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Tag: Somerset Baptist Church Mt Perry

Dear Frank, Is Bruce Backslidden or Was He Never Saved To Begin With?

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Rick, 1996, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

Several years ago, I received a Facebook notification about approving something Rick, a friend of mine, wanted to post to my wall. Rick is a long-time friend, former parishioner, and frequent reader of this blog. What’s interesting about his request is that he meant his message to be a private one sent to a friend of his by the name of Frank. The reason I got the notification is that he inadvertently tagged me. Here’s the message Rick sent to Frank — also a man I have known for many years.message to frank

Don’t be put off by Rick’s poor language skills. Several years ago, Rick had a major stroke. This affected his ability to write sentences. Best I can tell, the stroke has not affected his ability to study and read the Bible, nor has it affected his ability to read religious materials.

I met Rick in the late 1990s. At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Rick, a Calvinist, was looking for a Calvinistic church to attend and someone recommended that he check out Somerset Baptist. Rick joined the church, happy in knowing that he had found a man who was conversant in the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism). For the next five years, I would drive two times a week — thirty miles round trip — to New Lexington to pick Rick up for church.

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Frank and Rick, 1993, Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

One Sunday night, while on our way to the church, Rick was waxing eloquently about double predestination and whether children who die in infancy and developmentally disabled people are automatically a part of the elect — those whom God, from before the foundation of the world, has chosen to save. I told Rick, with a slight irritation in my voice, that Calvinistic Baptist great Charles Spurgeon believed such people were numbered among the elect. Rick, not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to social cues, continued to defend God having the absolute right to eternally torture anyone, including infants and developmentally disabled people, in the Lake of Fire. I could feel anger welling. I thought to myself, has Rick forgotten that I have a developmentally disabled two-year-old daughter with Down syndrome? Doesn’t he care how hurtful his words are? I slammed on the brakes and told Rick to get out of the car. He could walk to church, I told him. I quickly cooled down, telling him, I didn’t want to hear another word from him about whether infants and developmentally disabled people are elect. Rick complied, moving on to other hot button Calvinistic issues.

Let me share another Rick memory, one that I think readers will find funny. Rick worked third shift at a residential home for the developmentally disabled — Mount Aloysius. Unsurprisingly, Rick was quite tired by the time he arrived for Sunday morning church. Try as he might to stay awake, Rick would often fall asleep. Rick snored, so the entire congregation knew when Rick was sleeping. Sunday after Sunday I watched Rick fight sleep, his head bobbing back and forth during my hour-long sermons. One Sunday, Rick bobbed his head back and then forward just as he did Sunday after Sunday. This time, however, Rick’s head traveled forward farther than he intended, smacking the pew in front of him. I stopped preaching and went to Rick to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, the only thing harmed was his pride. After the service, I told Rick that perhaps he should skip the Sunday morning service when he worked the night before. That way he could be rested and mentally fresh for the Sunday evening service. By the way, this was the only time in twenty-five years of pastoring churches that I told someone, please don’t come to church.

I haven’t been Rick’s pastor for over twenty-seven years, and the last time I saw him was in 1996 when he and Frank drove to West Unity, Ohio to attend services at a new church I had planted. Since then, I have traded a few emails with Rick, but nothing of substance.

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Rick, Bruce, Greg, and boy, 1993 , Somerset Baptist Church, Sunday Dinner

Rick’s message is a reminder to me that people still talk about my deconversion. People who knew me well — as Rick and Frank once did — are still trying to square the pastor they once knew with the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. In Rick’s case, he wonders if am just backslidden, or is it possible that I never was saved. I am sure Rick prefers the backslidden explanation. I am sure trying to wrap his mind around the possibility of me never being saved is too much for him to emotionally and intellectually handle. If I was never saved, this means that Rick was taught for five years by an unsaved pastor, a man he heard expositionally preach hundreds of times; preaching that he believed was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am sure he remembers the countless hours we spent after church talking theology. I am sure he remembers my love, kindness, and compassion, and my willingness to, week after week, drive to New Lexington and pick him up so he could attend church. I am sure he asks himself, how is it possible that the Bruce I knew was never a true Christian.

The easy out for Rick is for him to embrace Arminianism with its belief that saved people can and do fall from grace. Doing so would mean that I once was saved, but now I am not. Of course, Rick’s Calvinism keeps him from believing I have lost my salvation, so he is forced to psychologically torture himself with thoughts about whether I am backslidden or was never a Christian to start with.

I wish Rick nothing but the best. I hope he will, in time, come to terms with my current godless state. I chose to be exactly where I am today. Or did I? Perhaps all of this has been decreed by God, and the person ultimately responsible for my lost condition is the divine puppet master, John Calvin’s God.

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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.

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.

Short Stories: Somerset Baptist Church: A Trip Down Memory Lane

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio auditorium
Somerset Baptist Church Auditorium after Remodel, 1992

In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. In 1985, we bought a Methodist church building near Mt Perry, Ohio for $5,000.00. The church building, built in 1831 and one of the oldest Methodist buildings in Ohio, would be the church’s home until Polly and I moved away in March 1994.

During the eleven years I was pastor, hundreds of church members came and went and we hauled thousands of kids to church on one of our four buses. For five years, we operated a private Christian school, open only to the children of the church. It was tuition-free.

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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

This was the church where I came of age as a pastor. In 1983, I was a hardcore, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor. When I moved away in 1994 to co-pastor Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I was a committed Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist pastor. I went through tremendous intellectual and social transformation during these eleven years.

Several years ago, as I scanned the pictures from this era, my mind was flooded with memories of the shared experiences I had with the church family. Yes, there were bad times, stupid times, dumb ass times. Yes, I was a Fundamentalist and that brought all kinds of baggage with it. But, as I looked at the pictures, I didn’t think about beliefs. My thoughts were about people and the wonderful times we had. Yes, Fundamentalism psychologically and emotionally harmed and scarred me (and the people I pastored), but that does not mean there are no good memories. There are lots of them. In fact, the vast majority of the memories I have are good ones. Sometimes, when people deconvert they often become so fixated on the negative which happened that they forget the good times. I know I did.

