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Tag: First Baptist Church Bryan Ohio

The Making of a Fundamentalist: First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio — Part One

first baptist church bryan ohio
First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio

MMy memories of Christian Fundamentalism began in the 1960s as a member of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. In the early 1960s, my parents moved to San Diego, California. I was five. Dad was chasing the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. What he found was more of the same — Ohio, with better weather. Dad ended up selling aluminum awnings and driving a truck — not much different from the jobs he left behind in Bryan, Ohio. Dad’s California dream ended after my second-grade school year with our move back to the rural northwest Ohio community of Bryan — my father’s birthplace. One thing, however, remained: my parent’s newfound Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) faith.

Mom and Dad were nominal Christians before their move to California. Our family attended Episcopal and Lutheran churches in Bryan. Why my parents sought out an IFB church after we moved to San Diego is unknown. Perhaps someone invited them to church. Or maybe, Dad saw an opportunity for sales referrals. Regardless, the Gerencser family started attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church) in El Cajon. While there, Mom and Dad made public professions of saving faith and were baptized by immersion. As a kindergartener, I did the same. From this time until my parents divorced in 1972, the Gerencsers attended IFB churches, and were front and center every time the church doors were open.

One such church was First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. Established in 1954, First Baptist was originally affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but later become an IFB congregation. When my parents returned to Bryan in 1965, the church was located on Alpine Drive, and was pastored by Donald Linz. In 1967, Mom and Dad moved us to Harrod, Ohio, leaving behind the First Baptist congregation. We returned 18 months later. By then the congregation had purchased the old Wesley United Methodist building on the corner of Beech and Butler. Linz had moved on, and in his place was Jack Bennett, a pastor married to the sister (Creta) of two of my uncles. Bennett would pastor First Baptist for thirty-one years. Currently, the church is located on a fifteen-acre plot on the edge of Bryan. Currently, home-grown John MacFarlane is the pastor. MacFarlane has pastored First Baptist since 1999.

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A “personal” letter my son who lives in Bryan received from First Baptist Church in October 2016

After starting ninth grade at Ney Junior High School in 1969, my parents moved away yet again, this time to Deshler. One year later, they would load up their earthly belongings and move to Findlay. Dad started selling vacuuAfter I started ninth grade at Ney Junior High School in 1969, my parents moved our family away yet again, this time to Deshler. One year later, we would load up our earthly belongings and move to Findlay. Dad started selling vacuum cleaners for Kirby. After a brief stay at Calvary Baptist Church, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB church pastored by Gene Milioni. I would remain in Findlay for my ninth through eleventh grade school years.

In the spring of 1974, I returned to my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio. I once again joined First Baptist, and would remain an active member there until I left college in 1979. With my pregnant wife by my side, I returned to Bryan, but decided that it was time for me to move on from what I called the “family church.”

My sister and her husband attended Montpelier Baptist Church — an IFB congregation affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) in nearby Montpelier. The pastor at the time was Jay Stuckey. Stuckey asked me to be his assistant, primarily working with the church’s bus ministry and visitation program. Thus ended my connection with First Baptist.

Several months after my defection from the family church, I ran into Mom Daugherty at the grocery store. Mom, along with her husband Pops, were pillars of the church. I believe they were founding members. Mom Daugherty told me, at the time, “Bruce, why are you attending that ‘other’ church? You know where you belong.” I politely and briefly explained to her why I joined Montpelier Baptist. She would have none of that, telling me that she hoped I would return “home.”

This series will focus on my experiences with First Baptist Church and its pastor Jack Bennett. I’m sure daring to tell these stories out loud will upset some current/former members and pastors of the church. How dare I speak ill of the dead — or the living, for that matter? These stories need to be told, and now is the time.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Understanding the Pastors Who Refuse to Close Their Churches During the Coronavirus Pandemic

pastor-mark-falls
Mark Falls, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio

I have watched more cable news in recent weeks than I have over the past ten years. My wife can say the same. Like it or not, our lives are consumed by the Coronavirus Pandemic, COVID-19, suffering, death, and the incessant, child-like tantrums of one Donald Trump. Our feelings run the gamut from anger to despair. We have done all we can to stay home and avoid contact with outsiders, yet we fear that the virus is still hunting us, and it is only a matter of time before it finds us. And when it does — and it may have already — how will our bodies respond? Will we end up in the hospital on a ventilator, dying alone.

