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Tag: Soteriology

Evangelical Woman Says Calvinism is Satanic and Blasphemous

Today, I received an email from an Evangelical woman named Cheryl who emphatically stated:

Just have a comment. Calvinism is a false Gospel and is not from God. To me it’s from Satan and blasphemy.

Best I can tell from the logs, Cheryl read Why I Hate Jesus, the About page, looked at posts associated with the tag Calvary Baptist Church Dundalk, watched part of my talk to the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, and looked at the front page. All told, she spent about ten minutes on this site.

Typically, I just sigh (please see Why I Use the Word “Sigh”) when I get emails such as this one. Filled with certainty, arrogance, and judgmentalism, writers such as Cheryl are so puffed up with themselves that there’s little, if anything, I can say that will make a difference.

Is Calvinism a false gospel? The email writer says yes! How can she possibly know this? Evangelicalism is rife with gospels. How does one possibly determine which gospel is right? If my eternal destiny depends on me believing the right gospel, how do I figure out which gospel is the “faith once delivered to the saints?” The Bible says there is “One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism,” yet every Evangelical church seems to preach “Their Lord, Their Faith, and Their Baptism.” Who is right? Cheryl is certain, absolutely certain, “I know whom I have believed” certain, that her gospel is the right one. Based on the plethora of Evangelical gospels, how can she possibly know that her gospel is true, and, by extension, all other gospels but her’s are false?

Calvinistic soteriology teaches that salvation is of the Lord; that no one can be saved unless God saves them; that God predestines some people to salvation. Further, Calvinists believe that God is sovereign over all things; that nothing happens that is not according to his purpose and plan. Calvinism, of course, is much more complex than what I have stated here, but this will suffice for the purposes of this post.

Wikipedia describes Calvinism this way:

Calvinism (also called the Reformed Tradition, Reformed Protestantism or Reformed Christianity) is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice set down by John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians. It emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the authority of the Bible.

Calvinists broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. Calvinists differ from Lutherans (another major branch of the Reformation) on the spiritual real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, theories of worship, the purpose and meaning of baptism, and the use of God’s law for believers, among other points. The label Calvinism can be misleading, because the religious tradition it denotes has always been diverse, with a wide range of influences rather than a single founder; however, almost all of them drew heavily from the writings of Augustine of Hippo twelve hundred years prior to the Reformation.

As you can see, Calvinism is a subset of Protestantism. It has a rich history, with adherents found in countless sects across the globe. Here in the United States, millions of Christians claim the Calvinist moniker. Cheryl would have us believe that these people are Satanic and blasphemous. She seems to lack charity towards his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

I was a Calvinist for a number of years. I drank deeply from the Puritan/Reformer well. I can confidently say that Calvinism is Biblically supported. Of course, so is Arminianism and every other Christian soteriology. There’s no possible way to reconcile these various schools of thought. How could we possibly determine who is right? It seems to me that everyone is right, and that the goal should be to humbly follow Jesus and charitably accept those who claim the name of Christ. From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. The main door into the building had these words on its glass: The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian. By this time, I had moved a long way away from the narrowminded bigotry of my IFB years. I was still a Calvinist, but I no longer viewed other Christians as suspects or less than. That allowed me to befriend a number of ministers in town; men who I would have banished to the darkness of Hell years before.

This email reveals Fundamentalist thinking; a worldview based on certainty of belief. Cheryl might want to debate theology with me — and I am game — but the greater issue is her heart. The Bible speaks of unity, yet everywhere unbelievers look they see disunity and internecine warfare. Jesus said in John 13:34-35:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Where can one find this sort of Christianity today? While there’s nothing that can be said that would incline me to return to Christianity, I am more than willing to admire and appreciate a faith grounded in love of believers for their fellow man.

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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Why My Preaching Changed After 1988

bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

Recently, Jeff asked a question about something I wrote. He asked me to explain this statement:

I spent the remainder of my time in the ministry trying to get saved people unsaved. This proved much harder than getting them saved. Embracing Calvinism in the mid- to late- 1980s forced me to reorient my approach to preaching and evangelism.

Jeff spent thirty years in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Hopefully, I can adequately answer his question.

