Tag Archive: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Uniforms: Just Think, That Could Have Been Us

polly gerencser late 1990s

Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power.

Those of us who grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement are painfully aware of the seemingly countless rules and regulations — also known as standards — that we were expected to obey. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List.) In particular, we remember clothing standards. Much like the Amish and Mennonites, IFB congregants wore clothing that distinguished them from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the “world.” Women were required to wear loose-fitting, long skirts and dresses. Tops were expected to cover breasts, with no cleavage or form exposed. Many churches regulated underwear, shoes, make-up, and jewelry. Women were not permitted to look like harlots; a harlot being any teen/woman who dared to expose her “flesh” or wear clothes that called attention to their shape. Men had fewer rules abide by: no shorts, no muscle shirts, no skinny jeans. For men, the bigger focus was on hair. Good Baptist boys/men were expected to keep their hair trimmed short, and facial hair was forbidden. (Please see Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair? and The Independent Baptist War Against Long Hair on Men.) Needless, to say, IFB congregants stood out in a crowd.

While many IFB churches have relaxed their standards over the years and are derided by purists for their worldliness, some churches still toe the line, demanding congregants obey the letter of the law. Several weeks ago. Polly and I were at the local Meijer store doing some shopping. Off in the distance I saw a woman wearing a long maxi-dress, six kids in tow. Spaced two years apart, the children each wore the appropriate Baptist uniform. The girls had long skirts and the boys had bowl-cut hair styles, complete with comb overs. Needless to say, they stood out. And that’s the point. IFB churches and pastors are to a large extent anti-culture. Their goal is to carve out a safe haven for Christians who want to keep themselves pure and untainted by the world. 1 John 2:15-17 says:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

IFB adherents must venture out into the world for employment, shopping, and medical care, but outside of that church members are expected to live out their lives in the safe haven of the local church. Within its walls, congregants find safety and protection. IFB parents are strongly encouraged to either home school their children or send them to an approved Christian school. If students want to attend college, they are steered toward an approved — often unaccredited — Christian college. When it comes time to marry, they are expected to wed someone from an IFB church. All of these things are meant to protect them from the “world.”

As the mother and her children. came near, I whispered to Polly, just think that could have been us. She shook her head and said nothing. Both of us know how life would have been had we remained faithful, devoted followers of the IFB God (or the Evangelical God, for that matter). We truly feel sorry for people who are still deeply enmeshed in the IFB way of life. When you are in the IFB bubble, it all makes sense. Every rule/regulation/standard has a proof text. Living this way seems the right thing to do; that which is pleasing and honoring to God. However, once we were free from the bondage of the IFB church movement, we learned that we had been in a cult. And this is what saddens us the most. We have numerous family members, former friends, and one-time colleagues in the ministry, who are still busy going about separating themselves from the “world.” Little do they realize that the “world” is not the problem, their religion is.

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.

Questions: Bruce, In Your IFB Days Did You Encounter Peter Ruckman?

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.

Matt asked, “In your IFB days did you ever encounter Peter Ruckman? If so what was/is your assessment of him?”

For readers who are not familiar with Peter Ruckman, Wikipedia has this to say about him:

Peter Ruckman was an American Independent Baptist pastor and founder of Pensacola Bible Institute in Pensacola, Florida (not to be confused with Pensacola Christian College).

Ruckman was known for his position that the King James Version constituted “advanced revelation” and was the final, preserved word of God for English speakers.

Ruckman died in 2016 at the age of ninety-four. He was a graduate of Bob Jones University, and for many years the pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. Bible Baptist’s website describes Ruckman this way:

Dr. Peter S. Ruckman (November 19, 1921 – April 21, 2016) received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alabama and finished his formal education with six years of training at Bob Jones University (four full years and two accelerated summer sessions), completing requirements for the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Reading at a rate of seven hundred words per minute, Dr. Ruckman had managed to read about 6,500 books before receiving his doctorate at an average of a book each day.

Dr. Ruckman stood for the absolute authority of the Authorized Version and offered no apology to any recognized scholar anywhere for his stand. In addition to preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible, Dr. Ruckman produced a comprehensive collection of apologetic and polemic literature and resources supporting the authority of the Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures.

The thrice married Ruckman was either loved or hated by IFB preachers. He was a man known to engender strife, believing that rightness of belief was all that mattered (except, evidently, what the Bible said about divorce). Much like their mentor, his followers are known for their arrogance, nastiness, and argumentative spirit.

peter ruckman

I first met Peter Ruckman at Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio — an IFB youth camp owned and operated at the time by the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. I attended Camp Chautauqua two summers in the early 1970s. Attending camp was one of the highlights of my teenage years. Lots of fun, lots of girls, and yes, lots of preaching. One year, Ruckman was the featured speaker. I don’t remember much about his sermons, but I vividly remember the chalk drawings he used to illustrate his Fundamentalist sermons. Ruckman was a skillful, talented chalk artist, so he naturally used his art to “hook” people and reel them into his peculiar brand of IFB Christianity.