These are dark, difficult times. Yes, the United States and world will come out on the other side of this pandemic, but the carnage left in its wake will take years to overcome. And until there is a vaccine readily available, we could see the continued spread of the virus months or a year down the road. There’s so much we don’t know, yet we do know that social distancing works. We know that masks and gloves offer some protection against spreading the virus.

Most Americans recognize that we are facing an existential threat; that it is crucial that we all do our part by distancing ourselves from other people. We know the large gathering of people can and do become super-spreaders of the virus. Churches, in particular, have played a significant part in the spread of the virus. Thus, governors across the country have asked churches to stop holding in-person services. Most churches have put the health and safety of congregants and communities first, and have prudently closed their doors. However, a small percentage of churches refuse to stop holding services. Why do they refuse to do the right thing?

As I look at the denominational and theological connections of these rebellious churches and their pastors, something becomes very clear to me. Almost every church fits into one of two categories:

  • Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches
  • Charismatic churches

What is it about IFB churches that make them more likely to refuse government orders to cancel their services?

IFB churches typically are anti-government. In fact, they hate the government. IFB pastors believe that the government has no power, control, or authority over them. “How dare the government tell us what to do or when and wherever we can have services!” IFB preachers say. Even those who have canceled their services are likely sitting at home seething over what they perceive is governmental control and overreach.

I have written about four IFB churches that refused to close their doors: First Baptist Church, Bryan Ohio (Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic), North Platte Baptist Church, North Platte, Nebraska (Dear Pastor Reeves, Let Me Explain to You Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself), Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio (IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic, and Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky (IFB Pastor Jack Roberts Refuses to Close the Doors of his Church). First Baptist finally saw the light. but the Baptist Temple, North Platte Baptist, and Maryville Baptist continue to hold services.

Easter Sunday, the Newark Baptist Temple gathered together to worship their God. You can watch a video of the service below. What you will quickly see is that no one is wearing masks or gloves, many people are ignoring the six-foot social distancing guideline, and congregants seem generally clueless of the fact that their singing, talking, and even breathing can and does expel the virus into the air.

What is it about Charismatic churches that make them more likely to refuse government orders to cancel their services?

While Charismatic churches can and do have anti-government sentiments, their refusal of governmental orders to cancel their services are more theological in nature. Charismatic preachers such as Tony Spell, Rodney Howard-Browne, and others, believe that their God is bigger than the Coronavirus; and that God will protect them from the virus; or God will heal them if they are infected.

Spell bussed people into his Easter service, effectively telling the State of Florida to go fuck themselves. Howard-Browne’s church found their insurance canceled, so they were unable to physically meet. Evidently, God is not better than property and liability insurance companies.

pastor tony spell
Tony Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church: The Apostolics of Baton Rouge

Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church: The Apostolics of Baton Rouge in Louisiana had this to say about holding in-person church services:

Satan and a virus will not stop us God will shield us from all harm and sickness. We are not afraid.

Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear.

I cannot baptize people in a livestream. I can not lay hands on people in a livestream. I cannot pray for people in a livestream, and this is our biblical command — to lay hands on the sick and when they recover baptize them by immersion in water, which we do every day.

Spell reveals his theological motivation for holding in-person services: prayer, the laying on of hands, and the healing of the sick. Spell’s Biblical basis for doing so is this:

  • They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:18)
  • Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)

According to Life Tabernacle Church’s website, divine healing is part of their apostolic DNA. Here’s what their doctrinal statement has to say:

God has made Himself known through the ages by miraculous healings and has made special provisions in the age of grace to heal all who will come to Him in faith and obedience. Divine healing was purchased for us by the blood of Jesus Christ, especially by His stripes (Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 8:16-17; I Peter 2:24). Jesus went everywhere healing those who were sick (Matthew 4:23-24), and He commanded His disciples to do the same (Matthew 10:8). He said concerning those who believe the gospel, “They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18). Mighty healings and miracles followed the disciples wherever the gospel was preached.

There is no sickness or disease too hard for God. Any of us, our children, or our friends can be healed by the power of God. “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall raise him up: and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:14-16).

“There’s no sickness to hard for God,” Tony Spell believes, and that includes Coronavirus and COVID-19. In Spell’s alternate reality? It’s God, not science that heals sickness and disease. Of course, the true test of such ignorance comes when Spell, a family member, or congregant gets sick and religious mumbo jumbo recited over them doesn’t work. What do they do? Run to the doctor/ emergency room/hospital for treatment. What happened to God being the mighty healer and deliverer? What happened to no sickness being too hard for God?

