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Tag: Speaking in Tongues

One Reason I Don’t Believe: The Silence of History

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The 2019 population of the Jerusalem was 936,000, according to Wikipedia. In 1948, the population of Jerusalem was 87,000. According to Wikipedia, the first-century population of Jerusalem was around 80,000, though this population would swell during Passover and other religious observances. When I lived in Yuma, Arizona, I observed a similar swelling of the population when the snowbirds arrived to spend winter in Yuma. Whatever the population of Jerusalem was during the three-year public ministry of Jesus, there were plenty of people who observed his works. Surely, there were thousands of eyewitnesses who could have written something about Jesus’s miracles, and his death, resurrection, ascension back to Heaven. Surely, there were eyewitnesses who could have written something about the acts of the Apostles and the early church. Why then, is there little or no historical record for the life and work of Jesus or the early followers of Jesus? God striking church members dead or causing the followers of Jesus to speak in unknown tongues surely were notable events, yet there is no record of them outside of the Bible. Why is this?

According to the Bible, the events leading up to the death of Jesus, his crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead, took place during Passover.  After the post-resurrection ministry of Jesus, Jesus ascended back to Heaven, and on the Day of Pentecost, while the followers of Jesus were gathered in an upper room, they were filled (baptized) with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2)

Acts 2:1-6 states:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

This miracle of speaking with other tongues caused quite a stir and, as a result, on one day:

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

In fact, according to Acts 2:47:

And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Every day people were being saved, baptized, and added to the church, or so says the author of the book of Acts.

In Acts 3,4 we find Peter and John going to the Temple to preach the gospel. While they faced great adversity from the Sadducees over their preaching that through Jesus people could be resurrected from the dead, Acts 4:4 states:

…many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.

So, in a short amount of time, the Acts narrative moves from 120 followers of Jesus being gathered in an upper room to 3,000 people being saved, baptized, and added to the church, to 5,000 men believing the preaching of the gospel. Yet, outside of the New Testament, which was written decades after the events recorded in Acts 1-4, there is no historical mention of a large number of people becoming followers of Jesus. There is no mention of 3,000 people being publicly baptized on one day. There is no mention of a large gathering of Jesus’s followers in the outer court of the Temple.

In fact, there is no non-Biblical historical record for any of the astounding events recorded in the Gospels and Acts. Suppose a well-known man died in the community you live. You saw him die. With your own eyes, you saw his dead, embalmed body. Yet, three days later, this same man came back to life and was sitting with his family and friends at the local Applebee’s. Do you think such a miraculous event would make the front page of the newspaper? Do you think it would be trending on Twitter? Do you think everyone in your community would quickly know about the dead man brought back to life? Yet, when it comes to Jesus the miracle worker, a man who purportedly raised people from the dead, cast demons out of people, gave sight to the blind, restored the hearing of the deaf, walked on water, and walked through walls, there is no non-Biblical historical record of any of his works.

According to the Bible, Jesus was well-known in Jerusalem. When he came riding into Jerusalem on a colt (or an ass, you decide) people lined the streets and cheered him. This same man, a short time later, was arrested, publicly humiliated, nailed to a cross like a common thief, and buried in a borrowed grave. Three days later — however you count three days — (please see  I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend) this same well-known Jesus resurrected from the grave and appeared to over 500 people. Pretty newsworthy stuff, right? Yet, outside of the Bible, there is no historical record of these events.

Even more astounding, according to Matthew 27, at the moment Jesus died:

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

At the very moment Jesus died, the veil of the Temple, a curtain that was likely 30 feet wide, 60 feet high, and four inches thick, (using 18 inches as the measurement for a cubit) was torn in half. And according to the Gospel of Mark, there was an eclipse at the moment of, or right before Jesus died. Ponder for a moment such astounding events, yet, outside of the Bible, there is no record of them ever occurring.

If that is not astounding enough, consider that the Bible says when Jesus died the graves of the saints were open and out popped resurrected followers of Jesus. These resurrected saints went into Jerusalem and appeared to many people. Yet, not only is there no non-Biblical historical report of this happening, none of the other gospel writers or Paul mention it. Surely, dead relatives and dead fellow believers resurrecting from the dead and walking about the city of Jerusalem would be important to 1st century Christians, yet outside of Matthew, no one mentions it.

