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Leaving the Evangelical Bubble and Entering the “World”

Man hiding in box

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (KJV, 1 John 2:15-17)

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (The MESSAGE, 1 John 2:15-17)

As an Evangelical for fifty years, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I believed saved people — those bought and redeemed by the blood of the virgin-born, sinless, crucified, and resurrected Son of God, Jesus — should (must) follow the teachings, commands, and laws of the Protestant Christian Bible. I was an all-in kind of believer. And I expected my wife, children, and the members of the churches I pastored to be all-in too.

The Bible condemns “lukewarm,” cultural Christianity. For example, Revelation 3:16-17 says:

I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless. (The MESSAGE)

According to 1 John, God commanded me to not love the “world,” neither the things that are in the “world.” In Evangelicalism, particularly the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, the “world” was anything contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Well, that’s not true. The “world” was anything contrary to your pastor’s interpretation of the Bible. As an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years, I defined for congregants what it meant to “not love the world” through my preaching, teaching, and lifestyle. While my preaching moderated on this subject over the years, I always believed that Christians were to stand with God, the Bible, and their church against Satan and the world.

I stood against the “world” in my preaching and way of life, as did Polly and our six children. We certainly were, at times, hypocrites, but we genuinely tried to live lives separate from the evil influences of the “world.” This way of life governed where we went, what we wore, who we associated with, what we read, and virtually every other aspect of our lives. That’s why we were in our late 40s before we drank alcohol for the first time. Polly was 45-years-old before she wore her first pair of pants. Outside of our two oldest children attending public school for two years, all of our children either attended a private Evangelical school or were homeschooled. Our three youngest children were homeschooled from kindergarten through grade 12. We didn’t own a TV for the first 20 years of our marriage, and even after we let Hellivision into our home, I fought numerous “spiritual” battles over whether we should have one. (Please see The Preacher and His TV.) The TV and Satan won. 🙂

Being teetotalers, we tried to avoid businesses that sold alcohol. This proved to be an exercise in futility. If you only want expensive goods and lousy food, shop and eat at places that don’t sell alcohol. We finally gave up, believing that God would protect us from infection by the “world” when we occasionally shopped or ate at worldly establishments.

Our lives were surrounded by God, Christians, the Bible, and the church. We lived in a bubble that insulated us from the “world.” I have had lifelong atheists (just today) tell me that Evangelical Christians are stupid, ignorant, and numerous other pejorative words (missing the fact that they were insulting me). I have had atheists tell me that there must have been something wrong with me for it to take 50 years for me to leave Christianity. What these atheists fail to understand is that many people are born into Evangelical families. They grow up in Evangelical homes, attend Evangelical churches every time the doors are open, attend Evangelical colleges, marry Evangelical spouses, and start the indoctrination and conditioning all over again with their children.

When you are in the Evangelical bubble, everything within makes perfect sense. It is only when you step outside of the bubble that you see how insane many of the things within the bubble actually are. (Please see What I Found When I Left the Box and The Danger of Being in a Box and Why It Makes Sense When you Are in It.) Is it any wonder that many ex-Evangelicals require years of therapy to come to terms with and overcome the indoctrination and conditioning of their past? Worse yet, people who leave the “one true faith” often lose many, if not all, of their friends and experience fractured relationships with their parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended family. For lifelong Evangelicals, deconverting is an excruciating, painful process.

One of the things I had to learn on my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism (please see From Evangelicalism to Atheism Series) was that the “world” was not the problem I thought it was. I had been told a lie, and I repeated that lie over and over to the people I pastored. My life, and that of my family, was wrapped up in a lie — that the “world” was inherently wicked/evil/sinful and must be avoided at all costs.

Polly and I left Christianity in November 2008. We gathered our children together and told them of our decision, that they were free to choose their own paths. Then, in early 2009, I sent out a letter to hundreds of people titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.

I wrote (edited for grammar, spelling, and readability on July 29, 2021):

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn-out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist, Evangelical, and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion, and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in and led thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement. But, as I have come to see, the church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth. (Please see It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair.)