When I entered the ministry in 1976, I preached the IFB gospel of one-two-three-repeat-after-me salvation, also known as easy-believism or decisional regeneration.

In 2015 I wrote:

Bob Gray, Sr., retired pastor of the Longview Baptist Temple (now Emmanuel Baptist Church) in Longview, Texas, is a super-duper salvation-dealing machine. Gray is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) who religiously subscribes to the Jack Hyles Easy-Believism, cheap-grace way of evangelizing lost sinners.

I was taught this kind of evangelism while a student at Midwestern Baptist College, but I came to see that it was little more than a cheap gimmick that allows preachers such as Gray to say: Look at how many people I won to Jesus. (Gray knows to the soul how many people he has won to Jesus over his long, illustrious preaching career.) It promotes a vacuous Christianity that does a real disservice to people who take the commands and teachings of Christ seriously.

Several years ago, Gray was in Albuquerque, New Mexico to hold a preaching meeting. While at a local Subway, Gray decided to do some soul winning. Here’s his account, which has since been pulled from his blog:

… Flew to Albuquerque, NM, and was picked up by Pastor Brent Lenetine who pastors the Gospel Light Baptist Church of Rio Rancho, NM. I will be joined by Evangelist Allen Domelee Sunday night and Monday. This is a great soul winning church!

After resting for a while I went next door to the Motel to get a bite to eat at the Subway Restaurant. I sat at a table next to a man named Bill McDermit. We joked a little bit together and after a while I went over to his table and continued our conversation. He lives alone in a house trailer and was a devout Catholic. After a few moments I presented the Gospel to him and he took me by the hand and prayed to receive Christ as his personal Saviour.

WOW! That old KJB is still preserved inspiration and is THE incorruptible seed that brings life to a dead soul! Don’t treat this issue of preserved inspiration lightly. He who sticks his head in the sand gets his behind kicked! Either the KJB is inspired or it is not! Which side of this issue are you on?

Let me summarize Gray’s testimony:

Gray is on the prowl for souls in Albuquerque.

Gray is hungry, so he goes to Subway to eat.

He jokes around with the elderly trailer-living Catholic man next to him. The joking is a pretext for what comes next.

After a few moments, Gray shares the Jack Hyles IFB plan of salvation with the Catholic man.

The life-long Catholic sees the error of his way, takes Gray’s hand, and prays the sinner’s prayer. Holding the hand is important, much like the salesman giving you the pen. Hold their hand and you are more likely to close the salvation deal.

In but a few moments this man goes from a headed-for-hell Catholic to a . . . uh . . . let me think . . . oh, I know! A Catholic who prayed a prayer so the busybody preacher would let him finish his sub.

And don’t forget that Gray used the all-powerful 1611 King James Bible to win this man to Jesus. It has supernatural powers that perverted, Satanic, non-inspired versions do not have.

This is the bankrupt gospel preached in countless IFB churches.

IFB preachers love to brag about how many souls are saved in their churches or revival meetings. Every soul saved is another notch on their gospel six-shooters. However, what happens to these sinners after they are saved? Do they get baptized? Do they join the church? Do they regularly attend church? Do they live their lives according to the teachings of the Bible? In most instances, no. IFB churches retain a fraction of the people whom they report making salvation decisions. A pastor may humble-brag about 300 people getting saved, yet when asked if his church’s attendance correspondingly increased, he will likely say no. It seems, then, there’s a huge disconnect between the methodology used and the fruit it bears.

In July 1983, I started Somerset Baptist Church, a new congregation in the southeast Ohio community of Somerset. The church later moved five miles east of Somerset to an abandoned Methodist church building. From 1983-1988, six hundred people were saved under my ministry. During this time, the church reached a high attendance of 206. Every week, sinners were being saved, but most of them never became active members of the church.

The disconnect between these two things began to trouble me. After reading John MacArthur’s seminal book, The Gospel According to Jesus, I concluded that I was preaching a truncated, bankrupt gospel; that I was making people seven-fold children of Hell. I realized that many church members had a superficial understanding the Christian gospel and God’s expectations for the followers of Jesus.

