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Tag: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Scores of Sinners Saved, Evangelical Preachers Say, But Let’s Look Behind the Numbers

Evangelical preachers loved to talk about the number of people saved under their ministries. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, in particular, is fixated on “souls saved.” If IFB churches were McDonald’s restaurants, they would replace the “____ billions served” line with “____ souls saved.”

Evangelists love to humble brag about how many people were saved during the meetings. “Souls saved” is the equivalent of a dick measuring contest. Watch a Billy or Franklin Graham crusade and you will see hundreds of people coming forward during the altar call. What most people don’t know is that many of the people coming forward are counselors, not people getting saved.

In a post titled Scaring Children and Teenagers Into Getting Saved, I wrote:

Some evangelists, using the Billy Graham model, “prime the pump” by having trained Christian altar workers come forward during the invitation time. These altar workers give the unaware the illusion that God is moving and people are being saved. Contrary to Donald Trump saying that he invented the phrase “priming the pump,” Evangelists have been talking about and using this practice since the 1920s. While many evangelists don’t use such a crass phrase as “priming the pump,” and instead use less-offensive phrases such as ‘helping sinners take the first step’, I have heard several notable evangelists utter the phrase. The late Joe Boyd is one evangelist who comes to mind.

A new fad amount Evangelical megachurch pastors is mass baptisms. There was a time when baptism was reserved for new converts (or for church membership in Landmark/Baptist Bride congregations.) Today, churches will mass baptize people who want to recommit themselves to Jesus or have some sort of felt need. Doing so wildly inflates their baptism numbers, hiding the fact that very few new converts are being baptized.

Every day, or so it seems anyway, I read news reports about this or that church/pastor/evangelist having scores of sinners saved. I automatically say “bullshit.” Why? In most Evangelical churches, salvation is little more mental assent to a set of theological propositions. This is especially true in IFB churches that practice “easy believism” or “decisional regeneration.” (Please see The Bankruptcy of the Evangelical Gospel, Let’s Go Soulwinning, and One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style.) Preachers report large numbers of souls saved, yet when asked why their church attendances aren’t growing, these soulwinning machines say “that’s up to God, not me.” Bob Gray, Sr, the retired pastor of an IFB megachurch in Longview, Texas, proudly states thousands and thousands and thousands of people were saved under his ministry — upwards of a 100,000 people — yet most of these new converts were never baptized (the first step of obedience) or became members of the church.

During the First and Second Great Awakenings, thousands and thousands of people were saved. For a time, church attendances grew. By and by, the revival fires died, and many of these new converts went back to their worldly ways. One evangelist of that era (Jonathan Edwards or George Whitfield, I believe) said that revivialists should wait for a year before counting “souls saved.” They believed that this would give an accurate count of those truly saved.

I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio from 1983 to 1994. The church grew from sixteen people at its first service to 206 in 1987. During the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist, over 600 people made public professions of faith. Most of them didn’t become members, often coming for a few weeks or months before returning to their “sinful” ways. While the church did grow in the 1980s, most of the growth came from transfers — people changing churches. I would later see that the gospel I was preaching made people seven-fold children of Hell. I spent the remainder of my time in the ministry trying to get saved people unsaved. This proved much harder than getting them saved. Embracing Calvinism in the mid- to late- 1980s forced me to reorient my approach to preaching and evangelism. I went from being quantity-focused to quality-focused. I went from preaching textual/topical sermons to preaching expositionally. My focus was on building up the church instead of filling the pews with people who had no real interest in following Jesus.

The next time you hear a preaching bragging about how many souls were saved at this or that church/revival meeting, I hope you will quietly mumble under your breath, “bullshit.” 🙂 Or better yet, ask this braggart how many of these new converts were baptized, how many of them joined the church, and how many of them are actively serving Jesus. You will likely see the preacher’s dick shrivel up, and he will probably stammer and stutter as he tries to explain the disconnect between the number of souls saved and the number who are members and actively serving their Savior.

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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.

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.

Women Wearing Pants to Blame for Liberalism in IFB Churches

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Polly Gerencser, Arizona 2004, wearing her first pair of pants. Such a heathen 🙂

Tom Brennan (please see Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Immodestly Dressed Women Are Like a Lit Cigarette at a Gas Pump Says IFB Pastor Tom Brennan) pastors Bible Baptist Church in Dubuque, Iowa — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. As is common among IFB preachers — I should know, I was one — Brennan is obsessed with getting women out of their pants. He has written numerous blog posts about how women dress, especially pants wearing.

