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Tag: Sin

Humans Are But a Speck of Worthless Dirt in the Eyes of God

without god

Many of the beliefs Evangelicals hold dear are of little or no consequence. Believing them or not has little effect on Evangelicals. Two beliefs, however, fundamentally affect how believers view themselves. The doctrines of original sin and human depravity are key tenets that provide the foundation for other doctrines such as atonement and redemption (salvation). If humans, thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, are not, by nature, sinners, then there is no need for Jesus to die on the cross, nor is there a need for humans to be saved. Is it any wonder, then, that Evangelical preachers emphasize the doctrines of original sin and human depravity? For those of us raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, hearing preaching on sin was quite common. Sunday after Sunday, preachers spit, scream, and pound the pulpit as they decry humanity’s sinfulness. Often, these sermons focus on specific sins, particularly sexual sins. The goal of such preaching is to make congregants feel guilty over their sins. Once congregants are thoroughly stripped naked before God, then they are ready to seek forgiveness of sin from and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Preaching against sin, calling out sins by name, becomes a weapon in the hands of preachers, used to attack human self-worth and self-esteem. The goal is to reduce congregants to worms and specks of dust — insignificant in God’s sight. Imagine hearing such preaching week after week, year after year. Is it any wonder that many Evangelicals think that they are little more than pieces of shit in the eyes of their God? Any good they do is not because of them, but because of Jesus. Congregants are reminded that the Bible says that it is impossible to do ANYTHING without God. He gives people the very breath in their lungs. He gives their legs the power to move. Everything humans do is because of and through the power of the Christian deity.

Imagine every good thing ever done by you being credited to another person. I suspect most of us would not be happy about other people getting credit for our good works. We did the work, so we should receive the credit. But for Evangelicals, they do all the work and God gets all the credit. Why? Because they are worthless, hopeless, helpless sinners whom Jesus, through his blood and mighty power, saved from their sins. After being graciously saved by God, Evangelicals are expected, out of a heart of gratitude, to spend the rest of their lives giving God credit for everything they do. And I mean EVERYTHING!

It is hard not to see the Christian God as the religious equivalent of Donald Trump.  Trump craves the praises of others. In 2017, several UCLA basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting there. President Trump was supposedly instrumental in securing their release. After the players arrived home, Trump tweeted out:

donald trump ucla players 2

It is the duty of the U.S. government and its president to assist citizens in trouble in other countries — no praise or thanks needed. Trump, however, has a pathological need for people to grovel before his greatness, thanking him for what he did on their behalf. At least with Trump, we can see that perhaps the president played a part in the release of the UCLA prayers. With the Christian God, however, there is no evidence that he has done anything for anyone, yet his earthly spokesmen, using verses from an ancient book purportedly written by God, demand that all of humanity bow before this God’s greatness and give him praise, honor, and glory. This is especially true for Christians, those who have been delivered from their depravity by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. God relenting to their pleas for forgiveness and salvation comes with one non-negotiable demand — you will humble yourself before him all the days of your life, praising him for every good thing you do and every good thing that comes your way. Not only do Evangelicals get to grovel at the feet of Jesus and praise him in THIS life, but they will also continue their masturbatory praise in the life to come. Does this sound like something you would like to do for life without end? Of course not. But when you have been repeatedly told you are a worm, a speck of dust in the eyes of God, deserving of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire, an eternity of massaging the Big Kahuna’s ego sounds like a great idea.

without god you are nothing

Of course, there is God, no Heaven, and no Hell. Knowing this is what makes Evangelical preaching against sinners and their sins so cruel. Many of the behaviors deemed sins because an ancient religious text says so, are normal, healthy human practices. And those that aren’t can be addressed in ways that don’t require assaulting the psychological well-being of offenders.

People who spent much of their lives in Evangelicalism before deconverting know all about the psychological damage caused by repeatedly being told you are worthless without Jesus, and the only reason you do good in your life is because of what God does in and through you. Over time, believers develop long lists of prohibited behaviors (sins). Sinning — even the slightest of sins — requires believers to prostrate themselves before God, telling him they are sorry, and begging for forgiveness. Since, according to Evangelical preachers, Christians sin daily in thought, word, and deed, believers are expected to spend significant time daily getting “right” with God (at least Catholics let their sins accumulate before going to confession and getting absolution). Imagine the emotional toll a lifetime of this extracts from sincere, devoted people who just want to make a demanding God happy.

Many ex-Christians require professional counseling to undo the damage done by such thinking. Some of us, myself included, were so deeply scarred by constantly feeling guilty over behaviors deemed sinful and never seeming to be able to find victory over sin, that it is likely we will live out the rest of our lives trying to find peace, happiness, and contentment. Life after Jesus requires thorough deconstruction. Only then can a new life rise from the ashes of our Evangelical pasts. I’ve had to learn anew what good and bad behaviors are. I also have had to learn to stop judging people over perceived violations of my personal code of conduct. Over the past fifteen years, what I call my “sin list” continues to shrink. What once required sixty-six books and 783,137 words to divine, now fits on a 3×5 card. As my dear friend Ami is fond of saying, the one rule we all should live by is this: don’t be an asshole.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Wash, Rinse, Dry and Repeat: What Happens When Jesus Doesn’t Fix What Ails You

blood of jesus

Jesus told his disciples in John 15:5, without me, ye can do nothing, and in Matthew 19:26, Jesus said with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. The Apostle Paul told Athenian idolaters that one true God was he who gives to all men not only life and breath, but all things (Acts 17). In his New Testament writings, Paul, the founder of Christianity, advances the notion that God is the sovereign of the universe and that everything that happens is according to his purpose and plan. Paul cautions Christians about trying to live life in their own strength, that doing so will end in failure. He wrote in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is clear, I can’t do anything without Christ, echoing Jesus’s words in John 15, without me, ye can do nothing.

Evangelicals believe that humans are inherently broken, born with a sin nature, and at variance with the Christian God. According to Evangelicals, everyone, from fertilized eggs in the womb to infants and from children to centenarians, is predisposed to sin — sin being the transgression of the law of God in thought, word, and deed. Countless human behaviors, especially those of a sexual nature, are, according to the Bible — an ancient religious text supposedly written by the Christian God — violations of God’s law. Unbelievers — people who have not asked Jesus to save them from their sins — are told that God hates sin and those who do it, and the only way to gain God’s favor is to prostrate oneself before the thrice-holy God and confess that you are a worthless worm deserving of eternal punishment in Hell; that the only person who can save you from your sin is Jesus. If you humble yourself before God, begging him for deliverance from your sin, God will forgive you of your sins (but only if you are one of the elect, according to Calvinists). Once you have sufficiently humbled yourself before God and he has saved you, God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in your “heart.”

Once people have been saved, they are instructed to rely on God to lead and direct their lives. Their “sin natures” haven’t been eradicated, so Christians must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them through a world bent on destroying them. Evangelicals are frequently reminded by their pastors about the importance of studying the Bible, tithing, praying, tithing, and faithfully attending church. Yet, despite all of these things, Evangelicals continue to sin, often at levels equaling or exceeding that of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

Even those who are called men of God — people who supposedly have a close relationship with God — are not immune from sinning. These preachers of righteousness and holiness often commit the very sins they thunder against each and every Lord’s Day. And as the Black Collar Crime series reveals, preachers can and do rape, steal, molest children, and murder. While defenders of all things Evangelical will say that while such reports are disturbing, most pastors don’t do such things; certainly they would be right, but what is never addressed is the how and why these things happen. If God is who Evangelicals say he is and the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer, why is there so much sinning going on among Christians and their leaders? Why does rarely a day go by without one or more Evangelical preachers appearing in the news for some sort of sexual crime? And these are just the ones caught with their pants down!

Evangelicals practice what I call wash, rinse, dry, and repeat. These followers of Jesus are commanded to daily confess their sins. I John 1:8-10 states:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Weekly, daily, and hourly Evangelicals plead with their sin-forgiving God to wash their “hearts” clean. Without any proof besides feelings of relief or words found in an ancient religious text, Evangelicals believe that sincere prayers of repentance are met with God’s forgiveness. With their sins forgiven, Evangelicals return to a world awash in sin, promising God that they will not succumb to temptation and the snares of Satan. Yet, moments or hours later, Evangelicals find themselves yet again in need of confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness from God. It is for this reason that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary John R. Rice encouraged Christians to “keep [their] sin lists short.” Rice suggested that when Christians become aware they have sinned they should immediately stop and confess the sin and seek forgiveness. Since Evangelicals sin in thought, word, and deed, following Rice’s admonition would require them to continuously pray. If only the Bible had something to say about this. Oh wait, it does! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 states, praying without ceasing.

Several years ago, a person I know well was arrested for DUI and sentenced to ninety days in jail as a repeat offender. This man has had numerous arrests for a variety of crimes. Father to numerous children with several women, this man has spent much of his life battling drug addiction. Having had and lost countless well-paying jobs and having ruined his relationship with his family, his life, a tragedy to behold, is a screaming example of the failure of Jesus to fix what ails the human race.

This man was raised in an Evangelical home, attended a private Christian school, and was surrounded by extended family who were preachers of the gospel. His parents lived what is best described as up-and-down lives, in and out of church as they dealt with familial, marital, and employment problems. Counseled by pastors to GET RIGHT WITH GOD, they would return to the church, often coming to the church altar to confess their sin and renew their commitment to Christ. And for months or years their renewed devotion would give the appearance of a family happily in love with Jesus. And then, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, Satan and the lusts of the flesh — according to their pastors — would trip them up, causing them to fall headlong into sin. Often they would remain in the pigsty of sin for months or years before one of God’s men convinced them to return to church to do business with God. This endless cycle of sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat was played out dozens of times over the years, leading to untold psychological and physical harm.

blood of jesus

The drug-addict son, following what has been modeled to him by his family, has run from Evangelical church to Evangelical church, hoping to find the forgiveness of sins and victory over his many addictions. At these churches, he is met at the door by preachers who promise him that Jesus can fix whatever ails him. GET RIGHT WITH GOD, he is told, by Evangelical family and strangers alike. If he will just confess his sins and seek forgiveness, Jesus will swoop in and give him victory over crack, PCP, meth, alcohol, and his love of sexual immorality. His devoutly Evangelical grandparents continue to pray, encouraging their sinful grandson to get back in church so he can get the help he needs.

This rolling train wreck has been going on for over a decade, with no end in sight. Those closest to him continue to encourage him to cast all his cares on Jesus, telling him that if he will do so, Christ will give him victory over his addictions. No one dares to suggest — I am not within his circle of influence — that Jesus and his deliverance peddlers are the problem; that Evangelical beliefs concerning human nature, sin, and forgiveness are actually hurting this man, not helping him; that the best thing he could do is get as far away as possible from Christian family members and preachers who are trying to “help” him; that the church and Jesus are in a codependent relationship with him, and are in no position to offering lasting help.

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church know well the wash, rinse, dry, and repeat way of living. Frequently reminded of our sins by preachers, evangelists, Evangelical writers, and the Bible, we spent countless hours confessing our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. The churches we attended would call for special meetings where revivalist preachers would come in and stomp on our feet with old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone preaching. Countless time was spent on our knees crying out to God, pleading for forgiveness and deliverance from sins of commission and omission. Sufficiently revived, off we would go, ready to slay our adversary Satan, tearing down strongholds by and through the mighty power of God.

Over time, worldly complacency would set in, and we would need yet another reviving, another impartation of God’s mighty Spirit. Is it any wonder that many Christians weary of the sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat process and give up or practice the time-honored Evangelical spiritual discipline of “fake it until you make it”? Spend enough time in Evangelicalism and you will learn expected behaviors, complete with a language code to be used to give the appearance of living life as a Jesus-loving, Satan-hating, sin-forsaking Christian. The Apostle Paul himself approved of this approach when he told the Church at Thessalonica to, abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

It is evident, at least to me, that Evangelicalism stands in the way of people truly dealing with and overcoming negative behaviors. Over its long history, the Christian church has used fear of judgment and punishment to keep people dependent on God for the forgiveness of behaviors deemed sinful by the church. Over time, the sin lists changed, but one fact remains: Evangelicals cannot find victory over sin in their own strength, and only God can forgive and deliver them. Failure to seek forgiveness results in God chastising (punishing) them for their sin. Want to avoid the punishment of the BDSM-loving God? Evangelicals are told to prostrate themselves before God and beg for forgiveness.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to tell God to take a hike. What has he done for them anyway? Instead of granting them victory over sin, he keeps them dependent on him, often allowing temptations that cause them to fail. What we would think of a person who left meth on the nightstand of his guest room while his recovering drug addict friend was staying with him. Yet, this is exactly what God does. He tempts and tries, and even causes people to fail. Why? Because he wants Christians to love him more and seek his forgiveness. In other words, he is the abusive husband who beats his wife so she will love him more. As is often the case in matters of domestic abuse, removal from the immediate circumstance and divorce is often warranted. Perhaps Evangelicals need to tell God See ya later and turn their attention to finding lasting solutions to issues such as drug addiction. Not only is Jesus not the solution, but he is also the problem. As long as Evangelicals refuse to see this, they will remain trapped in a constant state of wash, rinse, dry, and repeat.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Mythical Evangelical Victory Over Sin

romans 6 12

According to Evangelicals, the Holy Spirit lives inside of them (1 Corinthians 3:16, John 16:13 and Romans 8:9). This indwelling is what sets the Christian apart from the world — Satan’s Kingdom. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is greater than Satan. Satan walks to and fro across the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Non-Christians are easily devoured and destroyed by Satan, but not Christians. (2 Corinthians 4:41 Peter 5:8).  Supposedly, because the Holy Spirit is their teacher and guide (John 14:26), Spirit-filled, obedient Evangelicals are immune to sin. Ephesian 6 talks about Christians wearing spiritual armor as they battle Satan:

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints… (Ephesians 6:11-18)

In some corners of the Evangelical world, Christians believe they can totally overcome sin and live sinless lives (sinless perfection), although many Evangelicals reject such thinking. But the Bible says that people who sin are of the devil (I John 3:8). This leads me to believe that God expects Christians to live above sin. Jesus told his followers, be ye perfect even as my father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Surely Jesus would not have said this if it was impossible for Christians to attain this lofty standard. Doesn’t the Bible say that Christians are new creations — old things pass away and ALL things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Yet, as we look at how Evangelicals live their lives, what do we see?

There are numerous Evangelical websites dedicated to helping Christians who are “addicted” to porn. Other sites exist to help Evangelicals sexually toe the line. Yet, Evangelicals commit sexual sins at the same level as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. No matter how loud and long Evangelical preachers preach against sexual sin, church members continue to ignore their preaching. There is no statistical category that shows Evangelicals being more moral or ethical than their counterparts in the world. Try as they might, Evangelicals are no different from unsaved family, friends, and neighbors.

Evangelicals KNOW these things, yet they go to church Sunday after Sunday seeking victory over sin. Songs are sung (Victory in Jesus) that testify to the mighty power of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. Sermons are preached extolling the virtues of living sin-free lives. Sometimes, church members find themselves “convicted” over sin. This leads them to fall to their knees, asking Jesus to give them the victory over _____________ (fill in the blank with the sin of the week). Despite all the singing, preaching, and praying, Evangelicals continue to sin. As powerful as Evangelicals tell us God is, he is unable to keep them from sinning. Perhaps humans are more powerful than God. Perhaps human free will cannot be overcome or thwarted by God. How else do we explain daily reports of God-fearing, Bible-preaching pastors raping children, molesting children, having affairs, stealing from their churches, along with a host of other “sins”? (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)  If Catholic priests are Jesus’ representatives on earth, how do we square this belief with the sexual scandals that have rocked the church over the past decade? If God is so powerful that he holds the world in his hands, why does he allow priests to sodomize boys and Baptist youth leaders to take sexual advantage of church teenagers?

It is time for Evangelicals to join the human race. Stop all the moralizing and sermonizing. You have been found out, Evangelicals, and now it’s time to admit it. Come join us in the muddy, dirty waters of Sin Creek. The water is warm and inviting. Bathing suits are optional. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Is God Good? Are Humans Good?

monster in the closet

This post is written from an Evangelical perspective.

Is the Christian God good?

Does the Christian God expect humans to be good?

Every Christian regardless of what sect/denomination/church they are a part of will answer both of these questions with a resounding YES.

Sonrise Community Church, a nearby Evangelical church, uses this little ditty in their worship services and has the first part of it plastered on the front of their building:

God is Good all the time. All the time God is Good.

If God is good all the time and God expects human beings to be good, then it seems to me that God should at least be as good as the humans he expects to be good.

Is the Christian God as good as good humans are?

Do we see a good God in the Bible? One would be hard-pressed, after reading the Bible, to conclude that God is good all the time.  The Bible does show God doing good, but the Bible also records violent, murderous, capricious acts done by God that no rational person would call good.

Christians will object and say God is not bound by the same standard of goodness as humans. So, God expects humans to live by a standard he is unwilling to keep? God, because he is God, can do whatever he wants even if it means acting in ways that no human would call good?

Humans judge goodness based on behavior. Good people DO good things. Good people ACT good. Good people LIVE lives of goodness. Sure, they fail from time to time, but, for the most part, they try to live good lives. Wait a minute, the Christian says, the Bible says all humans are dead in trespasses and sin.  According to the Bible, they can’t do good. The only way a person can ever do good is to become a born again/saved Christian. Then the person will have the Holy Spirit living inside them and they will be able to do good.

If goodness is the domain of Christians alone, why is it that so many Christians aren’t good? If God saves and lives inside Christians, shouldn’t Christians have the power to always do good? Christians have free will, someone is sure to say. Yes, God lives inside every Christian, but they have free will and they can choose how they want to live. This kind of thinking necessarily leads to the conclusion that Christians are, in some circumstances, more powerful than God. God can’t overcome Christian free will and force them to do good? God, then, is not as powerful as Christians claim.

This whole scenario is quite strange; A good God that doesn’t do good because he can do whatever he wants. If God doing what he wants is not an act of goodness, then I must conclude that God does evil. As the stories of the Bible clearly show, the Christian God can act in ways that rational humans would call bad or evil. God requires/demands Christians be good and he empowers them to be good by living inside of them, yet there are times they are not good. I must conclude that God is stymied by Christian free will and is unable to force them to do good. Is such a powerless God worthy of worship?

I think that the God of the Christian Bible is a myth. No God of goodness, who acts according to a different standard from what he expects humans to follow. There is no God that lives inside of Christians, influencing them to do acts of goodness, acts that God himself is not required to do. Good people do good. I have said many times that, fortunately, many Christians are better than the God they worship. Millions of Christians go about their lives every day trying to do good. What they fail to realize is that they are doing good because they are good, not because a deity made them good. Theists and non-theists alike do good. Their acts of goodness have nothing to do with a God.

The next time someone does good and you benefit from it, thank the person who did the good. Don’t shoot a prayer to the heavens thanking a not-so-good fictional God for the goodness in your life. Good people do good things, and they are the ones who deserve the praise.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Heaven and Hell, The Carrot and the Stick

carrot and stick

The four tools most often used by Evangelical preachers to keep people in the pews are:

  • The threat of God’s judgment
  • The threat of Hell
  • The promise of forgiveness
  • The promise of life after death

As with Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Evangelical preachers warn parishioners of the judgment to come and the Hell that awaits anyone who does not repent of their sins and become a follower of Jesus.

Here’s what Edwards had to say:

…The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…

While few Evangelical preachers can turn a word and speak as eloquently as Edwards, their message is still the same: judgment and Hell await those who do not repent of their sins and follow after Jesus.

Preachers often use what I call the carrot and stick approach. Every person has a choice to make about where they spend eternity. While Calvinists and Arminians argue endlessly over whether we really are free to choose, saving faith does require an act of volition. Every person must choose between Heaven and Hell. Become a follower of Jesus and Heaven, the carrot awaits when you die. Reject Jesus, his salvific work on the cross, and his death-defying resurrection from the dead, then Hell, the stick, awaits you when you die.

Evangelical preachers impress on those under the sound of their voice that it is important to make a decision for Christ NOW! The Bible says in the last part of II Corinthians 6:2:

…behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.

According to Evangelical preachers, none of us has the promise of tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 states:

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

Evangelical preachers are like Larry the Cable Guy. Git ‘er Done! Today, right now, don’t delay.

Some preachers spice up their sermons with illustrations of people who died suddenly or who died after hearing and rejecting the preacher’s warning about God’s judgment and Hell. These stories, true or not, are meant to elicit an immediate response. When I was a preacher, my goal was to press every person who heard my sermon to make a decision. I was of the opinion that there was no such thing as a neutral position. Once a person heard the gospel, heard my sermon, they had a choice to make. Heaven or Hell, which will it be?

A regular reader of this blog sent me a Franklin Graham quote that I think will help illustrate what I am trying to say in this post:

“Death is serious, eternal business. Once our physical hearts beat for the last time, we will instantly find ourselves either in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His splendor, or in the pit of Hell away from His presence.”

There’s the carrot and the stick. Heaven or Hell; choose now while your heart is still beating. The moment your heart stops beating, your eternal destiny is settled.

Think for a moment about what Graham said here about the heart stopping. So, if a person’s heart stops, his eternal destiny is settled? What if his heart is restarted using a defibrillator? Does this mean his eternal destiny is not really settled and he gets another chance to decide, heaven or Hell? For those people who have heart transplants, does that mean that they need to decide again?

The bigger problem with Graham’s statement is that it is bad theology. According to orthodox Christian theology, when people die, they do not go to heaven or Hell. Instead, they go to the grave and will remain there until the resurrection of the dead. Grandma is not up in Heaven running around, nor is she peering over the portals of Heaven watching her grandchildren play. Neither is Christopher Hitchens in Hell, being tormented day and night for daring to mock the thrice-holy God. They are dead, lying in the grave, awaiting the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.

After the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment will take place and every person will be sent to his or her final reward. And even here, many Evangelical preachers, including Graham, get it wrong. Christians will not spend eternity in Heaven. Instead, they will spend it in the Kingdom of God. Hitchens and the rest of us reprobates? We will not spend eternity in Hell. Instead, we will spend it in the Lake of Fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 makes this quite clear:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

and Revelation 21:1-8:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

And here is an even more interesting point. Isn’t our eternal destiny settled by repenting of our sins and following after Jesus? These texts state that everyone is judged according to their works, that it is works that determine whether Grandma, Hitchens, or anyone else goes to Heaven or Hell.

I wish Evangelical preachers would get together and figure out exactly where it is we are all going when we die. I wish they would determine if it is really up to we to decide? With so much confusion and lack of theological precision, how are poor, lost atheists such as us supposed to determine in what hotel to make my final reservation?

The purpose of this post is to show how confusing and contradictory Evangelical preachers and their theology can be. If they are not precise and clear, can mere untrained, unwashed Philistines such as us have any hope of finding THE Way, Truth, and Life?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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When Evangelicals “Fall”

falling into sin

Note: This article uses the word “sin” from an Evangelical perspective. Personally, I don’t believe in “sin.” There’s good and bad behavior. Evangelicals often call Adam plunging the human race into sin “the fall.”

According to Evangelicals, “sin” is defined as transgression of the Law of God. From the moment of conception, humans have a sin nature. People don’t become sinners, they are sinners. According to the Bible, sinners are enemies of God, haters of all that is good. It is sin that separates sinners from God and will land them in Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Sin is the problem and Christ is the solution, Evangelical preachers say. Yet, even after Evangelicals are “saved,” they still have a sin problem. Wait a minute. I thought the moment people ask Jesus to save them, the Holy Spirit comes into their hearts, becoming their teacher and guide. I thought when sinners are “born from above” they become new creations, old things are passed away and all things become new. If saved Evangelicals are still sinners, what, exactly, did Jesus save them from?

What do we know about Evangelical Christians? They live no differently from the way non-Christians live. They sin in the same ways and to the same degree as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. There’s no evidence that suggests that Evangelicals are better people than their unsaved family, friends, and neighbors. Oh, Evangelicals love to self-righteously portray themselves as pillars of morality and virtue. Yet, let their “sins” be exposed for all to see, they all of a sudden want to be viewed as the sinners they condemned before their “fall.” Nobody’s perfect or I’m just a sinner saved by grace or God’s not finished with me yet, Evangelicals say.

It’s the idea of falling into sin I want to address in this post. Let an Evangelical get caught fucking his neighbor or stealing money from his employer, and he will say he “fell” into sin. Let a church secretary have an affair with her pastor, and she will say she “fell” into sin. Let a youth pastor have sex with a church teen, and he will say he “fell” into sin. Let an evangelist get drunk and commit vehicular manslaughter, and he will say he “fell” into sin. All this falling going on, it’s a wonder Evangelicals can metaphorically walk on their own two feet. All sorts of excuses are given for their “fall.” Preachers, in particular, are notorious for making excuses for their sin, especially sexual sin.

Saying someone “fell” into sin suggests that they were passive participants in their sin or that he or she accidentally stumbled into committing adultery, fornication, incest, sexual abuse, or rape (the common sins featured in the Black Collar Crime Series). Acts of passion, violence, and greed are portrayed as accidental behaviors. Why is this?

Evangelicals are taught they are helpless beings, unable to do good on their own. So how better to explain their sins than saying they “fell.” Which is strange to hear when knowing Evangelicals endlessly drone on about personal responsibility. They want other people to be responsible for their sins — especially abortionists, LGBTQ people, and Black Lives Matter protesters — yet when they find their dicks stuck in the proverbial sticky wickets, they want to be viewed as weak, helpless people who somehow fell into sin.

People don’t fall into sin. They walk or run with eyes wide open towards sin. This is true for atheists and Christians alike. We sin because we want to. Sure, there are all sorts of reasons for why people do the things they do, but we choose to sin or not sin. I have a choice to be moral, ethical, and honest. If I choose to do otherwise (and I have), it’s not because I passively choose this path. With eyes wide open, I choose . . .

That’s why I have little patience for Evangelicals who frame their sin as “falling.” Own your behavior. Admit why you decided to sin. There’s nothing more pathetic than Evangelicals who simply cannot fess up to their sins. I have written numerous stories about Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers committing sex crimes. Their justifications for their crimes almost always blame other people. She tempted me. I was exhausted. I had health problems. I was under a lot of stress at the church. My wife didn’t keep herself up. My blood sugar was low. I have yet to hear a preacher say, I was horny. I saw what I wanted and took it. What’s worse are church members who defend their pastor’s sins. She was a slut. She was almost 18. She dressed provocatively. She came on to him. And on and on it goes.

If the Holy Spirit lives inside every Evangelical, teaching and guiding them in ALL truth and godliness, why do they so easily fall into sin? Shouldn’t the still small voice of the Holy Ghost be telling Evangelicals NOT to sin before they do so? Why, it almost seems as if human will is more powerful than God himself; that God is powerless to stop Evangelicals from sinning.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Evangelical MLM Evangelism

nude-evangelism
Cartoon by Chris Morgan

Several years ago, I wrote a post titled J.A. Medders Asks: What Do You Think Jesus is Doing Right Now?.

As I read the comments on this post, I had thoughts about how similar multi-level marketing (MLM) programs are to the various methods and programs Evangelicals use to evangelize people they deem unsaved/lost/unregenerate and headed for hell. This post will detail these similarities.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. During my tenure at this church, I had to deal with well-intentioned members and Christian friends who tried to recruit me into their MLM programs. I was an attractive candidate due to the fact that I had a name-filled Rolodex that could be mined for new marks. Always polite and respectful, I never said NO, so this made me an easy target for church members who were involved with selling everything from Amway to long-distance telephone service.

One day the telephone rang and it was Brother Bob (names changed to protect the guilty) calling to ask if he could come over and talk to me about something that he was SURE I would find interesting and exciting; an opportunity to help other people and make money too. I thought, Not again, but not wanting to upset Brother Bob, I said, sure, when would you like to come over?

The next night a new Cadillac pulled into our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, Brother Bob had brought someone else with him. Great, I thought, now I have to deal with Brother Bob AND a stranger. As they came onto our front deck, I opened the door, and putting on the biggest I love Jesus smile possible, I invited them into our spacious, palatial 14’x70′ home on wheels.

Brother Bob was wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, while the intruder who came with him looked like he stepped out of the pages of a fashion catalog. After trading pleasantries, I invited Brother Bob and the now-I-know-your-name stranger into our expansive seventy-square-foot dining room. Brother Bob sat on one side of the table, I sat on the other side, and the stranger — let’s call him Dick — sat at the head of the table.

Dick relaxed into his chair, putting both arms on the table with hands clasped. In doing so, I couldn’t help but notice his Rolex watch and large diamond ring. These accessories were a perfect match for his calendar model look. From this point forward, Brother Bob didn’t say another word. Dick began talking to me about wants, needs, and desires, focusing on the accrual of wealth and material goods. At this point, he had not yet told me WHY he and Brother Bob were there. Having evangelized hundreds of people over the years, I knew Dick was trying to make me think that we were friends and that we had common wants, needs, and desires. He regaled me with stories about how his standard of living had mushroomed since he joined — are you ready? drum roll please —  AMWAY.

Dick asked if I had ever heard of AMWAY. I told him I had, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a well-rehearsed speech about the history and wonders of AMWAY. After thirty minutes or so, Dick thought it was time to close the deal. He asked me if I wanted to earn more money and improve my standard of living — offensively assuming that there was something wrong with my current lifestyle. Dick reiterated all that Amway had done for him, sure that I would want the same things. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I really wasn’t interested in accumulating material goods.

Dick had said he was a Christian, so I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t know that the Bible said:

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)

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. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

I shared with Dick my view of wealth and material goods, and it became quickly clear to him that I was NOT a prospect for AMWAY. Dick quickly ended his attempt to hustle me, saying to Brother Bob that it was time for them to go to their next appointment. I shook hands with them, walked them to the door, and off into the night they went looking to suck the blood out of other friends of Brother Bob.

Over the course of fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the ministry, I knocked on the doors of thousands of homes as I followed the Bible mandate to preach the gospel from house to house. My goal, regardless of the church I pastored, was to knock on the doors of every home in the community, introduce myself, and, if possible, share the gospel. I also encouraged church members to get me into the homes of their lost loved ones so I could share with them the wondrous good news that Jesus Saves!

I believed throughout my years in the Christian church that every person in the world needed to hear the gospel. While my fervor waned in later years, I still considered it my duty and responsibility to put a good word in for Jesus whenever possible. It always troubled me that OTHER Christians (and pastors) didn’t seem as bothered as I was about the lostness of their family, friends, and neighbors. Despite hearing and knowing the gospel, most church members showed little interest in getting others saved. I suspect most members viewed me as some sort of hired gun trained in the art of winning souls. Content to invite the unsaved to church so they could hear me preach, church members busied themselves with building a kingdom on this earth. No matter how often I attempted to raise an army to wage war against sin and the devil, most members were content to let me and a handful of other zealots do all the evangelism.

Think for a moment about soulwinning Evangelicals and the preachers of the  various MLM gospels. The methodology, techniques and promises are quite similar:

  • Both attempt to befriend people in hopes of getting them to buy what they are selling.
  • Both attempt to manipulate emotions in hopes of making people sympathetic to their sales pitch.
  • Both attempt to bolster their sales spiel with stories of how wonderful their lives are since getting saved/joining MLM program.
  • Both attempt to appeal to prospective customers with promises of a better life.
  • Both promise lives of meaning, purpose, and helping others.
  • Both attempt to impress on people the importance of making an immediate decision.
  • Both leave literature if people want to think about it or are unwilling to make an immediate decision

I am sure there are other connections. If you think of any, please share them in the comment section.

I am sure that Evangelicals will object to how I have painted their evangelistic efforts, but the fact remains Evangelicals are salespeople with a product to sell: forgiveness of sin, salvation, and a home in Heaven. This product purportedly offers purchasers joy, happiness, meaning, and purpose. The difference between what Evangelicals are selling and what the MLM zealots offer is that Evangelicals attempt to sell an invisible product that may not pay off until after death. Those who buy into the Jesus Saves® program must exercise faith, believing that, in the end, the multi-level marketer in the sky — Jesus — will move them to the top of the MLM pyramid, granting them a beautiful new mansion along streets of pure gold. With AMWAY, at least, converts can — in this life — judge the quality and truthfulness of its claims. This is why most people drop out of MLM programs, while most Evangelicals stay in their program until the end. Imagine what might happen if people required Jesus’ soul-saving MLM program to pay out BEFORE death. Why, most people would abandon Evangelical churches in short order.

As long as Evangelical churches promise things that can only be gained AFTER death, people will hang on, hoping that after their demise, they will cash in their eternal lottery ticket. While religion certainly has (for some people) utilitarian value, I do wonder if people would spend time going to church, giving their money, and attempting to live according to the teachings of an ancient religious text if there were no divine payoff.

Think back to your Evangelical days. If there was no life after death, no eternal reward, would you have been a Christian? Would you have lived as you did? If this life is all there is, how differently would you have lived your life? Please share your thoughtful ruminations in the comment section.

How Evangelicals Turn Everything Into Sins Against God

this was your life 2

Warning! Snark Ahead!

Armed with certainty, literalism, and an inerrant, infallible religious text, Evangelicals are capable of taking virtually any human behavior and turning it into a “sin.” In a Charisma News article titled Why Many Believers Overlook This Soul-Decaying Idol, Kimberly Wagner says that overeating is sinful, using Romans 12:1,2 as a pretext:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Wagner proceeds to Bible-shame everyone who dares to eat one Twinkie more than necessary to provide their daily energy needs. As Christians often do, Wagner uses her own legalistic struggles with food as justification for scolding those of us who consume more calories than we should. Wagner writes:

One of my friends was sharing why she no longer goes to the race track to gamble. She said, “I never wanted anyone to have anything they saw me do that might detract from my commitment to Christ. I want everything I do to be something that glorifies Him.”

As she was sharing that, all I could think about is how I’ve stopped battling my idol and let it gain mastery over me again. I told her, “If people looked at my eating habits, I would be ashamed. I’m not glorifying God … “

How can I stand and teach the Word, challenge women to live passionately for Christ, when I have this unyielded area in my life? When I’m worshiping at the wrong altar? When I’m indulging in idolatry—feeding my flesh?

Food is not the problem. My heart is.

I love food. I love butter (and lots of it), cream sauce, chocolate, comfort food, creamy food, crunchy food, spicy food, sweet food, salty food, cheesy food, rich food, high-calorie-high-fat food. My love affair with food is unholy.

….

But true enjoyment of God’s gifts comes through the holy practice and consumption of those gifts—not through the perversion of the good. Food is good and necessary. But food can become an idol. I don’t just eat to live—I live to eat!

When I go beyond enjoying food within holy boundaries and indulge my flesh in unhealthy ways, when my cravings drive my decisions and I seek to find satisfaction through my belly, when gluttony becomes my practice, my approach to food is not glorifying God. In fact, it’s idolatry.

Simply put, Wagner’s love affair with food is “unholy” and everyone else should view eating in the manner she has deemed gluttonous in the same way she does. Is it any wonder that Evangelicals are such a fearful, guilt-ridden, unhappy lot? According to Romans 12:1,2, in light of the sacrificial death of Jesus, it is reasonable service to God for Evangelicals to zealously watch what they eat. God can’t be bothered with ending war, feeding starving children, or stopping sexual assaults, but he sure is upset when Brother Baptist and Sister Nazarene eat one too many chicken legs at their church’s monthly potluck. The God who always helps Pastor Bluster find his keys is the same God who counts every carb Evangelicals eat. Imagine a Jack Chick This Was Your Life final judgment where God calls on Evangelicals to account for Snicker bars and Mom’s vanilla wafer-layered banana pudding. I bet that Evangelicals who watch the Food channel are going to be in big trouble with God. How dare they sit around and watch food porn.

this was your life

Sadly, many Evangelicals miss out on enjoying the fruits of their labors due to Pharisaical condemnations of certain behaviors. The Bible can be used to turn any and every behavior into a sin. Spend enough time listening to Evangelical preaching or reading Christian blogs and you will conclude that Evangelicals have Bible-driven hang-ups about virtually everything they do. Even if a behavior is God-approved, if their attitude or “spirit” is wrong, then that behavior is still a sin. This is why Wagner considers loving food a sin. Yes, humans must eat to live, but to LOVE food means we are turning food into an idol. Colossians 3:5 commands Evangelicals to mortify (kill) their flesh. Numerous Bible verses remind Christians that loving one’s flesh (giving in to human desires) brings judgment and death. Romans 8:8 states that those who give in to fleshly desires cannot please God.

Evangelicals are even commanded to abstain from eating or drinking foods that might cause other Christians to stumble (fall into sin). Romans 14:21 states: It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. This means that Evangelicals must not only concern themselves with their own desires, but also the desires of other Christians. Can’t eat an extra helping of Granny’s apple pie at the church potluck because Youth Pastor Sinalot has a weakness for pie (and teenage girls). Mustn’t watch anything but Disney movies when Brother Horndog is around. Wouldn’t want him to get sexually aroused. Who knows what he might do if the spirit of lust comes upon him.

The Bible teaches that Evangelicals are to deny self, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. In fact, if Christians really want to show their devotion to God, they should eat just like Jesus ate. That’s right, there is a straight-from-the-throne-room-of-God Jesus Diet. Doctor Oz has an article on his website that lists the foods that Jesus ate:

People back in Jesus’ time ate a mostly plant-based, clean diet. In that region of the world, lentils, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dates, nuts and fish were all quite popular. For snacks, some even ate grasshoppers and crickets! All these foods provided proper and satisfying nutrition without excess fats or cholesterol.
….
Our longer [digestive] tract, however, allows for more time to process the complex carbohydrates within plants. However, as we eat meat with little fiber, especially red meat, it has a higher chance of getting stuck within our intestines – causing constipation or bloating. In fact, because Jesus and people around Him ate a mostly plant-based diet with little red meat, there’s little mention of “constipation” in the bible [my favorite line].
….
Based on the Bible and historical records, Jesus most likely ate a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet, which includes foods like kale, pine nuts, dates, olive oil, lentils and soups. They also baked fish.

Amazing what you can find in the Bible when you “look.”

And here’s the thing, Evangelicals go through similar Bible gymnastics for other behaviors that have been deemed sins against God. Recently, Calvinists have been fighting amongst themselves over wine, beer, and cigars. One side says that in moderation it is okay to drink alcohol and smoke cigars. The other side says, absolutely not! These substances are “poisons” that harm the body — the temple of the Holy Ghost.

As atheists, we have much simpler lives. We are free to do what we want. While I am not suggesting that it is a good thing to go on a Hostess Ho Ho and beer diet, feeling guilty about overeating or eating the “wrong” (I thought everything was created by God) foods is a waste of time. Life is short, and we shouldn’t spend it obsessing over food. All of us are free to eat however we want. I have friends who are vegans, vegetarians, ethical meat-eaters, and Golden Corral buffet grazers. Each to his or her own. If God is concerned with what I eat then perhaps he shouldn’t have allowed humans to invent such delectable foods. In fact, God should have created our bodies in such a way that we wouldn’t even need to eat, thus eliminating time spent eating and pooping. Imagine how much nicer bathrooms would be without food. No gaseous releases (farts). No turd streaks in the toilet. No more pee on the floor, toilet seat, and everywhere men have been known to splatter. No need for toilet paper either. Think of all the trees we would save!

I wonder if Wagner has ever read Ecclesiastes — you know, the verses that tell us to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Solomon understood that life is short and the best that man can do is to enjoy the fruit of his labors. And with that in mind, I think I will go and eat another candy bar. I love sinning . . . 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Evangelical Backsliding, Get- Right-with-God, Backsliding Cycle

backsliding
Graphic by Alex Baker

Backsliding is very much a part of the fabric of Evangelicalism. Every Evangelical church has three types of people:

  • Sold-out, on-fire Christians
  • Unsaved people
  • Backslidden Christians

Most Evangelical churches have a small percentage of sold-out, on-fire Christians and a smattering of unsaved people. Most Evangelicals, including pastors, are backslidden to some degree or the other.

What is a backslidden Christian? Backslidden Christians are people who have “spiritually” slid backward from where they once were in their Christian lives. They have left their first love (Jesus/Bible/Church) and have become carnal, lazy, lukewarm Christians. While they might attend church on Sundays, their day-to-day lives reflect that they are not as good a Christian as they once were. Since most Evangelicals believe that once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation, sects, churches, and pastors must come up with a word that best describes the majority of Evangelical church members; hence the word backslider.

Every year, churches hold special meetings or revivals meant to get church members all jacked up on Mountain Dew (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby reference for those culturally unaware).  A special meeting or a revival is called for when the church is in need of spiritual “reviving.” In come special speakers and evangelists — specialists in breathing life into backslidden church members (even though these hired guns are often backslidden themselves). These specialists preach sermons meant to convict backsliders of their backsliddenness, and sure enough, the backsliders realize the error of their way and stream down to the altar and get right with God or make some other sort of confession that they have been a real bad boy or girl and they promise never, ever to be bad again.

In Baptist churches, revivals are often scheduled events. Every spring and/or fall, churches hold revivals, hoping that these high-intensity meetings will light a spiritual fire under those who are not sold-out, on-fire Christians.  Church members dutifully attend each night of the revival, and one or more times during the week will likely make some sort of commitment to be a “better” Christian. Backsliders confess all the things that keep them from being committed Christians — just like on-fire Pastor Bob, who, unbeknownst to them, is secretly banging his secretary in his office or filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelist Bubba who visits strip clubs after returning to his motel room each night. Many of them have been doing this for years. Revivals are like taking a bath once or twice a year. The backslider gets all cleaned up, only to get dirty again a few days, weeks, or months later. Over the course of the fifty years I spent in the Chrisitan church, I saw scores of backsliders get right with God. I saw smokers confess the sin of smoking, only to backslide again before they got out of the church parking lot. I’ve seen countless Christians weep, wail, and sling snot over their backslidden condition, only to go home and resume their “sinning”.

Evangelical pastors spend a good bit of their time trying to get church members to live the Christian life. They challenge people to come to church every time the doors are open, to tithe, to study the Bible every day, to tithe, to pray without ceasing, to tithe, to witness to the lost, and to tithe. Little do church members realize that their pastors are not spiritually any better off than they are. They put on a good show in their pulpits, but behind closed doors these so-called men of God struggle with many of the same things church members do. (This is not meant as a criticism of preachers as much as it is an indictment of the lack of personal openness, honesty, and transparency among spiritual leaders.)

Why are there so many backslidden people in Evangelical churches? (I’m sure this is a problem in other sects, but my experience is with Evangelicalism.) Is it because most of them aren’t “really” Christians? Is it because they really don’t want to give up the pleasures of the world? At one time I thought so. I have now come to see that the difference between sold-out, on-fire Christians and backslidden Christians is a matter of personality or how much time a Christian has to devote to the things that would make them a poster child for a sold-out, on-fire Christian.

super mom

My wife was mother/teacher to six-children, keeper of the home, and on-call gopher for her God-called preacher husband. Like her husband, she was busy all the time — and I mean ALL the time. Polly always had good intentions. She intended to read the Bible more, pray more, and witness more, but she never really got around to it. There was a time when I feared for her soul. I wondered, doesn’t she love God’s Word? Doesn’t she want to be in constant communion with God? I now see that it wasn’t that she wasn’t willing as much as it was there were only so many hours in the day. After feeding six children and educating them and doing any number of tasks for her preacher husband, there was little time for spiritual disciplines. Polly spent years feeling guilty over not doing enough for Jesus or not following her husband’s call to be a sold-out, on-fire Christian.

I could read the Bible any time I wanted and pray without ceasing because I had the leisure time to do so. I was being paid to be a good Christian. Many of the people I pastored worked 8-12 hours a day, along with taking care of their families, and they didn’t have the leisure time that I had to devote to God. It took me many years to figure this out. Until I did, I would beat people over the head with the sin stick trying to shame them into being sold-out, on-fire Christians. And it worked — for a time. People would get right with God and for a time be fervent, zealous Christians. But, as the grind of day-to-day life wore them down, it was not long until they returned to their “backslidden” ways.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many Evangelicals are quite depressed over the state of their spiritual lives. The cycle of getting right with God, backsliding, getting right with God, over and over and over again keeps Evangelicals from finding rest in their lives. And just when they think they might have found a peaceful resting place, their preachers remind them of how much Jesus did for them and how little they really do for Jesus.

Is this some aberration, a corruption of Christianity? Of course not. Jesus said, let a man deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Jesus expected his followers to abandon their nets, family, and worldly pursuits, and follow him. You’ll search in vain to find a passage of Scripture that says being a lukewarm, backslidden Christian is in any way acceptable. Of the lukewarm Christian, the Bible says:

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I [Jesus] will spue thee out of my mouth.

The book of Revelation says:

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Songs like Set My Soul Afire, Lord, remind the Christian of what it is that God expects of them:

Set my soul afire Lord, for Thy Holy Word,
Burn it deep within me, let Thy voice be heard
Millions grope in darkness in this day and hour,
I will be a witness, fill me with Thy pow’r

Refrain:
Set my soul afire Lord, set my soul afire.
Make my life a witness of Thy saving pow’r.
Millions grope in darkness, waiting for Thy Word.
Set my soul afire, Lord, set my soul afire!

Set my soul afire, Lord, for the lost in sin,
Give to me a passion as I seek to win;
Help me not to falter never let me fail,
Fill me with Thy Spirit, let Thy will prevail.
(Refrain)

Set my soul afire, Lord, in my daily life.
Far too long I’ve wandered in this day of strife;
Nothing else will matter but to live for Thee,
I will be a witness for Christ lives in me.
(Refrain)

I Surrender All is another old standard that reminds every Christian of the devotion God expects from them:

All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power;
let thy blessing fall on me.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender;
now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!
(Refrain)

Despite the preaching, the revival meetings, and the soul-stirring songs, most church members can’t sustain life as a sold-out, on-fire Christian. Too bad none of us sold out, on-fire pastors and evangelists told them the truth . . . neither could we.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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Bruce Gerencser