In 1989, I repudiated the IFB gospel and embraced Evangelical Calvinism. I began preaching expositionally. I spent two years preaching through the Gospel of John — 125 sermons in all. One of my goals was to show church members the true gospel of Sovereign Grace, and ask them to examine their lives and determine whether they were “in the faith.” This thinking transformed every aspect of my preaching and ministry. I stopped giving high-pressure altar calls, choosing to let the Holy Spirit do his perfect work. Very few people made public professions of faith post-1989. In fact, for the next decade, the number of souls saved was minimal, less than twenty. I was content to focus on my preaching and let God do the saving.

I believed then, and still do, that this approach results in better quality converts; people who understand the gospel and know what God expects of them. Saying you are a Christian should mean something. At the very least, it should mean that you take the teachings of the Bible seriously and daily work to put them into practice in your life. One need only look at modern Evangelicalism to see that churches are largely filled with cultural Christians. Oh, they believe, but when it comes to living according to the teachings of Christ, they give little more than lip service to his demands. How else do we explain that 82% of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and if given a chance to do so in 2024, they will do so again. There’s no possible way a Christian can vote for Trump and stay true to the teachings of the Bible. And then there are the daily sex scandals in Evangelical churches, as documented in the Black Collar Crime Series. It’s hard not to look at Evangelicalism as a whole and puke. I suspect Jesus, were he still alive, would do the same.

I may be an atheist, but I still believe that if people claim to be Christian, they should take their faith and the teachings of the Bible seriously.

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.

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, 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.

Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?

saved or lost

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

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

What do I mean by the word “saved”? Delivered. Redeemed. Set free. Born again. Regenerated. Bought by the blood. Justified (looked at by God just as if I never sinned).

The Bible says:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9,10)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8.9)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)

Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9)

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)

Oops. Scratch that last one. Don’t want to start a war between the Baptists and the Campbellites (Churches of Christ); sects who famously fight over the Greek word eis (for) in Acts 2:38. The Baptists believe people are baptized eis (because) their sins have been remitted, but the Campbellites — who were excommunicated by the Baptists for preaching baptismal regeneration — believe people are baptized eis (for, in order to) have their sins remitted. Neither group believes the other is “saved.”

Most Christians interpret the aforementioned verses, and others, in a basic, generic way:

I am a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. Three days later Jesus resurrected from the dead. Believing this message to be true, I admit I am a sinner, I repent (turn from or change my mind) of my sins, and, by faith, I trust Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. I am trusting Jesus to save me and keep me until I die. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus, I know I will go to heaven when I die. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

There are three basic schools of thought when it comes to salvation. I know there are various shades of each of these. Please, spare me the emails and comments that say I didn’t properly describe YOUR TRIBE. This post is not a doctoral thesis on “Christian Soteriology Through the Ages.”

Once Saved, Always Saved

There is the “once saved, always saved” school. According to this school of thought, once a person is saved, he can never be un-saved. No matter what the person does, no matter how the person lives, he is saved forever. A person can stop attending church, stop doing ANYTHING that remotely suggests that he is a Christian, yet “once saved, always saved.” One noted Evangelical writer, R.B. Thieme, even said that a person could go to the altar and be saved and then leave the church, curse God, and live like a heathen the remainder of his life . . . it matters not, “once saved, always saved.”

This is the soteriological belief of most Baptists and Evangelicals. Salvation becomes “fire insurance.” People don’t want to go to Hell, so they get saved. Whew, that’s over. Next! How ’bout them Cowboys!

Coupled with this belief is the notion that the believer will be rewarded someday for doing the right things in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

So, people might be “once saved always saved” but if they don’t live right, they will lose their Heavenly rewards. The nature of this loss of rewards is never clearly defined. Maybe their mansions won’t have indoor plumbing or satellite TV? (John 14:1-6)

Some “once saved, always saved” believers realize that their version of salvation really looks bad. They know their brand of salvation makes it looks like they are preaching a “live like hell, still go to heaven” gospel.

To counter this, they teach that Christians who live carnally (worldly, fleshly) will be chastised (beaten, corrected) by God in this life. If a carnal Christian is not chastised, it is proof that he was never “really” saved. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Countless once-saved-always-saved Baptists have told me that I am still a Christian. No matter what I do, no matter what I believe, I can never, ever lose my salvation. I suppose if this is the case, then there will be a lot of atheists in Heaven.