Last week, Brennan wrote a post titled Objections Against the Pants Standard Answered. In the post, Brennan lists twenty-four objections to his anti-britches standard:

1) “These are women’s pants.”

2) “There is no specific biblical instruction that a woman should not wear pants.”

3) “Whatever you write doesn’t matter; I’m just not convicted about it.”

4) “I have peace about wearing pants.”

5) “We have thought it through carefully, and we are going to allow pants now. But we will only allow modest pants.”

6) “I only wear pants to work.”

7) “Pants are more comfortable.”

8) “You are wrong; pants as an item of clothing do not belong exclusively to the male gender. That ship has sailed.”

9) “Well, you have to admit, pants are more modest for certain activities. I mean, can you imagine rock climbing at the mall in a dress?”

10) “Say what you want, I don’t have to answer to a man for what I wear.”

11) “That’s Old Testament stuff and we’re under grace now.”

12) “Yes, I wear pants. I am free from the bondage of legalism now.”

13) “It’s just not as important as you make it out to be.”

14) “Everybody knows that men and women wore the same robes in the Bible.”

15) “I can’t wear a skirt or a dress and stay warm.”

16) “Well, my pants are more modest than So-and-so’s skirts and dresses.”

17) “God doesn’t care about how I look; He only cares about my heart.”

18) “You should just stick with teaching the Bible and let the Holy Spirit convict people how He wants.”

19) “Dress standards just breed pride. The Pharisees. Hello?”

20) “You don’t understand, Pastor Brennan. If I require that standard of my daughters they will rebel against me.”

21) “I’m an older woman; ain’t no man going to lust after me.”

22) “What will the lost think when they hear you emphasize such quaint notions?”

23) “Who are you to judge?”

24) “Well, Paul said all things are lawful. So get off my case.”

Please take the time to read Brennan’s responses to these objections.

Brennan thinks that if good IFB women start wearing pants they will go “liberal,” and soon will be wearing shorts, tight jeans, and yoga pants. OMG, the pants apocalypse. 🙂

My wife and I have had this conversation with our own daughter. Why is it that when a formerly conservative independent Baptist family gives up the pants standards it seems to go entirely the opposite direction rather quickly? If they gave up, accepted pants, and wore the (relatively) modest old-lady pants (forgive me, I am sure there is a better term here) I could almost live with that. But they do not. In my experience, never. They say the pants are going to be modest, but inevitably, in a few years, the tight jeans, the yoga pants, and the short shorts show up, if not in the first generation then in the next one.

Brennan’s beliefs are not special or unique. Countless misogynistic IFB preachers hold similar beliefs. I remember losing good church families over my refusal to let church women who served in an official capacity wear pants. I have apologized to several families, but this kind of thinking causes untold heartache and harm, all over a pair of pants.

I am sure some of you wonder why IFB women willingly submit to such nonsense. Perhaps some of the former IFB church members who read this blog will chime in. I do know that women are deeply indoctrinated. They are conditioned to believe that the pastor’s peculiar interpretations of the Bible and social pronouncements are straight from the mouth of God. Little girls, teens, and women are taught to submit to their pastor’s authority and that of their husbands. When this is all you know, you don’t know any better. When you are taught certain items of clothing and fashion are signs of worldliness, is it any wonder you “willingly” comply. This sort of cultic thinking has ensnared countless American women. My wife, Polly, was forty-six years old before she wore her first pair of pants — capris. I encouraged her to buy a pair of pants. She refused, believing God would punish her if she did. We continued to talk about the matter, and Polly finally disobeyed God. What happened next? Absolutely nothing.

I have nothing but sympathy for women trapped in churches such as Brennan’s. Sadly, the only way out for them is rebellion or divorce — which an increasing number of women do. Some IFB churches give in and allow women to wear pants. They do, to a minute degree, become more “liberal.” Brennan sees pants as a red line that must not be crossed. Doing so leads to the incurable disease of “liberalism.” Brennan intends to man the Fundamentalist walls, keeping out the “world.” Brennan will fail, but before he does, he will cause untold harm. Such preaching kills marriages and families, often sending children running for the hills, never to return.

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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.

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.

Letter to the Editor: My Response to IFB Pastor Patrick Holt

bible baptist church grover hill ohio

Recently, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Patrick Holt, who pastors Bible Baptist Church in Grover Hill, Ohio, wrote a letter to the Defiance Crescent News decrying the decline and depravity he sees everywhere he looks. He blames these things on “liberals,” saying if we just allowed school teachers to lead children in (Christian) prayers and (Protestant Christian) Bible readings and taught them the Ten Commandments (which Holt doesn’t keep), the United States will magically return to the glory days of the 1950s. Never mind the fact that most Americans are Christians, so if he wants to place blame, I suggest he look in the mirror.

