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Tag: Midwestern Baptist College

How Evangelical Conditioning and Indoctrination Influences Revivals

asbury revival

I religiously follow a number of Evangelical blogs and news sites. Of late, there has been a lot of talk on these sites about the Asbury University Revival® and the subject of “revival” in general. Even non-Christian sites have published articles and opinion pieces about Asbury and revival. While it would be tempting to say that all this coverage is a sign that something important is going on, I suspect it is more likely that the coverage is more car-wreck interest than honest reporting on an alleged supernatural move of God among primarily Evangelical college students. With the recent release of Jesus Revolution, a movie that details the alleged grassroots revival among hippies and college students in the 1970s, some are suggesting that the current revival is the grandchild of the 1970s Jesus People revival.

As an atheist, I reject the notion that what is going on at Asbury, other Christian colleges, and even some state schools, is a supernatural work of God. Suggesting this idea is true is is a claim that cannot be verified. It is, at best, a faith claim, and when it comes to matters of faith, no empirical evidence will be forthcoming. I can suggest, however, what is fueling the revival and why some college students are so receptive to its messages and methodologies.

Every generation of young adults faces challenges and struggles as they attempt to find their place in society. I came of age in the 1970s. I remember the struggles I had trying to make my way in life, especially when Polly and I married and we had our first child. I had wants, needs, and desires, and these often conflicted with societal demands and expectations. Every generation goes through these struggles, but the struggles of present young adults seem to be unprecedented in some regards.

The United States is increasingly becoming a secular people, while at the same time Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Mormons, Trumpists, and one of our major political parties wage what they believe is a “holy” war against secularism, liberalism, abortion, LGBTQ rights, and a host of other red meat issues. The latest culture war has now reached a fever pitch. We now have states and local governments banning books, outlawing clothing, criminalizing abortion, banning instruction on race, interjecting Evangelical Christianity into schools and government institutions, and attacking, condemning, and even banning certain behavior between consenting adults. In Florida and Texas, in particular, we see firsthand what happens Evangelicals gain the power of the state. Governor Ron DeSantis is a proud fascist, a man who has every intention of turning Florida into a Christian theocracy. My God, he is waging war against Mickey Mouse! Donald Trump is a buffoon and an idiot. DeSantis, on the other hand, is one of the most dangerous politicians in America.

Caught in the middle of this culture war that is largely fueled and promoted by their parents and grandparents, are millions of young adults. Generally more liberal and progressive than their parents, many young adults are worried about their future prospects. Throw in worries about climate change, health care, job security, student loan debt, inflation, and increased costs for housing and transportation, and young adults have a lot on their proverbial plates. Their angst over these things has led to increased substance abuse and mental health issues. These things make them more vulnerable to people, institutions, and movements who tell them that they have THE answer to their angst, and that answer is JESUS.

Young adults raised in Evangelical churches are taught that the Bible has all the answers to life’s questions and Jesus is all one needs to have a successful, fulfilled life. He is the cure for whatever ails you. Sunday after Sunday, youth meeting after youth meeting, this thinking is drilled into their heads. Not taught rational inquiry and skepticism, young adults are indoctrinated and conditioned in ways that promote certainty, conformity, and compliance. Everything they know about the bad, evil, sinful world they learned at church.

As long as young adults stay in the Evangelical box, all is well. Everything makes “sense.” Everything is internally consistent. However, there comes a day when young adults must leave the boxed-in walls of safety provided to them for eighteen to twenty years by their parents, pastors, and church families. Many of these young adults were either homeschooled or attended private Christian schools; places where the theological beliefs and practices of their parents and pastors are repeatedly reinforced. Some of these young adults graduate and enroll in classes at a Christian university or college. Again, the goal of these post-secondary institutions is to reinforce what students have already been taught; to keep them in church, and educate the next generation of culture warriors.

What happens, however, is that once young adults arrive at their next stop in the Evangelical indoctrination program, they find that they are free from the control of their parents, pastors, and churches. Young, full-of-life adults, with raging hormones and desires, find themselves in circumstances where they can imbibe in the things of the world; the world that their parents and preachers taught them was evil. And so they enjoy life, that is until preachers at chapel, professors, and parachurch ministry leaders on campus make them feel guilty over their newfound freedom.

These gatekeepers try to get these young adults to return to the safety of the Evangelical box. The goal is to keep young adults from wandering in the world and enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. One way they use is “revival.” Evangelical young adults feel guilty over their “sins.” How could they not? They have spent their entire young lives being beaten over the head with the “sin stick.” They carry in their minds long lists of prohibited behaviors. Yet, try as they might to behave otherwise, they love and enjoy participating in “worldly,” verboten conduct. In their minds they sing Debby Boone’s seminal hit, You Light Up My life: it can’t be wrong when it feels so right.

My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. Midwestern had strict rules governing student conduct, much like the churches we came from. Yet, we had freedom, albeit a guilty one. The rules forbade personal physical contact with the opposite sex. Most dating students, however, broke this rule. Some even engaged in premarital sex. Why? I know for Polly and me personally, the thrill of intimate physical contact far outweighed the threat of punishment for breaking Midwestern’s puritanical rules. The fear of getting caught and expelled only added to the thrill of the stolen kiss and other physical contact. You know, like the thrill of hotel sex or a moonlight romp on the beach. Yes, there were times when we talked about stopping our necking and rule-breaking. Sermons at church and daily chapel services made us feel guilty about our “sin.” What was normal human behavior had been deemed sinful and evil. When we would become overwhelmed with guilt, we would repent and promise God that we would not touch each other until our wedding day. Of course, the next date and the proximity to each other put an end to the promise we made to God. The road to Baptist Hell is paved with good intentions. When Polly was close by, God was no match for her beauty and charm.

I suspect what is going on among students at Asbury University and other Christian institutions of higher learning is angst about their place in an ever-changing, unsettled world and guilt over not measuring up to the moral standards of their parents, pastors, and church congregations. Into their uneasiness and inner turmoil come preachers armed with Bible verses, well-crafted sermons, and heart-wrenching illustrations, along with emotionally charged praise and worship music. These things tap into the students’ lifelong conditioning and indoctrination, giving birth to what Evangelicals are calling “revival.”

While the spiritual renewal is real and sincere (I, myself, have experienced revival numerous times as an Evangelical Christian and pastor), I suspect students will, in time, learn that revival is like a bath. Good at the time, but it doesn’t last. Once the thrill of revival recedes into the backdrop of life — and it most certainly will, as all revivals do — young adults will still have to figure out how to make their way through this thing we call life. Where they go from here is on them, not God or a temporary dopamine hit. Hopefully, they will take a hard look at how their parents, pastors, churches, and college parachurch leaders indoctrinated and conditioned them in hope of keeping them on the Evangelical straight and narrow. There is a better way.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Six

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner 1994
Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church

As I ponder why I became a Calvinist, several things come to mind. This post will look at these things, and then in Part Seven of this series, I will answer questions about Calvinism that readers of this series submitted.

I knew nothing about Calvinism when I started pastoring churches in 1979. None of my professors at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — mentioned Calvinism other than to say the college was against it. Students were told that they were not allowed to talk about or promote Calvinism. One student in my sophomore year ignored the Calvinism ban and was expelled.

As a young IFB pastor, I held to and preached an admixture of Arminianism and Calvinism, often called Calminianism. This approach is common among Evangelicals. This syncretism causes all sorts of interpretive problems, not that Calvinism and Arminianism don’t have their own problems. No soteriological system is perfect, each having unique interpretive problems. A pastor must determine which system best fits his reading of the Bible. For me, it was Calvinism.

As I read the various passages of Scripture about predestination, foreknowledge, election, regeneration, and the sovereignty of God, it became crystal clear to me that Calvinism best explained these things. I still believe this today. I am well aware of the verses that contradict Calvinism, especially verses that talk about human volition. However, there are also verses that say human free will is a myth — a belief science seems to reinforce. On balance — for me, anyway — Calvinism best fit the Biblical narrative. Arminianism best fit how I wanted things to be, and that’s why in the early 2000s, I stopped preaching up Calvinism from the pulpit, choosing more of a Mennonite approach to interpreting the Bible.

Every theological system finds its proof in the pages of the Bible. That’s why I believe every system is “right.” The Bible can be used to prove almost anything. Christians fight endless internecine wars over theological rightness, bloodying each other up before returning to their respective corners. These wars, of course, betray the teachings of Christ and Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-6:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Christianity is hopelessly divided along theological lines and interpretations of particular Bible verses. The best a pastor can do is choose which theological system best fits his reading of the Bible. From there, it is up to him to decide how best to interact with preachers, churches, and parachurch organizations that differ from him theologically. Personally, I chose to have an ecumenical spirit; I willingly and happily embraced all those who claimed to be Christians — Calvinists or not. I was able to hang on to my Calvinistic theology while at the same time embracing brothers and sisters in Christ who differed with me.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio — a nondenominational congregation. I preached from a Calvinistic perspective, but I had room in my worldview for people who might see things differently. Unity was more important to me than theological fidelity. That’s why the advertising slogan on the entrance door for the church said “The Church Where the Only Label that Matters is Christian.”

our father's house west unity ohio
1990s Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

As a pastor, I was an avid reader. While I received a subpar, almost Sunday School-like education at Midwestern, I spent twenty or so hours each week reading and studying the Bible. Unfortunately, more than a few of my preacher friends never moved intellectually beyond what they were taught in college. I chose to apply myself in the privacy of my study, reading theological tomes and biographies, along with using numerous commentaries in my sermon preparation.