This would be the only time I heard Ruckman preach. I later would read some of his polemical books and commentaries and come into close contact with some of his followers. While I believed, at the time, as Ruckman did, that the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God and the only Bible for English-speaking people, I found his personality and ministerial approach (and that of his devotees) to be so caustic and abrasive, that I wanted nothing to do with him.

I would later learn that King James-Onlyism was not only irrational and anti-intellectual, but in its extreme forms it was a cult. I know a few pastors who are still devoted followers of Ruckman’s teachings.They are, in every way, small men whose lives have been ruined by arrogance and certainty of belief. The only cure I know for this disease is books written by men such as Bart Ehrman. Until they can at least consider that they might be wrong, there is no hope for them.

In 2005, I candidated at a Southern Baptist church in Weston, West Virginia. The church was very interested in me becoming their next pastor. One problem, I had preached my trial sermons from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. One of the core families were followers of Peter Ruckman. The pulpit committee asked if, out of deference to this family, I would only preach from the KJV. I told them that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) make such a promise. The church decided I wasn’t the man for them. Such is the pernicious effect of Ruckmanism.

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.

Questions: Bruce, Why are Many Evangelical Pastors Against Watching TV?

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.

Ben asked, “One thing I’ve wondered about is those pastors who were against television. When they said that television was the destruction of America’s families, did they mean just the sexiest, most vile things on today, or television in general (the latter meaning that it was an immorality and sin, no matter how much sex or violence there was)?”

Few Evangelicals these days are totally anti-television. In fact, I suspect most Evangelicals watch the same programs unsaved people do, albeit with a lot more fear and guilt. Evangelical preachers still preach against what they deem immoral on TV.  Societal acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and living together alarms many Evangelicals. That these “sins” are portrayed as healthy and normal on countless TV programs concerns more than a few of God’s chosen ones, but come Sunday night, many of these same people will watch sexually perverse shows such as The Deuce or Game of Thrones. They might ask Jesus to forgive them for putting wicked things before their eyes, but come the next Sunday they will continue to imbibe in all things GOT and watch Eileen “Candy” Merrell (brilliantly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) make porno flicks.

Groups such as the Parents Television Council, the American Family Association, and One Millions Moms are quite vocal about TV programming, but these fringe groups hardly represent the viewing habits of most American Christians. Generally, Evangelicals are quite conversant in modern culture. This reveals that they read the same books, visit the same websites (including YouPorn), and watch the same television programs as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

I am sixty-one years old. I grew up in a day when Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver, The Rifleman, Gomer Pyle, and Bewitched, to name a few, were standard TV fare. I loved shows such as Rat Patrol, Hogan’s Heroes, and MASH. We have come a long way since these days. What was hidden subtly and or referenced with double entendres fifty years ago is now front and center. Evangelicals are correct when they say that things have changed and what was once only spoken of in secret is now on the TV screen for all to see. That said, we live in a day when TV programming is better than it ever has been. Thanks to companies such as HBOShowtime,  and AMC, we now have for our consumption thrilling first-rate programming. Yes, there’s a lot more sex and bloody violence, but that’s life, is it not? Hiding the fact that the character played by John Wayne had sex outside of the bond of marriage presents a warped view of the world. Humans have sex, lots of it. Heterosexuals and LGBTQ people alike have sex. Why not portray life as it is instead of pretending that everyone loves Jesus, is morally pure, and never says curse words?

What Evangelical preachers want is a return to the 1950s. They pine for the days of June and Ward Cleaver and their two sons. Fundamentalist to the core, these arbiters of morality want a black-and-white world where everything is defined by the teachings of the Bible. Those days are long gone, never to return. If Evangelicals don’t like what’s on hellivision, they can turn it off. It really is that simple. Or they can watch “Christian” television. There are scores of Evangelical/Catholic/Mormon television channels, yet most Christians never watch them. Why is that?

Let me conclude this post with an article I wrote in January of 2016. Titled, The Preacher and His TV, this post details the struggles and battles I had with television.

dehann-quote

In the 1960s, when I was a child, my Dad would drop my siblings and me off at the Bryan Theater so we could watch the 25-cent Saturday afternoon matinee. But somewhere in my primary school years, going to movies became unacceptable. From that point forward, outside of attending a drive-in movie one time at age 18, I didn’t go to a movie theater again until I was in my late 30s. As a Christian, I believed that going to or renting movies was supporting Hollywood, an institution that I considered a den of iniquity.