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Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy

As I looked at these photos, I also shed some tears. There were a handful of people in the pictures who are now dead. Cancer, heart attacks, and car accidents claimed their lives and all I have left of them are the pictures and our shared memories. After I posted the pictures to Facebook, I heard from a number of people who were once part of the church. Most of the people I heard from were children when I was at Somerset Baptist Church. They are now middle-aged with families of their own. Their parents, like me, are old and gray. It was nice to hear from them.

The photos aren’t very good – the best a $20.00 camera could offer. Nothing like the photos I took with my professional $4,000 camera years later. In fact, they are down-right terrible. But, infused into the photos are memories, and it is those memories that matter.

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Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

I feel old today — a dying man who has lived a long life. But I also feel blessed to have lived a good life, a life marked by contradiction, conflict, grief, and change, along with happiness, joy, and goodness. It is the sum of my life.

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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990s
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Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987
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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.

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.

Short Stories:1983: Why I Still Can’t Drink Sprite

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In July of 1983, I started a brand-spanking-new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio — a congregation I would pastor for the next eleven years. During my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, we lived in rental houses in New Lexington, Glenford, Somerset, and Junction City. For five years we lived in a 12’x60′ mobile home we parked next door to the church.

Our first rental was a house on Water Street in New Lexington. We only lived here for four months, moving to Glenford two weeks before Christmas of 1983. Polly and I don’t have many memories from our short stay on Water Street, but there is one event both of us remember well.

I was a pop (soda) drinker, and I still am (though I drink a lot less of it today than I did years ago). Nothing better than a cold 16-ounce glass bottle of Pepsi to quench your thirst on a warm summer day. For my younger readers who may not know this, back in the early 1980s, pop came in returnable glass bottles. Empty bottles were returned to the grocery, from which the local distributor/bottler would pick up the bottles, wash them, and refill them with the appropriate flavor of pop.

Empty pop bottles were used for a variety of things: emergency urinals and ashtrays, to name two. The bottles were washed and sanitized, so who cares who did what with the bottles, right?

One early fall day, I came home from work and opened the refrigerator to get a bottle of pop. I have always been a Pepsi/Dr. Pepper/Suncrest Cream Soda fan, but for some reason the only pop in the fridge was Sprite. I pulled a bottle from the fridge, shut the door, and popped the cap off the bottle with an opener. I quickly put the bottle to my lips and turned the bottle upward to take a swig of Sprite. As I did, I felt something hard hit my front teeth. I thought, what the heck (Baptist for “hell”)? I stopped drinking and brought the bottle down to eye level so I could see what it was that clunked me in the teeth.

In the bottle was a woman’s barrette with hair still attached! I quickly became nauseous, and to this day, thirty-nine years later, I still find it hard to drink Sprite. Irrational, to be sure, but I can’t shake the memory of a hair-filled barrette.

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 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.

A Personal Reflection: Missing Out On Life When Jesus Owns You

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Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

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. (i John 2:15)

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (John 9:4, Romans 13:12, 2 Peter 3:10)

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)

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)

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

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. (Romans 12:1,2)

These verses and others became the primary motivators of my life for much of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. My belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God — a book written by God, not men — caused me to believe that, as I read these verses, God was speaking directly to me. I knew that God had saved me and called me into the ministry, and that if I devoted every moment of every day to following after Jesus, this would be time well spent. I knew that life was short, death was certain, Hell was hot, and judgment was sure; that soon Bruce Gerencser was going to die and that he was going to stand before a thrice-holy God and give an account for what he did with his life. Using the Disciples as my example, I set out to leave everything that mattered to me and follow Jesus. This meant that, even though I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman and would over the years have six precious children with her, everything was secondary to my call to the ministry and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. As anyone who knew me in my Evangelical days will tell you, I was a true-blue, on-fire disciple of Christ. My goal in every one of the communities I pastored was to preach the gospel to as many people as possible and to motivate Christians to set aside the things of the world, focusing instead on the present and coming Kingdom of God. I knew that congregants would never be more than what was modeled to them, so I did my best to be a shining example of someone who loved God and took seriously the commands and teachings of the Bible. How this worked out in my life is tragic, a somber reminder of what happens when people give themselves over to fanaticism.

As I contemplated writing this post, I thought about all the things I missed out on or didn’t get to see because my mind was totally focused on the ministry and reaching people with the gospel. Not helping matters was the fact that I was a perfectionist, which later developed into full-blown Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).  Everywhere I looked there were sinners in need of saving. How could I take time off from work or go on a vacation as long as there were people who needed to hear the gospel? While I certainly would have loved to have spent more time with my wife and children, how could I justify doing so when there were so many people living in sin, seemingly without having anyone in their lives willing to tell them the truth about their eternal destiny. I quickly developed what I call the Elijah syndrome, that I was the only prophet remaining that was willing to do all that was necessary to preach the gospel to lost and dying sinners. It should come, then, as no surprise that I often worked seven days a week, frequently preaching five to seven sermons during that time. When I wasn’t preaching, I was busy knocking on doors, visiting people in the hospital, handing out tracts, working on the church building, transporting people to services, and talking to people in need of my counsel. As Polly will testify, I worked long hours, rarely taking time off for entertainment or personal relaxation.

Here are a few of the things I missed while serving Jesus.

I missed out on watching my older sons play competitive sports. Not because I didn’t have the time to go to their games, but because I wouldn’t let them play sports due to game and practice schedules conflicting with church activities. I fondly remember the days when I played little league and pony league baseball, but my sons never had an opportunity to play baseball because their preacher father thought it more important for them to be sitting in church than playing meaningless, worldly games. I thought, How could I set a good example to the church if on church nights the preacher’s kids were busy playing sports and not in attendance? My children, unfortunately, were never allowed to just be. I expected them to be perfectly behaved, regardless of the fact that other church children were not. I expected my children to set the example, and this meant that they were not going to be able to do some of the other things that “normal” children were allowed to do.

