Menu Close

Tag: Fear of God

Life in the IFB Church: Polly’s Secret

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977
Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

My wife and I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Polly’s father was an IFB preacher, and both of us attended an IFB college in the 1970s. In 1978, we walked down the aisle of an IFB church pastored by Polly’s uncle and declared our troth one to another. After leaving Midwestern Baptist College in 1979, we spent the next fifteen years pastoring IFB churches. Even after our public break from the IFB church movement, it would be years before we distanced ourselves from that sect’s theological and social Fundamentalism. To say that IFB thinking and beliefs coursed through our veins would be a gross understatement.

IFB churches are known for being anti-culture. IFB churches and their pastors have strict, well-defined theological beliefs and practices. Congregants are expected to adhere to the letter of the law, dotting every i and crossing every t. Deviating from the expected norm brought public judgment from the pulpit, private criticism behind the scenes, and ultimately ex-communication. There is no place in IFB churches for differences of belief and practice. IFB apologists will object to this characterization, saying that not everyone has to believe the same things. However, these differences of opinion are about trivial, peripheral beliefs, not those that make IFB churches stand out from other Evangelical sects.

While IFB churches have stringent core theological beliefs, it is their social Fundamentalism that they are most known for. For readers not familiar with social Fundamentalism: social Fundamentalism focuses on the conduct, lifestyle, and social engagement of the Christian. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) If IFB churches and pastors are known for anything, it’s their rules and regulations, also known as church standards. While every Christian sect believes certain behaviors and practices are “sin,” IFB churches unapologetically believe that listening to rock music, women wearing pants, women having short hair, men having long hair, watching R-rated movies, going to the movie theater, drinking alcohol, masturbating, engaging in premarital sex, touching/kissing before marriage, LGBTQ-anything, going to a secular college, voting Democrat — to name a few — are heinous sins against the thrice-holy God of the King James Bible (and yes, I know not every IFB pastor thinks every behavior listed here is a “sin”).

In 2020, I wrote a post titled, The Official Fundamentalist Baptist Rulebook. I listed the “church standards” that are found in many IFB churches:

  • Thou shalt obey the pastor at all times
  • Thou shalt obey all adults at all times if you are a child or teenager
  • Thou shalt obey your husband at all times if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt obey your parents at all times
  • Thou shalt obey the police and government unless the pastor says it is a sin against God to do so
  • Thou shalt tithe
  • Thou shalt give an offering
  • Thou shalt give a faith promise missionary offering
  • Thou give an offering any time the pastor says God is saying to collect a special offering
  • Thou shalt attend church every time the doors are open
  • Thou shalt read the Bible every day
  • Thou shalt pray every day
  • Thou shalt pray without ceasing
  • Thou shalt pray for every meal, but ice cream at Dairy Queen after church requires no prayer
  • Thou shalt only use the King James Bible — 1611 edition which is really the 1769 revision
  • Thou shalt only use the Scofield King James Bible
  • Thou shalt not have long hair (over your ears, collar) if you are a man
  • Thou shalt not have a block cut hairstyle if you are a man
  • Thou shalt not have facial hair if you are a man, but if you are a woman you can have facial hair
  • Thou shalt not have tattoos unless you have prison tats from your life before Christ
  • Thou shalt not take the hem out of your Levi jeans or alter your clothing in any way so that you look worldly
  • Thou shalt not wear pants (britches) if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not wear shorts, but a woman can wear Baptist shorts — also known as culottes
  • Thou shalt not expose any flesh if you are a woman, especially your thighs, breasts, or back
  • Thou shalt only wear dresses with hemlines below the knees if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not have any physical contact with the opposite sex if you are unmarried
  • Thou shalt not masturbate
  • Thou shalt not have more than one hole in each ear if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not pierce any body part except your ear, and then only if you are a woman
  • Thou shalt not watch TV, but if you are a carnal Christian and must watch TV thou shalt only watch Little House on the Prairie or Bonanza
  • Thou shalt not go to the movie theater, but using streaming services is okay
  • Thou shalt always have tracts in your shirt pocket or purse, ready to evangelize at a moment’s notice
  • Thou shalt drive a car with church advertising stickers, IFB cliches, or Bible verses attached to the bumper
  • Thou shalt park down the street when visiting the local strip club or whore house lest the pastor know you are there and stay away
  • Thou shalt not dance
  • Thou shalt not listen to secular music, especially rock music, which is from the pit of hell
  • Thou shalt not listen to contemporary Christian music (CCM)
  • Thou shalt not smoke tobacco
  • Thou shalt not drink fermented alcohol — after all, Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice
  • Thou shalt not dip snuff
  • Thou shalt not chew tobacco
  • Thou shalt not cuss, but saying darn, shoot, crap, freaking, and fudge are okay
  • Thou shalt not date non-Independent Baptist girls or boys
  • Thou shalt not have any non-Independent Baptist friends
  • Thou shalt home school your children or send them to a Christian school
  • Thou shalt only read pastor-approved Christian books
  • Thou shalt never speak in tongues
  • Thou shalt only believe what the pastor says you are to believe
  • Thou shalt go soulwinning every week
  • Thou shalt say you have victory over sin, even if you are lying
  • Thou shalt adhere to the “perception is reality” rule
  • Thou shalt send your kids to the same Christian college the pastor went to
  • Thou shalt leave the church if you commit adultery, get a divorce, or get pregnant outside of marriage
  • Thou shalt  believe everything the pastor says even when you are certain he is lying, speaking evangelistically, or embellishing his illustrations
  • Thou shalt wear a bra if you are a woman, and it can only be a white, underwire bra
  • Thou shalt not mix bathe (Baptist for swimming with the opposite sex)
  • Thou shalt not go to amusement parks unless the youth group is going
  • Thou shalt not go to the prom
  • Thou shalt not show emotion unless praising Jesus from 10:00 am to noon on Sunday or giving a testimony during Sunday evening service
  • Thou shalt say AMEN during at the appropriate time during the pastor’s sermon, especially when he shouts, pounds the pulpit, or performs gymnastics
  • Thou shalt not be angry even though the pastor is allowed to be angry, but that’s because his anger is righteous anger
  • Thou shalt be for what the pastor is for and against what the pastor is against, because if you don’t, a bear might come out of the woods and eat you
  • Thou shalt never use your brain
  • Thou shalt ignore any science that contradicts the Bible
  • Thou shalt never try to fix your own problems because the pastor is the official fixer of all problems
  • Thou shalt takes notes on the sermon even if the rabbit wanders five miles off the trail or the sermon is incoherent
  • Thou shalt always tell the pastor what a wonderful sermon he preached, even when you have no idea what he was talking about
  • Thou shalt always tell Sister Bertha what a wonderful job she did with her off-key rendition of What a Friend we Have in Jesus
  • Thou shalt not use canned (taped) music for music specials
  • Thou shall not play the guitar or drums

The lists of rules and regulations found in IFB churches — both stated and implied — are endless. Since IFB churches are Independent (please see What is an IFB Church?) governmentally, each church has its own standards. Who the pastor is at the time is the final arbiter of what will be expected (demanded) of congregants.

Having spent the first 35+ years of our lives in IFB churches, both Polly and I were deeply affected psychologically by all the rules and regulations. What made matters worse was that I was a pastor, and Polly was a pastor’s wife. We were not only the gatekeepers and the enforcers of the church’s standards, but we were also expected to perfectly and joyfully obey every jot and tittle of the “law.”

We believed that if we didn’t live according to these rules and regulations — which we believed were taught explicitly or implicitly in the inspired, inerrant, infallible (King James) Word of God — that God would chastise us or withhold his blessing. As devout followers of Jesus, we daily strove to live sinless lives. And as sure as the sun came up in the morning, we failed. No matter how hard we tried to keep the rules, there was never a day when we could say, nailed it!

