My heart has been hurting a bit these days because I know I have so much inside of me that needs to change. I don’t know how God’s going to work it all out. Things like pride, resentment, and arrogance build up in me, reminding me I’m still so broken.
I have these conversations with God, telling Him I have nothing left that’s any good at all. I probably sound a little like this: “I gave you all I thought you wanted. . . . Wait, what was that? . . . You want everything? Even the worst parts?” I run and hide, sometimes, from the God who made me.
I still wonder about this: Does He really want to see my brokenness? Does He really want to do something with me? Have you ever felt like that?..
I read God’s Word because I know He’s not going to take my excuses for an answer. I know He’s going to keep reassuring me as He did to Jeremiah . . .
“I know you”
“I have still chosen you.”
“I’m the One who made you this way, don’t you think I know how to use you?”
The way he said it made me laugh, but this truth rang clear to me: God is in charge, not me. Yet my itty-bitty human brain seems to think the Maker of the stars needs my permission to work in and through me.
I read God’s Word because I need to be reminded that He wants to use me, even when it doesn’t feel like that could possibly be true…
My initial response was one of sadness. Here’s a bright 14-year-old girl and she has already lost her ability to think rationally. Not only has she surrendered her ability to reason and think, she thinks the Evangelical God talks to her.
Here’s a girl sitting in her bedroom sad over the fact that she is not the person God wants her to be. She is plagued by pride, resentment, and arrogance, knowing that these things are a reminder of how broken she is. Ponder this thought for a moment. Here’s a girl who already thinks she is broken. That’s what the Evangelical teaching on original sin does to a person. It makes them see themselves as broken and in need of repair. And who can repair them? No one but God. This girl has been taught that she is helpless and hopeless without God, unable to do anything on her own.
Does she really have a pride, resentment, and arrogance problem? Only she can answer that, but I suspect that her angst is fueled by the preaching and teaching at her church and her home school education. Minor character flaws are blown up into transgressions against a thrice-holy God. If she really does have a pride, resentment, and arrogance problem, then she need not passively, obediently wait for God to fix her. She is not weak, nor broken, and it is within her power to change her ways. Prideful? Stop! Resentful? Stop! Arrogant? Stop!
Far too many Evangelicals go through life thinking they are helpless, broken people who need God’s help to do anything. This kind of thinking makes them weak and passive, always waiting for God to forgive them, deliver them, show them a better way, or give them strength. Instead of relying on self, they are taught to rely on a non-existent God who supposedly never leaves them or forsakes them and sticks closer to them than a brother. They are reminded that the Bible says:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5,6)
They are also reminded that Jesus said in John 15:5:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Evangelicals are told, You can’t do ANYTHING without Jesus. He is your strength. The very breath you have comes from him. Don’t trust your own reasoning, don’t trust the reason of any mere human. Trust God, lay your life at his feet, and let him direct your life. Remember, Jesus said we are to deny self. We don’t matter. Jesus is the end all. Jesus taught us to pray, God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven. Not our will, but his.
This is why uncounted Evangelicals are waiting for God to change them, correct them, or show them what to do. Marriage problems? Out of work? Health problems? Job problems? Conflict with children, spouse, coworker, neighbor, or friend? Financial trouble? Just wait and let God show you the way. Just wait and God will return your phone call. Just wait and God will use his mighty wonder-working power to conform your life into the image he wants it to be. And while they are waiting, life continues to move forward. Waiting on God becomes an excuse, a way of sidestepping personal responsibility, a way of ignoring character flaws.
Every one of us are responsible for our own behavior. There’s no God fix coming for what ails us. If it is important to us to be good, to treat others with decency and respect, then we will do what’s necessary to make these things happen. I have little patience for the prayers of the helpless. They have been neutered by religious teachings that have robbed them of their will. Taught to deny self, they trust in a deity that has no power to help them. The only person that can change ME is the person staring at me in the mirror.
I am not against waiting, thinking, or meditating before making a decision. Haste is just as bad as passivity. When I need to make a decision or change something in my life, I try to give the matter careful consideration. But, when I act, it is me acting, not some outside source of power. As a humanist, I recognize that the buck stops with me and my fellow Homo sapiens.
