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Tag: Self Denial

Evangelical Dualism: It’s Not Me, It’s Jesus 

crucifying the flesh

Christians will tell you that the good works they do are all because of Jesus. Several years ago, an Evangelical woman named Pam left several comments detailing her battles with perfectionism. It was only when she learned to let go and let God that she could find victory over her perfectionist tendencies. According to Pam, the flesh is the problem, and the only way Christians can live fulfilled, happy lives is to die to self and allow Jesus to have absolute control. It was Jesus himself who said to those who would be his disciples, let a man deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. It was the apostle Paul who said that without Christ, he could do nothing. Paul reminded Christians that they must deny the flesh and give themselves over, without reservation, to Jesus. In First John, Christians are reminded that if they love the world and the things in the world, then the love of the father is not in them. In fact, the writer of First John tells Christians that if they sin, they are children of the devil.

Now, everyone knows Christians sin. It’s obvious, right? We know that Christians live lives that are, for the most part, indistinguishable from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. How, then, do Christians square what the Bible says about how they should live their lives with how they actually live?

Christians believe that humans are either bipartite or tripartite beings — body and soul or body, soul, and spirit. This dualistic understanding of human nature allows Christians to rationalize and reconcile conflicting teachings in the Bible about human nature and God’s demands. It’s the body that sins. It’s the flesh that Satan can take control of, resulting in Christians committing all sorts of sinful acts. The Bible teaches that Christians are to walk in the spirit and not the flesh. Over and over, the Bible reinforces the belief that Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are dualistic creatures that will spend their lives on earth in constant battle with competing desires, needs, and influences.

For 2,000 years, Christians have been practicing some sort of self-flagellation meant to crucify the flesh, rendering them dead to sin and alive to Christ. Over the years, I heard countless illustrations (and gave many myself) about the battle between the spirit and the flesh. I remember one pastor saying that this battle is like having two dogs — spirit dog and flesh dog. The strength of these dogs is determined by which dog we feed. If Christians want to live victoriously, then they must feed the spirit dog. Feeding the flesh dog leads to lives of sin, carnality, and the chastisement of God. This cosmic battle between good and evil can be illustrated in many different ways. What most Christians don’t know is that this dualistic understanding of human nature comes from Gnosticism, a system of belief judged heretical centuries ago. In fact, if you listen carefully to what Christians say, you will quickly conclude that in 2021 Gnosticism is alive and well.

In Romans 7, the apostle Paul talks about this battle:

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

From these verses and others, Christians conclude that their flesh (body) is sinful and that the good deeds they do are not their own works, but the works of God who uses them for his own purposes. This is why Christian zealots can ignore the commenting rules for this blog, and post comment after comment filled with Bible verses, sermons, and other acts of Evangelical masturbation. You see, it’s not them saying/writing these words, it is Jesus. They are just conduits through which Jesus speaks to poor deluded atheists and other unbelievers. In many ways, these zombies for Jesus are not much different from Madam Zelda, who channels dead loved ones so she can give messages to those they have left behind. Evangelicals must daily crucify their flesh. The use of the word crucify reminds them to the degree they must be willing to go to be used by Jesus. Jesus was willing to be brutally, viciously beaten, ultimately dying on the cross, so that atonement could be made for human sin. Wanting to be like Jesus, Evangelicals physically and psychologically flagellate themselves, hoping by their acts of self-denial that Jesus will find them worthy and use them for his purpose and glory.

Lost on Evangelicals is the fact that their very acts of self-denial are they themselves doing works. They are the ones dying to self. They are the ones crucifying the flesh. They are the ones taking up their crosses and following Jesus. No matter how far along the Christian experience you want to go, eventually, human action will be found. This is why I have argued that Christianity, at its heart, is not a religion of faith/grace. It’s all about works, and it always has been. If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then he cannot and will not change. The Old Testament is clear, God had a prescribed way his chosen people were required to live, under the penalties of judgment, death, and eternal damnation if they did not. In the Gospels, Jesus made it very clear in the Sermon on the Mount that if people wanted to be his disciples, they would have to live a certain way. Paul continued this works-based thinking in his epistles when he contrasts the works of the flesh and the works of the spirit. James says that faith without works is dead, and the writer of First John spends five chapters listing the works that must be in the lives of those who say they are followers of Jesus. Even salvation is a work. For sinners to be saved, they must accept the gospel message, repent of their sins, and believe in Jesus Christ. They must put their faith and trust in Jesus alone. No one becomes a Christian by sitting at home and just waiting for it to happen. The new birth — being born from above — requires an act of volition. Christians will go to great lengths to explain why these acts of the will are really God’s doing, but the fact remains that it is unbelievers who are making conscious choices to either accept or reject Jesus Christ.