Conditional Salvation, Arminianism

Arminian sects believe in conditional salvation. Arminian sects include Freewill Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostals, and others.  They believe a person is saved by grace, but kept by works (works they perform by and through the power of God, so it is really all of grace). In this school of thought, people can only know they are saved in the present moment. Their future salvation is conditioned on them doing the right things.

A believer can do certain things that will result in the loss of salvation. Some Arminian groups believe you can only lose your salvation one time. In other words, “once saved, once lost, always lost.”

The Bible says in Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Other Arminian groups believe a person can repeatedly be saved, lost, saved, lost, saved. They often talk about a line that is crossed, when a person goes from a state of grace to being lost again. I have asked repeatedly over the years exactly where that line is, and no Arminian can tell me. I have been told by more than one Arminian preacher, “You just KNOW when you have crossed the line.”

Arminians have no problem explaining my life. It is quite simple to them; I once was saved, and now I am lost.

Perseverance (Preservation) of the Saints, Calvinism

The final school of thought is the Calvinistic school. Calvinist groups such the Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, some Southern Baptists, Sovereign Grace Baptists, and Episcopalians, to name a few, adhere to what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (which were actually articulated as a reply to the Arminians). Point number five is the perseverance (preservation) of the saints.

The perseverance of the saints is “once saved, always saved” with a twist.  Calvinists believe salvation is a work done totally by God. From start to finish, it is God who does it all. A person cannot believe, exercise faith, or do anything apart from God giving them the power to do so. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Now, God only saves a certain number of people. God knows exactly how many he will save. They are the elect. They have been predestined to salvation. No one but the elect will be saved. Everyone else need not apply.

The God who saves is the God who causes believers to persevere to the end. If they don’t persevere to the end, then that is proof they were never saved to start with.

After hearing my deconversion story, Calvinists conclude I never was saved.  I didn’t persevere. I had received common grace, but not God’s special, saving grace. In other words, God toyed with me, and then said “fuck you, go to Hell.” The contradiction in their conclusion is that they cannot know if I might yet persevere in the future. Perhaps, I am just going through an atheist phase, and I will return to Christianity at some later point and time.

Calvinists cannot know for sure they are saved. They can HOPE they are. They can constantly examine their lives to see if they are availing themselves to the means of grace, but until they die, they cannot know for sure they have made it to the finish line. They MUST persevere to the end to be sure. They are hoping God comes through for them, but they won’t know for sure until the end. After all, they too could be deluded. They too could be following a false Christ. Perhaps God is just toying with them too, and they will end up bunking in Hell with atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Steven Hawking, Steve Gupton, Gandhi, Bruce Gerencser, and all those who preached the false gospel of Arminianism.

Imagine a person going from church to church trying to find out the one true Christian message of salvation. You would think Christians could agree on the most basic of truths: salvation.

But they don’t.

I am convinced that Christians better hope that God is a universalist. If not, Hell is going to be filled with Christians.

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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Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Five

sovereignty-of-god

In the previous posts in this series, I have talked a lot about the doctrines of grace, also known as the five points of Calvinism. Today, I want to talk about the sovereignty of God — the singular, overarching belief that binds Calvinistic theology together. What do Calvinists mean when they speak of the sovereignty of God? If there’s one book that every newly minted Calvinist has likely read — no, it’s not the Bible — it would be A.W. Pink’s classic, The Sovereignty of God. Since this book is widely accepted as the definitive Calvinistic statement on the sovereignty of God, I thought I would let Pink define the doctrine:

The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

….

The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.

Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture.

Simply put, saying God is sovereign means that He alone is responsible for and controls EVERYTHING! Of course, such a statement quickly leads to the critics of Calvinism saying, so God is culpable for sin? Calvinists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around this logical conclusion, including answering in the affirmative — Yes, God is responsible for sin. If God is sovereign and he decrees all that happens without exception, then the only conclusion one can come to is that God is responsible for sin. So what? some Calvinists say. God is God and he can do whatever he wants to do. Whatever God does is right because it is God who is doing it.  When objections are raised, Calvinists reply, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. In other words, he is God, the creator and we are the created. He is the potter, as the book of Romans says, and we are the clay. God can and does do whatever he wants, and as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 9, those who object to God’s sovereignty need to shut the hell up (okay, he didn’t say it like that word for word, but you get my point). As finite beings, mankind has no right to criticize or condemn God’s works.