In the late 1990s, having become more “liberal” in my thinking, I decided it was time for the Gerencser family to go to a movie. When I told Polly that we were all going to the drive-in to see a movie, she was appalled. She literally thought that God was going to strike us dead. Well here we are, all these years later, still among the living. Evidently, God didn’t seem to care about us going to the drive-in. By the way, the first hardcore, violent, nudity-laden movie we saw was George of the Jungle! The Second? Air Bud.

I grew up in a home that always had a television. My Mom told me one time that American Bandstand was my babysitter. The first memory I have about television is watching the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my Dad coming home with what I later in life called the “poor man’s color TV.” It was a colored, plastic sheet that Dad taped to the TV screen. The top of the sheet was blue and the bottom was green. Supposedly, the screen was meant to simulate sky and grass. Dad wasn’t impressed and we quickly went back to watching black and white TV. The Gerencser family didn’t own a color television until sometime in the 1970s.

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it. How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

calvin and hobbes tv

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

calvin and hobbes tv 2

Where was Polly in all of this, you ask? She was the dutiful, submissive wife who believe her God-called, on-fire, sold-out Christian pastor of a husband knew best. Polly rarely watched TV, so having one didn’t matter to her. I was the one who “needed” to watch TV. As I now psychoanalyze this period of my life, I think watching TV was my way of being normal. Serving a sin-hating God and preaching to others a rigorous morality meant that I had to live a Christ-honoring, sin-free life. Again, in light of the atoning work of Jesus on my behalf, I thought that forsaking the pleasure of the “world” was but a small price to pay for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yet, I wanted to be like everyone else, so I would come home after a long day of studying for my sermons and visiting church members, and leave God sitting on the front porch. Watching TV was my way of unwinding after work days which were often 12 hours long. While I still was selective about what I watched, my attempts to avoid “sinful” viewing rarely kept me from watching whatever I wanted to watch, especially after the children went to bed. Over time, my guilt levels would increase, ultimately leading to the behaviors outlined in this post.

In 2006, eighteen months before I deconverted, I finally put an end to my battle with the television. I decided, God be damned, I was going to own a TV and watch whatever I wanted to watch. From that point forward, we have owned a TV. While I have continued to buy televisions, my purchases are driven by resolution, refresh rate, and screen size, and not the thought that God was going to strike me dead for seeing a naked woman on TV. (We now own two televisions: a 43-inch and 32-inch LED Vizio TV.)

Several years ago, as we were watching an episode of True Blood, I turned to Polly and said, who would of thought that we would be sitting here watching bloody, naked vampires having sex?  We laughed together, both grateful that the preacher had finally been delivered from the demon of TV.

Note

List of article and videos about the sin of watching hellivision and going to the movies. This list was compiled by a devoted follower of the late Jack Hyles.

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.

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.

Evangelizing the “Lost”

satan and hellGuest Post by ObstacleChick

Recently, I was back in the Bible Belt where I grew up, as I dropped my daughter off for her first year of college in Nashville. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and attended a Fundamentalist Christian school, but I started moving away from those doctrines at age eighteen when my church started teaching complementarianism (then called Biblical manhood and womanhood). Going to a secular university opened up other ideas to me to which I had not been exposed, and I was able to move away physically and literally from Christian Fundamentalism. My husband was raised nominally Catholic, and we attended progressive Christian church for a while before we both shifted into agnostic atheism. Our children have not been raised with any religious indoctrination, and when my daughter indicated that she wanted to attend university in the South, I thought it would be important to let her know what Evangelical Christians believe so that she wouldn’t be shocked when she found out that some of our family members still believe this way and that some people she encounters in Tennessee may hold these views.

My parents divorced when I was little, and my mom remarried and had another child. My brother is twelve years younger than I am, and his upbringing was quite different from mine. I lived with my grandparents — he lived with his mom and dad. I was sent to private Christian school — he attended public school after he was expelled from the private Christian school in third grade (yes, expelled in third grade; he mouthed off to the teacher and to the principal). My mom and stepdad moved to a different town after I graduated from college, and they left the Southern Baptist Church, eventually ending up at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. My brother and his wife and two sons do not attend church. Instead, my brother is part of a Skype men’s prayer and Bible study group, and he reads a lot of Christian books and watches live stream and YouTube sermons. Every night before bed, he teaches and prays with his sons, and he spends time on his own praying before bed. He also posts a lot of Bible verses and links to very conservative Christian articles and YouTube videos on social media; with that evidence, I am confident that he still believes many aspects of Fundamentalist Christianity. I am not sure what my sister-in-law believes, but I don’t get the impression she is as devout as my brother. My brother knows that we are not Bible literalists at all, and he knows that we expose our kids to a lot more of “the world” than he does, but I have not used the “A” word around him yet. He probably thinks we are apostates but still somehow under the umbrella of God. I think he doesn’t ask specifics because he doesn’t want to know, and I don’t bring it up because I don’t want him to excommunicate me from the family.