Dualism, of course, is a theological construct that is used to explain the contradictory teachings of the Bible. There is no possible way to reconcile Jesus, Paul, James, and John without resorting to some sort of dualistic magic. Those of us who are atheists have an entirely different view of human nature. We recognize that our lives are affected by biology, environment, personal choices and decisions, and being at the wrong/right place at the wrong/place right time (to name a few). We also know that luck plays a big part in who and what we are.

My life is an admixture of good and bad works and good and bad decisions, with a healthy dose of neither good or bad thrown in. As a Christian, I ascribed the good that I did to Jesus and the bad that I did to Satan and/or the flesh. As an atheist, I accept full responsibility for what I do, and when I do good things, I rightly accept the praise and approbation of others. After all, it is I, not God or some other person, who did the good work. While I may deflect the praise of others through humility, realizing that others often play a big part in the good things that I do, I now know that is okay for me to say (and for others to say) good job, Bruce. I also know that when I do bad things, I need to look no further than me, myself, and I. While my wonderful, loving, awesome, super, fabulous, beautiful wife of 42 years can irritate the hell out of me, if I respond to her in anger or impatience, I have no one to blame but myself. I am in control of my actions, words, and, to some degree, my destiny. As I am wont to do, I can look back over my life and see how the various decisions I have made have affected where I am today. While I know the reasons for my health problems are many, some of which are beyond my control, I also know that the choices my parents made and choices that I have made play a part. Who among us hasn’t said, I wish I had done __________. I believe it was George Foreman that said that his obituary will one day read that he died of one too many cheeseburgers. Foreman understood the connection between choices and consequences. Our lives are complex mixtures of many factors, all of which are rooted in naturalism and materialism. I need not look far to find the reasons and answers for who and what I have become. Voltaire was right when he said, “Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her. But once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.” Believing that a deity is the master of my universe and the controller of my rudder complicates things, so cutting him out of my life allows me not only to make my own decisions but also accept responsibility for what good or bad comes as a result of the choices that I’ve made. While I still have moments when I wish there were someone to blame — say, the devil or the flesh — I know that when I look in the mirror, I see the one person who is responsible for how Bruce Gerencser lives his life. To quote an oft-used line, the buck stops here.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Groveling at the Feet of God to Whom All Praise, Honor, and Glory is Due

tim tebow
Tim Tebow, giving God all the praise, honor, and glory.

Dear Human Worms,

You are NOTHING! It’s all about me. I am your King, Lord, Sovereign, and Master. Nothing happens that escapes my eye. I hear, see, and know everything. I am the one who gives you the ability to breathe and move your limbs. I am the one who is in control of every aspect of your lives. I am the puppet master of the universe. I spoke the universe into existence, and I alone have the power to give and take life. Get it into your head, worm — it’s all about me, me, me!

Now, grovel before me, worm. 

God

Millions of Christians believe that what I have written above accurately portrays God and their subservience to him. Simply put, with one voice, these worms cry, You are everything, oh Lord, and I am n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Each and every day, countless Christians do good works, yet, if they are true to the teachings of the Bible, these do-gooders never take credit for their acts of love, kindness, and compassion — or touchdowns, winning baskets, or walk-off home runs. No matter how much effort and time Christians put into helping others, they must never, ever take the credit. If they do, they are reminded by their pastors that the Bible says, without me [God] ye can do nothing. God is everything, everything, everything. Christians are nothing, nothing, nothing.