We lived in Southeast Ohio for almost twelve years. During this time, I pastored a fast-growing church that for many years operated a large bus ministry and a private Christian school. If there was one church where my workaholic, OCPD mentality was on display, it was here. During my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I took all of one vacation, a trip to Boston Massachusetts, paid for by Bruce Turner. Bruce had been the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio when I was saved and called to the ministry. One year, I had Bruce come to our church to preach for our anniversary. The building was packed, a not-so-subtle reminder that young Bruce had learned well the lessons taught to him by older Bruce a decade and a half ago. Older Bruce had, however, aged and matured in his understanding of the ministry. As he spent several days observing his protégé’s ministerial work, he concluded that I was burning the candle at both ends, and that if I didn’t learn to relax and spend time away from the ministry, I was going to cause myself physical harm. And it is for these reasons that Bruce offered to pay for us to take a trip to Massachusetts. This would be the first and last vacation I would take until the late 1990s. While I “heard” what Bruce was trying to tell me, his voice was drowned out by what I perceived to be the Holy Spirit telling me to give my all to Jesus; telling me that if I were a true disciple of Christ, I must be willing to forsake all attachments to this world; telling me that my wife and children were not as important as following Jesus and preaching the gospel; telling me that Jesus was coming soon that I must be about my father’s business, for the night is coming when no man can work.

In the mid to late-1980s, I made three exceptions to my on-call-for-Jesus 24/7 work schedule. The first exception that I carved out of my schedule was three hours once a week to play basketball with a group of men I had met through one of the teenage boys who attended the church. None of these men was Christian, so I suspect deep down I saw playing basketball with them as an opportunity to evangelize them. Ironically, I made very little effort to do so. Over time, I saw these three hours as a refuge away from the pressures of the ministry. In retrospect, this once-a-week full-court workout was likely medicine of sorts that kept me from physically and mentally destroying myself.

The second exception on my schedule was weekly trips during the summer to local dirt race tracks. My best friend in the church, Harold Miller, asked me if I had ever been to a dirt track race. I told him that I had, but I hadn’t attended a race since the mid-1970s. And so we went — Polly and the boys included, along with 2 toddler girls — regularly on Friday and Saturday nights to racetracks such as Midway Speedway, Muskingum County Speedway, R&R Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. On nights that Polly didn’t want to go, I would pack up the boys and we would go to the races. Again, I saw our weekly visits to these racetracks as a respite of sort from the constant — often self-inflicted — demands of the ministry. There were plenty of sinners at the races we attended, but I made no effort to evangelize anyone. For three to five hours once a week I allowed myself to be immersed in a sea of worldlings, observing but never partaking.

When my evangelist friend Don Hardman heard that I was regularly attending local dirt track races, and – say it isn’t so, Bruce! taking my family with me, he rebuked me for attending such worldly events. Fortunately, I ignored him. I have no doubt that going to the races helped me maintain my sanity and allowed me to physically relax. (One humorous story from these days comes from a warm spring day when I was preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio. Pulling up to the traffic light was one of the regular late-model drivers at Midway Speedway. Seizing the opportunity to “share” the gospel with this man, I began preaching, mentioning him by name. He turned towards me with a look on his face that suggested I had scared the living daylights out of him. Several months later I ran into him, reminding him of my brief sermon on that spring day. He said to me, you scared the shit out of me!)

The third exception came when I would load Polly and the children into whatever beater we were driving at the time and take day road trips to Southern Ohio and West Virginia. All we needed was enough money for gas and off we would go. Polly would pack us food and snacks, so there was no need to stop at restaurants to eat. We traveled countless back roads, often ending up in places that were small dots on a road map. Polly and I, along with our children, have many fond memories of these trips, including the time we drove to southern West Virginia so we could take a train ride, only to arrive just as the last train of the day was pulling out from the station. Boy, there’s a metaphor in this story. 🙂

Three hours of basketball once a week, three to five hours on summer weekends watching dirt track races, one vacation, and occasional road trips…. that’s all the time I took off from serving Jesus. According to the Bible, I was Jesus’ bondslave. The song in my heart was the classic Baptist hymn:

All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give, I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken, Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender, make me Savior wholly thine. May Thy Holy Spirit fill me, may I know Thy power divine.

I surrender all I surrender all. All to Thee my blessed Savior I surrender all.

There were also church outings to Kings Island, the bowling alley, the roller rink, canoe livery, and a host of other activities, but these events were tools used by me to evangelize unaware sinners. I would encourage congregants to invite their friends and neighbors to these events, telling them to emphasize how much fun these activities were. Once there, I would round everyone up and spend some time sharing the gospel with them. Doing this told congregants without saying a word that having fun for fun’s sake took a backseat to evangelizing the lost.

People who have traveled to Southeast Ohio will tell you about its beauty and rolling hills. It’s too bad that I had no time for enjoying the wonders of God’s creation. All around me was beautiful scenery, but all I could see was sin-stained hearts in need of salvation. Polly and I are planning on taking a trip back to Southeast Ohio this summer to spend a few days visiting all the places that we never got to see because Jesus had other things for us to do. Several days ago, as we were browsing travel literature for Southeast Ohio, we were amazed at how many wonderful things there were to see. Too bad we didn’t take the time to see them when we were young, when our children were home, and when our bodies were better fitted for hiking and visiting such wonders as Old Man’s Cave at Hocking Hills.

