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Tag: Holy Spirit

“Bruce, You Will Return to Christianity” Says Facebook Commenter

jesus and bruce

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article titled Why Some Professed Atheists Return to Jesus, about a Facebook acquaintance of mine. This acquaintance of mine professed to be an agnostic. Several weeks ago, he made an announcement on Facebook that said he was returning to Christianity. While such returns are rare, they do, on occasion, happen. Why is it that someone would want to return to the leeks, onions, and garlic of Christianity once they’ve tasted the good fruits of reason and rationality? Surely it can’t be the evidence for the central claims of Christianity. After all, Christian theologians haven’t had an original thought in-like-forever. I can’t think of one argument in my lifetime that Christian apologists have come up with that advance our understanding of God. Christian theologians have been making the same, old, worn-out arguments since a man by the name of Jesus walked the shores of Galilee 2,000 years ago. So if a Christian becomes an atheist or an agnostic because of insufficient evidence for the existence of God, then what changed when they went back to Christianity? Surely not the evidence. Granted, many people reject Christianity and say they are atheists without really understanding the intellectual reasons for doing so. More often than not, it is for emotional reasons such people turn their backs on God, reject the Bible, and want nothing to do with Christianity. And it is often for similar reasons that people return to Christianity, disavowing their former atheistic beliefs.

My Facebook acquaintance posted my article to his wall. Most of the people who commented were Christians who disagreed with the content of my post. One Christian lady even made a prophecy about me, saying:

Daniel, I read the article and this is what I truly sensed in my spirit. This person will also return to his faith. He will have an experience that switches his inner switch back to ON and his love for the Father will be radical!

As with the pastor in my post yesterday titled, Evangelical Pastor Instructed by God to Give Me a Message, this woman believes that God talks to her; that God directly communicates messages to her about other people. In any other setting, such behavior would warrant a psych evaluation. I am not saying that religious belief is mental illness. What I am saying, however, is that hearing voices in your head other than your own and believing that an invisible being is instructing you to say or do something is a sign of psychological imbalance. And that’s what Evangelical Christianity does to people. It screws them up psychologically.

Bible literalism forces Evangelicals to believe all sorts of nonsense, including the notion that God lives inside of them. The popular Christian hymn In the Garden says God walks, talks, and tells Christians they belong to him. Evangelicals believe that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is an entity that envelops every fiber of their being. He is their teacher, guide, and conscience. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit gives to Christians everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. Never mind the fact, that the Bible hasn’t been updated in almost 2,000 years; that its teachings have little relevance to the scientific age we live in. Surely, the Bible needs a rewrite, one that better reflects the world we live in today. Instead, Evangelicals tell us,” God’s word is timeless!” “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” Evangelicals say, and “so is the Bible.” However, when pressed about certain archaic, bizarre, and immoral teachings found in the Bible, Evangelicals are quick to make all sorts of explanations and justifications that thoroughly discredit their claims.

god speaking

I’m sure that this woman, based on her steadfast belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, sincerely believes that the voice she hears in her head is the voice of the Christian God. I too at one time believed that God spoke to me; that my actions and sermons were guided and directed by the Holy Spirit who literally lived inside of me. On more than a few occasions, I spent numerous hours preparing my sermon, only to have “God” whisper to me in a still small voice when I entered the pulpit to preach something different. “God are you sure?” I’d say to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would reply, “Yes, that’s what I want you to preach.” And so I did, often with powerful demonstrations of God working in the midst of the congregation. Of course, I know now that the only voice I was hearing was my own. I now know that every answered prayer and every leading of the Spirit was me, not God. It was hard for me to realize that everything I attributed to God was in fact, Bruce. If there is a God in this story, it is me. You can call me Bruce Almighty.

