my counsel. As Polly will testify, I worked long hours, rarely taking time off for entertainment or personal relaxation.

Here are a few the things I missed while serving Jesus.

I missed out on watching my older sons play competitive sports. Not because I didn’t have the time to go to their games, but because I wouldn’t let them play sports due to game and practice schedules conflicting with church activities. I fondly remember the days when I played little league and pony league baseball, but my sons never had an opportunity to play baseball because their preacher father thought it more important for them to be sitting in church than playing meaningless, worldly games. I thought, How could I set a good example to the church if on church nights the preacher’s kids were busy playing sports and not in attendance? My children, unfortunately, were never allowed to just be. I expected them to be perfectly behaved, regardless of the fact that other church children were not. I expected my children to set the example, and this meant that they were not going to be able to do some the other things that “normal” children were allowed to do.

We lived in Southeast Ohio for almost twelve years. During this time, I pastored a fast-growing church that for many years operated a large bus ministry and a private Christian school. If there was one church where my workaholic, OCPD mentality was on display, it was here. During my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I took all of one vacation, a trip to Boston Massachusetts, paid for by Bruce Turner. Bruce had been the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio when I was saved and called to the ministry. One year I had Bruce come to our church to preach for our anniversary. The building was packed, a not-so-subtle reminder that young Bruce had learned well the lessons taught to him by older Bruce a decade and a half ago. Older Bruce had, however, aged and matured in his understanding of the ministry. As he spent several days observing his protégé’s ministerial work, he concluded that I was burning the candle at both ends, and that if I didn’t learn to relax and spend time away from the ministry that I was going to cause myself physical harm. And it is for these reasons that Bruce offered to pay for us to take a trip Massachusetts. This would be the first and last vacation I would take until the late 1990s. While I “heard” what Bruce was trying to tell me, his voice was drowned out by what I perceived to be the Holy Spirit telling me to give my all to Jesus; telling me that if I was a true disciple of Christ I must be willing to forsake all attachments to this world; telling me that my wife and children were not as important as following Jesus and preaching the gospel; telling me that Jesus was coming soon that I must be about my father’s business, for the night is coming when no man can work.

In the mid to late-1980s I made three exceptions to my on-call-for-Jesus 24/7 work schedule. The first exception that I carved out of my schedule was three hours once a week to play basketball with a group of men I had met through one of the teenage boys that attended the church. None of these men was Christian, so I suspect deep down I saw playing basketball with them as an opportunity to evangelize them. Ironically, I made very little effort to do so. Over time I saw these three hours as a refuge away from the pressures of the ministry. In retrospect, this once week full-court workout was likely a medicine of sorts that kept me from physically and mentally destroying myself.

The second exception on my schedule was weekly trips during the summer to local dirt race tracks. My best friend in the church, Harold Miller, asked me if I had ever been to a dirt track race. I told him that I had, but I hadn’t attended a race since the mid-1970s. And so we went — Polly and the boys included, along with 2 toddler girls — regularly on Friday and Saturday nights to racetracks such as Midway Speedway, Muskingum County Speedway, R&R Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. On nights that Polly didn’t want to go, I would pack up the boys and we would go to the races. Again, I saw our weekly visits to these racetracks as a respite of sort from the constant — often self-inflicted — demands of the ministry. There were plenty of sinners at the races we attended, but I made no effort to evangelize anyone. For three to five hours once a week I allowed myself to be immersed in a sea of worldlings, observing but never partaking.

When my evangelist friend Don Hardman heard that I was regularly attending local dirt track races, and – say it isn’t so Bruce! – taking my family with me, he rebuked me for attending such worldly events. Fortunately, I ignored him. I have no doubt that going to the races helped me maintain my sanity and allowed me to physically relax. (One humorous story from these days comes from a warm spring day when I was preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio. Pulling up to the traffic light was one of the regular late-model drivers at Midway Speedway. Seizing the opportunity to “share” the gospel with this man, I began preaching, mentioning him by name. He turned towards me with a look on his face that suggested I had scared the living daylights out of him. Several months later I ran into him, reminding him of my brief sermon on that spring day. He said to me, you scared the shit out of me!)

The third exception came when I would load Polly and the children into whatever beater we were driving at the time and take day road trips to Southern Ohio and West Virginia. All we needed was enough money for gas and off we would go. Polly would pack us food and snacks, so there was no need to stop at restaurants to eat. We traveled countless back roads, often ending up in places that were small dots on a road map. Polly and I, along with our children, have many fond memories of these trips, including the time we drove to southern West Virginia so we could take a train ride, only to arrive just as the last train of the day was pulling out from the station.

Three hours of basketball once a week, three to five hours on summer weekends watching dirt track races, one vacation, and occasional road trips…. that’s all the time I took off from serving Jesus. According to the Bible, I was Jesus’ bondslave. The song in my heart was the classic Baptist hymn:

All to Jesus I surrender,all to him I freely give, I will ever love and trust Him In His presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken,Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender, make me Savior wholly thine. May Thy Holy Spirit fill me, may I know Thy power divine.

I surrender all I surrender all. All to Thee my blessed Savior I surrender all.