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life, and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now think are vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime. The knowledge gained from my reading and studies has led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of Evangelical, Fundamentalist Christianity. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, nor do I accept as true the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. As a result, I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did, and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. Likewise, I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for many reasons, and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest or desire to attend any church regularly. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this, I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have, it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me, “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this . . . I believe God is . . . and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with my Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian. She is not trained in theology as I am. (She loves to read fiction.) Nevertheless, I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and several others. She found the books to be quite an eye-opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church, she is free to do so and even has my blessing. But, for now, she doesn’t. She may never believe as I do, but in my new way of thinking, that is okay. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Answering in the affirmative to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years, I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, not the destination, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey, and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners, I apologize to you if my changing beliefs have unsettled you or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is this: what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father-in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

Here is what I don’t want from you:

Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. So what do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?

Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace, or strength from your prayers. So be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave your prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.

Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.

Invitations to attend your church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend church for the sake of family, but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a church if I am so inclined: after all, I have visited more than 125 churches since 2002. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.

Threats about judgment and Hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me.

Phone calls. If you are my friend, you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you: I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship or familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs, and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you cannot be my friend anymore. I even understand you may have to denounce me publicly and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together, and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

— end of letter —

Thoughtful readers will see and feel my pain and anguish in this letter. The David Tees of the world will see more reasons to criticize me and condemn me to the flames of Hell. To the former I say, thank you for listening and walking along with me on my journey. To the latter? Read my mind 🙂

As I reentered the world, I lost all of my friends, save two. All of my former colleagues in the ministry wrote me off. My best friend wrote me several scathing emails, never inquiring about how I was doing or how my family was doing. (In retrospect, I grossly underestimated how our deconversion would affect our children.) I received letters and emails from angry or confused former parishioners. (Please see the Letters section on the WHY? page.) I even had a former church member and Christian Union pastor drive from southeast Ohio to my home in the hope of convincing me of the error of my way. (Please see Dear Friend.) Our 25-year friendship ended that day.

Even though I worked secular jobs while pastoring, I was ill-prepared to totally immerse myself into the wild, wooly world. The world can be a dangerous place, especially for naive sheep turned goats. I had to learn how to navigate an environment that was foreign to me. I had to determine what it was I really believed about, well, everything. After fifty years of governing my life by the teachings of the Bible, I was left with the task of developing a moral and ethical framework for my life — a work that continues to this day.

In many ways, life was easier in my Christian days. The Bible was God’s divine blueprint and rulebook for my life and that of my family. God said it, and that settled it! No need to think, reason, or wrestle, — just believe and obey. Life is so different now. There’s no blueprint or rulebook to follow. I am on my own, and armed with skepticism, reason, and common sense I chart a new course for my life. I have made a lot of mistakes post-Jesus. However, each day is another opportunity for me to be a better “worldly” humanist.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

An Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Hate List

love not the world

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The Bible says in 1 John 2:15,16

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB) are taught to be anti-cultural — to hate the world. For all their talk about salvation by grace, IFB preachers preach a works gospel. If church members don’t obey the Bible – specifically the pastor’s interpretation and application of the Bible – they are considered rebellious, out of the will of God, backslidden or WORLDLY.

bought-by-the-blood, sanctified, sold-out, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost, King-James-Bible-carrying Independent Baptist shuns the world. Instead, he embraces an alternative world, also known as the church family. Being a good member of the church family requires conformity to the pastor’s (I mean God’s) dictates. If the pastor hates something, you better hate it. After all, the Bible tells Christians that they should love what God loves and hate what God hates. Funny how people mistake the pastor for God.

What follows is a list of things I told church members they should hate. This list evolved over time, hitting its peak in the early 1990s and it slowly shrank after that. I find this list quite embarrassing, but it is what it is.

