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Tag: Salvation

I Wish Evangelicals Would Make Up Their Minds About My Salvation

saved or lost

My writing can be found all over the Internet: on social media, Reddit, websites, and private discussion groups. Recently, an ex-Catholic Reddit group was talking about my deconversion. Many of the participants actually found my story helpful, and for that I am grateful.

In other places, my writing is used as fodder to deconstruct my life. One such discussion can be found in the Christianity subreddit. Titled, “Former decades-long pastor who became an atheist proves how ridiculous the concept of “Once-Saved-Always-Saved is” participants argued back and forth about whether I was a Christian in the past or whether I was presently still a believer. Let me give you several examples

Shamus:

That “pastor” never knew Christ personally. He admits it [I most certainly did not]. What he did do, however, is just go through the motions. Putting on the show. Saying all the right things. [This is a baldfaced lie.]

That is what is called a false convert. One can be a false convert for a day, or for an entire lifetime.

No sinner is saved by saying some words. If all one knows is ABOUT God, but one does not KNOW God…then they too are just going through the motions.

As the cliche goes: relationship, not religion.

Roll2Tide:

God’s word is forever true. This pastor’s salvation will forever be secured from God’s perspective.

Separately, this pastor is free to change course and reject that salvation, which he is currently doing.

The OSAS is most commonly spoken to or about a person who is afraid of having their salvation taken from them, and virtually never about a person trying get rid of salvation.

If that pastor doesn’t understand these things………I mean, seriously, this is vacation bible school level knowledge.

RicketyTicketyTock:

So, without getting into pretentious acronyms and big words that try and prove a point. I was raised in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church as well, from birth until I was 18, I didn’t leave because I lost my faith, I left because I didn’t agree with the ridiculously strict rules that we were made to live by. That being said, they believed in the idea that if you asked Christ to be your personal savior then you were saved from that point on, forever. If you made a mistake, if you hurt someone, then it didn’t mean you lost your salvation. They also believe that there is no one sin that is greater than another, that all sin is sin, so whether you tell a white lie to your child or commit murder, sin is sin and there is no measure that a sin can be so bad that you lose your salvation.

The Bible tells us that no man can do anything to separate a saved individual from God, the only way to have your name removed from The Lamb’s Book of Life is to remove scripture from The Bible. No man can remove your place in heaven, not even yourself.

BigCountryRon:

No it doesn’t. I don’t care if you are an atheist or not, if it has been confirmed through confirmation, you are always a Catholic.

Dude is still saved.

TheApostleJeff:

None of those passages in scripture you quoted speak to OSAS, they speak to patterns / habits / fleshly behaviors that are so dominant that anybody displaying them regularly does not have eternal life in them.

I’d argue the pastor in discussion was never saved, nor were the ‘Christians’ he is comparing himself to. As evidence – nobody who has tasted and seen the Lord is good and then walked in that freedom for 40 years would ‘leave the faith’.

At the end of the day, nobody knows who is truly saved and who isn’t but God

There were sixty-eight comments in this discussion thread. According to these Christians, I was: never saved, still saved, or lost my salvation.

Which is it, Christians? If the Bible is the inspired Word of God and true in all that it says, why can’t the followers of Jesus figure out whether I was or still am a Christian? The Bible says that there is ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, and ONE BAPTISM. One faith, but Christians argue amongst themselves about what that faith is. And yet, they expect unbelievers to figure out which salvation shtick is true.

Perhaps the real issue here is the fact that the Bible can be used to prove almost anything. That’s why Arminians, Calvinists, and once-saved-always-saved Baptists wage war against one another over which of them is right. Allegedly, getting saved is the most important decision you will make. Why, then, can’t the author of the Bible, God, make the matter crystal clear?

I’m waiting God. . .

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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How God Reminds Us Every Day That We Are Little More Than Worms and Slugs

original sin

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

— Issac Watts, Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good — above all, that we are better than someone else — I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. (Psalm 22:6)

How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm? (Job 25:6)

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)

Original sin

Vile

Wicked

Hater of God

Worthy of pain, suffering, death, and eternal torture

According to the Bible, we are the lowest of low, little more than dung beetles, slugs, or worms. Thanks to Adam and Eve eating fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden, all human beings are born depraved sinners — haters of God worthy of having the judgment and wrath of God poured out on their heads. None of us can escape this condemnation. As soon as the egg unites with sperm in the womb of a woman, a new vile and repulsive sinner is created. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Or so says Christianity.

What better way to attract and keep congregants than to convince them that they are broken, helpless, hopeless sinners who need to be glued back together with Jesus Salvation Glue® that can only be found at First Baptist Church on Main Street, Anywhere, Ohio. And when the Jesus Salvation Glue® doesn’t last, and bits and pieces of one’s life start breaking off, congregants are told to go to confession or walk the sawdust trail to an old-fashioned altar and get a resupply of Jesus Salvation Glue®.

And the cost for this wonderful, sin-erasing Jesus glue? EVERYTHING. Your life, possessions, money, and family now belong to God. If it wasn’t for Jesus Salvation Glue®, the Christian would still be like Humpty Dumpty, a pile of brokenness at the bottom of the proverbial wall. Since Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin by dying on the cross and taking a three-day weekend in Hell, the least groveling sinners can do is obediently follow him until they die. If Christians do this, then Jesus will give them rooms in God’s Trump Hotel®– rooms they will rarely use since they will be spending most of their time praising and worshiping God and prostrating themselves before his throne. And even in Heaven, there will be a final judgment for every Christian, a time when God will comb through the minutia of the lives of Christians, reminding them of all the times they sinned and how lucky they are that God is allowing them to enter his Heaven.

In the first iteration of this post, I wrote:

After several weeks of rain, we’ve finally gotten a break and are able to work in the yard and garden. Weeds are growing prolifically, and I am certain I heard them laughing at Polly and me as we, with aching muscles and joints, reached down to pull them up from the ground. I was so fatigued and in pain today that I laid on the ground and crawled along the flower beds pulling weeds. As I was doing this, I contemplated the wonders of Christianity. This is sarcasm, by the way, for those who tend to literally interpret my prose.

These Bible verses came to mind:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:17-19)

If you like to grow things, you know that weeds come with the territory. If you don’t pull them, they will take over, and soon your yard looks like a movie set for a post-apocalyptic thriller titled The Revenge of the Weeds. As you pull the weeds, just remember that weeds are a reminder from God that you are a vile worm, worthy of death. If you are a Christian, every weed you pull is a reminder of how vile you were before God saved you. Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t apply salvation like Roundup? One application and the weeds are dead. One application of Jesus and all sin is eradicated. Why wouldn’t God do this? Wouldn’t it make life more enjoyable, not only for Christians, but God? Surely God gets tired of Deacon Bob going to the altar every Sunday to confess his child porn habit, or tires of Preacher Billy confessing his fits of anger towards his wife and family. Wouldn’t it be better to cure Bob and Billy once and for all of their “sins?” Why is God unwilling or unable to do so?

To Christians I say this: Wouldn’t this be a good day to cast off the belief that you are a broken sinner in need of salvation and forgiveness?  Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for, scratch that, and then you’ll be dead.

Proverbs 27:1 says:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.

Good advice, but not for the reasons Christians think. This verse stresses to the Christian the importance of being saved, of having sins forgiven, and preparing to meet God face to face. As an atheist, I read this verse and it says to me that life is short. There is no promise of tomorrow and no one knows what might happen. So, live! Live each moment of every day as if it is your last, because someday, sooner than you think, it will be.

Let me leave you with the advice I give on the About page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

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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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.

John 3:16: The Simplest Verse in the Bible, Right?

john 3 16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Christians tout John 3:16 as the simplest verse in the Bible. They revel in the simplicity of its message. It is often the first Bible verse children are taught to memorize.

Is John 3:16 really the simplest verse in the Bible?  What if we looked at John 3:16 through the lens of the plethora of theological beliefs within the Christian church?

We would first have to settle who wrote the gospel of John in general, and John 3:16 in particular. We know chapter and verse numbers were added fifteen centuries after the writing of John. There’s a lot of debate about who wrote John, when it was written, and whether it should even be considered a gospel or a part of the canon of Christian scripture.

Once we settle the textual legitimacy issue, we would then have to decide who is actually doing the speaking in John 3:16. The author of John? Jesus? Did the author actually hear Jesus speak these words? Is John 3:16 a verbatim quote of what Jesus said?

Now to the verse.

For God

Right away we are forced to decide which God the Bible is talking about. Christianity is hardly unified on the God question. Witness a Baptist and an Apostolic fight over whether the Trinity is taught in the Bible. Is God one? Is God three in one?

So Loved the World

It would seem that this part of the verse is pretty straight forward. God loves the world. World means God loves everyone. However, as millions of Calvinists will quickly tell you, all doesn’t necessarily mean all, and world doesn’t necessarily mean world. First, you have to take the verse and push it through the Calvinist sieve and then you can interpret John 3:16 correctly. World doesn’t mean everyone. It means out of every kindred, tribe, and tongue, God has people he loves and people he intends to save. In other words, God doesn’t savingly love everyone. It is right there in the verse, can’t YOU see it?

At about this point Calvinists launch into a discussion about the difference between God’s love for everyone (common grace) and the love he has for those he has chosen from before the foundation of the world. Of course, Arminians have a far different view of the scope of God’s love and grace. Let the never-ending debate begin.

That He Gave His only Begotten Son

We will assume that son means Jesus. This raises an issue right away, an issue about which many Christians have fumed over the years. Was Jesus always the son of God? One side adamantly says yes. The other side says he became the son and there was a time when he wasn’t the son.

Then we have to deal with the only son issue. Did God have more sons or daughters? As Mormonism becomes a mainstream Christian religion, what about their belief that Lucifer (the devil, Satan) is Jesus’ brother?

The next issue we have to deal is “how” Jesus was begotten. Did Jesus have a sperm-donating father?  If the Holy Spirit “begat” Jesus, how did that happen? Did God have sex with Mary? Virgin birth? “What a laugher,” many liberal Christians say. Everyone knows virgins can’t be pregnant. Besides, the word “virgin” means young woman. Liberals and Fundamentalists battle back and forth, each group certain their view is correct.

And there’s the whole consent issue. Did Mary consent to the Holy Ghost having sex with her? Did Mary have a choice in the matter?

That Whosoever Believeth in Him

Whosoever. Once again does this refer to everyone? No matter who you are, where you are, if you believe in Jesus you will have everlasting life? What about reprobates? Does “whosoever” apply to them? The Calvinist – – the party of the exclusion — says “whosoever” doesn’t mean everyone. Only the elect will savingly believe in Jesus. Everyone else, even if they wanted to, cannot savingly believe in Jesus. If you are not elect, predestined, chosen by God, you are headed for an eternity in the Lake of Fire. God decided before you were even born that you would burn forever.

What does it mean to believe? What do we have to believe? Here is where the whole issue becomes every sect for itself. Every flavor of Christian ice cream has its own take on what it means to believe and what it is a person must believe to be saved. Even among churches of the same denomination, there are differences about what it means to believe and what one must believe to be saved.

Should not Perish

What does it mean to perish? Death? First or second death? Hell? Lake of Fire? Purgatory? Eternal punishment? Temporary punishment? Annihilation?

But Have Everlasting Life

When it comes to life after death, all Christians believe that they will go to Heaven after they die. No matter what road they take, what theology they have, every sect/church believes everlasting life is the prize for those who believe.  Though . . . I do remember a debate among preachers about the difference between eternal life and everlasting life. It goes something like . . .

Here’s my point.  Even the simplest verse in the Bible can be interpreted different ways. Each interpreter believes his interpretation to be the correct one. The truth is, there is no such thing as Biblical truth. All we have are sects/churches/pastors/individuals, each saying their interpretation is the truth. Armed with study Bibles, concordances, and dictionaries, many Christians believe they are ready to emphatically tell anyone who will listen exactly what the Bible teaches.

Imagine a person who has never heard about any of the religions of the world. He has lived his life in isolation. One day he comes upon an inscription on a cave wall that says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

What conclusions would he come to? Would he naturally come to the conclusions I mentioned above? Not likely. Perhaps he would start a religion. What is the likelihood that it would resemble any of the Christian sects? Once again, not likely.

This is why I don’t involve myself in long debates or discussions about the Bible. Such discussions become like ten students looking at a Monet, each giving their own interpretation. Then the teacher says,NO! NO! NO!, all of you are wrong. The picture is saying ________________.

After all, the Bible does say, Let every man be persuaded in his own mind . . .

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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Hello Bruce, I’m a “Nice” Evangelical

hell

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several times a month, I get emails from Evangelicals who want to let me know that they are not like “other” Evangelicals. They want me to know that there are Evangelicals who are nice, polite, decent, kind, and respectful people. That’s great, their mothers taught them well. However, these “nice” Evangelicals aren’t really as nice as they would have me believe. They desperately want to be viewed in a good light, thinking if I just knew that there are “nice” Evangelicals, I would fall on my knees and call to Jesus to save me. As if my entire deconversion hangs on how I was treated while I was an Evangelical pastor.

When I am feeling up to it, I respond to the “nice” Evangelical’s email with a few questions. Questions like:

  • Do you believe that humans are inherently “sinful”; that humans are broken and in need of fixing?
  • Do you think believing in Jesus is the only way for people to have their sins forgiven?
  • Do you believe there is one true God, and that all other deities are false?
  • Do you believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text?
  • Do you believe that a person must be saved/born again/become a follower of Jesus to go to Heaven when he dies?
  • Do you believe that a person who is not saved/born again/a follower of Jesus goes to Hell when he dies?

The answers to these questions will quickly reveal that the “nice” Evangelical is no different from Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, Steven Anderson, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, Bob Gray, Sr., Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, or Franklin Graham. The “nice” Evangelical and the nasty/hateful Evangelical, both share the same beliefs. The former comes in a nicer, more pleasing package, but inside the package are the same abhorrent, vile beliefs.

Sometimes, a “nice” Evangelical will be coy about his beliefs. When pressed on the question of God torturing non-Christians in Hell/Lake of Fire for eternity, he often replies that he leaves such things up to God. A “nice” Evangelical want me to know that he doesn’t judge, he just unconditionally l-o-v-e-s others. However, if he believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, then he already knows what God says on the matter. Fact: non-Christians will go to Hell when they die. Fact: atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of the readers of this blog will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of my Facebook friends will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of my Twitter followers will go to Hell when they die. Fact: and, to make it quite personal, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and most of their children will go to Hell when they die.

The “nice” Evangelical, if he is truly a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Evangelical, is boxed in by his beliefs. There is one God — the Christian God; one way of salvation — Jesus; and Hell awaits all of those who reject him. This is why I respect someone like the late Fred Phelps more than I do a “nice” Evangelical. Phelps just tells non-Christians how it is. He makes no effort to hide his beliefs. The forwardness of such Evangelicals allows me to know exactly where I stand with them. No need for us to play the pretend-friend game or make nice with each other.

Sometimes, “nice” Evangelicals will take a psychological approach. They view me as one who has been wounded by the nasty, hateful, judgmental Evangelicals. They read a few of my blog posts and determine that I have been hurt in some way, and that this is the reason I am not a Christian. In their minds, they think if they are just really, really, really nice to me that I will be overwhelmed by their niceness and fall in love with Jesus all over again. Since “nice” Evangelicals think Jesus is w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l, they can’t imagine someone NOT wanting to become a follower of Awesome Jesus. A “nice” Evangelical sees Jesus patiently knocking on the door of my heart, pleading for me to let him in. Isn’t this the same Jesus who says that if I DON’T open the door, he is going to torture me for eternity in a lake that burns with fire and brimstone, a place where the worm dieth not? Isn’t this the same Jesus who will fit me with a special body after death so that no matter how severely he tortures me I can never die?

While there is certainly a truckload of harm and hurt in my Evangelical past, the reason I am not a Christian is because I do not believe the central claims of Christianity to be true. I don’t believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. I don’t believe Jesus was God, virgin-born, a miracle worker, or resurrected from the dead. I don’t believe God created the world, nor do I believe in “sin.” Simply put, I reject everything one must believe to be a Christian. No matter how “nice” an Evangelical is to me, I do not buy what he is selling. Salvation requires faith, a faith I do not and will not have.

Look, I am glad that many Evangelicals are nice people. I am glad they treat me and others like me with kindness, decency, and respect. Their behavior certainly makes the world a better place. That said, I suspect their behavior is a reflection of their tribal training and culture more than it is their Evangelical beliefs. I am glad someone taught them to be decent, thoughtful people. I do, however, wish they would stop wasting their time by trying to “nice” me to Jesus. I have no interest in Jesus, and I think their time would be better spent teaching Evangelicals how to behave in public. As blog comments, news articles, blogs, social media,  and personal emails show, there are a lot of Evangelicals who don’t the first thing about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Instead of trying to save people who don’t want to be saved, “nice” Evangelicals should spend their time getting fellow Evangelicals saved.

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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

The Bankruptcy of the Evangelical Gospel

evangelical gospel

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

It’s Easter.

The real reason for Easter is___________________?

Come on kiddies, you know the answer.

Easter egg hunts?

Chocolate rabbits?

Candy?

Dyed eggs?

Candy?

Candy?

Candy?

No, silly. Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! Shall we talk about Christmas next? You know, the “reason” for the season. Give me my presents, Santa. Uh, thank you Jesus, for, uh, well, for something.

I read a number of Evangelical websites and blogs. Some days, I want to pull my hair out or bang my forehead on the table as I read about the latest faux threat to modern civilization or the “persecution” American Christians are facing because they have to treat LGBTQ as if they are human. I derisively laugh, cuss, and shake my head, but I must continue to wade through the bovine waste river if I plan to be an informed and literate writer. It’s my cross to bear. Buncha homophobes, the lot of them

I subscribe to the One Million Moms newsletter. One Million Moms is a smelly armpit of The American Family Association (AFA). Million Mommies is what I call the female outrage wing of AFA. They focus on boycotting companies that advertise things on TV shows they think are offensive, immoral, or anti-Christian. Their website lists the current outrages and companies who have changed their ways due to a Million Mommies boycott or letter-writing campaign. (Uber, Oreo, Frank’s Hot Sauce) They are well-organized, avid letter writers, and by all accounts, obsessed with the sex other people are having.

Monica Cole is the director of One Million Moms. Several years ago, Cole sent out a weekly Million Mommies newsletter that was different from others I have received in the past. No call to action, no letters to write, no boycott, no panties in a bunch. In other words, none of the usual angst-filled Million Mommies stuff. Cole, concerned for sinners such as you and me, made that week’s newsletter all about Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Christian gospel. She hoped readers would forward it on to lost friends and family members:

If you know of someone who is not saved, please pass this on to them. Share the greatest gift of all with them: a relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life. Also, share this with your brothers and sisters in Christ so they may use this to share with others. God commands that we share the gospel with others. We need to help one another become passionate followers of Jesus Christ.

What I found interesting is how Cole explained the gospel and salvation, Here’s what Cole thinks the gospel is and what a sinner should do to find salvation:

Resurrection Sunday is a time to Rejoice! Jesus paid a debt for us that no one else could ever pay so that we could be in heaven with Him for eternity. God gave the perfect sacrifice, His only Son, and if we believe in Him, then we will be forgiven and saved from our sins.

To be saved, you must believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for EVERYONE’S sins, including your own, and receive Him as your personal Savior so that one day you can be with our Heavenly Father. If you believe Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, you will also need to admit you are a sinner – as we all are. Romans 3:23 KJV says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” If you have never confessed your sin and belief in Christ, take time to do it right now. Jesus is the only way to be saved from your sins and receive eternal life.

On the third day, he rose again from the dead. This is the Good News that Christians celebrate: His Resurrection! He is ALIVE! And one day our Savior will return. He, and only He, sets us free from our sins! “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” John 14:6 KJV

The birth of Jesus is wonderful, but the resurrection is even more exciting. It is the finale to the Christmas story. Jesus accomplished what he came for. Jesus’ last words before dying on the cross were documented in John 19:30 as, “It is finished.” He knew that all was now completed and that Scripture would be fulfilled. To suggest that more needs to be done to earn your way to heaven is the same as saying Jesus died for nothing. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV

Nails were not what held Jesus to the cross. Jesus had the power to come down from that cross, but He knew this is what had to be done for His believers to be saved. He died on the cross for you and me because of His love for us. He loved us that much! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 KJV

According to Cole, to be saved, people must believe and do the following:

  • Admit that Jesus died on the cross for their sins
  • Admit that they are sinners
  • Receive Him (Jesus) as their personal Savior

If people will do this they will:

  • Be saved from their sins
  • Receive eternal life
  • One day live with the Heavenly Father

That’s it!

Man, I am sooooo glad I did this 48 years ago. Praise Jesus, I am still gloriously, wonderfully saved! My eternal reservation is booked and I am ready to go when Jesus either calls my name or comes in the clouds to fetch me. I may be an atheist, but I sincerely prayed the sinner’s prayer. I’m good to go, right? A-w-e-s-o-m-e!

Sadly, this is the bankrupt gospel preached in thousands and thousands of Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. It is the gospel preached by the likes of the late Jack Hyles, Bob Gray, Sr., Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Bethel Church Redding, Joyce Meyer, Greg Laurie, and most Evangelical megachurch pastors. It is a gospel that requires nothing more than I’ve-got-a-pulse sincerity and mental assent to a propositional set of facts. This gospel is what Deitrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”

I call this gospel the 1-2-3 repeat after me gospel. (Please see One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style.) In theological terms, this truncated gospel is called decisional regeneration or easy believism. That I can still be considered a Christian should be offensive to every follower of Jesus, yet many people think that I am still a born-again child of God and Heaven will someday be my eternal home. I might lose some rewards, have my gym pass revoked, or my mansion might not be as spiffy as Charles Spurgeon’s, but my future is secure, all because I prayed the sinner’s prayer at age 15 at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio.

By stringing a bunch of Bible verses together, many Evangelical churches and pastors have reduced the Christian gospel to meaningless drivel. Being a Christian should mean something. Isn’t the essence of the Christian gospel following after Jesus? Can people really be Christians if they aren’t following Jesus, if they aren’t committed to believing and practicing his teachings?

Part of the problem is that there are at least five plans of salvation in the Bible. In the Old Testament, salvation was procured through keeping the law and blood sacrifice. In the New Testament, we have the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of Paul, the gospel of Peter, and the gospel of James. Each of these New Testament gospels is different from the others, and this is why there are so many Christian sects, each with their own gospel. Which gospel a sect, church, or pastor emphasizes determines what a person must do or believe to be a Christian.

Here in the 21st century, the gospel of Paul rules the salvation roost. Some sects, churches, and pastors try to merge Paul’s gospel with the others, resulting in a hybrid gospel. But, if being a Christian means following Jesus, shouldn’t HIS gospel be the one preached in Christian churches? Why do so few churches preach Jesus’s gospel? Why do they focus on Paul’s gospel and doctrine, and not Jesus’s gospel? Could the reason be that Jesus focused on how a person lives, and not what a person believes? Could the reason be that Jesus’ gospel required singular love and devotion to God and mankind — the two Great Commandments?

Take the sermon on the mount. Did Jesus preach anything remotely similar to Monica Cole’s gospel or the gospel that will be preached at countless Evangelical churches this Sunday? He did not. Jesus preached a gospel of works, a gospel that called on people to forsake their nets, family, and everything they held dear and follow after him. Jesus didn’t say to those gathered on the mount to hear him: say you are sorry for your sins and promise to believe in me after I die on the cross. He didn’t ask Jews to ask Jesus into their heart or walk down the aisle and make a public profession of faith. Compare what Jesus preached in Matthew 5-7 with what is preached in the average Evangelical church. The contrast couldn’t be starker. Jesus called to people and said follow me. Evangelical preachers call to people and say, believe these facts, pray this prayer. and you will be saved! Oh, and throw a tenner in the plate while you are at it.

The sermon on the mount is Jesus’ manifesto. He wanted to make sure people understood what it meant to be his follower. Any casual observer of Evangelicalism can see that the gospel preached by Jesus does not remotely resemble what is preached in most Evangelical churches. And it’s not just an Evangelical problem. Mainline and Catholic churches birthed generation after generation of nominal, name-only Christians. What we really have in America is cultural Christianity; a Christianity that bears little resemblance to the teachings and life of its founder.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus is quite clear about the essence of his gospel. Notice what he said:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Sheep and Goats. Saved and Lost. Everlasting Punishment and Life Eternal. All determined, not by what people believe, but by how they live. Evangelicals have all kinds of explanations for this passage of Scripture. It’s a difficult, complex passage, they say. Doesn’t seem that way to me. A literal reading of the text makes it clear: what separates the sheep/saved from the goats/lost are their works. Surely Jesus meant what he said, yes? Why all the ‘splaining and excuses? Why all the theological gymnastics? Yes, Jesus contradicts Paul, but aren’t Christians followers of Jesus, not Paul?

The late Keith Green, an Evangelical from the Jesus People era, sang a song about Matthew 25. I still remember the ending: the only difference between these two groups of people is what they did and did not do!

I may be an atheist, but I admire and respect any Christians who take seriously their faith and do their best to follow after Jesus. 

There are many mainline, progressive, and liberal Christians who think the essence of Christianity is loving God with their heart, soul, and mind and loving their neighbor. After all, Jesus did say that the law and prophets, the entire Bible at the time, hinged on two commands: love God, love humanity.

Matthew 22:34-40 says:

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus also had this to say in Matthew 7:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

I think I speak for many atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians when I say, if the Christianity on display in America remotely resembled Jesus’ gospel, I suspect we wouldn’t have much to complain about. If Evangelicals focused on loving God and loving humanity, the world would be a much better place. Instead, they focus on right beliefs, right morals, and right politics – my God, Evangelicals, again, overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump — and the result is what we see everywhere we look: hateful, mean, judgmental assholes who have no tolerance for any belief or way of life but their own. It is THIS Christianity that most of us find offensive.

No one should take this post as me saying that if Christianity was ______________, I would return to the fold. I think the historical foundation of Christianity is false and I cannot envision a way of looking beyond what I know in order to, by faith, “believe.” That said, I do admire people who take seriously the teachings of Jesus, and do their best to love others. I can say the same for any religion or worldview. The proof of its value is determined by the works of those who claim that particular religion as their own.

Keith Green? I am of the opinion that if he was still alive, he likely would have left Evangelicalism, thoroughly disgusted with what it has become.

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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Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?

saved or lost

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

What do I mean by the word “saved”? Delivered. Redeemed. Set free. Born again. Regenerated. Bought by the blood. Justified (looked at by God just as if I never sinned).

The Bible says:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9,10)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8.9)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)

Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9)

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)

Oops. Scratch that last one. Don’t want to start a war between the Baptists and the Campbellites (Churches of Christ); sects who famously fight over the Greek word eis (for) in Acts 2:38. The Baptists believe people are baptized eis (because) their sins have been remitted, but the Campbellites — who were excommunicated by the Baptists for preaching baptismal regeneration — believe people are baptized eis (for, in order to) have their sins remitted. Neither group believes the other is “saved.”

Most Christians interpret the aforementioned verses, and others, in a basic, generic way:

I am a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. Three days later Jesus resurrected from the dead. Believing this message to be true, I admit I am a sinner, I repent (turn from or change my mind) of my sins, and, by faith, I trust Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. I am trusting Jesus to save me and keep me until I die. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus, I know I will go to heaven when I die. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

There are three basic schools of thought when it comes to salvation. I know there are various shades of each of these. Please, spare me the emails and comments that say I didn’t properly describe YOUR TRIBE. This post is not a doctoral thesis on “Christian Soteriology Through the Ages.”

