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Tag: Once Saved Always Saved

Devout IFB Christian Struggles with Understanding My Story

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

Jack: Hey Bruce, I just read a little about your life and your description of how IFB preachers are treated like Demigods. I was saved in 1981 and God changed my life and Christ is my Saviour. I went to Hyles Anderson College for a little bit. I’m back with the Lord. The Lord seems to have restored me and I’m happier and have more peace and am winning souls consistently. Are you saying that none of this is real to you anymore? What about God, and Heaven and Hell and Judgement? I’m just asking I’m not trying to argue. I’m curious about your response.

Bruce: I’m an atheist, so no, I don’t think there is a God, Heaven, Hell, judgment, etc. You might find these posts helpful: Why?

Jack: Are you familiar with Dr. Jack Hyles?

Bruce: Yes, I’ve written extensively about Hyles and his son.

Jack: So what about getting saved, you never believed in that?

Bruce: Yes, I was saved, and now I’m not.

Jack: You really believe you were saved? How can you lose your salvation when the Lord comes into your heart?

Bruce: Don’t let your theology get in the way of reality. Countless people faithfully follow Jesus for years and then deconvert.

Jack: You don’t believe in being born again, and the Lord coming into your heart, and you becoming a new creature?

Bruce: Of course I did, but now I don’t.

Jack: So you don’t think that really happens?

Bruce: I “believe” it happened. All religious experiences are psychological in nature. We can believe all sorts of things that aren’t true or convince ourselves that certain experiences are real.

Jack: I believe the Lord really did come into my heart; there has been an internal change that cannot be denied! IT IS REAL! My desires changed, and my outlook, and I’m in the Light now, I see things differently! By faith!

Bruce: It’s “real” because you think it is. You want or need it to be real, so it is. And that’s fine.

Jack: You don’t think peace and comfort and joy and God’s love is real. I experience it!

Bruce: You “experience” what you believe those things to be. Again, all religious experiences are psychological in nature. Devout believers in other religions have similar “experiences.”

Usually, when an IFB Christian contacts me, I roll up my sleeves and ready myself for a bloody fight. Either that or I just say fuck off and turn on Sports Center. I sensed that Jack really wanted to understand my story, so I decided to briefly engage him in a discussion. I thought, “maybe, just maybe, I can get Jack to look beyond his narrow Fundamentalist theology.” I am not sure I accomplished that, but I hope that I planted a few seeds of doubt that might germinate and cause Jack to rethink his worldview. Not every online discussion has to end in hostility and conflict. I am content to put in a good word for reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry and move on.

Trained by the late Jack Hyles and his acolytes at First Baptist Church in Hammond and Hyles-Anderson College, Jack believes that once a person prays the sinner’s prayer and asks Jesus into his heart, he is a Christian; and once saved, always saved. In Jack’s mind, there’s nothing I can say or do to separate myself from God (Romans 8:35-39). Because I prayed the sinner’s prayer at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, at the age of fifteen, I am forever a child of God, and Heaven awaits me after I die. No matter what I have said or done in the intervening fifty-two years, nothing can undo what took place one fall night years ago. I could become a Muslim, commit mass murder, or sexually molest children — it matters not — once saved, always saved.

IFB Christians such as Jack are left with two possibilities after reading my story:

  • I never was a Christian
  • I am a backslidden Christian

The first possibility is absurd. There’s nothing in my past that suggests that I was anything but a devoted, committed, sincere follower of Jesus. The fact that I am now an atheist does not magically erase my past (or the knowledge I have about Christianity and the Bible). The only honest explanation for my past is this: I once was a Christian, and now I am not.

The second possibility is equally absurd. There is nothing in my present life that remotely suggests that I am a Christian. Anyone who reads my blog surely knows that I am not, in any way, a Christian. Not an Evangelical; not an IFB Christian; not a liberal Christian; not a progressive Christian; not a Christian humanist; not a Christian universalist; not a Christian, period. I am a card-carrying atheist, a member in good standing of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

When someone tells me that they are a Christian, I accept their “testimony” at face value. Jack says he has been an IFB Christian for thirty-eight years. I believe him. It’s his storyline. Who better to tell his story than Jack? I just wish that Christians would do the same for Evangelicals-turned-atheists. “But Bruce,” Christians say, “the Bible says yada yada yada yada.” What the Bible purportedly says is not my problem. I get it. Jack can’t square my story with his peculiar theology. Countless Evangelicals have the same problem when they read my story. Again, that’s not my problem. I know what I know. Ask anyone who knew me when I was a Christian: Was Bruce a “real” follower of Jesus; a True Christian®? To a person, they will say, absolutely! Either I deceived my wife, children, in-laws, extended family, friends, college roommates, professors, ministerial colleagues, and congregants, or I really was a Christian. What’s more likely? Trust me, I am not a very good liar. Me not having been a Christian is akin to the moon landing being a hoax.