  1. Roman Catholics
  2. Charismatics
  3. Pentecostals
  4. Arminians
  5. Calvinists
  6. Denominational Baptists
  7. MTV
  8. Television
  9. HBO
  10. Secular radio
  11. Contemporary Christian music
  12. Christian TV
  13. Pagan holidays
  14. Rock and Roll music
  15. Country Music
  16. Long hair on men
  17. Short skirts on women
  18. Pants on women
  19. Shorts on women
  20. Smoking
  21. Alcohol
  22. Hollywood
  23. Atheism
  24. Secularism
  25. Humanism
  26. Pluralism
  27. Socialism
  28. Communism
  29. Liberals
  30. Progressives
  31. Democrats
  32. Bill Clinton
  33. Liberal Christian colleges
  34. Female preachers
  35. Effeminate male preachers
  36. Effeminate men
  37. Hen-pecked men
  38. Haughty women
  39. Psychiatry
  40. Church members who disagree with the pastor
  41. Premarital sex
  42. Extramarital sex
  43. Abortion
  44. Christmas
  45. Halloween
  46. Easter Bunny
  47. World Council of Churches
  48. National Association of Evangelicals
  49. Billy Graham
  50. NIV, NASB, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NLT
  51. The Living Bible
  52. Dancing
  53. Card Playing

The number one hate for the Independent Baptist? Self!

The Bible says IFB believers are to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus. Human beings, according to the Bible, are wicked, vile, evil, depraved sinners. We deserve having the wrath of God poured out on our heads. We deserve judgment and Hell.

Jesus, the eternal, sinless son of God, came to earth, died on the cross, and rose again from the dead three days later, so we could have our sins forgiven and go to Heaven when we die. Once God saves us, we are to spend the rest of our life groveling before a thrice-Holy God, praising him for delivering us from our wickedness and the world.

Every week, IFB believers go to their churches and listen to their pastors and teachers tell them more things they need to do, more works they need to perform, more laws they need to obey. Do this, do that. If you really, really love Jesus you will______________, their preacher says.

Loud sermons. Pulpit pounding. All for dramatic effect. It’s as if God is trying to pound the preacher’s words into their heads. Evidently the Holy Spirit works better if the preacher yells and is theatrical.

Is it any wonder that people raised in such an environment have low self-esteem? Many IFB preachers even preach AGAINST having self-esteem. Church members are taught to hate self so God can get all the glory. We wouldn’t want humans taking credit for anything, right? Well, there’s one thing church members can take credit for. Any good that happens — God gets all the credit. If bad things happen or someone screws up, it is all on IFB church members. God ain’t taking any credit for the bad shit.

I have spent the last twelve years trying to find myself. The flesh and blood Bruce Gerencser who spent a lifetime in the Evangelical church is dead. My being, my self-worth, was swallowed up by God, the church, and the ministry. My life was defined by the call of God. Nothing else mattered.

I left the ministry and told God to take a hike. At the time of our divorce, God and I were not on speaking terms. God owes me some money, but he refuses to pay up. All I asked for was some of the treasure I had in laid up in Heaven. Since I am going to Hell when I die, I thought it would be nice to have the treasure now so I could get some good use out of it.

Bit by bit I am finding out who I really am. It is not always pretty, but it is honest and authentic. Some people don’t like the new Bruce Gerencser. They want the old Bruce back. They still cling to the hope that my apostasy is just a phase, and that I will come back and be a better than ever pastor. What a testimony I could have, right? I could milk the “From Preacher to Atheist to Preacher” story for all its worth.

There is no going back. The Apostle Paul taught me to run the race that is before me, and that is what I am doing. The longer I run, the more distant Christianity appears behind me. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I DO know what lies behind, and I have no desire to return to the leeks (onions) and bondage of Egypt.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Us vs. Them World of Fundamentalist Christianity

us vs them

Recently, my friend Bob Felton wrote:

Certainly, I do not mean to relieve Christian cultists of their moral responsibility for their sometimes very bad behavior. It does bear mention, however, that those who are raised in this nonsense live in an environment where cult ethics are the norm — and the New Testament affirmatively does cultivate cult ethics (see Matthew 12:46-50 for a famous example). Such people are reared with an Us (People of God) vs. Them (the wicked, wicked, world) worldview. They are incapable of seeing themselves as skeptics see them, and very often do sincerely believe their bad behavior pleases an Invisible Friend.

Maybe Bruce could weigh-in and let us know what he taught on this subject when he was preaching?