As far as this woman’s prophecy is concerned, I have a matching prophecy to give:

This is what I truly sense in my mind, based on reason, knowledge, and personal experience. I will never return to Christianity; to my former life as an Evangelical pastor. I will continue to advance skepticism, rationalism, atheism, humanism, and good old common sense. I will continue to promote intellectual inquiry, and if I live long enough, I hope to see the death of Evangelical Christianity. It will be a good day when the “voice of God” fades from human consciousness; a day when humans finally understand the only Gods are they themselves.

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.

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Baptists, the Holy Spirit, and Being Endued with Power From on High

pentecost
Cartoon by Kevin Frank

In Luke 24, we find the risen Jesus appearing to his eleven disciples and several other people, saying to them: “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” After Jesus uttered these words, He ascended to Heaven and hasn’t been seen since. From that moment forward, Christians have wondered what Jesus meant when he said his followers would be “endued with power from on high.”

I was taught growing up in Baptist churches that the power spoken of by Jesus was the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost); that prior to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his ascension to Heaven, the Holy Spirit came UPON God’s chosen ones but did not permanently live inside of them. Once Jesus was gone from the scene, he sent the Holy Spirit (comforter) to earth to live inside every believer. I was taught similar pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit) in Bible college.

In Acts 2, we find the followers of Jesus gathered together on the day of Pentecost. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came upon them and “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Most Evangelicals believe that this was the moment that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in every believer and endue them with Heavenly power. I am just kidding: most Evangelicals don’t agree on anything — Holy Spirit included. You would think receiving the Holy Spirit would be quite simple, but thanks to endless arguments and debates amongst those who claim to have ONE LORD, ONE, FAITH, ONE BAPTISM, Christian sects have all sorts of pneumatological beliefs. Let me share a few of them with you.

Many Baptists believe that the moment a person is saved, the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence inside of them. Now, that’s only for people who are saved after the resurrection of Jesus. Those saved before the resurrection of Jesus — say people in the gospels and the Old Testament — the Holy Spirit came upon them when he needed to use them in some sort of powerful, supernatural way. Once this was accomplished, the Holy Spirit departed.

Other Baptists believe that the Holy Spirit has always lived in saved people — both before and after the resurrection of Jesus. These Baptists see a continuity between the Old and New Testaments. This belief is popular among worshippers of John Calvin.

And yet other Baptists believe that all saved people are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but “special,” on-fire, sold-out Christians can receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit if they really, really, really beg God to give it to them. Some preachers I heard growing up called this being baptized with the Spirit.

Wander off into the Evangelical weeds and you will find all sorts of additional — and contradictory — beliefs about the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit the moment you are baptized by immersion. Other sects believe similarly, except the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. What is speaking in tongues, you ask? Ah yes, another belief Christians are hopelessly divided over.

Most Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is Demonic. Some Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is the ability to speak foreign languages you haven’t learned. Pentecostals, Charismatics, Apostolics, and some garden-variety Evangelical churches believe that speaking in tongues is some sort of babbling prophetic or prayer language; one that must be interpreted so hearers can understand; but then, maybe not — maybe it’s just a Heavenly prayer language that no one, including the speaker, understands. Turn on the TV and watch Christian programming and you will see plenty of speaking in tongues — interpreted and uninterpreted.

Back to the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit when you are saved, but if you want to want to have a close relationship with God, you need to beg him to fill you will his Spirit. Again, speaking in tongues or some other supernatural demonstration will be the requisite evidence for such fillings of the Holy Spirit.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I attended a number of southern-style camp meetings. It was not uncommon to “see” the Holy Spirit come upon people. They would start shouting, waving towels/hankies, running the aisles, walking on top of pews, and just about any other bit of religious craziness you can think of. I heard countless preachers say that the Holy Spirit gave them their sermons; that their preached words were straight from the Spirit himself. I had similar experiences while preaching. There were a few times when my sermons seemed to have some sort of special “zip” or anointing, and people responded to them in overtly emotional ways. One evening, in particular, I remember the service was overflowing with the Spirit. Sinners were saved and backsliders were reclaimed. Afterward, I was exhausted. God really used me for his purpose and glory, I thought at the time.