This brings me to the focus of this post, Polly’s secret. You see, despite striving to be holy in thought, word, and deed, Polly had secret sins in her life. Of course, so did her pastor husband. Our “sins” were very different, but both of us “sinned” because we were told we couldn’t. You see, when you are constantly told this or that behavior is “sin,” it is not surprising that you want what you can’t have.

Most readers will likely find what I share next quite amusing, but I hope you will understand this story in the context of the Fundamentalist Baptist bubble Polly and I lived in for decades. Breaking the rules brought overwhelming fear and guilt. We were in our 40s before we drank alcohol, went to the movie theater, or listened to rock music. Polly was 46 before she wore her first pair of pants. I still remember me pleading with her to buy a pair of pants for the first time. Polly literally thought God was going to strike her dead. He didn’t, but the look that Polly’s Fundamentalist mom had on her face after seeing Polly in pants for the first time suggested that judgment might be coming soon. Polly’s mom’s face had a similar look of displeasure the first time she opened our refrigerator and found a six-pack of beer. We have been disappointing her for years now.

During a recent discussion about how IFB beliefs and practices harmed us psychologically, Polly decided to come clean about a “sin” in her life, circa the 1980s. We laughed over her confession, but I am sure her “sin” caused Polly lots of guilt and consternation back in the day. What, you ask, did Polly do? Have an affair? Steal money from the church? Secretly peruse Playgirl? Nope. Her sin was far more sinister than these things. Polly read books.

Books? Yes, books. In IFB churches, reading was strictly regulated. Pastors and congregants alike knew that only certain subjects and authors were approved for consumption. I still remember stopping at our pianist’s home unannounced, only to find a stack of true-crime novels sitting on her living room table. Congregants knew to give their homes IFB-approved appearances if they knew I was planning a visit, but I caught Rose off guard by stopping by unannounced. Rose, a wonderful, Jesus-loving woman, knew she had been “caught.” She knew what was coming next: a Pastor Bruce lecture about reading such godless trash. Little did I know that she had also bought a TV that she hid from me every time I stopped by.

Rose confessed her “weakness” for true-crime novels, promising that she would stop reading them and only read God-approved Christian chick-lit. I suspect that she did neither. What I didn’t know is that Polly had a similar “weakness.” Come to find out, my mom — a voracious reader — was giving Polly unapproved, “sinful” books to read. Knowing that her holier-than-thou preacher husband would disapprove and likely burn the books to make a point, Polly hid the books under our bed, reading them when I wasn’t home (which was typically 10-12 hours a day). What a sinner, right?

Today, Polly continues to read fictional books, including those that have graphic sexual content. Of course, the difference between now and then is that she no longer fears God or feels guilty over what she has read. While both of us have deep, lasting scars from our IFB years, we relish and enjoy the freedom we have from the rules and regulations of our past. We are free to watch and read whatever we want without fearing judgment or chastisement.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

How Preachers Put the Fear of God into Church Attendees

fearful of god

Fear is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to manipulate and control church attendees. While many Evangelical churches are taking more of a relational approach that focuses on feel-good how-to sermons, hellfire-and-brimstone churches can still be found in virtually every American community. These kinds of churches are known for sin-hating, devil-chasing “hard” preaching. The men — women need not apply — who pastor such churches take pride in the fact that their toe-stomping sermons cause sinners and saints alike to fear God. And in some instances, not only do church attendees fear the Almighty, but they also fear the preacher.

There are two methods commonly used by preachers to cause people to fear God. First, there are various Bible verses that promote fear of God. The book of Hebrews says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments. The Bible also says that people should fear he who has the keys of life and death, “he” being, of course, God. Then there are also various Bible stories that remind people of what might happen if they disobey God. Preachers remind congregants that disobeying God shows that they have a lack of fear. Church members who are not regular attendees or faithful tithers are told that their disobedience reveals a heart that does not fear God. No matter the sin, according to Evangelical preachers, the root cause is a lack of fear of God. If people feared God they would do all that God commands them to do. Of course, far too many Evangelical preachers confuse their personal convictions and way of life with the laws, commands, and precepts found in the Bible. I have written several posts in the past about the long list of rules and regulations that can be found in many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) These rules and regulations are little more than personal interpretations of various Bible verses. There are no verses in the Bible that prohibit many of the things that Evangelical preachers preach against, but this does not keep them from conflating personal beliefs with the teachings of the Bible. While many Evangelical churches have softened their stance on many social issues, plenty of churches still preach against “sins” such as alcohol drinking, drug use, gambling, mixed bathing, movie attendance, swearing, immodest clothing, long hair on men, pants on women, rock ‘n roll music, dancing, petting, and premarital sex. Preachers scour their Bibles looking for verses and stories that can be used to prop up their peculiar social and moral codes. Again, the main purpose is to put the fear of God into people so they will not do the things that preachers and churches consider sin.

The second method that Evangelical preachers use to promote the fear of God is the telling of personal stories that are meant to remind people of what happens when people ignore God and live in ways that show a lack of fear. Remember, people show that they rightly fear God by obeying God and the teachings of the Bible. People who attend church, yet ignore God’s commands, are treading on thin ice, and if they do not repent, God could bring judgment down upon their heads. Preachers often tell stories about former church members who ignored their preaching and stern admonitions, only to find themselves being punished or even killed by God. Years ago, I listened to a preaching tape by Calvinistic Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard. His sermon was titled, God kills people. Will he have to kill you? The purpose of Barnard’s sermon was to provoke church members to explicitly obey the commands of God. Threatening people with death was certainly a good way to get their attention. Of course, despite all the fear-mongering, most church members remain passive attendees who throw a few shekels in the offering plate and say, great show for a buck.

Evangelists are often the best storytellers. These merchandisers of fear and judgment use unverifiable stories about people in other churches who did not fear God. With thundering voices and apocalyptic pronouncements, these men of God tell stories about people who angered God. This God made them sick, took away their jobs, killed their children, or caused them to suffer any of a number of other reversals of fortune. Instead of seeing such things as shit happens, evangelists see these things as signs of God chastising his children.

I vividly remember a revival meeting with Don Hardman in the late 1980s when the evangelist left the pulpit and came down to where the church teenagers were sitting. With a raised voice, Hardman pointed his finger at each teenager, telling them that GOD sees everything they do. He then recited a list of the typical “sins” committed by rambunctious, hormone-raging young people. By the time he was done, I could see that the teenagers were fearful. I thought, at the time, that God was using Hardman to ferret out sin and rebellion against God. I now know that the church teenagers did not fear God as much as they feared Don Hardman. Or perhaps they feared being found out. Either way, come invitation time, numerous teenagers came to the altar to pray. I suspect very little changed for these teenagers, but by coming to the altar to pray, they showed, outwardly at least, that they had received God’s and Evangelist Hardman’s message.

Many Evangelical preachers save their best fear-mongering stories for unsaved church attendees. This kind of story is used to show unsaved people what could happen to them if they put off getting saved. Every Evangelical preacher knows of people who heard the gospel and had an opportunity to be saved, yet put off their decision to another day. And before they could be saved, some sort of tragic accident happened that led to their death. Once dead, these sinners no longer had an opportunity to make things right with God. They should have feared God and taken him up on his offer of eternal salvation, but because they didn’t, they are now burning in Hell.

I wish I could say that I did not use such manipulative stories and means to get people saved, but I did. I justified it, at the time, by reminding myself that the Apostle Paul became all things to all men so that by all means he could save some. What is the harm of a psychologically manipulative story if the end result is sinners saved from the fiery pit of Hell? I employed all sorts of justifications for my use of heart-wrenching, tear-inducing stories of human tragedy, suffering, and death. Believing that I somehow had to get people’s attention, I used these stories to force people to see the brevity of life and the importance of putting their faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of people came forward at invitation time, knelt at the altar, and asked Jesus to save them. Nearby, at the same altar, would be saved church members who were also doing business with God — confessing secret and not-so-secret sins.

Putting the fear of God into people is good for business. Without it, I suspect many people would not bother to attend church. Without fear and threats of judgment, most people would choose to sleep in on Sundays and enjoy a leisurely brunch before they turn on the game. I know I would have. One of the greatest joys that came with becoming an atheist was that I no longer feared God. Since God doesn’t exist, I no longer have a need to quake in my boots at the very mention of his name. Of course, Evangelicals are fond of reminding me that there is coming a day when Bruce Gerencser WILL fear God, but I am confident that when that day comes, the fear-inducing God will be AWOL. This God is little more than a tool used by preachers and churches to keep asses the pews and money in the offering plates. Remove fear from the equation, and I suspect there will be a lot more Baptists at the lake on Sunday morning.

Did you attend a church where the preacher regularly made use of fear-inducing sermon illustrations? Was his fear-mongering successful? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

Do You Tremble Before God and Fear Him?

fear of God

Christians talk a lot about love. Indeed, throughout the entire Bible, especially the New Testament, we find a lot of verses that talk about God’s love and our love for him/her/it and our fellow man. The most oft-quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Christians are convinced that God loves everyone. Well, most Christians anyway. Calvinists don’t believe that God loves everyone, According to them, God’s love is reserved for the elect, those chosen by God before the foundation of the world. But everyone else believes in the indiscriminate, unconditional love of God. Most people, at some time or the other, will be told that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives.

Certainly, a God of love is a great idea, but unfortunately when we take time to carefully read the Bible we find that the God of love pales considerably when compared to the God of wrath, judgment, hate, and fury.

While a case can be made from the New Testament for the God of love, when it comes to the Old Testament, the God of love is largely absent. I’ve often wondered if some Christians secretly wish that the Old Testament had never been written. Their case for God being a God of love is much easier to make without the Old Testament.

When I read the Old Testament, I see a God that any sane person should fear. From the very first pages of the Bible, we see a God that hates sin and has little tolerance for the foibles and faults of humans. According to the Bible, God created Adam and Eve and gave them one command to obey: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So what did Adam and Eve do? They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. How did God respond to their transgression? He cursed them and condemned them to death. Not only that, but every human being after Adam and Eve was also cursed and condemned to death.

Someday, all of us will die, and, according to the Bible, we will die because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit. A piece of fruit? Yes, a piece of fruit. God so hated Adam and Eve’s transgression that he cursed every human being that would ever live on the face of the earth. This God is one not to be trifled with, and one that we should fear. That is, if we believe he exists.

Adam and Eve had two sons named Cain and Abel. I’m sure you know the story well, a story of two wonderful boys frolicking in the woods until one day, in the midst of an argument, one kills the other, After Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and put a mark on him. As a boy, I was taught that the mark God put on Cain was that he made him black. Again, a God to be feared.

Six chapters into the book of Genesis we find that God is already sick and tired of the human race. God is so upset that he wishes he hadn’t created humans. How did God deal with the sin and rebellion of the human race? He killed everyone, save eight people. Think about this for a moment. God killed men, women, children, and unborn babies. Kind of hard to make a pro-life case for this God. Again, a God to be feared.

Throughout the Bible, God commands his chosen people to slaughter others. Anyone who got in the way of the Israelites or refused to worship the one true God, God commanded that they be killed. Even among God’s chosen people, God had no tolerance for disobedience. When God had Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he got upset over their lack of faith and obedience. So what did God do? He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, and he killed everyone over the age of twenty. Again, a God to be feared.

From Genesis to Malachi, the message is clear, mess with God and you die. The Old Testament God is a God to be feared.

fear of god clarence Darrow

It should come as no surprise that some people decide that there are two Gods in the Bible, the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. Personally, I think there are multiple gods in the Bible. These people rightly understand that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are incompatible. Christians have spent two thousand years trying to make the Old Testament God and the New Testament God compatible with each other. Perhaps God has a split personality and that explains the difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. Regardless of the reason, these Gods are dissimilar.

Even in the New Testament, there are events that tell us that the God of love has a real mean streak. What are we to make of the death of Jesus on the cross? According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus died on the cross for sinners. Arminians say Jesus died for everyone and Calvinists say Jesus died for some people, but regardless of the breadth of the atonement, Jesus suffered a painful, awful death on the cross because of the sins of others.