Here’s what Holt had to say:

Liberals got what they wanted

It is definitely a tragedy with the recent and past mass shootings at our public schools. Debate continues on about guns being the problem.

I graduated in 1967. Guys driving their pickup trucks to school may possibly have had a gun rack with a shotgun or a rifle in the back glass. Semi-automatic guns had been invented by that time. But there were no mass shootings in our public schools.

During the 12 years of my schooling, the day would start as a student read a Bible verse and then followed by another student reading a prayer over the PA system. Then Mr. Dunlap would make the announcements. But along that time there was the liberal left party which said it didn’t want the Bible, prayer and the Ten Commandments in our public schools. And they got their wish.

Shortly after that they said they didn’t want those terrible three in our society. And they have been fairly successful at that. So what they were asking for was a godless school system and a godless society.

Now you have the right to choose what you want or don’t want, but you cannot choose what the outcome will be. You can choose to drink and to drive, but then you shouldn’t complain about the results of your choice.

The liberal, leftist party said, “We don’t want that commandment that says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ taught to our children in school.” Toss it out. You got your request and the results.

Remember when you point your finger and say, “guns are the problem,” you have three fingers pointing back at you. Those three fingers are: no Bible, no prayer and no Ten Commandments. You got your wish and the results.

You see, if we are godless, then we are lawless. Own up to who is at fault. The problem is not what is in a person’s hand, but what is in their heart.

Patrick Holt

Grover Hill

Here’s my response, which I submitted to the newspaper today.

Dear Editor,

Patrick Holt is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. Stuck in the 1950s, Holt thinks America would be great again if we just returned to the homophobic, racist, misogynistic 50s; a return to the days when Evangelical Christianity ruled the roost. Holt looks at our culture and sees decline, decay, and godlessness. He blames these failures on the removal of Bible reading, prayer, and the Ten Commandments from public schools. If only our progeny were led in daily prayer and Bible reading by their teachers and taught the Ten Commandments, our culture would magically return to the glory days of the 1950s.

That ship has sailed, never to return. The 1950s were hardly what Holt intimates them to be. Racism. Homophobia. Misogyny. Patriarchalism. McCarthyism. Criminalization of birth control and abortion. Shall I go on? Those of us who value social progress, equality, and equal protection under the law have a very different view of the world. We intend to push back when Evangelicals try to drag us back to the “good old days.” Evangelical Christianity is dying on the vine. Younger Americans are abandoning organized religion in record numbers. The number of atheists, agnostics, and nones continues to grow, now equaling Evangelicals as a voting bloc.

Holt would have us believe that the only thing keeping him from being a thief and murderer is Jesus. Is that not the conclusion we must come to when he says “Godlessness leads to lawlessness?” I don’t know about Holt, but I murder all the people I want to. I burglarize as many of my neighbors as I want to. I just don’t want to. The unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world have moral and ethical values — no God needed.

This Saturday, Defiance will have its first Pride Walk. I have no doubt that Holt will see this event as yet another sign of decay and depravity, a sign of the soon return of the dead Jesus. I plan to be at the Pride Walk. I am sixty-five years old, by all accounts a curmudgeon. Yet, I know that a better tomorrow requires justice and equality for all. I have thirteen grandchildren. I want a better future for them. I understand Holt’s beliefs. I once was an IFB preacher, an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I also know that it is possible to break free from the narrow, bigoted, anti-human beliefs of Evangelical Christianity.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Previous articles about Patrick Holt

IFB Pastor Patrick Holt Thinks I Hate Christians, God, and the Bible

2009-2019: Local Responses to My Letters to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News (search for Patrick Holt or Grover Hill)

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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.

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.

Sounds of Fundamentalism: LGBTQ People Should Be Executed, Says IFB Preacher Dillon Awes

pastor dilllon awes

The Sounds of Fundamentalism 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 is a video clip of homophobe Dillon Awes preaching at Stedfast Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation pastored by homophobe-in-chief Jonathan Shelley.

Awes hatefully and violently, and, allegedly, “Biblically” stated:

Every single homosexual in our country should be charged with the crime, the abomination of homosexuality, that they have. They should be convicted in a lawful trial. They should be sentenced with death.