I was raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I made a public profession of faith and was baptized as a fifteen-year-old boy at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Several weeks later, I announced to the church that God was calling me to preach. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:20:

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Four years later, I left Bryan Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll in classes at Midwestern Baptist College. While there, I met and married the daughter of IFB preacher and Midwestern grad Lee Shope. In the spring of 1979, Polly and I left Midwestern and moved to Bryan, the home of my birth. A few weeks later, I was asked to be the assistant pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church — a fast-growing General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation. Thus began my official entrance into the ministry. The next twenty-five years would take us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. While my theology and practice would evolve over the course of my ministerial careers, how I viewed the “world” and its opposition to Evangelicalism remained constant. While it is certainly true that I was far more ecumenical at the end of my career than at the start, my opinion of the “world” remained the same.

From start to finish, I believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God. Yes, my view on Bible inerrancy and infallibility evolved over the years, but I always believed that the Bible was a supernatural book; a book different and above all other books. Thus, I took seriously the teachings of the Bible.

In 1 John 2: 15-17, the Bible says:

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

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 states:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Ephesians 5:11 says:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

As a Bible-believing man of God, I found these verses clear: Christians were to separate themselves from the world, and avoid contact with unbelievers. This Us vs.Them view of the world theme runs throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. In the Old Testament, God picked Israelis (Jews) as his chosen people. They were commanded to separate themselves from the heathen nations of the world. God even commanded the Israelites to murder nearby worshippers of false Gods so that they wouldn’t influence and infect God’s chosen ones. Even in the book of Revelation, we find God winnowing the Us from the Them. Separation, then, from the world, has always been God’s standard of conduct for those who worship him. How this separation is practiced varies from sect to sect, church to church, and Christian to Christian.

I taught congregants that they were to separate themselves from the world as much as they could. It would be impossible to totally separate one’s self from the world, but interaction with the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world should be limited to necessary acts of commerce. And even here, Christians should seek to distance themselves from the taint of the world. I remember a time when I tried to find a grocery store that didn’t sell alcohol. I found one store, a Mennonite-owned store in Muskingum County. Things were horribly expensive, and the store carried a limited supply of goods. After a few weeks of shopping there, I gave up and went back to the “world.” Notice that I use the “I” pronoun, and not “we.” This was back in our patriarchal days. I was the head of the household. Deciding where we shopped was up to me, not Polly. How “separated” Polly wanted to be didn’t matter. She was going to be as separated from the world as I was — at least outwardly.

Separation from the world affected every aspect of our lives, from the clothes we wore to where we went for entertainment. It was not uncommon for me to ask, “what would Jesus say or think if we went here or did this or that?” WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) deeply influenced my thinking, decision making, and preaching. “Would Jesus go here?” “Would Jesus associate with this person?” This kind of thinking fueled my Us vs. Them mentality. I frequently preached sermons on separation and holiness; how True Christians® separate themselves from the world and abstain from the very appearance of evil. Evil, of course, being any behavior deemed sinful by one Rev. Bruce D. Gerencser, man of God. Years ago, I attended a Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship Meeting for preachers in Columbus. Such meetings were times for likeminded preachers to get together and gossip, break bread, and listen to preaching. One preacher preached from Ephesians 4:27: “Neither give place to the Devil.” After reading his proof text, this man spent the next 40 or so minutes listing every behavior he deemed “giving place to the Devil.” He hit all the big sins, getting raucous AMENS from many of the preachers in attendance. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, An Independent Baptist Hate List. I listed some of the people and things IFB preachers hate:

  • Roman Catholics
  • Charismatics
  • Pentecostals
  • Arminians
  • Calvinists
  • Denominational Baptists
  • MTV
  • Television
  • HBO
  • Secular radio
  • Contemporary Christian music
  • Christian TV
  • Pagan holidays
  • Rock and Roll music
  • Long hair on men
  • Short skirts on women
  • Pants on women
  • Shorts on women
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Hollywood
  • Atheism
  • Secularism
  • Humanism
  • Pluralism
  • Socialism
  • Communism
  • Liberals
  • Progressives
  • Democrats
  • Bill Clinton
  • Liberal Christian colleges
  • Female preachers
  • Effeminate male preachers
  • Effeminate men
  • Hen-pecked men
  • Haughty women
  • Church members who disagree with the pastor
  • Premarital sex
  • Extramarital sex
  • Christmas
  • World Council of Churches
  • National Association of Evangelicals
  • Billy Graham
  • NIV
  • The Living Bible
  • Dancing
  • Card Playing