Who punished Jesus on the cross? None other than his father, the wrathful God of the Old Testament. God, the father poured out his wrath on his son, ultimately killing him. Think about this for a moment. Think about a father brutally killing his son because of what someone else did. Would we think such a man to be worthy of our admiration or our love? I think not.

The death of Jesus on the cross at the hands of his father is a poignant reminder that God hates sin and those who do it. In fact, if it weren’t for the atoning work of Jesus, God would pour out his wrath on us. This is a God to be feared.

In the book of Acts, we are told a story about two people who told a lie. Ananias and Sapphira lied about selling some property and God killed them on the spot. The Bible says that great fear came upon the people. I too would fear a God willing to kill over the price paid for a piece of property.

And then there’s the book of Revelation. From start to finish the book of Revelation is all about God killing and destroying. God uses the most deplorable methods possible to prove that he is the meanest, baddest son of a bitch in the universe. I’m surprised that a movie has not been made about the book of Revelation. This movie would make Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ look like a G-rated kids flick.

While many Christians want to focus on the good stuff found in the Bible, things like love and forgiveness, we must not forget that far bigger than God being a God of love is the fact that God is a God of wrath and he should be feared. Hundreds of times in the Bible we are told to fear God. In the churches I grew up in, the college I went to, and in my own ministry, the wrathful God, the sin-hating God, the violent God, played a prominent part. It should come as no surprise, then, that I had a healthy fear of God. In my mind, God always seemed to be lurking in the shadows waiting for me to stumble and fall so he could chastise me or kill me.

I am sure that some readers of this blog will suggest that I have a warped view of the Christian God. I contend, however, that those who preach up the love of God at the expense of the wrath of God are giving people a truncated view of the God of the Bible. Most of what we read in the Bible reveals a God of wrath, not a God of love.

The conclusion I have come to is this: I find little about the God of the Bible that is worthy of emulation. Why would anyone want to be like the God of the Bible?

Many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Yes, they are aware of the Old Testament God of wrath, but they prefer the New Testament God of love. The Old Testament God is kept in reserve, only to be trotted out for raining judgment upon homosexuals, abortionists, atheists, Barack Obama, Democrats, and St Louis Cardinals fans.

Fortunately, the God of the Bible does not exist. Imagine what the world would be like if the God of the Old Testament was real? I can only imagine that few of us would escape the death penalty. Even Christians would likely be killed by the God who hates sin and those who do it. If the God of love really existed, one would think that the world would be in much better shape, and that peace and goodwill would fill the land.

If you’re Christian, I ask you, how do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? If you used to be a Christian, did the Bible picture of God play a part in your deconversion? If you are a liberal Christian who focuses on the love of God, how do you square your belief with the fact that most of the Bible talks about a God of wrath and not a God of love?

For me personally, one of the reasons I left the Christian faith was because I could no longer square my view of what I thought God should be with what the Bible said he was. When I stopped believing the fear went away.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

Seven Reasons People Get Saved

what must I do to be saved

Evangelicals believe all humans are born sinners, alienated from God, and in need of salvation through the merit and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on a Roman cross and rose from the dead three days later to save sinners from their sin. Evangelicals believe in the exclusivity of the Christian gospel; that there is one true God; that there is one true path of salvation/redemption/conversion; that it is only through Jesus Christ that sinners can have their sins forgiven; that sinners must repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus alone to be saved/converted/born again. (I recognize that what I have written above trips over all sorts of beliefs Evangelicals are fond of arguing over. My goal was to provide a general definition of what it means to bet saved without dealing with the doctrines Arminians and Calvinists have been fighting about for centuries.)