Yes, later Christian authors, working from the text of the Bible and stories passed down to them, speak of these events being true, but why are there no Roman or Jewish historical writings that mention these astounding events?

I am well aware of the various arguments that can be made, but I don’t buy them. It seems far more likely that these miraculous, astounding events never happened. Yes, Josephus possibly said:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

I say possibly because what Josephus actually said is a matter of great debate (the oldest manuscript of Josephus’s writings is dated a thousand years after his death). Regardless of the authenticity of the aforementioned passage, Josephus does not mention, outside of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, any of the miraculous events that occurred at the time of the death of Jesus. Why is this?

This is one of the reasons that I do not believe the central claims of Christianity are true. While this is not proof for there being no God, it does call into question the narrative that many Christians proclaim is pure, unadulterated truth.

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.

The Prayer Circle

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Five of us, in a circle, could barely fit into the cinderblock-walled, windowless room. George: earnest, stringy-haired lab assistant. Julie: tall, blonde lithe fresh-faced freshman. Deanna: the petite, attractive brunette whose ambitions in life were to translate the Bible “the right way” and to “bring souls to the Lord.” Thalia, a tall, rawboned Black woman whom, as it turned out, Julie had invited to a prayer meeting but didn’t seem to have talked much with her, or anyone else in that group or on that campus.

And me. It was the middle of October, a few weeks into the semester. At the beginning of it, I knew only Deanna, from the year before. With her smile and friendly manner, she had little trouble meeting people. On the other hand, when I met her, I was almost as socially isolated as I had been the year before, when I first arrived on campus. The one friend—or, more precisely, the friendliest acquaintance—I’d made was with Robert, a young gay man: the first person with whom I’d ever had a real conversation about sexuality—my own, his or anyone else’s. The other male freshmen, it seemed, were performing the same kinds of exaggerated masculine heterosexuality—or, at least their notions of it—I saw in high school.

I am now ashamed to admit that I spent time with Robert when there were no witnesses, save for two friends of his—one, a straight guy, the other a lesbian, both of whom seemed a few years older than either of us. On the other hand, as I became friends with Deanna, I made a point of being seen with her: Nobody would question my sexual orientation or gender identity—in those days, almost everybody conflated the two, as I did—at least, not openly.

Oh, and she was one of the reasons I joined a campus Christian fellowship and was in that room with her, George, Julie, and Thalia. I told her, and she told them, I thought I might be gay, mainly because I couldn’t identify with other males and the only trans women I knew about were Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards, both of whom seemed as different from me as the frat boys on campus. Turns out, Thalia told Julie she thought she was gay, which didn’t surprise me but, of course, I didn’t voice that.

The ostensible purpose of the gathering was for us to “be filled with the spirit” so that Thalia could “overcome” her “sinful” desires. They probably wanted to pray the gay out of me, too, though no one said as much. Anyway, George began with some soliloquy about gathering in the hope of receiving the Lord’s help and blessings. About all I can remember accurately is a paraphrase of a verse from Ephesians: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.”

Since George was earnest in the way only a young person who believes he has God and truth and justice on his side can be, he wasn’t being ironic when he paraphrased that verse in the presence of me and Thalia, one of the few people I’ve ever met who seemed more alienated and adrift than I was at that time. He intoned, “Lord, we entreat you.”

Then Julie started to drone a bunch of syllables that began and ended with drawn-out vowels sandwiching truncated consonants: aaahbaaah, or something like that, followed by sounds even less coherent or recognizable, at least to me. Before that day, I’d heard from other members of the fellowship that she could “speak in tongues.” I guess that’s what they were talking about, I thought.

As Jo droned on, Thalia started to let out long, low sobs that turned into wails, then into near-howls. She lay on her side—I opened my eyes while everyone else’s were shut—in a near-fetal curl, shaking like a child who needs a warm blanket. Her body’s vibrations turned into seemingly-volcanic convulsions, in which she thrust her arms and legs, as if trying to heave them away from her body. Her howls abated into a series of staccato grunts.