The refusal of IFB pastors and Charismatic pastors to morally do what’s right is belief-driven, and even if their haughty ignorance leads to people being infected with the virus, they will find ways to spin their rebellion against authority as some principled stand for God and country. What most people will see, however, is pigheaded preachers who have no regard for their churches or communities; preachers who put beliefs and positions over public health and safety.

Gerald O. Glenn, pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Richmond, Virginia

Let me conclude this post with the stories of Gerald O. Glenn, pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Richmond, Virginia, and itinerant preacher and musician Landon Spradlin. Both were Evangelicals.

Glenn had this to say in a March 22 sermon:

I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. You can quote me on that, you can quote me on that. I am essential, I’m a preacher — I talk to God!

Glenn believed that he was “essential” and that God was larger than the Coronavirus. Sadly, Glenn learned that he was not essential and God was NOT bigger than COVID-19. Glenn died a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

coronavirus hoax
Cartoon by Bill Bramhall

Landon Spradlin said the Coronavirus was not big deal; that it was overhyped by the media. Spradlin found out the hard way that COVID-19 is a big deal, and no, the media was not overhyping the pandemic. Spradlin went about preaching and singing, giving no regard to social distancing and avoiding groups of people. Spradlin said the virus would “come and go,” but what came and went was Spradlin. Twelve days after preaching at Mardi Gras and saying the virus would come and go, Spradlin died from COVID-19.

Sadly, the only way for recalcitrant IFB and charismatic preachers to see the danger of COVID-19 is infection and death, if not of them personally, then of someone dear to them. As long as these pastors can avoid the consequences of their sins, they will continue to act in ways and promote ideas that harm not only to church members but communities at large. Sadly, it’s going to take a few preachers getting infected and dying before the so-called men of God mentioned in the post and others see the light.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Is God No Respecter of Persons?

In Acts 10, we find an interaction between Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and the Apostle Peter. When Cornelius and Peter first met, Cornelius, the Bible says, “fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.” Peter told Cornelius to get up, reminding him that he was just a man, not God. Their interaction drew a crowd, and not wanting to waste an opportunity to evangelize, Peter began to preach. In verse 34, Peter begins his sermon by saying, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” Of course, Peter quickly qualifies his bold declaration of God’s non-preferential love for all by saying, “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Peter tells the crowd that God is no respecter of persons IF they fear him and live righteously. Talk about preaching works salvation!

The Message Bible version translates Acts 10:34-36 this way:

Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

“God plays no favorites,” The Message says. Really? God plays NO favorites? Does a thorough reading of the Bible really lead one to conclude that God plays no favorites; that he is no respecter of persons? I think not. While Peter modifies his statement, making it clear that God’s respect is conditional, modern Evangelical preachers have ripped “God is no respecter of persons” out of its context, telling saints and sinners alike that “God plays no favorites.” Jesus is an equal opportunity savior. However, as I shall presently demonstrate, God has always played favorites.

Any cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals that God’s favorite people were the Israelites. Called God’s chosen people, the Israelites received the preferential treatment from God when compared to the Canaanites and other population groups deemed heathen by the writers of the Bible.

This preferential treatment of Israel is carried over into the New Testament. Ask Evangelicals who it is Jesus came to earth to save, and they will proudly say, Jesus came to save everyone! However, actually reading the New Testament leads readers to a different conclusion: Jesus came to save the Jews, and it was only after they rejected him that Jesus decided to save the Gentiles — non-Jews. In fact, Jesus was quite bigoted when it came to non-Jews, and it wasn’t until the Apostle Paul entered the Christian narrative that Gentiles were considered savable and part of God’s redemptive plan.

That said, did Paul preach a gospel of universal salvation, irrespective of ethnicity or national identity? Again, I think not. Paul did say in Ephesians 6:9:

And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

However, Paul says in other places that Jesus came to save only the elect — God’s chosen ones. In Ephesians 1:4, Paul states:

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.

Paul’s writings are littered with statements about election and predestination; that God has a chosen people, and it is they alone whom Jesus saves. So much for God being no respecter of persons.

If God is the creator and every human living and dead owes their existence to him, why is it that God gives some people and countries preferential treatment? Why is the United States a Christian nation, but not Iran, Israel, India, or Japan? Why are there population groups who will live and die without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ? Why is Christian salvation so dependent on geography? Shouldn’t Jesus be available to everyone, everywhere? Yet, most people live and die without embracing Peter or Paul’s gospels.