There were also church outings to Kings Island, the bowling alley, the roller rink, canoe livery and a host of other activities, but these events were tools used by me to evangelize unaware sinners. I would encourage congregants to invite their friends and neighbors to these events, telling them to emphasize how much fun these activities were. Once there, I would round everyone up and spend some time sharing the gospel with them. Doing this told congregants without saying a word that having fun for fun’s sake took a backseat to evangelizing the lost.

People who have traveled to Southeast Ohio will tell you about its beauty and rolling hills. It’s too bad that I had no time for enjoying the wonders of God’s creation. All around me was beautiful scenery, but all I could see was sin-stained hearts in need of salvation. Polly and I are planning on taking a trip back to Southeast Ohio this summer to spend a day or two visiting all the places that we never got to see because Jesus had other things for us to do. Several days ago, as we were browsing travel literature for Southeast Ohio, we were amazed at how many wonderful things there were to see. Too bad we didn’t take the time to see them when we were young, when our children were home, and when our bodies were better fitted for hiking and visiting such wonders as Old Man’s Cave.

The same can be said for the seven months I spent as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas — a small community just south of San Antonio. While at Community, I spent eight days a week doing the work of the ministry. During my time there I established a Christian school, started two churches, established a nursing home ministry, set up a street-preaching ministry, along with preaching twice a week. As you can see, I was busy, busy, busy for Jesus, with no time for family or relaxation. I suspect I am one of the few people to ever live in San Antonio and not go on the Riverwalk, visit the Alamo, view San Antonio from the towering height of the Tower of the Americas, or see any of the other sites people typically visit when vacationing in San Antonio. I did, however, preach in front of the Alamo, as I did above the walkways the led down to the Riverwalk. All around me was beauty, from the natural landscape to ancient buildings, but I was blind to these things because my eyes were fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith; the Jesus who took my sins upon himself and died for me on the cross; the Jesus who commanded me to be perfect even as his father in heaven is perfect; the Jesus who commanded me:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27,33)

I am sure that some of the Evangelicals who read this post will suggest that what I needed in my life was balance; that I was too focused on the eternal; that I needed to give myself time to rest and relax. The problem with this type of thinking is that it is modeled nowhere in the lives of Jesus, the apostles, or any of the disciples. I can’t think of one Bible verse that suggests Christians should take it easy until Jesus comes again, or that the followers of Christ should pace themselves as they serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Paul spoke of running a race, and I thought, at the time, better to burn out than rust out. Better to live forty years of life as a brightly shining star than eighty years as a dim star that could only be seen with a telescope.

It was in the late 1990s before I finally realized what a fool I had been. By that time, health ruined, diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, I could no longer keep up the pace of previous years. During this time, thanks to the atheist husband of one of the ladies who attended Our Father’s House, the church I was pastoring at the time, I developed a love for photography. I am convinced that this one thing save my life. I began taking time off so we could take day trips and vacations to places that provided opportunities for me to work on my photography skills. Countless hours were spent slowly driving the back roads of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, looking for photographic opportunities. These trips gave me a psychological break from the demands of the ministry. Thanks to my Calvinistic beliefs, I no longer felt driven to spend every waking hour evangelizing the lost. I was content to preach two sermons a week, take care of the needs of a small congregation, and spend the rest of time enjoying life. We began taking vacations, attending races at the local dirt track, and visiting nearby attractions. Our oldest three boys were old enough to babysit their younger siblings, so this afforded Polly and me the opportunity to get away from the church and home without our children. By then, our economic position had greatly improved thanks to Polly working full time at Sauder Woodworking and our two older sons paying room and board. Having more discretionary money allowed us to do a lot of things that we never could have done before. I can honestly say that the seven years I spent as pastor of Our father’s House in West Unity, Ohio were the best years of my ministerial career. The church never grew above fifty or sixty people, but I found this particular group of people, with a couple of exceptions, a delight to pastor. I suspect that if I had been able to ignore the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit”, I could have continued pastoring the church for years.

You might wonder what I mean by the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit.” As I settled into the life typically led by Evangelical pastors, I found myself increasingly feeling guilty over time spent relaxing. I’m sure Polly could tell stories of her own about the long discussions we had about whether we were doing enough for Jesus. I quite enjoyed our new life with its pleasures and relaxing opportunities, but I never could get out of my head all the things I mentioned above. Never far from my thoughts were my Master and his call to follow after him. I don’t want to give the impression that I was some sort of worldly Christian, I wasn’t. I still spent an inordinate amount of time reading and studying the Bible, praying, preaching sermons, and doing the work of the ministry, but I did give myself space for pleasure and relaxation. This was a step in the right direction, but I would find out a few short years later that if I really wanted to have a life worth living I was going to have to divorce myself from the ministry and God.

Now that I have liberated myself from the constraints of the Bible, I am free to live life as I see fit. Realizing that life is short and death is certain (sooner than later), I try to spend as much time as possible doing the things I want to do and with the people I love most — my family. I no longer hear nagging voices in my head telling me to forsake my family, houses, and lands and follow Jesus. I no longer worry about WWJD — what would Jesus do (or what would church members think). Both Polly and I love where we are in life, though we do wish that we had come to an understanding about what really matters twenty-five years sooner. Sadly, we can’t undo the past, but we can choose to live differently, and that is exactly what we are doing.