As you can see from this post, Christians have varied beliefs about the Holy Spirit and the outworkings of receiving said Spirit. It is these varied beliefs that make me wonder about the existence of God. If, as Christians believe, the Holy Spirit is essential to the salvation and the day-to-day lives of believers, why all the diverse and contradictory beliefs? Surely, God would want to make sure every Christian was on the same page when it came to the Holy Spirit, right? Yet, they are not, and the same could be said concerning virtually every other article of faith.

If, over the course of 2,000 years, we saw that Christians generally believed the same things, it might cause us to pause a moment and consider whether those beliefs are true. Instead, what we have is countless sects, each believing that their beliefs are true and all others false. This leads me to conclude that Christian religions are manmade, filled with internal and external contradictions. Either that or God loves confusion. Oh, wait, 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, God is NOT the author of confusion. If he’s not the author, who is? That’s right, humans are. And from this conclusion, it is clear: that religions — all of them — are human constructs; that the plethora of beliefs about the Holy Spirit reveals human engineering, not divine.

What were you taught about the Holy Spirit? Were you ever “filled” with the Holy Spirit? Did you ever speak in tongues? Please share your human utterances 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.

Let the Fun Begin: Baptist Church Business Meetings

church meeting

Most Baptist churches practice congregational government. This means that the church membership has the final say on what happens in the church. Some Baptist churches are truly congregational. No one can even fart without it being voted on first by church members. However, many Baptist churches are congregational in name-only. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, in particular, are known for having dictatorial, controlling pastors. The congregation may vote on big money issues, but the day-to-day operation of the church is left up to the pastor. This is especially true when the church was started by the pastor. The church becomes his fiefdom, his personal plaything, and no one, including his charges, is going to take it away from him. As long as the pastor doesn’t diddle little boys or use church offerings to play the ponies, he likely can remain the pastor until “God” calls him elsewhere.

Some Baptist churches — believing congregationalism puts power in the wrong hands — are governed by elders. All this does is concentrate power and control. Elders can and do abuse their authority, often acting in their own best interests. One need only look at megachurches with their corporation-style boards to see what happens when stakeholders no longer have any control. That’s not to say that congregationalism is the best form of church government. As long as people are people, there will be conflicts. What elevates these conflicts in Baptist churches, however, is that both sides believe that the Holy Spirit (God) is leading and speaking to them! I participated in numerous church business meetings where people metaphorically duked it out over who would get his way. I found it interesting then, and still do, how “God” can be so unclear about his good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Perhaps, the problem is that there is no God, and what you have are people with competing wants, needs, and desires.

What follows is a handful of stories from my days as a Baptist church member and pastor. These stories are a highlight reel of sorts from the countless church business meeting I attended.

As a teenager, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. It was the 1970s, and, thanks to Trinity’s aggressive evangelistic efforts, the church was one of the fastest-growing churches in the area. Attendance became so large that big attendance days such as Easter were held in the auditorium of nearby Findlay High School. Finally, church attendance reached a place where Pastor Millioni and the deacons decided it was time for a larger building. They would later move from their Trenton Avenue location to a spacious, modern round edifice near the Findlay Mall.

Church leaders decided to sell bonds to church members to finance construction. Such bond programs were quite popular at the time. They were later deemed to be fraudulent, little more than Ponzi schemes. One Sunday evening, church leaders called for a business meeting to discuss the new building. I attended the meeting. I was very much a committed follower of Jesus, one who took seriously the standards by which Christians were expected to live their lives. One rule was NO CUSSING! Imagine my surprise then when the church’s song director got into a verbal argument with someone and swore at him! Boy, was I shocked! Here was a man I deeply repected and he said some bad words. Such was my naiveté at the time.