Julie continued her incomprehensible “prayer.” Deanna shouted, “Satan, leave her! You have no authority over her!” But Thalia continued to heave, grunt, and thrust her arms and legs. Deanna grasped my left hand, George my right. They said, in unison, something vaguely comprehensible—a prayer? a Bible verse? —that I can’t remember now. Julie finally said something I could understand: “Oh Lord, we pray for our sister, Thalia, that you may heal her. “Amen,” she, George, and Deanna chanted in unison.

The following day, I woke on the worn carpet of that room. Deanna slept in a dorm bed to the left of me; Julie in another bed to the right. I saw George a couple of days later and asked about Thalia. “The Lord is helping her now,” he said. I never heard about her again.

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.

Why Pentecostals Speak in Tongues and Baptists Don’t

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Graphic from A Beer for the Shower

There is no such thing as “Christianity” — as in a singular group encompassing all Christians. The Bible says that there is ONE Lord, ONE faith, and ONE baptism, yet Christians have spent the last two thousand years trying to prove that their peculiar beliefs are the one, and only one, TRUE CHRISTIANITY®. Every Evangelical sect, every Evangelical pastor, every Evangelical church member thinks their beliefs are right. This kind of thinking is fueled by believing that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible book, written through human instrumentality by God himself. It should come as no surprise that many Evangelicals, believing that they hold in their hands the very words of God, are cock-sure that what they believe is exactly what God meant when he had holy men of old write the this or that passage of Scripture. Armed with certainty, Evangelicals have no place for doubt. Doubt is of the devil! preachers say. I’m standing on the promises of God. Praise Jesus! Just remember, it was SATAN who said to Adam and Eve, yea hath God said (yes, he spoke in King James English). God has spoken, end of story.

If, as Evangelicals say, God has inerrantly and infallibly spoken, why is it, then, that Evangelicals have such varied and contradictory beliefs? If two thousand years after the purported resurrection of Jesus from the dead, all Christians had the same theological beliefs, I might at least pause to consider whether the claims of Christianity are true. However, there are countless Christianities, each with its own beliefs. Worse yet, there are countless Jesuses, with every Christian molding and shaping a Jesus in his or her own image. (Please read Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation? and Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?) Christians can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion. If Christians can’t reach a consensus about what constitutes the one true faith, why should anyone pay attention to them?

Let me illustrate this by answering the quandary: Why Pentecostals speak in tongues, and Baptists don’t.

First, the Baptists. I grew up in the Baptist church, so I am quite familiar with how Baptists view speaking in tongues. SPEAKING IN TONGUES IS SATANIC, STRAIGHT FROM THE PIT OF HELL! There, end of discussion. I was taught, and later taught others, that speaking in tongues was a temporary sign gift given to Jesus’ disciples so they could spread the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Once the canon of Scripture was completed, the need for tongues went away. Evidently, once Christians of the fourth century had read all sixty-six books of the King James Bible for their reading pleasure, God no longer used tongues to speak to people.

On the other hand, the Pentecostals believe that speaking in tongues is very much for today; that it is normal for Spirit-filled Christians to speak in unknown languages. Several sects go even so far as to say that one of the evidences of salvation is speaking in tongues. Don’t speak in tongues? You aren’t saved! Upon hearing I was a Baptist preacher,one Pentecostal man told me that Baptists wouldn’t know the Holy Spirit if he met them in the middle of the road. In other words, Baptists were blind to work and power of the H-o-l-y Ghost.

Years ago, I got into a heated discussion with a Pentecostal preacher over speaking in tongues. I gave him all the standard Baptist arguments, and he gave me all the classic Pentecostal arguments. Back and forth we went, neither of us winning the day. I am sure after we parted company, each of us believed that we had been victorious. Ha! I showed him!

Such conflicts as the one mentioned above are quite common. Why do Pentecostals believe in speaking in tongues, but Baptists don’t? Both sides use the Bible as proof for their beliefs. GOD HATH SPOKEN, both sides say. If God has indeed spoken, why the contradictory beliefs? God seems quite schizophrenic, telling the Baptists one thing and the Pentecostals something different. Surely, if God and the Bible are as Evangelicals claim they are, there would only be one truth, not many.