The same can be said for the seven months I spent as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas — a small community just south of San Antonio. While at Community, I spent eight days a week doing the work of the ministry. During my time there I established a Christian school, started two churches, established a nursing home ministry, set up a street-preaching ministry, along with preaching twice a week. As you can see, I was busy, busy, busy for Jesus, with no time for family or relaxation. I suspect I am one of the few people to ever live in San Antonio and not go on the Riverwalk, visit the Alamo, view San Antonio from the towering height of the Tower of the Americas, or see any of the other sites people typically visit when vacationing in San Antonio. I did, however, preach in front of the Alamo, as I did above the walkways that led down to the Riverwalk. All around me was beauty, from the natural landscape to ancient buildings, but I was blind to these things because my eyes were fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith; the Jesus who took my sins upon himself and died for me on the cross; the Jesus who commanded me to be perfect even as his father in Heaven is perfect; the Jesus who commanded me:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27,33)

I am sure that some of the Evangelicals who read this post will suggest that what I needed in my life was balance; that I was too focused on the eternal; that I needed to give myself time to rest and relax. The problem with this type of thinking is that it is modeled nowhere in the lives of Jesus, the apostles, or any of the disciples. I can’t think of one Bible verse that suggests Christians should take it easy until Jesus comes again, or that the followers of Christ should pace themselves as they serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Paul spoke of running a race, and I thought, at the time, better to burn out than rust out. Better to live forty years of life as a brightly shining star than eighty years as a dim star that could only be seen with a telescope.

It was in the late 1990s before I finally realized what a fool I had been. By that time, health ruined and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, I could no longer keep up the pace of previous years. During this time, thanks to the atheist husband of one of the ladies who attended Our Father’s House in West Unity, the church I was pastoring at the time, I developed a love for photography. I am convinced that this one thing saved my life. I began taking time off so we could take day trips and vacations to places that provided opportunities for me to work on my photography skills. Countless hours were spent slowly driving the back roads of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, looking for photographic opportunities. These trips gave me a psychological break from the demands of the ministry. Thanks to my Calvinistic beliefs, I no longer felt driven to spend every waking hour evangelizing the lost. I was content to preach two sermons a week, take care of the needs of a small congregation, and spend the rest of my time enjoying life. We began taking vacations, attending races at the local dirt track, and visiting nearby attractions. Our oldest three boys were old enough to babysit their younger siblings, so this afforded Polly and me the opportunity to get away from the church and home without our children. By then, our economic position had greatly improved thanks to Polly working full time at Sauder Woodworking and our two older sons paying room and board. Having more discretionary money allowed us to do a lot of things that we never could have done years before. I can honestly say that the seven years I spent as pastor of Our father’s House were the best years of my ministerial career. The church never grew above fifty or sixty people, but I found this particular group of people, with a couple of exceptions, a delight to pastor. I suspect that if I had been able to ignore the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit,” I could have continued pastoring this church for years.

You might wonder what I mean by the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit.” As I settled into the life typically led by Evangelical pastors, I found myself increasingly feeling guilty over time spent relaxing. I’m sure Polly could tell stories of her own about the long discussions we had about whether we were doing enough for Jesus. I quite enjoyed our new life with its pleasures and relaxing opportunities, but I never could get out of my head all the things I mentioned above. Never far from my thoughts were my Master and his call to follow after him. I don’t want to give the impression that I was some sort of worldly Christian, I wasn’t. I still spent an inordinate amount of time reading and studying the Bible, praying, preaching sermons, and doing the work of the ministry, but I did give myself space for pleasure and relaxation. This was a step in the right direction, but I would find out a few short years later that if I really wanted to have a life worth living, I was going to have to divorce myself from the ministry and God.

Now that I have liberated myself from the constraints of the Bible, I am free to live life as I see fit. Realizing that life is short and death is certain (sooner than later), I try to spend as much time as possible doing the things I want to do and with the people I love most — my family. My bucket list for the next ten weeks: two Dayton Dragons baseball games, Breaking Benjamin concert, Halestorm concert, and a week’s vacation in Shawnee/Newark, Ohio, (along with having our house painted and carpet installed in several rooms). I no longer hear nagging voices in my head telling me to forsake my family, houses, and lands and follow Jesus. I no longer worry about WWJD — what would Jesus do (or what would church members think). Both Polly and I love where we are in life, though we do wish that we had come to an understanding about what really matters twenty-five years sooner. Sadly, we can’t undo the past, but we can choose to live differently, and that is exactly what we are doing.

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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.

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.

Short Stories: 1983: Smelly Carpet, Sprite, Psycho Bruce, and a Christmas Tree

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Christmas tree at another New Lexington house, 1984

In July 1983, I planted a new church in Somerset Ohio. I would, for the next eleven years, pastor Somerset Baptist Church, starting in a storefront and later holding services in a 150-year-old brick church building purchased from the Methodist Conference. I would learn a lot about myself during the time I spent pastoring this church For a few years, the church experienced rapid numerical growth (reaching 200 in attendance), leading to scores of professions of faith. And then, just as quickly, the church numerically receded, returning to a typical country church of fifty or so people. I could spend months writing about my experiences as pastor of this church, but for now, I want to focus on a house we lived in on Water Street in New Lexington, Ohio.

When I started the church, we lived in Buckeye Lake, twenty-five miles north and west of Somerset. Wanting to live in the area where I would be ministering, we sought out housing in Somerset. Unable to find housing, we rented a house in New Lexington — a community built on a hill nine miles south of Somerset. After moving into the home, we noticed the carpets had a smell. The longer we lived there the worse the smells became. I mentioned this to the owner. He said the previous tenants had animals and that’s why the carpet smelled. Determining that we were likely going to move if he didn’t do something about the smell, the owner had the carpets replaced in the living room and main bedroom. Despite the carpet replacement, the house still had a faint smell of animal urine. I suspect the urine had soaked into the wood floors underneath the carpet, and as anyone who has ever had to deal with such a problem knows, once this happens either the floors must be sanded and refinished or shellacked to seal in the odor. Six weeks later, we decided to move to a ramshackle farmhouse northeast of Somerset, near Glenford, Ohio.

There are several stories I would like to share from the few months we spent living on Water Street. I have always been a pop (soda) drinker. My drink of choice was/is Pepsi, but I would, from time to time, drink other brands such as Coke and Sprite. These were the days when pop came packaged as eight returnable 16-ounce glass bottles. Many of my fellow baby boomers have memories, I’m sure, of collecting pop bottles for money or using pop bottles for ashtrays or emergency urinals The returnable bottles were sent by grocery stores to bottlers who would sanitize the bottles and refill them with the proper soft drink. One day, I decided to drink a bottle of Sprite. I grabbed the bottle opener, popped the cap off the bottle, put it to my lips, and tipped the bottle so the sugary drink would flow. Suddenly, I felt something hit my teeth. I quickly stop drinking, and upon investigating I found a barrette with hair still attached in the bottle. Gagging, I quickly put the bottle down. To this day, I find it hard to drink Sprite. Irrational as it might be, all I can think of when I think about drinking a Sprite is that barrette with hair attached hitting me in the teeth.