I became a Calvinist in the late 1980s, at a time when there was a resurgence of Calvinistic thinking among Evangelicals — especially Southern Baptists. Even among IFB pastors, Calvinism made inroads. I found that the Calvinistic books available to me were intellectually stimulating in ways that no book from IFB publishers such as the Sword of the Lord could provide. I had a deep love and appreciation for authors from the Puritan era. I had an account with Cumberland Valley Bible and Book Service in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Rare was the month that an order from Cumberland Valley didn’t arrive at our house. These deliveries were like Christmas for me.

As an IFB pastor, I felt constant pressure to perform. Since humans had free will, it was up to me to convince them of their need of salvation. If they didn’t get saved, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was to blame. Calvinism delivered me from the need to perform. Often when men embrace Calvinism, they lose their passion for soulwinning. That was not the case for me. I was just as passionate before Calvinism as after; the difference being that instead of the pressure being on me, it was on God. I was called to faithfully preach and teach the Word of God. It was up to God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate sinners and draw them to faith in Jesus Christ.

I stopped giving altar calls, believing that they were manipulative. I was content to preach the Bible and leave it up to God to save sinners. Of course, numerically, the number of people allegedly saved under my ministry precipitously dropped. From 1983-1994, over six hundred people made public professions of faith in Christ. From 1995-2002, the number dropped to almost zero. Yet, if you asked me which church was healthier spiritually, I would say the latter.

My goal changed over the years, moving from being a hellfire and brimstone preacher, to more of a teacher. I started the ministry as a textual or topical preacher. After embracing Calvinism, I started preaching expositionally — verse by verse, passage by passage, book by book. I preached over one hundred sermons from the gospel of John alone (my favorite book of the Bible). While I never lost a desire to win people to Christ, the focus of my ministry changed from quantity to quality. Instead of striving for raw attendance numbers, I chose to focus on the last half of the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Embracing Calvinism caused me a lot of conflict within the IFB circles I ran at the time. I lost numerous friends and acquaintances over my change in theology. This was exacerbated by the fact that I sent out a monthly newsletter titled The Sovereign Grace Reporter. This newsletter contained articles promoting Calvinism. They could have, at times, a polemical tone.

In the mid-1980s, I started a multi-church monthly youth meeting (rally). At its height, there were fifteen participating churches. The group blew up after several pastors took issue with my Calvinism. These men feared that I would infect their youth with Calvinism. One man accused me of being the “keeper of the book of life.” I tried to reason with him, but, in classic IFB fashion, he stood up, denounced me, and stomped off. This put an end to our group.

If you have any questions about this series or Calvinism in general, please leave your comments on the Do You Have Questions About Calvinism? post. I will start answering these questions later this week.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Is the Bible Inerrant?

inerrancy

Evangelicals believe that the Protestant Christian Bible is their God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible words. “Inspired” is a faith claim for which there is no evidence. Either you believe the Bible is inspired by God or you don’t. “Inerrant” and “infallible” are claims, however, that can be investigated by Christians and non-Christians alike. Is the Bible actually without error? Is the Bible really infallible (incapable of error)?

As a student at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s, I was taught the transcription theory. Holy men of old, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote down, word for word in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, the words of God. Some professors believed that the inspired writers of the Bible fell into a trance as they put pen to paper, writing down the exact words of God. Other professors and chapel speakers were uncertain as to the actual transmission process. They just knew that the end product was the very words of God.

I was also taught at Midwestern that inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility applied to translations too. Well, actually one translation: the King James Version (either the 1611 edition or the 1769 revision). While there was some behind-the-scenes debate over whether the KJV was “inspired,” there was no debate over whether the KJV was inerrant and infallible.

Peruse the websites of churches pastored by Midwestern grads and you will typically find a sentence that says “_______ Baptist Church only uses the King James Version.” Some churches proudly advertise in their printed materials and on their signs their fealty to the KJV.

Some Midwestern pastors take a different approach. Take First Baptist Church in Milford, Ohio (pastored for many years by my best man, Bill Duttry). Their doctrinal statement states:

We believe in the authority of Scripture. We believe that the Bible is the plenarily and verbally inspired, inerrant, living Word of God. We believe that God has divinely and faithfully preserved His Word for all people today in the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Textus Receptus. We use only the Authorized King James Bible for faith and practice in English.

According to this statement, what is inspired, inerrant, and infallible is the Masoretic text (Old Testament) and the Greek Textus Receptus (New Testament), not the King James Bible. Does that mean that First Baptist of Milford believes the KJV is errant and fallible? No. Note carefully the words “God has divinely and faithfully preserved his Word.” Many Evangelicals believe that God has somehow, some way, over the past 2,000 years preserved his Words in the thousands of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and subsequent translations. Not all translations, of course, just those that were translated from certain manuscripts. Typically, such churches and pastors accept translations based on what is called the Received Text — a family of Greek manuscripts that were used to translate the King James Bible. They reject the Alexandrian (Wescott and Hort) line of manuscripts, believing translations that were translated from these manuscripts are inferior or even Satanic.

inerrancy test

First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio, pastored by John MacFarlane, believes:

We believe in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as verbally inspired of God, inerrant in the original writing and of supreme and final authority in faith and life. II Timothy 3:16-17.

We accept only the King James version for public instruction in the church.

First Baptist has an article on its site written by Pastor Michael Bates titled Why Do We Use the KJV?

The English translation issue has caused no small stir among conservatives and evangelicals today.  It is not our desire to be contentious about this issue, but we do desire to preach and teach with clarity.

It is our conviction that the whole translation debate hinges on three basic questions that must be answered in the following order:

1. Has God preserved His inspired Word? In fact, has He even promised to do so?  If God has not promised to preserve His words—and all of them, then all discussions regarding which Hebrew & Aramaic or Greek Text is superior and which translation is best is all academic, at best.

To this question we answer in the strongest affirmative possible.

….

2. If it is preserved, where is it preserved?  Is it preserved in any specific Text or in all the texts or in only the so-called “oldest and best manuscripts?”  One should expect to locate God’s words if they are preserved.

We believe that those texts often referred to as the Traditional Text, known more commonly as the Ben Chayyim Masoretic text of the Old Testament and the Textus Receptus of the New Testament, hold those preserved words.

….

3. Do the Lord’s churches in the English-speaking world have a faithful, accurate translation of that preserved Word that they can call reliable?

The last English translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts listed above was done in the seventeenth century by the translators of what has come to be called the King James Version of the Bible (known also as the Authorized Version), first published in 1611.  Most, if not all, of the modern versions have been translated out of a different Greek text in the New Testament called the Eclectic Text or the Critical Text.  We reject these texts as only containing the Word of God. Furthermore, the Hebrew text underlying these modern versions is different from that used by the KJV.

Therefore, a local church must make a decision guided by the Scripture as to which translation is in fact God’s words in their language based upon its underlying text.  We recognize that God did not breathe out English words, but the inspired words He did breathe out have been accurately and correctly translated into our language in the King James Version.

Once you move beyond King James-only churches, you find Evangelical congregations and pastors who believe certain English translations are faithful and reliable, not inerrant and infallible. These churches and pastors believe that it was the original manuscripts that were inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Of course, the glaring problem with this position is the fact that these manuscripts do not exist. All we have are copies of copies of copies, some of which dates centuries after their recorded events.

A Biblical Archeology Society article titled Dating the Oldest New Testament Christian Manuscripts states:

The New Testament that we read today in many different translations is not based on one single manuscript of the original Greek text. Why? There simply is no such thing as a complete text of the New Testament that we could date to the apostolic times, or even two or three centuries after the last of the apostles. Extant manuscripts containing the entire Christian Bible are the work of medieval monks. The modern scholarly editions of the original Greek text draw on readings from many different ancient manuscripts. As a result, the New Testament presented in any of our Bibles does not correspond to a single, authoritative ancient manuscript.

The oldest surviving examples of the New Testament come to us, instead, as fragments and scraps of papyrus excavated (mostly) in Egypt. How old are the oldest of these biblical fragments, and why does it matter whether they were written in the first or the fourth century?

At best, the extant manuscripts are errant, fallible approximations of the original manuscripts. If the manuscripts are errant and fallible, then the translations made from them are too.

Evangelicals preachers and professors who say the Bible is inerrant and infallible are either uneducated or deliberately misleading people. In my case, I was uneducated. I was thirty years old before I learned that the King James Bible was not inerrant. It would take many more years of study before I concluded that the Bible — both at the translation and manuscript level — contained errors, mistakes, and contradictions. While I still believed the Bible was the Word of God, I came to see and understand its human nature and fallibility.

Most educated Evangelical preachers know the Bible is not inerrant or infallible. Anyone who carefully studies the Bible, both in its original languages and in English — knows that there are textual problems that cannot be explained away. They also know that there are internal conflicts and contradictions that cannot be harmonized. Why, then, do Evangelical preachers not share these things with their flocks? Why do they hide the fallible human nature of the Bible?

the bible rock of gibraltar

Most Evangelical laypeople believe that the Bible they carry to church on Sundays and read during the week is without error. No one has ever told them the truth about the nature and history of the Biblical text. Evangelical preachers pride themselves on being truth-tellers. Why don’t they tell church members the truth about the Bible? One word: fear. They fear that if they did people would lose faith in God, the church, and the Bible. Imagine being called on to account for hiding the truth from their churches. People would leave, offerings would drop, and many preachers would end up looking for new employment. Not wanting turmoil and controversy, pastors, instead, try to maintain the status quo. This, of course, is getting harder to do thanks to the Internet. Evangelicals can easily find articles and books that challenge their beliefs about the Bible. Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books, in particular, have forced countless Evangelicals to rethink what they believe about the history and nature of the Bible. If you have not read any of Ehrman’s books, I encourage you to do so:

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God: the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

I am confident that if Evangelicals will openly and honestly read Ehrman’s books, they will be disabused of the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Of course, there will always be Evangelicals who are so closed-minded that there is no hope of reaching them. Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen, is a case in point. Thiessen recently wrote a blog post titled The Bible is Inerrant and Infallible:

If one wants to question the Bible, then they are questioning its author. There is no way to separate the two. Many unbelievers will say that science has disproven the Bible many times over. That has never been done.