When I first came to know and understand the sovereignty of God, I was relieved. For the longest time, I carried the burden of building a church congregation on my shoulders. While God was certainly there right along beside me, I knew it was up to me to get things done. As a Calvinist, I no longer felt pressured to get this or that done; that if God wanted me to do something he would bring it to pass; that if God didn’t want something done there was absolutely nothing I could do. Now, in retrospect, I know that only way anything gets done is if I do it. I suspect that’s how it works for you in your life too. And Calvinism aside, a case can be made for taking this approach to life; that praying and “waiting” on God often become camouflage for laziness and indifference.

As the sovereignty of God permeated every aspect of my ministerial and personal life, how I approached things began to change. The first thing I did away with was giving altar calls — a manipulative tool popularized by nineteenth century evangelist Charles Finney. The second thing I did was turn my attention away from aggressive evangelistic efforts. Instead, I focused more of my time on my studies; on preparing my sermons; on preparing lessons for Sunday school and, later, an elders’ class. As I mentioned in a previous post, I set my sights on un-saving congregants who had been saved during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days. I believed that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized version of the Christians gospel, so it was my solemn duty to preach the Calvinistic gospel. I learned, after six years of such efforts at one church, that it is much harder to get people un-saved than it is to get them saved. The third thing I did was breatheGod is in control, I told myself. No need to stress out over winning the lost. If God wanted them saved, well he would save them. My job was to preach the gospel.

During my early years as a Calvinist, I read John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In this book, MacArthur demolished my IFB soteriology. MacArthur believed: “The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority.” IFB pastors generally believed that a person could be saved, yet not make Jesus Lord of their lives. The crux of the argument was whether sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. Many IFB preachers believed in what Calvinists called decisional regeneration; the belief that by praying a simple prayer a sinner was saved. Requiring sinners to repent of their sins was, in the eyes of many IFB preachers, works salvation. MacArthur would not have any of that, saying that the lordship of Christ was not optional; that if a person was not willing to forsake his sin and totally follow Jesus there would be no salvation for him. (See One, Two, Three, Repeat After me; Salvation, Bob Gray Style.)

One story that stands out from this time is a written interaction I had with Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord — an IFB newspaper. Previous to Hutson, John R. Rice was the editor of the Sword. Rice had written in a tract titled What Must I Do to Be Saved? that sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. No repentance, no salvation. Hutson, after taking over the Sword, decided to rewrite the part in the tract that talked about repentance. Hutson, like many of the big name IFB preachers of the day, believed that repentance was a mere change of mind: I was against Jesus and now I am for him; I was headed east and now I am headed west; I was a sinner and now I believe in Jesus. Men such as Jack Hyles and Bob Gray, Sr. turned this intellectual assent into an art form. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people prayed the sinner’s prayer, believing that by doing so they became Christians. No mention of repenting of sin was mentioned. To do so was to preach works salvation. And that’s exactly what Curtis Hutson told me when I wrote him. I called him out on his secretive change of Rice’s tract. I told Hutson that he materially changed what Rice believed; that Rice’s gospel and his gospel were not the same. Hutson responded by telling me that I was preaching works salvation, a gospel that did not save.

Rice was no Calvinist, but he did believe that repentance was essential to salvation. If a person was not willing to forsake his sin and follow after Jesus, there would be no salvation for him. Back in my college days, I went door to door attempting to evangelize sinners. My goal was to share with them the simple plan of salvation (The Roman’s Road) and ask them if they wanted to be saved. If so, I asked them to pray the sinner’s prayer. (See The Top Five Reasons People Say the Sinner’s Prayer.) Once they prayed the prayer, I declared them to be a newly-minted Christian. One day, I happened upon a woman I thought might need saving. As I started to go into my spiel, she — realizing I was one of those terrorist preacher boys from Midwestern Baptist College — stopped me and said, there’s no need for you to continue. I already did that. I asked her where she went to church and she replied, nowhere. I am saved now. Why do I need to go to church? Men such as Hyles, Gray, Sr, Dennis Corle, Hutson, Steven Anderson, and countless other IFB preachers believe that this woman, if she “sincerely” prayed the sinner’s prayer, was saved, a new-born child of God. Rice, MacArthur, and the now Calvinistic Bruce Gerencser believed the woman was still dead in trespasses and sins, and headed for hell unless she repented of her sins and followed after the Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