Why then, do Christians do things such as tell their pastors, great sermon, applaud when singing groups or soloists finish their songs, clap when church children perform, and thank others for doing a good job? Why then, do churches advertise the name of their pastors? Why do churches praise the hard work of Sunday school teachers, missionaries, youth leaders, and junior church workers? Why do churches put “IN MEMORY OF . . . ” plates/labels on things, reminding everyone of who gave the money for this or that item/project?  Shouldn’t imprints of human effort be stripped away, and God alone be given all the praise, honor, and glory?

The truth is, Christians love receiving the approbation of others as much as the rest of us do. I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. I appreciate it when people thank me for the work I do on this blog. Their support helps spur me on, whether it is financial support or a short email or text that lets me know they appreciate my writing. When people do well, we should praise them. I know I don’t do it enough.

My children have turned out to be good people. They aren’t perfect, but neither is their father. My oldest son is a manager at large manufacturing concern, as is my youngest son. Son number two is the senior network administrator for a local wireless internet provider and phone company. Son number three is a service writer and mechanic at an automobile repair shop. My youngest daughter is a barista, works at a local hospital, and is pursuing a post-graduate degree in psychology (all while chasing two of my grandsons around the house). I am proud of the people they have become.

Twenty-four years ago, Polly started working in the auxiliary services department for a large manufacturing business. We moved away from Northwest Ohio several times, yet each time we returned, Polly’s previous employer immediately offered her a job. She is now a manager. If you had asked me twenty-four years ago whether Polly was supervisor material, I would have laughed and said “no.” Yet, here she is, supervising two shifts, and, by all accounts, doing a great job.

My children and wife have one trait in common: they are all hard workers. When Polly and I first married, our meals consisted of whatever came from boxes or cans. Today, Polly is an excellent — dare I say superb — scratch chef. Several years ago, unbeknownst to Polly, I ordered her an immersion mixer. When it arrived, her glee was a sight to behold. Why, if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that I bought her a vibrator with a lifetime supply of batteries. 🙂

As many of you know, Carolyn — my other wife, as she is fondly called — edits my writing. While I am a better writer than I was five years ago, there are days when my writing, due to fatigue, pain, or entrenched bad habits, can still be a pain in the ass to edit. While she tells me it is not necessary, I thank my editor from time to time. Why? Because I appreciate her hard work.

Yes, many people are lazy slackers whose goal in life is to do as little work as possible. These workers tend to be the people whom we complain about on social media. Sadly, some people just don’t care. But others do. When cashiers, waitresses, restaurant workers, and customer service representatives — to name a few — do a great job, I try my best to say thanks. If they are wearing a name tag, I address them by their name. It takes all of two seconds for me to do this, yet it reminds those serving me that I appreciate their efforts.

And that’s the point of this post. Why should a narcissistic, demanding employer — God — receive praise for that which he did not do?  Everything you and I do today, tomorrow, and until we end up ashes in urns is because of our own hard work and effort. Granted, none of us got to where we are today without the help of others (thanks, Mom!). Hillary Clinton is right: it takes a village to raise a child. My life is the sum of all those who have touched and helped me in some way. It is important that I recognize this lest I turn into Donald Trump — a self-serving, self-aggrandizing narcissist. I would not be where I am today without the help of others. When I write the acknowledgment pages for my book, I will rightly thank all those who helped me along the way. But, none of them will expect me to grovel at their feet, giving all the praise, honor, and glory to them. Only in the Christian (and Islamic) world are people expected to die to self and give God the praise that should be theirs.

deny self

Is it any surprise, then, that many Christians have poor/no self-esteem? I know it has taken Polly and me many years to regain any sort of respect for self. Hammered by a lifetime of preaching meant to destroy self-worth, is it any wonder that, to this day, we have a hard time accepting praise from others? Our lives were swallowed whole by God’s absolute claim on our lives. We were called on to be bondservants (slaves) of the most high God. We worked seven days a week, from early morning hours to late at night — never once expecting the praise of others. We do it for you, Jesus, we said to the ceiling, believing that none of our good works would have been possible without God. Even when people broke with protocol and threw some praise our way, we quickly deflected it, throwing it back to God. We are just his humble servants, we told those who thanked us. Without him, we are nothing.

