Tag Archive: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Five

sovereignty-of-god

In the previous posts in this series, I have talked a lot about the doctrines of grace, also known as the five points of Calvinism. Today, I want to talk about the sovereignty of God — the singular, overarching belief that binds Calvinistic theology together. What do Calvinists mean when they speak of the sovereignty of God? If there’s one book that every newly minted Calvinist has likely read — no, it’s not the Bible — it would be A.W. Pink’s classic, The Sovereignty of God. Since this book is widely accepted as the definitive Calvinistic statement on the sovereignty of God, I thought I would let Pink define the doctrine:

The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

….

The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.

Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture.

Simply put, saying God is sovereign means that He alone is responsible for and controls EVERYTHING! Of course, such a statement quickly leads to the critics of Calvinism saying, so God is culpable for sin? Calvinists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around this logical conclusion, including answering in the affirmative — Yes, God is responsible for sin. If God is sovereign and he decrees all that happens without exception, then the only conclusion one can come to is that God is responsible for sin. So what? some Calvinists say. God is God and he can do whatever he wants to do. Whatever God does is right because it is God who is doing it.  When objections are raised, Calvinists reply, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. In other words, he is God, the creator and we are the created. He is the potter, as the book of Romans says, and we are the clay. God can and does do whatever he wants, and as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 9, those who object to God’s sovereignty need to shut the hell up (okay, he didn’t say it like that word for word, but you get my point). As finite beings, mankind has no right to criticize or condemn God’s works.

When I first came to know and understand the sovereignty of God, I was relieved. For the longest time, I carried the burden of building a church congregation on my shoulders. While God was certainly there right along beside me, I knew it was up to me to get things done. As a Calvinist, I no longer felt pressured to get this or that done; that if God wanted me to do something he would bring it to pass; that if God didn’t want something done there was absolutely nothing I could do. Now, in retrospect, I know that only way anything gets done is if I do it. I suspect that’s how it works for you in your life too. And Calvinism aside, a case can be made for taking this approach to life; that praying and “waiting” on God often become camouflage for laziness and indifference.

As the sovereignty of God permeated every aspect of my ministerial and personal life, how I approached things began to change. The first thing I did away with was giving altar calls — a manipulative tool popularized by nineteenth century evangelist Charles Finney. The second thing I did was turn my attention away from aggressive evangelistic efforts. Instead, I focused more of my time on my studies; on preparing my sermons; on preparing lessons for Sunday school and, later, an elders’ class. As I mentioned in a previous post, I set my sights on un-saving congregants who had been saved during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days. I believed that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized version of the Christians gospel, so it was my solemn duty to preach the Calvinistic gospel. I learned, after six years of such efforts at one church, that it is much harder to get people un-saved than it is to get them saved. The third thing I did was breatheGod is in control, I told myself. No need to stress out over winning the lost. If God wanted them saved, well he would save them. My job was to preach the gospel.

During my early years as a Calvinist, I read John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In this book, MacArthur demolished my IFB soteriology. MacArthur believed: “The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority.” IFB pastors generally believed that a person could be saved, yet not make Jesus Lord of their lives. The crux of the argument was whether sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. Many IFB preachers believed in what Calvinists called decisional regeneration; the belief that by praying a simple prayer a sinner was saved. Requiring sinners to repent of their sins was, in the eyes of many IFB preachers, works salvation. MacArthur would not have any of that, saying that the lordship of Christ was not optional; that if a person was not willing to forsake his sin and totally follow Jesus there would be no salvation for him. (See One, Two, Three, Repeat After me; Salvation, Bob Gray Style.)

One story that stands out from this time is a written interaction I had with Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord — an IFB newspaper. Previous to Hutson, John R. Rice was the editor of the Sword. Rice had written in a tract titled What Must I Do to Be Saved? that sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. No repentance, no salvation. Hutson, after taking over the Sword, decided to rewrite the part in the tract that talked about repentance. Hutson, like many of the big name IFB preachers of the day, believed that repentance was a mere change of mind: I was against Jesus and now I am for him; I was headed east and now I am headed west; I was a sinner and now I believe in Jesus. Men such as Jack Hyles and Bob Gray, Sr. turned this intellectual assent into an art form. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people prayed the sinner’s prayer, believing that by doing so they became Christians. No mention of repenting of sin was mentioned. To do so was to preach works salvation. And that’s exactly what Curtis Hutson told me when I wrote him. I called him out on his secretive change of Rice’s tract. I told Hutson that he materially changed what Rice believed; that Rice’s gospel and his gospel were not the same. Hutson responded by telling me that I was preaching works salvation, a gospel that did not save.

Rice was no Calvinist, but he did believe that repentance was essential to salvation. If a person was not willing to forsake his sin and follow after Jesus, there would be no salvation for him. Back in my college days, I went door to door attempting to evangelize sinners. My goal was to share with them the simple plan of salvation (The Roman’s Road) and ask them if they wanted to be saved. If so, I asked them to pray the sinner’s prayer. (See The Top Five Reasons People Say the Sinner’s Prayer.) Once they prayed the prayer, I declared them to be a newly-minted Christian. One day, I happened upon a woman I thought might need saving. As I started to go into my spiel, she — realizing I was one of those terrorist preacher boys from Midwestern Baptist College — stopped me and said, there’s no need for you to continue. I already did that. I asked her where she went to church and she replied, nowhere. I am saved now. Why do I need to go to church? Men such as Hyles, Gray, Sr, Dennis Corle, Hutson, Steven Anderson, and countless other IFB preachers believe that this woman, if she “sincerely” prayed the sinner’s prayer, was saved, a new-born child of God. Rice, MacArthur, and the now Calvinistic Bruce Gerencser believed the woman was still dead in trespasses and sins, and headed for hell unless she repented of her sins and followed after the Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

As a Calvinist, I believed that sinners were spiritually dead, unable to believe without God giving them the ability to do so. Man was bound by sin, and unable to do anything about it unless God intervened. This intervention was called regeneration; the giving of life to dead sinners. For most (not all) Calvinists, regeneration preceded faith. Since unregenerate humans had no free will and were spiritually dead, it was impossible for them to believe on their own. As an IFB preacher, I believed faith preceded regeneration; that spiritual life came when a sinner, by faith, asked Jesus to save them. As a Calvinist, my response to this notion was this: how can a dead man do anything?

My goal, then, as a Calvinistic preacher, was to preach the gospel in the hope that what I preached would find fertile ground in the hearts given life by the Holy Spirit. As an IFB preacher, so much of how people were saved depended on me: the right sermon, the right illustrations, the right delivery, the right invitation song. As a Calvinist, my objective was to simply preach the gospel; to declare the whole counsel of God. If sinners were going to be saved it was up to God, not me.

Numerically speaking, hundreds and hundreds of people were saved through my ministry and preaching as an IFB preacher. As a Calvinist, I saw a few people saved. As an IFB preacher, I expected people to be saved weekly. As a Calvinist, I found that months and months could pass without anyone saying that God had saved them. This, by the way, is typical. IFB churches tend to rack up large numbers of converts, whereas in Calvinistic churches conversions are few. IFB churches tend to focus on quantity, and Calvinistic churches on quality. Which is better? It all depends on what matters to a preacher. Does he want big attendance numbers, or does he value the intellectual growth of congregants?

Let me illustrate this difference with what is commonly called The Great Commission:

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. Amen. (Matthew 28:19,20)

IFB churches tend to focus on verse 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The goal is to preach the gospel to the whole world. Calvinistic churches, on the other hand, tend to focus on verse 20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. The goal is to teach followers of Christ his commandments. Rare is the church that fulfills both parts of the Great Commission.

As I survey my years in the ministry, I have to say that my Calvinistic years were far more rewarding personally and intellectually. I enjoyed the hard work required for crafting good sermons. I enjoyed spending hours upon hours reading books and studying the Bible.  As an IFB preacher, my life was consumed with the ministry, with winning souls, with building a growing church. As a Calvinist, I was content to be the resident intellectual; a man paid to study the Bible and read awesome books. I still cared about the souls of attendees and church members, but I no longer felt pressed to perform. Above all, as a Calvinist, I found that I had more time to spend with my wife and children.

In Part Six, I plan to write about how Calvinism affected my marriage and my relationship with my children. In particular, I plan to talk about birth control and family size. There’s a reason Polly and I have six children and why there’s six years between child number three and child number four and why we stopped having children after our youngest son was born. Stay tuned.

Note

For you who are interested in the difference between Rice’s version of the tract What Must I Do to Be Saved? and Curtis Hutson’s:

John R Rice wrote:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).

This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is in God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.”

So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins!

Do not misunderstand me. God is anxious for you to have a penitent, broken heart over your sins. You have gone away from God. You have trampled under foot the blood of Jesus Christ, wasted years of your life which you can never live over again. You have served your father, the Devil.

There is plenty for you to weep over, and I am not surprised if you feel deep shame and sorrow in your heart that you have so mistreated the God who made you and the Saviour who died for you. I am not surprised if you cannot keep back the tears! But what I want you to know is that tears or no tears, however much sorrow you may have in your heart, or not have, those things do not save you.

You ought to be sorry for your sins and ashamed of them. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance” (II Cor. 7:10)—the right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

“Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no respite know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Curtis Hutson changed the tract to this:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.” So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins! The right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

Other posts on the Sovereignty of God

Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Luck, Fate, or Providence?

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

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.