The only way to adequately answer this question is to carefully examine the matter from a tribal and sociological perspective. (Please read Why Most Americans are Christian.) Look at the religious environments people grow up in and you will have a good idea why they believe as they do. Look at their tribal and social influences, and it becomes clear that Pentecostals speak in tongues and Baptists don’t because these were the beliefs they were exposed to. They believe what they do because they couldn’t believe otherwise. While not a hard and fast rule, most often Baptists beget Baptists and Pentecostals beget Pentecostals. While Evangelical adults certainly can and do change churches, they often look for churches of “like” faith. When people change churches, they most often seek that which is familiar to them. Not always, of course. Sometimes, Baptists do become Pentecostal tongues-speakers, and Pentecostals can become starched, English-only Baptists. These, however, are exceptions to the rule.

Perhaps Christians will one day figure out exactly what is the one true faith. I doubt it, but as someone who believes in probabilities, it is possible, say .000001 percent, that God’s chosen ones will finally figure out exactly what it takes to be a member of their club. Until then, buy some popcorn, pull up a seat, and enjoy the show.

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.

Bruce, Have You Ever Had a Supernatural Experience?

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A commenter on this blog, T34, recently asked the following question on the post titled, Is Christianity a Blood Cult?

I read a few of the articles [on this blog] and none of the titles seem to answer my question. Please know I [am]not an evangelist. I honestly am searching for answers. I want to know if Bruce has had any supernatural or spiritual (not religious) experiences or relationship with God or another? I would like to understand more why Bruce chose to be an outright atheist as opposed to just non-religious or agnostic. And if he has had any supernatural or spiritual experiences I’d like to know what they were and what he thinks of them now.

Polly and I typically listen to The Atheist Experience on Sunday nights before we go to bed. This week, Matt Dillahunty, one the hosts, mentioned the difficulty in defining the word “spiritual” or “spirituality.” Ask a hundred people to define these words and you will get 101 different answers. “Spiritual” to a Baptist is very different from the way a Catholic, Buddhist, Pagan, or humanist might define the word. T34 equates “spiritual” with “supernatural,” so I will proceed using that definition, understanding that there is no absolute textbook definition for these words. For example, a Charismatic Christian considers speaking in tongues to be “supernatural” experience. An Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, however, considers speaking in tongues a tool used by Satan to lead people astray.

Before I answer T34’s question, I do want to answer one claim that she makes: she suggests that supernatural and spiritual experiences are not religious. I don’t believe that at all. It is religion, in all its shapes and forms — organized or not — that gives life to supernatural and spiritual claims. Without religion, I doubt humans would have much need for such experiences.

My editor pointed out that non-religious people can and do have paranormal experiences. Are paranormal experiences such as “seeing” ghosts supernatural in nature? Maybe, but I suspect that if naturalism and science had a stronger hold on our thinking, thoughts of ghosts would likely fade away. I’m deliberately painting with a BWAPB — Bruce’s Wide Ass Paint Brush. I recognize that there could be some experiences that might not fit in the box I have constructed in this post. Unlikely, but possible.

I had a church piano player in Somerset who was certain that her dead lover (long story) appeared next to her when she played the piano. I never saw him, but she swore he was right there cheering her on as she played “Victory in Jesus.” Could her story be true? Sure, but not in the way some people may think it is. Her story is true in the sense that she “thinks” it is. In her mind, this man is very real, even though his dead body is planted in the nearby cemetery. Thus such things can be “true” without actually being factually and rationally true.

I was part of the Christian church for 50 years. While I spent my preschool years in Lutheran and Episcopal churches, once I started first grade in 1963, I attended Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Southern Baptist, and garden variety Evangelical churches. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, pastoring my last church in 2003.