They should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head! That’s what God teaches. That’s what the Bible says. You don’t like it? You don’t like God’s Word, because that is what God says.

Everything about Awes suggests this young preacher boy lives in the darkest corner of the proverbial closet, joining many of his fellow IFB preachers. Shelley has taught him well.

The saddest thing about this sermon clip? All the people who shouted AMEN! Here’s a church filled with people who are okay with rounding up LGBTQ and summarily murdering them. Sick fucks, the lot of them.

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.

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? — Part One

humble pastor

Part One

Part Two

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In what follows, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop as I attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers. Readers who were long-time members of Evangelical churches or once in the ministry themselves will likely agree with much of what I have written here. Try as we humans might — thinking we are special, unique snowflakes — to frame our stories as different from the rest, certain sociological, psychological, biological, and tribal influences directly affect how we live our lives, revealing that none of us is as radically distinctive as we think we are.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to California, hoping to find a pot filled with gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. While they never found great wealth, my parents did embrace certain religious and political beliefs that would dramatically change not only their lives, but mine. Mom and Dad both found Jesus at Tim LaHaye’s church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church — and while attending Scott Memorial, were exposed to the uber-right-wing anti-communist group The John Birch Society. My parents, overnight, became Fundamentalist Christian zealots and defenders of right-wing political extremism. While in California, Mom campaigned for Barry Goldwater, hoping that he would unseat incumbent Democratic president Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater lost the election, garnering only thirty-eight percent of the popular vote.

Not long after my parents became born-again Christians, I too gave my heart to Jesus. This youthful, uninformed, manipulated-by-children’s-church-workers decision was the first step of many I would take as I followed after and served the Evangelical Jesus. Not long after asking Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. A decade later, as is common among Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB), I made another public profession of faith, and a few weeks later I informed the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. This one moment, publicly saying that Jesus wanted me to be a “man of God,” would color and affect virtually every important decision I would make for the rest of my life.

A week or so after I let the church know I was called to preach, I preached my first sermon. I was fifteen. I would preach my last sermon thirty-three years later. All told I preached 4,000+ sermons. During this span of time, I attended an IFB college to study for the ministry, married an IFB pastor’s daughter who was looking to marry a preacher, was the assistant pastor of two churches, and pastored five churches. I also started four new churches, two Christian schools, and a multi-church youth fellowship. While at the various churches I pastored, I started street preaching ministries, nursing home ministries, and youth groups, along with preaching numerous special meetings (revivals, conferences, etc). I also attended pastors’ fellowship meetings, and supported fellow pastors when their churches had revivals and conferences.

In the mid-1970s, I spent three years at Midwestern Baptist College training for the ministry. I met Polly there, and during the summer between our sophomore and junior year years, we married, excited that God had called both of us to into full-time service — me to a life of praise and adulation and Polly to a life of watching the nursery and dutifully modeling the patriarchal way of life. It should come as no surprise then, that Polly’s view of the twenty-five years we spent in the ministry is very different from mine.

During the three years I spent training for the ministry, I taught Sunday school, worked in the bus ministry, helped with the youth group, and held services at a drug rehab/halfway house in Detroit. Unlike many of the men who attended Midwestern, I actually gained a lot of preaching experience by the time I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979. It was not uncommon for men to graduate from Midwestern having only preached sermons in their homiletics class and infrequent services at their home churches.

While attending Midwestern, it was drilled into my head that it was GOD, not MAN, who had called me to preach; that no one but God could tell me what to preach. I was also taught the importance of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, not only in my preaching, but also in determining whether I should start a new church or become the pastor of an established church. As a preacher, according to what was modeled to me by my pastors and what I was taught in college, I answered to no one but God. Jesus may have been head of the church, but on earth I was the final authority on spiritual and theological matters.

Baptists love to attack the Roman Catholic Church with its Pope and his infallible pronouncements, yet they seem blind to the fact that in their churches, every church has its own little pope — the pastor. Saved by God, called by God, filled with the Spirit of God, led by God, and given absolute authority, these Evangelical chosen ones rule their churches as kings and potentates. Pastors, commanded by God to “humbly” sit at the head of the table, expected congregants to submit to their God-given authority, obeying those that have the rule over them (Hebrews 13:17).