Why do Evangelicals Flee One Cult, Only to Join Another?

cult of apple

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

One of the hardest things I had to come to terms with was the fact that my parents raised me in a cult; that I was a member of a cult; that I attended a college operated by a cult; that I married a girl who was also a member of a cult; that I spent thirty years evangelizing for a cult and pastoring its churches. Worse yet, as devoted cult members, my wife and I raised our six children in the way of the cult, in the truth of the cult, and in the life of the cult. Most religions, to some degree or the other, are cults. The dictionary describes the word cult several ways:

  • A system of religious beliefs and rituals
  • A religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extreme, or false [who determines what is unorthodox, extreme of false?]
  • Followers of an unorthodox, extremists, or false religion or sect who often live outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader
  • Followers of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices

As you can see from these definitions, Christianity is a cult. In particular, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and Evangelicalism in general are cults. I rarely use the word cult when describing Evangelical beliefs and practices because the word means something different to Evangelicals. In their minds, sects such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, and Catholics are cults. Some Evangelical churches bring in cult specialists to teach congregants about what is and isn’t a cult. Countless Evangelicals have read Walter Martin’s seminal work, The Kingdom of the Cults. Martin’s book was considered the go-to reference work when it came to cults. Martin defined a cult this way: a group of people gathered about a specific person—or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible. In Martin’s mind, any group of people who followed a person’s misinterpretation of the Bible made up a cult. Of course, Martin — a Fundamentalist Baptist — was the sole arbiter of what was considered a misinterpretation of the Bible. Written in 1965, The Kingdom of the Cults included sects such as the Seventh-day Adventism, Unitarian Universalism, Worldwide Church of God, Buddhism, and Islam. Martin also believed certain heterodox Christian sects had cultic tendencies. I am sure that if Martin were alive today, a revised version of The Kingdom of the Cults would be significantly larger than the 701 pages of the first edition. Martin and his followers, much like Joseph McCarthy, who saw Reds under every bed, saw cultism everywhere they look — except in their own backyards, that is.

Over the years, I have heard from numerous college classmates and former parishioners who wanted me to know that they had left cultic IFB churches and joined up with what they believed were non-cultic Evangelical churches. These letter-writers praised me for my exposure of the IFB church movement, but they were dismayed over my rejection of Christianity in general. In their minds, I threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; that if I would just find a church like theirs I would see and know the “truth.” I concluded, after reading their testimonies, that all they had really done is trade one cult for another.

Take, for example, my college classmates. Most of them were raised in strict IFB homes and churches. Some of them had pastor fathers. Later in life, they came to believe that the IFB church movement, with its attendant legalistic codes of conduct, was a cult. As I mentioned in my post titled, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? there are two components to religious fundamentalism: theological fundamentalism and social fundamentalism. Most Evangelicals are both theological and social Fundamentalists, even though some of them will deny the latter. My college classmates, in leaving the IFB church movement, distanced themselves from social fundamentalism while retaining their theological fundamentalist beliefs. They wrongly believe that by rejecting the codes of conduct of their former churches, they were no longer members of a cult. However, their theology changed very little, and often they just traded a “legalistic” code of conduct for a “Biblical” one. These “non-legalists” revel in their newfound freedoms — drinking alcohol, going to movies, wearing pants (women), saying curse words, smoking cigars, having long hair (men), listening to secular music, using non-King James Bible translations, and having sex in non-missionary positions, to name a few — thinking that they have finally escaped the cult, when in fact they just moved their church membership from one cult to another. When the core theology of their old church is compared to their new church few differences are found.

I can’t emphasize this enough: regardless of the name on the door, the style of worship/music, or ecclesiology, Evangelical churches are pretty much all the same. Many Evangelicals consider Westboro Baptist Church to be a cult. However, a close examination of their theology reveals that there is little difference between the theology of the late Fred Phelps and his clan and that of Southern Baptist luminary Al Mohler and his fellow Calvinists. Ask ten local Evangelical churches for copies of their church doctrinal statement and compare them. You will find differences on matters of church government, spiritual gifts, and other peripheral issues Christians perpetually fight over, but when it comes to the core doctrines of Christianity, they are in agreement.

Calvinists and Arminians — who have been bickering with each other for centuries — will vehemently disagree with my assertion that they are one and the same, but when you peel away each group’s peculiar interpretations of the Bible, what you are left with are the historic, orthodox beliefs expressed in the creeds of early Christianity. There may be countless flavors of ice cream, but they all have one thing in common: milk. So it is with Evangelical sects and churches. During what I call our wandering years, Polly and I attended over one hundred Christian churches, looking for a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. We concluded that Evangelical churches are pretty much all the same, and that the decision on which church to attend is pretty much up to which kind of ice cream you like the best. No matter how “special” some Evangelical churches think they are, close examination reveals that they are not much different from other churches. This means then, that there is little-to-no difference theologically between Christian cults. Codes of conduct are different from church to church, but at the center of every congregation is the greatest cult leader of all time, Jesus Christ. (See But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Go back and read the definitions of the word cult at the top of this post, and then read Walter Martin’s definition of a cult/cult leader. Is not Jesus a cult leader? Is not the Apostle Paul also a cult leader? Is not the sect founded and propagated by Jesus, Peter, James, John, and Paul, and propagated for two thousand years by pastors/priests/evangelists/missionaries a cult? Is not the Judaism of the Old Testament a blood cult, as is its offspring, Christianity? Surely a fair-minded person must conclude that Christianity is a cult. Regardless of denomination, peculiar beliefs, and differing codes of conduct, all Christian churches are, in effect, cult temples, no different from the “pagan” temples mentioned in the New Testament.

Disagree? By all means, use the comment section to explain why your Christian/Evangelical/IFB sect/church is not a cult, but other sects and churches are. Why should your beliefs and practices be considered truth and all others false? Hint, the Bible says is not an acceptable answer (nor are worn-out presuppositional tropes). All cultists appeal to their religious texts for proof that their beliefs and practices are “truth.” Why should anyone accept your sect’s book as “truth?” Why should anyone believe that Jesus is the way, truth, and life or that the Christian God is the one true God?

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.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Four

i have a questionPart four of this series is a short parenthetical post meant to answer several questions asked by readers.

What was it about Calvinism that attracted you, theologically and psychologically?

Calvinism is a theological system built with points of doctrine which build upon one another. Pull any of the five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints, from the system and it collapses upon itself. Of course, the same could be said of any theological system. That said, Calvinism is the most complex, intricate theological system ever created by human minds.

It was the order and complexity of the system, then, that caught my attention. I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and I am a perfectionist. (See Christian Perfection: A Personal Story.) I desire, crave, and need order. Theologically, Calvinism provided for me just what the doctor ordered. As I read and studied the Bible, listened to preaching tapes of Calvin-loving preachers, and devoured countless Calvinistic books, I began to “see” the truthiness of the doctrines of grace, along with its attendant doctrines such as the Sovereignty of God.

The primary reason I became an atheist is that Christianity no longer made any sense to me. (See The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) The opposite was true with Calvinism. It simply, at the time, based on my reading and study, made sense to me. Calvinism best explained certain Bible verses that had always perplexed me. Yet, at the same time, it created new interpretive problems for me. As a non-Calvinist, I found that words such as world and all meant everyone without discrimination (i.e. For God so loved the world — John 3:16). Calvinism, due to the doctrines of election and predestination, requires adherents to reinterpret verses that imply that Jesus died for everyone, Jesus loves everyone, etc. Of course, Arminians do the same with verses that speak of election and predestination.

I have long argued that the Bible is a book that can be used to prove almost anything. Whatever your theological beliefs might be, there’s support for them in the Bible. I’ve concluded, then, that all theological systems are Biblically “true” and that all sects – Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, to name a few —  are right when they claim their beliefs are the faith once delivered to the saints.

How is Calvinism different from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology?

While IFB churches are autonomous, each with its own set of beliefs and practices, they do, generally, have a common set of beliefs. (See What is an IFB Church?) When I entered the ministry in the 1970s, I didn’t know one IFB pastor who claimed the Calvinist moniker — not one. There were several pastors who, if rumors were true, had Calvinistic tendencies. Calvinism was routinely derided, criticized, and deemed heretical — antithetical to soulwinning and church growth.

In the late 1980s, Calvinism began to make inroads into the IFB church movement. Some IFB preachers embraced Amyraldism (four-point Calvinism). Wikipedia explains Amyraldism this way:

It is the belief that God decreed Christ’s atonement, prior to his decree of election, for all alike if they believe, but he then elected those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, seeing that none would believe on their own, and thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. The efficacy of the atonement remains limited to those who believe.

The issue, of course, was for whom did Jesus die? Evangelical Calvinists believe Jesus died on the cross only for the elect — those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world. Four-point Calvinists, uncomfortable with the doctrine of limited atonement (particular redemption), concocted a system that said, the atonement of Christ is sufficient to save everyone in the world, but efficient for only the elect. God that?

While Calvinism continues to make inroads in IFB churches, many Calvinistic pastors tend to keep their beliefs to themselves. They preach Calvinism without ever mentioning Calvinistic buzz-words. Over time, congregations are converted without ever realizing they changed.

Classic IFB beliefs are laughingly called one-point Calvinism. Yes, God is the one who saves sinners, but it’s up to them to decide whether to believe. As with Arminian churches, emphasis is placed on man’s ability to choose (free will). Calvinists, on the other hand, focus on the sovereignty of God and the inability of man. As you can see, these two theological systems are disparate, so much so that the two groups are continually at war, each believing the other is heretical.

Evangelical Calvinists generally believe that IFB churches preach works salvation, and they alone preach salvation by grace. Carefully examining Calvinism, however, reveals that they too preach salvation by works. In fact, outside of Pelagian sects, all Christian sects/churches preach some form of salvation by works. (Let the howling begin.)

There are numerous other theological differences between IFB theology and Evangelical Calvinism, but I have shared enough of the differences to show that these two groups generally don’t “fellowship” with each other. Calvinists view IFB (and Southern Baptist) churches as targets for subversive theological change. Pastors neglect to tell such churches about their Calvinistic beliefs, hoping, over time, to win them over to the one true faith. This approach has led to all sorts of church conflict.

Why would your change of theology cause friends and colleagues in the ministry to shun (abandon) you?

In the IFB church movement (and many other Evangelical sects), fealty to right doctrine is paramount, as is following certain social practices. Some tolerance is granted for being slightly off theological center, but major deviations result in shunning or being labeled a heretic/liberal. Calvinism was certainly considered antithetical to IFB doctrine and practice, so I was not surprised when many of my preacher friends distanced themselves from me as they would a gay man with AIDS. I moved on to new fellowship groups, those with Calvinistic, reformed beliefs and practices. I will talk at length about these groups in a later 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.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Three

six point calvinist

I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio, from 1983-1994. In 1988, after being exposed to what Calvinists call the ”doctrines of grace,” I abandoned my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. By this time, I had begun preaching expositionally (verse by verse through books of the Bible). This allowed me to preach through the books loved by Calvinists: Ephesians, Romans, John, and First John. One Sunday night, I talked about limited atonement (particular redemption) in my sermon. Afterwards, a man in the church passed me a note that said, Did I just hear you say that Christ only died for the elect? I later explained to him how my theology was changing. For a short time, I would be preaching John Calvin in the auditorium and he would be teaching teens IFB theology in the church basement. Eventually, we had a parting of the ways.

Outside of this man (who was a dear friend), every other regular attendee went along for the ride, believing that I had their best interests at heart — I did — and I would always tell them the truth — truth being my peculiar interpretation of the Bible. Not only had my soteriology changed (doctrine of salvation), so had my eschatology (end-times, future events). As an IFB preacher, I was a dispensationalist. I believed that the return of Jesus was imminent; that Jesus was coming soon in the clouds to rapture away his people. And then God, for seven years, would rain holy hell upon the earth, culminating in Jesus returning to earth again (yes, a second, second coming). After Jesus’ return, he would reign on earth for a thousand years. At the end of these days, Satan would be loosed for a season, causing many of the people on earth to rebel against God one last time. God crushes this rebellion, destroys Heaven and Earth, makes a new Heaven and Earth, judges all humanity, sending non-Christians to the Lake of Fire and Christians to God’s eternal kingdom. And all God’s people live happily ever after. Not God’s people? Eternal punishment and torture awaits. Got all that?

As a Calvinist, my eschatology was simple and direct: some day God will pour out his wrath on earth, judge the living and dead (general resurrection and judgment), make a new Heaven and a new Earth, and usher in his everlasting kingdom. The joy of the Lord awaits the elect. The non-elect are cast into the Lake of Fire, a place reserved for the devil, his angels, and the whore of Babylon (Catholic church).

After several months of preaching the wonders of Calvinism, I gathered a core group of church members together and asked them to attend a Wednesday night class so I could teach them the finer points of the doctrines of grace. So, for three months, ten or so faithful members, including my wife, gathered with me as I took them through the five points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. Once these people were thoroughly indoctrinated, I knew it would be smooth sailing from there. These were the people who gave the most money and did most of the work. Most of them had been with me from our first service in July 1983. They were the core group that would stand with me no matter what.

fellowship tract league

I stopped using tracts such as this one from Fellowship Tract League in Lebanon, Ohio. As a Calvinist, the word MAYBE goes after ALL THIS I DID FOR THEE.

Over time, I changed out the printed literature we were using, moving from Chick Tracts and Fellowship Tract League literature to materials printed by Chapel Library. I also purchased Calvinistic books and made them available to the church, hoping that they would read them and better understand the doctrines of grace. Sadly, most congregants perfected me just telling them what to believe. Just give is a book report, Preacher.

In August 1989, we opened the doors of Somerset Baptist Academy to fifteen students, ranging from kindergarten to tenth grade. The school became yet another vehicle to indoctrinate people in the “true” gospel. Children were required to memorize the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and read biographies of Calvinistic missionaries and preachers. For a time, we primarily used — I shit you not — McGuffey Readers. After one year with the McGuffey Readers, I decided that was a big mistake — thank God! We began the second year of school using books published a Mennonite/Amish publisher Rod & Staff. We also used PACES (self-study materials) for some of the high school students.

On Sundays, I stopped giving invitations and got rid of our hymnbooks, putting in their place Gadsby’s Hymns — a nineteenth century collection of 1,100 Calvinistic hymns. After a year or two of grinding through Gadsby’s Hymns, I decided to let some of our loved and cherished Arminian hymns back into the church (I know, proof that I was not a True Calvinist®.) Every change I made was framed in “Biblical” terms. The Bible says __________________, so this is why we are doing this and no longer doing that. Congregants genuinely believed that I wouldn’t lead them astray, but I do have to wonder how many of that original group really understood the depths of my changing theology and practice. As I will share in the next post, word got out that I was now a Calvinist, and this brought to the church new people who were specifically looking for a Calvinistic church. They knew Calvinism inside and out.

As with virtually everything I do in life, I threw my body, soul (I had one back them, before Satan stole it), and mind into building a bastion of Calvinistic truth in rural Southeast Ohio. I read, studied, preached, evangelized, taught school, and visited prospective members — week after week, month after month. I was filled with zeal, believing that I had been lied to by my IFB pastors and professors. And now that I knew the “truth,” the whole “truth,” and nothing but the “truth” I made sure my wife’s preacher-laden family and my colleagues in the ministry heard this “truth” too. Surprisingly, Polly’s long-tenured IFB preacher uncle, the late Jim Dennis, actually agreed with me (though his outward practices suggested otherwise). Other family members chalked up my new beliefs to, Oh, that Bruce. There he goes on another tangent. Many of my colleagues in the ministry, believing that Calvinism was heresy, distanced themselves from me. The fifteen-church youth fellowship I had started in 1986 went up in smoke as pastors said they didn’t want to fellowship with a Tulip-picker or have a Calvinist preaching to their teens. Some of my friends ignored my changed beliefs, expecting that I would come around in time. I did, but not in ways they expected. These would be the friends who would abandon me after my theology and politics turned towards the left.

In the next post in this series, I will continue to talk about how Pastor Bruce becoming a Calvinist materially affected the church I was pastoring and how it altered my personal relationships with my wife, children, and friends.

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.

Comparing Fundamentalist Religions

fundamentalism

A Guest Post by ObstacleChick

What is religious fundamentalism? Typically, it is an unwavering and unapologetic belief in the absolute authority of a religious text or texts. Adherents believe their religion is the one true religion and that its precepts should govern all aspects of life. The ultimate goal is the governance of everyone’s lives under the rules and standards of the religion’s holy book(s). Rules are comprehensive, encompassing behavior, dress, gender roles, and access to information, media, and technology. Adherents believe that their religious beliefs and practices should be exempt from criticism, and any form of criticism is labeled as heresy or persecution. There are many types of religious fundamentalists throughout the world, but here in the United States we are most familiar with fundamentalist evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, orthodox and Hasidic Jews, and Old Order Amish (which are fundamentalist in their adherence to their religious text, but not with regard to forcing their beliefs on those outside their community).

As disparate as these groups may seem on the surface, they have much in common. Each group believes that its holy text is an absolute, inerrant authority for all aspects of life. It is not uncommon for these groups to separate themselves from their surrounding communities, focusing almost exclusively on staying within their religious communities with regard to their worship activities, leisure activities, and even employment. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, for example, must be work for an employer that is flexible with regard to Jewish holy days and for leaving work early on Fridays for Shabbas. Not in all cases, but frequently children are sent to sect-approved/operated schools. In Amish communities, education is forbidden past 8th grade, and in communities that have their own schools, the teachers are young women within the community who have no education past 8th grade. For Hasidic Jews, girls and boys attend gender-segregated schools. Boys attend yeshivas where the focus of education is on studying the Talmud. Little attention is given to other subjects, and evolution is not taught. Among Evangelicals, it is popular to either home school one’s children or to send them to a fundamentalist Christian school, where, again, evolution is not taught to children. Fundamentalist Muslims often send their children to madrasas where the focus is on religious education. In some Muslim-controlled countries, girls are not educated.

Fundamentalists of all stripes give great authority to religious leaders who often dictate the rules of each separatist community. In Amish communities, there is a bishop, two or three ministers, and a deacon. Each must be nominated, but lots (similar to drawing straws) are drawn to determine which man receives which position. The leaders are responsible for the spiritual education of their congregation as well as making sure the Ordnung — the set of rules specific to each community — is followed. Each church district’s leaders set specific rules for its community, which is why there can be slight differences from one Amish community to another. In Evangelical sects and churches, great authority is given to pastors. Bruce has spoken about this a number of times, so there’s no need for me to expound on the matter here. In Orthodox or Hasidic communities, the rebbe is the authority, and he sets the rules specific to that local community. Rules may include color of stockings women are required to wear or what books are allowed in the Hasidic libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim communities, the imam is the ultimate authority, and he may issue fatwas or rules specific to his community. (Please note that all leaders are male.)

In each of these fundamentalist religions, gender roles are specifically defined in traditional ways. Men are considered to be the leaders of the family, the breadwinners, the final authorities in the household; the ones who commune most closely with their deity. Women are considered to be the nurturers, the caretakers of children, submissive to the authority of their husbands. Typically, women are not allowed to work outside the home in many fundamentalist sects/churches. Amish women are, however, permitted to sell their goods at markets or operate roadside stands for home-grown and home-baked goods. Women are not allowed any positions of leadership beyond teaching women or young children. Marriage is considered to be between one man and one woman, and these communities are not known for acceptance of LBGTQ people.

Dress codes are important among these communities. The Amish are easily identified as their clothing styles have not changed in centuries. They are referred to as “Plain People” because their styles are simple, solid colors typically limited to black, brown, burgundy, blue, purple or green (though some communities may allow other colors). Women wear dresses and aprons secured with straight pins (no buttons, which are considered vain), and they wear a white kappe (head covering) so they may pray at any time. Men wear dark suits with hook & eye closures (no buttons and no fancy belt buckles), suspenders, and a black or straw hat.