It’s clear, at least to me, that the Christian God is indeed a respecter of persons. Of course, said God does not exist, so what this means is that the writers of the Bible were the ones who played favorites; who gave their tribes preferential treatment. One need only look at Evangelical Christianity as a whole to see that Christian churches, pastors, and laypeople generally give preferential treatment to people based on everything from race to income level and beliefs to lifestyle. Christian churches remain the most segregated places in America. More than a few churches use demographics to target certain people for inclusion in their clubs. When is the last time you have seen a new church plant or a megachurch in a poor part of town or a community dominated by people of color? Not very often.

Years ago, I was the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. I also worked for the village as a grant administrator and program manager. Buckeye Lake was a largely white community, with one of the highest rates of poverty and welfare per capita in Ohio.

Prior to starting Emmanuel Baptist, Buckeye Lake had a grand total of two churches for a population of almost 3,000. One church was Catholic, the other a community church that catered to people of means. Why didn’t Evangelical church planters flock to Buckeye Lake to reach the downtrodden with the gospel? You know the answer to that question — poor welfare recipients don’t make for good tithing church members.

When my father-in-law and I started Emmanuel Baptist in the early 1980s, Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an affluent church in nearby Heath, Ohio — warned us that the church would never become self-sustaining. In other words, “don’t waste your time trying to build a church in Buckeye Lake.” And he was right. The church never became self-sustaining (for a variety of reasons). However, the Baptist Temple and other nearby well-off Evangelical churches could have financially supported the church, but they chose not to. Sour grapes on my part? Nope, just a statement of facts. Unlike my in-laws, who refused to move to the community they were pastoring in, Polly and I moved our young family to a shack of a home in Buckeye Lake so we could minister to the people where they were. (This was not a difficult move for me since I grew up in a poor home. Polly, on the other hand, had some difficulty adjusting to our “spacious” accommodations. I give her a lot of credit for adapting to circumstances that were very foreign to her.) We later left Buckeye Lake and started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Perry County — another poverty-stricken area.

Years ago, I started a nondenominational church in West Unity, Ohio. The congregation was made up of primarily working-class people. For many years, the church operated a food bank. One day, the phone rang and it was Creta Bennett, the wife of the pastor of nearby First Baptist Church in Bryan (a church I had attended as a youth). Creta told me about a woman from West Unity who had been attending First Baptist on and off. “Bruce, we think this woman would be a better fit for your church.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I agreed to visit the woman. People first, right? What I found was a mentally ill woman living in abject poverty. She indeed needed help, but evidently she wasn’t a good “fit” for First Baptist. We did what we could, but she only attended a few services, saying she wanted to attend church in Bryan. She wanted the church, but the church didn’t want her.

The fifty years I spent in the Christian church and the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry taught me that regardless of how God might view people, pastors and churches do, indeed, show preferential treatment.

The Bible is quite contradictory when it comes to God being a respecter of persons. However, when it comes to Christians giving preferential treatment, the Bible is clear: treat everyone equally. In James 2, the Apostle James makes it clear that churches and their leaders should treat everyone equally. James writes:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

Evidently, this passage of Scripture is missing in many Bibles. And so is Matthew 24, a passage of Scripture that reminds Christians that their eternal destiny depends on how they treat the poor. Based on the behavior we see from Evangelicals today, will many of them make it to Heaven when they die? I doubt it.

Christian or atheist, it matters not. We are surrounded by people who are hurting and in need. We can talk endlessly about our love, kindness, and compassion towards others, but our behavior is the measure of our truthfulness. We have the power to lessen the hell many people face day-to-day; to bring a bit of heaven into their lives. The choice is ours.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear Pastor Reeves, Let Me Explain to You Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself

Have you noticed that many of the churches refusing to close during the Coronavirus Pandemic are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregations? Over the past week or so I have written about two such churches, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio and the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. (Please see Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic and IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) Pastor John MacFarlane at First Baptist has since seen the light and all services at the church are now canceled. The Baptist Temple, pastored by Mark Falls, remains open, but some peripheral programs have been canceled and older congregants have been encouraged to stay home. My wife’s parents attend the Baptist Temple, and, fortunately, both of them stayed home on Sunday. Polly’s aunt, the wife of the late James Dennis, who has end-stage bone cancer and is on chemotherapy? She was front and center, praising Jesus.