When I discuss the spiritual/supernatural experiences I have experienced in my life, these events must be understood in light of the sects I was raised in, what my pastors taught me, what I learned in Bible college, and my personal learning and observations as a Christian and as an Evangelical pastor. My understanding of what is spiritual/supernatural is socially, culturally, tribally, and environmentally conditioned. A Southern Baptist church can be located on the northwest corner of Main and High in Anywhere, Ohio and a Pentecostal church located on the southeast corner of Main and High in the same town. Both preach Jesus as the virgin-born son of God, who came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross for our sins. Both preach that all of us are sinners in need of salvation, that one must be born again to inherit the Kingdom of God. And both believe Satan is real, Hell is sure, and Donald Trump is the great white hope. Yet, when it comes to “experiencing” God, these churches wildly diverge from one another. The Pentecostals consider the Baptists dead and lifeless, lacking Holy Ghost power, while the Baptists consider their Pentecostal neighbors to be way too emotional, to have a screw loose. Both churches “experience” God in their own way, following in the footsteps of their parents, grandparents, and older saints who have come before them.

As a man who pastored several churches in desperate need of change, I heard on more than a few occasions church leaders and congregants say, when confronted with doing something new or different, “That’s not the way we do it!” Behaviors become deeply ingrained among Christian church members. Our forefathers did it this way, we do it this way, and we expect our children and grandchildren will do the same. A popular song in many Evangelical churches is the hymn, “I Shall Not be Moved.” The chorus says:

I shall not be, I shall not be moved.
I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
like a tree planted by the water,
I shall not be moved.

That chorus pretty well explains most churches. Whatever their beliefs and practices are, they “shall not be moved.” So it is when determining what are real “spiritual” or “supernatural” experiences.

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As a Baptist, I believed the moment I was saved/born-again, that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, came into my “heart” and lived inside of me, teaching me everything that pertains to life and godliness. It was the Holy Spirit who was my teacher and guide. It was the Holy Spirit who taught me the “truth.” It was the Holy Spirit who convicted me of sin. It was the Holy Spirit (God) who heard and answered my prayers. It was the Holy Spirit who directed every aspect of my life.

As a pastor, I typically preached a minimum of 4 sermons a week. I spent several full days a week — typically 20 hours a week — reading and studying the Biblical text, commentaries, and other theological tomes. As I put my sermons together, I sought God’s help to construct them in such a way that people would hear and understand what I had to say. Daily, I asked God to fill me with his presence and power, especially when I entered the pulpit to preach. I always spent time confessing my sins before preaching, believing it was vitally important for me to “right” with God before I stood before my church and said, “thus saith the Lord.”

I expected the Holy Spirit to take my words and use them to work supernaturally among those under the sound of my voice. I believed that it was God alone who could save sinners, convict believers of their sin, or bring “revival” to our church. I saw myself as helpless — without me, ye can do nothing, the Bible says — without the supernatural indwelling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

As a committed Christian, I was a frequent pray-er. I prayed for all sorts of things, from the trivial to things beyond human ability and comprehension. I believed that with God all things were possible. In the moment, I believed that God, through the work of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was working supernaturally in my life, that of my family, and of my church. My whole life was a “spiritual” experience, of sorts. God was always with me, no matter where I went, what I said, or what I did, so how could it have been otherwise?

In November 2008, God, the Holy Spirit, along with all of his baggage, was expelled from my life. For the past twelve years, I have taken the broom of reason, science, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry and swept the Christian God from every corner of my mind. While I wish I could say that that my mind is swept clean of God, dust-devils remain, lurking in the deep corners and crevasses of my mind. All I know to do is keep sweeping until I can no longer see “God” lurking in the shadows.

T34 wants to know how I now view the “spiritual” and “supernatural” experiences from my past life as a Christian and Evangelical pastor. As an atheist, I know that these experiences were not, in any way, connected to God. I have concluded that the Christian God is a myth, that he/she/it is of human origin. If there is no God, then how do I “explain” the God moments I experienced in my life? Does Bruce, the atheist, have an explanation for what “God” did in his life for almost 50 years?

Sure. The answer to this question is really not that difficult. I spent decades being indoctrinated by my parents, pastors, and professors in what they deemed was the “faith once delivered to the saints.” This indoctrination guaranteed the trajectory of my life, from a little redheaded boy who said he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up — not a baseball player, policeman, or trash truck driver, but a preacher — to a Bible college-trained man of God who pastored seven churches over 25 years in the ministry. I couldn’t have been anything other than a pastor.