For fundamentalist Christians, there is often no exact standard of dress other than “modesty” for women, though many fundamentalist Baptist churches have complex, exacting dress codes. Many fundamentalist Christian women wear skirts or dresses at least knee length, no low-cut tops, and they typically wear sleeves. Women will be shamed for showing too much skin or wearing something too tight.

Hasidic communities have strict hair and clothing rules as well. Married women must keep their hair short and wear a sheitel wig; women wear dresses or skirts; their sleeves must be at least three-quarter length; they must wear thick, opaque stockings (often black, occasionally flesh colored though that is forbidden in some communities); and a lot of black, loose clothing, though blouses or sweaters may be colorful. Married men must sport a beard and side curls (payot) which they can never cut. Most men wear a white button-down shirt and black pants and jacket. A yarmulke must be worn at all times, and when praying, men wear a tallit, or prayer shawl, with tzitzit, or fringe, to remind them of God’s commandments.

Fundamentalist Muslim women must be covered in mixed company, and the culture determines how much covering is required. The most extreme version is the burqa with the niqab (face covering). Men may wear a taqiyah or cap when praying.

Each of these fundamentalist religions believes secularism is the greatest threat to their sect, churches, and beliefs. Access to secular libraries or media may be prohibited, restricted, or discouraged. Often, only books approved by church leaders are permitted to be read. The Amish prohibit technology altogether, though they are allowed to check out elder-approved books at public libraries. Fundamentalist Christians are generally admonished to limit their media access to “G-rated” or Christian-published format. Many Hasidic communities forbid access to secular libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim-controlled countries, all media are controlled by the religious leaders, thus preventing people from accessing any non-approved content. Each of these groups limits media access for “moral” reasons, but they also want to prevent community members from accessing any knowledge that may contradict their sect’s teachings.

While some of Amish people vote, they do not seek public office, and their pacifism prevents them from joining the military. They also are not visibly active in campaigning. Myriads of articles have been written — particularly before and after the 2016 presidential election — concerning the political activism of evangelical Christians. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are known for their political activism for candidates sympathetic to their communities, particularly as it is an “honor” for Jewish men to collect welfare and food stamps so they can exclusively focus their time on Talmudic studies. As far as fundamentalist Islam is concerned, there are many countries in which fundamentalist Islam controls government.

In Bruce’s recent post Life After Jesus: Moving from a God-Shaped Hole to a Knowledge-Shaped Hole he talks about restrictions that fundamentalist Christian authorities put on secular influences. Indeed, venturing beyond fundamentalist-bubble-approved media is considered a temptation by Satan and demonic forces, potentially leading someone to everlasting torment in hell. Pastors try to scare their flocks into not watching the latest season of “Cosmos” or “Game of Thrones”; that rock music leads to the “Highway to Hell”; that evolution is Satan’s greatest deception. Amish and Hasidic communities threaten members with excommunication if they do not adhere to community standards. For the skeptical or curious in these communities, fear of being cut off from family and friends is a real concern. In addition, many members (particularly women) are poorly educated and lack job skills, so escaping these communities is, at best, a risky venture.  Mission to Amish People (MAP) and Charity Christian Fellowship are organizations that help Amish people leave their communities, and Footsteps is an organization that helps Hasidic Jews leave theirs. Organizations such as these offer practical and emotional support to deconverts. Those of us in the real world realize that knowledge is power, and fundamentalists do their best to limit knowledge, thus limiting the power of their flocks.

fundamentalist religion comparisonI look at all these groups and think, there’s no way I could live in one of those communities. After I graduated from high school, I did my best to escape the clutches of fundamentalist Christianity. Fortunately, I possessed a college degree from a highly ranked secular university and developed marketable skills, so I was able to support myself financially. Many in these communities, particularly women, are purposely raised without these skills, ensuring reliance on the community. It is my firm conviction that any group that purposefully restricts access to knowledge and education and discourages contact with outsiders is inherently harmful and potentially abusive. Those in power may thrive within these systems, but the systems themselves are designed to benefit those in power at the expense of the powerless.

(If you are interested in finding out more about the Old Order Amish, I recommend the book Amish Society by John A. Hostetler for a comprehensive examination. For those who have access to Netflix and are interested in deconverts from Hasidic Judaism, I recommend the documentary One of Us regarding the Hasidic community in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, New York. Both are communities with which I am familiar as I live in proximity to both).

Now, for a bit of levity: Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic

Video Link

Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping “Fallen” Pastors Get Back on Their Horses

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David Hyles, the son of the late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana (once the largest church in the United States, sporting a Sunday attendance of almost 25,000), is back in the ministry again, helping “fallen” pastors return to the ministry. David Hyles, oft accused of sexual misconduct and criminal behavior, believes his past puts him in a unique place to “help” pastors who have “fallen.” Hyles, as of the date of this post, has never publicly atoned for his behavior. Hyles says God has forgiven him, and that’s all that matters. In his mind he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for the lives he ruined, including his victims. God has wiped Hyles’ slate clean, and now it’s time for him to reclaim his rightful place among Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) royalty. I have no doubt that his brother-in-law, Jack Schaap, an IFB preacher who is currently serving a twelve-year federal prison sentence for his sexual misconduct with a church teen, feels the same way; that God has forgiven him; that he is still a God-called preacher; that his time in prison has made him a better man and a better Christian. This scenario is played out time after time in the IFB church movement. Once saved always saved, so David Hyles is a still a Christian, regardless of what he does. The calling of God is irrevocable, so David Hyles — a man chosen by God and Jack Hyles — is still a preacher, and he would be sinning against God to NOT be doing what God called him to do.

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Jack Hyles, David Hyles, Jim Krall, World’s Greatest Men

For readers who are not familiar with David Hyles (or Jack Hyles) I encourage you to read the following posts:

Several years ago, David Hyles briefly blogged at the site Fallen in Grace. My exposure of him in this blog forced Hyles to abandon his blogging efforts. Hyles and I play a game of whack-a-mole. He pops his head up and I smack it. I will continue to do so until Hyles publicly atones for his past and forever ends attempts to minister to trusting (albeit naive) people. Hyles has reconfigured the Fallen in Grace domain, and he is now using it to promote Fallen in Grace: A Ministry of Reconciliation (FIG) — his latest attempt at reinventing himself. According to the site’s About page, FIG’s purpose is to:

…provide tools, encouragement and helps to aid in restoration; both for those who have fallen and those who are involved in the ministry of restoration. We are all about obeying this command; to restore the fallen. This is not a place to argue or discuss people’s sins. It is a place to discover how to resolve the challenges that arise after someone has fallen into sin.

Let me be clear before I go any farther with this post, that when I talk about FIG I am actually talking about disgraced IFB preacher David Hyles. FIG is a ministry of one — David Hyles. Hyles says as much when he writes:

This is not theory. Many of those who are involved in this ministry have themselves experienced a fall in their background, so they do understand, firsthand, the challenges and difficulties of being restored.

Our story is my story, as well as the story of others like me. I am one who experienced falling and for many years struggled with being restored. I learned the right ways and the wrong ways for restoration through my own experiences. My goal is to share these experiences with others who have fallen and with those who are trying to restore others like myself.

FIG has big plans. Hyles lists the following goals and objectives for his “ministry”:

  • Establish national Fallen in Grace Restoration Ministries.
  • Present ‘How to Restore’ Pastor’s [sic]Training Seminars.
  • Inspire the many talented and gifted Fallen in Grace.
  • Provide help in private areas online to restore people’s lives.

Hyles, of course, knows the IFB church movement is rife with sexual and criminal misconduct by pastors, evangelists, missionaries, deacons, college professors, and the like. In Hyles’ mind, these men of God, regardless of what they have done, are still called of God, and once God has forgiven the “fallen,” it is time for them to get back on their horses, riding into battle against Satan, sin, liberalism, and all sundry “sins” IFB churches and pastors oppose.

Thoughtful readers might ask, surely Hyles doesn’t believe that there’s nothing a preacher can do that will disqualify him from the ministry? What about murder? Not even murder. You see, Hyles’ favorite Bible character is — you guessed it — King David. The Biblical David committed adultery and murder, yet he was greatly used by God. The Bible even calls David a man after God’s own heart. In Hyles’ mind, if King David can be restored, so can he and any of the countless other perverts, criminals, and philanderers who lost their ministries. In Hyles’ mind, no sin is unforgivable; no sin is beyond God’s grace; and no sucker is beyond the reach of an IFB preacher in need of cash. (It used to be that divorce disqualified a man from being an IFB preacher. Jack Hyles believed this, yet the divorced and remarried David Hyles must think otherwise.)

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1973. Miller Road Baptist Church was started by Jack Hyles. David Hyles would later become the pastor of Miller Road. Orchestrated by Jack, the church was never told about David’s sexual improprieties. David would, as pastor of Miller Road, be caught having sex with female church members.

While FIG does offer some free materials, most of what they offer requires payment. For example, the Biblical Restoration: A Practical Study costs $50. And for those completing the course — I shit you not — they can receive two college credits from Bob Gray, Sr’s unaccredited online college — Independent Baptist Online CollegeBob Gray, Sr. the retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple, Longview, Texas and a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College, has long been trying to restore David Hyles to his rightful place in the IFB kingdom. Gray, Sr, a man who has spent his life bowed before the King of Kings, Lord Jack Hyles, sees restoring David Hyles as a way to rehabilitate the Hyles name.

In October 2018, FIG will be holding a Restoration Workshop at a place called the Red Barn, located in Middle, Georgia. Hyles does not list, for obvious reasons, the address for the Red Barn, nor does he provide a link to its website. Hyles has this to say about the workshop:

I wanted to send you a special invitation to participate in one of our two Fall Restoration Workshops held here at the Red Barn in middle Georgia. We would be delighted if you and your spouse could attend one of these workshops. I would love for you to learn more about our ministry but also to hear teaching on the philosophies behind restoration. This will be a comprehensive time of teaching these principles and also a great time of fellowship.

….