Evangelicals believe that getting saving requires a supernatural act by the Christian God. No one can get saved when he or she want wants to or on their own terms. It is God alone who does the saving. Granted, if you listen to Evangelical preachers long enough, you will likely conclude that your salvation is up to you; that all you need to do is walk the aisle/pray the sinner’s prayer/sign a card or one of the numerous other acts of volition these men of God say is necessary for your conversion. Quite frankly, what Evangelical preachers call the “simple gospel” is, in fact, quite confusing and contradictory. (Please see Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?) Every sect believes its soteriology is right; that following its plan of salvation is the only way to get saved and gain entrance into Heaven after death. Instead of spending thousands of words parsing the alleged supernatural aspects of Christian salvation, I want to spend my time in this post delineating seven visible, verifiable reasons people get saved.

Geography

One of the most enlightening things for me as I restudied the claims of Christians was to look at a map of the world’s religions and realize that geography plays a big part in why a person worships a particular deity. I grew up in a culture where the world’s religions were neatly and precisely divided into two groups: True Christianity® and false religions. The same went for all the inhabitants of earth. Either they were saved or lost. Either they were Christians headed for Heaven or unbelievers/heathens headed for Hell. I was taught from my youth up that only a small percentage of people were True Christians®; that American Evangelicals were duty-bound to send gospel-preaching missionaries to every non-Christian people group on earth. Jesus commanded his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Billions of people did not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Saving the world required sending missionaries to the ends of the earth. I later learned that the “ends of the earth” primarily meant cultures that spoke English and would provide missionaries a decent standard of living. Most missionaries end up going to countries where Christianity is already firmly established. Of course, these countries didn’t have the right kind of Christianity, so it was up to Evangelical churches and their missionaries to bring to True Christianity® to unsaved Christians.

Viewing a map of the world’s religions was one of those moments for me that caused me to reconsider what I thought about religion itself. The map showed me that the world’s countries had predominant religions. It also revealed to me that states and regions can have predominant religions too. I came to the conclusion that one of the reasons that most people get saved is because of where they live. The United States is a Christian nation. Is it any surprise that most of its inhabitants are Christians? It’s all about geography.

Family

Another reason people get saved is family. I became a Christian because I was born in a Christian nation to Evangelical parents who indoctrinated me at an early age in the one true faith. I attended Evangelical churches for the first fifty years of my life. I studied for the ministry at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. While there, I married the daughter of an IFB pastor. We left college and spent the next twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. Much like our parents did, my wife and I indoctrinated our six children in the one true faith, passing on to them the family deity. It seems to me, then, that where I was born and who my family was were largely the reasons I became an Evangelical Christian and spent much of my adult life trying to evangelize people I deemed “lost.”

Personal Crisis 

Another reason people get saved is having a personal crisis. There’s nothing that can get your attention like a crisis. Countless Evangelicals trace their salvation back to a divorce, serious illness or debility, loss of employment, death of a spouse, death of a child, loss of their home due to fire or flood, or countless other tragedies we humans face. It should not be surprising that preachers use such crises to evangelize people. People are emotionally vulnerable and sensitive during times of loss. What they need, Evangelical preachers say, is Jesus. Jesus becomes the cure for whatever ails people. That why many Evangelical preachers evangelize hurting people during funeral services. What better time to preach the gospel than when people are weeping and wailing over the death of a loved one. Strike while the proverbial iron is hot, right?

Addiction

Yet another reason people get saved is addiction. Drug and alcohol addiction cause all sorts of heartache and damage. Evangelical preachers tell addicts that Jesus is the only “fix” for their addictions. And sure enough, scores of addicts end up finding victory over drugs and/or alcohol through getting saved. A religion need not be true for it to provide help and value to people. (Please see Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus.) I know numerous Evangelicals who were, at one time, drunks and drug addicts. These people reached a crisis point, and, having nowhere else to turn, they turned to Jesus. I know some atheists have a hard time understanding this, but the fact remains that the dead Jesus has helped lots of people kick their habits. People really, really, really believe Jesus delivered them, and from a psychological perspective, it’s clear he has. Whatever works, right?