And so it is with the “spiritual” and “supernatural” experiences I had in my life. My parents, churches, pastors, and professors modeled certain beliefs and practices to me. I “experienced” God the very same way these people did. Social and tribal conditioning determined how I would “experience” God, not God himself. He doesn’t exist, remember?

I sincerely believed that, at the time, God was speaking to me, God was leading me, and God was supernaturally working in and through my life. But just because I believed these things to be true, doesn’t mean they were. A better understanding of science has forced me to see that my past life was built upon a lie, a well-intended con. This is tough for me to admit. In doing so, I am admitting that much of my life was a waste of time. Sure, I did a lot of good for other people, but the “spiritual” and “supernatural” stuff? Nonsense. Nothing, but nonsense. And saying this, even today, is hard for me to do. It’s difficult and painful for me to admit that I wasted so much of my life in the pursuit of something that does not exist.

T34 asked why I “chose to be an outright atheist as opposed to just non-religious or agnostic.” I am not sure what an “outright” atheist is as opposed to an atheist. Remembering what I said about the connection between religion and the “spiritual” and “supernatural,” isn’t someone who is non-religious an atheist or an agnostic? While such people may not carry such labels, aren’t non-religious people those who do not believe in deities? If someone believes in a God of some sort, be it a personal deity or some sort of divine energy, they can’t properly, from my perspective, be considered non-religious.

Granted, there is a difference between people who are non-religious and people who are indifferent towards religion. An increasing number of Americans are indifferent towards religion. They simply don’t give a shit about religion, be it organized or not. I suspect that many of these NONES will eventually become agnostics and/or atheists.

I label myself this way:

I am agnostic on the God question. I am convinced that the extant deities are no gods at all; that the Abrahamic God is a human construct. That said, I cannot know for certain whether, in the future, a deity might make itself known to us. I consider the probability of this happening to be .00000000000000000000001. Thus, I live my day-to-day life as an atheist — as if no deity exists. I see no evidence for the existence of any God, be it Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, or a cast of thousands of other gods. The only time I “think” about God is when I am writing for this blog. Outside of my writing, I live a God-free life, as do my wife, dog, and cat.

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.

Bruce, You Are Misrepresenting Evangelicals

whining evangelical

I am often accused by readers of misrepresenting Evangelicals in my writing; that my descriptions and criticisms of Evangelicalism don’t apply to a reader’s sect, their church, or to them personally. I have heard, more times than I can count, Evangelicals say: my church is different, my pastor is different, my denomination is different, my college is different, I’m DIFFERENT, DIFFERENT, DIFFERENT! While it is certainly true that not all Evangelicals are the same, often the alleged differences are little more than the differences between ice cream flavors. Same basic ingredients with different flavors and toppings. Evangelicals can whine, bitch, moan, and complain about my writing, but the fact remains that I was part of the Christian church for 50 years, an Evangelical pastor for 25 of those years, have Evangelical family members — including pastors, evangelists, and missionaries — and closely follow the machinations of the Evangelical community. I am confident that I have a good handle on Evangelical beliefs and practices.

Over the years, I have perused the doctrinal statements of numerous Evangelical sects, churches, and parachurch organizations. The agreement I find in these documents allows me to conclude what it is that Evangelicals believe. Add to that the fact that I pastored six Evangelical churches, and I think I have a good handle on the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

But, Bruce, Evangelicals don’t agree with one another one a host of theological beliefs! I understand that, but such differences are tangential to the cardinal doctrines all Evangelical profess to believe. Thus, Charismatics speak in tongues, Baptists don’t. Holiness Christians believe in entire sanctification, Baptists don’t. Some Evangelicals are Calvinists some are Arminians, and others are Calminians. Evangelicals are all over the place when it comes to eschatology and ecclesiology. Some believe baptism is required for salvation, others don’t. The list of differences is extensive. See, Bruce, you are proving my point! No, actually, I am not. If you look underneath these peripheral differences — often called “distinctives — you find unity of belief:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin (usually subscribing to the substitutionary atonement theory)
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and Hell are literal places