In the early 2000s, while between pastorates, I attended Frontier Baptist Church in Frontier, Michigan. Frontier was a small, needy, dysfunctional congregation. I have concluded that I sought out such churches because I see myself as a “fixer.” I pastored several churches who needed Pastor Bruce to ride in on a white horse and “save” them. While Frontier had an elderly pastor, the congregation was most certainly in need of my help. Or so I thought anyway.

Once a month, the church — a Southern Baptist congregation — would hold a business meeting. The pastor was a strict congregationalist. He refused to make ANY decision without the church voting on the matter. The church was in desperate need of a new refrigerator. I just so happened to have a like-new fridge in storage. I told the pastor I would like to give a refrigerator to the church, thinking he would quickly and graciously say, sure. Instead — I kid you not — he said, “I can’t accept your gift, Bruce. The church will have to vote on it first.” And they did a month later. To this day, I don’t understand this kind of passive leadership, an unwillingness to make decisions on your own lest the congregation get upset with you.

I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona for a time in the 1970s. I attended Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist congregation. In this church, no one could become a member unless the congregation voted on their admission. At one business meeting, congregants discussed several people who were prospective members. When one woman’s name came up, the church matriarch asked, “is she divorced?” “Yes,” the pastor replied. “Then I vote NO on her membership.” And that was that. This church may have had a congregational form of government, but when Granny spoke everyone listened and fell in line.

In 1980, Polly and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio for a time before leaving to help start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake. The Baptist Temple was trying to raise money to build a gymnasium, along with some additional classrooms for their Christian school. The church’s pastor and deacons had agreed to pay cash for the construction. They believed that by “trusting God,” congregants would cough up the necessary money for the new building. Months and months went by, and then one Sunday an “important” business meeting was called for. At the appointed time, the church’s pastor told congregants that church leaders, with soon-to-be-given congregational approval, had decided to borrow the money necessary to build the building. I thought at the time, wait a minute! I thought we were going to trust “God” to provide the money?” No one said a word. It seemed like everyone was falling in line behind the Pied Piper. When asked if there were any more questions, I nervously stood and said, “Why are we changing horses now? I thought we were trusting God to provide the money.” Silence. You would have thought I had cut a raunchy fart in a crowded elevator. Keep in mind, the pastor was my wife Polly’s uncle. Nearby sat her preacher father and his wife. Needless, to say, my “out of the will of God” words were not appreciated. It wouldn’t be the last time Pastor Uncle and I would clash.

In 1994, I moved my family from southeast Ohio to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Imagine my surprise at the first church business meeting when I learned that women were not permitted to speak at public meetings. Now, I was quite an authoritarian at the time, but I was egalitarian when it came to business meetings. Worse yet, if a woman had a question, she was to whisper it to her husband or another man, and he would ask their question. I kid you not. The only time women were permitted to speak out loud during public meetings was when they were singing or praying.

Finally, I want to share a story from the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. One Sunday evening, the congregation gathered for a business meeting. During the meeting, a man stood up and said, “I have a real problem with So-and-So” — a fellow church member. He proceeded to air his grievances against this man and his family. Then So-and-So’s wife stood up and began listing all the problems she had with the first man and his family. The business meeting quickly turned into a shouting match between these two families. The meeting became so contentious that I just sat down and let these two families verbally duke it out. There was a moment when I thought it might turn into a physical altercation, but fortunately, it didn’t.

Finally, their war of words ended. I stood up and let them know what I thought of their childish behavior. These two families had been sitting on an increasing number of offenses for so long that when given a chance to air them, boy oh boy, did they! The good news is they were able to work out their differences. Both families were devoted, faithful church members, people who would go out of their way to help others. But, on this night, I was reminded of the fact that they were very much human, as we all are.