On our long drive from Tennessee back to New Jersey, my husband asked me if my brother believes that we are going to Hell. I told my husband that I am not sure what my brother knows or believes about our religiosity, but it’s certainly a possibility that he might think one or more of us is bound for Hell. According to the doctrines in which we were brought up, I am of the “once saved always saved” crowd, so he probably believes that I am apostate but not necessarily bound for the Lake of Fire. I’m not sure if my brother knows that my husband was Catholic, but he may believe that somehow through my influence my husband is “saved” and that I probably made sure the children “got saved” too. My brother made sure his children said the “Sinner’s Prayer” and he baptized the boys in the bathtub (because somehow that’s allowed, I guess). My husband asked what the “Sinner’s Prayer” is, and I told him it’s some version of admitting that one is a sinner, that one repents of his or her sin, accepts that Jesus is the virgin-born son of God who died for our sins, was buried, resurrected, and ascended to heaven. One must accept that humans are all bound for Hell unless they have accepted the saving grace of Jesus. My husband naively stated, “Oh, it’s like the Creed we stated at church every Sunday.” I said, “Ummmm…sort of — it’s more of a one-and-done statement that you really, really, really have to mean for it to take. And then you get baptized. If it all takes, then you’re ‘saved’ from Hell.”

My husband stated that if my brother and his wife thought there was a possibility that we were bound for Hell, he is hurt and offended that they have not once tried to proselytize to him to make sure. Honestly, I was surprised by his statement, but I can understand why he would feel that way. If you truly believe that someone you care about is in danger of spending eternity in the Lake of Fire – or even if you are an annihilationist and believe that anyone sentenced to Hell immediately ceases to exist — why would you not try to warn that person before it is too late?

I explained to my husband that in Evangelical Christianity, there is great emphasis placed on “witnessing” or proselytizing. Remember the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19,20:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Some Evangelical Christians actively proselytize, verbally witnessing to people they meet or know. Some take a more passive approach, either by wearing Christian-themed clothing, posting Christian-themed signs on their property or vehicles, or decorating their office space with Christian-themed items. Some people make it their life’s vocation, becoming pastors or missionaries. But many (perhaps most?) Evangelicals do not “witness” at all. When I was an Evangelical, I did not actively witness to people. Everyone I knew at school and at church was already “saved.” I worked in a university biochemistry laboratory as a teenager and college student, and I was too intimidated to try to initiate a religious discussion with my coworkers, as all of them had at least a bachelor’s degree, most had doctorates, and I was not as educated as they. Honestly, I felt that Fundamentalist Christianity was a sect for the uneducated, and I assumed my coworkers probably thought so as well.

In any case, I was glad to make it through a trip to Tennessee without people preaching to me about their brand of religion, though I did see my fair share of Christian-themed road signs, T-shirts, and home decor in stores. A lot of people in Tennessee love Jesus!

What are your thoughts on proselytizing? Are you glad when people do not proselytize you, or do you consider that they do not care about you enough to try to witness to you so you escape eternity in Hell or annihilation after death? Did you attempt to proselytize when you were an Evangelical Christian? Why or why not?

Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Kevin “Scott” Heffner Charged with Sex Crimes

pastor kevin heffner

Kevin “Scott” Heffner, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Ruffin, North Carolina, is behind bars tonight, charged with more than a dozen sex crimes.  Held on a $1 million bond, Heffner is charged with “12 counts of disseminating obscene materials and two counts of statutory sex offense.”

Victory Baptist also operates a private Christian school on its premises, Victory Baptist Academy. Heffner is its principal. There is little public information available about Heffner or his church. Victory’s Facebook page has been made private.

According to a King James-only church directory, Victory Baptist Church describes itself this way:

We are an independant [sic] and fundamentally based church in Ruffin, North Carolina. We are a unique congregation with a message of hope and a burden to reach the lost. We believe the King James Bible is the inspired word of God and the final authority of our faith.

According to the church’s YouTube channel, Heffner is a “Dr.” I think it is safe to assume that Heffner’s doctorate either comes from an unaccredited college or is honorary. I am sure there is an IFB preacher out there somewhere with an earned doctorate from an accredited institution, I just haven’t met one.