I am a Publican and a Heathen Part Four

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994

Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

This post concludes the I Am a Publican and a Heathen series. This series details my experiences as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas. In March 1994, I left a pastorate of eleven years and moved to Texas so I could co-pastor a thriving, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. The church was founded by Pat Horner. Pat and I became acquainted through a newsletter I published — The Sovereign Grace Reporter. In March 1993, I packed up my family — five children in the backseat and two adults and a child in the front — and drove to Texas to preach at Community’s annual Bible Conference. Polly and I were enthralled with the church and its growing motivated, young membership. Later in the year, Pat called and asked me if I would be willing to come and work with him. After talking it over with Polly, I decided that God wanted me to remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. A few weeks later, in what can only be described as a deep emotional experience, I change my mind about working with Pat. I telephoned Pat and told him that I believed that God was now telling me to come to Texas. Several weeks later, Polly and I drove to Texas to meet with the church membership. They overwhelmingly were in favor of me becoming one of their pastors. Little did I know that less than a year later I would be packing up my family and, with a broken heart, moving back to Ohio. If you have not read the previous posts in this series (Part One Part Two Part Three), I encourage you to do so. They provide important context that will make this post easier to understand.

Community Baptist Church believed that since the church had to approve entrance into the membership, no one could leave the church without their permission. Leaving without church approval was viewed as a betrayal of the covenantal relationship between members. People who left the church or stopped attending were routinely disciplined (Matthew 18:15-20), resulting in excommunication. The church believed that excommunicated members were to be considered publicans and heathens. The only way disciplined members could remove this “mark” (Titus 3:10,11,Romans 16:17, and 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15)  was to humbly come before the church, admit their sin, and plead for reinstatement.

Pat Horner was a former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, a fact that he, to this day, likes to hide. The reason this is important is that while Pat disavowed IFB theology when he embraced the five points of Calvinism, he continued to believe that God-honoring churches were to be ruled by pastors (elders). While Community had a plurality of elders, it was quite clear that Pat was the elder above all others. Looking back on my decision to co-pastor Community, I now know that I grossly overestimated the ability of both Pat and myself to work with each other. Both of us had spent our careers as men who controlled every aspect of the churches we pastored. We may have had elders and deacons who were supposedly equal in power and authority, but these officeholders were little more than façades that covered up ego-driven, authoritarian rule. While I did not remain such a pastor, it is, to this day, hard for me to think about how controlling I was. I know that authoritarianism robs people of self-determination and self-worth. Lording over people and treating them as subjects in one’s own little kingdom causes great psychological damage. I suppose, then, my facing church discipline at the hands of Pat Horner was some sort of karmic justice. The monster that I had fed and used to control “sinful” church members finally devoured its creator. All I can do now is to use my experiences as a platform to help others who have been emotionally eviscerated by pastors and churches who believe that God has given them absolute control over the lives of others. While I am hesitant to say such beliefs and practices are cultic — who wants to admit they were a cultist? — any fair-minded person would conclude that they are.

During my time at Community, I participated in several public disciplinary meetings, including one in which I was in charge of the proceedings. Errant members were disciplined for all sorts of “sins,” but most of them were excommunicated because they stopped attending church. Since these dropouts did not notify the church (Pat) about their leaving, they were, by church vote (almost always a rubber stamp to Pat’s request) removed from the membership. In many instances, other local Calvinistic churches refused to accept as members those who had been excommunicated. The only way for excommunicated members to join the new church was for them to return to Community and confess their “sin” before the congregation. Once duly humbled, these wayward members would then be granted a release from their membership. They were then free to join up with a new church. This applied, of course, only to sound Calvinistic Baptist churches. Members leaving to join up with non-Calvinistic churches were not granted releases. Pat believed that Calvinism was the true gospel and that non-Calvinistic churches were heretical and taught a false gospel. This thinking permeated the church. I was asked on several occasions if I believed that Arminians (Methodists, Free Will Baptists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, et al.) were Christians. I did my best to sidestep such questions, knowing that saying yes would cause church conflict. One leader in the church would later remark after I left that he knew I was never a “real” Calvinist. This man did not like my emphasis of God’s love. He preferred Jonathan Edwards’ brooding, violent, sin-hating God.

As I mentioned, I was in charge of one of the disciplinary meetings. Pat had gone to Mexico for a few weeks, so it was up to me to make sure that the authoritarian machine was firing on all eight cylinders. During this time, I began to have problems with a man who had been ordained by the church. He was unhappy with Pat and with me, revealing, at least in my mind, that he had a “rebellious” heart. This man was disloyal and refused to submit to pastoral authority, so I determined that the best course of action was to strip him of his ordination. After several conference calls with Pat, I brought the matter before the church and the man was defrocked. He would later humble himself before “God” and have his ordination reinstated. (The very threat of discipline was often enough to get church members to change their behaviors.)

In early October 1994, after all the events described in Part Three of this series, Pat decided to bring me before the church for the purposes of discipline and possible excommunication. Several days before this meeting a few church members pleaded with me to make things right with Pat. They knew that excommunicating me had nothing to do with sin. This was all about two arrogant, self-righteous, bull-headed men who couldn’t get along with each other, yet I was the one who had to make things right. They knew that this was a power struggle over who would control the church, a power struggle I knew I couldn’t win. And it is for this reason I decided not to attend the disciplinary meeting. Tim Conway, now the pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, told me that if I would straighten things out with Pat that perhaps he would be willing to help me start a new church in San Antonio. (Conway denies he ever said this.) I knew that a number of church members preferred me above Pat. Many of them found my congenial, at times humorous, preaching appealing. I knew that if I decided to stay in San Antonio and start a new church that a number of people would join with me. And it is for this reason that I chose not to stay and start a new church. I can say with a little bit of pride that, over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I never experienced or fomented a church split. Members would come and go, but I never had a large group of people leave at one time with the express purpose of starting a new church. While causing a split at Community would have been in some ways gratifying — a poking of my fingers in the eyes of Pat Horner — I knew that church splits rarely grew into successful, growing congregations.