Some Evangelical churches, hoping to correct the excesses of single-pastor church rule, have a plurality of pastors (elders) or have governing boards.  All these polity changes do is increase the number of bwanas. The end result is the same: a man or small group of men rule over the church. And more often than not, in churches with governing boards, there is one man, the senior/preaching pastor, who is the hub around which the church turns. As is clear to anyone who is paying attention, Evangelical churches are all about the man who stands at the front of the church and preaches and teaches the Bible. Whether intentional or not, Evangelical churches become Pastor So-and-So’s church. His name is on the sign, bulletin, and every piece of advertising put out by the church. It is not uncommon for congregants to say when asked where they attend church, I go to Pastor Ain’t He Awesome’s church. Churches pastored by men with John Holmes-sized oratorical prowess take great pride in having a pastor who is a great pulpiteer.

I preached thousands of sermons during my time as a pastor, and, hopefully without coming off as braggadocios, was considered by the people I pastored and my peers to be an excellent public speaker. My sermons were well-crafted, steeped in study and prayer, and delivered with passion and animation. I expected every sermon I preached to be used by God to save the lost and motivate the saints. I expected to see visible human responses — be it nodding heads, shouts of “amen,” raised hands, or tears — during my sermons, and at the end, I expected to see movement towards the front during altar calls. I was of the opinion then, and am still of this persuasion today, that public speakers should always bring audiences to a place of acting on that which they have heard — be it getting saved, getting right with God, or advancing this or that political cause.

Evangelical preachers believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. Every word is straight from the mouth of God, and with rare exception, these God-breathed words are meant to be understood literally. This way of reading the Bible forces Evangelical preachers to defend all sorts of absurd beliefs; things such as the idea that the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days and is six-thousand and twenty-four years old. Ministries such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Research Institute were established to give literalism a veneer of respectability, and countless apologetical books are published in the hope that pastors will read them so they are better equipped to defend Evangelicalism’s literalistic view of the Bible.

Let me conclude this post by tying everything together, setting the foundation for what I will write in Part Two. Evangelical preachers are saved and called into the ministry by God. They are viewed as people uniquely qualified to teach and preach the Bible. From the moment Evangelical preachers are called into the ministry until they preach their last sermon, they are treated as special and placed in positions of honor, power, and authority few Christians ever experience. Evangelical pastors who go off to college to be trained for the ministry are reminded by their professors and chapel speakers that God has given them the greatest job on earth; that becoming president of the United States would be a step down for them; that God will greatly reward them in heaven if they give their hearts, souls, and minds to the work of the ministry; that if God so chooses, they might even see Him use them to reap harvests of souls and build large churches.

Trace the life of the typical Evangelical preacher and you will find a lifetime of adulation, praise, and being in the spotlight. Even in small country churches deep in back-woods hollers, preachers are honored and revered. Is it any wonder, taking all that I have said in this post, that many Evangelical preachers become arrogant and full of themselves? Rare is the man who can handle a lifetime of praise and adoration, coupled with absolute power, control, and authority, and not be adversely affected, particularly when you factor in the Type-A, narcissistic, workaholic, driven personalities many preachers have. And rarer still is the man who is willing to admit these things.

I am sure some Evangelical preachers will self-righteously and indignantly say that they were NOT like me, but with their protestations they will only prove my point. I hope, at the very least, Evangelical pastors, evangelists, and missionaries will shut up and listen to what this old curmudgeon has to say. I may now be an atheist, but my leaving the ministry and Christianity has allowed me to have a unique view of Evangelical preachers and the work of the ministry. Perhaps I yet have a sermon to preach to those who claim by their words and actions to be know-it-alls for God.

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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.

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.

Scaring Children and Teenagers Into Getting Saved

hell

Why do Evangelical churches, pastors, and parents use scare tactics and methodologies to elicit salvation decisions from their young children and teenagers? Why are high-pressure tactics used to get children to ask Jesus to save them and forgive their sins? Why can’t Evangelical parents wait until their children are older — say late teens — before pressuring them to repent of their sins and ask Jesus to become their Lord and Savior?

In what follows, I will attempt to explain the theological beliefs that drive Evangelicals to treat their children like prospects for buying new vacuüm cleaners or Florida timeshares. Week after week, Evangelical pastors preach the gospel, imploring non-Christians to admit they are sinners and in need of salvation and forgiveness. As I shall discuss at the conclusion of this post, many Evangelical preachers and churches go to extreme lengths to scare children into becoming Christians.

According to Evangelicals, because Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, all humans come into this world with a sin nature. This means that humans are born sinners, and not that they become sinners. Humans have no choice in the matter. Adam and Eve, as the first humans, are the father and mother of the human race. Because they were sinners, so are we.

God’s punishment for human sin is that every human must die physically and spiritually (first and second death). Eternal punishment in a burning lake of fire and brimstone — Hell and the Lake of Fire — awaits all humans after death.