Stories such as mine will continue to cause cognitive dissonance for IFB Christians such as Jack. All I can hope for is that by reading my story, they will have doubts and questions that will lead to further investigation and inquiry. Fundamentalist Christians can and do change. I once believed as Jack did, and so did many of the readers of this blog. Yet, we are now unbelievers. Deconversion is a slow, agonizing, painful process. Some people cannot bear the questions and doubts, so they retreat into the safety of their houses of faith. Others, however, are willing to suffer through the process, believing that truth and freedom await them on the other side. There’s a gospel song that says, we’ve come this far by faith, we can’t turn back now. For people such as myself, we’ve come this far by reason, we can’t turn back now.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Is Bruce Gerencser Demon Possessed?

demon
The “real” Bruce Gerencser

Twice in the past week, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers have told me that I am demon possessed; that I never was a Christian; that I was a deceiver and false prophet. Today, in an article for The Christian Post titled Can Christ-worshipers turn into demon-worshipers? Evangelical Calvinist John Piper had this to say about people like me:

No genuinely called and justified Christian ever falls away into demon worship — not permanently, anyway.

….

[Piper said the question pertained to people] who’ve been in the church for years and are outwardly identifying as Christian and yet are not truly born again and end up being swept away into the teaching of demons.

….

The danger of seduction by deceitful spirits and teachings of demons is always present throughout this fallen age, from the time of Jesus till Jesus comes back. They’re always there. But there will be a greater temptation as the end of the age approaches and the Lord draws near.

….

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

In other words, the mystery of lawlessness will have a huge impact on nominal Christians, whose love for Christ is shallow and unreal. They will grow cold. Their resistance to the deception of demons will give way and they will not endure to the end.

Devout followers of Jesus are leaving Evangelicalism in droves; people who were pastors, evangelists, missionaries, youth leaders, worship leaders, and college professors, to name a few. These folks dedicated their lives to worshipping and serving Jesus. Everything in their lives said to the world, “I am a born-again child of the living God.” When critics are asked for evidence to justify their harsh criticisms, none is provided. Instead, unsubstantiated accusations are leveled against former servants of the Most High.

The root problem is theological. The IFB preachers mentioned above believe that once a person is saved, he can never, ever lose his salvation. Piper, a Calvinist, believes this too, but with this caveat: a believer must endure (persevere) to the end (death) to be saved. The first fifty years of my life testify to faith in Christ; to devotion to God, the Word, and the church. Years ago, a family member said to another, upon hearing of my deconversion, “If Butch isn’t a Christian, nobody is.” I have had former congregants tell me that they could no longer be friends with me; that they find my story disconcerting, causing them to doubt their own salvation. Fourteen years ago, a dear preacher friend of mine begged me to keep quiet about my loss of faith. He feared that some people upon learning of my deconversion, could become so troubled that they too would lose their faith.

People who knew me are left with an irreconcilable conundrum. They listened to my preaching and observed my behavior. They know I was a Christian in every way. Yet today, I am an outspoken atheist; an enemy of God; a mocker of all things holy and true. My writing repudiates everything I once believed. Some former associates believe I am still saved — just backslidden; that I will either one day return to the faith or God will severely chastise or kill me. Other associates, those of Arminian persuasion, believe I have fallen from grace; that I once was saved, and now I am not.

Preachers such as the aforementioned IFB pastors and John Piper take a different tack. Instead of acknowledging my past devotion to Jesus and the testimony of scores of people about my love for God, they dismiss my story out of hand, saying that I was never what I and others say I was. These critics only know me from afar, yet they feel more than qualified to render judgment. What they are, in effect, saying is that I am lying about my past and that the people who speak glowingly about my preaching and love and care for others are misinformed or deceived. In their minds, I have always been a deceiver, someone who, at the very least was and is influenced by the Devil and demons, or actually possessed by demons.

