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Tag: God

“Feeling” God

feeling the holy spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give one more example of “feeling” God. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I preached 4,000+ sermons. There were numerous occasions while I was preaching that I “felt” God, and I could see that others “felt” God too. I have been in services where the presence of God was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. I have seen countless people “feel” God as He took my words and used them for His honor and glory. Or so I thought, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bruce, If You Don’t Believe in Jesus Anymore, Who Do You Think Called You Into the Ministry?

emmanuel baptist church 1983
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, Bruce Gerencser’s ordination April 1983, age 25

Several years ago, I received the following email:

I read your blog. Thanks for sharing. I have been an Evangelical Christian since I was 5. I accepted Jesus of the Bible at that time. When I read your “Why I Hate Jesus”, it made me sad. I couldn’t help but think that you have had a lot of pain from people who profess Jesus Christ and that Jesus Himself has let you down. I did have a question. On your ABOUT page, the question was “when were you called into the ministry. ” If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?

In this post, I want to focus on the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?”

This is a fairly common question I am asked when someone is trying to square my current atheistic life with that of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I believed that it was GOD who called me into the ministry, but now I believe that this same God is a fiction. If God doesn’t exist, who is it then that spoke to my “heart” as a fifteen-year-old boy, telling me that I was to be a pastor, a preacher of the good news of the gospel?

The Evangelical culture I grew up in emphasized the importance of boys and girls growing up to be full-time servants of Jesus Christ. Children and teenagers were encouraged to pray and ask God if he wanted them to devote their lives to the ministry, be it as a pastor, evangelist, or missionary. As Hannah did with Samuel, parents were challenged to give their children over to God, hoping that he might see fit to use them in a mighty way to advance his Kingdom. Pastors considered it a sign of God’s favor if teen boys were called to preach under their ministry. Like the gunslingers of yesteryear, pastors put a notch on their gospel gun every time a boy surrendered to the ministry.

Being called to full-time service means you are special, uniquely chosen by God to do his work. From the moment a boy says, preacher, I think God is calling me to preach, he is treated by the church as some sort of extraordinary human being. I heard countless preachers say that being called into the ministry was the greatest calling in the world; that becoming President of the United States would be a step down from the ministry. Preacher boys — as young men called into the ministry are often nicknamed — are quickly given preacher things to do. No time is better than NOW, I was told, to start serving God and preaching his Word. I preached my first sermon to the Junior High Sunday school class two weeks after I stood before the church and said, God is calling me to be a preacher. I spent the next few years honing my preaching skills at youth meetings, nursing homes, and any other place that didn’t mind hearing the ramblings of an inexperienced, uneducated boy preacher. By the time I delivered my last sermon in April 2005, I had preached 4,000+ messages, often preaching three or more sermons a week.

What I have written above is key to answering the question, “If you don’t believe in Jesus anymore, who do you think called you into the ministry?” Since I don’t think God exists, the only way I can possibly answer this question is from an environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological perspective. It is important to remember that it is not necessary for God to exist for people to believe that he does. Billions of people believe in a supernatural deity/force that does not exist. Every day, billions of people will pray to, worship, and swear allegiance to deities that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. These deities can, however, be felt, and it is these feelings that lead people to believe that their invisible God is indeed real. Thus, I KNOW that God called me into the ministry because I “felt” him speak to me. This is no different from the five-year-old Bruce Gerencser believing that Santa Claus somehow came down the chimney every Christmas Eve and put presents under the tree just for him. Of course, time, experience, and knowledge caused me to see that my beliefs about Santa were false, as they did when it came to my beliefs about God.

These religious feelings and beliefs of mine were reinforced by the Bible. Various verses in the Word of God speak of men who are called to be pastors/elders/bishops/missionaries/evangelists. Variously interpreted by Christian sects, all agree on one point: God calls boys/men (and in some cases, girls/women) into the ministry. This calling is essentially God laying his hand on someone and saying, I have set you apart for my use. Church youngsters are regaled with stories about men and women called by God who did great works. From the Bible, stories of the faith-driven exploits of Noah, Moses, David, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, Joshua, the apostles, and Paul are used as reminders of what God can and will do for those willing to dedicate their lives to serving him. Church children are encouraged to read the biographies of men (and a few women) mightily used by God. I heard more than a few preachers say, look at what God did through Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Dwight Moody, Bob Jones, John R. Rice, Billy Sunday, Adoniram Judson, Andrew Fuller, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Jack Hyles, B.R. Lakin, and countless other servants of God. Who knows what God might do through you if you will dare to surrender your life to him? What young preacher boy wouldn’t want to be someday used by God like these men?