Sometime in the future, Jesus Christ (God) will come back to earth on a white horse. Once he arrives, he will defeat Satan and his followers, vanquishing sin from the earth. Jesus will then resurrect the dead and judge them, along with those who are still alive when He returns. Those who are Christians will be rewarded with a room in the eternal Kingdom of God. Everyone else will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Once this final judgment is completed, God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth. (I am well aware of the various eschatological schemes. I am trying to paint a general picture without getting caught up with all the various end-times interpretations.)

Since hell awaits all humans, the only way to escape the eternal pain, suffering, and darkness of the Lake of Fire is for humans to admit that they are sinners and that Jesus — thanks to his death on the cross, paying for our sins and satisfying God’s wrath — is their only hope for salvation and forgiveness. Only those who put their faith in Jesus will go to Heaven when they die. (Again, I know that there are various soteriological schemes. I am trying to give the reader a broad picture without going into all the details concerning the order of salvation, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.)

It should come as no surprise, then, based on the aforementioned core beliefs, that Evangelical churches, pastors, and parents are worried about their children going to Hell when they die. Most Evangelicals believe that, while all humans are born into the world with sin natures, children aren’t accountable for their sin until they reach a certain age or a certain intellectual capability (none of which is taught in the Bible). Some Evangelicals believe that the age of accountability is age twelve, whereas other Evangelicals believe that children are accountable for their sin the moment they understand the difference between right and wrong. All Evangelicals believe it is vitally important for their children to get saved as soon as possible — the younger, the better. It is not uncommon for Evangelical children to become Christians before they enter elementary school. In many Evangelical sects, formerly saved children, make new commitments to Christ — rededications — as teenagers. It is also not uncommon to hear of adults who have repeatedly rededicated their lives to Christ. As one old preacher said, just keep praying and asking Jesus to save you until it sticks.

Many Evangelical churches have what are called revivals. Hired guns called evangelists hold days- and weeks-long meetings at churches with the express purpose of “reviving” Christians and saving the lost. These evangelists are known for their fire and brimstone preaching, complete with stories about people who died without becoming Christians. These stories are key to evangelizing the lost. The unsaved, according to evangelists, need to know that every breath they breathe is a gift from God, and since the appointed time of death could happen at any moment, it is vital that sinners get saved today.

Evangelists held numerous meetings for me during my pastoring days. Two come to mind, both of whom went to great lengths to scare children and teenagers (and adults) into getting saved. One man was Dennis Corle. Corle preached several meetings for me in the 1980s. During one meeting, Corle asked if he could meet for a short time every night with the church’s children. I said yes, not bothering to ask why Corle wanted to do so. Imagine my surprise when I read a Sword of the Lord report of the Corle revival meeting at our church which stated that dozens of children were saved. Evidently, Corle spent his time with the children scaring the living Hell out of them. And it worked. Previously saved children even made new professions of faith.

Another evangelist who comes to mind is Don Hardman. (Please see The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review  and Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review .) Hardman held numerous meetings for me at two different churches. Some of the meetings were two weeks long — every weeknight, Saturday, and twice on Sunday. Hardman would often come out of the pulpit and address attendees personally, calling them by name if he knew them. At one such meeting, Hardman zeroed in on teenagers, going down the pews pointing his finger, and reminding them that God saw everything they did. Needless to say, this scared a number of attendees — most of whom were church members — and come invitation time, numerous people came forward to get saved or get “right” with God.

Corle and Hardman were hardly unique as far as evangelists go. I sat in a number of revival meetings during my days as a Christian and a pastor, and I heard evangelist after evangelist attempt to psychologically manipulate people into making decisions for Christ.

Evangelists rely on love offerings to fund their ministries. These hired guns know that good love offerings and future engagements rely on them producing decisions. Sinners and backsliders walking the sawdust trail (a reference to yesteryear when evangelists held tent meetings and covered the aisles with sawdust) to the front of the church so they can do business with God, are visible demonstrations not only of God’s power, but the evangelist’s ability to goad, manipulate, shame, and scare people into making decisions.

Some evangelists, using the Billy Graham model, ‘prime the pump’ by having trained Christian altar workers come forward during the invitation time. These altar workers give the unaware the illusion that God is moving and people are being saved. Contrary to Donald Trump saying that he invented the phrase ‘priming the pump,’ Evangelical evangelists have been talking about and using this practice since the 1920s. While many evangelists don’t use such a crass phrase as ‘priming the pump,’ and instead use less-offensive phrases such as ‘helping sinners take the first step’, I have heard several notable evangelists utter the phrase. The late Joe Boyd is one evangelist who comes to mind.