If I have learned anything post-Jesus, it is that without “him” I have come to understand that I am someone who is deserving of the approbation of others. I have worth and value. I matter to my wife, children, and grandchildren. I matter to my friends and extended family. And yes, I matter to many of the readers of this blog. And I can say the same about those who have positively touched my life. We matter, not because of God, but because we are fellow travelers on the road of life. While we are all headed for the same destination — a soylent green factory — how much better and more fulfilling is our journey having people by our side.

How about you? Were you taught that all praise, glory, and honor belonged to God? How did these teachings affect your view of self? What have you done to regain a healthy view of self? Do you still have a hard time accepting praise from others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

How Fundamentalist Christianity Affected My View of Money and Material Things

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us. We paid $2,800 for it. I tore out closets, replaced floors, etc to make it livable. We heated it with wood and coal. Such memories of the good life, right Polly?

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

These and other verses were the guiding principles of my life for many years:

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

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:24-34

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10

I was a Baptist. Not just any old generic, run-of-the-mill Baptist either. I was an Independent, Fundamentalist, the-Bible-is-the-inspired-inerrant-infallible-Word-of-God Baptist. There were five things that every good Baptist church member was expected to do:

  • Read the Bible every day
  • Pray every day
  • Attend church every time the doors of the church were open
  • Witness
  • Tithe and give offerings

I will come back to the last of these, tithe and give offerings, in just a moment, but before I do I need to write a bit about how I looked at life in general.

I was a committed follower of Jesus. I believed God spoke to me individually through the Bible, prayer, and the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. I believed that God led me or directed me to do certain things. It was important to “wait on the Lord.” and NOT trust my own understanding. My life verse was Proverbs 3:5-6:

 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.

I knew God had saved me and called me to the ministry. For every church I ever pastored, I believed God led me to that specific congregation. It is important to understand this point because this line of thinking permeated my entire thought process.

cars I have owned
One of the many junk cars we owned over the years. Polly HATED this car and the kids were embarrassed when I would drive up and pick them up from school. Isn’t Jesus Wonderful?

When a small church came calling and wanted me to be their pastor, I never concerned myself with how much they could pay me. I thought, “If God wants me to pastor this church, he will make a way for me to do it.” As a result, I developed a willingness to live in poverty if it meant doing what God had called me to do. No matter how much suffering and difficulty it caused me or my family, the only thing that was important was being in the center of the will of God. I now see that God’s will was actually my own will and that the passivity that led me to “wait on God” wreaked financial havoc in our lives – such that we have not recovered from to this day.

The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000 a year. Most years, my pay was more in the $10-12,000 range. I never had health insurance or any of the work-related benefits that almost every church member had. I am not complaining as much as I am explaining. I sincerely thought this is how God wanted me to live. I gladly sacrificed my financial well-being for the sake of THE CALL.

I did work secular jobs on and off over the years. Pumped gas. Sold insurance. Delivered newspapers. Managed restaurants. I always made significantly more money in the world. I viewed these jobs as a means to an end. Out of the 25 years I was in the ministry, I worked secular jobs for about 7 years.

Even when I worked a secular job, I still worked full-time at whatever church I was pastoring. I was of the opinion that every pastor should be full-time regardless of whether he had a secular job. I was taught this way of thinking in Bible college, and it drove me to burn the candle at both ends for most of the time I spent in the ministry. When I wasn’t working a secular job, I would take the extra time I had and devote it to the church. Either way, I was a consummate workaholic, rarely taking a day off or going on a vacation.

My view of life, God, and my call to the ministry deeply affected how I viewed money and material things. God was first in my life, the church second, the souls of others third, and my family came in a distant fourth.  As a sold-out lover of Jesus, I knew I was expected to die to self and live only for the glory of God.