Here is Heffner preaching on the subject, “Baptized with Fire.”

Video Link

According to Private School Review, Victory Baptist Academy uses Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) as their primary method of instruction and has twenty-two students.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Tony Hutson on Everything That Offends Him

tony hutson

Tony Hutson

This is the one hundred and eighty-fourth 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 is a video clip from a service held by Tony Hutson, pastor of Middle Tennessee Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hutson is the son of the late Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord. — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist periodical started by John R. Rice. In the video clip, Hutson shares a litany of things that offend him.

Video Link

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Tony Hutson Prays in a Restaurant — Supposedly

tony hutson

Tony Hutson

This is the one hundred and eighty-third 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 is a video clip from a service held by Tony Hutson, pastor of Middle Tennessee Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hutson is the son of the late Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord. — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist periodical started by John R. Rice. In the video clip Hutson mocks people of Asian descent, shows his disdain for alcohol use, and shares a prayer he prayed at a Japanese restaurant — supposedly. I say “supposedly” because Hutson’s sermon illustrations — much like his morbidly obese body — are often bigger than life. In other words, Hutson embellishes — Greek for lies — the truth so he can make a point.

Video Link

So, You Love Those Bears More Than You Love Jesus?

teddy angelsMy life as a Christian can best be described as passionate, committed, and devoted, yet at same time be described as wild, chaotic, and ever-moving. Years ago, I read a passage in one of Thomas Merton’s books wherein he talked about how people often judged him based on his past and not on where he was presently. As a devoted follower of Jesus, I often experienced similar judgment. I was an ever-moving target, and people bent on judging me often did so based on the past and not where I was presently. This happens even today. Evangelical critics will zone in on a particular point on the timeline of my life and use my beliefs, practices, and experiences at that point in time to render judgment. This, of course, totally misrepresents my journey and leads to faulty conclusions. In particular, critics will focus on what they consider the AHA! point in my résumé; for example, that I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. They think they have me right where they want me; however, I reply, yes, but I wasn’t always an IFB pastor. I left the IFB church and moved on to Calvinism, generic Evangelicalism, and then progressive Christianity. Always restless and moving — that best describes my life, even to this day.

I always envied Christians who were steady-eddies; people whose Christian lives never changed or moved. Of course, I couldn’t understand such staid living. Weren’t we to always challenge ourselves with the teachings of the Bible and be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Ghost? Weren’t we supposed to follow the promptings and directions of God’s Spirit? Why did it seem that God was ALWAYS leading me to take up my cross and follow him or sell all that I have and give it to the poor, but he never seemed to be leading my colleagues in the ministry to do the same? Why was I willing to do without to advance the kingdom of God, yet most of the Christians I knew weren’t willing to do the same? I often wondered why I seemed to be on a spiritual wave length different from most Christians, including men who labored in God’s vineyard.

I believed, for many years, that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, and that its words were to be read, meditated over, and obeyed. The Bible wasn’t a book of suggestions. Yes, it was a book that spoke of God’s grace, but it also had hundreds of laws, commands, and precepts Christians were commanded by God to follow. I never viewed these commands as optional. The Bible — at least to me — was clear: Do THIS and thou shalt live. Obedience led to life eternal, and disobedience led to God’s chastisement or Hell. Passage after passage in the Bible talked about the importance of following in Jesus’ steps and keeping his commandments. Solomon, in the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes, summed up the whole duty of man this way: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Jesus himself summed up the laws of God this way in Matthew 22:36-40:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

These verses described my heart’s desire: love God with all my heart, soul, and mind and love my neighbor as myself. I thought, at the time, these verses are in every Christian’s Bible, yet why do so few Christians take them seriously? By the way, I STILL wonder this to this day. Most Christians live lives indistinguishable from those of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, and the adherents of religions deemed false by Evangelicals. Outside of what they do between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and noon on Sundays, there’s very little difference between saints and sinners.

When it came to material things, Jesus said:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

These words come from a passage of Scripture (Matthew 5-7) commonly called The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gathered his disciples on a mountain side and taught them what it meant to be his followers; what would be required of them if they were to follow the Lamb of God withersover he goeth. I believed then, and still do, that Christianity and the world would be better served if the followers of Jesus actually read and practiced the teachings found in Christ’s hillside sermon.

I am in no way trying to paint myself as once having been a perfect Christian. As this story will later show, I ended up living a life no different from most Christians. I was far from perfect, daily breaking the commands of Christ in thought, word, and deed. That said, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between how I lived my life and how most other Christians lived theirs.