In the 1970s, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. It was there that I was, at the age of fifteen, saved and called to preach. As was typical of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches during the church growth heyday, Trinity held two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday, along with Sunday school before the morning service and youth group before/after the evening service. The goal of every service was the same: the salvation of sinners and the reclamation of backsliders. Added to the weekly schedule of services were revival meetings. These revival meetings were special events geared towards reaching non-Christians. Church members were encouraged (commanded) to invite their friends, neighbors, and everyone they came in contact with to the revival. Get them to the revival, the thinking went, and let the evangelist — uh I mean God — do the rest.

These revival meetings were high-pressure events. During the invitation, church members were encouraged to speak to their visitors about the condition of their souls. Countless prospects for Heaven were badgered into coming to the front where altar workers would take them through the plan of salvation (the Romans Road). Those who prayed the sinner’s prayer and answered the correct questions were deemed saved. At the conclusion of the service, the newly saved were mentioned by name to congregants who then showed their approval by saying AMEN! Afterward, these newly minted Christians stood at the front so their new brothers and sisters in Christ could shake their hands, hug them, and give them spiritual advice.

One Wednesday night, a friend of mine by the name of Deke Roberts came with me to the Wednesday night service. During the invitation, one of the high-pressure saleswomen of the church came to Deke and started asking him questions about his spiritual condition. After being sufficiently badgered, my friend went forward and prayed the sinner’s prayer. Several days later I asked Deke about his salvation decision. He told me that he got “saved” just so that lady would leave him alone!

the burning hell

Some Evangelical churches use movies and drama events to lure people into getting saved. Teenagers, in particular, are the focus of these events. During my teen years, Trinity showed movies such as The Burning Hell and A Thief in the Night.

Video Link

Video Link

These movies were quite scary, warning sinners of the danger of waiting until tomorrow to be saved. During my ministry years, drama presentations became a popular way to get people saved. Hell Houses and dramas such as Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames were (and still are) used as evangelistic tools to reach the lost. Thousands and thousands of people have made professions of faith through these manipulative tools.

Let me conclude this post with an honest reflection on my own use of psychological manipulation. At the time, I wouldn’t have considered my actions as manipulation, but I now know they were. Believing that life was short and Hell was real, I felt burdened to use any means necessary to reach people with the gospel. For many years, Sunday after Sunday, service after service, I preached the gospel, using poignant stories and passages of Scripture to remind sinners of the danger of waiting to get saved. Hundreds and hundreds of people made professions of faith and got right with God during my time pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. While I deeply regret manipulating people, in my defense I was only modeling that which I had experienced growing up in Evangelical churches and attending an IFB college. I did the only thing I knew to do. Fortunately, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I began moving away from using such tactics. Embracing Calvinism put an end to my use of altar calls.  While I still passionately chased after the souls of men, I left it up to “God” to save sinners. Needless to say, once I embraced Calvinism, the number of people saved under my ministry greatly decreased.

Did you grow up in an Evangelical church? Did the church hold revival meetings? What techniques did the church use during church services to “reach the lost”? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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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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Short Stories: Somerset Baptist Church: A Trip Down Memory Lane

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio auditorium
Somerset Baptist Church Auditorium after Remodel, 1992

In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. In 1985, we bought a Methodist church building near Mt Perry, Ohio for $5,000.00. The church building, built in 1831 and one of the oldest Methodist buildings in Ohio, would be the church’s home until Polly and I moved away in March 1994.

During the eleven years I was pastor, hundreds of church members came and went and we hauled thousands of kids to church on one of our four buses. For five years, we operated a private Christian school, open only to the children of the church. It was tuition-free.

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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

This was the church where I came of age as a pastor. In 1983, I was a hardcore, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor. When I moved away in 1994 to co-pastor Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I was a committed Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist pastor. I went through tremendous intellectual and social transformation during these eleven years.

