Tag Archive: Falling from Grace

Questions: Bruce, As a Pastor, What Was Your View of Arminianism?

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.

Mike asked, “Bruce, As a Pastor, What Was Your View of Arminianism?”

Before I answer this question, let me give a definition of Arminianism:

Arminianism is based on theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as Remonstrants. His teachings held to the five solae of the Reformation, but they were distinct from particular teachings of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers. Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Harmenszoon) was a student of Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor) at the Theological University of Geneva. Arminianism is known to some as a soteriological diversification of Protestant Calvinist Christianity. However, to others, Arminianism is a reclamation of early Church theological consensus.

Dutch Arminianism was originally articulated in the Remonstrance (1610), a theological statement signed by 45 ministers and submitted to the States General of the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort (1618–19) was called by the States General to consider the Five Articles of Remonstrance. These articles asserted that:

  • Salvation (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the graciously-enabled faith (or unbelief) of man;
  • The Atonement is qualitatively adequate for all men, “yet that no one actually enjoys [experiences] this forgiveness of sins, except the believer …” and thus is limited to only those who trust in Christ;
  • “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will,” and unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;
  • The (Christian) Grace “of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of any good,” yet man may resist the Holy Spirit; and
  • Believers are able to resist sin through Grace, and Christ will keep them from falling; but whether they are beyond the possibility of ultimately forsaking God or “becoming devoid of grace … must be more particularly determined from the Scriptures.”

I was raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches and attended an IFB Bible college. I began my ministerial career holding to what is commonly called one-point Calvinism. I believed salvation was gained by a volitional act of human will, that the Holy Spirit could be resisted, and that once a person was saved he could never fall from grace. Eternal security, also known as once-saved-always-saved, is what sets IFB churches apart doctrinally from Arminian churches. Arminians believe Christians can lose their salvation. Their theology diverges in two directions when it comes to falling from grace. One group believes that Christians can lose their salvation and regain it at a later date. The other group believes that once Christians lose their salvation they can never again be saved. I came into contact with both groups during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

The Bible teaches both Arminianism and Calvinism. That’s what’s so great about the Bible, it can be used to prove almost anything. As a one-point Calvinist, whenever I came upon verses that affirmed the security of the believer, I made sure I exposed the error of Arminianism. When I preached from verses that seem to say that Christians could fall from grace, I usually pounded the pulpit, shouted, and tried to explain away what the verses clearly said. I have no doubt that Arminian preachers did the same at their churches. I didn’t believe that Arminians were false Christians. I just saw them as ignorant of biblical truth. During the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio, I had the opportunity to preach for a number of Arminian churches: Free Will Baptist, Church of the Nazarene, Christian Union, and Assembly of God. When preaching for these groups, I focused my preaching on the beliefs we shared, and not on our differences. This worked well until I got on the subject of sanctification at a Nazarene church. I so offended the congregation that the pastor told me that I was no longer welcome to preach at his church. I had planned to preach a week-long revival, but after two days I was fired. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have gone anywhere near the doctrine of sanctification, but God was leading and I let the congregation know that there was no such thing as sinless perfection. I knew that saying this would cause offense, but I said it anyway. In my mind, at the time, I believed being true to God was more important than avoiding controversy.

In the 1980s, my theology shifted from one-point Calvinism to John MacArthur-style lordship salvation and five-point Calvinism. At this juncture, my view of Arminianism radically changed. While I still thought many Arminians were Christians, I believed that they preached a corrupted, false gospel of works. More than a few of my Calvinistic ministerial colleagues believed that Arminians were false Christians; that Arminianism was inherently a works-based religion. As a fervent preacher of John Calvin’s gospel, I made Arminianism a frequent target. As an IFB preacher, I was aware that there were Arminians who attended my church. They loved my preaching style and my passion for evangelism, so they chose to ignore my one-point Calvinism. When I became a five-point Calvinist and started preaching the fullness of the doctrines of grace, Arminians felt quite unwelcome and stopped attending church. I don’t blame them for leaving the church. I imagine I would have done the same if my sincere beliefs had been assaulted and ridiculed week after week.