What the people ignore or miss when making that statement is that there is no one or no thing in history that has appointed science to be an authority over the Bible and its content. Neither God nor Jesus has made that appointment or taught anywhere that the Bible is submissive to science, or any research field.

There are no other supernatural beings that can make that appointment either. Science is subject to the Bible and not its lord. No matter what scientific method you use, especially bible criticism, historical-critical thinking, and so on, these methods do not get to the truth nor are they superior to God and his word.

God does not make mistakes, he does not lie, he does not perform magic, he does not play games, and he does not mislead. What he has written in the Bible is without error and it is accurate and true.

In the book, Dr. Lindsell mentions that some of those who hold to the errancy and fallibility of the bible will also clarify their comments by adding that the Bible is inerrant and infallible when it comes to salvation but it is not when it comes to history and science.

But those people are trying to have their cake and eat it too. of course, they will say the parts about salvation are infallible, etc., because they want to go to heaven and not end up in hell. The Bible is either infallible and inerrant in all of its content or it is not.

There is no middle ground and all Christians have to make a choice here. That argument claiming only salvation is inerrant, etc., is like saying your wife is a little bit pregnant. Either she is or she isn’t. There is no middle ground.

You either believe God or you don’t.

Thiessen is a hardcore Fundamentalist — proudly so. He is certain that his beliefs are 100 percent right. His beliefs are every bit as inspired (by the Holy Spirit), inerrant, and infallible as the Bible itself. I have been reading Thiessen’s writing for several years now. I have yet to see him admit that he was wrong; that he made a mistake. Instead, he spends his time pointing out how wrong other people are — atheists and Christians alike.

There are lots of Thiessen-like preachers in the world; men who are either uneducated or who believe that it is more important to protect sectarian dogma than it is to tell people the truth. Thiessen began his post by mentioning Harold Lindsell’s 1976 book, The Battle for the Bible. Lindsell was an Evangelical author and scholar, one of the founders of Fuller Theological Seminary. Lindsell’s seminal book played an instrumental part in the battle for the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention. I read and re-read The Battle for the Bible several times in the late 1970s and 1980s, not because I doubted the Bible, but because I wanted to know how “liberals” viewed the Bible. At the time, I believed liberals were apostates or false Christians; tools of Satan who were destroying the faith of Evangelicals. I viewed these scholars as enemies of God. What I didn’t do is read their books. I had lots of books in my library that promoted and reinforced the Evangelical view on the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. It would take decades of study — including reading the books of authors I had previously deemed false prophets — before I finally saw the light. The only way to reach Derrick Thiessen and countless other inerrantists is to get them to read books that challenge their sincerely held beliefs. I remember asking Thiessen if he had ever read any of Bart Ehrman’s books. Thiessen tried to intimate that he had “read” Ehrman, but when pressed on the issue, I found out he had read articles and blog posts about Ehrman’s books, not the actual books themselves. Thiessen is hardly alone in this matter. Evangelical preachers are notorious for their opposition to all sorts of things without ever actually doing their homework. They just regurgitate what one of their preacher friends or favorite authors have said in their books or on their blogs.

Nothing in this life is without error, and that includes the Bible. One can still believe in God and be a Christian without an inerrant Bible. Sixteen centuries of followers of Jesus didn’t have an inerrant, infallible Bible. Were they True Christians? Of course, they were. I double-dog dare you to argue that salvation requires the right beliefs about the Bible. Oh, please, make my day by claiming that someone can’t be born again unless they hold to a certain viewpoint about the Bible. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Midwestern Baptist College: A Character-Building Factory— Part Three

midwestern baptist college freshman class 1976
Sophomore class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1977. Polly is in the first row, the first person on the left. Bruce is in the third row, the eighth person from the left

Series Navigation

Midwestern Baptist College, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution previously located in Pontiac, Michigan, was never a large school. At the height of its influence within the IFB church movement, approximately 400 students attended Midwestern. By the time my wife, Polly Shope Gerencser, and I enrolled for classes in the fall of 1976, enrollment was closer to 150. In the fall of 1977, sophomore class enrollment was forty-five — thirteen women and thirty-two men. (This count is based on the picture above. It is likely there was a handful of students who aren’t in the photo.) The dropout rate at Midwestern was quite high. By the time a group of freshmen reached their senior year, over fifty percent of them had dropped out. The 1978 Flame Yearbook pictures seventy-one freshmen, forty-five sophomores, twenty-seven juniors, and twenty-eight seniors. Four women and twenty-four men graduated in 1978. Only twelve of the graduates started their days at Midwestern as dorm students.

Most of the students who left before graduating did so due to the pressures of the Midwestern grind, financial struggles, or expulsion. Polly and I dropped out for two reasons: birth control failure and job loss. We had only been married six weeks when Polly informed me that she was pregnant. Severe morning sickness made it impossible for her to work part-time and still attend classes. Three months later, I was laid off from my machine operator job at Deco Grande in Detroit. Our already tenuous finances quickly unraveled. Polly and I talked to one college administrator, Levi Corey, about our struggles and our intention of dropping out for a semester. He insisted that it was God’s will for us to stay in college; that if we would just pray and have faith everything would work out. We pleaded with God to help us, but our prayers went unanswered. In February 1979, we packed up our meager belongings in a small U-Haul trailer attached to our white 1967 Chevy Impala and returned to the place of my birth, Bryan, Ohio (five miles from where we live today). I quickly found employment at General Tire, working in their milling department. I later took a job in the shipping and receiving department at Aro. Five months later, our first child, Jason, was born.

Never Quit! God Never Uses Quitters! These words were uttered countless times by Dr. Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern, professors, and speakers at the daily chapel services students were required to attend. To drop out meant you were a failure; that God would never use you. If God led you to enroll at Midwestern, then he would provide the means for you to stay in college, students were told. What God orders, he pays for! This, of course, put a lot of pressure on students, causing fear and shame if they had to drop out.

Was there a cause and effect between staying in college and later serving the Lord in the ministry? Maybe. Many of the students who enrolled at Midwestern to study for the ministry and later dropped out never became pastors. However, many of the students who did graduate never became preachers either. There were too many variables to come to any sort of cause-and-effect conclusion. For example, some students worked for one of the local auto manufacturers while attending Midwestern. Great pay and benefits. Upon graduation, ready to enter God’s vineyard, these newly minted preachers started looking for churches to pastor. They quickly learned that the ministry was rewarding, but the pay was terrible. Unable to “trust” that God would meet their needs on seventy-five percent less income, with no benefits and insurance, these God-called preachers stayed in Pontiac to continue working their well-paying manufacturing jobs.

Many of the students who dropped out learned during their time at Midwestern that the ministry wasn’t for them. The work was hard and demanding, requiring long hours of work and putting God and the church above family. Unwilling to sacrifice their humanity and economic stability for the “sake of the call,” these students dropped out, often returning to their home churches and serving there in a lay capacity.

As I reflect on the rigors of being a Midwestern student, I have concluded that Dr. Malone and other people associated with the college deliberately made things hard for students. The goal was to cull from the herd those who were weak; those who couldn’t hack it. That’s why the attrition rate was so high. I was a full-time student. I typically attended classes Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to Noon. Afterward, I would eat lunch and change my clothes, before heading to my full-time employment at a factory, laundry, or grocery store. I typically arrived back to the dorm after curfew. I followed this routine five days a week. On Saturdays and Sundays, I attended two church services, taught Sunday school, drove a bus, visited a bus route, and preached at a drug rehab center in Detroit. I also had a social life. Polly and I dated for the two years we lived in the dorm. We went out on one or two dates every weekend, depending on whether I had any money. (Polly was destitute most of her time at Midwestern. Her work opportunities were severely limited by the draconian rules governing employment and travel for female dorm students. Her parents, who were barely holding their heads above water working at an IFB church in Newark, Ohio, sent her very little money.)

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Polly Shope Gerencser, first row, first person on the left

As you can see, I had very little time to even breathe or relax, and neither did Polly. While Polly was only allowed to work poor-paying part-time jobs, she too had church commitments. She also traveled with a college hand-bell group that performed at various IFB churches in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. For both of us, there was great pressure to obey and perform, instilling in us the idea that this way of life was the “will of God.”

Some dropouts defied the quitter label. I know Polly and I did. The day we were packing up our belongings, a dorm roommate and groomsman in our wedding named Wendell stopped by to beg us not to leave. He reminded us of what had been drilled into our heads in chapel: God never uses quitters. His passionate plea fell on deaf ears. In 1980, we returned to Pontiac and spent the weekend with him and his wife, taking time to reconsider leaving Midwestern. Wendell, once again, pleaded with us to return to college, reminding us that God never uses quitters. Alas, it was not to be. By then we were living in Newark, Ohio and I was a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s. Polly was teaching third grade at a local Christian school. Over the next five years, I helped my father-in-law start a new IFB church in Buckeye Lake and then I started a new church in Somerset — a congregation I pastored for eleven years.

By the mid-1980s, Somerset Baptist Church was booming, reaching a high attendance of 206. Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. By IFB standards, I was a success. One weeknight, I attended a conference at the Newark Baptist Temple, an IFB church pastored by Polly’s uncle, the late Jim Dennis. Jim was a 1960s graduate of Midwestern, a college trustee, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the college. Dr. Malone was the featured speaker for the night.

Before beginning his sermon, Doc noticed that I was in attendance. He mentioned me by name, complimented me on my work, and then admitted, “if Bruce had stayed any longer at Midwestern, we probably would have ruined him.” I guess I wasn’t a quitter, after all.

My dorm roommate who pleaded with me not to quit? He graduated from Midwestern, returned home with his wife, and never pastored a church. Does this mean Wendell was a quitter, a failure? Of course not. By all accounts, he and his wife have built a wonderful life together. I have no doubt that he faithfully serves Jesus in his local church.

People “quit” for all sorts of reasons. Get divorced, leave jobs, drop out of college. Rarely does any of us do anything for a lifetime. We grow up, and we change, developing different wants, needs, and desires. This is the grand experience we call life. Midwestern caused great harm to its students when it promoted and amplified the false idea that if you say “God is calling me” you must fulfill that calling no matter what. I wonder how many former students still have feelings of guilt over not fulfilling their calling? No matter what they ultimately did with their lives, their failure to graduate or enter the ministry is a millstone around their neck.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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How to Become an IFB Pastor, Start a Church, and Other Sundry Thoughts

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Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches are independent congregations. Each church is an entity unto itself. The IFB church movement is not a denomination per se, but churches do “fellowship” and join together around groups or institutions such as Bible colleges and missionary agencies. These voluntary associations are called “camps.”

In a post titled Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps I wrote:

To properly understand the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, you must first understand the IFB concept of camps. In the IFB, a camp is the tribe to which you belong. It is a membership group that is defined by such things as what Bible version is considered the “true” Word of God, what college the pastor attended, approval or disapproval of Calvinism, open or closed communion, or ecclesiastical, personal, and secondary separation. Many IFB camps will have multiple “positions” that define their group, and admission to the group is dependent on fidelity to these positions. Many pastors and churches belong to more than one camp.

As an IFB pastor, I swam in the waters of several camps: Sword of the Lord, Baptist Bible Fellowship, Midwestern Baptist Fellowship, and Buckeye Baptist Fellowship. While every camp has its own peculiar identity, the one thing they all had in common was their independence from ecclesiastical control.

I pastored two denominational churches: a Southern Baptist congregation in Clare, Michigan, and a Christian Union church in Alvordton, Ohio. The churches I pastored in San Antonio, Texas and Montpelier, Buckeye Lake, Somerset, and West Unity, Ohio were all independent congregations. All but one of these churches were new church plants, three of which were planted by me.

While the Southern Baptist and Christian Union churches I pastored were denominational congregations, there were no rules governing who could or couldn’t be a pastor. I found that these churches were every bit as free to govern themselves as IFB congregations.

Most Evangelical churches in the United States are congregationally governed. The church membership has the final say on everything, including who will be their pastor. A small number of Evangelical churches are board-controlled. In these churches, congregants have very little control over the church. Most IFB churches are decidedly congregational, although pastors can exert substantial influence over church decisions. Some pastors are quite dictatorial. While their churches are congregational, the church membership is little more than a rubber stamp for whatever the pastor wants to do. This, of course, can lead to all sorts of problems, especially when a pastor has been at a church for a long time. Long-tenured pastors can become quite possessive, thinking that their church is some sort of personal possession.

How, then, does a man — no women allowed — become an IFB pastor? What are the requirements for becoming a pastor?

Many denominations require prospective pastors to meet certain guidelines. Some, however, do not. That was certainly the case for the Christian Union and Southern Baptist churches I pastored. The respective denominations had no requirements whatsoever for ministers. The Southern Baptist Convention and its churches, are no different from IFB churches in this regard. This became clear during the sect’s recent sexual abuse scandal when people realized that the Southern Baptist denomination has no power over individual churches. All that the SBC can do is kick a church out of the denomination. They have no control over the internal workings of affiliated churches. So what I write next about IFB congregations and pastors can also be said about SBC churches.

IFB churches require that a prospective pastor have a credible salvation testimony, be baptized by immersion, be a member in good standing of a local New Testament Baptist church, and demonstrate a calling from God to be a preacher. Three of these four qualifications can easily be verified, However, it is the fourth qualification that can be problematic. A “call from God” is a subjective experience. How does a church know that a man is called to preach? Because he says he is. In my case, I was called to preach as a fifteen-year-old boy, two weeks after I was saved. Within a month, I preached my first sermon. Not one person ever questioned my calling. How dare they, right? If God was calling me to full-time service, who were they to question God’s work in my heart?

Many IFB preachers enter the ministry without any formal education. All a man needs is a calling from God, the Holy Spirit, a King James Bible, and a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Many preachers-to-be go off to college to prepare for the ministry, typically attending the Baptist equivalent of finishing schools. Typically, these colleges are unaccredited or deceptively say they are accredited by organizations no one has heard of. While some IFB colleges have national accreditation, most do not. All one has to do to check an institution’s accreditation is ask whether it accepts Federal financial aid such as the Pell Grant. If the college says no, that means it is not accredited.

Sadly, many IFB colleges provide inferior educations for pastors-to-be. The goal isn’t knowledge as much as it is reinforcement of beliefs, continued conditioning, and indoctrination. I can’t emphasize this point enough. The goal of Midwestern Baptist College, the character-building factory I attended for three years in the 1970s, was not to teach me new things, challenge me, or expand my academic horizons. The goal was to train me to be a hardened soldier in the IFB army, a hellfire and brimstone preacher of the IFB gospel. Midwestern professors made it clear to students that there was an approved doctrinal script they were required to follow. Failure to do so would cost them their jobs. Certain theological subjects were not talked about: Charismaticism, Calvinism, and using non-KJV translations come to mind. Any professor or student found promoting these heresies was booted out the front door of the college. Thus, I left Midwestern in the spring of 1979 with zero knowledge about the Charismatic movement and Calvinism, other than I was a’gin it.

The quality of education varies from college to college. While I learned many practical things at Midwestern and met the love of my life, I receive an inferior, almost Sunday school-like, education from men who had received a similar education before me when they were students at Midwestern. While I struggled with some of my classes at Midwestern, it wasn’t due to academic rigor. My struggles came from working a full-time job and trying to perform and fulfill all the church and ministry requirements. I suspect many students had similar difficulties. There were only so many hours in a week.

Not one church I pastored ever questioned the quality of the education I received at Midwestern. Part of the reason for this is that I worked very hard over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry to plug the holes in my training. I was a voracious reader, a man who took seriously preaching the Bible. I spent upwards of twenty hours every week reading and studying the Bible and preparing my sermons. I was determined to become an educated IFB preacher. I largely achieved that goal, as my colleagues in the ministry can attest.

Once a man is ready to pastor his first church, he is typically ordained by his local church. I was ordained in 1983 by Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake, a church I started with my father-in-law. Two months later, I left Emmanuel and started a new IFB church in Somerset. Ordination is the stamp of approval the local church puts on a man whom they believe is called to preach . While ordination grants new pastors certain legal and financial benefits, the purpose is mainly to say “we approve.”

Scores of American IFB churches are pastored by men with substandard educations, with no other qualification other than a subjective calling and a local church’s approval. Once on the field, these newly minted pastors are free to do their own thing with no control or oversight. Remember, every church is independent.

If a man stays within the confines of the IFB church movement, he can have a productive ministry, However, it is when he leaves the movement problems arise. Let’s say he wants to change sects. He quickly finds that there are rules he must follow. He might need to be re-ordained or go back to school for more training. Some Evangelical sects have strict educational requirements (though they still can be quite limited in scope). Some IFB pastors want to leave the ministry altogether. They soon learn that their Bible college educations are worthless. Imagine spending four years getting a Bible college education, only to learn that your degree is of no value outside of the church. Just because you can teach at a Bible college or a Christian school doesn’t mean you can do the same in the “world.” While men with IFB educations can use their degrees as resume fodder — I did — HR departments, if they do their due diligence, will quickly learn that their prospective employees’ degrees are not worth the paper that they are written on. I found that my college education opened employment doors for me, especially if the person interviewing me was a Christian. What carried greater weight was my extensive ministerial experience. Prospective employers quickly learned that I had good people and problem-solving skills.

I have interacted with numerous IFB pastors who have left the ministry. Some deconverted, others were flat worn out from the incessant demands and pressures that come with pastoring IFB congregations. Make no mistake about it, pastoring an IFB church is hard work and not for the faint of heart. Some men leave the ministry because they want a “normal” life: better pay and benefits, more family time, and reasonable employment expectations.

The challenge, of course, for men who leave — regardless of the reasons — is what to do going forward. Most men have to reinvent themselves. I know I have. While I am still, in some sense, a “pastor,” I had to change virtually every aspect of my life after I left the ministry in 2005. While health problems put an end to my work career, I have found new things to do such as writing, collecting electric trains, and making up for all the time I lost with my family while I was a pastor. My sister owns a medical training school in Phoenix, Arizona. I do some tech work for her.

It took me years to come to terms with the new me. Until 2005, my whole adult life had revolved around the work of the ministry. Just ask my children. If their Dad was anything, he was committed to God and the church. Everything we did as a family was to that end.

Do you want to be an IFB pastor? You can become one today. Do you want to start an IFB church? You can do that today too. In 2016, I wrote a post titled You Can do It: How to Start an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church detailing how you can start an IFB church:

John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste recently graduated from an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. After three or four years of superficially studying the Bible, John received his degree in Jesus-Loving, Devil-Chasing, Sin-Hating Pastoral Ministry. Now what?

Graduates are encouraged to go into all the world — well mainly the United States — and win souls for Jesus. The best way to do this is to start a new church.

Here is what John “Jesus Lover” Baptiste needs to do to start a brand spanking new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

First, find a town where there are churches on every corner and convince yourself that ALL of those churches are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music.

Second, confuse your own desire and ambition with the Holy Spirit leading you and God calling you to start a new church.

Third, rent a meeting place or building. Make sure you get the building as cheaply as possible. If the building owner is a Christian, lay a spiritual guilt trip on him to get him to lower the rent and then invite him and his family to the first service.

Fourth, put a puff piece in the newspaper telling locals why you are starting a new church in their community. DON’T tell them that you think ALL the other churches in town are liberal, apostate, using the wrong Bible translation, or using worldly music. You want to be able to poach members from other churches later, so it is important no one knows what you really think of every other church in town.

Fifth, every day pray that God will bless your endeavor. Convince yourself that God put you in the community to win everyone to Jesus, and that without you they will all go to hell.

Sixth, tell your wife and children that you love them, but they are going to have to understand that Jesus comes first, and you will have to neglect them in order for a GREAT church to be built. Also, tell them that they will have to mow the churchyard, clean the church, play the piano, work in the nursery, teach Sunday School, and anything else you ask them to do. Try to explain to them that, yes God called YOU, but he expects you to bring luggage.

Seventh, much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, knock on every door in town and witness to everyone who dares to answer. Lie to them by saying, I am not here to take you from your church home. All that is important is that you know Jesus as your Savior. Don’t let them know that if they get saved you will expect them to come to the church that cared enough to lead them to Jesus. And get baptized. And attend services every time the church doors are open. And tithe. And obey every edict uttered by you from the pulpit.

Eighth, run some ads in the local newspaper and put up flyers on every public bulletin board. Church-hopping members (please see The Fine Art of Church Hopping) from nearby IFB churches will notice the ads and see this as “God leading them” to leave their churches. This is the quickest way to start a new church. And just remember, when they leave your new church a few years later for a newer church, that you were willing to sacrifice your integrity for numerical gain. You are now ready for your first service. Remember one thing: most new church plants fail, especially IFB churches. Perhaps, it would be better if you join up with one of the other churches in town and help them. Silly me, you will never do that. You are a God-called, Holy-Spirit-powered, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor, and such a calling deserves its own church, and a BIG sign that says, in BIG type, JOHN BAPTISTE, PASTOR.

The Bible says that the calling of God is irrevocable. Thus, I am still a Christian, a God-called preacher. I even have an ordination certificate to prove it. 🙂

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Short Stories: Hawking Jesus and Candy Bars at Midwestern Baptist College

bruce and polly gerencser 1976
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976 to 1979. Midwestern was a small, affordable, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution started in 1954 by Dr. Tom Malone. “Doc” was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church — a nearby megachurch. Both the college and the church were built around winning souls for Jesus. Students were expected to participate in soulwinning activities and witness to people every week. The goal was to lead people through the plan of salvation — typically The Roman’s Road — and encourage them to pray the sinner’s prayer. (Please see Let’s Go Soulwinning and Door-to-Door Soulwinning.) On Sundays, students were expected to account for their soulwinning activities the previous week. I suspect most students fudged their numbers.

There were numerous IFB churches in the Pontiac area. Most of them were quite aggressive in reaching sinners for Jesus. These churches, along with Emmanuel Baptist, and Midwestern, turned Pontiac is to a burned-out zone — an area so evangelized that sinners were hard to find. Week after week, IFB church members and college students would fan across Pontiac and the nearby suburbs looking for prey, uh, I mean, unsaved people. Scores of people were allegedly “saved” every week, so much so that virtually all of Pontiac was saved. The deep south, with Baptist churches on every street corner, has a similar problem. So many soul winners, so few sinners. One pastor told me that there were so many Baptist churches in Chattanooga, Tennessee — home to IFB institutions Tennessee Temple and Highland Park Baptist Church, pastored by Lee Roberson — that everyone in Chattanooga was saved. Yet, young preachers would still be “led” to Chattanooga to start new churches. Easy pickings, I’d say.

Midwestern would annually hold a soulwinning contest — a period of time when students were expected to regularly and aggressively evangelize Pontiac residents. These contests were the regular soulwinning programs on steroids. Imagine a busload of Jehovah’s Witnesses showing up in your neighborhood and not leaving for two weeks. Knocking on your door, repeatedly. That’s what the annual soulwinning contests were like.

Midwestern put up a chart in the gymnasium/cafeteria that tracked the number of souls saved. This chart listed the names of the top soulwinners. As with all such contests, there were some students that were really committed to the contest, hoping to win the prize for winning the most souls. Yes, there were prizes. It was widely believed among dorm students that the top soul winners were likely lying about the number of souls they led to Jesus. I was among those who believed the top soulwinners were fudging their numbers. Of course, it may have been that we were just jealous that God had not blessed us with soulwinning power. Students were required to take evangelism classes each year, but some students didn’t take to the techniques as well as others. (It would be interesting to do a study on the psychology of those who were at the top of the souls saved leaderboard.)

Polly and I weren’t very good soulwinners. Polly didn’t win one soul to Jesus during her three years at Midwestern; I won two. I worked a full-time job, attended classes 25 hours a week, attended church three times a week, taught Sunday school, drove a church bus, went on Tuesday visitation and called on my bus route on Saturdays, preached at a drug rehab center on Sunday afternoons, and went out on double dates with Polly on weekends. I also played basketball often as I could. The dorm had a curfew — 10:00 pm, I think. When, exactly, did I have time to win souls? (As a pastor, I did put what I learned at Midwestern to work, but I never did like doing door-to-door evangelism. I always felt such practices were coercive.)

Midwestern would also hold annual fundraising contests. (Midwestern always seemed to be broke, often begging poor college students to give money to the college.) One year, students were asked to sell jumbo-sized O’Henry candy bars for $1. Students were expected to sell the candy bars to everyone they came in contact with, much like the college students who knock on your door in the summer, selling books, magazines, and knives. I halfheartedly tried to sell the candy bars. My biggest buyer ended up being me. 🙂

As I thought about the soulwinning contest and the candy bar fundraising contest, I realized that they were one and the same. The techniques were the same. The goals were the same: buy the product we are selling. The rewards are the same: recognition and your name on a chart. And the people who were at the top of the souls saved chart were the same people at the top of the candy bars sold chart.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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The Four Ws of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Church Movement

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The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement began in the 1950s as a response to theological liberalism among American and Southern Baptists. Pastors pulled churches out of their respective denominations and declared themselves INDEPENDENT. In the 1960s and 1970s, many of the Top 100 churches in America, attendance-wise, were IFB churches. The largest church in the country was an IFB church — First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, pastored by Jack Hyles. All across America, IFB big-shots held conferences to motivate and inspire preachers to do great exploits for God. Emphasis was placed on growing church attendance. The late John R. Rice, an IFB evangelist and the editor of The Sword of the Lord, is famous for saying, there’s nothing wrong with pastoring a SMALL church — for a while. Rice, Hyles, and countless other big-name IFB preachers believed a sure sign of God’s blessing on a church and a pastor’s ministry was an increase in attendance — especially a steady stream of unsaved visitors filling the pews.

IFB churches used poor children as a vehicle by which to drive up attendance. Bus ministries were all the craze in the 1960s-1980s. IFB megachurches ran hundreds of buses, bringing thousands of people — mostly poor children — to their services. Churches ran all sorts of promotions and gimmicks to attract bus riders — world’s largest banana split, hamburger Sunday, and free bike giveaway, to name a few. Once at church, children were shuffled off to junior church programs. Teens and adults usually attended the main worship service. IFB churches often had programs to “reach” deaf people and the developmentally disabled (or “retard church,” as it was called back in the day). The goal of all of these programs was to bring hordes of unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines to the church so they could hear the gospel and be saved.

I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio for eleven years. I started the church in 1983 with sixteen people. By the end of 1987, church attendance reached 206 — quite a feat in a poverty-stricken rural area. Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in the county. At the height of the church’s attendance growth, we operated four Sunday bus routes. Each week, buses brought in a hundred or so riders, mostly poor children from the surrounding four-county area. We also ran a bus route on Sunday nights for teenagers. For several years, Somerset Baptist Church was THE place to be. There was a buzz in the services as visitors got saved and baptized. All told, over 600 people put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And that was the primary goal. A good service was one during which multiple sinners came forward to be saved and repentant Christians lined the altar getting “right” with God.

During my IFB years, I attended numerous soulwinning conferences. These meetings were geared towards motivating pastors and churches to win souls for Christ. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. One of the songs we sang in chapel went something like this:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry
Souls for Jesus we’ll fight until we die
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry

Midwestern held annual soulwinning contests. The student bagging the most souls for Jesus received an award. Founded by Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, in the 1950s, Midwestern’s goal was to turn out soulwinning church planters. Students were required to attend church at Emmanuel. This provided the church with hundreds of people to run their bus routes, Sunday school, and other ministries. During the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the United States, with a high attendance of over 5,000. (Today, Emmanuel is defunct.) Everything about the church and college revolved around evangelizing the lost. Students were required to evangelize door-to-door, seeking out lost sinners needing salvation. My favorite story from my days pounding the pavement in Pontiac came one Saturday when a young couple decided to give the two young preacher boys banging on their door a surprise. You never knew how people might respond to you when you knocked on their doors, but this couple so shocked us that we literally had nothing to say. You see, they answered the door stark naked!

What follows is the Four Ws plan many (most) IFB churches followed when I was a pastor: Win them, Wet them, Work them, Waste them. The Four Ws are still followed today, even though the IFB movement as a whole is dying, with decreasing attendance, and fewer and fewer souls saved and new converts baptized.

Win Them

The goal is to evangelize unsaved people. “Unsaved” includes Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Buddhists, Hindus, and countless other liberal or non-IFB sects, along with atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, Satanists, and anyone else deemed “lost.”  My goal as a pastor was to go out into the community and knock on every door, hoping that I could share the gospel with locals. I implored church members to invite their family, friends, and neighbors to church so they could hear me preach and, hopefully, be saved. When we went out on street ministry, the goal was the same: preaching the gospel and winning the lost. When we had revival meetings, members were expected to attend every service and bring visitors with them. Again, the grand objective was bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ. Soulwinning is the lifeblood of the IFB church movement. (This is not necessarily a criticism on my part. The Bible seems to teach that Christians are to win souls. IFB churches take this charge to heart; most other churches don’t.)

Wet Them

The first step of “obedience” new converts are told about is baptism by immersion. New converts are encouraged to be baptized right away. Typically, IFB churches have a lot more new converts than they do new baptisms. There is a joke that goes something like this: why do IFB churches baptize people the same Sunday they are saved? Because most of the new converts will never attend church again! IFB churches typically go through a tremendous amount of membership churn. It is not uncommon for churches to turn over their entire memberships every five or so years. I was taught by seasoned pastors not to worry about churn. Just make sure more people are coming in the front door than are leaving out the back door.

Work Them

Once people were saved and baptized, they are given a to-do list: pray every day, read the Bible every day, attend church every time the doors are open, tithe and give offerings, witness, and find a “ministry” to work in. Many IFB congregants are pilloried over not working hard enough for Jesus. Pew warmers are subjected to guilt-inducing sermons, reminders that Christians should want to be found busy working for Jesus when he comes again. No matter how much I tried to get congregants to join me in the work of the ministry, most of them showed up on Sundays, threw some money in the offering plate, listened to my sermons, and repeated the same things week after week. There was, however, a core group of people who drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak. Along with their pastor, they worked, worked, worked. The same group attended every service, gave most of the money, and staffed the church’s ministries. They were, as I was, True Believers®. (Many of the regular readers of this blog who were former IFB Christians were True Believers® — people who worked nonstop to win souls and staff their churches ministries.)

Waste Them

Eventually, the work, work, work pace wears out even the best of people, myself included. I have no doubt my health problems began back in the days when I believed it was “better to burn out for Jesus than rust out.” I worked night and day, as did the people who followed in my steps. Over time, preacher and parishioners alike ran out of steam. Ironically, the steam venting happened at Somerset Baptist around the time I embraced Calvinism. It was Calvinism, in many ways, that rescued me from the drive and grind of the IFB church movement. Over time, church attendance declined as we stopped running the buses and people moved on to other, more “exciting,” churches. Instead of being focused on evangelization, I set my sights on teaching congregants the Bible through expository preaching. We still were evangelistic, but gone were the days when we were focused on numbers. It was Calvinism that allowed me to take a deep breath and relax a bit.

People aren’t meant to work night and day. Eventually, they burn out. That’s what happened to me. I truly thought Jesus wanted me to work non-stop for him. However, I learned way too late that we humans need rest and time away from the grind. Many of my pastor friends figured this out long before I did. I considered them lazy, and indifferent to the lost in their communities (and some of them were). However, they understood the importance of maintaining their health and spending time with their families. While I eventually came to understand the importance of these things, I wasted the better years of my life.

Were you an IFB pastor or church member? Did your church follow the four Ws? Please share your thoughts, insights, and experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner
Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970s. Bruce played a very influential part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I originally published this letter in 2014. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon (2 Corinthians 5:20). You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in the late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with Bob and Bonnie Bolander, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay, a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington (I loved his “It’s Fun Being Saved” record) you warned me about worshiping big-name preachers. You told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave, I lingered as long as possible — I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice that said, Gerencser, get on the bus (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name). As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned away for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I saw her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, ours died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song). I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You anonymously surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music, and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers.

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way, I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (Remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old boy.)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th-grade year). Subsequently, I dropped out of high school. My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me (and I needed her). In the fall of 1974, she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come to Ohio and move my siblings and me back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five-year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986
Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soul-winning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful of people to over two hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree, Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was that you saw some things that concerned you. My workaholic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986
Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but as with Charlotte and me years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same, I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked it up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believe the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inerrant or infallible. I came to see that belief in the God of the Bible could not be rationally sustained (this is why faith is necessary), and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the supernatural claims for Jesus could not be sustained either. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time period recorded in the Bible, the miracle-working Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus).

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguish-filled years.  I didn’t arrive where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual needs. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something).

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life? It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to Hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (What happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin, Intelligent Design, as science (this is what Christian schools are for). I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible (and telling people to get over it is not the answer). I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor. I want to help other people. The difference now, of course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list “truths” that must be believed. If I can help people walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey, not their destination (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death).

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God, and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t. Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog, I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography someday, there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate — Oh Yes, They Do!

trading eternal life for an orgasm

People raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches have heard countless sermons on what the Bible says about sex. Teenagers are warned about the dangers of petting, and many IFB churches forbid unmarrieds from having any physical contact with each other. Young men are characterized as weak horn-dogs and young women are viewed as gatekeepers who are responsible for any untoward sexual advances made by sexually aware men. Young women are given strict orders concerning how to dress and behave to ward off young men from having sex with them. One thing is certain: if a young IFB woman has sex with a man, it is almost always her fault.

IFB churches often have lengthy and complex rules that are used to keep unmarrieds from having sex. These rules follow young adults to the IFB colleges they attend. Here we have institutions filled with eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old men and women who, with hormones raging, are expected to refrain from physical contact with the opposite sex. This includes: no holding hands, no kissing, no hugging, no putting one’s arm around another, or sitting too closely to someone of the opposite sex. My wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. We were expected to maintain a six-inch distance from each other at all times. Even after we married, we were expected to refrain from public displays of affection lest we cause unmarried dorm students to “sin.” (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.)

One would think that IFB pastors and college leaders would approve of masturbation as a way of dealing with pent-up sexual frustration. Unfortunately, masturbation is also a sin. As an IFB teenager, I heard pastors who warned church teens about the dangers of masturbation, including, — oh yes they did! — warning that masturbation will make you blind. Now lest you think it’s just crazy IFB preachers who have a problem with masturbation, consider this quote by Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll:

First, masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman. If a man were to masturbate while engaged in other forms of sexual intimacy with his wife then he would not be doing so in a homosexual way. However, any man who does so without his wife in the room is bordering on homosexuality activity, particularly if he’s watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body.

And then there’s this excerpt from The Village Church’s website:

If one was [sic] to scan the horizon of current evangelical thought he or she would find a number of conclusions on the matter of masturbation. There are some who would claim that it is inherently neutral or even innately good and thus would teach that it is an appropriate way to express gratitude for sexual desire. Others would say that it is a veiled form of homosexuality, or that it is a clear violation of God’s law and thus always sinful. The spectrum is wide and the positions are quite varied.

Scripture never overtly addresses the issue of masturbation and thus any non-careful treatment of this topic must be avoided. If we define sin merely as transgression of God’s law then we might conclude that since Scripture does not explicitly prohibit the particular act of masturbation, it must therefore be non-sinful. However, sin is not merely transgression of the Scriptures, but also a transgression of the character and intent of God. As marriage is the only God-ordained means of expressing sexual intimacy, it would seem perfectly acceptable to declare masturbation a sinful act. This paper will seek to specify some common wisdom regarding masturbation and then commend a few questions which must be considered to faithfully examine the act.

  • Sexual immorality is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Lust is specifically declared to be sinful.
  • Masturbation does not typically quench sexual desire, rather it intensifies it. As with most things, the more you feed it, the more it grows. In general, masturbation becomes habit forming and enslaves us to desires for greater sexual relief through greater self-indulgence rather than greater self-control. While the Spirit produces in us the fruit of self-control, the flesh desires indulgence and release. Self-control is not ascetic discipline, but is instead the response of a proper understanding of God’s creative design for our bodies.
  • Masturbation is outside of God’s intended design for sexual relations. Sex was created to be experienced between a man and woman who are joined together into the one flesh relationship of marriage; masturbation is taking the sexual desire reserved for this relationship and seeking to fulfill it through our own means. Masturbation sets a very destructive pattern for marriage. It places the emphasis on self pleasure rather than the desire for two to experience the fulfillment of sexual union together.
  • Masturbation is typically lustful – whether that be overt lust direct toward another or a lustful desire for relief.
  • Masturbation does not typically stir our affections for the Lord, rather it robs them.

….

It seems to the pastors and elders of The Village Church that masturbation is prohibited for a couple of reasons. First, we would prohibit the act based upon the provision of marriage as the only appropriate institution in which to express sexual intimacy. If you burn with lust or desire sexual intimacy, get married (1 Corinthians 7:9). Such is the gracious and holy prescription for sexual desire, the only prescription afforded by the Creator of all good desire. Second, we would counsel abstinence due to the overwhelming and innate relationship between masturbation and lust. Lust is extremely serious and not to be taken lightly, dismissed, or played with.

The Village Church is a Southern Baptist megachurch pastored by Matt Chandler. Chandler is also part of The Gospel Coalition — a Fundamentalist group with Calvinistic leanings. Men such as Danny Akin, Alistair Begg, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Kent Hughes, Erwin Lutzer, Albert Mohler, Russell D. Moore, David Platt, John Piper, Philip G. Ryken, and Sam Storms are/were members, as were the infamous Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney. I can safely say that all of these men likely approve of Chandler’s anti-masturbation message. Ironically, Chandler is currently on “leave” from his church for having an inappropriate online relationship with a woman.

Jason DeRouchie, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also believes masturbation is sinful. DeRouchie, writing for the Desiring God website, says:

Many medical professionals treat masturbation as a natural part of human development, and some church leaders have attempted to supply practical and theological reasons to masturbate. From a biblical perspective, however, I do not believe this approach pleases God, and I have seen the devastation that such a practice brings to both singles and marrieds alike.

….