Anyone who claims to be an Evangelical yet denies one or more of these cardinal doctrines is Evangelical in name only. The fringe of the Evangelical tent is littered with pastors, professors, and congregants who hold all sorts of liberal/progressive Christian beliefs, yet refuse to own what they are. And I get it. Towards the tail end of my ministerial career, my beliefs were definitely not Evangelical. Yet, Evangelicalism was home. It was all that I had ever known. I couldn’t bring myself to abandon my metaphorical family, even though I was liberal/progressive belief-wise. Even today, 12 years removed from walking away from Christianity, I still, at times, miss my family. Not Jesus, not the ministry, but the social connection I had with many loving, wonderful people. 

Often, Evangelicals think I am misrepresenting them when I have the audacity to claim that Evangelicals are Fundamentalists. This argument alone has led all sorts of objections from Evangelicals who scream from rooftops, I AM NOT A FUNDAMENTALIST! However, as I show in my post, Are Evangelical Fundamentalists? Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalists both theologically and socially. There’s simply no way to be an Evangelical and not be a Fundamentalist.

Well, Bruce, I don’t care what you say, I am an Evangelical, and I am not a Fundamentalist! You can self-identify any way you want, but just because you do so doesn’t change the fact that your theological beliefs and social practices are Fundamentalist. If you walk, talk, and act like a Fundamentalist, you are one. 

I get it. Evangelicalism is the most hated religious group in America. Thoughtful, kind, generous Evangelicals hate what Donald Trump and his merry band of culture warriors have done to our country. However, is the answer to stay on the deck of the Titanic as it rolls into the sea? If you are truly not a Fundamentalist, then join up with sects and churches that reflect your progressive/liberal beliefs and practices. Stop enabling the Evangelical monster. Let it die the death it so richly deserves.

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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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The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Charismatic Preacher Perry Stone Checks Phone While Speaking in Tongues

perry stone

The Sounds of Fundamentalism is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Charismatic preacher Perry Stone checking his smartphone while speaking in tongues. I wonder if God was texting him?

Video Link

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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.

Baptists, the Holy Spirit, and Being Endued with Power From on High

pentecost
Cartoon by Kevin Frank

In Luke 24, we find the risen Jesus appearing to his eleven disciples and several other people, saying to them: “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” After Jesus uttered these words, He ascended to Heaven and hasn’t been seen since. From that moment forward, Christians have wondered what Jesus meant when he said his followers would be “endued with power from on high.”

I was taught growing up in Baptist churches that the power spoken of by Jesus was the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost); that prior to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his ascension to Heaven, the Holy Spirit came UPON God’s chosen ones but did not permanently live inside of them. Once Jesus was gone from the scene, he sent the Holy Spirit (comforter) to earth to live inside every believer. I was taught similar pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit) in Bible college.

In Acts 2, we find the followers of Jesus gathered together on the day of Pentecost. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came upon them and “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Most Evangelicals believe that this was the moment that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in every believer and endue them with Heavenly power. I am just kidding: most Evangelicals don’t agree on anything — Holy Spirit included. You would think receiving the Holy Spirit would be quite simple, but thanks to endless arguments and debates amongst those who claim to have ONE LORD, ONE, FAITH, ONE BAPTISM, Christian sects have all sorts of pneumatological beliefs. Let me share a few of them with you.

Many Baptists believe that the moment a person is saved, the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence inside of them. Now, that’s only for people who are saved after the resurrection of Jesus. Those saved before the resurrection of Jesus — say people in the gospels and the Old Testament — the Holy Spirit came upon them when he needed to use them in some sort of powerful, supernatural way. Once this was accomplished, the Holy Spirit departed.

Other Baptists believe that the Holy Spirit has always lived in saved people — both before and after the resurrection of Jesus. These Baptists see a continuity between the Old and New Testaments. This belief is popular among worshippers of John Calvin.

And yet other Baptists believe that all saved people are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but “special,” on-fire, sold-out Christians can receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit if they really, really, really beg God to give it to them. Some preachers I heard growing up called this being baptized with the Spirit.