In late 1990s, I moved away from five-point Calvinism and adopted more of a hybrid theology. My focus at this point in the ministry was on how Christians lived out the gospel. Instead of focusing on doctrinal purity and salvation, I turned my attention towards promoting good works. I was troubled by the disconnect between Evangelical belief and Evangelical practice. Instead of focusing on doctrine, I focused on lifestyle. I came to the conclusion that true Christianity was not measured by what we said, but by what we did. If I had to pick a particular theological system of thought that best fit my beliefs at this time, it would’ve been Anabaptist or Mennonite theology. This change theologically coincided with my changing political beliefs. As my political beliefs moved leftward, so did my theology. The last church I pastored was Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. A man who was a member of the church in Mount Perry, Ohio came to hear me preach one Sunday. He remarked afterward that I was preaching more of a social gospel. I suspect he was right. Fifteen years later, as a card-carrying member of First Church of Atheism, I still think that beliefs are measured by behavior; that what matters the most is not our beliefs, but our actions. Of what value is humanism if it fails to motivate us to do good works?

Ironically, many of my former IFB congregants and colleagues in the ministry believe that I am still a Christian. This is where the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved becomes absurd. Here I am, a blasphemer of God and a denier of everything Evangelicals hold dear, yet because, at a moment in time, I prayed the sinner’s prayer, I am forever a Christian. Nothing I can say or do will void my Lifetime Eternal Life Warranty®. I am forever married to Jesus, even if I’m a whore. This means that the ex-Christian readers of this blog are still saved. Good news, right? We can sleep in on Sundays and still go to heaven when we die! Proponents of once-saved-always-saved say that this doctrine promotes the grace of God; that God is not a quitter. What it actually does, however, is make a mockery of God’s grace. If subsequent belief and lifestyle do not matter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right: Evangelicals are preaching a gospel of “cheap grace.”

Arminians, on the other hand, believe that Christians can and do fall from grace. Such people see me as someone who was once saved and now is lost. I prefer this designation. It honestly describes my life. I once was a Christian; I once was a follower Jesus; I once devoted myself to the teachings of Christ; and now I am an unbeliever. Arminians take my testimony at face value. They believe me when I say, I once was saved and now I am lost. 

It is not uncommon for IFB churches to have hundreds of conversions each year. Yet, attendance grows very little. Shouldn’t there be a connection between soul saved and asses in the pew? I know one church that prides itself in having won tens of thousands of souls to Christ, yet the church runs two thousand or so people in attendance. Surely, saying “I am a Christian” ought to mean something. I find myself thinking that I take Christianity and the Bible more seriously than most Evangelicals. If Jesus is all that Evangelicals say he is, shouldn’t how they live their lives reflect this? One need only look at Evangelical support of Donald Trump to see how disconnected behavior has become from belief. While there is nothing Evangelicals can say that would ever win me back to Jesus, I might be persuaded to admire their religion and their God from afar if I ever saw that their beliefs made them better people. Unfortunately, most Evangelicals live lives no different from those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. In fact, I have met atheists, agnostics, humanists, Buddhists, and pagans who live exemplary lives; people who love their fellow-man and do what they can to make the world a better place to live. If forced to choose, I’m with godless humanists; people who try their best to meaningfully impact the lives of others as they march to hell.

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.

Will Murderous Evangelical Pastor Christopher Gattis Go to Heaven When He Dies?

christopher gattis

As the Black Collar Crime series has shown, Evangelical pastors can and do commit all sorts of crimes, including — in the case of Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor Christopher Gattis — murder. Gattis stands accused of murdering his wife, stepdaughter, and the stepdaughter’s boyfriend on Thanksgiving Day.

Gattis worked for and was a member of a church that believes “the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the only revelation on both beliefs and practice.”  Lutherans believe people must persevere until the end to be saved (as do Calvinists). The difference between Lutherans and Calvinists, according to Douglas Sweeney, chair of the church history and history of Christian thought department and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is that Lutherans believe:

….the elect will certainly persevere in faith. God is not impotent to carry out his decrees respecting salvation. But not everyone who is born again is among God’s elect. It is possible for regenerated people to apostatize. So perseverance is largely a matter of walking in step with the Spirit, persevering, and encouraging other people to do the same.

According to Sweeney, Martin Luther believed that there were sins that could result in people losing their faith. Luther wrote:

“it is necessary to know and teach that when holy people—aside from the fact that they still have and feel original sin and also daily repent of it and struggle against it—somehow fall into a public sin (such as David, who fell into adultery, murder, and blasphemy against god), at that point faith and the Spirit have departed.” Luther, Smalcald Articles (1537), 3.3

None of us can know Christopher Gattis’ “heart.” For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume that he was a good Missouri-Synod Christian who loved Jesus, and the moment he committed the very public sin of homicide, the Spirit of God took flight from his soul and Gattis is now a sinner in need of conversion.