This post is not meant to demean the churches and parties mentioned. I hope by sharing these stories — and I could spend days writing about church business meetings — that readers would see that Baptists, for all their talk about following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, are just as human as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. All of us want our way, whether it is in our marriages, places of employment, or houses of worship. It’s normal to think that our viewpoint is the right one — no Holy Ghost needed. What’s harder for us to do is surrender our viewpoints to those of others, to admit that perhaps we just might not be right.

Do you have a favorite church business meeting story — Baptist or not? 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.

Questions: Bruce, Did You Understand the Trinity?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

ObstacleChick asked, “Did You Understand the Trinity?” OC also asked, “If God the Father is an incorporeal spirit, what’s the need for another incorporeal spirit, the Holy Spirit/Ghost?

Most Christians are Trinitarians, believing that God is three persons in one, each equal with the other. Some Christian sects — deemed heretics by Trinitarians — believe, as God’s chosen people, the Jews, do, that God is one. Battles have historically been fought and continue to be fought over Trinitarianism, but most Christians believe the God they worship consists of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Ask them to explain their belief, most Christians will give you a blank look and say, it’s a mystery.  The reason for this is that nowhere in the Bible does it say that God is a triune being. In fact, outside of 1 John 5:7: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one, there is not one verse in the Bible about the Trinity (and 1 John 5:7 is considered by many scholars to be a scribal addition to the text). Bart Ehrman says of the text:

As it turns out, the three passages are handled differently. The first, the affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8), is not in any of our most ancient manuscripts at all. It shows up in one manuscript of the fourteenth century, one of the fifteenth, another of the sixteenth, and finally one of the eighteenth. Yes, that’s right, the eighteenth. Scribes were producing manuscripts long after the invention of printing (just as my students today take notes with pen and paper, even though they all own laptops). It can be found in the margins of four other, equally late, manuscripts, as a possible variant reading. The result, though, is that no one except the most avid fundamentalist thinks that the verses have any claim to belong to the “original” text of the New Testament.

ObstacleChick asks if, as a pastor, I understood the doctrine of the Trinity? Of course not. No Evangelical pastor truly understands the doctrine. It’s a mystery, pastors tell congregants, but true nonetheless. That’s one answer, but I can think of another one: Christians actually worship three Gods; thus they are polytheists (or henotheists), and not monotheists.  Maintaining Trinitarianism requires all sorts of Bible gymnastics. Pull a verse from this book and a verse from another book, and there ya have it, God is triune being. Evangelicals will object to my characterization here, but none will dare to argue otherwise because outside of a stream of disconnected proof texts, there’s no Biblical proof for the notion that the Christian God is a triune being.

In closing, consider 1 Corinthians 15: 24-28:

Then cometh the end, when he [Jesus, the son] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

If Jesus, the Son is equal in power and substance to God, the Father and God, the Holy Spirit, why then does he subject himself in an inferior way to the Father? Perhaps Jesus was a created being; that there was a time when he did not exist; that God, the Father created him (much like Satan) so he could come to earth and show humans through violence that God had a wonderful plan for their lives, and now that it is MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, Jesus, the man, the myth, and the legend is no longer needed.

Evangelicals would have you believe the Bible narrative is a cohesive, perfect masterpiece. It is, however, a hopelessly contradictory book, and while Trinitarianism can be inferred from its pages, so can polytheism and henotheism. In this sense, the Bible is a book that just keeps on giving, endless in its fanciful doctrines stories. ObstacleChick’s second question only illustrates this point. If God, the Father is a spirit, when then is there a need for God, the Holy Spirit? Seems like a waste of a God to me.

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.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Tunnel of Fire, a New Charismatic Practice

 

charismatic faith healer

This is the one hundred and seventy-sixth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism features clips of a new Charismatic practiced called Tunnel of Fire. Charismatic churches are always on the look out for new methods and gimmicks to arouse the passions of congregants. The Tunnel of Fire is one such practice.

Fire Tunnel With Todd White at The Sound The Alarm Youth Conference, Orlando Florida 2016

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Bethel Church, Redding, California

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Bruce Gerencser