Once Saved, Always Saved

There is the “once saved, always saved” school. According to this school of thought, once a person is saved, he can never be un-saved. No matter what the person does, no matter how the person lives, he is saved forever. A person can stop attending church, stop doing ANYTHING that remotely suggests that he is a Christian, yet “once saved, always saved.” One noted Evangelical writer, R.B. Thieme, even said that a person could go to the altar and be saved and then leave the church, curse God, and live like a heathen the remainder of his life . . . it matters not, “once saved, always saved.”

This is the soteriological belief of most Baptists and Evangelicals. Salvation becomes “fire insurance.” People don’t want to go to Hell, so they get saved. Whew, that’s over. Next! How ’bout them Cowboys!

Coupled with this belief is the notion that the believer will be rewarded someday for doing the right things in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

So, people might be “once saved always saved” but if they don’t live right, they will lose their Heavenly rewards. The nature of this loss of rewards is never clearly defined. Maybe their mansions won’t have indoor plumbing or satellite TV? (John 14:1-6)

Some “once saved, always saved” believers realize that their version of salvation really looks bad. They know their brand of salvation makes it looks like they are preaching a “live like hell, still go to heaven” gospel.

To counter this, they teach that Christians who live carnally (worldly, fleshly) will be chastised (beaten, corrected) by God in this life. If a carnal Christian is not chastised, it is proof that he was never “really” saved. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Countless once-saved-always-saved Baptists have told me that I am still a Christian. No matter what I do, no matter what I believe, I can never, ever lose my salvation. I suppose if this is the case, then there will be a lot of atheists in Heaven.

Conditional Salvation, Arminianism

Arminian sects believe in conditional salvation. Arminian sects include Freewill Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostals, and others.  They believe a person is saved by grace, but kept by works (works they perform by and through the power of God, so it is really all of grace). In this school of thought, people can only know they are saved in the present moment. Their future salvation is conditioned on them doing the right things.

A believer can do certain things that will result in the loss of salvation. Some Arminian groups believe you can only lose your salvation one time. In other words, “once saved, once lost, always lost.”

The Bible says in 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.

Other Arminian groups believe a person can repeatedly be saved, lost, saved, lost, saved. They often talk about a line that is crossed, when a person goes from a state of grace to being lost again. I have asked repeatedly over the years exactly where that line is, and no Arminian can tell me. I have been told by more than one Arminian preacher, “You just KNOW when you have crossed the line.”

Arminians have no problem explaining my life. It is quite simple to them; I once was saved, and now I am lost.

Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints, Calvinism

The final school of thought is the Calvinistic school. Calvinist groups such the Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, some Southern Baptists, Sovereign Grace Baptists, and Episcopalians, to name a few, adhere to what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (which were actually articulated as a reply to the Arminians). Point number five is the perseverance (preservation) of the saints.

The perseverance of the saints is “once saved, always saved” with a twist.  Calvinists believe salvation is a work done totally by God. From start to finish, it is God who does it all. A person cannot believe, exercise faith, or do anything apart from God giving them the power to do so. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Now, God only saves a certain number of people. God knows exactly how many he will save. They are the elect. They have been predestined to salvation. No one but the elect will be saved. Everyone else need not apply.

The God who saves is the God who causes believers to persevere to the end. If they don’t persevere to the end, then that is proof they were never saved to start with.

After hearing my deconversion story, Calvinists conclude I never was saved.  I didn’t persevere. I had received common grace, but not God’s special, saving grace. In other words, God toyed with me, and then said “fuck you, go to Hell.” The contradiction in their conclusion is that they cannot know if I might yet persevere in the future. Perhaps, I am just going through an atheist phase, and I will return to Christianity at some later point and time.

Calvinists cannot know for sure they are saved. They can HOPE they are. They can constantly examine their lives to see if they are availing themselves to the means of grace, but until they die, they cannot know for sure they have made it to the finish line. They MUST persevere to the end to be sure. They are hoping God comes through for them, but they won’t know for sure until the end. After all, they too could be deluded. They too could be following a false Christ. Perhaps God is just toying with them too, and they will end up bunking in Hell with atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Steven Hawking, Steve Gupton, Gandhi, Bruce Gerencser, and all those who preached the false gospel of Arminianism.

Imagine a person going from church to church trying to find out the one true Christian message of salvation. You would think Christians could agree on the most basic of truths: salvation.

But they don’t.

I am convinced that Christians better hope that God is a universalist. If not, Hell is going to be filled with Christians.

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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Evangelicals and Their Use of the Word “God”

one true god

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

When Evangelicals speak of “God,” they often do so in ways that give people the impression that God is a generic deity who is the same regardless of the name of the sect. When it suits Evangelicals, they will appeal to the deities of other sects as proof that their God exists.

Evangelicals point to supposed universal moral traits in the various world religions as proof of the existence of God. They also point to the various creation myths and flood myths found in many sects, and suggest that the universality of these stories is more proof for the existence of God.

Don’t be misled by the subterfuge of Evangelicals. While they may speak of God in generic ways and appeal to other religions as proof that God exists, they really don’t believe this. Don’t listen to their public talking points, points used when they want to convince the public that they really are nice people who just want to get along with everyone.

Go to your local Evangelical church and listen to the preaching. Behind closed church doors, Evangelical pastors no longer have to play nice. These so-called men of God are free to say what they really think about the gods of other religions. I can tell you what you won’t hear. You won’t hear about a generic God, or the universal commonalities the religions of the world have, Oh, no. What you will hear is that all other gods but the Evangelical Christian God are no God at all.

There is some movement within Evangelicalism to be more inclusive when it comes to other sects, but at the heart of Evangelical belief is the notion that there is one God: a triune being, revealed to humankind in the 66 books of the Protestant Christian Bible. For Evangelicals, there is no other God but this God.

The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox all, according to Evangelical apologists, worship false gods. Some Evangelicals even suggest that unless a sect holds to a certain soteriology, they too are worshiping a false God. Calvinists often make this claim about Arminians. Believe in free-will? Believe you can lose your salvation? You aren’t a Christian, according to many Calvinists.

In the days of the Roman Empire, Christians were considered atheists. Why were they considered atheists? The Romans had a plethora of gods, and they worshiped all of them. The Christians would have none of this. They were monotheists (actually polytheists), rejecting all other gods but theirs. Are not modern-day Evangelicals atheists; rejecting all other gods but the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

Ask Evangelicals: do all roads lead to Heaven? and they will emphatically say no. According to Evangelical orthodoxy, there is one road that leads to Heaven and life eternal, and that road is the road bought and paid for by and through of the blood of Jesus, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead three days later.

This road is a straight and narrow road that few people travel. Most of humanity — past and present — will not go to the Evangelical Heaven when they die. Billions and billions of people will go to Hell (The Lake of Fire) when they die and be tortured for all eternity by the loving, kind Christian God.

Most Evangelicals are quite Fundamentalist when it comes to God. And those Evangelicals who are not? They most likely are not really Evangelicals. An increasing number of Evangelicals, influenced by the emerging church and liberal/progressive politics, are becoming more inclusive in their view of other sects. It is not uncommon to hear Evangelicals say that while Catholics, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists, to name a few, are heterodox, they are still Christian sects. While this is good news as far as inclusiveness is concerned, such beliefs are betrayals of core Evangelical dogma.

Evangelicals who are more inclusive have one foot in the Evangelical church and the other foot in the liberal/progressive church. I suspect inclusivists will, in time, leave Evangelicalism altogether and join up with liberal/progressive Christian sects or completely leave Christianity. Countless on-fire-for-Jesus Evangelicals have walked away from Christianity and embraced atheism, agnosticism, or other forms of unbelief. The number of defections grows daily.

Are you a member of a non-Evangelical religious sect? The next time you have a discussion with an Evangelical about God, just remember he thinks your God is no God at all. Don’t be tricked into thinking that their use of the word God includes your God. It doesn’t.

This is why Evangelicals are so evangelistic. Since they worship the one, true, and living God, members of every other sect but theirs are soulwinning targets. They believe every human being needs to know, in a personal, salvific way, the Evangelical Christian God. A refusal to do so means spending eternity in the Lake of Fire.

If you happen to be an Evangelical and are reading this post, please explain to me why you do not call yourself an atheist? The ONLY difference between you and atheists such as I and many of the readers of this blog is that we have one less god on our NO GOD LIST than you do. You think every other god but your God is a false god. Please be honest enough to admit this. Please boldly tell non-Evangelicals — billions and billions of loving, caring, thoughtful people — that they are going to Hell after they die, and will be tortured by your God for all eternity unless they start worshiping Jesus.

No well, only God knows who is going to Heaven or Hell, cop-out allowed. This is not what Evangelical pastors preach on Sundays. Their sermons make it very clear who is and isn’t worshiping the true God. If this is your belief, then why not proudly own it? Why not proudly wear a button that says, My God is the only true and living God or God chose me but not you!

And if this is not what you believe, then why are you still sitting in the pew at the local Evangelical church? Are you not condoning their exclusivism and bigotry by continuing to attend an Evangelical church? Why not join up with people who share your theological, political, and social views?

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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Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls

altar call first baptist church hammond
Altar Call at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana

Every head bowed, every eye closed.

Is God is speaking to you right now?

What is it God wants you to do?

Do you need to be saved? Step out from where you are and come kneel at the altar. Cry out to God. He will save you. Don’t delay. Behold, NOW is the accepted time and NOW is the day of salvation.

Do you need to get right with God? Don’t delay. Don’t wait for another day. Step out from where you are, and come kneel at an old-fashioned altar and do business with God.

Whatever it is God wants you to do, do it today.

As we sing the first verse of Just As I Am, you come. Don’t wait. You don’t have the promise of tomorrow.

Come…

Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I gave countless public invitations like the one above. The emphasis might have differed from week to week, but the focus was always on NOW, doing what God wants you to do without delay.

Sometimes, I would tell a poignant illustration that I hoped would drive home the importance of making a decision. My philosophy was clear:

  • There is a God
  • The Bible is truth
  • God hates sin
  • Salvation is through the merit and work of Jesus Christ
  • There is a Hell to shun and a Heaven to gain
  • No one has the promise of tomorrow
  • Death is certain
  • Decisions affecting our eternal destiny should never be put off

The invitation was the point in the service where I (God) brought everything together. It was the climax, the point where God showed his mighty power by saving sinners and calling backsliders back to the faith.

Thousands of people responded to altar calls given by me. I was pretty good at it. I knew what to say, and how to say it. I could read the emotions of those under the sound of my voice, and with a few well-placed words, get them to walk the aisle. What I called conviction back then is what I now call guilt. The Bible is a world-class book for making people feel guilty. And when people feel guilty (under conviction) they are ripe for manipulation.

In one church I pastored for 11 years, we had over 600 public professions of faith. We baptized hundreds of people. Rare was the Sunday when no one came forward during the invitation. (For many years, I gave invitations every time we held a service.)

On those rare weeks when no one stepped out for Jesus, I was often quite depressed. I thought, why didn’t anyone come forward? Maybe my sermon was poorly constructed, or perhaps God was punishing me because of some unconfessed sin in my life? In other words, God might send someone to Hell to get my attention.

The number of people responding to the invitation, like the number of people attending the church, is a measure that pastors use to judge themselves successes or failures. Church members judge the success or failure of their pastor by whether God is using his preaching to save people and reclaim backsliders. They also judge him based on the numeric growth of the church. In many ways, the church is no different from the corporate world, where corporations are judged a success or a failure based on economic output (stock price, revenue increase, increased productivity, bottom line profit).

Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. I was good for business. I knew I had good preaching skills. I knew I had “people” skills and that I was effective in reaching people with the gospel. I expected results. I expected God to work. I expected people to walk the aisle and do business with God. My modality in the church was similar to the manner in which I conducted myself in the business world. Over the years, I managed restaurants for Arthur Teachers, Long John Silvers, and Charley’s Steakery (along with a number of other management-level jobs). As a general manager, I was driven to succeed. Success was measured by net profit (a secular version of souls saved and church attendance growth).

Toward the latter third of my time in the ministry, I came to see that the altar call was a tool used by pastors to manipulate emotions, give the illusion that God’s power was on them, and that God was using them. I have no doubt that many pastors believe their own hype, I know I did. I came to see myself as a man used greatly by God. The proof was in the numbers.

When I stopped giving altar calls, many people responded negatively, and a few people even left the church. In their minds, an old-fashioned, Bible-believing church has altar calls. People should have an opportunity to respond to the sermon. People should have an opportunity to respond to the Holy Ghost’s leading. One former friend, a pastor, told me that he would never attend a church that didn’t give an altar call. Never mind that there is not one instance of an altar call in the Bible. Never mind that the history of the altar call can be traced back to Pelagian Charles Finney. In his mind, a good church was a church that gave altar calls. A church without altar calls was a liberal church that didn’t love souls.

billy graham crusade altar call
Billy Graham Crusade Altar Call

In the 1960s, evangelists such as Billy Graham popularized the altar call and brought it to the TV screen. Many of us remember seeing a Billy Graham Crusade on network TV. Who can forget the altar call, hundreds of people pouring out of the aisles making their way down to the front. What most people did not know is that MANY of the people responding to the invitation were actually Christian altar workers. They helped “prime the pump” with their movement forward, encouraging others to do the same. If you take the first step, God will help you take the rest . . .

When we are part of a group, there is pressure to conform to the group standard. This dynamic is quite evident in church. Individuality is discouraged. Dissent is frowned upon. I see the same problem in the secular world. Most human beings don’t want to stand out from the crowd, so they tend to embrace whatever the group standard is.

Personally, I try to fight such conformity. I will gladly sing the national anthem and recite most of the Pledge of Allegiance, but I’ll be damned if I will bow my head and take off my hat in an act of worship as some knucklehead prays for God to bless the race car drivers or a singer sings God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch at a baseball game. That said, I have no doubt that I succumb to the group standard more than I care to admit.

Group conformity is not necessarily bad, but we must be careful we do not surrender our ability to reason and think for ourselves. The pressure to conform to a group standard in church often sucks the life, vitality, and joy from a person’s life. When the pastor gives an invitation and scores of people respond, the pressure to do likewise is very strong. Being right with God = walking the aisle. Standing in the pew and not walking the aisle = Not right with God.

Many years ago, I attended a Sword of the Lord Conference in the Canton, Ohio area. Curtis Hutson was one of the main speakers. He preached on the family, on fatherhood. At the close of his sermon, he gave an altar call that basically said “if you want to be a better father, you need to come to the altar and profess your willingness to do so” Hundreds and hundreds of men responded. I didn’t. I thought Hutson was being quite manipulative, so I refused to walk the aisle. Of course, I stood out like a sore thumb. People thought, I am sure, Either that guy thinks he is a better Christian than the rest of us, or he refuses to get right with God. Who doesn’t want to be a better father? Never mind that one prayer at an altar does not a good father make.

Pastors well-schooled in their craft and blessed with the ability to effectively communicate, can, if they are not careful, manipulate people. The altar call is just one of many tools that can be used for manipulation. What pastors call God is actually the pastor and his well-honed communication skills manipulating those listening to his sermon.

A public church service can be a dangerous place. Parents, with nary a thought, allow their children to be influenced by men expert in mental and emotional manipulation. Even adults, especially those who have “sin” problems in their lives, are susceptible to manipulation. Adults enter the church building burdened with the cares of life, and the pastor, with his well-chosen words, convinces them to respond to an altar call. Jesus is the answer! Hooked on drugs or booze? Jesus will set you free. Family a mess, headed for divorce court? Jesus will make things right. Come, don’t delay. And people, with lives burdened down by problems and adversity, rush to the altar thinking Jesus will fix everything for them. He doesn’t, and they are worse off than they were before. Why are they worse off? Because they will likely think or be told by the pastor that the lack of change is their fault. They didn’t pray hard enough, or perhaps they had some secret sin they are holding on to. God never gets the blame for failing to do what the pastor said he would do. It is ALWAYS the sinner’s fault, not God’s.

Let me ask you a question. Every head bowed, every eye closed.

Are you saved? Do you remember a definite time and place in your life where you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If not, raise your hand. No one is looking. This is just between you and God. Raise your hand, I want to pray for you.

I see that hand. And that one. Thank you, Ma’am. Thank you, Sir.

Lord, you see the hands that were raised. Save them, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.

In a moment we are going to sing Just as I Am.

If you raised your hand, I want you to step out from your pew and come to the front. Someone will meet you and will share with you what the Bible says about being saved.

Don’t delay.

That’s right, keep coming.

Are there others?

Even if you didn’t raise your hand, is there something you need to confess to God?

Come.

Do it now.

Don’t wait.

Dinner will wait.

Your soul is worth more than all the money in the world.

We are going to sing the last verse one more time. That’s it. Don’t neglect so great a salvation.

God doesn’t promise to always strive with you. One day his Spirit may no longer call and it will be too late for you . . .

Come . . .

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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