In the late 1990s I felt convicted over what I perceived was my materialism and that of my family. Hell was hot, souls were lost, and people were dying, and I believed God wanted me to do more to reach the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Thanks to my oldest to sons, who were living at home at the time and paying rent, along with Polly working at a local manufacturing concern, and me drawing a modest salary from the church, the Gerencser family was starting to take on the look of a typical middle-class midwestern Evangelical family. There were four cars in the drive, a TV in the living room and master bedroom, a computer in the office, and newer furniture in the living room. Polly and I were able to take our first vacation since the 1980s — without the children. We had money to go out on dates, buy clothing/shoes, and enjoy a bit of the American dream. But, thanks to Jesus and his teachings, I became increasingly uncomfortable with our way of living. I thought, how can we live this way when there are billions of people in the world who don’t know Jesus? What kind of example was I to the church and other Christians? These judgmental questions and others began eating at me, and soon I believed that the God want me (us) to embrace simplicity and frugality, giving our excess money to the church, missionaries, and other groups who were engaged in building churches, evangelizing the lost, and ministering to the poor. I began selling off things I thought I didn’t need: firearms, hundreds of books, electronic equipment, and a large collection of political memorabilia from the 1960s and 1970s given to me by my political junkie mother (letters from notable politicians and campaign buttons/literature.) I dutifully and happily sold these goods and gave them to the Lord’s work. I was gladly willing to do without for the sake of gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last, went the Evangelical mantra. Little did I know that this time, my wife wasn’t willing to join me in suffering for Jesus. (One night, I gathered up all the things I had collected over the years from the various churches I pastored, including sermon notes and tapes, and set them on fire in the back yard. In my mind, this was me setting fire to the past and telling God I was ready to be used by him in any way he saw fit. I sure wish I had these things today!)

polly gerencser late 1990s

Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power.

Polly loves collectible bears. As our finances improved, I started buying Polly Teddy Angel bears for her birthday, our wedding anniversary, and other special days. As my great sell-off continued, I noticed Polly wasn’t joining me in giving a burnt offer to God. We had a few “discussions” — Greek for Bruce talking and Polly listening — about her unwillingness to forsake all and follow Jesus. I specifically mentioned her bears. One day, after yet another round of eBay listings and nothing given to the cause by Polly, I said to her, “So, you love those bears more than you love Jesus?” “No, I really do love Jesus,” Polly replied. “It’s just that some of these bears have sentimental value.”  I asked, “what bears, then, don’t have sentimental value?” One by one, I picked up the bears and asked, “This one? This one?” I learned that almost every bear had a story: “Mom gave this to me for my birthday, you gave this to me for Valentine’s Day, you gave this to me with a letter that told me you loved me.” In what would be one of the greatest regrets of my married life, I badgered Polly — in Jesus’s name, of course — into selling many of her bears, regaling her with stories about what would be accomplished with the money gained from their sale. With tears in her eyes, Polly gathered up half of her bears and gave them to me to sell. I remember saying, “see that wasn’t so hard!”

Brutal, I know, but if I am going to honestly and openly tell my story, I must tell it, warts and all. Quite honestly, I am embarrassed to even write this post. All I can visualize is the love of my life crying over giving up her bears. She had few things to call her own (as did I) in our married life, yet here I was asking (demanding) that she give up reminders of some of the happy times in her life. Gifts were far and few between for both of us. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts, so, for Polly, all the gifts she had from me were bears, Fenton glass, and other collectibles. Small tokens of love, yet each of them carried great meaning for Polly. I grossly underestimated how much these things meant to her. At the time,  I saw her attachment to these things as a sign of love for the world; an unwillingness to forsake all and follow Jesus.

This phase of my life would pass, never to return. I finally realized that I was standing alone on this matter, and that every other Christian I knew was busy pursuing houses, lands, cars, and material wealth. I realized while still a Christian that I had been a fool; that I had sacrificed my health and financial security, and to what end? Hell was still hot, souls were still lost, and people were dying. Bible verses that spoke of laying up treasure in heaven no longer satiated my spiritual desires. I wanted the lives other people had, as did Polly and our children. I became, I suppose, just another preacher who loved Jesus, but also loved the good life.