Why is it that many IFB churches refuse to close their doors? First, IFB churches have a conspiratorial hatred for the government — especially if the government is controlled by Satan’s party, the Democrats. I plan to write more about this hatred later this week. Second, IFB churches tend to have members who are easily led astray by conspiracy theories. This is especially true now that Donald Trump is president. Third, most IFB churches are not flush with cash. If they don’t hold services, their cash flow will be seriously compromised. Fourth, many IFB pastors believe that the government has no right to tell them what to do. Some go so far as to oppose any sort of government regulation, including fire, safety, and building codes. Years ago, an Ohio IFB pastor took it upon himself to build a new building without permits. He believed he should be able to build the building any way he wanted, even if it meant he violated the law. His actions, of course, brought legal action, and his refusal to comply forced the state to raze his building. Fifth, closing church doors would be a repudiation of the belief that God always protects Christians, and no matter the circumstance, the people of God should be present and accounted for on Sundays. Sixth, IFB churches tend to be anti-science. Remember most IFB church members and pastors are Bible literalists, young-earth creationists, and believe the entire earth was covered with a flood a few thousand years ago. Holding such anti-scientific beliefs reflects poor reasoning skills. I am not saying that IFB church members are stupid. I am saying that their theological beliefs cripple their ability to rationally understand the world they live in. Their thinking is crippled by their insistence that the Bible is some sort of divine blueprint for life and it contains everything necessary for life and godliness.

The latest IFB church on my radar is the North Platte Baptist Church in North Platte, Nebraska. Last week, I wrote about the church and its pastor, William Reeves, using the Coronavirus Pandemic as a tool to evangelize people. (Please see North Platte Baptist Church Uses the Coronavirus Pandemic to Evangelize People.) North Platte has continued to run its buses and hold services despite the Coronavirus. Reeves, in classic IFB fashion, has stupidly and stubbornly held his ground. Reeves has received a lot of negative publicity — glad I could help — so much so that he has taken the church’s and his personal Twitter account private. (I was banned long ago from both of these accounts.)

One of Reeves’ last public tweets can be found in the header graphic of this post. Reeves said:

Having church doesn’t make you an enemy of the state or an enemy of people. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about your people or that you are not doing your part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 (with Facepalm emoji, as if what he is saying should be obvious to everyone).

Jesus said in Luke 10:27: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 13:9,10: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. In Galatians 5:14, Paul said, For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. And finally, James said in James 2:8, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.

Evidently, these verses must not be in Pastor Reeves’ leather-bound King James Bible. Consider what Paul says in Galatians 5:14: all the laws of the Bible can be fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Holy shit, Batman! Can Pastor Reeves, along with Pastor McFarlane and Pastor Falls and a host of other IFB preachers, honestly say that their actions show that they are loving their neighbors as they would themselves? Of course not. Their actions are driven by one or more of the six things I mentioned above.

To Pastor Reeves I say, if you really loved your neighbors — who include your congregation and the children who ride your buses — would you continue to have mass gatherings? You KNOW that mass gatherings are a prime way to spread the Coronavirus. You KNOW that people NOT showing COVID-19 symptoms can actually be carriers. Everyone could “look” healthy on Sunday, yet some of them could be spreading the virus. IF you really loved your neighbors, you wouldn’t take this risk. You have a social and moral obligation to not only your church but the community at large. By being a weak link in the containment process, you and your church could be making people sick and killing them. What kind of person ignores these things, all for the sake of some sort of theological or political statement? Evidently, you, Pastor Reeves.

I know, I know, the next words out of your mouth are going to be something like this: I DO love my neighbors, so much so that I am going to keep the doors of North Platte Baptist Church open so unsaved people can ride our buses, come to church, hear the gospel, and be saved! That way if COVID-19 chokes the life out of them, leaving their spouses widows and their children orphans, at least they will go to Heaven. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!

Their salvation can wait a few weeks. All that matters right now is the safety and health of others. I encourage you, Pastor Reeves, to swallow your theology and politics and show love to your community by closing the doors of North Platte Baptist and suspending all group activities until health experts give the all-clear. How you respond will show if you really do take the words of Jesus seriously.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic

The above screenshot is from the website for First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I attended First Baptist in the mid-1960s when it was located on Alpine Drive, and again in the 1970s when it was located in the old Methodist building on the corner of Beech and Butler. The pastor at the time was Jack Bennett.

Today, the church is pastored by John MacFarlane. John was a young boy in the church when I headed off to college in 1976. I used to bale hay for John’s father Randy. At one time, I had a number of family members and close friends who attended First Baptist. Today? Pretty much a new crowd. The old folks have died off, and those of us who were young years ago are now the new old folks. Such is the circle of life.