Fear

Dr. Larry Dixon, an Evangelical professor of theology at Columbia International University Seminary and School of Missions in Columbia, South Carolina, recently said that one of the reasons he got saved was fear. In a multipart review of Dr. David Bentley Hart’s article titled, Why Do People Believe in Hell? Dixon wrote:

This is a very personal issue for me, mostly because I got saved as a result of being afraid of going to hell. If hell doesn’t exist, or if it is something quite different than Christians have believed (like, the purging flames of God universally applied), then I got saved under false pretenses.

Dixon is not alone in his admission that one of the reasons he got saved was fear. For those of us who grew up in Evangelical churches hearing sermons about God’s judgment, Hell, the Lake of Fire, and the soon return of Jesus to destroy the earth, fear was a common motivator for salvation. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:31: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. On July 8, 1741, famed revivalist Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Edwards stated:

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

….

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.

….

How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the danger of this great wrath and infinite misery! But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation that has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious, they may otherwise be. Oh that you would consider it, whether you be young or old! There is reason to think, that there are many in this congregation now hearing this discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, and but one, in the whole congregation, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him! But, alas! Instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell? And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before tomorrow morning.

You spend years hearing this kind of preaching, you will fear God too. Thus, it should come as no surprise that fear motivates people to repent of their sins and ask Jesus to save them.

Seeking Forgiveness

Some people get saved because they feel burdened and want/need forgiveness. Evangelicals believe that this burden is the Holy Spirit convicting people of their sins. Preachers will preach against this or that sin, causing guilty hearers to seek forgiveness. We humans are capable of causing all sorts of harm. Making things right requires us to seek the forgiveness of those we have harmed. Christians and humanists alike know the importance of forgiveness. Where they differ is from whom should they seek forgiveness. For Evangelicals, all “sinful” behavior is ultimately an affront to God, and it is his forgiveness they need. I know numerous Evangelical preachers who got caught up in all sorts of scandals. When caught, did these men of God seek to make restitution and seek the forgiveness of the people they harmed? Sadly, no. They sought God’s forgiveness, and in their minds, that’s all they needed. (See Is All Forgiven for David Hyles? and David Hyles Says, My Bad, Jesus.) The Bible says in 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Need forgiveness? Shoot a prayer to Jesus, and viola! you are forgiven. No sin is beyond God’s forgiveness. And once God forgives you:

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 113:11,12)

The Bible speaks of our sins being cast into the depths of the seas, never to be remembered again. Go to any Evangelical church and you likely find guilty unbelievers in need of forgiveness. They have committed this or that sin, and now their lives are weighed down by guilt. The solution? Jesus. He alone can forgive them of their sins. He alone can restore their lives and give them peace. Or so Evangelical preachers say, anyway.

Searching for Meaning

Most of us desire lives that have meaning and purpose. Evangelicals believe that non-Christians have empty lives lacking meaning, purpose, and direction. No matter how many times I suggest otherwise, Evangelical zealots insist that my life is shit without Jesus. Evangelicals believe that it is Jesus and his saving grace alone that gives them lives worth living. Why, without Jesus they would kill themselves, Evangelicals have said to me. It is certainly true that we humans want lives that matter. However, meaning can be found in countless different ways. Not so, say Evangelicals. Wisdom and knowledge begin with Jesus.

Imagine then, that you are an unbeliever seeking meaning and purpose and you are invited to visit a local Evangelical church on Sunday. You have never been to church before. As you sit in the pew, you notice how committed, loving, and friendly everyone seems to be. “These people have what I am looking for,” you say to yourself. The preacher preaches a powerful sermon about grounding one’s life in Jesus. “That’s exactly what I need,” and come invitation time you walk down the well-worn aisle and get saved. According to the Bible, you have a new life in Jesus. Your old life is passed away and everything has become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

My wife’s parents have been Evangelical Christians for seven-plus decades. Jesus, the Bible, and the church are EVERYTHING to them. There is no argument I can make that would convince them otherwise. Nor would I. Believing that the dead Jesus saved them and has given them a good life, a happy life, and is someone they can turn to now that they only have a few months or years to live is what helps them get up in the morning.

Did I miss any of the visible reasons people get saved? Please share them in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Bruce Gerencser