I left the ministry in 2005, and left Christianity in 2008. Since decoupling from Christianity, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the religious and psychological forces that led me to a life of servitude, self-denial, and poverty; that led me to demand that my wife and children follow in my steps. Had I been single, the only harm caused would been to self, but as a married man with six children, I harmed those I loved and cared for the most. There are not enough lifetimes left for me apologize for the harm I caused to Polly and our children. I now know that I spent much of my life serving a myth; and that my sacrifices and voluntary poverty accomplished almost nothing. I say almost, because I know the money and material goods I gave to the poor, sick, hungry, and homeless helped them, so my giving had some effect, but all in all, my life of devotion to Jesus was “a waste of time, money, and talent” — to use the line oft recited by Baptist preachers when trying to goad congregants into doing more for Jesus. I pissed away tens of thousands of dollars, and even more when not-taken salary is added in. As with all past misdeeds, there’s nothing I can do to undo them. The past is the past. All I can do is learn from past mistakes, pass what I have learned on to others, and spend what life I have left living one hell of a hedonistic, sinful life — that’s sarcasm, by the way, for the Evangelical dullards who happen upon this post.

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.

Independent Baptist Songs: Hold the Fort by Philip P. Bliss

philip p bliss

Philip P. Bliss

From time to time, I plan to post lyrics from the songs we sang in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I grew up in and pastored. Unbelievers and non-Fundamentalists might find some of these lyrics quite interesting, and, at times, funny or disturbing. Enjoy!

Today’s Independent Baptist Song is Hold the Fort by Philip P. Bliss. I was able to find a video of this song being sung by the Cleveland Baptist Church congregation.

Hold the Fort was a favorite in the churches I pastored, and it was also a favorite at camp meetings and preachers meetings. Militaristic songs are quite common in IFB circles. One word I never paid attention years ago was Bliss’ use of the word comrades. Today, the word comrades is associated with communism or socialism. I wonder how the song and the use of this word is perceived in IFB churches.

When the churches I pastored sung this song, we would stand, sing lustily, and when we came to the line in the refrain that said “Wave the answer back to Heaven” we held our King James Bibles high and waved them towards Heaven (or the auditorium ceiling), signaling to Jesus that we were on the battle line, with sword in hand, waging war against Satan and sin.

According to the Explore Southern History website, Hold the Fort was inspired by a Civil War battle, The Battle of Allatoona Pass.

The Battle of Allatoona Pass was fought in Bartow County, Georgia, on October 5, 1864. It was signals sent before the first gun was fired, however, that inspired one of America’s most beloved Christian hymns.

“Hold the Fort!” was written in 1870 by Philip Paul Bliss, an evangelist and composer, after he heard the story of the Union defense of Allatoona Pass told in a Sunday School class. The use of signal flags to send messages from Kennesaw Mountain near Atlanta to the threatened garrison holding Allatoona Pass was held forth as an example of how Jesus Christ signals Christians to hold strong to their beliefs, for “He is coming.”

The meeting attended by Bliss took place in Rockford, Illinois, on a Thursday and Friday, April 28-29, 1870. Among the speakers was Major Daniel Webster Whittle, who told how on the day before the battle, General William Tecumseh Sherman had sent messages by signal flag to urge the garrison at Allatoona to hold out.

Whittle remembered the message as saying, “Hold the Fort; I am coming!”

His telling of the story so inspired Bliss that he based a hymn [Hold the Fort] on the story of Allatoona
Pass.

….

Philip Paul Bliss and Daniel Webster Whittle traveled through great areas of the country over the years that followed the publication of “Hold the Fort!”

They served as traveling evangelists, speaking to crowds large and small and carrying the story of the signals to Allatoona Pass and the song with them.

In 1876, they actually visited Georgia and climbed to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. There they saw the ruins of the Civil War signal tower and in the distance could see the Allatoona Mountains.

It was a moving moment for both men and after kneeling in prayer, they sang “Hold the Fort” together. Bliss told a friend that he almost expected to see Jesus returning in the sky at that moment.

Hold the Fort by Philip P. Bliss

Ho, my comrades, see the signal, waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing, victory is nigh.

Refrain:
“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”

See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;
Mighty ones around us falling, courage almost gone!

See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s Name we triumph over every foe.

Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near;
Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer!

Video Link

When Christians Use Social Media

social media

Guest Post by ObstacleChick

As I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and attended an Evangelical Christian school (which was more or less IFB in doctrine), I have a lot of connections on social media who are still hardcore, committed fundamentalist evangelical Christians. Every time I check my news feed, I am sure to see at least one Christian-themed post or meme. Here are a few I have seen in the past three days, complete with my interpretation of what the poster is saying.

**(Insert “Seriously” meme here)**

Interpretation:

“I’m being an annoying jerk and am going to make a snarky comment showing why I am right to continue to be an annoying jerk. Because I’m right. And you’re not. And it’s totally what Jesus would do.”

**(Insert “Invisible” meme here)**

Interpretation:

“I can’t see, touch, or prove God exists, but I’m going to give you reasons why he totally does that can’t be disputed because there’s no evidence since none of these things actually occurred — God saved you from these awful things. Yay team God!”

