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Bruce, Have You Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

bible made me an atheist

Bob, a regular reader of this site, asked me the following question:


I do have a question for you and was curious on your answer.

I know you know the scriptures as far as what they say, so you will most likely have an answer.

Based on the scriptures concerning blasphemy it is my understanding from past teachings that blasphemy definition by Pharisee’s was saying that a person could forgive sins or someone claiming to be God. Jesus then talked about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and no forgiveness.

Based on these few scriptures, in your opinion from what you know of your past Bible teachings, do you think that you have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit? Not because of your walking away, but rather by the things that you have said? I am asking based on your knowledge of what the Bible says, not whether you believe in the Bible today.

Hopefully I have worded this respectfully enough for an answer.

Wonderful question. Hopefully, I can provide an adequate and satisfactory answer.

Matthew 3:22-30 says:

And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.

Ligonier Ministries, the teaching ministry of Reformed Evangelical R.C. Sproul, interprets Mark 3:28-30 this way:

Although Jesus does not specifically define this sin, the context reveals this transgression as the persistent, knowing, verbal attribution of the work of God to Satan.

First, Mark’s comment “for they were saying” (v. 30) as he narrates Jesus’ response to the scribes shows that the blasphemy Jesus has in mind is a verbal sin. The scribes were sinning with words, with statements against our Savior. Moreover, the same comment from Mark means unforgivable blasphemy is a persistent sin. “Were saying” is in the progressive voice, which conveys ongoing action. The scribes spoke against Jesus not merely one time; rather, they were so hardened against Him that they continued to associate Him with Satan.

Such hardness is particularly noteworthy because it came from the resident biblical experts. So, we cannot understand what Jesus means by the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit unless we recognize the scriptural knowledge of our Lord’s opponents. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus held the religious leaders to a high standard. Christ expected them to know the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, so well that they could rightly identify God’s work (Matt. 23; John 3:1–15). So, the blasphemy of the Spirit does not arise from mere ignorance. When people know the Scriptures well and yet not only fail to recognize Jesus as Messiah but also openly reject Him, they are standing on perilous ground.

Blasphemy of the Spirit, then, is not the occasional bad thought or episode of anger against God. Such things are sins, to be sure, but they are not the persistent, deliberate rejection of the Lord’s work that shows itself in a willful attribution of God’s actions to Satan himself. Such blasphemy is unforgivable not because the Lord is unwilling to forgive but because a person guilty of such sin has fully and finally hardened his heart against the grace of God.

What, exactly, is the unpardonable sin? While Evangelicals disagree among themselves about the unpardonable sin — what it is and who can commit it — Sproul’s interpretation is held by many Christians. As an Evangelical pastor, my interpretation aligned with Sproul’s; that the unpardonable sin is ascribing the works of God (Jesus) to Satan; that those who commit the unpardonable sin cannot be saved/redeemed.

Bob wants to know, based on my knowledge of the Bible, if I believe I have committed the unpardonable sin? The short answer is no. While I certainly, with great gusto, blaspheme God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit, I have never ascribed the works of God to Satan. The reason for this is simple: much like God himself, I believe Satan is a myth. It would be silly of me, then, to give credit to Satan for works allegedly performed by God.

The “works of God,” without exception, are the handiwork of humans, as are works ascribed to Satan. Gods, regardless of the sect, are fabricated by humans, and the only “powers” deities have are those which we give to them.

Now, if I transport this discussion back to the days when I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, and I had run-in with Bruce Gerencser, the atheist, I most certainly would have said that he was a blasphemer against God; that he had committed the unpardonable sin.

Having said that, the notion that there is an “unpardonable sin” leads to all sorts of problems theologically for Evangelicals.

Is there a difference between the “unpardonable sin” and reprobation, as found in Romans 1:18-32?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

According to Romans 1:18-32, when a person, who by nature, knows God exists and refuses to acknowledge his existence and worship him, that person becomes vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart is darkened. Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard preached a sermon on reprobation where he said that for the reprobate, the lights go out on their way to Hell. In other words, God gives humankind the “light” of creation, conscience, and divine revelation (the Bible). The person on a path to reprobation rejects the light given to him by God, and, bit by bit, the God’s light within him becomes dimmer, until God says, “that’s it for you,” and he unplugs the light. According to Barnard, countless people are as good as in Hell as if they were already there. Once God turns out the light in a person’s soul, there’s no hope for them. That person has crossed a line of no return.

In a sermon from Luke 11:35 titled, When the Lights Go Out on The Road to Hell, Barnard said:

I want to talk some tonight, if God’s Spirit will help me,
about this last danger. I am speaking on “When the Lights Go Out on the Road to Hell.” And they are going out for men and women all about us. I can’t prove it, but I believe that America is made up largely of men and women who cannot be saved. I believe they have played and trifled with truth too long. And there is one thing that God Almighty gets angry about; it’s the people who treat lightly any move that God makes to bring light on our pathway. That sure is serious.

There comes a time when God Almighty will reprobate a
man, will reject a man. He rejected Pharoah. He rejected the nation of Israel; and it appears to be by the blank expression on people’s faces that many, many people in America have been rejected, because God has had them under His long-sufferance to the point where He cannot be God and deal with them any more. And so He just rejects them and they begin to live in hell here on this earth and
hell in time to come.

Both the unpardonable sin and reprobation lead to the same place: outside of the saving grace of God. Once a person reaches this place, they can’t be saved, and their eternal destiny is sealed — even though they may live for another fifty years.

These Biblical “truths” lead to several glaring problems for Evangelicals.

First, Evangelicals are fond of saying that no sin is so bad that God can’t or won’t save you. No matter what you’ve done, God is willing and able to save you, the thinking goes. However, it seems that the unpardonable sin and reprobation place a person beyond God’s wonderful, matchless grace.

Second, most Evangelicals — Arminians excepted — believe that once a person is saved, he cannot lose his salvation/fall from grace. He can lose his eternal rewards, but once saved, he can never become unsaved. Thus, since I was saved at the age of fifteen, no matter what I say or do, I am still safe in the arms of Jesus, and when I die, I will go to Heaven.

How is it possible to square once-saved-always-saved with the fact that someone can commit the unpardonable sin or God can give them over to a reprobate mind? Doesn’t this contradict what Evangelicals say about the nature of God’s saving grace?

Arminians — the children of Jacob Arminius and John Wesley — have no problem explaining these contradictory beliefs. According to Arminian theology, a follower of Jesus can fall from grace. Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Hebrews 10:26,29 says:

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

….

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. At the age of fifteen, I made a credible public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For thirty-five years, I lived my life as a committed, devoted follower of Jesus. No one, at that time, doubted that I was a Christian.

Today, according to Hebrews 10, I am sinning willfully. I have trampled under my feet the blood of Jesus and have contemptuous disregard for the Holy Spirit. According to Hebrews 6, if those who have been enlightened by God, tasted the Heavenly gift, been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, reject these things, if they fall from grace, it is impossible for them to be saved again.

The Message translation, poignantly translates Hebrews 6:4-6 this way:

Once people have seen the light, gotten a taste of heaven and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they’ve personally experienced the sheer goodness of God’s Word and the powers breaking in on us—if then they turn their backs on it, washing their hands of the whole thing, well, they can’t start over as if nothing happened. That’s impossible. Why, they’ve re-crucified Jesus! They’ve repudiated him in public!

I think it is safe to say, that I have repudiated Jesus in public. Thus, I have fallen from grace, lost my salvation (which I can never regain), committed the unpardonable sin, and God has turned me over to a reprobate mind! In other words, when it comes to God/Jesus/salvation, I’m fucked!

Of course, these things do not worry me in the least. Since I reject the Bible and its teachings, believe the Christian God is a myth, and reject the central claims of Christianity, I am not concerned one whit over whether I am saved/lost or a reprobate. I admit that in the eyes of Christians, I daily, without apology, commit the unpardonable sin; that my writing, if judged by the teachings of the Bible and the gaseous pronouncements of so-called men of God, is, in every way, blasphemous. Anyone who promotes reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry is, according to Evangelicals, a blasphemer. Refuse to accept the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God? Deny the existence of God? Reject the claims of Christianity? Believe that Jesus was a but a man who lived and died, end of story? Find the “miracle” stories found in the Bible silly and laughable? You, my friend, in thought, word, and deed have committed the unpardonable sin. In the eyes of Evangelicals, you are a reprobate. See you in Hell.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Will There be Different Punishments in Hell and the Lake of Fire?

how to get out of hell

Just when I thought the Bible God couldn’t be crueler, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher names James Bachman found a way to make God a bigger dick than I ever thought possible. Bachman, pastor emeritus of Roanoke Baptist Church, in Roanoke, Indiana, is the author of the ‘Parson to Person’ column that appears weekly in the West Bend News. Two weeks ago, Bachman answered the following question:

Are those who are in hell receiving less punishment than they will after the judgment?

Bachman replied,

Yes, their present punishment in hell is equal for rejecting Christ and not believing on Him. – “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” 1 John 5:12. Hell is a terrible place of continual torment in flames. – “And in hell he lifts up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” (Luke16:23-24)

At the end of this world all unbelievers will be delivered up from death and hell to be judged justly for additional punishment according to their own sins. – “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”(Revelation 20: 12-14)

An earthly illustration would be a bad criminal being put in a county jail until after his trial and sentencing. Then he is sent to prison where he
will spend the remainder of his sentence. For unbelievers who start out in hell, they will have to spend the rest of eternity after their judgment in the lake of fire, still experiencing hell but also at the same time, additional suffering for each of their sins.

….

Most IFB preachers believe that Hell is a temporary holding place in the bowels of the earth for non-Christians after they die. Then, at the end of time, the inhabitants of Hell will cast into the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14-15 says:

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

The Lake of Fire, then, is the eventual permanent residence for all non-Christians. Billions of people will reside in the Lake of Fire, subject to excruciating torture day and night for eternity. Why? Because they were born to the wrong parents, lived in the wrong country, worshipped the wrong god, or believed the wrong things. Sure, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Donald Trump will be there, but most of the inhabitants of the Lake of Fire will be just ordinary, good people who, on balance, tried to live good lives, or people such as Jews in WWII who were systematically slaughtered by the Nazis, or people who were blown to bits by mankind’s war machine, or children who died ignominiously of curable diseases, thirst, or starvation.

Many of the residents of the Lake of Fire will end up there without ever hearing the name of Jesus or the Christian gospel one time. Evangelicals such as Bachman explain how this is just by saying that no sinner deserves salvation; and that all sinners deserve Hell and the Lake of Fire. Consider yourself lucky if you are one of the elect, the chosen ones. Such lines of argument fall flat, failing to adequately explain how a just God could banish people, through no fault of their own, to the Lake of Fire for not hearing the gospel. Really, God?

Evangelicals also argue that according to Romans 1 and 2, all humans have moral consciences given to them by God, rendering them without excuse. Further, all any of us need to do is look at the created universe and connect the dots. Somebody bigger than you or I created the universe! In 1960, gospel artist Mahalia Jackson sang:

Who made the mountains, who made the trees
Who made the rivers flow to the sea
Who hung the moon in the starry sky
Somebody bigger than you and I

Who made the flowers to bloom in the spring
Who writes the song for the robins to sing
Who sends the rain when the earth is dry
Somebody bigger than you and I

(He lights the way) He lights the way
(When the road is long) When the road is long
(And He keeps you company) He keeps you company
(With His love) With His love to guide you
(He walks beside you)He walks beside you
(Just like he walks with me) Just like He walks with me

When I am weary, filled with despair
Who gives me courage to go on from there
And who gives me faith that will never never die
Somebody bigger than you and I
(Somebody bigger than you and I)

I am more than willing to admit that it is possible for someone to look at the night sky and conclude that a creator of some sort created everything — a deistic God, perhaps. However, how one gets from A GOD to that God being THE GOD of Trinitarian, Protestant Christianity is a whole different discussion. Evangelicals answer this objection by saying that if an unbeliever — say an aborigine in Australia — looks at the night sky and says to himself, “a God of some sort created this,” the Christian God will either take that into account on judgment day (giving them lesser punishment in the Lake of Fire?) or will send an Evangelical missionary to their door to tell them who, exactly, created the universe.

Evangelicals go to great lengths to cover their asses on the question of what happens to people who have never heard the gospel. Press them long enough, and Evangelical apologists will eventually appeal to mystery, the alleged justice and fairness of God, or God’s thoughts and ways not being our thoughts and ways. Evangelical Apologetics 101 teaches that if your answer to a difficult question is lacking, just appeal to God’s unknowing ways or run to the safety of the house of faith.

Where Bachman’s God becomes especially cruel is when those who land in Hell are punished further in the Lake of Fire. In Luke 16, we find the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Luke 16 tells that the rich man died, went to Hell, and is tormented day and night. According to Bachman, the rich man went to Hell because he rejected Jesus Christ. Never mind the fact that the Bible says otherwise; that the rich man went to Hell because of how he lived in light of those suffering around him. He was indifferent to the plight of Lazarus, and now he is being punished in Hell for his indifference.

Bachman believes that the inhabitants of Hell, some of whom have been suffering for thousands of years, will be delivered from Hell, only to be re-judged for their sins and cast into the Lake of Fire to suffer worse torture than before. Imagine the rich man getting his release from Hell, a brief respite from pain and suffering, only to be told that he was headed for a more violent torture chamber, one that will remind him for all eternity of all the ways he slighted the Christian God and broke his rules. Bachman’s God wins the “Worst God Ever” award.

Years ago, I was listening to a cassette tape of a sermon by evangelist Rolfe Barnard, a Calvinistic Southern Baptist preacher. Back in the day, Barnard was, by far, my favorite preacher. Barnard described the Lake of Fire as a fiery, smoky pit located outside of the New Jerusalem — the home of God’s elect. On judgment day, says Barnard, the elect will stand nearby and watch as God judges their friends and loved ones and casts them into the Lake of Fire. On this day, there will be no tears. God’s chosen ones will praise his name and give glory to his holiness and justice every time he tosses a person in the Lake of Fire. Imagine the perverseness of this illustration. Imagine standing by and watching as God throws your children and spouse in the Lake of Fire, knowing that they will be horrendously tormented for eternity. “Praise Jesus! My son is facing the just desserts for his sin and rejection of Evangelical Christianity!! Woo Hoo! Jesus, you are awesome!” Talk about sick, disgusting theology.

Evangelicals make all sorts of theological arguments. I am weary of them all. I just want to know what they believe about judgment, Hell, and the Lake of Fire. Forget all the ‘splaining and Bible proof-texting. Just tell me whether or not all non-Evangelicals will be tortured by God for eternity in the Lake of Fire. How you answer this question tells me all I need to know about you as a person, your God, and your religion.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Two

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Video Link

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

rolfe barnard

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

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

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

Video Link

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I am a Publican and a Heathen Part One

Jose Maldonado Bruce Gerencser Pat Horner
Pastors Joe Maldonado, Bruce Gerencser, and Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church, Fall of 1993

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Should church members be allowed to leave the church without permission? Bobby Jamieson, writing for 9Marks, answered the question this way:

…I think the biblical answer is a resounding “No.” Here’s why: When your church made that person a member, you were declaring to the world that this person belongs to the kingdom of Jesus. By regarding this person as a member, your church affirmed that he is indeed a “brother” in Christ…

…So what’s the problem? Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us not to forsake assembling together. Therefore, any professing Christian who quits going to church is living in habitual, unrepentant sin. And the way a church addresses unrepentant sin is not by merrily sending that person on his way, but by removing their affirmation of “member” and “brother”. When the player quits showing up on game day, the team has to take back his jersey.

So pastors, just as you pay careful attention to the front door of your church, keep a close eye on the back door, too. Make sure that the sheep can’t simply open the gate themselves and disappear from sight. Refuse to allow people to resign into thin air, both for the sake of your church’s witness to the gospel and for the good of every single sheep—especially those who tend to wander off.”…

The purpose of the aforementioned quotations will become readily evident once you have read this series. I had planned for this to be one post, but as I started writing, I realized I need to split it into several posts.

In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist in Somerset, Ohio. I pastored the church until March of 1994. In the late 1980s, I became quite disenchanted with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I came to the conclusion that the IFB gospel was a bastardized, corrupt gospel that made no demands of those who said they were a follower of Jesus Christ.

Through the writings of Charles Finney, I came to see that repentance, a turning FROM sin and a turning TO Christ, was an essential component of the gospel. In 1989, I read John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, and this fundamentally changed my soteriology (theology concerning salvation).

I began to read books written by the Puritans: men such as Thomas Watson and John Owens. I also read the works of men such as John BunyanCharles SpurgeonJC RyleAW PinkAndrew Fuller, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  I also began listening to Calvinistic preaching tapes from the Chapel Tape Library.

rolfe barnard

One preacher’s taped sermons really got my attention, and that was the sermons by the late Rolfe Barnard. Barnard was a fiery Southern Baptist preacher of the Calvinist gospel. I listened to his sermons over and over, and it became clear to me that I had been preaching a false gospel. I also felt that my college professors and mentors had lied to me. Why had they never shared with me the sovereign grace gospel? (Short bio of Rolfe Barnard)

In a sermon titled, Seeking the Lord, Rolfe Barnard said:

…This generation would like to get to heaven, but they just haven’t got time. They had time to make a profession and join a church, but they just haven’t got time to seek the Lord. When I started to preach 36 years ago, people would come hear me preach and I could keep a crowd for a while, and in that way somebody would listen to the Word of God. And since no man has saving faith, and God has to give it to men, He gives it as men hear His Word, and after a while they say “that’s God talking”.

You must hear the law of God preached long enough for God to reveal to you that you are a guilty lost sinner before you will be interested in hearing the good news of the Gospel of Christ. If God can get you lost, He will save you. If God can get you to sit still long enough to let a little of His Word sink in and grant you repentance and faith, He will save you. If you don’t have time to seek the Lord till He is pleased to reveal Himself to you and speak peace to you, why you will just live on a little while, then go to hell. You haven’t had time to hear what is being said.

A personal confrontation of the soul by a gracious redeeming God; this leads to repentance and faith, this leads to the terminating of a self-centered existence, and the beginning of a Christ indwelled life. You will lay down the arms of rebellion and run up the white flag of surrender. That’s what it means to be saved. I don’t know how long it will take you to get there, but it would be time well spent if you got to Christ…

In a sermon titled, A Lack of Repentance Preaching has Filled Modern Churches with Hypocrites, (link no longer active) Barnard said:

…I am dead certain that the mess we are in religiously and spiritually now, the love-sick so-called “church” people, the sickly sentimental crop of so-called “believers” who are enthusiastic about a fair or a frolic but are conspicuously absent from prayer meeting — I am sure that this is due to the fact that our churches are full of people who are not born right…

Somehow or another they got into our professing churches without ever having come face to face with the holy demands of a Holy God, and being brought in the face of those demands to the place of throwing up all hands of self-effort and self-confidence and turning one’s self over lock, stock and barrel to the Sovereign Christ. Somehow or another they have missed the main business. Somehow or another they got in what we call the church without turning in abhorrence and in utter conviction against sin, without turning from their sin to obedience unto God.

And, of course, their lives fail! If we dodge this step [repentance], we miss out on salvation!…

As a result of the aforementioned books and tapes, I embraced five-point Calvinism. At the time, I thought God had taken the blinders off my IFB-darkened eyes.  In classic, there is no middle ground, charge hell with an empty squirt gun fashion, I became a vocal proponent of Calvinism. This change of soteriology (doctrines concerning salvation), and a later a change of ecclesiology (doctrines concerning church polity, discipline) and eschatology (doctrines concerning end times), destroyed whatever connections I had with pastors and churches in the IFB church movement.

I spent the last five years of my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church radically changing and restructuring the church. I stopped giving altar calls and I went from preaching topical/textual sermons to preaching expository sermons. Instead of choosing a new and different text each week, I began preaching systematically through various books of the Bible. I preached over one hundred sermons from the gospel of John.

It was not uncommon for me to spend several full days studying and preparing a sermon. This study and preparation became the focus of my ministry. (Calvinism appeals  to people such as myself who love reading and who enjoy intellectual pursuits.) I also came to see that I had a duty to reach the members of Somerset Baptist Church with the TRUE gospel, the gospel of sovereign grace. I feared that many of the church members were unsaved. I spent the first half of time in Somerset getting them saved and I spent that last half trying to get them unsaved.

I began traveling to preaching meetings at Calvinistic churches. At these meetings I met men such as Don Fortner and Henry Mahan. Mahan would later come to Somerset and hold a meeting.  I also began associating with Reformed Baptist pastors. Men such as Al Martin and Walt Chantry were prominent voices in the Reformed Baptist movement, as were men associated with the Southern Baptist Founder’s GroupAl Mohler is a prominent member of the Founder’s Group.

Every month, I would travel seventy miles to a General Association of Regular Baptist  Churches (GARBC) church in Mansfield, Ohio, pastored by Mark Furman, a Calvinistic pastor, so I could attend a meeting of like-minded pastors. This meeting was called The Pastor’s Clinic. Several pastors would present a paper on a particular theological subject, we would discuss the papers, and then eat lunch before heading for home. I found the meetings intellectually stimulating and they helped assure me that the Calvinistic gospel was the TRUE gospel.

Under my leadership, Somerset Baptist Church began a tape lending library similar to that of the Chapel Library.  We sent preaching tapes free of charge to anyone who requested them. I also began publishing a monthly newsletter titled, The Sovereign Grace Reporter. This newsletter was sent to hundreds of Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic pastors. The newsletter incited rage among my non-Calvinistic friends and their outrage ruined a fifteen-church Youth Fellowship I had started years before. I knew that the newsletter would provoke some of the pastors, but I didn’t care. I thought, they need to hear about the TRUE gospel.

I lost almost all of my professional connections, save a friendship I had with Keith Troyer and another with Polly’s uncle James (Jim) Dennis. At the time, Keith was pastor of the Fallsburg Baptist Church in Fallsburg, Ohio and Jim was the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath Ohio.

Jim Dennis was not a five-point Calvinist, in the classic sense of the word, but his soteriological beliefs were closer to the Calvinistic position than the one-point Calvinist/Arminian position of the IFB church movement.  Keith Troyer was a young pastor when I met him. I think I am about ten years older than he. I began to give Keith books written by Calvinistic writers, and, for a time, he was greatly influenced by me and the books I gave him. Many people believe that I had a negative influence on Keith. Whatever influence I may or may not have had, Keith is not a Calvinistic pastor. He currently pastors Grace Baptist Church in Greenville, Pennsylvania. With both of these men, I could freely talk about Calvinism. Both men would later come and preach for me, not only at Somerset, but at Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio (which was originally named Grace Baptist Church).

Through the publication of the Sovereign Grace Reporter, I came into contact with men such as Andy Sandlin and Pat Horner. Both Sandlin and Horner were originally part of the IFB church movement. Sandlin, for many years, was associated with Rousas Rushdoony and the Chalcedon Foundation. Horner was a sovereign grace Baptist pastor who pastored  Community Baptist Church  in Elmendorf, Texas.

While Andy I had much more of a casual relationship, Pat and I began to develop a friendship. Over time, Pat become comfortable enough with me that he invited me to speak at his church’s annual Bible conference in March of 1993. At this conference, I came into contact with numerous sovereign grace Baptist pastors.  Both Polly and I were overwhelmed by the friendliness and vibrancy of Community Baptist Church.

Over the course of the summer, Pat Horner and I continued to keep in touch. Pat eventually asked if I would consider coming to Elmendorf to be the co-pastor of the church. He knew I was beginning to “feel” that my work in Somerset was done and that perhaps God was leading me to go somewhere else. He also knew I was gifted when it came to evangelism and he hoped I could help with planting new churches, along with starting a Christian school.  After considering Pat’s offer for several weeks, I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to stay in Somerset. I called Pat and declined his offer.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in my office and suddenly a flood of emotion came over me. I began weeping uncontrollably. I began thinking about the church in Texas and Pat’s offer. And, in that moment, I changed my mind and decided to accept the offer to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas.

move to community baptist church
One of the trailers used to move our belongings to Community Baptist Church

I called Pat and asked him if the offer was still open. He said, yes, and a few weeks later Polly and I drove to Texas to meet with the church elders and the church family. They overwhelmingly agreed that I should come to Texas and become the co-pastor of the church. In March of 1994, men from Community Baptist Church came to Ohio, helped us pack up our furniture and goods, and we moved 1,400 miles to a new and exciting ministry opportunity.

What should have been a wonderful time for my family and  me, over the course of seven months, turned into disaster that resulted in me resigning from the church and Pat Horner and the church excommunicating me.

From late September, 1994 to today, Pat Horner and the Community Baptist Church consider me a publican and a heathen.

In the next post in this series, I will discuss how we settled into Elmendorf and my conflicts with the church that ultimately led to our leaving.

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