We are excited about these workshops and feel it is just the beginning of the training that we will do here at the Red Barn. I hope you will make plans to attend but let us know soon if you plan to attend.

FIG provides a page full of sermon-like articles for fallen preachers. Most of the articles require registration and membership. I assume there’s a cost involved for being a member. You can browse the list of articles here.

A previous iteration (August 2017, Wayback Machine) of the FIG site reveals that FIG primarily exists for the purpose of helping “fallen” (Greek for having sex with underage boys/girls, adultery, fornication and any of the other behaviors and crimes IFB preachers commit; remember, no behavior is so bad that God cannot forgive, and no behavior is so bad that a man called of God can’t be restored to the ministry) preachers regain their places in the ministry. Of course, by helping disgraced preachers, Hyles justifies and validates his own restoration. One need only read Hyles’ article on divorce to realize that FIG is all about the self-justification of his life. In essence, Hyles is saying, God has forgiven me, the slate’s been wiped clean, and you have no right to criticize or judge me. My bad behavior is in the past, buried by God in the depths of the sea to be remembered no more. Too bad Hyles’ victims can’t find that same mind-wiping, life-restoring grace. They live with the deep wounds and scars of their past, often unable to move forward, while David Hyles waltzes around the country screaming, I’M FORGIVEN! WOO HOO! Call 1-666-666-6666 now to book me for a meeting at your church! Let’s get this restoration train rolling!

Hyles has this to say about same-sex attraction, or what he calls: Individuals Coming Out of the Unnatural Lifestyle:

Paul was the first to admit that he was carnal. He confessed to the fact that he struggled with his flesh. Yet we know Paul was a man who lived a chaste life. Many of the people with whom we deal struggle with same sex attraction. Unfortunately many people have been misguided as to how to deal with this. Their objective is to change the attraction. However sexual attraction is not only a problem for those who have a same-sex attraction. All sexual attraction can be a problem. If a young man has a sexual attraction to his girlfriend he must learn how to deal with that, just as someone who has a sexual attraction to the same sex.

First, take into consideration that attraction is not the problem. The problem is that this world has sexualized attraction. An attraction is not a sin, but when that attraction is accompanied by sexual desires then we have a problem. Some men can see attractive woman while others see a sexual object. The difference is in the mind. So what is the solution?

Paul gives us the answer in Romans 12. The answer is that we must remove the sexual from sexual attraction. That is true whether it be an attraction to same-sex or the opposite sex. If the attraction is sexual then we must remove the sexual from the attraction. Unfortunately our minds have been inundated with sexuality. It is difficult for people to separate attraction from sexuality. Thus we have a society overwhelmed with sexual attractions. A man sees a beautiful woman and because he has a mind that has been consumed by sex he automatically has a sexual attraction towards her.

….

If one’s mind has been filled with sexual thoughts, they cannot change their minds. Their minds have been programmed. Unfortunately we are not the deprogrammers. Who is? The answer is found in the same passage. It is by the renewing of our minds. But the renewing of our minds comes after we surrender our bodies. So in other words we must make the decision to sacrifice the sexual part of the desire or attraction before the Holy Spirit can transform our minds and remove the sexual from the attraction. Can a man who thinks sexual thoughts every time he looks at a woman have his mind changed? The answer is yes. However he must first make the decision to sacrifice his body. In other words he does not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Then we are transformed not before surrender but after.

The next step is non conformity to the world. We often misunderstand this. Nonconformity means we do not respond to the attraction like the world does. We do not ogle the person with sexual thoughts. We do not make flirtatious or sexual remarks. Our response to the attraction is based upon the fact that we are no longer our own because we have given our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable. It also means we avoid the places and situations where our sexual attraction is fueled or fed. One who has given their body as a living sacrifice can go to the places, including on the internet where this world goes to feed their fleshly desires.

After this is when the renewing of the mind comes. When the mind is renewed then suddenly the sexual has been removed from the attraction. In other words we can see someone as being attractive without having sexual thoughts. It starts with surrender, then to non conformity and finally to transformation. We get it backwards. A man who has same-sex attraction does not have to have same-sex sexual attraction. In other words he may be attracted to other men as friends, but he is not attracted to them sexually. Those who have been involved in a same sex lifestyle must understand this concept. They must surrender their bodies first. They must say I sacrifice my sexual desires because I submit my body to the Spirit of God. In submitting their body they now refuse to be conformed to this sexual society in which we live. Then, and only then, the metamorphosis of their mind begins and they are transformed. Now they can be attracted without being sexually attracted. Now they can have friendships without sexual thoughts. This is where the transformation takes place.

….

Later in the article, Hyles has this to say about masturbation:

Let me be frank. Masturbation is absolutely a curse to this process. Masturbation is just as much fulfilling the lust of the flesh or the act itself. When you think the thought during that process it is the same as if you had acted it out. You cannot live that thought in your mind to the gratification of your flesh. Many men who once were adulterers commit adultery constantly in front of a computer screen. Many men once involved in same-sex activity commit the same sins in their mind and then with their bodies. You cannot allow your body to be gratified by those sexual impulses. You must give your body as a living sacrifice. You cannot masturbate and be a living sacrifice at the same time.

It’s clear from what I have shared in this post, that David Hyles is still very much an IFB preacher. Thus, it should come as no shock that FIG is operated as a ministry of Family Baptist Church in Columbia, Tennessee — an IFB congregation pastored by David Baker, a graduate of — you guessed it — Hyles-Anderson College. Not only is Baker a Hyles-Anderson graduate, so is Steve Wipf, Family Baptist’s assistant pastor.

Family Baptist Church is a King James-only Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. Its doctrines are from stem to stern IFB, including its belief that the universe was created 6,022 years ago. The church’s pastor and his wife also seem to support patriarchal thinking when it comes to family; they have eleven children, two of whom are married.

The IFB church movement is quite incestuous, especially the followers of Jack Hyles.  Earlier, I made the connection of Bob Gray, Sr, Hyles-Anderson CollegeIndependent Baptist Online College (IBOC) with David Hyles. A similar connection can be made with David Baker. Baker is a graduate of Hyles Anderson and sports a candy stick “Dr” in front of his name, given to him by Texas Baptist College (now Texas Independent Baptist Seminary), another institution started by Bob Gray, Sr. and now operated by his son, Bog Gray II. Baker is a professor at Gray, Sr’s latest enterprise, IBOC. David Hyles’ FIG ministry is sponsored by Baker and Family Baptist. My oh my, what a cozy family that takes care of their own no matter what they have done! Ironically, though sponsored by Family Baptist, FIG is not mentioned anywhere on the church’s website.

The sheer amount of data available on the FIG website could provide me enough fodder for several weeks of blog posts if I were so inclined. Alas, I can only stand so much of this stuff before I want to pull the hair out of my hairless head. I appreciate and thank my friend Steve, a former student at Texas Baptist College and attendee at Longview Baptist Temple, for sussing out exactly what David Hyles was up to these day.

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Let me concluded this post with a David Hyles quote that should tell you all you need to know about the man, his beliefs, and his current “ministry” to “fallen” preachers. Speaking to preachers living with secret sins, he tells them to confess their transgressions to God and then:

Tonight go to sleep as though your whole past has been dropped. Die to the past. And in the morning wake up as a new man in a new morning. Don’t let the same one who went to bed get up. Let him go to sleep for good.

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.

Sexual Abuse and the Jack Hyles Rule: If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen

jack hyles 1973

The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, spent decades training Fundamentalist pastors through his annual pastors’ school, Hyles-Anderson College, and country-wide Sword of the Lord conferences. Hyles was a powerful motivator and speaker. In the 1970s and 1980s, I heard Hyles preach many times. I remember coming home from hearing him preach, filled with renewed desire to serve God and build a New Testament Baptist church that would reach thousands of people for Christ. Hyles was the type of preacher who could motivate pastors in such a way that they would be willing to charge the gates of hell with a squirt gun — an empty one at that.

Hyles taught pastors how to handle accusations and conflict in their churches. One line that stood out — I heard Hyles say it several times was If You Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen. Hyles often talked about gossip and false allegations, telling pastors that they should teach congregants not to believe such things unless they saw them for themselves. Hyles had Biblical support for his approach:

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father … Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:1, 17-19)

Elders (pastors), according to the Apostle Paul, are to be considered worthy of double honor and revered as fathers are. Accusations leveled against pastors were to be rejected unless they could be confirmed by two or three eye-witnesses. Thus, if a woman says the pastor raped her, the church was to reject her allegations unless two or three people saw their pastor rape the woman. In other words, if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Since most church sex crimes involving pastors, youth directors, missionaries, deacons, church bus drivers, and Sunday school teachers take place in secret without others seeing the abominable behavior, this means, according to Jack Hyles, that allegations of sexual misconduct should be rejected out of hand. No eye witnesses? No crime. Welcome to the Jack Hyles Rule®.

This kind of thinking allowed Hyles and countless pastors trained and influenced by him to ignore criminal behavior within their churches or to excuse their own behavior. When confronted with allegations of sexual assault, Hyles influenced preachers to say, did you see this happen? Were you there? If the accuser said no, then the allegation was rejected out of hand. If the accuser said yes, then he or she would be asked, did anyone else see this happen? If the answer was no, then nothing more was done about the allegation. Thanks to the Jack Hyles Rule®, countless abusers and predators escaped punishment for their crimes, including Jack Hyles’ son David.

Hyles and other like-minded pastors groomed their churches to turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, adultery, and other criminal behavior. Remember, church, if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. Throw in sermons about pastoral authority (Hebrews 13:7), not touching men appointed by God to preach his words (Psalm 105:15), and bears eating people who slander pastors (2 Kings 2:23-24), it should come as no surprise, then, that congregants were fearful and hesitant about voicing accusations against their pastor and other church leaders.

Add to this the fact that many churches are secretive about sexual misconduct in their midst. Members are expected to trust church leaders, and if nothing is ever said about a matter, it’s because there was a good reason for not saying anything. I can’ tell you how many times I have heard through the grapevine that a pastor or some of other church leader has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, yet the powers that be refuse to publicly acknowledge the allegations or inform the church about how the matter is being dealt with. My wife’s parents have attended the same Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church for over forty years. When asked about what happened to so-and-so after he was accused of rape/sodomy/sexual assault, Polly’s parents tell us, we don’t know. Pastor never told us anything about this matter. He asked us to trust him and not talk about Brother So-and-So’s criminal behavior. So, they didn’t. And as long as good people such as they sit silently in the pews and do not demand full disclosure, sex crimes and illicit affairs will be swept under the rug.

Did your church or pastor promote/use the Jack Hyles Rule®? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Are you unfamiliar with Jack Hyles? Please read:

The Legacy of Jack Hyles

The Mesmerizing Appeal of Jack Hyles

The Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still Matters

Jack Hyles Gives Advice on How to Raise a Girl

Jack Hyles Teaches Parents How to Indoctrinate Their Baby

Jack Hyles Tells Unsubmissive Woman to Kill Herself

Jack Hyles Tells Christian Women it is All Up to Them

UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored

Serial Adulterer David Hyles Receives a Warm Longview Baptist Temple Welcome

Cindy Schaap, Daughter of Jack Hyles, Divorces Convicted Felon Jack Schaap

What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were Abuse (features letters and texts Jack Schaap sent to a minor girl in his church)

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Two

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Three Calvinist Peas in a Pod: Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

 

My first exposure to Calvinism came in 1988 when I began borrowing and listening to cassette sermon tapes from Chapel Library — a Calvinistic tape lending library and tract publisher in Pensacola, Florida. I had seen an ad for Chapel Library in a periodical I received, so I thought I would write to request a list of sermon tapes. Most of the preachers on the list were not familiar to me, but one name stood out: Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones, who died in 1981, was a well-known British Evangelical pastor. He was the pastor for many years of Westminster Chapel in London.

Along with a handful of Lloyd-Jones’ sermon tapes, I ordered tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a Southern Baptist evangelist. While I thoroughly enjoyed Lloyd-Jones’ sermons — and I would listen to dozens more of them over time — it was Barnard’s sermons that blew me away. Here was a Calvinist who preached with the fervor of an old-fashioned fire and brimstone evangelist. I had never heard Calvinistic preaching before listening to Lloyd-Jones and Barnard. I had been told that Calvinistic preachers were dried up prunes with little zeal, passion, or power. I was big fan of nineteenth century Calvinistic Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, but having only read his sermons, I had no idea how Spurgeon sounded. I assumed he preached with great authority and power, but since there are no recordings of his preaching, all anyone can do is assume how Spurgeon preached.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979.  Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was resolutely opposed to Calvinism. Ironically, one of the college’s men’s societies carried Spurgeon’s name. When questioned about having a society named after Charles Spurgeon, students were told that, yes, Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but God mightily used him in spite of his Calvinism. More than a few IFB preachers suggested that Spurgeon was not a “true” Calvinist; that his zeal for winning souls was inconsistent with his Calvinistic beliefs. I would later thoroughly study Spurgeon’s published sermons, and I determined, without question, that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was an Evangelical five-point Calvinist.

While Spurgeon was my favorite nineteenth century preacher, Rolfe Barnard quickly became my favorite modern-day preacher. Many of his recorded sermons were preached at Thirteenth Street Baptist Church in Asheville, Kentucky. For many years, Henry Mahan was the pastor of Thirteenth Street. I called Henry one day to see if he had contact information for Barnard. I wanted to have him come preach a meeting at our church. Henry told me, well brother, Brother Barnard died in 1969. (Henry and I would later develop a friendship. I visited Thirteenth Street several times, and Henry came to Ohio to preach a conference at the church I was pastoring.)

Here’s a sermon by Barnard that will give readers a good idea of his preaching style and sermon content:

Video Link

Barnard’s sermons made a deep, lasting impression on my life. As Barnard preached the Calvinistic gospel and spoke of God’s sovereignty and grace, I found myself emotionally stirred. I asked myself, why hadn’t I ever heard these “truths” before? Why hadn’t my college professors told me of these “truths?” In time, I came to believe that my mentors and professors had lied to me about the gospel, salvation, and God’s grace.

rolfe barnard

Barnard, then, opened the door for me to Evangelical Calvinism; and once the door was opened there was no going back. I began buying and reading books written by Calvinistic theologians and pastors — many of them from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Over time, I would buy almost one thousand theology books and Christian biographies. One time, a church teen walked into my study, looked at all my books, and said, preacher, have you read all these books? With great humble pride I replied, yes, every one of them. I was quite proud of my library, a common trait found among Calvinistic preachers. It was through these books and the preaching tapes from Chapel Library that Bruce Gerencser, a one-time IFB preacher, became an Evangelical Calvinist.

As newly minted Calvinists are wont to do, I made it my mission to convert my colleagues in the ministry to Calvinism. All my zeal accomplished was fractured relationships, including one man who got so mad at me — accusing me of being the keeper of the Book of Life — that he stomped out of a meeting we both were in, never to be in the same room with me again. Of course, I viewed his temper tantrum as him not being able to handle the “truth.”

I started a monthly newsletter titled, The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I mailed this newsletter to hundreds of IFB and Calvinistic preachers. The Calvinists loved my newsletter, including several IFB preachers who were closeted lovers of John Calvin. Some IFB preachers got so upset with me that they sent me angry letters, demanding that I take them off the newsletter mailing list.  This video clip from A Few Good Men pretty well says what I thought of these angry preachers:

Video Link

One preacher, my best friend at the time, was sympathetic to my Calvinistic views. Through hours-long theological discussions and reading books I loaned him, he embraced certain aspects of Calvinism (though he certainly would never have called himself a Calvinist). He would later pull back from Calvinism. One mutual acquaintance of ours told my friend, Bruce Gerencser almost ruined you with that Calvinistic stuff.

My theological transformation came at a time when the church I was pastoring was facing attendance decline due to the fact that we decided to stop operating our bus routes. I determined, then, with my new-found beliefs in hand, to do three things:

  • Try to un-save all the people who were saved through my preaching of the IFB gospel. I was convinced that many of the people who attended Somerset Baptist Church were “saved” but lost. If Rolfe Barnard was right about the true condition of many Baptist churches — filled with lost people — then it was my duty and obligation to expose the false IFB gospel and preach to them the true gospel. I found that it was a lot harder to un-save people than it was to lead them to salvation.
  • Teach the congregation the doctrines of grace (Calvinism), line by line, week after week. I abandoned preaching topical and textual sermons, choosing instead to exegetically preach through books of the Bible. For example, I preached over one hundred sermons from the gospel of John (my favorite gospel).
  • Start a tuition-free private Christian school for our church’s children. By doing so, I would not only teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic, but it would also allow me, through having students memorize the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and read biographies of Calvinistic missionaries and preachers, to indoctrinate them in the one “true” faith.

In the next post in this series, I will talk about how Pastor Bruce becoming a Calvinist materially affected the church I was pastoring and how it altered my personal relationships with my wife, children, and friends.

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.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part One

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner

Three Calvinist Peas in a Pod: Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

A regular reader of this blog asked if I would write about my move from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology to Evangelical Calvinism. While I have mentioned the fact of my move to Calvinism, I have never explained why I did so.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern was a small Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution started in the 1950s by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby megachurch Emmanuel Baptist Church, to train men for the ministry. While there were women enrolled for classes at Midwestern, seeking either to hook a preacher boy and become his wife or become a Christian school teacher, everything revolved around manufacturing new soldiers for the IFB war machine.

In a post titled, What is an IFB Church? I listed the following doctrinal distinctives:

  • 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
  • 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
  • Hierarchical authority (God, Jesus, church, pastor, husband, wife)
  • Autonomy and independence of the local church

While IFB churches and pastors are known for internecine wars over fine points of doctrine or whether certain behaviors are sinful, the aforementioned beliefs are nonnegotiable. Deny one or more of these doctrines and you will be labeled a compromiser or a heretic.

Some churches don’t use the IFB moniker due to its negative associations; but using the doctrines listed above as the standard, many Southern Baptist congregations would be considered IFB churches. The same could be said for General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregations. I should also add, in passing, that many Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Conservative Baptist, and Missionary Baptist churches have the same doctrinal markers as churches who proudly claim the IFB label. This means, then, that there are tens of millions of Americans who attend churches that hold to IFB theological beliefs, even if many of them refuse to label themselves as such.

Calvinism was considered heresy at Midwestern, and students found discussing Calvinism or promoting its tenets were expelled. My systematic theology teacher, Ronald Jones, made it clear that Calvinism was not to be discussed. Students weren’t taught anything about Calvinism, and most of them simply accepted the anathemas uttered by their teachers as fact. I know I did. Midwestern’s goal, then, was to reinforce the doctrines taught to students in their home churches. Rare were classroom discussions that veered from IFB orthodoxy. According to Tom Malone and the professors at Midwestern, there was One Lord (Jesus), one faith (IFB doctrine and practice), and one baptism (Baptist immersion). While these promoters of the one true faith grudgingly admitted it was possible for non-IFB  Christians to be True Christians®, most outsiders were considered religious, but lost (especially Catholics, who were considered the spawn of Satan).

Midwestern was also King James Only. Students were not allowed to use any Bible version but the 1769 revision of the King James Bible. Midwestern also promoted the belief that a certain Greek translation, commonly called the Textus Receptus, was the true Word of God in Greek, and all other translations, such as Wescott and Hort, were inferior and were not to be used in Midwestern’s Greek classes. One professor disobeyed this edict, introducing students to the wonderful world of textual variants. He was summarily fired, even though on every other point of theological and social Fundamentalism he was a true-blue Baptist Fundamentalist.

When I began pastoring IFB churches in 1979, I didn’t know one pastor who would have called himself a Calvinist. Today, Calvinism has made deep inroads in the IFB church movement, and in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In the SBC, Calvinistic pastors, led my men such as Al Mohler, are battling with non-Calvinistic pastors for the soul of the Convention.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Calvinism, here’s the TULIP acronym for the five points:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints (Preservation of the Saints)

Calvinists also hold to what is commonly called the Five Solas:

  • Sola Scriptura — By Scripture Alone
  • Sola Fide — By Faith Alone
  • Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone
  • Solus Christus — Through Christ Alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria — Glory to God Alone

Calvinism is a theological and philosophical system where each point builds upon the other. Remove any one point and the system collapses. As with any theological system, adherents endlessly debate the finer points of belief. There are numerous subsets of Calvinistic belief, each with peculiarities that set them apart from other Calvinists.

Calvinism is a complex theological system. I call it an intellectual’s wet dream. Calvinistic pastors line their bookshelves with wordy tomes written by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Puritans and nineteenth-century Calvinistic Baptists and Presbyterians. IFB pastors have dick measuring contests, with church attendance being the measure of success. Calvinists also have dick measuring contests, with library size being the definitive proof of a pastor’s prowess.

Many of the Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist pastors I knew were, at one time, IFB pastors. All that changed for them was their soteriology and, at times, their ecclesiology. The same social Fundamentalism found in IFB churches is often found in Evangelical churches of Calvinistic persuasion. For many years, I would drive once a month to a Calvinistic pastor’s meeting in Mansfield, Ohio. Most of the men in this group were former IFB pastors — GARBC, SBC, and unaffiliated Baptist churches.

One big difference between Calvinistic Baptist churches and IFB churches is how the congregations handle church discipline. Typically, in IFB churches errant members are, behind the scenes, “encouraged” to leave so they can find a new church to better meet their needs. If this approach doesn’t work, pastors use their sermons, complete with subtle prods, to run the offender off. I don’t know of an IFB church that actually practices church discipline as laid out in Matthew 18:15-18:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Calvinistic Evangelical churches, on the other hand, are much more likely to use church discipline to punish unrepentant members who run afoul of morality codes and conduct standards or disobey orders from their pastor/elders. Supposedly, the goal of church discipline is to effect restoration, but more often than not, it is used as Biblical cover for kicking people out of the church or shaming them into submission. One church I pastored, Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, used church discipline for all sorts of offenses, including not regularly attending Sunday worship services. Even when the church was notified that the absent member was attending a new church, because the member didn’t ask the church’s permission to leave the church, he or she was excommunicated. The threat of church discipline was used to quash disagreement and keep congregants in line. (I was excommunicated from this church myself. You can read about my time at Community in the series titled, I am a Publican and a Heathen.)

My first exposure to Calvinism came in 1988 when I began borrowing and listening to cassette sermon tapes from Chapel Library — a Calvinistic tape lending library and tract publisher in Pensacola, Florida. I suppose, all told, that I listened to several hundred tapes. Before returning them, I would make copies of the tapes so other people in my church could listen to them. A year or so later, I started CHARIS Tape Library — a lending library patterned after Chapel Library. Tapes were sent free of charge to anyone who requested them. The goal was to spread the good news of the Calvinistic gospel — also known as the TRUE gospel, the faith once delivered to the saints.

In part two of this series, I will share how these tapes were instrumental in my theological move from IFB theology to Evangelical Calvinism.

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.

How My Political and Social Beliefs Evolved Over the Years

john birch society

A recent letter writer asked:

Were you always socially liberal and progressive “on the inside” or did that develop after deconverting? For example, were you always pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and pro-transgender, and every time you read a bible verse got triggered, or did your social and political beliefs genuinely differ between being a Christian and being an atheist?

These are great questions. I believe the letter writer is asking if I always had liberal/progressive political and social beliefs or did these beliefs develop over time? I believe he is also asking if my political and social beliefs were different as a Christian from the beliefs I now have as an atheist? The best way to answer these questions is to share a condensed version of my life story.

In the early 1960s, my Dad packed up his family and moved from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California in search of riches and prosperity. While in California, my parents were saved at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. As members of Scott Memorial, Mom and Dad joined the right-wing, uber-nationalist John Birch Society. Mom, in particular, immersed herself in right-wing political ideology. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and would later actively support the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

As was common for people of their generation, my parents were racists. They believed Martin Luther King, Jr. was a despicable man, a Communist. Mom was an avid writer of letters to the editors of the newspapers wherever we happened to be living at the time. She considered Lieutenant William Calley — the man responsible for the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War — to be a war hero. She also thought that the unarmed Kent State students gunned down by Ohio National Guard soldiers got exactly what they deserved.

It should come as no surprise then, that their oldest son — yours truly — embraced their religious and political views. From the time I was in kindergarten until I entered college at age twenty-one, I lived in a right-wing, Fundamentalist monoculture. The churches I attended growing up only reinforced the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution founded in the 1950s by Tom Malone. While I don’t remember any “political” preaching, Biblical moral beliefs were frequently mentioned in classes and during chapel. I heard nothing that would challenge the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents and pastors. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired woman who would later become my wife. She had similar political and social beliefs, so from that perspective we were a perfect match.

All told, I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For many of these years, I was a flag-waving, homophobic, theocratic pro-lifer who believed Democrats, liberals, progressives, Catholics, mainline Christians, and a cast of thousands were tools used by Satan to attack and destroy Christian America. Over time, I theologically moved away from the IFB church movement and embraced Fundamentalist Calvinism. While my theology was evolving, my political and social beliefs remained the same — that is, until 1990.

In late 1990, American tanks, aircraft, and soldiers invaded Iraq, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths. I was appalled by the universal support Evangelicals gave to the Gulf War. I remember asking congregants if it bothered them that thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in their name. Not one of my colleagues in the ministry opposed the Gulf War. None of them seemed troubled by the bloodshed and carnage. Try as I might to see the Gulf War through the eyes of the Just War Theory, I couldn’t do so. It was at this point in life that I became a pacifist. I didn’t preach pacifism from the pulpit, but I did challenge church members to think “Biblically” about war and violence — “Biblically” meaning viewing the Gulf War and other wars through the eyes of Jesus and his teachings.

From this point forward, my political beliefs began to evolve. By the time of the Y2K scare, I had distanced myself from groups such as Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority, and the American Family Association. I thought, at the time, that these groups had become political hacks, shills for the Republican Party. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. In 2004, I vote for John Kerry; 2008 and 2012 I voted for Barack Obama; 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton, though I was a big Bernie Sanders supporter.

In 2005, I left the ministry, and in 2008 I left Christianity. At that time, my political and social beliefs were far removed from when I entered the ministry decades before. I began as a right-wing Republican and I left the ministry as a progressive. Embracing atheism, humanism, rationalism, and science has allowed me to challenge and rethink my beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex-marriage, LGBTQ people, sex, marriage, birth control, capital punishment, labor unions, environmentalism, and a host of other hot-button issues. As long as I was in the Evangelical bubble, these things remained unchallenged. Once the Bible lost its authority and control over me, I was then free to change my beliefs.

The Bruce Gerencser of 1983 would not recognize the Bruce Gerencser of today. A man who was a member of one of the churches I pastored in the 1980s and remained a friend of mine until 2009, told me that I had changed teams. And he’s right. My change of beliefs has been so radical that this man told me he could no longer be friends with me. Why? He found my atheism and political beliefs to be too unsettling.

I understand how the trajectory of my life, with its changing religious, political, and social beliefs, troubles people. I try to put myself in their shoes as they attempt to reconcile the Pastor Bruce they once knew with the atheist blogger I am today. How can these things be? former congregants, friends, and colleagues in the ministry want to know. How is it possible that Bruce Gerencser, one of the truest Christians they ever knew, is now an atheist? Some people think there’s some secret I am sitting on, some untold reason for my deconversion. No matter how much time I invest in explaining myself, many people still can’t wrap their minds around my current godlessness and liberal political beliefs. I’ve concluded that there is nothing I can do for them as long as they remain firmly ensconced in the Evangelical bubble.

My political and social beliefs are driven by the humanist ideal; that we humans should work together for the common good; that every person deserves peace, health, happiness, and economic security. I support political and social beliefs that promote these things and oppose those that don’t. I certainly haven’t arrived. My beliefs continue to evolve.

For readers not familiar with humanism, let me conclude this post with the Humanist Manifesto. Atheism doesn’t provide for me a moral foundation. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. It is humanism that provides me the foundation upon which to build my life:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

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.

Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes

calvin and hobbes tv 2

Last week, I wrote a post entitled, Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God? Today I want to deal with another catch-all Bible verse, Psalm 101:3:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Evangelical preachers love this catch-all verse because it allows them to demand of congregants abstinence from seeing and using things or having contact with people, churches, and ministries they have deemed “wicked.”  Whether something is wicked is determined by the pastor’s personal interpretations of the Bible, social, cultural, and religious experiences, and personal preferences. In other words, something is wicked because the pastor says it is, end of story. Since he is the man of God, the one chosen by Jesus to lead and teach the church, congregants are expected to believe and follow his “Biblical” pronouncements. If he says a certain behavior or inanimate item is wicked, then congregants are expected to nod their heads up and down and say, Amen brother, preach it!

Things labeled “wicked” are considered off-limits — Kryptonite to true Christians. Congregants, wanting to be obedient to God and his man, the pastor, bow — at least outwardly — to the subjective pronouncements of church leaders. Diversity of opinion and freedom are discouraged, if not outright forbidden. Congregants are expected to fall in line, obey, and follow Pastor Pied Piper. People who dare to think for themselves and publicly disagree with the man of God are told to either conform or leave. In some churches, non-conformity is viewed as rebellion against God’s established order. Erring congregants are brought before the church to be critiqued, judged, and disciplined. People are given two choices: excommunication or submission.

In 1994, I found myself, as the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, at odds with my fellow pastor, Pat Horner. (See I Am a Publican and a Heathen.) I disagreed with Horner — the founder of the church — on a number of issues, and due to the increasing hostility of our disagreements, I decided to resign from the church and move back to Ohio. Horner informed me that I couldn’t resign and that since the church decided whether I could be a member, it was up to them to decide whether or not I could resign. I, of course, refused to obey his pronouncements. I packed up my family and our meager belongings and returned to Ohio. As we were leaving, Horner had gathered congregants together for a disciplinary meeting. The subject? What to do about the Bruce Gerencser problem. I was deemed wicked and rebellious by Horner and his sycophants, and after the “facts” were presented, the church excommunicated their co-pastor. In their minds, my refusal to play by Horner’s rules was grounds for excommunication. To this day, the church continues to consider me a heathen. My current atheistic beliefs and lifestyle are proof to them that excommunicating me was the right thing to do. Polly and our six children were not excommunicated. Horner and the church decided that my family was under my satanic control, and should not be held accountable for my “sins.”

My excommunication is a good example of a pastor determining what is “wicked” and then demanding that congregants not set that wicked thing before their eyes; the wicked thing being a flesh-and-blood human being. This catch-all verse can be used to label people, inanimate objects, and behaviors “wicked.” Pastors, then, are able to bend and mold congregants to their wishes; that is, unless they have a rebellious member such as Bruce Gerencser. Then, church discipline is used to cut the offender from the church and put the fear of God into the hearts of congregants.

The churches I pastored, with one exception, didn’t excommunicate rebellious church members. Instead, I was the gatekeeper. I determined who stayed and who had to go. If I determined through much prayer and fasting — just kidding, my determinations were based on my personal opinions, beliefs and practices — that someone was no longer a good “fit,” I would encourage them to seek out a church that would better meet their needs.

Over the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I ran off a lot of good people whose only crime was that they disagreed with me on a matter of doctrine or practice. Instead of embracing differences of belief and practice, I demanded fealty to my beliefs, interpretations, and practices. For many years, I believed it was sinful to own and watch TV. In my mind, if there was ever a human invention that was wicked, it as the television. I am sure Polly and my children can remember our TV being unplugged and having a piece of paper taped over the screen that said, I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s some of what I had to say:

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.

….

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

I replayed the aforementioned battle over TV numerous times in my life. The object of my righteous anger changed, but the end result was the same: that which I deemed wicked had to go, and if congregants really, really, really loved Jesus, they would agree with me and excise from their lives that which the man of God labeled sinful. The goal was holiness, so who wouldn’t want to be as pure and holy as possible? Congregants would try to conform to my pronouncements, but for the most part all this did was turn their lives into a game. Church members lived one way at church or in my presence and another way when away from the Holy Spirit — AKA the Preacher or Pastor Bruce. Little did they know that I did the same. Try as I might to live out the teachings of the Bible and to strictly govern my life according to my interpretations of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, I failed too; not because of a lack of desire or commitment; but because I set for myself and others an impossible standard. I was human, as were the people I pastored. Much like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, Evangelicals have wants, needs, and desires. They do what they do because they are human. No matter how much Evangelicals preach, pray, and deny their humanity, in time their “flesh” wins.

And that’s okay. Life is meant to be lived, not denied. Evangelicals love to say, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. The humanist version, however, goes like this, only one life, twill soon be past, and then you’ll be dead. There’s no God, Jesus, church, or preacher to please. All that really matters is this present life. Love, laugh, and enjoy your brief existence on planet Earth. It’s the only one you’ll ever have. Each of us determines for ourselves how we want to live. As an atheist, I still have  certain “wicked” things I won’t set before my eyes; you know, things such as women with size 20 bodies in size 10 spandex, fat men like me parading around in public with no shirt, and Fox News. That’s about it. Each to his own, I say.

Did you grow up in a church where Psalm 103:1 was used to label things, people, and behavior wicked? Did your pastor demand congregants live according to his moralistic pronouncements? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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.

Gossip: The Things Preachers Say Behind Closed Doors

men gossip

Recently, Southern Baptist pastor Rick Patrick faced public outrage over comments he made in a private forum about women, sexual assault, and the #metoo movement. His words made it out into the wild, and Patrick was forced to apologize several times for his offensive statements. I am sure that Patrick thought his words would be protected, but as President Trump has learned, offensive words said in private often make their way to the Internet. Such is the nature of the digital age.

Evangelical pastors are noted for preaching sermons against gossip and crude speech. Growing up in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, I heard numerous sermons about gossip, off-color humor, swearing, and even the use of bywords. (See Christian Swear Words.) My pastors told me that Jesus heard everything I said, and that come judgment day, he would hold me accountable for my words. What these men of God didn’t tell me is that when they were behind closed doors with their colleagues in the ministry, they routinely failed to practice what they preached.

Years ago, I was a participant on a Reformed Baptist discussion group. The group was private and had pastors and elders in its membership. It was common for group members to talk — Greek for gossip — about problems in their churches or the difficulties they were having particular members. We talked about and said things that would have proved to be embarrassing had they been made public. This group, at that time, was the Reformed Baptist version of the Catholic confessional. What was said was considered sacrosanct.

One day, as I was searching the Internet, I came across the “private” discussions from the group. Evidently, a programming mistake had made the group’s posts public instead of private. Horrified, I immediately notified the group administrators, and they fixed the technical problem. I thought, at the time, if church members and non-group clerics ever saw what we said, why, there would be all sorts of outrage and calls for discipline. Fortunately, my find saved the group’s collective bacon.

I was a pastor for twenty-five years. During my teenage years and my years in the ministry, I attended numerous pastor’s fellowship and conferences. These events allowed men of God to hang out with their own kind, giving them opportunities to talk shop and air their grievances. Most of these events featured a meal, either at lunch or before the evening session. It was during these meals that pastors would gather in smaller groups and “talk.” I have heard and shared countless stories about church problems. The gathered pastors where expected to commiserate with gossipers, and, if warranted, offer advice.

Thanks to being in the ministry for so long, I had a lot of preacher friends, including a few men I considered BFF’s. I would often visit my friends at their church offices or we would arrange to meet somewhere for a meal. Without fail, our conversations would turn to this or that problem, this or that contrary member, or one of the never-ending problems facing IFB and Evangelical churches. These discussions were often chock-full of information disclosed in private counseling sessions by church members or things overheard on the grapevine. The thinking was that sharing private information with colleagues in the ministry was okay. Who’s going to know, right?

Of course, I would know, and when I would later be asked to preach at the churches of my friends, I would have thoughts of what they shared with me over lunch or at one of our fellowship/prayer times. One pastor friend kept a dossier on every church member he talked to. He had become the pastor of a church filled with conflict and strife. The previous pastor had been accused of sexual assault (he later left the church and pastored elsewhere) and his wife had been accused of dressing seductively. The deacons ran the pastor off, and in came my friend. As is often the case when young, inexperienced pastors — it was his first and only pastorate — take on troubled churches, they become sacrificial lambs. There was so much lying and deception going on that my friend decided to write reports of every conversation he had with church members. Much like James Comey did with his discussions with President Trump, my pastor friend kept intricate records of every conversation. He would share some of these conversation with me. This, of course, colored my view of these people. I knew many of them by name, so when I was in the presence of such-and-such person, I thought of what my friend had told me about them.

Another pastor told me about a conversation he had with an engaged couple. They wanted to know if having anal sex was a sin. They wanted to “save” themselves for marriage, so they thought having backdoor sex would be okay. No hymen was broken, so the woman would still be a “virgin” when she walked down the aisle. My pastor friend told them that they had to stop what they were doing; that anal sex was indeed a sin against God. My problem, of course, was every time I saw this couple (they never married) I thought of them having anal sex.

I could spend hours giving anecdotal stories about private things I heard and said when I was in the safe circle of my ministerial colleagues. Some of these men would come and preach for me, so I am sure they had the same thoughts I did. Oh, there’s the couple Bruce said hasn’t had sex in five years. Oh, there’s the man who confessed to having secret homosexual desires. Oh, there’s the teenager who got caught getting drunk and having sex in a motel room.

Christian church members should be aware of this fact: most pastors are gossips; most pastors are going to talk out of school; most pastors think sharing secrets with colleagues is all part of effectively “ministering” to others. Unlike professional counselors, pastors are not prohibited from repeating what was said behind closed doors. Many readers of this blog have likely heard sermons that made use of what was said to their pastors in private. Their pastor might not name names, but there’s no doubt about who’s the subject of his sermon/illustration. IFB preachers, in particular, are noted for preaching passive-aggressive sermons using information spoken to them in private. Smart, attentive congregants know when the pastor in his sermon is talking to or about them. Going through a tough time in your marriage and pondering divorce, and you talked to your pastor about your feelings? If, on the next Sunday, he preaches a thundering sermon on the sin of D-I-V-O-R-C-E, who do you think he is talking to? Pastors often use their pulpits as whipping posts, attacking rumors, allegations, and private conversations. In the pastor’s mind, God is “leading” him to share the truth. In fact, he is a gossip or rumormonger sharing things said in private.

I hope you will keep what I have written here in mind the next time you think about unburdening yourself to your pastor. Your troubles may be gossiped about, talked about among his ministerial colleagues, or turned into sermon illustrations come Sunday. While not all pastors have loose lips, many of them do, and since there is nothing that prohibits them from “sharing,” people should weigh carefully what they say to a pastor, understanding that he may not protect their privacy or he may consider shooting the breeze with his pastor friends as a safe way to share secrets and get advice about how best to handle problems. It is on this issue that the Roman Catholics are right. What’s said in the confessional is privileged. When I first started seeing a counselor, I asked him about how he treated our discussions. He told me they were privileged, and he would never divulge what I said to him (and when several of my children saw him, he never divulged to me what they said).

Did you ever have a pastor use what you said in private as fodder for a sermon, or did you find out later that he gossiped about you to his pastor friends or other church leaders? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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.