Using murderous, adulterous David as an example, Luther believed that when King David publicly sinned against God, faith and the Holy Spirit departed. Gattis, much like David, had a record of misconduct. In 2010 he was accused of public intoxication, and in 2012 he was charged with assault and battery.  Kevin Defford, his victim in the assault, said the following to the NBC-12:

“He was on edge that day, was my thinking,” says Kevin Defford, who is the victim in the 2012 case.

Defford was delivering samples of a newspaper with his son and tossed one onto Christopher Gattis’ driveway.

“On the way up, he had come from his driveway and was standing in the middle of the road,” said Defford.

He says Christopher Gattis threw the paper at his face and started yelling, even going as far as to pull out a box cutter.

“The fact that he pulled the box cutter, it had me thinking about my son at that point, and that’s why the police were called,” says Defford. “But again, it seemed like he was on edge that day when I met him.”

Christopher Gattis was found guilty, but the charge was dismissed once Christopher Gattis paid restitution. Now knowing this man is connected to a triple murder has Defford shaken.

“Now it makes me wonder a little more um, what might have been,” he said.

blood of jesus

It seems that Gattis has had several bouts of faithlessness. The good news is that if Gattis repents — telling God, my bad, Jesus. I promise never to kill anyone again — he can, once again, become a man after God’s own heart. No sin — no matter how perverse, vile, disgusting, or evil — is beyond the forgiving power of the miraculous blood of Jesus. For Gattis, restoration is but a prayer away.

Or is it?

Evangelicals love to talk about how bad they were before they became new creations in Christ Jesus. As anyone who has sat through a Baptist testimony time can attest, wild claims of depravity are quite common. The greater the sin, the greater the grace needed to save sinners from their sins. Over the course of the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, I never heard believers minimize their sinfulness. Oh no, the bigger the sinner, the better. This is why the history of Evangelicalism is filled with stories about people who were once witches, Satanists, and mob hit men before J-e-s-u-s saved them. Such people regale congregations with stories of murder, sexual abuse, demonic possession, sacrificing infants to Satan, and all sorts of perversion. Yet, Jesus somehow, some way, reached down into their wretched souls and saved them. (Of course, many of these wild testimonies are lies straight from the mythical pit of hell.)

Murderers present a real conundrum for Evangelicals. They know that David was a murderer, yet God forgave him, and he was considered not only a man after God’s own heart, but also a relative of Jesus. Evangelicals read and hear stories about murderers whose lives were transformed by the mighty working power of the triune God. This must mean, then, that murderers can be saved too, that even killing your family or strafing innocent men, women and children with weaponized drones is within the purview of Jesus, the savior of humankind. But, is it really? What does the Bible say on the matter?

Revelation 21:8 states:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Revelation 22:14,15 adds:

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.  For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. [OMG! all dogs go to hell!]

The writer of First John said:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)

Speaking of reprobates — those beyond the grace of God — the Apostle Paul said:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:26-32)

Paul emphatically states in Galatians 5:19-21 that murderers shall not inherit the Kingdom of God:

 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Did Christopher Gattis, by murdering his family, cross a line of no return? Has his nonrefundable ticket for the Lake of Fire been punched? Or, is there still hope for Gattis; that if he really, really, really says he is s-o-r-r-y that God will say to him, aw shucks, Chris, I forgive you. The Bible is incoherent on this matter, as it is with virtually every other theological, cultural, and social issue Christians say the Bible addresses. God said it, and that settles it, right?

Of course, there is no God, so flesh-and-blood humans are left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out why Gattis picked up a gun and murdered those closest to him. Was he mentally ill? Was he under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Did he shoot them in a fit of rage? If so, what caused him to be so angry? So many questions, and regardless of the answers, Gattis, if convicted, should spend the rest of his life in prison (and I know some readers think this is a death-penalty-worthy crime).

I grieve for those left behind in the wake of Gattis homicidal rage. And for those who attempt to paper over this tragedy with God, prayer, and faith? Child, please. Stop excusing bad behavior with nonsensical theological arguments and clichés. What’s next? — God needed more good angels so he used Christopher Gattis to send his family to heaven; that God always works things out according to his purpose and plan? Enough, already. (Please read Sutherland Springs Massacre: God Answered the Victims Prayers by Allowing Them to be Murdered.)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.