I get it. My story and those of other ex-preachers and church workers are troubling and challenge the assumptions many Evangelicals have about people who leave Christianity. “How can these things be,” they say to themselves, and instead of taking a hard look at their theological beliefs and presumptuousness, they take the easy way out by calling former believers names or claiming they are demon-possessed. Anything except wrestling with why an increasing number of devoted followers of Jesus are exiting the church stage left, never to return.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Know-So Salvation

know so salvation

I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

— The Apostle Paul

I know, I know, there’s no doubt about it
He lives in my heart and I’m gonna shout it
I know, I know my sins are forgiven
And I’m on my way to a place that’s called Heaven

— Chorus for the song I Know

Those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches heard preachers say countless times that Christians have a “know-so salvation,” that believers have heart knowledge, not head knowledge of Jesus Christ. Preachers often encouraged new Christians to write down the date, time, and place they asked Jesus into their hearts to save them in their KJV Bibles. Getting saved is the most important decision you will ever make, IFB preachers say. Never, ever forget the moment Jesus saved you!

What is the substance of this know-so salvation? The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, as stated in 1 Corinthians 15: 3,4:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

That’s the IFB gospel in a nutshell. Believe these theological propositions, really, really, really mean it, and you are forever saved. IFB churches preach transactional salvation. These are the facts, believe them in your heart, and you are saved. Typically, a sinner is presented the gospel by an altar worker or a soulwinner using a plan such as the Roman’s Road, at which time the salvation prospect is asked “would you like to ask Jesus into your heart? If the sinner answers in the affirmative, he is asked to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins and come into his heart to save him. And just like that, a new Christian is minted and promised a home in Heaven after he dies. It takes less time to get saved than it does to take a shower.

This way of saving sinners is often called “one-two-three, repeat after me,” or “decisional regeneration.” (Please see One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style.) Simply put, salvation is simple and instantaneous. All one must do is believe. I am sure someone will ask, Bruce, what about repentance? Good question. IFB churches and preachers take one of two approaches to repentance:

  • Repentance means a change of mind. I once was against Christ, and now I am for him.
  • Repentance means turning from known sin to Christ.

Most IFB adherents I know believe the former; that dealing with sin takes place after salvation; that it is up to God to clean up sinners after they are saved. Many IFB preachers believe that saying a sinner must turn from sin before he is saved is “works salvation.” Those who believe a sinner must repent to be saved often accuse the “change of mind” crowd of preaching cheap grace.

According to IFB orthodoxy, once a person is saved, he can never, ever, for any reason lose his salvation. Once-saved-always-saved, the thinking goes. That’s why some IFB Christians think I am still a believer; that the sinner’s prayer I prayed as a fifteen-year-old boy guaranteed my salvation and a home in Heaven after I die. While I will lose rewards in Heaven, I will still dwell with God for eternity. No matter what I say or do — including professing atheism — I am forever saved!

Of course, many IFB preachers can’t stomach the thought of Evangelical-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser going to the same Heaven as they after I die. These preachers confidently say that I never was a True Christian®. Wait a minute. I heard the gospel, came under conviction, went forward at the appointed time, knelt at the altar, and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I did everything my pastor told me to do, sincerely believing that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. How is it, then, that I am not a Christian?

I left the IFB church movement in the late 1980s because I believed most IFB preachers preached a shallow, truncated gospel. This led me to Calvinism and a Reformed understanding of salvation. It seemed inconceivable to me then, and still does today, that one can live any way he wants and still be a Christian; that there is no connection between saving faith and good works. I came to see that the cheap grace gospel preached by many IFB churches produced unsaved Christians; people whom the Bible calls the sevenfold children of Hell.

This warped understanding of good works results in IFB churches filled with people who think that the sum of their Christian lives is the momentary decision they made years before. Many IFB preachers believe that sanctification (being separated, and set apart for God’s service) happens at the moment of salvation. I came to see that this too was a corruption of what the Bible actually taught; that sanctification was a progressive work of God in the lives of believers. How does a Christian know he is progressing in sanctification? Good works. If you are not growing and maturing in faith and good works, it’s a sign that you might not be a Christian.

Why is it that IFB preachers are known for preaching the basics of Christianity over and over and over again? Why must church members be constantly reminded to read their Bibles, pray, attend church, and practice other normative things Christians do? Why do IFB churches have elaborate codes of conduct church members are expected to obey? Why do members have such a hard time following these man-made rules? One needs to look no further than to the bankrupt gospel preached by many IFB preachers. When you separate repentance and good works from the gospel, this is the result. Sadly, many IFB Christians haven’t progressed or matured from the moment they were saved. They remain people who are on pabulum, unable to eat and digest the meat of the Word. We see this in the noxious, hateful behavior of many IFB believers who comment on this site. Childish, to say the least.

I am sure a few of my atheist readers will say “who cares?” Christianity is bunk. Why should I care about what IFB Christians believe or don’t believe? Fair enough, but this post isn’t for you. My goal is to provoke IFB believers to do good works. Maybe they will think a bit about what their churches and pastors actually teach and practice. Maybe they will ask themselves, “what fruit does the IFB gospel produce?” I am not an anti-theist; an atheist who delusionally thinks the end of Christianity is nigh. Religion is here to stay for generations to come. Would the world not be a better place if IFB Christians take seriously the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount; who not only love God but also love their neighbors as themselves? The world is a much better place for all of us if Christians are people of love and compassion; people who value and care for the least of these.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bob, the Saved Rapist

barbara gerencser 1978
Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978

Bob was my mom’s brother-in-law. Married to my dad’s sister, Bob was a rough-and-tumble truck driver and dirt-track race-car driver. Bob’s parents were devout Fundamentalist Baptists. Bob was raised in the church, and at the age of seventeen he walked the sawdust trail at a revival meeting and asked Jesus to save him from his sin. According to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist theology, Bob was now an eternally saved child of God.

After high school, Bob left home and abandoned the Baptist faith of his parents. Over the next six decades, Bob lived as if God did not exist. In every way, he lived as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. He was a booze-drinking skirt chaser known for sexually harassing and assaulting women. Female family members knew to steer clear of Bob lest they find themselves a target of his sexual advances. Age didn’t matter to Bob, and more than a few teen family members endured his touches, squeezes, and other demeaning behaviors.

Women got “used to” Bob’s sexual assaults. Viewing him as harmless, they would recount to me, “Oh, that was just Bob being Bob.” It was the 1960s and 1970s, after all, and that’s just how men were, I was told. As I will share in a moment, Bob was anything but harmless.

In early 1969, we lived east of Farmer, Ohio in a farmhouse owned by my dad’s sister and brother-in-law. I was in the sixth grade at Farmer Elementary School. One day, I was home from school sick. I spent the day in bed recuperating. In the early afternoon, Bob pulled into the drive. I figured he was there to see my mom, so I stayed in my room. A short time later, Bob left and I heard my mom calling my name. She was crying, saying that Bob had just raped her. She asked me to go to the neighbor’s house and call someone (I can’t remember who). I did, but no one ever came to our home.

You see, Mom had mental health problems — lots of problems. This meant, of course, in the minds of “healthy” people, she couldn’t be relied on to tell the truth. Bob was well-known in town. Bob would never rape anyone. Yes, he was a “little” too friendly with women, but, hey, that was just “Bob being Bob.” A few months later, we moved to Deshler, Ohio. Mom never talked about Bob after that. I suspect that she buried the rape deep in the recesses of her mind, right next to memories of her father repeatedly sexually assaulting her as a child.

Bob died a few years ago. His funeral was held at First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. Bob’s parents helped start this congregation and were pillars of the church for decades. I attended First Baptist as a teenager. I went to Bob’s funeral, wanting to see what kind of send-off the once-saved-always-saved Baptists would give Bob, the Saved Rapist. The pastor, John MacFarlane, gave a sermon that spoke of the night sixty years prior that Bob had been gloriously saved, and that he was now in Heaven with his mom and dad. The pastor never mentioned that Bob hadn’t darkened the doors of the church since the 1960s and he, in every way, lived a life of debauchery. The pastor cared more about protecting the memory of Bob’s parents than he did telling the truth. I have seen this behavior countless times over the years: degenerate people preached into Heaven, all because they mentally assented to a set of theological propositions. And therein lies the vulgarity of once-saved-always-saved soteriology. It’s the same theology that says I am still a Christian, and that no matter what I say or do I will go to Heaven when I die. Just pray the right prayer, believe the right things and Heaven is yours!

As the funeral service went along, I found myself becoming increasingly angry. I wanted to rebuke the pastor for his lies. I wanted to scream at the congregation for their willful ignorance of what kind of man Bob really was. Most of all, I wanted to be my mom’s voice. Not a mile away, Mom lay silent in her grave. Oh, to bring her to life again so she could give testimony to what Bob did to her! On that day, I so wished that there was a Hell. If anyone deserved endless torment, it was Bob. Alas, there is no Hell, so the only satisfaction that comes from Bob’s death is that no other woman will ever have to suffer the indignity of being sexually assaulted by him. I wish Mom had been alive to see Bob meet his end. Unfortunately, fifteen years prior, Mom turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, ripping a hole in her heart. Her beautiful, tragic life instantly came to an end at age fifty-four, due in no small part to men who saw her as an object of sexual desire and gratification, and not as the thoughtful, intelligent — and yes, beautiful — human being she really was.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

There’s No Such Thing as a Former Christian

saved or lost

Like Hotel California, once you are in, you can’t get out.

Once you are saved, you can never be lost.

Once God’s hound dog, the Holy Spirit, tracks you down, you belong to God forever.

Or so says Charles Smith:

If you scour the world-wild-web for any amount of time using atheism as your search term, you will undoubtedly find pages and pages of sites laced with the famous proclamation, “I used to be a Christian.” While this may be intriguing to the seeker, desiring a glimpse at the testimony of a formerly professing believer turned cynic in hopes of discovering reasons to remain religiously repulsed by Christendom, or possibly the opposite – looking to see if their retroversion experience is sensible – one thing is certain…there’s no such thing as a former Christian.

Cultural Christianity is quite the phenomenon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries…

After “leaving the faith,” these misguided, false-converts then find their voices in the blogosphere, social sites, chat rooms, discussion boards and every other form of digital media outlet known to man – exhaustively expatriating as many “cardboard Christians” as they can sink their flaw-full claws into. Ironically, if they would spend as much time truly investigating and begging with a contrite heart, “God, please show yourself to me!” they would discover that He is absolutely faithful to do so – and the door the Lord has once opened, can be closed by no man.

These poor misinformed “ex-Christians” were never truly reborn of the Holy Spirit of God. They followed the crowd in church, were dunked under water, consumed crackers and gulped grape juice, sang songs, talked the talk, looked the part, memorized verses and so many other religious acts, but never came to a saving faith found in a relationship with the only begotten Son of God. Like so many of their contemporaries who weren’t led to the foot of the blood-stained cross of Calvary, they never saw their sins in the mirror of the ten commandments and consequently, never realized the magnitude of their debt – owed to a God who, because of His perfect love and justice, must punish sin – and they never saw the spotless Lamb for who He was and is, the ransom payment – the sacrificial substitute – who carried their sins before the Father and said “I will take their punishment.” Their prideful hearts of stone never crumbled under the weight of such a love and therefore, they simply socialized and enjoyed the music and learned to get along. But, of course, anyone who goes through a “phase” knows, it wore off and they moved on and Jesus wept…

Let the reader understand, just as you can’t become unborn once you have evacuated the womb, you also cannot become un-born-again. It is impossible to un-ring a bell, un-cook an egg or un-kill the living. If you are a spiritual seeker, please know that there is no such thing as an ex-Christian and if you want the truth, please look in a good Bible teaching church for assistance. If after reading this you still claim to be a “former believer,” you just do not understand…

While Smith’s argument certainly might apply to cultural or nominal Christians, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people like me; those who were sincere, committed, devoted, sold-out, on fire, consecrated, dedicated, sanctified followers of Jesus. While it is quite easy to dismiss those who never really took Christianity seriously, what about those of us who did? Did I really spend most of my adult life deceived, never having come to faith in Jesus Christ? Only in the echo chamber of Smith’s mind is such a claim possible. The only way he can square his theology with the life of someone like me is to say I never was a Christian, and since theology always trumps reason, Bruce Gerencser never was a Christian.

Look, I understand. I really do. Christians such as Smith cannot fathom anyone walking away from their Jesus. Why would anyone want to walk away from J-E-S-U-S, the most awesome God-man in the world, the biggest, baddest God in the entire universe? Why would anyone walk away from a golden ticket to God’s Motel 6? No more pain, no more suffering, no more death . . . who in their right mind would turn down such an offer?