When people reach orgasm outside the covenant-confirming act of lovemaking in marriage, the act becomes solely self-seeking, divorced from its purpose of creating intimacy. Sexual expression through orgasm should be an overflow of a desire for a spouse, not merely for a feeling or experience.

….

As noted, orgasm outside the marriage bed removes the relational, intimate nature of sexual expression, which is at the core of its purpose (1 Corinthians 7:2–3, 5). Refraining from masturbation helps to purify one’s appetites (1 Corinthians 9:27). It helps to ensure that a person’s desire to make love with his or her spouse is for nurturing covenantal intimacy through service and honor, and through receiving love from him or her (Matthew 20:28; John 13:14–16). It reminds couples that their spouse is not given as an object to be exploited, but rather as a covenant partner to be provided for, protected, and respected (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; see also Genesis 2:24).

….

Masturbation outside the marriage bed does not glorify God because evil desire always fuels it.

Whatever we do — including all forms of sexual expression — we are to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether tagged as covetousness, lust, or sensuality, misplaced and mistimed desires do not glorify God, and failure to glorify God is always sin (Romans 3:23; 14:23). Paul thus charges, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

In God’s good design, marital love is the only justified context for one to enjoy a sexual craving for orgasm, for only in this sphere does one glorify God by pointing to the beautiful union of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31–32). From this perspective, evil desire fuels all sexual expression outside the marriage bed, including masturbation, so we must treat all such acts as sinful and as deserving of hell (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 7:20–23; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:17, 19–21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5–6).

….

Jesus urged his followers to guard themselves from lustful masturbation, and Paul called Christians to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor.

Only “the pure in heart . . . shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus appears to link masturbation with lust when he declares that looking at a woman with lustful intent is sin, and then charges his disciples to take extreme measures with their eyes and hands, so that they will preserve themselves unto life (Matthew 5:27–30). Similarly, Paul stressed that holiness seen in sexual purity was God’s will for every person, and then he urged believers to control their sexual parts in holiness and honor rather than in lust.

Masturbation outside the marriage bed witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

Self-control is a new-covenant fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), a discipline that pleases God, nurtures hope for eternal life, and frees one from fear of future punishment (Romans 8:6–9, 13; 2 Timothy 1:7). Lack of self-control is sin and enables greater influence by the evil one (Proverbs 25:28; 1 Corinthians 7:5). Intentional orgasm outside the marriage bed through masturbation witnesses a lack of self-control and is therefore sin.

….

In light of these realities, I believe that anyone who masturbates outside the marriage bed sins and insults God’s glory in Christ. As men and women of God, therefore, may we not engage in it. Instead, may we look to our Lord for help and seek to honor him with our bodies by allowing our only outlet for sexual desire to be the covenant-nurturing intimacy of marital lovemaking (Job 31:1). May we also intentionally lead our children in such paths of righteousness for Christ’s name’s sake.

….

Please look up all the Bible verses given by De Rouchie. I’m sure you’ll want to immediately refrain from masturbating lest God tosses you in Hell for doing so.

ted cruz masturbation

And finally, here’s what Focus on the Family has to say about masturbation:

The point, as we see it, is the larger meaning and purpose of human sexuality. The Bible has two important things to say about this: first, sex is central to the process by which husband and wife become one flesh (Genesis 2:24); and second, sex and marriage are intended to serve as a picture or symbol of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:31, 32). Sex, then, isn’t intended to be “all about me.” Rather, it’s designed to function as part of the give-and-take of an interpersonal relationship.

These theological perspectives should inform and shape our approach to the practical problem of masturbation. It’s important that we avoid heaping guilt on teenagers who find the urge to masturbate almost uncontrollable, and who might be driven to spiritual despair as a result. At the same time, we should do everything we can to help adolescents, young adults and married couples see that self-gratification is inconsistent with the purpose, goal and basic nature of sex. We shouldn’t condemn anyone for masturbating, but neither should we encourage them to continue in the habit. Why not? Because God has created men and women to experience sexual fulfillment on a much higher level – within the context of a marital relationship – and we don’t want anything to jeopardize their chances of knowing that joy to the fullest extent.

In connection with this last thought, it’s important to add that masturbation, due to the powerful hormonal and psychological components of human sexual behavior, can often become extremely addictive. Individuals who fall prey to this addiction may end up carrying it with them into adult married life, where it can become a serious obstacle to healthy marital intimacy. Further, masturbation is frequently involves indulging in sexual fantasy; and fantasy, if we are to believe the words of Jesus (Matthew 5:28), does represent a very serious breach of a person’s mental and spiritual purity.

What can be done to break this pattern? In many cases, masturbation originates as a self-soothing behavior. In other words, it’s a way of coping with pressures and seeking to meet the basic human need for peace, security, comfort and reassurance. If you have a problem with masturbation, you may want to keep this in mind and ask yourself whether it might be possible to replace this negative behavior with a more legitimate method of addressing the underlying need. For example, by talking things over with a friend, reading an engaging book, listening to music, pouring yourself into a constructive project or serving other people. Ultimately, the pain a person is trying to anesthetize through the practice of masturbation is just another manifestation of the “God-shaped vacuum” that exists at the center of every human heart. Only a relationship with the Lord can fill that empty space in a deep, lasting and satisfying way.

….

sin of masturbation

Yet, for all their preaching against the sin of Onanism, virtually all Evangelical teens, young men, and even married men, masturbate. I can’t speak to the level of masturbation among Evangelical women, but I suspect there is a lot more ringing of the devil’s doorbell going on than church leaders think there is.

Being raised in an anti-masturbation church environment caused quite a bit of problem for me as a teen and unmarried adult. Despite all the preaching against touching the opposite sex, when given the opportunity to make out with my girlfriend (or fiancée), I did so lustily. While I was a virgin when my wife and I married, I found myself rounding third and heading for home not only with Polly, but also with a girl named Anita. (The rest of my dating relationships were casual and of short duration.)

I was eighteen years old when I started dating Anita. She was twenty, a college student at a Conservative Baptist college in Phoenix, Arizona. Anita and I, for five short months, had a torrid relationship. She was much more experienced sexually than I was. On more nights than I can remember, we would park along a dark, rarely-travel back road and watch the night sky. Of course, we also did a lot of necking. Our intimacy stirred my sexual passions to such a degree that I would go home after dates and spend time praying to God for forgiveness, thanking him for not allowing us to give into our sexual desires. For me, not giving in included not masturbating. Anita and I later went our separate ways, but I’ll never forget the time we spent together.

Polly and I met as freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I was nineteen, she was seventeen. I planned on playing the field at college, but meeting Polly changed everything. I was quickly smitten by her beauty and quiet demeanor, and thus began our two-year battle with Midwestern’s Puritanical dating and physical contact rules. We refrained from breaking the rules for a time, that is until I went to visit Polly at her parent’s home in Newark, Ohio over Christmas break (1976). It was there, in Polly’s parent’s apartment complex laundry room, that we had our first kiss. Dating students were expected to keep the rules even during Christmas and summer break. No one, and I mean no one, did so.

Once back at Midwestern, Polly and I were faced with a dilemma. We wanted to continue touching and kissing each other; you know, as dating teens and young adults are wont to do. This meant we would have to secretly break the rules. We sought out couples to double-date with who were not averse to physical contact on dates. The vast majority of dating students — with but a handful of exceptions — broke the rules. Some students even slid into home and had sexual intercourse.

The Midwestern dorm was a den of raging hormones. With masturbation forbidden and touching the opposite sex grounds for expulsion, what were dating students to do? Why, they broke the rules with impunity, causing a repeating cycle of “sin,” guilt, repentance, and promises to God. I don’t know of anyone who successfully stopped breaking the rules once they started. IFB young adults were very much like their counterparts in the world — 1960s-1970s world. We, like our peers, wanted sexual intimacy without fear and guilt.

Masturbation, then, was common among male students in the Midwestern dorm. Each dorm room had two or three students, so “secretly” masturbating was out of the question (and there were enough dysfunctional Pharisees around that doing so would have been reported to the dean of men). With masturbating in their rooms out of the question, many male dorm residents used the privacy of the men’s showers to get sexual relief. More than one IFB luminary suggested quick, cold showers to ward off masturbatory temptations. Each dorm room had a periodic responsibility to clean the dorm bathrooms, including the showers. We used to joke about the sticky, slimy “stuff” in the showers. Yuck, I know, but have you ever been in a male dormitory shower room? You don’t want to go there!

IFB preachers and their Evangelical counterparts continue to preach against the sin of masturbation. Despite all their preaching, masturbation remains widely practiced. Why? Masturbation is a harmless, effective way to find sexual release. Wanting to obey God (and their preachers), Evangelical unmarrieds do their best to refrain from sexual intercourse before marriage. It’s cruel to say no sex before marriage and, at the same time, say masturbating is a sin.

how to stop masturbating

What really should happen, of course, is for Evangelical churches and colleges to begin endorsing safe, responsible sexual intimacy among unmarrieds. With the average age for young people marrying reaching twenty-seven, it is absurd to expect them to refrain from sex for ten to fifteen years before they tie the knot. Bruce, that’s FORN-I-CAT-ION, a horrible sin in the eyes of the thrice holy God.  Whatever “it” is or isn’t, preaching abstinence doesn’t work. Much like non-believing young adults, Evangelical unmarrieds, more often than not, have had sex before marriage. Instead of heaping guilt upon their heads, preachers, how about teaching young adults to embrace their, as you say, “God-given” sexuality? Maybe then, young adults might be less likely to flee the confines of Evangelical Christianity. I know, I know, the Bible says. Perhaps, it is time to rewrite or update the Good Book, striking from its pages all the sexually repressive rules and regulations. Imagine how much more attentive young adults might be on Sundays if they were able to have guilt-free sex the night before. And you too, Preacher Man. Think of how much easier your job will be if you don’t have to spend time railing against normal human sexual behavior — you know the behavior you engaged in back when you were a virile young man.