This list is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the people and things hated by Fundamentalist Christians. The goal of all this “hating” is to create a vast space between Us and Them; between the saved and the lost; between True Christians® and Christians in name only. While certainly many Fundamentalists just go along with the rules to fit in, many of them are really true believers. I know I was. James 1:27 described “pure religion” this way:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Want to have “pure religion” and be undefiled before God? Keep yourself unspotted from the world. Unspotted means unblemished, irreproachable, unsullied, free from vice. A sure way to accomplish this is to stay away from the “world.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 commands Christians to be holy in all manners of “conversation” (lifestyle). Why? Because as God is holy, we should be also. How many Christians do you know who keep themselves unspotted from the world; who are holy in all manners of conversation? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The answer is NONE. No matter how hard Fundamentalists try to keep a clear, distinct difference between Us. and Them, they generally have the same wants, needs, and desires as unbelievers. Certainly, Christian Fundamentalists try their damnedest to be and stay “right with God,” but the fact remains that they sin, according to the Bible, in thought, word, and deed. No matter how hard they try to distance themselves from the “world,” the world and its wonders creep in.

butch-hartman-midway-speedway
Late Model driver Butch Hartman, 1980s, Midway Speedway, Crooksville, Ohio

While I became more liberal and progressive in the latter years of my ministerial career, I don’t know that I ever shook Us vs. Them thinking. I did, in retrospect, conclude that I was quite the hypocrite. I would stand behind the pulpit on Sundays and preach against the world, calling on congregants to separate themselves from evil works of darkness. But on Saturday, I would load my family into our car and drive to a nearby dirt race track so we could watch the races. If there was ever place that the “world” and its vices were on full display, it was the race track. Yet, Pastor Bruce, his dress-wearing wife, and their children attended races at tracks such as RR Speedway, Midway Speedway, KC Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. Sometimes, we would attend races on Friday and Saturday night. One Saturday, we attended a big S.T.A.R.S. race at Midway. All the big-name dirt track racers would be there. Unfortunately, it rained, and the race was postponed to the next day, Sunday. “What I am going to do?” I thought at the time. The “right” thing to go was to go to church just like we did EVERY Sunday night. But creative Bruce schemed a way to do both. Rather than preach Sunday night, I, instead, planned for us to have a “special” communion service after our afternoon church meal. By doing this, we were able to make it to the races on time. I battled guilt for a bit, but once I smelled wafts of racing fuel and heard the thundering noise of late model race cars, my mind quickly turned to racing. And boy, what a night of racing it was, as my older sons can attest.

I am sure by telling this story, and others I have told over the years, that my critics see evidence that I was never a True Christian®. However, on balance, I really tried to keep myself unspotted from the world. I really tried my best to avoid contact with unbelievers outside of commerce and evangelization. But try as I might, the world, the wild, wonderful world, sometimes called out to me, and more often than not, I gave in and indulged my so-called “fleshly” desires.

We left Christianity in 2008, which afforded my wife and me the freedom to live in the “world” without feeling sinful or guilty. We do what we want to, no regrets. While Us vs. Them can still affect my thinking, especially when it comes to politics, I try my best to be “worldly.” I missed out on a lot of life during the first fifty years of my life. No longer. It’s wonderful to have the freedom to do whatever you want, with no thought of what God (or others) might say. I only wish I had the young, healthy body that I had in my preaching days. Some race tracks have what are called “run what you brung” races. No rules, just race the car you pull off your trailer. That’s life for me these days. My life may be a banged-up street stock on its last leg, but I intend to race it as hard and as fast as I can until I reach the finish line.

How about you? Were you taught to view the “world” as Us vs. Them? Did your church or pastor preach against the world? What behaviors were considered “worldly?” Were you a hypocrite? Did you try to abstain from the appearance of evil, but fail to do so? Please share your stories in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Replacement Doctrine: How Evangelicals Attempt to Co-opt the “World”

evangelical-ghetto
The Wall around Vatican City, similar to the wall around the Christian Ghetto

Many Evangelicals see a clear dichotomy between the spiritual and the non-spiritual world. The spiritual world is where the Christian God rules and reigns. This world is dominated by Christianity and its God, Bible, and standard of morality and ethics. The non-spiritual world is one where Satan is king. The Bible says that Satan is the God of this world, the prince and power of the air. According to the book of 1 Peter, Satan walks about the earth as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. While Satan certainly is not equal in power or authority to God — after all he’s a created being — he can display near God-like powers such as causing death, sickness, and all sorts of catastrophes. Just as God the Holy Spirit does with Christians, Satan can invade non-Christian minds and bodies, taking up residence and controlling them.

Evangelicals believe that God and Satan, both on earth and in an unseen spiritual dimension, are locked in a battle for the souls of humanity. Satan wants to take as many souls to hell as he can, so Christians feel they are duty-bound to do all they can to make sure that as few people as possible end up in the Lake of Fire. They also believe that Satan, despite Christians being indwelt by the Spirit of God, can influence and, at times, control followers of Jesus. While Satan cannot take away their salvation, he can, through trial and temptation, keep them from being the kind of Christians they should be — people who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. Such Satan-influenced Christians are often called carnal or worldly believers. Often these weaklings in the faith are called baby Christians. This terminology came up recently in public discussions about “Christian” Donald Trump’s abhorrent, vile behavior towards women. Desperately wanting to believe that the Republican candidate is God’s chosen leader for America, some Evangelical talking heads have suggested that Trump is a “baby” Christian. By labeling Trump this way, they dismiss virtually all of his narcissistic, psychopathic behavior.

Evangelical churches, pastors, and parachurch leaders, realizing that the overwhelming majority of American Christians are behaviorally no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, have decided that the best way to counteract and repel Satan and his atheistic, secularist followers is to build some sort of alternate reality, one that I often call the Christian ghetto. The goal is to wall off Christians, as much as possible, from the world. They do this by replacing the “things” of the world with Christianized versions. The Bible says in 1 John 2:15-17:

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

Knowing God’s view of the world while at the same time understanding that Christians are, after all, h-u-m-a-n, Evangelical leaders have developed programs and activities that allow Christians to feel that they are part of the human race without being tainted by worldliness. Every day, millions of Evangelicals, forced to work secular jobs, go out into the world and endure rubbing shoulders with the followers of Satan. They do all they can to put in a good word for Jesus through witnessing, handing out tracts, writing Jesus loves you on bathroom stalls, and decorating their cubicles with religious kitsch. When lunchtime comes, these light-in-darkness followers of Jesus will quietly bow their heads and offer up a prayer of thanks for the lunch. They will also likely ask God for strength to help them get through the day as they come in contact with “sinners.” Come 5 o’clock, these world-weary Christians file out to their cars, turn on the local Christian radio station or stream their favorite contemporary Christian artists to their car’s entertainment system, and head for home. Once home, they immerse themselves in the Evangelical replacement culture. Whether in their car, at home, or at church, Evangelicals do all they can to cleanse their minds and hearts from what they perceive to be the filth of the world. Many of them will offer up prayers of not only thankfulness, but of repentance, telling God they are sorry that they allowed the “world” to influence their behavior.

Evangelical churches and parachurch groups have spent the past seven decades building a Trump-worthy wall around the Christian ghetto. On Sundays, the front gate is opened so unsaved people — often viewed as Wildlings (Free Folk) in the Game of Thrones — can attend their services, hoping that the sinners will get saved. The rest of the time, the gate is shut, opened only when its inhabitants go out into the world to scavenge for food and earn money to pay their ties and offerings.

Inside the Christian ghetto is found a plethora of worldly things that have been Christianized. Today is Halloween, and many Evangelicals, not wanting to support Satanism and witchcraft, instead turn to Halloween-like parties and events that have been sanitized for Christian use. Children wear Bible character costumes instead of dressing up as witches, fairies, or Walking Dead characters. Some churches use Halloween as an opportunity to evangelize those who live outside the ghetto. These churches sponsor what are commonly called Hell houses. One such event was scheduled to be held at the Chicago public school, that is until school officials found out that the event included a re-creation of the Pulse nightclub shootings. The goal is to scare the hell out of people, and lead them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. As is often the case, Evangelicals are quite willing to use the world to further their agenda. The Catholic church wrote the playbook for this when it, centuries ago, co-opted pagan and secular holidays and turned them into religious holidays.

Most of the time, however, Evangelicals are content to live safely behind the walls of the Christian ghetto, reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, surfing Christian websites and blogs, and attending a plethora of services and activities meant to make fat sheep fatter. Evangelical pastors, churches, and parachurch leaders, know that most Christians want what the world has to offer. We humans want what we want, right? Despite everything the Bible says about the world and avoiding its soul-damaging influence, most Evangelicals want to enjoy all that life has to offer. While some Evangelical sects choose to develop rigid lists of rules that dictate what behaviors are permissible, other sects choose to allow congregants “freedom” to enjoy life, but only within the context of the Christian ghetto. Evangelical preachers will preach against rock music and secular musicians, encouraging church members to listen to contemporary Christian music or Christian rock. They also encourage members to listen to local Christian radio stations instead of tuning into classic rock or top 40 stations. The recent explosion of praise and worship bands onto the church scene allows pastors and church leaders to use rock ‘n’ roll music during worship services. Churches now have full-blown bands that almost rival Satan’s bands. I say almost, because, as anyone who has ever lived in the Christian ghetto knows, rarely are Christianized replacements as good as those which are found in the world. Sadly, much of the entertainment-driven worship found in many evangelical churches is a cheap imitation.

When presented with a choice between the real thing and a cheap imitation, many Evangelicals choose both, negating the purpose and reason for the Christian alternative. Fact is, despite an endless stream of Christianized entertainments, Evangelicals still love the world. DirecTV provides all sorts of Christian and “family” oriented channels and programming, and I am sure that cable TV does the same. Despite having a treasure trove of Christian programming at their disposal, Evangelicals still watch “worldly” programming, and are quite capable of having intelligent conversations about shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. The same Evangelicals listen to Christian music, but when pastors or fellow Christians are not around, they flip the channel to local classic radio stations and sing along to songs by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to give up on the replacement doctrine. It simply does not work. Evangelical parents can homeschool their children or send them to Christian schools for 13 years, hoping to shelter their offspring from Satan and his humanistic, secularist, immoral ways, but sooner or later these same children will have to go out into the world without mommy and daddy protecting them. And once out in the world these lambs become easy prey for those who really do want to hurt them. Or, as many of us can testify, once free from the constraints of Evangelical parents and churches, young adults will throw themselves headlong into “worldly” wants, pleasures, and desires, often making a big mess in the process. The solution is not to build higher walls around the ghetto, but instead to teach children how to navigate a world filled with things that could harm them. Instead of giving them long lists of things to avoid, children would be better served if they were taught to think for themselves. Instead of telling Evangelical teenagers that drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital sex are sins, perhaps it is better to teach them how to make responsible decisions when confronted with opportunities to engage in these behaviors. Of course, part of this training would mean teaching them a situational or relativistic view of human conduct, and therein lies the problem. Evangelicals are wed to the notion that the Bible is some sort of divine road map for life, and its directions must be followed at all times. Because of this, Evangelical girls end up pregnant and boys end up infected with sexually-transmitted diseases. No need to teach them to handle their sexuality responsibly, because God says it’s a sin and that is all they need to know. Well, God says lots of things are sins, yet from my seat in the pew it seems that most Evangelicals are not paying attention. Try as they might to play by the rules, Evangelicals need, want, and desire that which a bunch of Bronze-Age and First-Century men say they can’t have. Freedom awaits those who dare to consider leaving the Christian ghetto. The first step towards freedom is relegating the Bible to the dustbin of human history. Once free of the Bible, people can then embrace their humanity without fearing God or Satan is going to get them.

Did your parents practice the replacement doctrine? Did you as a Christian parent do so? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser