“Being a Christian will cost you everything,” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers often say. Even Jesus himself said:
- Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
- If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple . . . So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27,33)
As I heard my pastors preach on these verses and read them myself, I took the words of Jesus to heart. From the moment I was saved at age fifteen, my heart was set on following Jesus wherever he led me. When Jesus called me to preach, I never doubted his calling. When my IFB parents divorced and left the church, never to return, I stayed. In John 6, we find Jesus teaching a large group of disciples:
Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? . . . From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Peter, of course, would later deny Jesus, but as a young Christian, my mind and heart were set on following Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. Where else could I turn? It was Jesus alone who had the “words of eternal life.”
I was a true-blue believer for the next thirty-five years. Oh, I had times when my love for God waned and I even sinned against him, but the bent of my life was toward holiness (without which no man shall see the Lord). One of the most common criticisms hurled my way since my deconversion is that I wasn’t a true Christian; that I was a deceiver, a false prophet; that I was in the ministry for the money; that I had a “secret” life. When asked for evidence to prove their claims, none is forthcoming. Ask anyone who knew me at the time I was a Christian and a pastor, and they will tell anyone that I was a committed follower of Jesus; that I took the Bible seriously and patterned my life after its teachings.
Actually believing and practicing the Bible cost me dearly. I believed that this life was preparation for the life to come. I was willing to pay whatever was required of me, knowing that Jesus would welcome me after death into the joy of the Lord as a good and faithful servant.
Fast forward to 2008 — fifteen years ago. My unshakeable faith came tumbling down. What I once believed turned into fool’s gold. At age fifty, I knew that I had wasted my life chasing after a mirage. Bitterness and regret whisper in my ear, “Boy, were you an idiot.” Some of the readers of this blog know exactly what I am talking about. Having followed similar paths, we all lament the great price we paid for a lie.
While I certainly learned much from my experiences as a Christian, nothing can help me regain that which was lost. There are no do-overs in life, and all I can do is embrace life as it is and move forward. That is easier said and done. When you have sacrificed the prime of your life to delusion, it’s hard not to have a lot of regrets. It’s not that I am sitting here wallowing in what I lost, but I refuse to ignore the huge price I paid to follow Jesus. My physical health, my family, my finances, and my mental health all suffered as I devoted myself to the Bible and its teachings. I not only hurt myself, but I also hurt others — wounds that can never be healed.
Last Sunday, Polly and I went to Sweetwater Pavillion in Fort Wayne to hear Samantha Fish/Jesse Dayton and Eric Johanson — jazz, blues, rock– in concert. (Music I once believed was from the pit of Hell.) We had a wonderful time. A high-energy show with a capacity crowd. We have been going to a lot of concerts over the past eighteen months, as often as our finances will allow. Why? For the first fifty years of our lives, we NEVER attended a non-Christian concert. Further, my health is at a place where I may soon not be able to go to concerts. As it stands now, I must use a wheelchair, but there’s coming a day when that will no longer work for me. I take extra narcotic pain medications, hoping that will cut my pain enough that I can enjoy the music. By the end of last night, I was contorted in my chair just so I could sit without excruciating pain. Afterward, I came home and collapsed.
I find it hard not to think about all the bands and music I missed in my pursuit of holiness. I have similar thoughts about other things I missed out of devotion to Jesus. All I know to do is make the most of what time I have left. I will use my writing to warn people about the high cost of Fundamentalist Christianity. Anyone or anything that demands total obedience and devotion is a cult and you should run. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not just endured.
On my About page, I give the following advice:
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.
I wish someone had told me this as a young man. Instead, all I heard was “Let Bruce deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Jesus.” Is it too late to ask for a refund?
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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