I really don’t know John that well. I know he’s a Fundamentalist, but I hoped he had a better understanding of the world than his predecessor, Jack Bennett. John’s no dummy, so I am astounded by the fact that he intends to continue holding services on Sundays. He’s canceling the Wednesday services and Sunday school, but Sunday morning and Sunday night? Game on! Everything we KNOW about the COVID-19 virus tells us that the best way to impede its spread is NOT to gather in groups. Stay at home, and avoid contact with other people. Churches are no different from schools, restaurants, sporting events, or other places where large numbers of people gather. John KNOWS this, yet he plans to have church anyway. Maybe he thinks God will be with them or be some sort of talisman that will protect them from the Coronavirus. Maybe he thinks if the church congregation prays real, real, real hard that God will hear their prayers and pass over them like he did the Israelites in Egypt. If so, he’s delusional. God is AWOL, and the only hope now is us. If we don’t do the right thing, who will?

You may remember that I mentioned earlier this week what John said about the Coronavirus in a blog post titled COVID-19 DOES Work Together for Good:

Listen here, you dirty coronavirus bug! You will NOT win! In Jesus name, the church is going to use what you are doing to the world and turn it around for something good. Your days of creating chaos will come to an end as Jesus heals body and soul. Your fear will be vanquished in the life-giving blood of Jesus as He makes new creatures, converting the lost souls. Persecution has never diminished the affects of the church. Quite the opposite! Persecution has always caused the church to grow and flourish. And, even though we can’t see you, you are an enemy that WILL be defeated. You will NOT conquer. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Jesus name — and all God’s people said — AMEN!

The fact that First Baptist, along with a handful of other local Evangelical churches, is having church on Sunday is yet more proof that Governor Mike DeWine should have ordered churches to close. Churches are nothing more than a weak link in an otherwise exemplary plan for controlling the virus in Ohio. (Dear Governor DeWine: Why are Churches Exempt from the Group Gathering Ban?) Just today, the Defiance County Department of Health said we now have our first confirmed case of infection in the county. It’s coming, John. For you, for your family, for the people you pastor. Do the right thing and close up shop and wait for the all-clear from Ohio Department of Health. Until then, you are risking the infection and death of your family, church members, and fellow citizens.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: COVID-19 Virus is “Persecuting” Christians

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Listen here, you dirty coronavirus bug! You will NOT win! In Jesus name, the church is going to use what you are doing to the world and turn it around for something good. Your days of creating chaos will come to an end as Jesus heals body and soul. Your fear will be vanquished in the life-giving blood of Jesus as He makes new creatures, converting the lost souls. Persecution has never diminished the affects of the church. Quite the opposite! Persecution has always caused the church to grow and flourish. And, even though we can’t see you, you are an enemy that WILL be defeated. You will NOT conquer. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Jesus name — and all God’s people said — AMEN!

— John MacFarlane, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio, COVID-19 DOES Work Together For Good, March 19, 2020

Note: I attended First Baptist Church in the mid1960s and 1970s.

1979: Canoeing on the St. Joe River

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

In February, 1979, Polly and I left Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan and moved to the place of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. I had vowed never to return to rural northwest Ohio — with its flat land and monoculture — but thanks to me losing my job and Polly finding herself pregnant six weeks after we married, we needed to move somewhere where we could get help and find work. That place was Bryan and the home of my sister and brother-in-law. We had gone to the dean of students for counsel about how to deal with our predicament. His advice? Pray, trust God, and above all else, do NOT drop of school. He advised us to borrow money, if necessary, to pay our tuition bills and to stay in school no matter what! Of course, his advice was terrible counsel for a pair of twenty-something, soon-to-be parents. Never mind that fact that Polly and I were clueless about money, budgeting, and credit. Fortunately, no one would loan us enough money to cover our college debt, so we decided to drop out of school and move to Bryan.

On the appointed day, we packed our meager belongings in a U-Haul trailer and towed it with our 1967 Chevrolet Impala to the home of my sister and brother-in-law. We lived with them for a month. Polly and I shared a bunk bed. I quickly found work at General Tire. However, after a few weeks, I was moved from first to third shift. I decided I didn’t want to work that third shift, so I looked for a new job, and quickly found work at ARO Corporation — a large employer who made pneumatic pumps and other air equipment. I worked in shipping and receiving making $7 an hour, including top-shelf, free medical insurance. My brother-in-law worked at ARO, as did my uncle and several of the men I attended church with at nearby First Baptist Church.

My local friends assumed that I would return to First Baptist, the family church pastored by Jack Bennett, my uncle’s brother-in-law. Much to everyone’s surprise, Polly and I decided to attend Montpelier Baptist Church. My sister and her family attended church there. The church was a stridently Fundamentalist church affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). Running about 150 in attendance, the church was poised for growth. (Montpelier Baptist reach 500 in attendance on our last Sunday at the church. Yes, Skippy, I had a lot to do with the attendance growth.) After we visited the church several times, its pastor, Jay Stuckey, came to my sister’s home and asked if I would be interested in being his assistant — a full-time, unpaid position. Eager to get busy serving Jesus, I said yes, and for the next seven months I worked at ARO full-time and devoted the rest of my waking hours to helping Pastor Stuckey. I primarily worked with the bus ministry and visitation program. Strangely, Stuckey never asked me to preach. I did, however, preach several times on Sundays at the Funny Farm Campground. The owners attended the church and were looking for someone to preach to the campers. I’d go preach a short sermon, give an altar call, and then a love offering would be taken. The money was dumped in a paper bag and given to me as I was leaving. Pretty good pay for less than an hour of work. It was, by the way, more money than I ever received from Montpelier Baptist. The church had the means to provide me some sort of stipend, but chose not to.

My sister married at the age of fifteen. Several months pregnant, she married a man who was one day younger than I was. He and I were in the same hospital nursery in June 1957. Initially, I didn’t like my brother-in-law. He was a pot-smoking hippie who listened to rock music! However, between the time they married and my return to Bryan, they found Jesus and were actively involved in various church ministries at Montpelier Baptist.

My brother-in-law seemed to really love Jesus, outwardly anyway. We got along quite well, and when I needed help driving one of the church buses, he gladly volunteered. One day, my brother-in-law asked if I would be interested in going canoeing with him. At the time, I was an outdoorsman — quite fit — so I said, sure!

Up to this point, the only canoeing I had ever done was at youth events at canoe liveries near Loudenville, Ohio. These canoe trips were quite docile, with little threat of drowning. Little did I know that the trip my brother-in-law had in mind would be, on one hand quite thrilling, but on the other hand, quite dangerous.

It was late March, and the St. Joe River was flooded from early spring runoff. The water was cold, in the thirties, temperature-wise. We planned to canoe from Montpelier in the north to Edgerton in the South — a 12-15 mile course. I was excited about making this trip, though I did worry a bit about the coldness of the water. What happened if someone fell in the water? I thought. I quickly dismissed my concern, jumped into the canoe, and my brother-in-law pushed us off from shore. Being a good swimmer, I didn’t wear a life preserver. What could go wrong, right? Little did I know, my carelessness almost cost me my life.

The St. Joe was quickly moving thanks to all the runoff swelling its depths. This, of course, made for swift currents — just what two athletic young men wanted. Towards the end of our trip, we came into some fast-moving water that was partially blocked by a fallen tree. My brother-in-law navigated our canoe towards the right side of the river, and when we came close to the tree, I attempted to push us away with my paddle. To this day, I don’t know for sure what happened next. Somehow, my pushing movement caused the canoe to become unstable, and before I could help right it, I was catapulted over the side. As I hit the freezing water, I found myself gasping for breath. This resulted in me taking in a bunch of water — choking. Little did I know, I was moments away from drowning. Fortunately, my brother-in-law realized I was in serious trouble and, grabbing ahold of the neck of my coat, he pulled me back into the canoe. He literally saved my life.

My brother-in-law paddled the rest of the way down the river with me lying in the bottom of the canoe. We arrived to our destination, loaded the canoe onto our vehicle, and quickly made for home. Boy, did I have a story to tell my bride of eight months! My brother-in-law and I never canoed together after that. I suspect he didn’t want to put his life in the hands of someone as inexperienced as I was. I learned a valuable lesson: ALWAYS wear a life preserver when you are on the water. Unfortunately, this did not steer me clear of doing other dumb, dangerous stuff. When God is with you, no worries. right? Except it was a human, and not God, who pulled me from the chilly waters of the St. Joe on that fateful day. If I had waited on God to “save” me, my wife would have been a widow, and my unborn son an orphan.

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.

Do You Want a Date, Hon?

naiveAfter my freshman year of classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I returned home to my mother’s palatial palace — also known as a trailer — on U.S. Hwy. 6, five miles southwest of Bryan, Ohio. I had come home to work, hoping to earn enough money to pay for my next year of college. I accepted a first shift machine operator position at Holabird Manufacturing, a manufacturer of cheap furniture — cheap as in trailer show furniture. Holabird would close its doors and file for bankruptcy in 1983. I also worked a second shift job at Bard Manufacturing, a maker of HVAC units. I was attending First Baptist Church in Bryan at the time. One of the church’s deacons was a manager for Bard. He graciously arranged for Bard to hire me for the summer.

I was twenty years old in the summer of 1977, strong, fit, and full of energy. Had I not been, I would never have been able to work eighty hours a week: 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Holabird and 4:00 PM to midnight at Bard. I didn’t catch up on sleep on the weekends either. Oh no, weekends were for running around with friends, going to one of the local lakes, or trekking to Newark to visit Polly for the day. That’s right, for the day. Polly’s mom did not like me and treated me like a rash she hoped would go away. I would get up early on Saturday, drive three hours to Newark, spend as much time as I could with Polly, and turn around and drive three hours back to Bryan. (Under no circumstances would Polly’s mom let me spend the night.) On more than one occasion, I was so exhausted that I pulled off along the road and slept for several hours. The things we’ll do for love, right?

I followed the aforementioned schedule for twelve weeks. Come late August, it was time for me to return to Midwestern to begin my sophomore year. I packed my belongings into my car and headed in the general direction of Pontiac, Michigan. As I neared Toledo, I decided to take U.S. Route 23 to Pontiac. Ninety minutes into my drive, I exited the highway into a rest stop. I needed to stretch my legs and use the restroom. As I walked towards the restroom, a 30-ish large-breasted woman wearing revealing clothing came up to me and said, Do you want a date, Hon? Confused, I replied, excuse me? The woman repeated, Do you want a date? I smiled and said to her, no thanks, I already have a girlfriend. And with that, I continued walking to the restroom. As I walked back to my car, I saw the woman walking with a man towards a parked delivery van.

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I was quite naïve when it came to matters of sex. My sex education consisted of reading an Evangelical book titled Almost Twelve and six years of locker room sex ed. I knew the fundamentals, but as far a broader understanding of human sexuality and its darker, seamier side, I knew nothing. And as ignorant as I was, my fiancée was even worse. One warm day in the spring of 1977, Polly was in the college parking lot, sitting in her car — a 1972 AMC Hornet. Purchased new in 1972 by Polly’s father after the family car broke down in California, by 1976 the car was already worn out, a piece of junk. This car is a story unto itself, one that I will tell another day. For now, picture sweet, naïve Polly sitting in her car, AM radio blaring, singing along with Starland Vocal Band’s hit Afternoon Delight. I came up to the car window and asked what she was listening to. She replied, Afternoon Delight. I said, you know that song is about having sex! Polly replied, IT IS NOT! The song is about having fun in the afternoon. Slightly less naïve Bruce took the time to educate sheltered Polly about exactly what it was they were having fun doing in the afternoon. This lesson would pay dividends after we married and we experienced a bit of afternoon delight ourselves.

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After I returned to college, I told my roommate about what the woman had asked me at the rest stop. She asked me if I wanted to have a date! Why I didn’t even know her. Why would she want me to go on a date? I already have a girlfriend. My room-mate laughed and said, she was a prostitute and was asking you if you wanted to have sex with her. Really? I relied. Yes, really. I would receive many more such lessons over the next year. These are stories left for another day.

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.

Local Christian Sends Letter to my Son and Tells Him He is Headed for Hell

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Years ago, I attended First Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB)  in Bryan,Ohio. Recently, the church asked members to write letters to people, inviting them to church and subtly reminding recipients that their lives are worthless without Jesus and hell awaits  if they do not purchase fire insurance.

One of my sons, a practicing Catholic, received one such letter. Here’s what the handwritten letter had to say:

We would like to invite you and your family to First Baptist. Sunday School is @ 9:30. Worship @ 10:30.

More importantly, we invite you to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, if you don’t already.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Matthew 16:26

Based on the return name and address on the envelope, I know the letter writer. Why did this person choose to write my son? Does First Baptist really think that this is an effective way to reach people with the gospel?

Perhaps it is time for me to do some writing of my own about my experiences at First Baptist.  Several years ago, I attended a funeral at First Baptist. You can read my thoughts about the funeral here. I feel a s-e-r-i-e-s coming on….

Bruce Gerencser