It took Polly and me a matter of a few days to pack up our belongings in a U-Haul truck. Several church members helped us load our worldly goods on the truck and a few others stop by to plead with us to attend the disciplinary meeting scheduled for Saturday. Some of them were quite emotional, weeping as they begged me not to go. I told all of them that nothing good would come from the disciplinary meeting. Pat had his mind made up. Either Bruce Gerencser was going to submit himself to the will of Almighty Pat or Pat was going to kick his ass out of the church. I refused to submit myself to Pat’s slander of my character, knowing that he had spent days making sure that key church members would vote his way. As anyone who has ever been a member of a Baptist Church knows, there are cliques and power groups within the church. Identifying these groups and appealing to them is the best way for a pastor to get what he wants. I had practiced this very method in the churches that I pastored. Since Pat had all his ducks in a row, it was futile for me to defend myself. As Kenny Rogers sang (The Gambler), You’ve got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em / Know when to walk away / And know when to run. I knew that I did not have a winning hand, so I folded and moved back to Ohio.

Around 6 o’clock on an early October Saturday night, the Gerencser family tearfully drove out the long lane from their church provided-home to Labus Road. As we drove by the church, we passed a parking lot filled with cars. The meeting called for the purpose of dealing with the “Bruce Gerencser problem” was underway, and as I predicted, the church excommunicated me. To this day they consider me a publican and a heathen. My later loss of faith is proof to many of them that the decision they made on that October night in 1994 was right. Ironically, the church did not excommunicate Polly or our children. The church (Pat) determined that they were under my control and unable to think for themselves. This, of course, is exactly how I viewed the church. Under the control of Pat Horner, they pretty much did what he told them to do. My excommunication was a done deal the moment I stood up to Pat and he then determined that he would smack me down like a defiant teenager.

After returning to Ohio, Pat and I exchanged several nasty letters, the type you would expect from a couple who had gone through an acrimonious divorce. In later years, after a lot of reflection and soul-searching, I made several attempts to reconcile with Pat, hoping that in doing so it would put an end to all the gossip and lies that were being spread by not only him but other leaders in the church. Pat would have none of it, saying that the problem I had was with the church, not him. After trying several times to smoke the peace pipe, I gave up, believing, at the time, that the record would be set straight when we got to heaven. Since I now know that there is no heaven or God to adjudicate our disagreement, and Pat is unwilling to admit his part in my decision to resign from the church, all I am left with is this series of blog posts. People will believe what they want to believe. All I can do is tell my side of the story.

Pat left Community several years after I did, starting several churches and leaving them. He is no longer a pastor. (Community is now pastored by Kyle White.) He is still actively involved in “ministering” to Sovereign Grace churches in Mexico and India. Pastors Tim Conway and José Maldonado, both former members of Community Baptist Church, have in recent years publicly “exposed” Bruce Gerencser for who he really is. (Please read Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian and Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.) Evidently, in their eyes, my current atheism is a threat, and like their former fearless leader, Pat Horner, they want to do what they can to eliminate my influence on others. Sadly, for them anyway, their attempts to do so have miserably failed. This series of posts has been read by tens of thousands of people. In recent years, I have received letters from people who were also disciplined by Pat and Community Baptist Church. While all of these people are still Christians, they appreciated my willingness to shine the light on the horrific disciplinary practices used by many Calvinistic pastors and churches. An untold number of good people have been psychologically harmed by hammer-wielding pastors out to bludgeon them into submission.

While my time at Community Baptist left psychological scars that remain to this day, I do believe that being excommunicated helped make me into the man I am today. When I arrived at Community I was on a path that was sure to damage not only myself and my family, but also those who lovingly called me pastor. In Pat Horner and the church I was able to experience firsthand the logical conclusions of my authoritarianism and Calvinistic beliefs. I can only imagine what I might have become had I continued on this path. Thankfully, being filleted and hung out to dry forced me to take a hard look at my life and beliefs. My excommunication was the first step towards leaving Evangelicalism. In the following years, I realized how damaging authoritarianism was, not only to me and my family, but also to the churches I pastored. While I remained, to some degree, conservative, my view of people and my interaction with them greatly changed. I owe Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church a great debt of gratitude for helping me become a better man, ultimately leading me to renounce my Christian faith and embrace atheism. While they most likely view my de-conversion as a sure sign that I never was a Christian, I am grateful that Pat and the church were instrumental in forcing me to take a hard look at the kind of man I was and how my beliefs were harmful to others. My only regret is that the same did not happen for Pat. He remains unapologetically a hard-core Sovereign Grace Baptist preacher. The damage that he has caused his great, but those stories are best left untold. Perhaps someday members of his family or former congregants will dare to tell their stories, and maybe then Pat will have his own honest reckoning. I have done my best to be honest and open about the time I spent at Community Baptist Church. I willingly admit my culpability in the problems between Pat and I.  Peel away all the theology and what’s left is a story about two 30-something Type-A  men who could not or would not find common ground to work with each other. Their failure to do so is a story that has repeated itself countless times in countless churches. Despite appeals to the Bible and God, one truth remains — people are people. Pastors such as Pat and I can easily be driven by personal wants, needs, and desires. In our case, both of us wanted to be the king of the hill, and as anyone who has ever played the game knows, there can only be one king.

[signoff]

1995: Charley’s Steakery, the Itch to Preach, and Sex for Tacos 

charleys-steakery

 

After leaving Community Baptist Church in the fall of 1994, we moved to the small central Ohio village of Frazeysburg, 16 miles east of Newark, Ohio, where Polly’s mom and dad lived. Polly’s parents gave us enough money for a down payment on a fairly new 14′ x 70′ mobile home. We lived in Williamsburg Square — a well-kept manufactured home community that catered to older families without children and younger families with two children or fewer. The only reason we were allowed to live in Williamsburg Square was because we had previously bought a mobile home from Williamsburg, and after observing how well behaved our children were, the owners decided it would be safe to allow the Gerencser children to prowl the neighborhood. Our older neighbors were delighted to have our children around, especially when it came time to rake leaves and shovel snow. Believing that it was important for our children to serve others, we asked them to help our neighbors without pay. This they gladly did, even though several neighbors were insistent that our children be paid.

After getting settled in Frazeysburg, I went about looking for suitable employment to provide for my family. In less than a week I had secured a job working as general manager for a Charley’s Steakery in Zanesville, Ohio.  As it was with every time I needed to secure secular employment, I made substantially more money working in the “world” than I did working as a pastor. Having managed restaurants in the past, I was well-suited for my new job. The owner was a Taiwanese man who operated a restaurant in Columbus. He was a hands-off owner who expected me to manage every aspect of his franchise. I would talk to him on the phone every few days, and every month or so he would stop by for a short while to see how things were going. Outside of these contacts, I was on my own.

The restaurant had been run into the ground by the previous manager. It’s owner would later tell me, after contacting me to testify in a wage-hour dispute, that I was the best manager he had ever hired. He told me that he knew that I would just take care of things and that he wouldn’t have to worry about whether I was doing my job. Working for Charley’s Steakery was by far the best job I ever had. I had the freedom to hire the necessary people to ensure that the restaurant ran smoothly. Unfortunately, this meant reassigning or firing many of the existing employees, most of whom treated their job like a weekend at a spa. They learned quickly that I was a no-nonsense, the-customer-comes-first, if-you-have-time-to-lean-you-have-time-to-clean, trust-but-verify manager.

During this foray into the secular world, we attended Fallsburg Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation in Fallsburg. Ohio. The church was pastored by my then-best friend Keith Troyer. (Keith currently pastors Grace Baptist Church in Greenville, Pennsylvania.) Attending Keith’s church allowed us an opportunity to recover from the wounds inflicted upon us through our horrific experiences at Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. (Please see the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.) In retrospect, we should have spent more time recuperating, but as I shall share in a moment, the not-preaching bug bit me and after a few months on the sideline I was ready to return to the pastorate. Keith tried to satiate my need by allowing me to preach from time to time. Though our friendship did not survive my loss of faith, I have always appreciated what Keith did for our family.

Going to work at Charley’s Steakery six days a week allowed me to stay busy. It was not uncommon for me to work 60-70 hours a week – workaholic that I am. Part of the reason I had to work long hours is that I had a hard time attracting and keeping employees. I’m sure some of the problem was that new employees quickly realized that they would actually have to work once they took the job, and didn’t stay long.  Over the years, I hired scores of entry-level employees and managers. Some of these new hires turned out to be wonderful employees. However, far too many of them were indolent people looking to make as much money as possible for the least amount of work. Such people, of course, frustrated the hell out of me. Workaholics have a hard time understanding why everyone is not just like them. I spent much of my life as a pastor planting new churches. This type of work lends itself to driven workaholics. I was always perturbed by pastors who viewed the pastorate as a vacation gig, one where they preached on Sundays and played golf and hung out with their preacher friends the rest of the week. Again, I projected my own work ethic and way of looking at life on others. While I still think many pastors are as lazy as a coon dog in front of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, I do realize that my judgments of others were often unfair or misguided.

The restaurant I managed was in the food court at the Colony Square Mall on the north side of Zanesville. I had to compete with restaurants such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Mr. Hot Dog, and a Chinese restaurant. We not only competed for food dollars, we also battled one another over employees. Charley’s Steakery shared a back hallway with Taco Bell. Employees would enter their respective restaurants via this hallway. Taco Bell was the first restaurant after employees entered the hallway. The manager of Taco Bell, noticing the quality of several of my employees, began poaching them, offering them better wages than I could offer. After a few weeks of losing employees, I decided to contact the Taco Bell manager. I asked her to please stop soliciting my employees. There, I thought to myself. I have put an end to that problem.

Several days later, the director of franchise operations called me about a disturbing call he had just received from the Taco Bell manager. According to her, I had asked her to please stop offering sex to my employees as an enticement for coming to work for her. That’s right, because I use the word “soliciting,” the Taco Bell manager thought I was talking about her prostituting herself. Of course, I did no such thing. I assumed that she had at least a cursory understanding of the English language and knew that the words solicit/soliciting/solicitation actually have several meanings, but she did not. After explaining to the franchise operations director what my intent was, he suggested (demanded?) that I contact her and apologize. My first thought was, apologize? What did I do that was wrong? It’s not my fault this dumb hillbilly doesn’t know what the word soliciting means. After pondering what to do for several days, my what-would-Jesus-do guilt kicked in, and I sat down and wrote a letter to the Taco Bell manager apologizing for our misunderstanding. But, before I uttered the words “I’m sorry”, I made sure she understood the dictionary definition of the word “soliciting.”

The Taco Bell manager quit soliciting my employees and I went back to trying to find meaning and purpose in secular work. But five months after I took the job, I could no longer push down the urge, need, and desire — the Holy Spirit — to pastor another church. In February, 1995, some friends of ours, Marv and Louise Hartman, stop by the restaurant to visit with me. They lived in the northwest Ohio city of Bryan — the city of my birth. (We currently live five miles south of Bryan.) I had known the Hartmans for many years. Their oldest son Lyle was, at the time, a good friend of mine. As a teenager, I attended First Baptist Church in Bryan, as did the Hartmans. Marv and I played church league softball together and Louise help me save money for college by managing my savings account. (After sending out my infamous letter, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, Louise sent me a blistering letter that said I had been taken over by Satan. She later wrote and apologized for the first letter. Our friendship did not survive.)

The Hartmans told me about a church that was looking for a pastor near where they lived — Olive Branch Christian Union Church, near Fayette, Ohio. A few short weeks later, we packed up our belongings and moved our mobile home to a trailer pad next to the church for what would be a short seven month pastorate. In retrospect, as I shared above, we should have taken more time to heal before taking another church the pastor. Despite advice from several friends who suggested that I slow down and do pulpit supply, revivals, and itinerant work, I felt the need to be about my Father’s business, and that feeling was so great that neither money, common sense, nor my wife’s objections would keep me from quitting a job that paid twice what Olive Branch Christian Union Church was offering me. All that mattered was that God had called me to preach and I needed to be busy preaching. This is why it always amuses me when people suggest that I was in the ministry for the money. I ALWAYS made more money in the secular world than I did as pastor. If I had it to do all over again, I would have worked bi-vocationally, providing for my family and scratching my God-inspired itch to preach. We wouldn’t be facing some of the financial problems we now face if I had put my family first.

As Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.

Bruce, You Were Religious, but Lost

religious but lostI have been told countless times that the reason I am an atheist today is because I never met the R-E-A-L Jesus or that I was religious, but lost. Just today, a man by the name of Ralph Ugarte left a comment in which he let me know that I had met a false Jesus. Filled with pride, as a pastor, I was all about self and good works. On most days — pardon what comes next — I want to tell Fundamentalist zealots such as Ugarte to go fuck themselves with a stick wrapped in barbed wire. Not today. What follows is Ugarte’s comment. By the way, Ugarte came to this site via a search for Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. This explains his mention of Pat Horner, the man whom I had a falling out with while he and I co-pastored Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. Conway was a member of Community during my tenure there. (Please read the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.) All told, Ugarte read the aforementioned seriesDear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,  Why I Hate Jesus, and the ABOUT page.

Ugarte wrote:

Hello Mr. Bruce, I have a big problem with a lot of things that you’re saying. I’ve read your series of “I am a Publican and a Heathen” and I understand the problems and controversy you may have had with Pat Horner and some other leaders of the church. What I don’t understand is, what does any of this have to do with Jesus and God?

I also don’t want to place judgement on you, but you kind of placed it on yourself from the things you say, e.g., “RELIGION, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life”, “My being is so intertwined with RELIGION”, “I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in RELIGIOUS work”, “To say that the CHURCH was my life would be an understatement”, “As I have come to see, the CHURCH was actually my MISTRESS, and my adulterous affair with her…”.

The funny thing is, you never mentioned you did these things for Jesus, which kind of completes the puzzle, in that you were just RELIGIOUS. You made the CHURCH and your religious practice your GOD. While in your so-called church, you did the same things and are no different than what you hated in Pat Horner, PRIDEFULNESS. How? Well here’s an example “Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What, do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?” Religion and politics? Is that what Jesus is to you, some religion? Well, here’s some true facts from me. I am not writing you some powerful unknown message. You know the message already, but the truth is that it was never in your heart. You kept it stuck somewhere in your head where your pride layed and you exalted yourself because you had the opportunity to teach and preach to others. Truth is, the real church was not in San Antonio, Texas as you believed. It is every where within the true servants of Christ throughout the world. Truth is, everyone in that Community was not saved, and those who were, are the true body of Christ. The simplest messages that you should have known and taken to heart years ago got lost somewhere in your religious pride. You became the Pharisees. Then when your local church no longer wanted you, you dump Jesus with it. Please tell me where that decision came from. Where in the bible does it say that the church is above Jesus? You know the scriptures. You’ve read the books. Jesus is the head of the church. So why would you glorify and have an adultress relationship with the church? How did the church become more important than Jesus? And how could you let that happened?

And yeh, maybe you’re right, “The church robbed me of so much of my life.” Yes, I believed that local church may have done you an injustice by allowing you to preach and teach without confirming your heart and desires to do so were for God alone, but it was also your fault because you fell in love with it. You fell in love with the glory of preaching and being a leader.