Were you raised in the IFB or Evangelical church? How did your church/college handle the subject of masturbation? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Did My Philosophy of Ministry Change Over the Years I Spent in the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

Several years ago, my editor, Carolyn, asked me a question about how my philosophy of ministry had changed from when I first began preaching in 1976 until I left the ministry in 2005. I thought her question would make for an excellent blog post.

I typically date my entrance into the ministry from when I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976. I actually preached my first sermon at age 15, not long after I went forward during an evening service at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and publicly declared to my church family that God was calling me into the ministry. My public affirmation of God’s call was the fulfillment of the desire I expressed as a five-year-old boy when someone asked me: what do you want to be when you grow up? My response was, I want to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. While I’m unsure as to why this is so, all I know is this: I always wanted to be a preacher.

Trinity Baptist Church was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). From my preschool years forward, every church I attended was either an IFB church or a generic Evangelical congregation. When I entered Midwestern in 1976, all that I knew about the Bible, the ministry, and life itself was a result of the preaching, teaching, and experiences I had at the churches I had been part of. These churches, along with my training at Midwestern, profoundly affected my life, filling my mind with theological, political, and social beliefs that shaped my worldview. These things, then, became the foundation of my philosophy of ministry.

The fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional home also played a big part in the development of my ministerial philosophy. During my elementary and high school years, I attended numerous schools. The longest spell at one school was the two-and-a-half years I spent at Central Junior High School and Findlay High School in Findlay Ohio. All told, I attended four high schools, two junior high schools, and five elementary schools. Someone asked me years ago if I went to so many different schools because my dad got transferred a lot. I laughed, and replied, no, dad just never paid the rent. While my father was always gainfully employed, the Gerencser family was never far from the poor house, thanks to nefarious financial deals and money mismanagement. I quickly figured out that if I wanted clothing, spending money, and, at times, lunch money, it was up to me to find a way to get the money to pay for these things. There were times that I sneaked into my dad’s bedroom and stole money from his wallet so I could pay for my school lunches. Dad thought that the local Rink’s Bargain City — which I called Bargain Shitty — was the place to buy clothing for his children. I learned that if I wanted to look like my peers that I was going to have to find a way to get enough money to pay for things such as Converse tennis shoes, platform shoes, and Levi jeans. In my early junior high years, I turned to shoplifting for my clothing needs. From ninth grade forward, I had a job, whether it was mowing grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or holding down a job at the local Bill Knapp’s restaurant. I also worked at my dad’s hobby shop, for which he paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus whatever I spent for soda from the pop machine. (Please see Questions: Bruce, How Was Your Relationship with Your Father? and Questions: Bruce Did Your Bad Relationship with Your Father Lead to You Leaving Christianity?)

My mother, sexually molested by her father as a child and later raped by her brother-in-law, spent most of her adult life battling mental illness. Mom was incarcerated against her will several times at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She attempted suicide numerous times, using everything from automobiles, to pills, to razor blades to bring about her demise. One such attempt when I was in fifth grade left an indelible mark, one that I can still, to this day, vividly remember. I rode the bus to school. One day, after arriving home, I entered the house and found my mom lying in a pool blood on the kitchen floor. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, she survived, but suicide was never far from her mind. At the age of fifty-four, Mom turned a .357 Magnum Ruger revolver towards her heart and pulled the trigger. She bled out on the bathroom floor. (Please see Barbara.)

It is fair to say that we humans are the sum of our experiences, and that our beliefs are molded and shaped by the things we experience in life. I know my life certainly was. As I reflect on my philosophy of ministry, I can see how these things affected how I ministered to others. The remainder of this post will detail that philosophy and how it changed over the course of my life.

When I entered the ministry, my philosophy was quite simple: preach the gospel and win souls to Christ. Jesus was the solution to every problem, and if people would just get saved, all would be well. I find it interesting that this Jesus-centric/gospel-centric philosophy was pretty much a denial of what I had, up until that point, experienced in life. While the churches I attended certainly preached this philosophy, my real-life experiences told me that Jesus and salvation, while great, did not change people as much as preachers said they did. But, that’s the philosophy I was taught, so I entered the ministry with a burning desire to win as many souls as possible, believing that if I did so it would have a profound effect on the people I ministered to.

I also believed that poor people (and blacks) were lazy, and if they would just get jobs and work really, really hard, they would have successful lives. Lost on me was the fact that I worked really, really hard, yet I was still poor. There’s that cognitive dissonance. I would quickly learn as a young married man that life was more complex than I first thought, and that countless Americans went to work every day, worked hard, did all they could to become part of the American middle class, yet they never experienced the American dream. I also learned that two people can be given the same opportunities in life and end up with vastly different lives. In other words, I learned that we humans are complex beings, and there’s nothing simple about life on planet earth. I learned further that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. I would much later in life conclude that life is pretty much a crapshoot.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. I pastored this church for almost twelve years. During this time, the church grew from a first-service attendance of sixteen to an average attendance of over two hundred. The church also experienced a decline in membership over time, with fifty or so people attending the last service of the church. Somerset Baptist was located in Perry County, the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. Coal mines and stripper oil wells dotted the landscape. Unemployment was high. In the 1980s, unemployment exceeded twenty percent. It should come as no surprise then, that most of the members of Somerset Baptist were poor. Thanks in part to my preaching of the Calvinistic work ethic (also known as the shaming of people who don’t have jobs), all the men of the church were gainfully employed, albeit most families were receiving food stamps and other government assistance. During the years I spent at this church, I received a world-class education concerning systemic poverty. I learned that people can work hard and still not get ahead. I also learned that family dysfunction, which included everything from drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, and even incest, often was generational; that people were the way they were, with or without Jesus, because that’s all they knew. I pastored families that had never been more than fifty miles from their homes. At one point, some members of our church took a church auto trip to Virginia, and I recall how emotional some members were when they crossed the bridge from Ohio into West Virginia. It was the years I spent in Somerset Ohio that dramatically changed how I viewed the world. This, of course, led to an evolving philosophy of ministry.

bruce gerencser 1990's
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

While I never lost my zeal to win souls for Christ, my preaching, over time, took on a more comprehensive, holistic approach. Instead of preaching, get right with God and all would be well, I began to teach congregants how to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. I stop preaching textual and topical sermons, choosing instead to preach expositionally through various books of the Bible. I also realized that one way I could help the children of the church was to provide a quality education for them. Sure, religious indoctrination was a part of the plan, but I realized that if the children of the church were ever going to rise above their parents, they were going to have to be better educated. For my last five years at Somerset Baptist, I was the administrator and a teacher at Somerset Baptist Academy — a private, tuition-free school for church children. My wife and I, along with several other adults in the church, were the primary teachers. Our focus was on the basics: reading, English, writing, and arithmetic. Some of the students were years behind in their education. We used a one-room schoolhouse approach, and there were several instances of high school students doing math with third-grade students. We educated children where they were, regardless of their grade level. Polly taught the younger students, and was instrumental in many of them learning to read. Most of the students, who are now in their thirties and forties, have fond memories of Polly teaching them reading and English. Their memories are not as fond of Preacher, the stern taskmaster.

During the five years we operated the school, I spent hours every day with the church’s children. I learned much about their home lives and how poverty and dysfunction affected them. Their experiences seem so similar to my own, and over time I began to realize that part of my ministerial responsibility was to minister to the temporal social needs of the people I came in contact with. This change of ministry philosophy would, over time, be shaped and strengthened by changing political and theological beliefs.

In 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio called Grace Baptist Church. The church would later change its name to Our Father’s House — reflecting my increasing ecumenicalism. During the seven years I spent in West Unity, my preaching moved leftward, so much so that a man who had known me in my younger years told me I was preaching another gospel — the social gospel. My theology moved from Fundamentalist Calvinism to theological beliefs focused on good works. I came to believe that true Christian faith rested not on right beliefs, but good works; that faith without works was dead; that someday Jesus would judge us, not according to our beliefs, but by our works. While at Our Father’s House, I started a number of ministries that were no-strings-attached social outreaches to the poor. The church never grew to more than fifty or sixty people, but if I had to pick one church that was my favorite it would be this one. Outside of one kerfuffle where a handful of families left the church, my time at Our Father’s House was peaceful. For the most part, I pastored a great bunch of people who sincerely loved others and wanted to help them in any way they could.

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

In 2000, I voted Democrat for the first time. As my theology became more liberal, so did my politics, and by the time I left the ministry in 2005, I was politically far from the right-wing Republicanism of my early years in the ministry. Today, I am as liberal as they come. Politically, I am a Democratic Socialist. To some people, depending on where they met me in life, my liberal beliefs are shocking. One man was so bothered by not only my politics, but my loss of faith, that he told me he could no longer be friends with me; that he found my changing beliefs and practices too psychologically unsettling.

I’m now sixty-five years old, and come next July, I will be married to my beautiful bride for forty-five years. Much has changed in my life, particularly in the last decade, but one constant remains: I genuinely love people and want to help them. This is why some people think I am still a pastor, albeit an atheist one. I suspect had I been born into a liberal Christian home I might have become a professor or a social worker, and if I had to do it all over again I probably would have pursued these types of careers, choosing to be a bi-vocational pastor instead of a full-time one. But, I didn’t, and my life story is what it is. Perhaps when I am reincarnated, I will get an opportunity to walk a different path. But, then again, who knows where that path might take me. As I stated previously, we humans are complex beings, and our lives are the sum of our experiences. Change the experiences, change the man.

I hope that I’ve adequately answered my editor’s question. This post turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be, much like my sermons years ago.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser