As Polly and I wrapped up our 25-year tour of duty pastoring churches, we began looking for a church home. I had pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1997 to 2002, and after leaving the church, we attended — for a short time — an Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) church in Butler, Indiana. The congregation was not, itself, much to write home about, but we dearly loved the pastor and his family. After attending for a few months, we decided that we would join the church, only to find out that we couldn’t do so because we weren’t Dispensational and Premillennial. That’s right, we couldn’t join because of our eschatology. Such is the fracturing nature of Christian Fundamentalism. We soon left, looking for friendlier confines. The pastor and his wife — by now friends — were, as we were, disappointed. We felt, at the time, that we couldn’t in good conscience attend a church that wouldn’t accept as members. The church later closed its doors and the pastor and his family moved on to a new ministry. I can find no record of him online after 2008.
While I could tell many stories about our time at this church (good, bad, and funny), one stands out above all others. One Sunday morning we were sitting around a table in the fellowship hall swapping stories. Somehow, the subject of cats came up. Now, I am a cat lover. We have always had at least one cat, and have had as many as three. Currently, we are down to one: a fat, lazy yellow ten-year-old cat named Joe Meower. We regularly feed the neighborhood’s feral cats, hopefully providing them a bit of respite from the cruelty inflicted upon them by thoughtless humans.
As we talked about cats, an aged farmer decided to share a story about his barn cats. One of his cats had recently given birth to a litter of kittens. I thought, how nice this man is to take care of these feral cats and their offspring. I quickly learned, however, this man was anything but nice. Not that he was peculiar. Lots of Jesus-loving, God-fearing locals are quite cruel to animals. Some of the most cruel people I know are the local Amish. I asked the man how the kittens were doing. Oh, he chuckled, I killed them. I got a hammer out and smacked each one of them in the head! I quickly felt my face becoming flush as rage filled my mind. I thought, you could have given the kittens away, or better yet, you could have had your female barn cats spayed. Instead, his cruel hands picked up a hammer and he beat them to death.
I quickly exited the fellowship hall, fearing that I was going to have a “Bruce moment.” My rage passed, but I have not forgotten that people who speak of the love of God can often be cruel and violent; that God commanding them to have dominion over the earth means that they can indiscriminately kill. In an anthropocentric world, man rules the roost. All other life only has the value given to it by its overlords. This is why this farmer could, as if he was telling a story about his grandchildren, share his murderous rampage with his fellow church members.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
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My editor recently 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 was 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 a lot 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 poorhouse, 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.
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, pills, and 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 laying 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.
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. 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 also learned 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 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, 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. 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 which 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.
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000
In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. 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. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the last presidential primary election. 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 years old, and come July, I will be married to my beautiful bride for forty 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 and Polly Gerencser 2017
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
Late last night, I received a Facebook notification about approving something Rick, a friend of mine, wanted to post to my wall. Rick is a long-time friend, former parishioner, and frequent reader of this blog. What’s interesting about his request is that he meant his message to be a private one sent to a friend of his by the name of Frank. The reason I got the notification is that he inadvertently tagged me. Here’s the message Rick sent to Frank — also a man I have known for many years.
Don’t be put off by Rick’s poor language skills. Several years ago, Rick had a major stroke. This affected his ability to write sentences. Best I can tell, the stroke has not affected his ability to study and read the Bible, nor has it affected his ability to read religious materials.
I met Rick in the late 1990s. At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Rick, a Calvinist, was looking for a Calvinistic church to attend and someone recommended that he check out Somerset Baptist. Rick joined the church, happy in knowing that he had found a man who was conversant in the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism). For the next five years, I would drive two times a week — thirty miles round trip — to New Lexington to pick Rick up for church.
Frank and Rick, 1993, Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner
One Sunday night, while on our way to the church, Rick was waxing eloquently about double predestination and whether children who die in infancy and developmentally disabled people are automatically a part of the elect — those whom God, from before the foundation of the world, has chosen to save. I told Rick, with a slight irritation in my voice, that Calvinistic Baptist great Charles Spurgeon believed such people were numbered among the elect. Rick, not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to social cues, continued to defend God having the absolute right to eternally torture anyone, including infants and developmentally disabled people, in the Lake of Fire. I could feel anger welling. I thought to myself, has Rick forgotten that I have a developmentally disabled two-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome? Doesn’t he care how hurtful his words are? I slammed on the brakes and told Rick to get out of the car. He could walk to church, I told him. I quickly cooled down, telling him, I didn’t want to hear another word from him about whether infants and developmentally disabled people are elect. Rick complied, moving on to other hot button Calvinistic issues.
Let me share another Rick memory, one that I think readers will find funny. Rick worked third shift at a residential home for the developmentally disabled — Mount Aloysius. Unsurprisingly, Rick was quite tired by the time he arrived for Sunday morning church. Try as he might to stay awake, Rick would often fall asleep. Rick snored, so the entire congregation knew when Rick was sleeping. Sunday after Sunday I watched Rick fight sleep, his head bobbing back and forth during my hour-long sermons. One Sunday, Rick bobbed his head back and then forward just as he did Sunday after Sunday. This time, however, Rick’s head traveled forward farther than he intended, smacking the pew in front of him. I stopped preaching and went to Rick to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, the only thing harmed was his pride. After the service, I told Rick that perhaps he should skip the Sunday morning service when he worked the night before. That way he could be rested and mentally fresh for the Sunday evening service. By the way, this was the only time in twenty-five years of pastoring churches that I told someone, please don’t come to church.
I haven’t been Rick’s pastor for over twenty-two years, and the last time I saw him was in 1996 when he and Frank drove to West Unity, Ohio to attend services at a new church I had planted. Since then, I have traded a few emails with Rick, but nothing of substance.
Rick’s message is a reminder to me that people still talk about my deconversion. People who knew me well — as Rick and Frank once did — are still trying to square the pastor they once knew with the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. In Rick’s case, he wonders if am just backslidden, or is it possible that I never was saved. I am sure Rick prefers the backslidden explanation. I am sure trying to wrap his mind around the possibility of me never being saved is too much for him to emotionally and intellectually handle. If I was never saved, this means that Rick was taught for five years by an unsaved pastor, a man he heard expositionally preach hundreds of time, preaching that he believed was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am sure he remembers the countless hours we spent after church talking theology. I am sure he remembers my love, kindness, and compassion, and my willingness to, week after week, drive to New Lexington and pick him up so he could attend church. I am sure he asks himself, how is it possible that the Bruce I knew was never a true Christian.
The easy out for Rick is for him to embrace Arminianism with its belief that saved people can fall from grace. Doing so would mean that I once was saved, but now I am not. Of course, Rick’s Calvinism keeps him from believing I have lost my salvation, so he is forced to psychologically torture himself with thoughts about whether I am backslidden or was never a Christian to start with.
I wish Rick nothing but the best. I hope he will, in time, come to terms with my current godless state. I chose to be exactly where I am today. Or did I? Perhaps all of this has been decreed by God, and the person ultimately responsible for my lost condition is the divine puppet master, John Calvin’s God.
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (i John 2:15)
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (John 9:4, Romans 13:12, 2 Peter 3:10)
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1,2)
These verses and others became the primary motivators of my life for much of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. My belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God — a book written by God, not men — caused me to believe that, as I read these verses, God was speaking directly to me. I knew that God had saved me and called me into the ministry, and that if I devoted every moment of every day to following after Jesus, this would be time well spent. I knew that life was short, death was certain, hell was hot, and judgment was sure; that soon Bruce Gerencser was going to die and that he was going to stand before a thrice holy God and give an account for what he did with his life. Using the Disciples as my examples, I set out to leave everything that mattered to me and follow Jesus. This meant that, even though I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman and would over the years have six precious children with her, everything was secondary to my call to the ministry and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. As anyone who knew me in my Evangelical days will tell you, I was a true blue, on fire disciple of Christ. My goal in every one of the communities I pastored was to preach the gospel to as many people as possible and to motivate Christians to set aside the things of the world, focusing instead on the present and coming Kingdom of God. I knew that congregants would never be more than what was modeled to them, so I did my best to be a shining example of someone who loved God and took seriously the commands and teachings of the Bible. How this worked out in my life is tragic, a somber reminder of what happens when people give themselves over to fanaticism.
As I contemplated writing this post, I thought about all the things I missed out on or didn’t get to see because my mind was totally focused on the ministry and reaching people with the gospel. Not helping matters, was the fact that I was perfectionist, which later developed into full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Everywhere I looked there were sinners in need of saving. How could I take time off from work or go on a vacation as long as there were people who needed to hear the gospel. While I certainly would’ve loved to have spent more time with my wife and children, how could I justify doing so when there were so many people living in sin, seemingly without having anyone in their lives willing to tell them the truth about their eternal destiny. I quickly developed what I call the Elijah syndrome, that I was the only prophet remaining that was willing to do all that was necessary to preach the gospel to lost and dying sinners. It should come, then, as no surprise that I often worked seven days a week, frequently preaching five to seven sermons during that time. When I wasn’t preaching, I was busy knocking on doors, visiting people in the hospital, handing out tracts, working on the church building, transporting people to services, and talking to people in need of my counsel. As Polly will testify, I worked long hours, rarely taking time off for entertainment or personal relaxation.
Here are a few the things I missed while serving Jesus.
I missed out on watching my older sons play competitive sports. Not because I didn’t have the time to go to their games, but because I wouldn’t let them play sports due to game and practice schedules conflicting with church activities. I fondly remember the days when I played little league and pony league baseball, but my sons never had an opportunity to play baseball because their preacher father thought it more important for them to be sitting in church than playing meaningless, worldly games. I thought, How could I set a good example to the church if on church nights the preacher’s kids were busy playing sports and not in attendance? My children, unfortunately, were never allowed to just be. I expected them to be perfectly behaved, regardless of the fact that other church children were not. I expected my children to set the example, and this meant that they were not going to be able to do some the other things that “normal” children were allowed to do.
We lived in Southeast Ohio for almost twelve years. During this time, I pastored a fast-growing church that for many years operated a large bus ministry and a private Christian school. If there was one church where my workaholic, OCPD mentality was on display, it was here. During my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I took all of one vacation, a trip to Boston Massachusetts, paid for by Bruce Turner. Bruce had been the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio when I was saved and called to the ministry. One year I had Bruce come to our church to preach for our anniversary. The building was packed, a not-so-subtle reminder that young Bruce had learned well the lessons taught to him by older Bruce a decade and a half ago. Older Bruce had, however, aged and matured in his understanding of the ministry. As he spent several days observing his protégé’s ministerial work, he concluded that I was burning the candle at both ends, and that if I didn’t learn to relax and spend time away from the ministry that I was going to cause myself physical harm. And it is for these reasons that Bruce offered to pay for us to take a trip Massachusetts. This would be the first and last vacation I would take until the late 1990s. While I “heard” what Bruce was trying to tell me, his voice was drowned out by what I perceived to be the Holy Spirit telling me to give my all to Jesus; telling me that if I was a true disciple of Christ I must be willing to forsake all attachments to this world; telling me that my wife and children were not as important as following Jesus and preaching the gospel; telling me that Jesus was coming soon that I must be about my father’s business, for the night is coming when no man can work.
In the mid to late-1980s I made three exceptions to my on-call-for-Jesus 24/7 work schedule. The first exception that I carved out of my schedule was three hours once a week to play basketball with a group of men I had met through one of the teenage boys that attended the church. None of these men was Christian, so I suspect deep down I saw playing basketball with them as an opportunity to evangelize them. Ironically, I made very little effort to do so. Over time I saw these three hours as a refuge away from the pressures of the ministry. In retrospect, this once week full-court workout was likely a medicine of sorts that kept me from physically and mentally destroying myself.
The second exception on my schedule was weekly trips during the summer to local dirt race tracks. My best friend in the church, Harold Miller, asked me if I had ever been to a dirt track race. I told him that I had, but I hadn’t attended a race since the mid-1970s. And so we went — Polly and the boys included, along with 2 toddler girls — regularly on Friday and Saturday nights to racetracks such as Midway Speedway, Muskingum County Speedway, R&R Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. On nights that Polly didn’t want to go, I would pack up the boys and we would go to the races. Again, I saw our weekly visits to these racetracks as a respite of sort from the constant — often self-inflicted — demands of the ministry. There were plenty of sinners at the races we attended, but I made no effort to evangelize anyone. For three to five hours once a week I allowed myself to be immersed in a sea of worldlings, observing but never partaking.
When my evangelist friend Don Hardman heard that I was regularly attending local dirt track races, and – say it isn’t so Bruce! – taking my family with me, he rebuked me for attending such worldly events. Fortunately, I ignored him. I have no doubt that going to the races helped me maintain my sanity and allowed me to physically relax. (One humorous story from these days comes from a warm spring day when I was preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio. Pulling up to the traffic light was one of the regular late-model drivers at Midway Speedway. Seizing the opportunity to “share” the gospel with this man, I began preaching, mentioning him by name. He turned towards me with a look on his face that suggested I had scared the living daylights out of him. Several months later I ran into him, reminding him of my brief sermon on that spring day. He said to me, you scared the shit out of me!)
The third exception came when I would load Polly and the children into whatever beater we were driving at the time and take day road trips to Southern Ohio and West Virginia. All we needed was enough money for gas and off we would go. Polly would pack us food and snacks, so there was no need to stop at restaurants to eat. We traveled countless back roads, often ending up in places that were small dots on a road map. Polly and I, along with our children, have many fond memories of these trips, including the time we drove to southern West Virginia so we could take a train ride, only to arrive just as the last train of the day was pulling out from the station.
Three hours of basketball once a week, three to five hours on summer weekends watching dirt track races, one vacation, and occasional road trips…. that’s all the time I took off from serving Jesus. According to the Bible, I was Jesus’ bondslave. The song in my heart was the classic Baptist hymn:
All to Jesus I surrender,all to him I freely give, I will ever love and trust Him In His presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken,Take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender, make me Savior wholly thine. May Thy Holy Spirit fill me, may I know Thy power divine.
I surrender all I surrender all. All to Thee my blessed Savior I surrender all.
There were also church outings to Kings Island, the bowling alley, the roller rink, canoe livery and a host of other activities, but these events were tools used by me to evangelize unaware sinners. I would encourage congregants to invite their friends and neighbors to these events, telling them to emphasize how much fun these activities were. Once there, I would round everyone up and spend some time sharing the gospel with them. Doing this told congregants without saying a word that having fun for fun’s sake took a backseat to evangelizing the lost.
People who have traveled to Southeast Ohio will tell you about its beauty and rolling hills. It’s too bad that I had no time for enjoying the wonders of God’s creation. All around me was beautiful scenery, but all I could see was sin-stained hearts in need of salvation. Polly and I are planning on taking a trip back to Southeast Ohio this summer to spend a day or two visiting all the places that we never got to see because Jesus had other things for us to do. Several days ago, as we were browsing travel literature for Southeast Ohio, we were amazed at how many wonderful things there were to see. Too bad we didn’t take the time to see them when we were young, when our children were home, and when our bodies were better fitted for hiking and visiting such wonders as Old Man’s Cave.
The same can be said for the seven months I spent as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas — a small community just south of San Antonio. While at Community, I spent eight days a week doing the work of the ministry. During my time there I established a Christian school, started two churches, established a nursing home ministry, set up a street-preaching ministry, along with preaching twice a week. As you can see, I was busy, busy, busy for Jesus, with no time for family or relaxation. I suspect I am one of the few people to ever live in San Antonio and not go on the Riverwalk, visit the Alamo, view San Antonio from the towering height of the Tower of the Americas, or see any of the other sites people typically visit when vacationing in San Antonio. I did, however, preach in front of the Alamo, as I did above the walkways the led down to the Riverwalk. All around me was beauty, from the natural landscape to ancient buildings, but I was blind to these things because my eyes were fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith; the Jesus who took my sins upon himself and died for me on the cross; the Jesus who commanded me to be perfect even as his father in heaven is perfect; the Jesus who commanded me:
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27,33)
I am sure that some of the Evangelicals who read this post will suggest that what I needed in my life was balance; that I was too focused on the eternal; that I needed to give myself time to rest and relax. The problem with this type of thinking is that it is modeled nowhere in the lives of Jesus, the apostles, or any of the disciples. I can’t think of one Bible verse that suggests Christians should take it easy until Jesus comes again, or that the followers of Christ should pace themselves as they serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Paul spoke of running a race, and I thought, at the time, better to burn out than rust out. Better to live forty years of life as a brightly shining star than eighty years as a dim star that could only be seen with a telescope.
It was in the late 1990s before I finally realized what a fool I had been. By that time, health ruined, diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, I could no longer keep up the pace of previous years. During this time, thanks to the atheist husband of one of the ladies who attended Our Father’s House, the church I was pastoring at the time, I developed a love for photography. I am convinced that this one thing save my life. I began taking time off so we could take day trips and vacations to places that provided opportunities for me to work on my photography skills. Countless hours were spent slowly driving the back roads of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, looking for photographic opportunities. These trips gave me a psychological break from the demands of the ministry. Thanks to my Calvinistic beliefs, I no longer felt driven to spend every waking hour evangelizing the lost. I was content to preach two sermons a week, take care of the needs of a small congregation, and spend the rest of time enjoying life. We began taking vacations, attending races at the local dirt track, and visiting nearby attractions. Our oldest three boys were old enough to babysit their younger siblings, so this afforded Polly and me the opportunity to get away from the church and home without our children. By then, our economic position had greatly improved thanks to Polly working full time at Sauder Woodworking and our two older sons paying room and board. Having more discretionary money allowed us to do a lot of things that we never could have done before. I can honestly say that the seven years I spent as pastor of Our father’s House in West Unity, Ohio were the best years of my ministerial career. The church never grew above fifty or sixty people, but I found this particular group of people, with a couple of exceptions, a delight to pastor. I suspect that if I had been able to ignore the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit”, I could have continued pastoring the church for years.
You might wonder what I mean by the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit.” As I settled into the life typically led by Evangelical pastors, I found myself increasingly feeling guilty over time spent relaxing. I’m sure Polly could tell stories of her own about the long discussions we had about whether we were doing enough for Jesus. I quite enjoyed our new life with its pleasures and relaxing opportunities, but I never could get out of my head all the things I mentioned above. Never far from my thoughts were my Master and his call to follow after him. I don’t want to give the impression that I was some sort of worldly Christian, I wasn’t. I still spent an inordinate amount of time reading and studying the Bible, praying, preaching sermons, and doing the work of the ministry, but I did give myself space for pleasure and relaxation. This was a step in the right direction, but I would find out a few short years later that if I really wanted to have a life worth living I was going to have to divorce myself from the ministry and God.
Now that I have liberated myself from the constraints of the Bible, I am free to live life as I see fit. Realizing that life is short and death is certain (sooner than later), I try to spend as much time as possible doing the things I want to do and with the people I love most — my family. I no longer hear nagging voices in my head telling me to forsake my family, houses, and lands and follow Jesus. I no longer worry about WWJD — what would Jesus do (or what would church members think). Both Polly and I love where we are in life, though we do wish that we had come to an understanding about what really matters twenty-five years sooner. Sadly, we can’t undo the past, but we can choose to live differently, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000
I started Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio in 1995. I pastored the church for seven years. The following screenshot of the church’s website will give you an idea of what kind of pastor I was at the time. Hopefully, the things I have posted today will provide some context for those trying to figure out my journey from an Evangelical pastor to an outspoken atheist. Hopefully, what I have shared puts to rest the notion that I never was a “real” Christian. Whatever faults I may have had (and they were many), I was a true-blue, three-drinks-of-the-Kool-Aid Christian. No matter how hard my critics try to prove that I wasn’t really one of them, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio
What follows is an excerpt from the Constitution of Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio. I started Our Father’s House in 1995. I pastored the church for seven years.
Statements of Morality, Ethics & Doctrine
We as a Church believe homosexuality to be a sinful and wicked behavior. (Romans 1) Such behavior is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and no practicing homosexual will be admitted as a member of the Church.
We as a Church believe that a man and woman living together (as husband and wife) without being legally and morally joined together as husband and wife are living in a state of fornication and/or adultery. (Exodus 20) Such behavior is contrary to Scripture and no couple living in such a manner will be admitted as member (s) of the Church.
We as a Church believe that abortion (that is non-spontaneous or not a medical emergency) is sin and such action is to be considered murder. (Exodus 20) We believe an anti-abortion stand is consistent with the morality and ethics of Scripture and no one may be a member of the Church if they promote or advocate abortion .
The Gifts of the Spirit
We as a Church affirm a non-cessationist view of spiritual gifts. We believe that God spiritually gifts His people for the evangelization of the lost and for the mutual edification of the body of Christ.
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000
Excerpt from Our Father’s House website, circa 1998.
Often I am asked “what does your Church believe about__________?” This is not an easy question to answer because our Church is a body made up of individuals, and even in a smaller Church like Our Father’s House, there are “differing” views on what the Bible says about some things. We do not set any particular creed or statement of faith as a requirement for membership in the Church. Rather, if a person has repented of their sins, and by faith trusted Christ for Salvation , AND has a desire to be taught the Word of God , we encourage them to become a part of our assembly. We accept the Apostle’s Creed as a summary statement of belief. Please see our Church constitution for further information.
So, when asked “what does your Church believe about__________?” it is better for me to say what “I” believe and to share the viewpoint that “I” teach from.
I am an a expositional preacher. The primary Bible version I use is the KJV. Some Church members use the NKJV. Usually I preach on random passages of Scripture, and at times will preach through books of the Bible. I believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. It does not just contain the words of God, it IS the Words of God, every jot and every tittle.
I am an Evangelical. I willingly embrace all those who claim the name of Christ and walk in His truth. I believe the denominational fragmentation that is seen today is a dishonor to the God of Heaven. The world will know we are Christians by the love we have for one another. One of my desires is to promote love and unity among God’s people. Lest someone think I am an ecumenist, I oppose the Evangelical and Catholics Together statement. While I readily grant that there are many Roman Catholics who are Christians (and I embrace them as such), the official doctrine of the Roman Church is salvation (justification) by works. In the name of Christ, I embrace God’s people wherever they may be found, but I strongly oppose the false gospel of works taught in many Churches . A sinner is saved (justified) apart from the works of the law. (or any other work like baptism, joining the Church, being confirmed) Sinners are not saved by works but UNTO good works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
I am a Non-Cessationist. I believe that the spiritual gifts are for today and that they are in operation today. While I would not call myself a charismatic, I do find a common bond with men such as John Piper and Martyn Lloyd Jones and ministries such as People of Destiny. I do not believe that many of the so-called charismatic gifts exercised in many Charismatic/Pentecostal Churches are of God. Such Churches preach a gospel according to the Holy Spirit not a gospel that finds as its foundation Jesus Christ. Any gospel that requires a person to speak in tongues, evidence the fullness of the spirit, etc. is a false gospel. I also stand opposed to the modern prosperity gospel preached by men such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Freddy Price, etal. The modern charismatic movement is an admixture of truth and error and is best described like a mixture of the Corinthian and Laodicean Church. I also stand opposed to most of the teaching regarding demons, territorial spirits, and demon/spirit possession. There is a real devil who can and does possess his children (John 8:44) and our battle is with him, but much of the spiritual warfare teaching is according to the philosophies of men and not of God.
I believe in the validity of the law of God. God’s law is pure, holy, and true, and man is enjoined by God to obey. I emphasize that the believer is to progress in sanctification and holiness. Saved people LIVE like saved people. I find much in common with the good men and women. of the Chalcedon Foundation. They are a small voice in a large wilderness declaring the validity of the law of God.
I am a Calvinist. I believe in the Sovereignty of God and that salvation is of the Lord. No man can save himself. I do not believe man has an innate ability to believe. Unless the Father, by the power of His Spirit, draws a man to salvation, that man will never be saved. I believe in the perseverance (preservation) of the saints. God keeps His own until the day of salvation. I consider the doctrine of eternal security preached in many Churches to be a perversion of the truth because it denies a connection between the saviorship and lordship of Christ in a man’s life. There is a direct connection between a man who is saved and how he lives. The same God who saves a man has also ordained that that same man would live a life of good works. No holiness, no heaven! While I consider myself a Calvinist, I stand against hyper Calvinism and its denial of the free offer of the gospel. I also reject double predestination as a doctrine rooted in the philosophies of men and not the Word of God. As a minister of the gospel, my desire is not to convert Arminians to Calvinists, nor is it to promote a system. I preach Christ. Calvinism is the best description of how and why God saves a sinner. I, without hesitation, affirm the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith as an accurate statement of that which I most surely believe.
I am post tribulational, and a-millennial. I believe the Church will go through the tribulation and that there yet awaits a day when Jesus Christ will come again and judge the world.
I believe in the Lordship of Christ. We do not make Him Lord, HE IS LORD. Because He is Lord, we are called on to live holy, separated lives. The standard for such living is the Word of God. I reject all man made standards of living, for God has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness. Legalistic standards of touch not ,taste not are rejected as the philosophies of men.
My favorite theologians and authors are JC Ryle, Wayne Grudem, Donald Bloesch, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Watson, Gardiner Spring, John MacArthur and most anything written during the Puritan era. Truly a minister is known by the books he reads. My favorite bookstore is the Cumberland Valley Bible and Book Service. They are an excellent source of sound doctrinal books and of course they carry a large supply of Puritan books
So there you have it……….this is not all I believe…………but I have given you enough so that you can decide what kind of preacher you think I am. After you decide……..if you are still interested, please do stop and visit. We will be delighted to have you as our guest. If you have a question please e mail me and I will promptly reply.
In the fall of 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio named Grace Baptist Church. Several years later, the name of the church changed to Our Father’s House. Prior to starting this church, I pastored Olive Branch Christian Union Church — located five miles north of West Unity. Several families from Olive Branch joined with us in our new church endeavor. This post is about one of the families who made the move to the new church.
John and Betty (not their real names) lived in Michigan, just north of the Ohio line. Betty was quite talkative, the type of person who, if you saw her at the grocery, you headed in the opposite direction. While I certainly enjoy talking myself, Betty rarely let anyone get in a word edgewise. I am sure she meant well, but 15 minutes of having to listen to Betty was as tiring as a strenuous workout at the gym. I listened, she talked. And when she was done telling all and more than everything she knew, she would walk away, looking for someone else to regale with her stories and world observations. I was always glad when she sought out others to talk to.
John was the very different from his wife. Quiet and reserved, John was content to let his Betty do all the talking and decision-making. There was never a question about who wore the pants in the family. Even when John was specifically asked about his opinion, he would slightly tilt his head to the side and defer to his wife. I don’t remember a time when John made a decision without checking with Betty first. I suspect it was just his personality. John liked to please others and detested conflict. He was in his 40s before he married Betty. Prior to that he lived with his parents.
Survey my children and you will learn that one of the Bruce Gerencser laws drilled into their heads had to do with being on time. I thought then, and still do today, that it is important to be punctual. If I say I am going to be somewhere at 5:00 PM, people can expect me to be there on time. And on time means at least 30 minutes early. Yes, I am one of THOSE guys. One of my sons recently asked me why I was so insistent about punctuality and being early if at all possible. I laughed and told him that there were two reasons why I always arrived early at scheduled events. First, when the kids were young we drove junk cars with tires that had very little tread. These tire were more prone to flats, so I always left early so I would have enough time to change a tire and still make it to wherever I was headed without being late. I also hated walking into a place late. Despite the fact I spent most of my adult life preaching and teaching, I was quite self-conscious, and walking into a place late often made me feel like everyone was staring at me. And arriving late for a church service was even worse. Baptists are notorious for sitting at the back of the church. The front pews are rarely filled, and those arriving late often have to sit toward the front of the church. If we were late, that meant we — all eight of us — would have to traipse to the front of the church to find seats. I was quite embarrassed when this happened, and on a few occasions I turned around and went home rather than do what I — in my mind — thought of as a perp walk. Silly, I know, but to this day I go out of my way to be early. I am too old to change.
Now I have told you this so you can better understand the next part of the story. John and Betty were notorious for being late. Sunday morning service began at 11:00 AM and it was not uncommon for John and Betty to be 30 minutes to an hour late. They lived a half hour from the church, so this meant on most Sundays that hadn’t even left home before the service started. One week, they were so late that they arrived as we were getting ready for the benediction. Being late never seemed to bother them, but it sure as heaven bothered me. More than once I stopped preaching, hoping that my impatient pause would let them know that I was not happy with their tardiness. I think they likely thought I was just being polite, allowing them time to get settled before I preached the last ten minutes of my sermon.
One week the church decided to hold a yard sale at its building. The women of the church put tables outside of the building stacked with clothing and knickknacks they hoped to sell. They also put items for sale inside the church. The proceeds of the sale would go towards some sort of church project. One morning after the first day of the sale the phone rang at the church. It was Betty and she was quite upset with me for allowing the women to have a sale in God’s house. Quoting Jesus cleansing the Temple of money changers, Betty couldn’t believe that I would ever permit such a thing. She then informed me that she and her husband would no longer be attending the church. I made no effort to talk her out of leaving the church. Quite frankly, their entire contribution to the church was disrupting the services every time they were late. As far as I know, they never financially contributed to the church, even though both of them had full-time jobs at a nearby factory. They never volunteered to help clean the church, visit shut-ins, man the clothing room/food pantry, or any of the other opportunities they had to help others. Betty couldn’t even be bothered to help her invalid sister. Well, she would help IF her sister would pay Betty for the privilege. Of all the things Betty did, this infuriated me the most. I thought, this is your sister, and you won’t help her unless she gives you money? How Christian is that? The church, of course, stepped in and helped Betty’s sister, often taking her to doctor’s appointments in Toledo — 50 miles away. Needless to say, when Betty said they were leaving the church, I thought, good riddance!
One time, Betty made a deep financial sacrifice and bought — at Goodwill — a $2 wall plaque of Jesus for the church nursery. Several years after John and Betty left the church, I resigned and the congregation decided to disband. As we were gathering up things to donate to Goodwill and other churches, I came upon Betty’s plaque. As I turned Jesus over, I noticed that Betty had written her name and the words PLEASE RETURN on the back of the plaque. I snickered as I read it, and then, with great pleasure, I tossed the plaque in the trash. For the first time, I had the final word.
Bryan Times Advertisement for Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio
Family and close friends know that I can be temperamental and impetuous. I am quick to make decisions, and doing so has, for the most part, served me well. There are those times, though, when making snap decisions has resulted in me doing things that I later regret. The story that follows is one such instance.
I have not written much about my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I plan to devote a chapter in my book to this church. After resigning from Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I took the Bruce Gerencser Traveling Preacher Show five miles south to West Unity, a small community south of the Ohio Turnpike, and started a church. I spent seven years pastoring Our Father’s House. We bought the old West Unity library and began holding services in September of 1995. At its inception, the church was called Grace Baptist Church. After conflict over the use of praise and worship music and non-cessationism (the belief that charismatic spiritual gifts are valid today) resulted in five families leaving the church, we decided to rename the church Our Father’s House. By this time, I had theologically made a move to the left. I wanted the church’s name to reflect our belief that sectarianism was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. After the name change, we had the front door lettered with “The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.”
During the last three years of my time at Our Father’s House, I became increasingly disenchanted with Evangelical Christianity. Deeply influenced by authors such as Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, and John Howard Yoder, I embraced pacifism and changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. I now see know that the seeds of my unbelief were planted during this period of time.
One night, after a long, depressing self-reflection on Evangelicalism and my part in harming others in the name of God, I gathered up all the ministry mementos I had collected over the years, piled them in the yard, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire. In a few minutes, 20 years of sermons notes, recorded sermons, letters, and church advertisements went up in smoke. At the time, I found the consuming fire to be quite cathartic. This was my way of breaking with my past. Little did I know that 8 years later I would torch the rest of my ministerial and Christian past and embrace atheism.
Today, I sure wish I still had the things I turned into a pile of ashes in the backyard. I have no doubt my sermon notes and recorded messages would provide information and context about the decades I spent as an Evangelical pastor.
Published on September 25,1997. At the time, I was pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. This is a good example of how I used to think about life, God, the Bible, sin, and culture. This was not a Letter to the Editor. I wrote it for the Community Voice editorial column on the editorial page of The Bryan Times.
America is in trouble… big trouble. The moral and ethical structure of our nation is crumbling at its very foundation. We, at one time, accepted the “law of God” as our moral and ethical standard, but now, relativism reigns supreme. Law, morality, and ethics are relative to the situation and circumstance. It seems that there are no absolutes. We debate such issues as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, homosexuality, etc., and by our debate suggest that God has not spoken on these issues. God’s law is not a mystery. His law is clear. It is we, as defiant creatures, who have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “We will not have You to rule over us.” As a result, instead of being ruled by the laws of Jehovah, we are ruled by the laws and system of corrupt humans. We have become a nation of people aptly described as “they did what was right in their own eyes.”
Who do we blame for the mess we are in? It is easy to blame the politicians. It is easy to point to the Clinton/Gore administration and say “they are the problem.” Recent articles in the Bryan Times reported on the meeting of the Christian Coalition. They were quick to blame the Democrats for all the ills in our society, all the while ignoring the ethical and moral lapses of those they support (i.e. Newt Gingrich). No, I would contend that what we see in Washington is a consequence and not a source of our ills.
The blame must be laid on the church and her ministers. There was a day when the church and her ministers were respected and were considered the moral voice of the community and our nation. Such is not the case today. Society has concluded that the church is irrelevant and her ministers are nothing more than educated buffoons. We are told to keep our religion within the four walls of the church (separation of church and state you know) and to keep our moral and ethical pronouncements to ourselves. If a prophetic voice is raised, screams of “Thou shalt not judge” are quickly heard. We, as ministers of the gospel, should be ashamed for allowing our voices to be silenced in such a manner. God has called us to be a clear voice of light in our decadent society. How then, can we be the prophets of God has called us to be?
First, we need to be reminded of who the boss is in this world. It is not the government, it is not society, it is not any mere human: it is God. He is the Sovereign of the universe. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. Our society needs to be reminded of who is in charge and that we will all be held accountable on Judgment Day.
Second, we need to be reminded of the authority of the Bible and the law of God. The Bible is God’s written revelation to man. His laws are to be loved and obeyed. The pulpits of America have been silent to the law of God and as a result antinomianism reigns. Church members have no absolutes and as a result they follow their own rules or they let “their conscience be their guide.” The greatness of a nation is directly related to the respect and obedience it gives to the law of God.
Third, we need to return to being bastions of absolute truth and morality. Ministers need to be thundering prophets instead of mild, wimpy church mice. There is no time for compromise. The battle is real and we must fight. On Judgment Day we will not be judged on our popularity, but rather on how we faithfully fought the battle and kept the faith.
Fourth, we need to stop trying to be culturally relevant to such a degree that we sacrifice what is true and honoring to God. The appearance of Audio Adrenaline at the Williams County Fair is case in point. In an effort to “reach”young people (and perhaps fill the grandstands) two high-powered “Christian” rock ‘n roll groups were booked at the fair. When Audio Adrenaline took the stage the party began to rock and roll. Complete with body piercing and mosh pits, we were given a quick lesson on how far we have slipped in our Christian society. We see the troubles that young people face and we think by lowering the standard and meeting them at the lowest common denominator we’ll “reach” them. Sadly we have been deceived. Young people need to hear truth, absolute truth. They need to hear preaching that challenges, provokes, and rebukes. They need to hear the kind of preaching that ultimately lead them to a higher standard in Jesus Christ. We have become convinced that the timeless methods that God has ordained no longer work. This is the ultimate deception.
Fifth, we need to return the word SIN to our vocabulary. God says sin is transgression of the law of God. The church and her ministers are not the final authority on what is holy and what is sin. God is. Ministers are called on to repeat what God has said (thus saith the Lord). Because of the fear of men we do not preach on the “hard” subjects. We piously leave that to the “conscience” of the people. Such denial of responsibility will not wash with God on Judgment Day. We desperately need a revival of preaching against sin and the preaching of the solution to sin that is found in Jesus Christ.
When will we learn that people want truth and not compromise? We fear being rejected or ridiculed. We fear our message will not be heard or that we will be viewed as a Bible thumping fanatics. Well, a cursory reading of the Bible will show that we would be in good company. The prophets of old did not conform to their society, but instead demanded that their society conform to the truth of God’s Word. They demanded of all men everywhere that they”repent and believe the gospel.”
I would ask my fellow ministers and fellow Christians…when our eulogy is read what will be said? Will we be remembered as one who was a true follower of Jesus Christ? One who was faithful to his holy Word? Will our life reflect one who was a radical follower of Jesus? Life is short and in but a few days we will pass from this life. Let us labor for that which is eternal. Let us restore those things we have let slip and restore God as the rightful ruler of our nation.
From 1995-2002, I was the pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. One Sunday, the following discussion took place between an old woman in the church and one of my younger children.
Old Woman: So, how much candy did you get trick-or-treating?
Child gives Old Woman an embarrassed look.
Child: I didn’t go trick-or-treating,
Old Woman: Really? Why not?
Child: Our Dad doesn’t believe in Halloween.
Old Woman: Hmm, that’s interesting You mean you have never gone trick-or-treating?
Any of my six children could have answered the old woman’s questions. None of them was allowed to go trick-or-treating. Not one time. And they knew not to ask. Ever.
As a true-blue, bought by the blood, sanctified, sold-out, consecrated, committed, passionate, zealous follower of Jesus, I believed Halloween was a Satanic holiday and Christians, if they were right with God, should never practice Halloween. For a few years, I took the same approach with Christmas. We didn’t put up a tree or decorations, nor did we exchange gifts. We spent Christmas day at a Columbus, Ohio rescue mission serving meals to the homeless. (We did go to Polly’s parents’ home for Christmas Eve.)
I firmly believed Halloween was a thoroughly pagan and Satanic holiday. I could not, in good conscience, allow my children to participate in a holiday I considered an act of Satanic worship. One year, when my oldest son was in elementary school and before we started sending him to a Christian school, I kept him home from school because of the Halloween celebration his class was having.
Both Polly and I have many fond memories of trick-or-treating when were children, but I thought our parents were ignorant of the real origin of Halloween and this is why they let us go trick-or-treating. As I look back on it now, I suspect Polly thought I was crazy about Halloween. I recently asked her if she really believed like I did about Halloween. She said, uh, No. Why then didn’t she say anything? Simple. She was a dutiful wife of an Evangelical pastor, a woman who was taught that her husband was the head of the home and had the final say on everything; and everything included Halloween and trick-or-treating.
My view on Halloween was similar to the view of Karl Payne who wrote the following at World Net Daily:
As a child growing up in a small town in Nebraska, Halloween was not viewed as a sinister day promoting demonism, spiritism, occultism, Satanism, hedonism, witches, zombies or an invitation to walk on the dark side with demons. It was a day to collect as much candy as possible. The routine was simple. I put on a clown suit that had been passed down through my brothers, grabbed an empty pillow case and filled it up with candy as quickly as possible as I systematically worked my way through the neighborhood. At a halfway mark, I stopped back at home, emptied my pillow case on the front room floor to be sorted later and headed back out to refill the bag a second time. The goal was to have more candy than any of my brothers by the end of the evening, and then see how much I could eat before my mom began rationing my daily consumption.
Times were innocent in the ’50s and early part of the ’60s. We never worried about razors in apples or poisoned pixie sticks. We walked for blocks without a fear or concern for our safety. Tricks, at the worst, were limited to throwing eggs or toilet paper and knocking over a pumpkin or two. And if that happened, it only occurred selectively because many of our parents knew each other, and getting caught could mean a scolding from your neighbor and then a spanking from your dad when you got home.
To make the observation that things have changed culturally in the 21st century from the post-war innocence experienced by many in this country is an understatement. Today we exist in the midst of the loss of innocence and the joy of age-appropriate discovery. Hedonism, in a context of amoral and ethical relativism, is celebrated and force fed from the womb to tomb through a media that more represents an ideological water cannon than a responsible public trust. The secularization of this once great country is complete. The only real question now is how far it will fall in its depravity before, if or when people in the public square turn their gaze up rather than in.
Today Halloween for many is a horror show providing an excuse for people to glorify the deviance and decadence they watch ad nauseam in movie theaters and on public and cable television screens seven days of the week. Everything is a game that can be reset and started over at the click of a mouse. It’s just harmless entertainment that can be enjoyed or ignored. If you don’t like it, don’t turn it on. Who are you to dictate what is right or wrong for others?
Why am I concerned about the way Halloween, the media and our current culture encourage the celebration and trivialization of spiritism, occultism, Satanism, hedonism, witches, zombies and walking on the dark side with demons? Because the supernatural world is real, and no one is immune to it regardless of their education or worldview. God is real. Angels are real. Satan is real. Demons are real. Real gladiators and real Christians died in the Colosseum and circus even though many Roman leaders and citizens just considered their destruction an evening of entertainment.
I have worked for over 30 years with men and women who have been demonized. I wrote a book entitled “Spiritual Warfare: Christians, Demonization and Deliverance,” published by WND Books, addressing the subject as clearly as I was capable of doing. Why? Because real people and real families are being attacked by real demons, and their conditions are largely ignored, often because the subject has been redefined or trivialized, even within religious circles.
I have witnessed the reality of demonic bondage hundreds and hundreds of times. I have also witnessed individuals being set free through deliverance from demonic bondage hundreds and hundreds of times. Christian missionaries who live in the midst of this reality have thanked me many times for writing this book. Religious academics as well as atheistic secularists are more inclined to ridicule or ignore the subject. Curious.
Ultimately, bondage and deliverance both represent choices. In my book I have attempted to outline how a Christian can move from bondage to deliverance in a clear, step-by-step fashion. The New Testament addresses the subject forthrightly, so why should we run from it?
It should not come as a surprise that a secular culture would either ignore this subject or make a celebration out of it. 1 Corinthians 2:14 clearly states that spiritual truth and supernatural realities, be it God or the devil, represent nonsense to a natural man. But it should come as a disgraceful surprise that some professing Christians are so fearful of this subject that they would prefer to cast their lot on this subject with the naturalist or secularists rather than with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the New Testament they study. Apparently, it is preferable to leave real human beings made in the image of God in bondage than face the possible ridicule of those whose ultimate loyalties are to time rather than eternity, to the creation rather than the Creator.
Naturalists redefining the subject do not change the reality of the subject. A holiday celebrating the subject, promoting it as nothing more than a day to collect candy, celebrate the dark side, or mock God, does not change the reality of the subject…
Jack Chick Tract on Halloween
It was not until I left the ministry that I learned the REAL story about Halloween and it’s pagan and religious roots. Jeri Massi has an excellent article on her blog about the history of Halloween. As with many things, I regret not allowing my children to go trick-or-treating. I regret not allowing them to enjoy the fun of Halloween or the wonder of a family Christmas. I know there is nothing I can do about the past. I now immensely enjoy watching my grandchildren practice the evil, wicked, pagan, Satanic holiday of Halloween. I encourage them to sin with gusto…and bring Grandpa some candy when they are done making a sacrifice to Satan. Besides, my grandchildren have nothing to fear from Satan. My grandson is a super-hero.
How about you? Did you practice Halloween? Did your Fundamentalist parents allow you to go trick-or-treating? If they did, how did they deal with the origin of Halloween?
Someone will be sure to ask if I did alternative Halloween activities like Fall Festival Day, Trunk-or-Treat, or other alternatives to Halloween. I did not. I never believed in the replacement theory; that if we took something away from our children we had to replace it with something better or spiritual. I believed Christians were put on this earth to be a light in the darkness and we didn’t need replacements for the things that were sinful.
See Jack Chick’s tract, The Devil’s Night to get a bird’s eye view of how some Christians view Halloween.
Published on January 13, 2002. At the time, I was pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. This is a good example of how I used to think about life, God, the Bible, sin, and culture. This was not a Letter to the Editor. I wrote it for the Community Voice editorial column on the editorial page of The Bryan Times.
The anniversary of the famed Supreme Court decision Roe vs Wade has just past. Almost 30 years ago the Supreme Court ruled that abortion on demand was legal in the United States. Since that time, a battle between the forces called pro-life and pro-choice has raged without abatement in our country. We truly are a nation divided when it comes to abortion. Both sides have taken to the legal and political arena in an attempt to stifle or crush their opposition. In the case of the pro-life movement, some on the far extreme of the movement have taken to murdering clinic workers and the doctors who perform the abortions. Several men with such beliefs are on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
How are we, as Christians, to respond to the continued murder of babies in abortion clinics, private doctors offices and hospitals? Some may suggest that I am asserting that the word Christian and pro-life are synonymous. Such observation is correct. Christianity and pro-choice are not compatible one with the other. I have written a number of times over the years on this issue, and each time I receive letters from supposed pro-choice Christians. Perhaps such folks are well-intentioned, but it is theologically impossible to square being a Christian with also being pro-choice. To be a Christian is to walk in the steps of, and follow after, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was pro-life and the Law of God states very clearly “Thou shalt not kill.”
The command “Thou shalt not kill” has a positive precept attached to it. That precept is “thou shalt preserve life.” If we are not to kill, then we are to preserve life instead. This preserving of life extends to not only the abortion clinic, but also the prison and countries where we are engaged in war. The Bible teaches and permits capital punishment, but it also prescribes when and who it is to be carried out. The Bible permits just war, but it also prescribes when and how such war is to be carried out. We must always remember that the killing of other human beings shows the baseness of human society, not its superiority. As Christians, we have a duty to preserve life at every opportunity. We must stand against abortion. We must work to outlaw the practice in the United States and the rest of the world. We should also be actively working to promote justice for those in prison and to insist that God’s law be followed in the execution of those guilty of first degree murder. We must hold our government and military accountable for its actions in Afghanistan. Find the terrorists. Punish the evildoer, but in doing so do no harm to innocent men, women and children.
We must continue to wage the war of words with the pro-choice crowd. They speak of the “woman’s right to choose” and yet they are rarely challenged to the assertions they make in regard to this statement. I too, support a “woman’s right to choose.” She makes a choice to have sexual relations with a man, and she must live with the consequences of such an action. The pro-choice movement is at the forefront of the “right to have sex whenever with whomever movement” and then with the quickness of a magician they deny any accountability for the choice that is made. There are many choices a pregnant woman can make, but far too often abortion is the only option given because it is the easy way out. Adoption is an option. Extended family assistance in raising the child is an option. Our government needs to streamline the adoption process making it easy for families to adopt these unwanted babies
We must do more than just object to abortion. We must also put our words into action. We must help support women in their pregnancy and provide the means for their care. Every unwanted baby needs a home. My wife and I are the parents of six children, yet if needed, we would take on the responsibility of another child. It would not be easy, but our words must be backed up with action.
We must continue to oppose the fringes of the pro-life movement that advocates violence and murder in the name of God. Murdering a baby via abortion is a sin but so is murdering an abortion clinic doctor. We must not bear the sword. God gives government the responsibility of bearing the sword to punish evildoers. As we stand against abortion we must work to change the laws of the land. Abortion must once again be illegal. We must work to enact laws that make it criminal to participate in any part of the abortion process. We need to stop the tax flow to organizations that promote abortion. Let Planned Parenthood get its money from its liberal constituents, but not from the American taxpayer. There is much work to do and killing an abortion doctor will not stop the abortion mills. There will always be another to take their place. Instead, we must make abortion illegal thus removing the financial incentives that continue to fuel the abortion mills.
It is easy to become complacent in the matter of abortion. As I watched the events of September 11th my heart was grieved. I mourned and wept for days over the tragic loss of life. Yet, keeping it all in perspective, the loss of life at Ground Zero equals one day of work in the abortion clinics of America. Our hands are covered with the blood of millions of babies that have been aborted since that fateful day when Roe vs. Wade became law. We must not rest until justice for all once again prevails in our Land. May God give us the grace and strength necessary to not waver in this battle of battles.