Several years ago, as I scanned the pictures from this era, my mind was flooded with memories of the shared experiences I had with the church family. Yes, there were bad times, stupid times, dumb ass times. Yes, I was a Fundamentalist and that brought all kinds of baggage with it. But, as I looked at the pictures, I didn’t think about beliefs. My thoughts were about people and the wonderful times we had. Yes, Fundamentalism psychologically and emotionally harmed and scarred me (and the people I pastored), but that does not mean there are no good memories. There are lots of them. In fact, the vast majority of the memories I have are good ones. Sometimes, when people deconvert they often become so fixated on the negative which happened that they forget the good times. I know I did.

bruce gerencser 1991
Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy

As I looked at these photos, I also shed some tears. There were a handful of people in the pictures who are now dead. Cancer, heart attacks, and car accidents claimed their lives and all I have left of them are the pictures and our shared memories. After I posted the pictures to Facebook, I heard from a number of people who were once part of the church. Most of the people I heard from were children when I was at Somerset Baptist Church. They are now middle-aged with families of their own. Their parents, like me, are old and gray. It was nice to hear from them.

The photos aren’t very good – the best a $20.00 camera could offer. Nothing like the photos I took with my professional $4,000 camera years later. In fact, they are down-right terrible. But, infused into the photos are memories, and it is those memories that matter.

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

I feel old today — a dying man who has lived a long life. But I also feel blessed to have lived a good life, a life marked by contradiction, conflict, grief, and change, along with happiness, joy, and goodness. It is the sum of my life.

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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990s
bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987
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.

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Only Those of Us Who Believe in Heaven Have Hope

stairway to heaven

My wife, Polly, and I were talking about death: about how we are the youngest of the older adults in her family; that we could have a spate of deaths over the next decade. Polly’s parents are in their 80s and her surviving aunts and uncles are getting up there in age too. (Since I wrote this post in 2017, Polly’s father died, as well as several of her aunts and uncles.) Death comes for one and all. Sooner, and not later, death will come knocking on our doors and say it’s time to go. We will be permitted no protestations, given no second chances. For me personally, at that moment I will have written my last blog post, watched my last Reds game, and hugged and loved my family for the last time. Death brings an end to everything but the memories we leave behind in the minds of those who loved us or called us friend.

The permanence of death is one of the reasons men invented Gods, the afterlife, Heaven, and Hell. Most people have a hard time believing that this life is all there is. Believing that humans are somehow, someway superior to other animals or are their deity’s special creation, people hope life continues after death. For Christians, the Bible promises them if they worship the right God, believe the right things, and live a certain way, that one day their God will resurrect them from their graves, give them new bodies that will never suffer, age, feel pain, or die, and grant them title to a mansion in a New Heaven and a New Earth. Those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches likely remember the song, Mansion Over the Hilltop:

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

[Chorus]

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

Video Link

This song perfectly illustrates the view of eternity held by millions and millions of Christians. Life is viewed as little more than a preparation time for death and moving into new digs in the sweet by and by. Atheists, on the other hand, place great value on this life, on the here and now, because this is the only life we will ever have. Once we draw our last breath, we will either be turned into ashes or worm food.

I woke up to find Polly in something of an agitated mood — an uncommon state of mind for her. Her IFB mother had called earlier in the morning to let her know that her elderly IFB preacher uncle was in the hospital. He had to have emergency surgery to remove 12 inches of his bowel that had turned septic. Polly told her mom about the conversation we had last night about how everyone is getting old and dying. Polly mentioned to her mom that our oldest son had been looking at some old family photographs and said of one photo, sixty-six percent of the people in this picture are dead. Polly’s mom replied, well you know, only those of us who believe in Heaven have hope.

That’s been Mom’s approach of late, to begin every sermon one-liner with well, you know, reminding her daughter that what she plans to say next Polly already knows. Out of respect for her mom, Polly says nothing, but I fear the volcano is rumbling and will someday erupt. Polly said to me, this is what I should have told her: Those of us who don’t believe that shit don’t have to worry about getting into Heaven or worry about did we pray the prayer, believe the right things, or do the right things. If Polly actually said these things to her mom what would cause the most offense and outrage is that Polly said the word shit. 🙂 Imagine the outrage if it became known that Polly can, on occasion, use the F word. I am sure that her salty speech would be blamed on her continued corruption at the hands of Satan’s emissary, Bruce Gerencser.

I have no doubt that Mom is feeling her mortality and she wants to make certain that she will see Polly again in Heaven after d-e-a-t-h. You know, the whole unbroken family circle thing. While Polly understands her mom’s angst and wishfulness, she does find the mini-sermons irritating and offensive. Mom likely thinks, with death lurking in the shadows, that she needs to put as many good words in for Jesus as she can; that repeating Bible Truths® will turn back her daughter’s godlessness and worldliness; that if just the right words are spoken, the Holy Spirit will use them to pull Polly kicking and screaming back to the one true IFB faith. Now THAT would be entertaining!

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.

Bruce Gerencser