As a young adult, I did a good bit of walking and talking in my sleep. My brother and sister have all sorts of stories about my sleepwalking escapades, including walking through the living room brushing my teeth. Not long after Polly and I were married, she awoke to find me standing in the corner of the bedroom urinating. Sound asleep, I thought I was in the bathroom. The sleepwalking continued into my later life. One night, while living in New Lexington, we had gone to bed, and as had been the custom for the past 43 years, Polly quickly fell asleep and I fitfully tossed and turned before finally drifting off into that night’s dream world. Several hours into the night, Polly awoke to find me crouched over her — eyes wide open. I was sound asleep, but Polly thought I was a psychopath fixing to kill her. After a few moments, I rolled over, while Polly was left shaking, fearing for her life. Both of us wondered if I would someday do something hurtful and not know that I did it. Fortunately, Polly and our six children survived. These days, the only sleepwalking I do is the wide-awake kind as I make one of my nightly trips to the bathroom or the kitchen. I still talk in my sleep from time to time. Polly no longer fears becoming the next day’s headline, though she does enjoy retelling what I said to her in one of my sleep-talking moments. I can, in her words, still be quite entertaining.

A few days after Thanksgiving, we decided to move from Water Street to our newly-rented house in Glenford. We had very few possessions, so we were able to do all the moving with a pickup truck. Having just put up our Christmas tree several days before, we decided to leave all the decorations on the tree as we moved it to its new location. I still remember how hilarious it was to see that Christmas tree sitting in the back of the pickup truck, fully decorated. As you might imagine, by the time we got to our new house, all the tinsel had blown off the tree, as had some of the glass bulbs. I know– the stupid stuff kids do, right? We put the tree back together, in preparation for what we still call to this day the Christmas from Hell. But that’s a story for another day.

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 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.

Fundamentalist Indoctrination: Is Television an Idol in America?

tv-is-evil

In August 1989, my wife, Polly, and I, along with several members of Somerset Baptist Church, the church that I was pastoring at the time, started teaching fifteen church children at Somerset Baptist Academy (SBA). SBA was a non-chartered, tuition-free Calvinistic Baptist school. It was the only non-Catholic religious school in Perry County. Polly and I did most of the teaching, spending hours each day teaching K-12 students English, writing, spelling, reading, math, history, science, Bible, and computer literacy. In addition, parents in the church helped teach classes such as home economics, shop, and small engine repair. One dear lady in the church, Delorse, watched our three youngest children eight hours a day so we could teach the church’s children.

SBA was a one-room school. Using standardized testing and other criteria, students were put in particular classes according to their academic abilities. Thus, we had several high school students taking math with third graders. No one was shamed over this. The goal was to meet each student where they were academically. While SBA, its administrator (me), and its teachers had many flaws, we did well when it came to teaching students the basics. Adults who were young children at SBA in the 1990s, to this day, thank Polly for teaching them to read. Unfortunately, no such praise comes my way. 🙂 Students called me “Preacher.” I was a stern taskmaster who demanded obedience, who meted out discipline when students failed to comply. While I have MANY fond memories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist, I also have many regrets. Fundamentalism causes harm. I was a victim, but I also was a victimizer. I plan to write more posts about SBA in the future. Maybe I can get some of the students, three of whom are my children, to share their SBA experiences, safe from having to write out KJV Bible verses as punishment or memorize the 1989 London Baptist Confession of Faith and Catechism.

In the late 1980s, a Fundamentalist man, whose name remains lost in the deep recesses of my mind, wrote several anti-culture books and offered them free to churches. One book had a red cover, and the other was blue. He sent me two cases of books to distribute to church members. The following report, written by my eleven-year-old son, Jason, on January 11, 1990, was a review of one of the chapters in these books — I assume on the evil of television.

Polly and I owned a TV when we married in 1978. Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, “God” had convicted me of the sin of watching “Hellivision.” So out to junk pile went the TV until the late 1990s. If you want a bit of insight into my thinking about TV during this period of time, please read The Preacher and His TV.

The following report by my son shows how religious fundamentalism deeply affects the thinking of children raised in such environments. Religious indoctrination is not harmless. Jason, of course, is blameless. Not now, buddy. 🙂 Much like his father and mother, Jason was psychologically affected by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) thinking and Bible literalism. Children are products of the environments and cultures they grew up in. The good news is that parents and children alike can overcome religious indoctrination. The Gerencser family is living proof of this claim. Either that or Satan/Antichrist has control of us. 🙂

This report was slightly edited for grammar, spelling, and readability.

Yes, the television is an idol. We worship the TV every time we turn it on and watch it. The Devil is behind the television. It was his idea to make the television so he could enter people’s houses and rule over them. He loves this idea. It gives him a chance to kill people. The Bible says that the Devil is a roaring lion who seeketh to devour people. In people’s houses, everything is turned toward the television. We do not talk to guests. Instead, we watch TV, and once in a while make a comment about what we’re watching or something else. Even so-called “Christians” watch filthy, junky, ungodly stuff on TV. Soon we become slaves and addicts to the TV. When people start watching TV, it is hard for them to stop watching it. People watch dirty and gruesome things. They say what was wrong with what was on TV, and how terrible it was, yet still watch it. No one even bothers to not watch TV or get rid of it. The Devil laughs at us when we do this because he has won. People have let TV become part of their lives, so therefore they let it control them instead of them controlling it. When we come home we turn on the TV right away. Whenever we’re there, it’s on full blast. TV damages adults, but totally destroys children. One school teacher had her students not watch TV for 24 hours, then write a report on it. One boy thought one minute was like one month, another imagined that the favorite shows were on TV. Japanese children think that they cannot live without it. They have at least 3 TVs in their homes. They think you’re different if you do not have a TV to look at all the time. The TV is a thing that lays the way for the Antichrist. The Antichrist will rule the world by the way of the TV. He will have everybody hooked on the TV, and watching filthy stuff which allows demons to come into their homes. TV is many people’s number one idol, besides other things. The Antichrist will speak through the TV. Unsaved people cannot watch the TV during the tribulation, because they will be killed for not bowing down to him when he comes on TV. We should not watch filthy things on TV. (Over 400 words)