But I did, others have, and more will continue to do so. Evidently, God didn’t want us bad enough to keep us.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce, IFB Doctrines are Biblical and Correct

peanut gallery

Earlier today, an Evangelical man named Mark left the following comment:

It is a shame that you you [sic] have rejected Christ as your Saviour. How could you even Pastor a church and not be saved? Yes there are lots of problems with the IFB’s, but their doctrines (except for KJV only-ism and legalistic standards and Pastor worship) to name a few, are very Biblical and correct. There is still only one way to heaven.

We all make choices in life. Mark says it’s a “shame” that I didn’t make the same religious choice that he did. He provides no evidence for why my rejection of his peculiar brand of religion is a “shame.” Would he say the same thing if I was a Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, or Pagan? I suspect he would. Mark likely believes that there is one true God, one true religion, one true interpretation of the Bible — his.

Mark asks “how could you even pastor a church and not be saved?” Best I can tell, Mark read all of two posts on this site:

He read none of my autobiographical posts. Had he done so, he would have learned that I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years; that I was gloriously saved at the age of fifteen; that I spent the next thirty-five years of my life devotedly following after and serving Jesus. I wasn’t an “unsaved” pastor. I was a born-from-above preacher of the gospel. I was in every way a child of God. And then, at the age of fifty, I walked away from Christianity.

I suspect that Mark is having a hard time reconciling my story with his Baptist theology. He knows that I’m an atheist, so how is it possible that I was ever a “saved” preacher? In his mind “this does not compute.” However, either I was the most cunning deceiver since Satan himself, or I once was saved and now I am not. Mark will search in vain for any evidence that suggests I was a deceiver. Talk to my wife and children. Talk to my extended family. Talk to people I pastored over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry. Talk to my former ministerial colleagues. You will not find one person who will say that they knew, at the time, that I was a deceiver; a false Christian; a tool of Satan; an enemy of God.

Mark, a Baptist, thinks once a person is saved, he remains saved — forever. Once gained, salvation can never be lost. Yet, here’s Bruce Gerencser, a sixty-five-year-old man who by all accounts, was saved, and now he is lost. How can this be? Mark thinks. Instead of reconciling the defect in his theology, Mark decides to make a fantastical claim for which he has no evidence: Bruce Gerencser never was a real Christian.

I am not certain if Mark is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). He recognizes several glaring theological problems, yet he thinks that IFB beliefs are correct. (Please see What is an IFB Church?) Of course, all he is saying is that IFB beliefs are not much different from those held by Southern Baptists and countless other Evangelical sects. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) What sets the IFB church movement apart from a lot of other sects is their social beliefs and practices (please see An Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Hate List); their ecclesiology; their irrational belief that the King James Version of the Bible is inerrant and infallible. What Mark doesn’t mention is the high rate of sex crimes committed by IFB pastors, evangelists, missionaries, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and bus workers; crimes that are routinely dismissed or covered up. (Please see Black Collar Crime Series.)

It is hard not to conclude that, when taken as a whole, the IFB church movement is a cult. The psychological and, at times, physical harm caused by IFB churches and pastors has wounded and scarred countless people. Many former IFB church members end up needing therapy to come to terms with the harm inflicted upon them by so-called men of God.

If I were inclined to return to Christianity someday, there’s not a chance in Heaven or Hell that I would ever join an IFB church. Decades of abuse was enough for me, causing incalculable harm. My advice to anyone in an IFB church is this: RUN! There are gentler, kinder forms of faith; places where you will be loved and respected as you are.

Mark concludes his comments by saying “there is still only one way to Heaven.” Evidently, Mark has never read the Bible. The Bible actually teaches that there are numerous ways to Heaven: faith alone, faith plus works, and works alone. Further, each Christian sect has its own spin on the requirements for salvation. Which sect is right? Every sect appeals to the Bible for its theological claims. You would think that God, the alleged author of the Bible, would have made the plan of salvation clear. Instead, we find Peter and Paul arguing with each other about salvation. And then James comes along and says they both are wrong.

I am sure that Mark has been taught how to harmonize these contradictory beliefs. However, a plain reading of Scripture suggests that there are conflicting plans of salvation. Christians can’t even agree on basics such as baptism, communion, or church government. Yet, mere unbelievers are expected to pick through the conflicts and contradictions, hoping to find the faith once delivered to the saints. Maybe, just maybe, the various competing beliefs are a sign that Christianity is a manmade religion; that ancient men made it up as they went; that God, in all its forms, was created by fallible, frail humans.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Bruce Gerencser