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A Few Thoughts on People Who Say, “Praise God, I Have Never Changed my Beliefs”

i shall not be moved psalm 16

One common refrain often heard in some corners of the Evangelical world goes something like this: Praise God, I have NEVER changed my beliefs. I am seventy years old and I still have the exact same beliefs I had at age twenty — fifty years ago. There is this idea floating on the brackish backwaters of Evangelicalism that posits that change is bad or even sinful. Pastors and congregants pride themselves in having held to the one true faith their entire lives, that their Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, pneumatology, and hamartiology are the same yesterday, today, and forever. These theological purists will also say that their behavior hasn’t changed either. The sins they were against in the 1970s are the same sins they oppose today. These “just like a tree planted by the waters, I shall not be moved” Christians believe that they love what God loves and hate what God hates; that their interpretations of the sixty-six books of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Christian Bible align closely with God’s mind; that, thanks to the Holy Spirit living inside of them as their teacher and guide, they are spiritually mature people who feast on the meat of the Word of God, not the pablum most Christians slurp. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-13)

In most spheres of life, learning new things and discarding old beliefs, practices, and ideas is desired and expected. Not in Evangelicalism. Evangelicals cherish certainty. The Apostle Paul told young Timothy, the preacher in 2 Timothy 1:12, KNOW in whom I have believed. Pastors challenge congregants to have a know-so salvation. Is it any wonder, then, that because a premium is placed on certainty, it breeds arrogance and leads people to think that their beliefs have never changed? Bruce, are Evangelicals who think this way glorying in ignorance? Yes, and the Bible gives them cover for their ignorance in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

For Bible-believing Evangelicals, being considered unlearned and ignorant by the “world’ is a badge of honor.  What Evangelical doesn’t want it said of them, they had been with Jesus?

Paul warns the church at Colossae in Colossians 2:8:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

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Evangelicals are frequently warned by their pastors to beware of the philosophies, traditions, and rudiments of the world.

Better to be ignorant and know Jesus than to have a Ph.D. and go to Hell. Take that Bart Ehrman!  A quick survey of Evangelicalism reveals all sorts of beliefs that lie deeply rooted in certainty-driven ignorance. Creationism, King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism, to name a few, require adherents to deliberately and resolutely tune out any data that contradicts their beliefs. Science tells us that creationism is false. Evangelical solution? Ignore science, and by faith believe that what the Bible says in Genesis 1-3 is literally true. The same goes for King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism. When Evangelicals holding these beliefs find themselves intellectually challenged, they run to the safety of faith, ignoring anything that shows their theological and historical beliefs are false. Charismatics and Pentecostals do the same. They KNOW that God works miracles, baptizes people in the Holy Ghost, and gives spirit-filled people the ability to do mighty works in Jesus’ name, including speaking in tongues. Believing that their interpretations of certain Bible passages are infallibly correct, these swing-from-the-chandelier Christians reject anything that suggests otherwise.

More than a few Evangelicals will object to what I have written here. While they will admit that there’s a lot of ignorance in Evangelical churches, their churches and pastors value intellectual pursuit. While this sounds good, when these claims are more closely examined, pseudo-intellectualism is often found. While these intellectual “giants” of the Evangelical faith do indeed read books and spend significant amounts of time studying — I know I did for most of the years I spent in the ministry — it is WHAT they read and study that is problematic. True intellectual inquiry requires following the path wherever it leads, leaving no stone unturned. Such inquiry requires people to meet truth head-on, not retreat or attempt to veer around intellectual obstacles. As a former Evangelical pastor of twenty-five years and now an atheist, I challenge Christians to carefully examine what they say they believe. Surely, any belief worth having can withstand scrutiny and investigation, right? Right? R-i-g-h-t?

Evidently not. When Evangelicals have doubts or find their beliefs challenged, what do they do? Many of them run to their pastors (indoctrination specialists) for encouragement and support. Keeping asses in the pews is crucial — no asses, no offerings — so when congregants come to them with questions and doubts, these so-called men of God will often recommend reading “safe” books written by Christian apologists or approved Christian authors. Some pastors, especially those who pride themselves in having three books in their library — Bible, concordance, and dictionary — will tell doubters to, by faith, cling to Jesus, read the Bible, and pray, reminding them that DOUBT is caused by Satan and his emissaries in the world. Here’s looking at you, Bruce.

Evangelicals who pride themselves in being “widely” read — commonly found among Evangelical Calvinists — do spend significant time studying and reading. It is what they read that is the problem. While these Evangelicals will, at times, venture beyond the safe confines of the Evangelical bubble, most of their reading and study is of authors considered orthodox. In other words, they only read books that reinforce their presently-held beliefs. While there is some lateral movement in Evangelicalism — Arminians becoming Calvinists, Baptists becoming Charismatics, Premillennialists becoming Amillennialists, Non-cessationists becoming Cessationists, and rigid, far-right-wing Fundamentalist Baptists becoming generic Evangelicals, most believers continue to hold on to the peculiar beliefs of their tribe, sect, or church. Their theological pursuits rarely, if ever, take them beyond the safety of their current beliefs and practices. Rare are Evangelicals who are willing to risk losing their faith in their search for truth.

Is it any wonder, then, that a premium is placed on being steadfast in the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)?  Revered are men and women whose theological roots run deep and who can always give an answer about the hope that lies within them (1 Peter 3:15). As an Evangelical pastor, I learned early that congregants wanted certainty. They wanted a pastor who firmly stood on the Word of God and had unmovable, unshakeable faith. If I had questions and doubts about this or that belief, church members didn’t want to hear about it. Tell us the unvarnished truth, Pastor Bruce. The reason, of course, for such desires is that many Evangelical church members have a borrowed belief system; that what their pastor believes is what they believe. Years ago, my theology shifted from the Baptist theology of the IFB church movement to Calvinism. As I began preaching expositionally and teaching congregants what Calvinists call the doctrines of grace, I was shocked by how few church members had a problem with the seismic changes in my theology and preaching. Looking back on this now, I have concluded that what mattered to members was having a sense of community and having a church family call home. Most of them were never going to read the books I did or spend hours a day studying the Bible. Unlike their pastor, who had a job where he was actually paid to read and study, they had secular jobs that demanded their time and attention. They also had families to care for. What congregants wanted most of all was assurance that they were on the right path; that what they believed squared with the Bible. They were willing to trust that what I said was true. After all, I was the man God had chosen to be their pastor. Surely God and his man had their best interests at heart, right?

I pity and feel sorry for Evangelicals who pride themselves in never changing their beliefs. Many Evangelicals are just like people who never travel far from home. They have never experienced the rich diversity that lies beyond their doorstep. Years ago, during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days, a large group of new people showed up one Sunday to attend our morning service. I thought, at first, which nearby IFB church had a split? This group was not, however, disgruntled Baptists. They were Methodists. Once a year, their church canceled a Sunday service so attendees could visit a different church. Their pastor believed it was good for church members to be exposed to the heterogeneity found in Christianity. I thought, what an odd and dangerous thing to do — exposing members to potentially heretical teaching. Of course, I was glad they came to Somerset Baptist Church — The Fastest Growing Church in Perry County. God brought them my way so I could teach them the TRUTHWhy, some of these Methodists probably aren’t even saved, I thought at the time. If they were really, really saved, they wouldn’t be members of a liberal church. Later in life, I came to see how wise the Methodist pastor was; that attending a wide spectrum of churches is a cure for arrogant, self-assured Fundamentalism. The next-to-last church I pastored (for seven years) — Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio — used an advertising slogan that stated, The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian. As its pastor, I was willing to embrace all those who claimed the name Christian — Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Pentecostals, to name a few. The catholicity of Christianity was more important to me than theological orthodoxy.

I slowly came to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did; that my theological underpinnings were just one of many ways of interpreting the Bible. I finally learned that I wasn’t infallible, and neither was the Bible. I suppose, had my experiences been different, my changed understanding of Christianity and faith might have led to mainline Christianity, liberalism, or Universalism. Instead, questions and doubts pushed me down the slippery slope Evangelical preachers warn about. Better to rest in certainty of belief and practice than end up like Bruce Gerencser, Evangelical pastors warn. Look at what happened to him! He is now, of all things, a God-hating, sin-loving atheist.  I may, indeed, be a cautionary tale, but I am here to tell readers that a wild, woolly, wonderful world awaits those who will abandon certainty of belief and allow intellectual inquiry to lead the way. Life becomes about the journey instead of the destination. Will you join me? (Please read Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser and Ralph Wingate Jr Uses Me as a Sermon Illustration.)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

For Evangelical Christians, It’s Not About the Evidence

birth of jesus

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Here’s one thing that atheists and agnostics need to understand. For a person becoming an Evangelical Christian – the choice to do so has never been JUST about the evidence. We mistakenly think that if we just show Evangelicals evidence that their God is a myth, the Bible is a manmade book, and the central claims of Christianity are false, they will abandon their religion and embrace atheism or agnosticism. How’s that working for us?

The truth is, Christianity, as a belief system, is all about faith. Hebrews 11:1-3 says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

How does a person become an Evangelical Christian? Ephesians 2:8,9 says:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Evangelicals, by faith, decide to believe certain things. By faith, they believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. By faith, they believe the Bible is truth, and whatever it says comes straight from the mouth of God. By faith, they believe that the central teachings of Christianity are true regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin — that he was birthed by a teen girl named Mary who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. It is common knowledge that virgins can’t have babies. Unless a woman is impregnated by a man’s sperm, there can be no baby. Evangelicals know this, but they disregard this fact, choosing instead to believe, by faith, the story in the Bible about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

It is also common knowledge that when people die, they stay dead. I know of no evidence that suggests that a person lying dead in the grave for three days has any hope or possibility of coming back to life. When you’re dead, you stay dead. Evangelicals know this, but choose, instead, to disregard this fact, putting their faith in the claims the Bible makes for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Much like it was for Jesus, Evangelicals believes that God will someday resurrect their bodies from the grave and make them new. What evidence do they have for this claim? None.

The virgin birth of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead are two essential doctrines of Evangelical Christianity. There is absolutely no evidence for these two events outside of the Bible. Blind, irrational faith is required to believe these two essential Evangelical doctrines. The same could be said for the Bible stories about Jesus walking on water, walking through walls, turning water into wine, and walking through a crowd of people without being detected. Reason demands we reject such stories, but by faith, Evangelicals believe them to be true.

Evangelicals do a great disservice to their religion by attempting to argue for Christianity on an evidentiary basis. This is an argument that Evangelicals cannot win, and they only hurt their own cause when they attempt to argue faith claims in an evidence arena. Outside of the Bible, there is no evidence for the claims that virgins can have babies or dead people can get out of the grave and live again. These are stubborn facts that cannot be refuted.

Does this mean that Evangelicals are stupid or ignorant? Of course not. I recognize that Christianity has never been just about the evidence. Christianity purports to answer what we call the big questions of life. Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? Is there life after death? The Christian Bible answers these questions and more. For atheists and agnostics, the answers to these questions seem empty and of little value, but we need to remember not everyone is like us.

Who are we to stand in the way of what helps someone get through the night? It matters not whether we think their beliefs are a flight of fancy — and many of us do. All that matters is whether their Christian beliefs meet the needs they have in their lives. We often forget that many people come to the Christian faith in a time of crisis. Let’s face it: atheism doesn’t do a very good job of comforting people when they are hurting, sick, or dying. Often, all we have to offer is love and compassion wrapped in the reality that life is shitty and hard and everyone dies in the end. Brutal, I know, but it is the truth.

As long of Evangelicals keep their beliefs to themselves and make no attempts to evangelize others or turn the United States into a theocracy, I suspect most atheists and agnostics are content to let Evangelicals believe what they will. Unfortunately, many Evangelicals refuse to keep their religion private, and, as will be on full display November 3, do everything in their power to ensconce Jesus as the King of the United States (and world). As long as Evangelicals have ill-will towards non-Evangelicals and demand preferential treatment, atheists, agnostics, secularists, and others who value the separation of church and state, must resolutely oppose and condemn Evangelicalism. That said, we should ask ourselves whether our time is well spent trying to evangelize Evangelicals and turn them into atheists.

Ask yourself, when is the last time you have won over an Evangelical by argumentation and evidence? Doesn’t happen very much, does it? Christianity is much more complex than that. It’s not the end of the world if Christians die thinking they will go to Heaven. At the end of the day, who cares? For whatever reason, Evangelicals need faith to make it through life, and they need to think that there is something better awaiting them after they die. I don’t fault them for believing these things, even if I think their beliefs are untrue.

As atheists, we cannot believe the things that Christians believe. Why? We don’t have faith. All we have is a Bible that Evangelicals tell us is truth, but we find no persuasive evidence for its truth claims. We know that faith would fix the lack of evidence problem for us, but we are not willing to relegate matters of life and death to such a subjective idea as faith. We wish we could, but we can’t.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Faith and the Chair

dog in a chair

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I suspect that most of us who were raised in Evangelical Christianity have heard the faith/chair analogy. If you have not heard it before:

Faith is like deciding to sit in a chair. You don’t know that the chair will hold you, yet by faith you believe it will, so you sit down in the chair.

Quite deep theology there, brethren.

Here’s the problem with this analogy: sitting in a chair does not require faith at all. Let me explain it this way. I am a big man, so making sure a chair will withstand my considerable ass sitting in it requires me to use the scientific method of inquiry.

Before I ever sit in a chair, I ask myself, does this chair LOOK like it will hold me? Now looks aren’t enough, as I learned several years ago at a Toledo Olive Garden. After the hostess brought us to our table, I glanced at the chair and quickly sat down. Except I didn’t make it all the way down. As I started to put my weight on the chair, it kicked out from me and I landed flat on my back in the middle of Olive Garden. I hit my head on the cement floor and could not get up. The manager came running in to make sure I was all right. The only injury was to my pride. So, was the chair defective? Not at all. The chair had roller casters and I didn’t see them. As I started to sit down, the chair rolled out from underneath me and I fell. Because I didn’t pay attention to the construction of the chair, I ended up on the cement floor. This is what having faith in the chair got me.

Most of the time, when we go out to eat, I carefully check not only the construction of the chair, but the ingress and egress. As a disabled man, I want to know the lay of the land. Where’s the bathroom, can I easily walk to the bathroom, etc. As far as the chair is concerned, I rock the chair back and forth and side to side making sure it is solid, and I press on the seat, making sure it will hold me. I have been to more than one restaurant where I’ve had to ask for a different chair lest the one they wanted me to use leave me on the floor. The only thing worse than a chair breaking is the embarrassment that comes from it (though my editor suggests that getting injured would be worse).

Using the scientific method, I test a chair to make sure it will hold me. After I have done so, and it passes the tests, I feel confident that the chair will support my 6 foot, 330-pound body (Yes, I have lost 65 pounds since Thanksgiving). I have been a big man most of my adult life, and this method of determining chair worthiness has never failed me. The only time I have ever had a chair break is when I “faithed” it.

The faith/chair analogy breaks down in another way, because the chair is an inanimate object that I can see and touch. God can not be seen or touched, and believing in God requires blind faith.

This is one of the reasons I am an atheist. I see no evidence for the Christian God. Believing in such a deity requires faith, a faith I do not have. For me, seeing is believing, and I do not “see” the Christian God.

Hebrews 11:1,3 states:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

What is Christian faith?

  • The substance of things hoped for
  • The evidence of things not seen

Perhaps the wording of the NIV will make it clearer:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Many Evangelicals get upset when someone suggests that their faith is a blind faith. But isn’t that exactly how Hebrews defines faith: believing without seeing; that faith is the proof of belief in that which can not be seen?

Creationists would do well to read Hebrews 11 the next time they try to scientifically “prove” creationism. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that believing God created the universe requires faith. It requires faith to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence for the formation of the universe, earth, and life. Creationists embarrass themselves and besmirch their religion when they try to make creationism fit into a scientific box. And when their efforts fail, what do they do? They retreat to the safety of faith, a place they should have stayed to start with.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Is Living By Faith an Excuse for Irresponsibility?

charismatic faith healer

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The Bible commands Christians to live by faith. According to Hebrews 11:6, without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God.

Christians are saved by faith, through grace. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

According to the Bible, no one deserves salvation. God, a gracious, kind, loving and just deity, purposes to save some sinners out the mass of sinners called the human race. God doesn’t have to save anyone, but he chooses to save some. We all deserve judgment and hell, so no one can charge God with favoritism because he chooses to save some but not others.

Those who are saved by the wondrous grace of God become new creations in Christ Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Since Christians are new creations in Christ, they are commanded to live lives of faith. The Holy Spirit indwells — literally lives inside of — every Christian, teaching them everything that pertains to life and godliness. Christians don’t have to go to church to find God, God is with them 24/7. God has promised to never, ever leave the followers of Jesus.

According to the Bible, the essence of the Christian life is FAITH. Romans 1:17 says: For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faithRomans 5:1,2 says: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that Christians walk by faith, not by sight.

From beginning to end, the Christian life is one of faith. There is no work Christians can do to gain favor with God. God gives Christians the gift of faith and commands them to live a life totally dependent on him. To live a life according to the flesh or according to the philosophies of this world is, according to the Bible, to deny that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.

Let me repeat: the Bible makes it clear that without faith it is impossible to please God. IMPOSSIBLE!

How does this life of faith work out in the day-to-day lives of Christians?

Christians are taught to tune into God’s radio channel. Through prayer and reading the Bible, along with regular attendance at public worship, Christians can divine the will of God. God has a perfect will for everyone. Since God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, he knows exactly how Christians should live their lives. Christians are called on to live lives of self-denial — lives where the only thing that matters is God’s will. Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, through prayer and reading the Bible, can determine exactly what God wants them to do.

It would seem that, if the premise above is correct, all Christians would believe the same thing and live their lives in similar fashion. But, as anyone familiar with Christianity knows, the Christian church is hopelessly fractured. Sectarian splits and internecine wars are quite common as denominations and churches slug it out to see who has THE truth. It seems that God has a hard time making up his mind about what the “faith once delivered to the saints” is. It seems God is uncertain about how Christians should live the life of faith. One Christian says ________ is a sin and another Christian says no it is not. Both appeal to the Bible as the authority for their belief and practice.

I have sat through countless church business meetings filled with people who had prayed about the matters that were going to be discussed. One would think that everyone in the business meeting would come to the same conclusion, but I never experienced a meeting where everyone was in agreement. I’ve seen plenty of business meetings where everyone seemed to be in agreement, but two or three weeks later, after the church gossip line had run its course, I found out that there were people not in favor of what we voted to do. It seems that the Holy Spirit changes his mind quite often.

I spent most of my adult life intimately involved with the Christian church. As I’ve said many times before, I know what really goes on behind closed doors, and I know where the bodies are buried. While Christianity likes to paint itself as a unified body of people who are in love with Jesus and follow him wherever he leads, the truth is there is little or no unity, and quite often, if Jesus is headed one way, they are headed in the opposite direction.

Christians who are serious about their faith work very hard at trying to know what God wants them to do with their lives. They listen intently to their pastor’s preaching, hoping to hear and feel that little nudge from God. They diligently read their Bibles, hoping that one of the verses will jump out at them and, with blaring sirens, alert them to what it is God wants them to do. Christians will spend significant amounts of time in prayer. Prayer is where the Christian talks with God and hopefully God responds.

I’ve heard countless Christians say, and I have said it many times myself, God has laid ____________ on my heart. How do Christians know that God has laid something on their heart? They just know it. It’s that spidey sense, that feeling that one gets when all is well and everything is at peace. It is not uncommon to hear a Christian say “I have peace about this matter.” Of course, there is no way to know that it’s God. How could a Christian ever PROVE that God is laying something on his heart?

Many Christians realize the danger of living a life solely dictated by faith. They read their Bible, pray, seek the counsel of other people, yet they still have nagging doubts about what God is asking them to do. Sometimes, a Christian cannot bring himself to do what he believes God wants him to do, and at that moment he becomes a person who is commonly known in the church as being “out of the will of God.”

There are two labels that no Christian wants attached to their lives: out of the will of God and backslidden. Preachers spend a significant amount of time preaching to such people. These sub-par Christians are blamed for a lot of things. The church would have revival or the blessing of God or have their financial or spiritual needs met if only backslidden Christians would get right with God. It is a tremendous weight to feel that you are not right with God and that you are the blame for all the bad things that are happening.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. I was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I was intent on following the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) wherever he went. I attempted to live my life according to the premise “what would Jesus do?” Every day I purposed to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. And every day, I failed to meet this impossible standard — but I kept trying, trying, and trying.

I was taught, and I taught others, that every Christian has a cross to bear. Every Christian has a weight in his life that weighs him down, a burden he alone must carry. In my life, I thought my weight was living in poverty. As an act of self-denial, I believed God wanted me to live the pauper’s life, and he wanted my wife and kids (collateral damage) to do the same. Of course, pastoring poor churches made it a lot easier to live this way.

As I look back on this time in our life, I realize how foolish it all was. Good intentions perhaps, but nonetheless very foolish. I was so focused on the work of the ministry and getting sinners saved that nothing else mattered. Retirement? I had no plans to retire. I planned to die with my boots on. Savings? Why save money when you can give it away to the church and those in need. Disability insurance? Who needs that? God will protect me and give me the strength that I need.

My family and I did without so that the work of God could prosper and God would be pleased. Church members found great pleasure in telling other people about how their pastor and his family lived a simple life unencumbered by material things. Of course, the same church members who praised us rarely had any desire to live the same life we were living. While they saved, planned for retirement, bought their homes, and had insurance, my family and I lived in poverty.

I’m sure by this point someone is going to suggest that I should have done things differently. (Ya think?)  Family and financial security come first. I certainly believe that now, but at the time I believed I was doing the will of God living the way I did. I knew God had called me to preach and pastor churches, so the fact that I only pastored one church that paid me a living wage was immaterial. Here I am Lord, use me, was all that mattered.

I now realize that I made a lot of mistakes. My college professors and mentors taught me that my wife and family were secondary to the ministry. If I had to make a choice between family and the church, God wanted me to choose the church. I wrote about this in the post It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had An Affair. I now know my family comes first. I now know that my first priority must be to provide for the material well-being of my wife and family. I wish I had come to this revelation while I still had strength of body, but now it is too late. I realize there are no do-overs, so I must move forward with what I have. Fortunately, my wife has a good job, and through careful planning and budgeting we can live a decent life.

Thirteen years ago, we bought our first home. In the past, we owned a couple of mobile homes that sat on rented property. Now we own not only the house, but the ground underneath it. It still thrills us to know that we own our own place and can do whatever we want. In recent years, we have purchased several new cars. Our last new car purchase before now came in 1984, a Plymouth Horizon that I put 100,000 miles on in two years. Between 1984 and 2010, Polly and I drove everything from cars bought at Buy-Here-Pay-Here lots to $300 clunkers. There are some cars that we have owned which, if I brought them home today, Polly would likely do a reenactment of the Burning Bed.

I’ve come to the conclusion that faith was an excuse for irresponsibility; that waiting for God to provide was an excuse for doing without. If I had to do it all over again, I would have been a bi-vocational pastor. I would’ve worked a secular job. I would’ve made sure that my family was provided for, that we had insurance, that we had money saved, and that we had adequately planned for the future. As with all things in the past, it is what it is. All anyone can do is learn from their mistakes and hope that the same mistakes are not repeated.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Voices of Atheism: What is Faith? by Aron Ra

aron ra

This is the latest installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe this series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Today’s video features Aron Ra. Enjoy!

Video

Bruce Gerencser