The truth is, I was you. I also was a member of a church where I got into arguments with the leaders, but not for the same reason that you did. The church I attended was also full of pride and did not recognize that they were missing the heart of Jesus. I spoke of these things and I was threaten to be excommunicated from the church because they felt I was insulting them and causing divisions. So I decided to leave on my own. And what did I do, I also dumped Jesus with it.

Now years later, I realized that I was wrong. I realized that there is no perfect church in this world. There is no church where everyone within the organized church is truly saved and walks with God 24 hrs a day. That doesn’t exist. So what am I to do.

I now walk with God regardless of what any church says or believes. If I want to know the truth, then I find it myself within the bible or by talking to God. I do attend a local church now, and yes, they are not perfect in their doctrines. Yes, members fall and may still be in bondage and may not be saved with their eyes opened. Yes, all who attend do not fully serve God and carry their cross. But then maybe that’s why I am there, to help others. Not as a so-called leader within the church. Not as a pastor. But as an example of what Christ is. That is how I serve the church of Jesus. I do it for him because he did it for me.

So what’s your excuse now?

The reason I no longer answer comments and emails such as this is because I am tired of explaining myself. No matter what I tell Ugarte, his mind has made up — I was not what I claimed to be. When people won’t allow you to tell your story on your own terms and accept what you say at face value, it is a waste of time trying to convince them that they are wrong. That said, I do think such comments and emails are helpful in showing doubting and questioning Evangelicals the true nature of Fundamentalist Christianity. While I am sure Ugarte thought he was setting me straight, what he has really done is reminded people why they are glad they are no longer Christians. Letters and comments such as his help make new atheists, and for that I am grateful.

Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

In March of 1994, I became the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. I have written extensively about my time at Community in the series I am a Publican and a Heathen. My seven-month tenure at Community quickly turned into buyer’s remorse and in late September I resigned and returned to Ohio. Community is a Calvinistic Baptist church, started by Pat Horner — a former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. Horner ruled the church with a rod of iron, using church discipline to “deal” will all those who crossed him. Of course, Community’s disciplinary practices weren’t viewed as a tyrant’s attempt to silence those who refused to play by his rulebook. Instead, church disciplinary meetings were dressed up with Bible verses meant to give the illusion that the church (Horner) was following the teachings of the Apostle Paul and Jesus when errant, unrepentant church members were excommunicated. Numerous members were “disciplined” during my tenure. People were excommunicated for everything from not regularly attending church to refusing to submit to pastoral authority. On the day that I resigned, Horner informed the me that I could not resign without the church’s permission. Taking a “watch me” approach, I packed up my family and moved back to Ohio. As we were pulling out of the church’s compound, Horner was addressing the church about the “Bruce Gerencser problem.” I was excommunicated and to this day I am considered a publican and a heathen (Matthew 18:15-19).

Fifteen years later, I wrote the letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. In this letter — which was sent to numerous pastors, family members, and former church members — I detailed the reasons why I was no longer a Christian. Of course, the Calvinistic preachers in San Antonio — men such as Pat Horner, Tim Conway, and Jose Maldonado — saw my letter as “proof” that my excommunication from Community Baptist Church was justified. See! See! See! Bruce Gerencser never was a “real” Christian! One would think that having thrown me out of the church, that would be the end of story. However, what Horner and his fellow Calvinists didn’t count on is me publicly writing about my time in San Antonio. When Horner and the Church excommunicated me in 1994, they could control the story line. Horner could lie about me and there was little I could about it (He told several people that the church I was pastoring in Ohio was filled with unsaved people). The internet, of course, changed things dramatically, allowing me to tell my side of the story to thousands of people. Karma’s a bitch.

I check the search logs on a daily basis, and not a day goes by without someone doing a search for Pastor Pat Horner (2), Pastor Jose Maldonado (2), Pastor Tim Conway (10), Grace Community Church San Antonio (16), Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church (5) or Community Baptist Church Elmendorf (7) that brings them to this blog (Google page ranking in parentheses). To combat the influence I might have on people, the San Antonio Calvinists have taken to mentioning me in their sermons. Here are two examples:

In November 2015, Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church, San Antonio preached a sermon titled The Futility of the Mind. In the sermon Conway said:

Futile, vain, empty, pointless, to no avail. And right here in Ephesians chapter 4, futility of mind is the characterization of the Gentiles. That’s how you are no longer to be. Christian, we are to put away futility. No longer. You must no longer. Futility of mind is a picture of people using their mind in ways that are just a waste of time. They are a waste of effort. You want some examples? Brethren, I know this about all of us. We all want to be happy. That is what mankind is striving after. Mankind wants to feel good, and mankind strives after that. You want an example of futility of mind? Futility of mind is man who is forever and always trying to figure out how to be happy while he is an enemy of God. That, folks, is futility. That is vain. That is worthless.

….

Or how about this: The futility that people walking around just spending their time; I was thinking about, some of you know about Bruce Gerencser, who was one of the co-elders down at Community Baptist Church when Ruby and I were down there, who apostatized and basically became an Atheist. What futility to spend your life trying to convince yourself there is no God. You see, these are the futile ways or futility that comes to nothing. Nothing at all.