— End of report

Students were required to write a certain number of words for their reports (and they wrote LOTS of book reports) — thus the “over 400 words” statement at the end. Jason and his fellow students quickly learned how to use “filler” (AKA bullshit) to reach the word count requirement. 🙂

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 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 There a Difference Between the IFB and the NIFB?

ifb

In 2017, Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, gathered together a group of like-minded Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers to start a “new” IFB group. At its height, thirty churches were part of this group. Today, rocked by sex scandals, homophobic behavior, and internecine squabbles, the NIFB is no more. Its website is no longer active. Faithful Word’s website makes no mention of the NIFB, and Anderson’s YouTube channel has been terminated for violating YouTube’s terms of service.

Over the years, NIFB pastors Anderson, Donnie Romero, Adam Fannin, Jonathan Shelley, Grayson Fritts, and Logan Robertson, to name a few, have been in the news. Wikipedia states:

A split in the New IFB occurred in January 2019, after Donnie Romero, pastor at Stedfast Baptist Church-Fort Worth (SBC), resigned after it was revealed he had hired prostitutes, smoked marijuana and gambled. Adam Fannin, the lead preacher at SBC’s Jacksonville satellite campus, refused to acknowledge the authority of Jonathan Shelley, another Texas New IFB pastor who took over SBC–Fort Worth following Romero’s resignation. Anderson, Fannin and Shelley traded accusations of financial wrongdoing and running a cult. Fannin was later ejected as the lead preacher of SBC-Jax.

….

New IFB pastors have been the subjects of controversy on numerous occasions. The New IFB is strongly opposed to homosexuality, with several pastors advocating the belief that homosexuals should be executed. Anderson and other New IFB pastors have praised the Orlando gay nightclub shooting. On the weekend of the third anniversary of the shooting, the New IFB held a “Make America Straight Again” conference at an Orlando-area New IFB church. Also in June 2019, Grayson Fritts, pastor at New IFB-affiliated All Scripture Baptist Church and a former detective for the Knox County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office, delivered a sermon calling for the execution of gays.

The New IFB considers the modern nation of Israel to be a fraud and it also teaches that Christians rather than Jews are God’s chosen people. Anderson has also produced videos in which he attacks the religion of Judaism and questions the official account of the Holocaust. The New IFB, like older independent Baptist churches, has been accused of being cult-like.

Auckland, New Zealand, New IFB pastor Logan Robertson was deported from Australia in July 2018 after being accused of harassing Muslims at two Brisbane mosques. Robertson had previously attracted media attention after he stated that gay people should be shot and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern should “go home and get in the kitchen”.

Anderson started the NIFB because he believed the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement was going liberal. This claim was patently untrue. Certainly, some IFB pastors are more “liberal” now than they were years ago. However, their liberalism has more to do with peripheral issues than core theological and social beliefs. I have seen no evidence for the claim that the IFB church movement, in general, is becoming liberal. IFB churches, colleges, and pastors remain ardently and resolutely Fundamentalist. I recently saw a picture of a bluegrass singing group from Bob Jones University — a proudly Fundamentalist institution. I was surprised to see that the women in the photo were wearing blue jeans — a definite departure from their no-pants rule of yesteryear. This is what passes for “liberalism” in IFB circles.

Now to the question at hand: is there a difference between the IFB and the NIFB? The short answer is NO. There’s no difference theologically or socially between the two groups. The NIFB is just a group of churches and preachers who disagreed with other churches and preachers. The NIFB is little more than a squabble among siblings.

I refuse to use the NIFB moniker for Anderson and his gang of Fundamentalists. Using the NIFB label suggests to the uninformed that there’s a difference between them and other IFB churches. It leads to wrong conclusions too. NIFB pastors are hateful, bigoted homophobes. Look at how awful these preachers are, bloggers and reporters say. However, the IFB churches they broke from aren’t any better (generally speaking).

The IFB church movement is known for its infighting, divisions, and church splits. Did you know that you can find the first IFB church in the Old Testament?

Genesis 13 says:

And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; Unto the place of the altar, which he had make there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

Abraham and his nephew, Lot, got into a squabble. Abraham’s solution was that they separate from one other. Lot agreed. The Bible says: “and they separated themselves the one from the other.” A crusty old preacher said at a pastor’s meeting I was attending years ago that this passage aptly described how IFB churches are started. Those in attendance laughed, knowing that he was right.

From 1983-1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, an IFB congregation in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Much of the church’s adult attendance growth came from people leaving local IFB churches and joining Somerset Baptist (we also gained members from non-IFB churches too). In its heyday, Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. Scores of people from IFB churches joined with us, and for a time, virtually every service at Somerset Baptist was buzzing with excitement. What was God fixing to do next? we wondered. Two years later, most of the people who came from local IFB churches were gone. Many of them went back to their old churches, while others moved on to other IFB churches. Our attendance went from 200 to 50, and our income dropped by fifty percent. Stories like this in the IFB world are not uncommon.

I see no evidence for the claim that there are differences between the NIFB and IFB church movement. What we have is an Abraham-Lot squabble, not the establishment of a new sect.

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 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.

A Few Thoughts on People Who Say, “Praise God, I Have Never Changed my Beliefs”

i shall not be moved psalm 16

One common refrain often heard in some corners of the Evangelical world goes something like this: Praise God, I have NEVER changed my beliefs. I am seventy years old and I still have the exact same beliefs I had at age twenty — fifty years ago. There is this idea floating on the brackish backwaters of Evangelicalism that posits that change is bad or even sinful. Pastors and congregants pride themselves in having held to the one true faith their entire lives, that their Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, pneumatology, and hamartiology are the same yesterday, today, and forever. These theological purists will also say that their behavior hasn’t changed either. The sins they were against in the 1970s are the same sins they oppose today. These “just like a tree planted by the waters, I shall not be moved” Christians believe that they love what God loves and hate what God hates; that their interpretations of the sixty-six books of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Christian Bible align closely with God’s mind; that, thanks to the Holy Spirit living inside of them as their teacher and guide, they are spiritually mature people who feast on the meat of the Word of God, not the pablum most Christians slurp. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-13)

In most spheres of life, learning new things and discarding old beliefs, practices, and ideas is desired and expected. Not in Evangelicalism. Evangelicals cherish certainty. The Apostle Paul told young Timothy, the preacher in 2 Timothy 1:12, KNOW in whom I have believed. Pastors challenge congregants to have a know-so salvation. Is it any wonder, then, that because a premium is placed on certainty, it breeds arrogance and leads people to think that their beliefs have never changed? Bruce, are Evangelicals who think this way glorying in ignorance? Yes, and the Bible gives them cover for their ignorance in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

For Bible-believing Evangelicals, being considered unlearned and ignorant by the “world’ is a badge of honor.  What Evangelical doesn’t want it said of them, they had been with Jesus?

Paul warns the church at Colossae in Colossians 2:8:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Video Link

Evangelicals are frequently warned by their pastors to beware of the philosophies, traditions, and rudiments of the world.

Better to be ignorant and know Jesus than to have a Ph.D. and go to Hell. Take that Bart Ehrman!  A quick survey of Evangelicalism reveals all sorts of beliefs that lie deeply rooted in certainty-driven ignorance. Creationism, King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism, to name a few, require adherents to deliberately and resolutely tune out any data that contradicts their beliefs. Science tells us that creationism is false. Evangelical solution? Ignore science, and by faith believe that what the Bible says in Genesis 1-3 is literally true. The same goes for King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism. When Evangelicals holding these beliefs find themselves intellectually challenged, they run to the safety of faith, ignoring anything that shows their theological and historical beliefs are false. Charismatics and Pentecostals do the same. They KNOW that God works miracles, baptizes people in the Holy Ghost, and gives spirit-filled people the ability to do mighty works in Jesus’ name, including speaking in tongues. Believing that their interpretations of certain Bible passages are infallibly correct, these swing-from-the-chandelier Christians reject anything that suggests otherwise.

More than a few Evangelicals will object to what I have written here. While they will admit that there’s a lot of ignorance in Evangelical churches, their churches and pastors value intellectual pursuit. While this sounds good, when these claims are more closely examined, pseudo-intellectualism is often found. While these intellectual “giants” of the Evangelical faith do indeed read books and spend significant amounts of time studying — I know I did for most of the years I spent in the ministry — it is WHAT they read and study that is problematic. True intellectual inquiry requires following the path wherever it leads, leaving no stone unturned. Such inquiry requires people to meet truth head-on, not retreat or attempt to veer around intellectual obstacles. As a former Evangelical pastor of twenty-five years and now an atheist, I challenge Christians to carefully examine what they say they believe. Surely, any belief worth having can withstand scrutiny and investigation, right? Right? R-i-g-h-t?

Evidently not. When Evangelicals have doubts or find their beliefs challenged, what do they do? Many of them run to their pastors (indoctrination specialists) for encouragement and support. Keeping asses in the pews is crucial — no asses, no offerings — so when congregants come to them with questions and doubts, these so-called men of God will often recommend reading “safe” books written by Christian apologists or approved Christian authors. Some pastors, especially those who pride themselves in having three books in their library — Bible, concordance, and dictionary — will tell doubters to, by faith, cling to Jesus, read the Bible, and pray, reminding them that DOUBT is caused by Satan and his emissaries in the world. Here’s looking at you, Bruce.

Evangelicals who pride themselves in being “widely” read — commonly found among Evangelical Calvinists — do spend significant time studying and reading. It is what they read that is the problem. While these Evangelicals will, at times, venture beyond the safe confines of the Evangelical bubble, most of their reading and study is of authors considered orthodox. In other words, they only read books that reinforce their presently-held beliefs. While there is some lateral movement in Evangelicalism — Arminians becoming Calvinists, Baptists becoming Charismatics, Premillennialists becoming Amillennialists, Non-cessationists becoming Cessationists, and rigid, far-right-wing Fundamentalist Baptists becoming generic Evangelicals, most believers continue to hold on to the peculiar beliefs of their tribe, sect, or church. Their theological pursuits rarely, if ever, take them beyond the safety of their current beliefs and practices. Rare are Evangelicals who are willing to risk losing their faith in their search for truth.

Is it any wonder, then, that a premium is placed on being steadfast in the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)?  Revered are men and women whose theological roots run deep and who can always give an answer about the hope that lies within them (1 Peter 3:15). As an Evangelical pastor, I learned early that congregants wanted certainty. They wanted a pastor who firmly stood on the Word of God and had unmovable, unshakeable faith. If I had questions and doubts about this or that belief, church members didn’t want to hear about it. Tell us the unvarnished truth, Pastor Bruce. The reason, of course, for such desires is that many Evangelical church members have a borrowed belief system; that what their pastor believes is what they believe. Years ago, my theology shifted from the Baptist theology of the IFB church movement to Calvinism. As I began preaching expositionally and teaching congregants what Calvinists call the doctrines of grace, I was shocked by how few church members had a problem with the seismic changes in my theology and preaching. Looking back on this now, I have concluded that what mattered to members was having a sense of community and having a church family call home. Most of them were never going to read the books I did or spend hours a day studying the Bible. Unlike their pastor, who had a job where he was actually paid to read and study, they had secular jobs that demanded their time and attention. They also had families to care for. What congregants wanted most of all was assurance that they were on the right path; that what they believed squared with the Bible. They were willing to trust that what I said was true. After all, I was the man God had chosen to be their pastor. Surely God and his man had their best interests at heart, right?

I pity and feel sorry for Evangelicals who pride themselves in never changing their beliefs. Many Evangelicals are just like people who never travel far from home. They have never experienced the rich diversity that lies beyond their doorstep. Years ago, during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days, a large group of new people showed up one Sunday to attend our morning service. I thought, at first, which nearby IFB church had a split? This group was not, however, disgruntled Baptists. They were Methodists. Once a year, their church canceled a Sunday service so attendees could visit a different church. Their pastor believed it was good for church members to be exposed to the heterogeneity found in Christianity. I thought, what an odd and dangerous thing to do — exposing members to potentially heretical teaching. Of course, I was glad they came to Somerset Baptist Church — The Fastest Growing Church in Perry County. God brought them my way so I could teach them the TRUTHWhy, some of these Methodists probably aren’t even saved, I thought at the time. If they were really, really saved, they wouldn’t be members of a liberal church. Later in life, I came to see how wise the Methodist pastor was; that attending a wide spectrum of churches is a cure for arrogant, self-assured Fundamentalism. The next-to-last church I pastored (for seven years) — Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio — used an advertising slogan that stated, The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian. As its pastor, I was willing to embrace all those who claimed the name Christian — Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Pentecostals, to name a few. The catholicity of Christianity was more important to me than theological orthodoxy.

I slowly came to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did; that my theological underpinnings were just one of many ways of interpreting the Bible. I finally learned that I wasn’t infallible, and neither was the Bible. I suppose, had my experiences been different, my changed understanding of Christianity and faith might have led to mainline Christianity, liberalism, or Universalism. Instead, questions and doubts pushed me down the slippery slope Evangelical preachers warn about. Better to rest in certainty of belief and practice than end up like Bruce Gerencser, Evangelical pastors warn. Look at what happened to him! He is now, of all things, a God-hating, sin-loving atheist.  I may, indeed, be a cautionary tale, but I am here to tell readers that a wild, woolly, wonderful world awaits those who will abandon certainty of belief and allow intellectual inquiry to lead the way. Life becomes about the journey instead of the destination. Will you join me? (Please read Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser and Ralph Wingate Jr Uses Me as a Sermon Illustration.)

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 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.

A Letter to a Former Parishioner: Dear Wendy

bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

Dear Wendy,

You have contacted me several times in recent years via Facebook, hoping to reconnect with the man you once called Pastor. Shockingly, you found out that I am no longer a Christian; that I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God; that I proudly self-identify as an atheist and a humanist. I can only imagine how difficult and heartbreaking it was for you to read my blog for the first time. You are not the first former church member to feel this way. I am sure you hoped that you would find me faithfully serving Jesus, preaching the gospel, and winning souls to Christ. Instead, you found out that I have repudiated all that I once believed and preached.

We were Facebook friends for a short while, and then you unfriended me. I told you that I understood your decision to unfriend me. I know my story can be troubling and disconcerting to those who were once close to me. You sent me another friend request, yet before I could accept it, you thought better of friending me and deleted the request. Again, I understand. You have a hard time reconciling the Bruce who was your pastor in the 1980s, and the Bruce of today. Because your worldview requires you to frame and measure everything according to your interpretation of the Bible, you find it impossible to square my life today with that of thirty-plus years ago. From a theological perspective, the current Bruce Gerencser is a lost man headed for Hell, yet you remember a Bruce Gerencser who loved God and devoted his life to following after Jesus.

Set the religious stuff aside for a moment. Instead of attempting to see me through religious eyes, how about seeing me through human eyes? The kind, loving, compassionate, temperamental, flawed man who pastored Somerset Baptist Church decades ago still exists. The man you have such fond memories of is still alive and well — though physically in poor health. From a human perspective, I haven’t changed much. The character strengths and flaws I had as your pastor still exist today. Next month, I will turn sixty-four, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is this: humans rarely change. We are, character-wise, who we are. While my beliefs, politics, and worldview have dramatically changed over the years, my nature has not. Sure, age, sickness, and time have affected me, as they do all of us, but, for the most part, I am not much different today from who I was during the exciting days when Somerset Baptist was a thriving, growing church.

If you can ever look beyond your theological beliefs and see Bruce, the man, you will find out that the man you once loved and respected is right in front of you. Sadly, many Evangelicals cannot see people for who they are because their theological beliefs force them to define people according to what the Bible says instead of what they can see with their eyes. Your fellow Christians routinely savage me. I have been repeatedly told that I am evil and a follower of Satan. Evidently, what I believe, and not my behavior, determines what kind of man I am. The moment I said, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I went from a loving husband, father, and grandfather to a man who is worthy of scorn and derision; a man, some say, who is hiding a life of debauchery and licentiousness.

You have two choices set before you, Wendy. Either you can embrace and befriend the Bruce of 2021, or you can hang on to the memory of the 1987 Bruce. I would love to be friends with you in the here and now, but life is too short for me to worry about people who cannot see beyond my beliefs and are thus unable or unwilling to befriend me. Virtually all of my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and ministerial colleagues, have been unable to remain friends with me post-Jesus. I understand why this is so. Fidelity to Jesus and the Bible was the glue that held our relationships together. Once I deconverted, that which bound us was gone. Rare are friendships that survive for a lifetime. Today, almost thirteen years after I attended church for the last time, I have two Evangelical friends. Everyone else has written me off or turned me into a sermon illustration, a warning of what happens when someone no longer believes the Bible is true.

Since you can’t seem to bring yourself to befriend me as I now am, you are left with your memories of the time we spent together in the rolling hills of Southeast Ohio. And that’s okay. I, too, have many fond memories of the eleven years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church. Nothing in the present can change the experiences of the past. If it helps you think better of me, then, by all means, cling to our shared memories, pushing from your mind thoughts of Atheist Bruce. If you ever want to be friends again, you know where to find me.

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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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Bruce Gerencser