I spent thirty-three years believing that God had called me to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ; that this calling was irrevocable; that misery and judgment (and perhaps death) awaited if I failed to obey God. The Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 9:16:

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

As with Paul, Bruce the Evangelical preacher had a burning desire to preach the gospel; to tell as many people as possible that Jesus alone can save them from their sin; that there is a Hell to shun and a Heaven to gain; that what is a man profited if he gain the world and lose his soul. I shed countless tears over the lost — both in and out of the church. I spent untold hours praying for revival to break out in America, spreading to the ends of the earth. Believing Jesus was coming back to earth soon, I devoted myself to making sure as many people as possible heard the gospel. I thought, at the time, my duty is to tell them. It is up to God to save them. For many years, my evangelistic zeal burned so hot that I preached a minimum of four sermons a week, along with preaching on the streets and holding services at the local nursing home and county jail. To quote the motto of Midwestern Baptist College — the institution I attended in the 1970s — Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry. We Never Will Give in While Souls are Lost in Sin, Souls for Jesus is Our Battle Cry!

My burning the candle at both ends wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t believe that God had called me into the ministry and was speaking to and through me. I believed that this God existed. I may never have seen God or audibly heard him, but I felt his presence in my life. I “heard” the Holy Spirit speaking to me, leading me, and teaching me truth. These experiences of mine were verified by what I read in the Bible and Christian biographies and what I observed in the lives of my pastors, teachers, and mentors. Most of all, they were verified by the work God accomplished through my preaching and leadership. How then, knowing these things, can I now believe that God is a work a fiction; that my ministerial experiences were the work, not of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, but the works of a quite-human Bruce Gerencser?

The deconversion process afforded me the opportunity to step back from my life and view it from a distance. As I looked at my parents’ religious, theological, social, and political leanings and that of the pastors of the churches we attended, it would have been shocking if I hadn’t, as a teenager, professed that God was calling me into the ministry. At age five, while we were living in San Diego and attending Scott Memorial Baptist Church (Scott Memorial was pastored by Tim LaHaye), I told my mother that I was going to be a preacher someday. Not a baseball player, policeman, or garbage truck driver — a preacher! This, of course, pleased my Mom. (Ironically, neither my mother or father ever heard me preach.) When people talked about the angst they had over trying to determine what they wanted to do with their lives when they grew up, I had no frame of reference. I never wrestled with what I wanted to be as an adult. I always wanted to be a preacher, and by God’s wonderful, matchless grace, that is exactly what I became. Everything I experienced in my life led me to the monumental day at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, when, with tears and trembling, I told the church God was calling me into the ministry. Scores of fellow church members shouted Amen! and later hugged me, telling me that they would pray for me. I am sure that more than a few people had mixed feelings about my calling. Really Lord? Are you sure you can use this temperamental, ornery redheaded boy? I have often wondered what my peers thought as I went from the boy who told the youth director to fuck off! to a young man who loved Jesus, carried his Bible to school, handed out tracts to his unsaved friends, went soulwinning, worked on a bus route, and occasionally preached at Sunday evening youth meetings. The old Bruce, who wore frayed jeans, boots, and tee-shirts to church, gave way to the New Bruce, who wore preacher clothes, including ties. What’s next? Swearing off girls? Anyone who knew me as a preacher boy knows I resolutely obeyed the Baptist Rulebook®. (Please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) I didn’t smoke, drink, cuss, listen to rock music, or engage in premarital sex. I had plenty of girlfriends, but I drew the line at kissing, holding hands, and putting our arms around each other. My commitment to virginity was part of my devotion to God. As much as I wanted to have sex, I willingly took many a cold shower, keeping myself pure until my wedding day.

Most Baptist preachers will likely say that they just KNEW God was calling them to preach. If they are still Christians, I am sure they attribute their feelings to supernatural intervention. It’s all because of J-E-S-U-S, not me, I’m sure they’ll say, yet the signs in front of their churches say Rev. So-and-So, Pastor. You see, the whole notion of being called by God is rooted not in the supernatural, but in earthly human experiences. My Baptist faith taught me to call my interest in the ministry a calling from God, but in truth, it was the natural outcome of my upbringing and experiences. My entrance into the preaching fraternity was never in doubt. How could I not have become a preacher?

There is nothing in my story that requires the actual existence of a supernatural deity. All that is required is that I, along with the other players in my life, believe God exists. For my first fifty years of life, I believed that the Evangelical God was every bit a real as the sun, moon, stars, and earth. And now I don’t. Does this invalidate my years in the ministry? Of course not. All that has changed is my perspective and how I see my trajectory from a sinner to a Holy Spirit-led follower of Jesus Christ. Instead of God being the first cause, I now know that environmental, psychological, cultural, and sociological influences molded me into the man who would one day preach thousands of sermons in churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Congregants called me Pastor Bruce, Rev. Gerencser, or Preacher — the man of God who spoke the Word of God to the people of God. I now know who I really was . . . his name is Bruce.

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.

Songs of Sacrilege: Bruised and Bloodied by Seether

seether

This is the latest installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Bruised and Bloodied by Seether.

Video Link

Lyrics

Add meat to the body, abandon your own welfare
Feel safe in the knowledge that you’ll save yourself with prayer
Disgrace everybody then bask in the afterglow
If I beat myself it seems like you just don’t care at all
It’s really fucking pitiful

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

Conceit so lovely you’ve led me into despair
This rape and pillage of all things that I hold dear
Deface my body with gifts that you now bestow
When I need somebody it seems like you’re just not there at all
It’s really fucking pitiful

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

These disembodied emotions are all laid bare
So please tell me, when will I wake from this new nightmare

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

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.

Retired Pastor? How Does THAT Happen?

Bruce Gerencser, April 2021

Several years ago, I saw my primary care doctor for a two-month check-up. I have been seeing the same doctor for twenty-five. We’ve become friends, and my appointments are often just as much catching up as they are treating me. My doctor is an Evangelical Christian. While I am sure he has noticed that I don’t talk about God/Jesus/Church anymore, we have never had any sort of discussion about my current beliefs and way of life. We are Facebook friends, so he’s read that I self-describe as an atheist.

For this visit:  scripts were written/called in, CT scan scheduled, blood tests ordered, bitching about how bad the Browns/Bengals are, time to go home. The nurse — also an Evangelical — came into the room with several reams of paper (or so it seems) detailing everything we talked about during my visit. My doctor said to his nurse, Bruce, is a retired pastor. Before I could say a word, the nurse said, Retired pastor? How does THAT happen? Again, before I could say anything, my doctor said, He’s a retired pastor. (This nurse was a fill-in. I have not seen her since.)

I outwardly smiled, and much like Trump changing the discussion from “pussy-grabbing” to Bill Clinton’s dalliances, I said, how many games do you think the Browns will win? My doctor shook his head and laughed, knowing that his Browns suck (and my Bengals weren’t much better).

For whatever reason, when it comes to my medical treatment, I wall myself off from my atheist and humanist beliefs. I don’t disown them, I just don’t talk about them. I do, from time to time, act like a devout, proselytizing Jehovah’s Witness, leaving copies of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or Americans United For Separation of Church and State newsletters in the waiting room. Even with this low-key act of godlessness, I make sure my name and address are blacked out before placing the newsletters among waiting room reading materials.

What did the nurse mean when she said, Retired Pastor? how does THAT happen? Evangelical thinking on this subject goes something like this:

  • God calls men to be pastors.
  • The work of the ministry is far above any other job. In fact, it is not a job, it’s a calling.
  • This calling is irrevocable. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Romans 11:29)
  • Pastors should die in the pulpit while preaching the gospel. Going to Heaven with my boots on, old-time preachers used to say.

Thus, being a retired pastor does not compute. God saved and called me, so I should still be preaching. But wait a minute. I am no longer a Christian. I don’t believe in the existence of the God I at one time worshiped and served. My salvation and calling were the results of social conditioning, the consequence of spending fifty years in the Evangelical church. At age five I told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher someday. At age fifteen, I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Two weeks later, I went before the church and told them I believed God was calling me to be a preacher. The congregation praised God for his selection of the redheaded Gerencser boy, and a week later I preached my first sermon. Thirty-three years later I preached my last sermon.

Someday, my obituary will be published in the Bryan Times and Defiance Crescent-News. On that day, my doctor will know the “truth” about my life and loss of faith. Until then, I am content to talk about football, baseball, or family, leaving my godlessness for another day. While I don’t think the fact of my atheism would affect my medical care, I prefer not to complicate my professional relationship and friendship with my doctor. If I Iive longer than expected — which is increasingly doubtful — and my doctor retires before I die, perhaps then we will talk about my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. Or maybe he’ll stumble upon my blog or read one of the articles I have written for other blogs. I don’t fear him knowing. I just know there’s not enough time in a fifteen-minute office visit for me to explain why I am no longer a Christian.

Do you have certain people you haven’t shared your deconversion with? Why do you keep this to yourself? 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.

Bruce Gerencser