Conway mentions me at the 25:48 mark.
Video Link

In 2010, Jose Maldonado, pastor of Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church, (link no longer active) preached a four-part sermon series about my apostasy.  Here’s a short audio clip from one of the sermons:

If you have the stomach for it, you can listen to Apostasy and It’s Awful Consequences! on the Sermon Audio website.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

If you would like to read the sermons and not listen to them, here are PDF transcriptions of the sermons.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Why are preachers such as Conway and Maldonado still preaching about me 22 years later? What is it about my story they find so threatening? Perhaps they just want to use my story as warning or a cautionary tale, as Ralph Wingate, Jr. did in a 2013 sermon at Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois:

Audio Link

Whatever the reasons, my story remains a burr in the saddle of those who once considered me their colleague or pastor. Numerous prayers have been uttered on my behalf, yet God has not seen fit to save or kill me. I remain a red flashing light reminder of the fact that pastors — men who once preached the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ — can and do apostatize. And if men of God can lose their faith, well, anyone can.

Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World

jesus loves the little children

Snark and humor ahead

For those of us who grew up in the Evangelical church, we likely sang Jesus Loves the Little Children in Sunday school or junior church. The song goes something like this:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red & yellow,black & white
they’re precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world

Jesus came to save the children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus came to save the children of the world

Jesus came to save the children of the world

Did you start singing along?  Can’t get it out of your head? Sorry.

According to the Share Faith website, the original lyrics were somewhat different:

Refrain:
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Alternate Refrain:
Jesus died for all the children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus died for all the children of the world.

Jesus calls the children dear,
Come to me and never fear,
For I love the little children of the world;
I will take you by the hand,
Lead you to the better land,
For I love the little children of the world.

Refrain

Jesus is the Shepherd true,
And He’ll always stand by you,
For He loves the little children of the world;
He’s a Savior great and strong,
And He’ll shield you from the wrong,
For He loves the little children of the world.

Refrain

I am coming, Lord, to Thee,
And Your soldier I will be,
For You love the little children of the world;
And Your cross I’ll always bear,
And for You I’ll do and dare,
For You love the little children of the world.

Refrain

Written in the late 1800’s by Christian pastor C Herbert Woolston and put to music by George F. Root, the song is one of the most popular songs in American Christianity. Conspicuously absent from the song is any mention of people with brown skin color. In the late 1800’s, the brown horde from the south had not yet invaded the United States and I suspect Woolston considered brown-skinned people a tan version of white. According to Wikipedia, Jesus Loves the Little Children is sung to Root’s 1864 Civil War tune Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Here’s the original lyrics for Root’s tune:

First Verse:

In the prison cell I sit,
Thinking Mother dear, of you,
And our bright and happy home so far away,
And the tears they fill my eyes
Spite of all that I can do,
Tho’ I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.

Chorus:

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come,
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the freeland in our own beloved home

I suspect if this song was written today it would not include the last line of the verse ‘Tho’ I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.’ But then again, Evangelicals might want to leave the line as is. After all, since it says “be gay” it reinforces their belief that gays choose to be homosexuals.

I’ve heard a rendition of Jesus Loves the Little Children that includes brown in the race jingle, but I found that adding brown to the song made the lyrics clunky.

Calvinists can’t sing Jesus Loves the Little Children due to its heretical Arminian theology.  Perhaps they could change the song to:

Jesus died for all the elect children,
All the elect children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All the elect are precious in His sight,
Jesus died for all the elect children of the world.

To make the song more inclusive, some churches and songbooks replace the ‘Red and yellow, black and white line’ with ‘Ev’ry colour, ev’ry race, all are cover’d by His grace’. Another modern adaptation has a verse that goes like this:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Fat and skinny, short and tall,
Jesus loves them one and all,

When I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, the church and Pat Horner had actually gone through the Baptist Hymnal and corrected the words that were at odds with their Calvinistic theology.  ‘Rescue the perishing’ became “rescued when perishing’. We can’t have Calvinistic Christians rescuing sinners, that’s God’s job.

While Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World is sung regularly in thousands of American Evangelical and Independent Baptist churches, most of the people singing the song are white. Jesus might love red, yellow, black, brown, and white children, but Evangelicals prefer they go elsewhere to church. This is especially so in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement.

Originally, this post was meant to be about the whiteness of the Family Research Council (FRC). It morphed into something completely different, but let me finish this posts with a couple of screen shots from FRC’s staff/leadership/team page. These screenshots will visually show what the average Evangelical church looks like:

frc staff

frc leadership team

frc experts

frc team

frc team 2

Walk into the average Evangelical church and this is what you will see. If Evangelicals want to point the finger at one reason for their decline, they should point to the subtle and not so subtle racism that flourishes in its churches. While they pride themselves in being past the days of racist Bob Jones University, their churches still reflect that they are a whites-only club. Missionaries are sent overseas to evangelize the red, yellow, brown, and black, while the most segregated place in America is the local Jesus loving Evangelical, IFB, and Southern Baptist church.

Notes

The funniest music related thing that happened at Community Baptist is when a song leader who was raised on the eastern seaboard decided to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Some church members refused to stand up and sing the song. Ah yes, the Confederacy lives on!

Yes, I am painting with broad strokes in this post. I am aware of Evangelicals attempts, in some corners of America, to become more racially inclusive. However, most churches and pastors find this hard to do since they know history clearly shows that Jesus was a white man.