As a Calvinist, I believed that sinners were spiritually dead, unable to believe without God giving them the ability to do so. Man was bound by sin, and unable to do anything about it unless God intervened. This intervention was called regeneration; the giving of life to dead sinners. For most (not all) Calvinists, regeneration preceded faith. Since unregenerate humans had no free will and were spiritually dead, it was impossible for them to believe on their own. As an IFB preacher, I believed faith preceded regeneration; that spiritual life came when a sinner, by faith, asked Jesus to save them. As a Calvinist, my response to this notion was this: how can a dead man do anything?

My goal, then, as a Calvinistic preacher, was to preach the gospel in the hope that what I preached would find fertile ground in the hearts given life by the Holy Spirit. As an IFB preacher, so much of how people were saved depended on me: the right sermon, the right illustrations, the right delivery, the right invitation song. As a Calvinist, my objective was to simply preach the gospel; to declare the whole counsel of God. If sinners were going to be saved it was up to God, not me.

Numerically speaking, hundreds and hundreds of people were saved through my ministry and preaching as an IFB preacher. As a Calvinist, I saw a few people saved. As an IFB preacher, I expected people to be saved weekly. As a Calvinist, I found that months and months could pass without anyone saying that God had saved them. This, by the way, is typical. IFB churches tend to rack up large numbers of converts, whereas in Calvinistic churches conversions are few. IFB churches tend to focus on quantity, and Calvinistic churches on quality. Which is better? It all depends on what matters to a preacher. Does he want big attendance numbers, or does he value the intellectual growth of congregants?

Let me illustrate this difference with what is commonly called The Great Commission:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19,20)

IFB churches tend to focus on verse 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The goal is to preach the gospel to the whole world. Calvinistic churches, on the other hand, tend to focus on verse 20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. The goal is to teach followers of Christ his commandments. Rare is the church that fulfills both parts of the Great Commission.

As I survey my years in the ministry, I have to say that my Calvinistic years were far more rewarding personally and intellectually. I enjoyed the hard work required for crafting good sermons. I enjoyed spending hours upon hours reading books and studying the Bible.  As an IFB preacher, my life was consumed with the ministry, with winning souls, with building a growing church. As a Calvinist, I was content to be the resident intellectual; a man paid to study the Bible and read awesome books. I still cared about the souls of attendees and church members, but I no longer felt pressed to perform. Above all, as a Calvinist, I found that I had more time to spend with my wife and children.

In Part Six, I plan to write about how Calvinism affected my marriage and my relationship with my children. In particular, I plan to talk about birth control and family size. There’s a reason Polly and I have six children and why there’s six years between child number three and child number four and why we stopped having children after our youngest son was born. Stay tuned.

Note

For you who are interested in the difference between Rice’s version of the tract What Must I Do to Be Saved? and Curtis Hutson’s:

John R Rice wrote:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).

This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is in God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.”

So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins!

Do not misunderstand me. God is anxious for you to have a penitent, broken heart over your sins. You have gone away from God. You have trampled under foot the blood of Jesus Christ, wasted years of your life which you can never live over again. You have served your father, the Devil.

There is plenty for you to weep over, and I am not surprised if you feel deep shame and sorrow in your heart that you have so mistreated the God who made you and the Saviour who died for you. I am not surprised if you cannot keep back the tears! But what I want you to know is that tears or no tears, however much sorrow you may have in your heart, or not have, those things do not save you.

You ought to be sorry for your sins and ashamed of them. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance” (II Cor. 7:10)—the right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

“Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no respite know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Curtis Hutson changed the tract to this:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.” So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins! The right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

Other posts on the Sovereignty of God

Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Luck, Fate, or Providence?

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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Bruce Gerencser