This is the twenty-first installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Saves by Slayer, an American thrash metal band from Huntington Park, California.
One of the ways that Evangelicals dismiss my life and current beliefs is to say that I never was a Christian, I was a false Christian, or I was Christian in name only.
I thought Christians have been given a spirit of discernment. I thought Christians are filled with Holy Spirit. I thought the Holy Spirit is their teacher and guide. I thought the Bible gives Christians everything they need to know concerning life and godliness. If these things are true, how is it then that NO ONE, not one single person, ever suggested that I was not a real Christian until I openly said I was an agnostic? I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I preached my first sermon at age fifteen and for the next thirty-five years I was a committed, devoted follower of Jesus. I spent twenty-five years in the ministry, pastoring churches and helping thousands of people. I prayed, read and studied the Bible, witnessed, tithed, attended public worship services, and tried to pattern my life according to the teachings of the Bible and the life of Jesus. I sacrificed my life for the sake of the gospel. I willingly lived a life of self-denial, accepting poverty wages so churches could have a full time pastor. This was my life, yet according to some Christians, it was all a charade, a game, or the work of a man inspired by Satan and possessed by demons
A pastor on Facebook said that he could discern the true Christian from the false Christian. I replied that I did not believe he had any such gift. I told him my family and I could put on our Sunday best and come to his church and I could preach for his congregation and EVERYONE would think the Gerencsers are a wonderful Christian family. Perhaps my older children could come along with us and bring their guitars so we could lead the church in a divine, inspiring time of praise and worship. I bet people would even remark that they “felt” God’s presence and that the Gerencsers are a godly example of how a family should be.
I’ve been telling my story online for more than seven years. Uncounted Christians have told me that I never was a Christian. Some of these deniers were close friends and colleagues in the ministry. Why do they say I never was a Christian? By saying this, they are able to ignore the glaring truth that they have no discernment and that the Holy Spirit did not warn them I was a sheep in wolf clothing. This also allows them to avoid the hard theological questions that arise when trying to square my life with their beliefs.
It’s easy to say, in hindsight, I never was a Christian. Why is it no one spotted my deception while I was their pastor? Was I just a great con artist, an Elmer Gantry? Think about this for a moment. For twenty-five years, I was able to successfully con seven churches, thousands of people, and dozens of colleagues in the ministry. Does anyone really think I could pull this off if I were not a Christian?
Here’s the truth, like it or not: I was a Christian and now I am not. I don’t care how you square this with your theology, you know and I know that I was a true-blue, washed-in-the-blood, sanctified, Holy-Ghost-filled, Bible-believing, sin-hating Christian. Jesus was my one and only, the passion and love of my life. I was willing to die for him if need be. If I wasn’t a Christian then nobody is.
I am sure someone will ask why this matters to me? If God doesn’t exist and the Bible is fairy tale, why should I care whether someone thinks I was a Christian? Imagine, for a moment, that you were a star baseball player in high school. At age eighteen, you were signed to a minor league contract by the New York Yankees. You worked your way through the Yankees minor league system, finally making it to the major leagues at age twenty-three. For the next fifteen years, you played outfield for the Yankees. At the age of thirty-eight you retired. Fast forward to age sixty. You are having a discussion with someone and they tell you that you never were a baseball player. You may have had a ball glove, a bat, and a uniform, but you never were a “real” baseball player! Would you be offended by this? Would it be OK for someone to dismiss your life on the baseball diamond? Of course not. The fact that you were a baseball player from the time you were a child to age thirty-eight was a very important and real experience for you. Tens of thousands of people KNOW you played baseball, yet there are a handful of deniers who are sure you never, ever played the game. While fans are certainly free to discuss and debate how good a player you were, how well you played the game, or if your play helped the Yankees win, but saying you never were a player is irrational.
Yet, this is exactly what some Christians do. They deny I was ever what I said I was. They take a knife to my life and cut huge portions of it away and toss it in the garbage. While this might help them avoid the hard questions my life requires them to answer, the evidence for me having once been a Christian is overwhelming, making their denial ludicrous and irrational. I wonder if the real issue for deniers is that my shocking deconversion forces them to consider that they too could fall from grace, that they too could one day be numbered among the godless.
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).
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)
…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 Group. Al 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.
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.