Keeping the church going so it could be a light on a hill in the community was very important. My personal finances and well-being didn’t matter. All to Jesus, All to Jesus, All to Him I freely give . . . the song went, and I was quite willing to give everything to make sure the work of God continued on (and I taught my children to do the same). We tithed. We gave love offerings. We supported missionaries. We gave money to people who were poorer than we were. We gave cars, appliances, computers, and clothing to people in the church. We sold household goods so we could give the money to missionaries, evangelists, or help with some need in the church. We were givers . . . and, quite frankly, we shouldn’t have been.

jesus loves the poor

About year 20 in the ministry, I began to see how foolish this kind of thinking was. I started looking around and I noticed that while I was busy sacrificing and giving, most other Christians were busy building their kingdoms on earth. They were buying houses, land, and cars, contributing to their child’s college fund, and preparing for retirement. I was living in the here-and-now, with no thought of tomorrow, no thought of retirement. I had planned to die with my boots on. I realized I had been a fool. I came to see that neither God, Jesus, nor the church was going to take care of me or my family. (I was still a Christian and a pastor when I came to this conclusion.) If the church didn’t care about my financial well-being while I was their pastor, they sure as hell weren’t going to care about it when I retired. I could tell numerous stories of pastors and their families who were left destitute by churches who promised to care for them when they were old.

After realizing the error of my way, the first thing I did was stop tithing. If the church couldn’t pay me a living wage it made no sense to give money to the church so I could have less of an unlivable wage. The second thing we did was make a decision that Polly would go to work so we could have a better income and health/dental/life insurance. By the time we made this decision, I was already starting to have health problems.

These two decisions dramatically improved our lifestyle. For the first time in our marriage, we were able to enjoy life a bit. It was refreshing not to have to sacrifice our financial well-being for the sake of the church. Either the church stood on its own two feet or it didn’t. We still gave money to the church, but not like we used to. No more Sundays when the offering was bad . . . telling the treasurer . . . don’t pay me this week, I’ll be fine. I expected the church to pay me. After all, a laborer is worthy of his hire.

Decades of living at the bottom of the economic ladder have hurt my wife and me greatly. Low or no wages means a lower social security check when we retire. I never had a retirement program, so there is no extra money now that I have retired. When Polly retires in a couple of years, we will have to adjust and try to make it on social security. Maybe my 2021 book will become a reality and make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. One can always hope, right?  All we know to do is move forward and do what we can. We have no choice but to play the cards we’ve been dealt. Hindsight is a great teacher, but it can’t undo a lifetime of ignorance and stupidity in the name of God.

As an atheist, I have no God who is coming to rescue me or see me through to the end. I know that financial security comes through hard work and making a good wage (and a good bit of luck). I know planning for the future is important. While there is not a lot we can do about our own affairs, Polly and I have tried to teach and show our children a better way. We are quite happy about how most of them have taken to this better way. All of them are light years ahead of where we were when we were their age.

I am sure some well-meaning Christian is going to say, it seems Bruce that becoming an atheist has made you selfish and more focused on your family and not others. Yep, and I make no apology for it. I am still a giving person. I go out of my way to help others, BUT I am not going to sacrifice my financial well-being for the sake of a deity that doesn’t exist or to meet a need in the life of people I do not know. I do what I can, but I now realize that my wife, children, grandchildren, and yes, myself, come first.

Polly’s parents make for an excellent case study. They are lifelong Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christians. Dad, who died several months ago, spent over 30 years in the ministry. The year before Polly and I married in 1978, Mom and Dad bought a house in a working-class neighborhood. After retirement, Mom and Dad no longer had the money to care for their home. Their neighborhood changed from primarily owner-occupied homes to rentals. When they were finally forced to sell their home, it had lost 50% of its value. Mom and Dad moved to an apartment where their rent was almost three times their mortgage payment. While Mom is barely making ends meet and has had her own serious health problems of late, she still tithes, gives offerings, and contributes to every cockamamie financial appeal their pastor comes up with. What does she need to do? Stop giving to the church. They sacrificed enough during Dad’s preaching days. They have given enough. Let others pay the freight now. Take that tithe and offering money and spend it on self (most likely medical expenses). Surely Jesus and her church will understand, right?  But I know she won’t. Jesus and the church come first. After all, the Bible says:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:8-10)

For many years, I shuddered at the thought of robbing God — as if it is possible to rob a deity who supposedly owns everything. These days, I think God deserves to be robbed. He has all he needs. He has become a robber-baron who cares not for the suffering of his peasants. If he did care, he would pass a note along to all those preachers who say God talks to them and tell them to STOP fleecing their flocks. Maybe they could tell their congregations that God doesn’t need any money in 2021. Maybe they could tell their congregations God doesn’t need a new building, gymnasium, the latest AV equipment, or the latest, greatest, sure-to-make-the church-grow magic trick. How about emptying the church bank accounts and giving a rebate to every person who has sacrificially given their money so the pastor could have the best of everything?

I feel Polly shaking me . . . Bruce, Bruce wake up . . .you’re dreaming.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

I Did it All for Jesus, My Life of Self-Denial

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. Having been baptized a Lutheran and later making a public profession of faith in a Baptist church at the age of fifteen, I have been a part of the Christian church most of my life. I preached my first sermon at the age of fifteen, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college as a young man, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and pastored churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.

I never went through the angst many people go through when determining what to do with their lives. At the age of five, I told my mother I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty, I was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no doubt that God had called me to preach to sinners the unsearchable riches of Christ.

I am an all-in kind of guy. I have little tolerance for doing things halfway. When Jesus called to me and told me to leave my proverbial nets, I did so immediately. I was a devoted, committed, sold-out follower of Jesus Christ. My passion was for God, his church, and the Word of God. For twenty-five years, my life was consumed by the ministry and the work I believed God had called me to do.

Up until I started blogging in 2007, no one had ever doubted that I was saved, that I was a devoted, committed follower of Jesus. A person who years ago knew me quite well, was shocked when she heard that I was no longer a pastor and that I was now an atheist. She said, Butch (my family nickname) was the real deal. If he’s not a Christian, no one is. It is important to understand this point. NO ONE . . . out of the thousands of people I came in contact with, ever expressed doubt about my salvation, my personal relationship with Jesus. Not one teacher, not one deacon, not one evangelist, not one church member, not one fellow pastor, ever expressed doubt that I was a Christian or that I was a God-called preacher.

Those who now contend I was never a Christian or that I was a false teacher make their judgments based not on the evidence of the life I lived, but on their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. For the Baptists, Calvinists, and many Evangelicals, the only way to square my life with their theology is for them to say I never was a Christian, or that I still am a Christian, just backslidden. Arminians have less of a problem explaining my life. While they are “troubled” by my apostasy, they recognize that I once was a Christian. In their eyes, I fell from grace, and I am now no longer a Christian.

I realize that I am a rare bird. While there are many men (and women) who leave the ministry, few leave it as late in life as I did. Many of the notable preacher-turned-atheists apostatized and left the ministry in their twenties and thirties. I left at the age of fifty. This does not make me special in any way, but it does make me an exception to the rule. And this is why Evangelicals have such a hard time understanding how it is possible for a man to be a Christian for most of his life and to pastor churches for twenty-five years, to then just walk away from it all and renounce Jesus.

Those who know me personally have a difficult time wrapping their mind around Pastor Bruce being an atheist. To quote Nicodemus in John 3, how can these things be? But whether they can understand it or not, here I am. I once was a Christian, I once was a man of God, and now I am not.

My life was motivated by the following verses:

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, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (James 4:14,15)

These verses, along with my commitment to follow every command in the Bible, led me to a life of self-denial and economic simplicity. While most people around me were focused on earning a living, providing for their families, and accumulating material goods, I was focused on making just enough money to keep a roof over my family’s head. I took seriously the command to “learn in whatever state I am to be content.” I practiced a Baptist version of voluntary poverty, and as the head of the home, I led my family to do the same. I figured that whatever money and material goods we had were what God wanted us to have. To desire, require, or want more was a sure sign that I was in love with the things of the world, and not God.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994
Our son Jaime, and our two girls, Bethany and Laura.

Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, my family and I were economically at or below the poverty line. For many years, we drove junk cars, and for five years our family of eight lived in a three-bedroom (large closets) 12’x60’ mobile home. I paid $2,800 for the mobile home and parked it next to the church. It was a ratty old mobile home to which I had to do extensive work so we could live in it. As I look back on it now, I see this mobile home as a snapshot of my/our life of self-denial.

Somewhere in the late 1990s, I woke up one day, looked around, and realized that our family was the only one living this way. Everyone else, pastor friends included, were busy building their kingdoms on this earth. Their focus was on their jobs, careers, homes, lands, education, and retirement. My focus was on living a voluntary life of self-denial so that I might preach the gospel. I saw myself as following in the steps of Jesus and Paul. Why wasn’t anyone else living this way?

I still think my interpretation of the Bible was essentially correct. It wasn’t that I took Christianity too seriously, it was that most everyone else didn’t take it seriously enough. After all, did Jesus not say:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:24, 25)

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19,20)

My heart was squarely focused on Jesus. I treasured the Word of God and preaching the gospel. I saw the world neatly divided into saved and lost. As a saved man, one who believed in a literal Hell, how could I idly sit by while knowing that most people did not know the saving grace of Jesus Christ? I spent most of my married life hustling for Jesus. Preaching, teaching, witnessing, preaching on the street, preaching at nursing homes, visiting prison inmates, knocking on doors, visiting bus routes, handing out tracts, and starting churches. Like the Apostle Paul, I believed, woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!

I took seriously Ezekiel 3:17-19:

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me, When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

I believed that God would hold me accountable for every soul that went to Hell because I did not witness to them. I felt I was duty-bound to warn sinners of their wicked ways and of the judgment to come. My preaching, methodology, and lifestyle reflected this. Even though I was more committed than anyone else I personally knew, I also knew I was far from perfect, that I was far from being as committed as I could be. I pleaded with God to give me more of his power, more of his Spirit, just as he gave to great preachers like DL MoodyHudson TaylorDavid BrainerdJohn WesleyCharles FinneyAdoniram Judson, and Charles Spurgeon.

I left the ministry in 2005, and I left Christianity in 2008. It is hard for me not to look back on my/our life of self-denial without bitter regret. Yes, I helped a lot of people, and yes, in spite of our poverty, we had a good life. But, a lifetime of self-denial has put my wife and me in an economically difficult place. We are by no means poor. We have more than enough money to pay our bills and live a comfortable life. We still live simply, and outside of a 2020 Ford Edge sitting in the driveway, our home and its furnishings are modest. When we bought our home in 2007, we bought a fixer-upper, and we have been fixing it up and down ever since. Our life is comfortable, dare I say blessed. But I can’t help thinking about where we might now be if I had not been so focused on living a life of self-denial. Last year, I officially “retired.” I draw a minimal social security check because I didn’t pay social security tax for most of the years I was in the ministry. I have no other retirement plan. Polly will likely have to work after she reaches retirement age. I deeply regret this, but decisions have consequences, and because I made a decision years ago to not pay social security tax, and because I thought Jesus and the church would take care of me when I was old, I made no other plans for the future. After all, I planned on dying with my boots on.

Life is one long lesson learned. How about you? Were you a devoted follower of Jesus? Did you take seriously the verses I mentioned in this post? If so, what did your life of self-denial look like then and now? Did you do without for the sake of Jesus and the church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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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Jesus Said: Go Sell All That You Have and Follow Me

go sell everything

 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? (Luke 18:18-26)

Evangelicals would have us believe that the Christian gospel is mental assent to a set of theological propositions. “BELIEVE these things, and thou shalt live,” Evangelicals say. Believe the right doctrines, pray the right prayer, and bingo! you are saved and headed for Heaven when you die. Evangelicals preach up God’s grace and our inability to save ourselves through good works, yet Jesus, the man, myth, and legend seems to say something very different in the Biblical passage above. Nowhere in Jesus’ sermons/teachings do you find him preaching the gospel preached by modern Evangelicals. It was not until the Apostle Paul that we find a greater emphasis on “right” beliefs, as opposed to “right” living. James, taking issue with the Pauline gospel, said:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:14-20)

Pay close attention to how Evangelicals live and what they believe, and it’s hard not to conclude that they are following after Paul, not Jesus (or James). James was very clear: “faith without works is dead.” “Don’t tell me what you believe,” James said, “show me!”  While Evangelical pastors encourage congregants to do good works, it’s evident that the message is not getting through. The average Evangelical is Christian in name only, and certainly lives in contradiction to what Jesus and James said above. Worse yet, Evangelical preachers aren’t much better. Their time is spent at the golf course, at preachers’ conferences, coddling congregants, and making fat sheep fatter. If good works are the essence of the Christian gospel, is it not true, then, that most Evangelicals are not Christian?

In Luke 18, a ruler came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Evangelicals believe that preparing to meet God after death is THE most important thing any of us can do. Yet, few Evangelicals take the words of Christ seriously and follow in his steps. To the ruler’s question, Jesus replied, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.” In other words, gaining eternal life was contingent on keeping the law of God. When the ruler said that he had kept the commandments from his youth forward, Jesus replied, “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” Wow, what a demand! The ruler was quite rich, and selling everything and giving it to the poor probably seemed too much of a buy-in. The Bible says, the rich man went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.

Time and again in the gospels, Jesus demanded of people who wanted to be his disciples that they sell and forsake everything and follow him. This demand wasn’t optional. Inheriting eternal life hung in the balance. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus had few disciples. In the book of Acts we are told that after the death of Jesus, his followers gathered in an upper room to pray. All told, there were about 120 disciples. That’s it, after three years of public ministry. I suspect one reason for this is Jesus’ works-based gospel. Jesus demanded EVERYTHING from those who would follow him.

Two thousand years later, western Christianity has become little more than a cultural religion; one that is called on in times of trouble, and when children are born, young couples marry, and old people die. Imagine if Jesus came to the churches in your community and preached his gospel. Why, churches would empty out overnight. “Sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus? Are you nuts?” I can’t speak to Jesus’ mental state, but I do know he said this about the path to life eternal:

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. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:12-14)

Jesus mentions good works, and then says the path to Heaven is a straight and narrow way, and few people find it. Billions of people claim to be Christians, yet few of them are walking the straight and narrow way. Why is that?

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

In the late 1980s, I came to the conclusion that good works were essential to salvation. Thinking this, of course, led me to do all sorts of things that caused personal harm and harm to my family. I took Jesus at his word when he said to sell everything and follow after him. Polly and I, along with our six children, lived in poverty for years because I really believed what Jesus said. We lived like the Beverly Hillbillies BEFORE they came to California. Imagine eight people living in a 12’x60′ wreck of a trailer, with one dinky bathroom. Our winter heat came from a Warm Morning Stove in the living room. My oldest sons have oh-so-fond memories of putting wood and coal in the stove. It would get so hot in the living room that we would open the front door and use it as a thermostat of sorts.

During our “poverty years,” I gave away money, cars, clothing, food, and sold countless personal possessions to help fund the church and help others. I so wanted to be a man who followed in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the place of crucifying my flesh for him. Of course, the problem I had with my flesh is that it kept coming back to life. Over and over again I denied self and followed Jesus and his teachings.

The years spent in poverty left a deep and lasting mark on our family. While there were many lifelong lessons learned during this time, none of us has any desire to relive the “good old days.”  Were there “good” days? Sure, we were happy, at least within that paradigm. It was all we knew, so it seems normal and right to us. It was only when we escaped the Evangelical bubble that we were able to see how crazy our lives were; how foolish we were when it came to money and our family. Today, if Jesus came to me and said, “sell everything and become my disciple,” I would reply, “first, you are dead, a figment of my imagination. And second, if you really are alive, why do you need me to fund your work on earth?  Get to work, Jesus! Time  for you to whip out your Hogwarts wand and work some magic. You da man, right?”

I suspect I am not alone when it comes to being deeply affected by Jesus’ gospel. Long before I became an atheist, I was quite estranged from Christianity as a whole. I read passages of Scripture like the ones above, took them seriously, and did my best to implement them in my life. Why is it that most Christians didn’t do the same? Didn’t they want to be True Christians®?  Why was I different from so many other Christians and pastors? That, my friend, I will leave for another day. Suffice it to say, that subject has been a frequent topic of discussion in counseling.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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Bruce Gerencser