**(Insert “Judgment” meme here)**

Interpretation:

“In case your intention was not to accept my version of Jesus Christ and to continue to live in what my church, pastor, and almighty God and I consider to be sin, here is a subtle threat. Because fear and threats are so totally effective in winning over converts who are scrolling through social media.”

**(Insert “Can’t” meme here)**

Interpretation:

“Evangelical Christianity tells me that I’m too weak and worthless to do things on my own but that Jesus is omnipotent, so I have to pray really hard so that Jesus can help me accomplish difficult tasks.”

**(Insert “Battle” meme here)**

Interpretation:

“Because Evangelical Christianity never allowed me to grow up and become an adult or to gain confidence in my abilities, I have to repeat an arsenal of mantras to get me through the tough times. Because Jesus/God can beat up mean old Satan!”

**(Insert “Hospital” meme here)**

Interpretation:

“Apostates, atheists, and other people who aren’t True Christians® call us Warriors for Jesus hypocrites so here is my snarky response. Take that, you meanie apostates, atheists, and non-True Christians®. Na-na-na-na boo-boo.”

Now it’s your turn! Let’s have a little fun and make some creative interpretations!

 

Questions: Bruce, What Are the ‘Fundamentals of Christianity’ Evangelicals Talk About?

questions

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.

Charles asked, “What Are the ‘Fundamentals of Christianity’ Evangelicals Talk About?”

Evangelicalism, an inherently Fundamentalist system of belief, is built upon a foundation of what is commonly called the fundamentals of the faith or the cardinal doctrines of the faith. Most Evangelicals consider the following beliefs to be essential:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin (usually subscribing to the substitutionary atonement theory)
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin is by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell are literal places

The more Fundamentalist a sect is, the longer the list of non-negotiable doctrines. Some within the IFB church movement, for example, believe things such as:

  • The 1769 revision of the King James Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. (All other version are errant and used by Satan to deceive the masses.)
  • Secondary separation (Real Baptist Bob refuses to fellowship with Baptist Bruce because of wrong beliefs or practice. Real Baptist Bob also refuses to fellowship with those who are friends or associated with Baptist Bruce.)
  • The Baptist church as the true church. (Also called Landmarkism, these Baptist churches believe they can trace their lineage all the way back to Jesus.)
  • Dispensational, Pre-tribulational Premillennialism (Human time is divided into seven distinct periods, Jesus will rapture away all believers prior to the Great Tribulation, and then physically come to Earth prior to the Millennium — the thousand year authoritarian rule of Christ.)

And then there are the Christians who believe the followers of Jesus must believe certain things and live certain ways to be Christians. Years ago, back in my Evangelical/Socially Progressive days, I preached a sermon that suggested Democrats could be Christians. After the service, a man who was visiting that day came up to be and told me in no uncertain terms that he doubted Democrats could be Christians due to their support of abortion. More than a few Evangelicals believe that anyone who believes in legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and the normalization of homosexuality cannot be a Christian.

The list of essential beliefs, quite frankly, is endless, with every sect, church, and pastor believing that there are certain nonnegotiable doctrines and practices that must be believed in order to be a True Christian®. Evangelicals are big proponents of proof-texting, with every belief and practice having Biblical justification.

Liberal Christians laugh and sneer at Evangelicals with their long lists of non-negotiables, but I wonder if liberals have given away too much in their attempt to find a minimalist way to doctrinally appeal to everyone. Years ago, my wife and I, along with our three youngest children, attended the local Episcopal church. After the service, one of the matriarchs of the church thanked us for visiting. She then added, “you can believe whatever you want at our church!” I thought, has she not read the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the theoretical doctrinal standard of the Church of England and its sister sect The Episcopal Church? Does the church really allow its congregants to believe whatever they want? We never tested their openness.

My conclusion is this: every Christian sect, church, pastor, and individual believer has its own set of fundamental beliefs (and practices). Thus, countless are the number of Christianities and Christs. The Bible is right when it says in Proverbs 21:2: Every way of a man is right in his own eyes. The Bible says there is ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE baptism, yet Christians can’t even agree on basics such as salvation, baptism, and communion. While it is up to Christians to determine what is TRUE Christianity®, a historically unified standard of belief would cause unbelievers such as myself to pause a bit before criticizing Christianity. As it stands now, Christianity is infested by conflict, controversy, and internecine warfare. When I look at Christianity, what I see is Friday WWE wrestling matches. Whatever Christianity might have been two-thousand years, THAT Christianity died somewhere in the Judean hillsides twenty centuries ago.

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.