Wander off into the Evangelical weeds and you will find all sorts of additional — and contradictory — beliefs about the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit the moment you are baptized by immersion. Other sects believe similarly, except the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. What is speaking in tongues, you ask? Ah yes, another belief Christians are hopelessly divided over.

Most Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is Demonic. Some Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is the ability to speak foreign languages you haven’t learned. Pentecostals, Charismatics, Apostolics, and some garden-variety Evangelical churches believe that speaking in tongues is some sort of babbling prophetic or prayer language; one that must be interpreted so hearers can understand; but then, maybe not — maybe it’s just a Heavenly prayer language that no one, including the speaker, understands. Turn on the TV and watch Christian programming and you will see plenty of speaking in tongues — interpreted and uninterpreted.

Back to the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit when you are saved, but if you want to want to have a close relationship with God, you need to beg him to fill you will his Spirit. Again, speaking in tongues or some other supernatural demonstration will be the requisite evidence for such fillings of the Holy Spirit.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I attended a number of southern-style camp meetings. It was not uncommon to “see” the Holy Spirit come upon people. They would start shouting, waving towels/hankies, running the aisles, walking on top of pews, and just about any other bit of religious craziness you can think of. I heard countless preachers say that the Holy Spirit gave them their sermons; that their preached words were straight from the Spirit himself. I had similar experiences while preaching. There were a few times when my sermons seemed to have some sort of special “zip” or anointing, and people responded to them in overtly emotional ways. One evening, in particular, I remember the service was overflowing with the Spirit. Sinners were saved and backsliders were reclaimed. Afterward, I was exhausted. God really used me for his purpose and glory, I thought at the time.

As you can see from this post, Christians have varied beliefs about the Holy Spirit and the outworkings of receiving said Spirit. It is these varied beliefs that make me wonder about the existence of God. If, as Christians believe, the Holy Spirit is essential to the salvation and the day-to-day lives of believers, why all the diverse and contradictory beliefs? Surely, God would want to make sure every Christian was on the same page when it came to the Holy Spirit, right? Yet, they are not, and the same could be said concerning virtually every other article of faith.

If, over the course of 2,000 years, we saw that Christians generally believed the same things, it might cause us to pause a moment and consider whether those beliefs are true. Instead, what we have is countless sects, each believing that their beliefs are true and all others false. This leads me to conclude that Christian religions are manmade, filled with internal and external contradictions. Either that or God loves confusion. Oh, wait, 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, God is NOT the author of confusion. If he’s not the author, who is? That’s right, humans are. And from this conclusion, it is clear: that religions — all of them — are human constructs; that the plethora of beliefs about the Holy Spirit reveals human engineering, not divine.

What were you taught about the Holy Spirit? Were you ever “filled” with the Holy Spirit? Did you ever speak in tongues? Please share your human utterances in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Testimony Time: The Blue Light Special at Somerset Baptist Church

blue light special kmart

Older readers might remember shopping at the stores of discount retailer Kmart and seeing what was commonly called a “blue light special.” Blue light specials were sudden discounts offered to shoppers during their shopping experience at Kmart. A store employee would roll a cart with a police-like blue light attached to a pole near the aisle where the sudden discount was going to be offered. At the customer service desk, another employee would announce to shoppers, for example, “ATTENTION KMART SHOPPERS! There’s a blue light special going on right now on GE light bulbs in aisle three!” The employee in charge of the blue light would switch it on. and with its flashing/rotating light, the blue light would guide customers to their exciting just-for-them discount on light bulbs. Woo-hoo!

For eleven years in the 1980s and 1990s, I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. I started this church in 1983, and remained its pastor until I resigned and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1994 to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. For a few years, Somerset Baptist was the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County. The church was known for its fiery redheaded preacher and its International Harvester-colored red and creme buses that bused in church attendees from Muskingum, Perry, and Fairfield counties. Reaching high attendances in the low 200s, this country church reached thousands of people for Christ.

The church also attracted more than a few people who had — in my Baptist eyes, anyway — screwy beliefs. One such person was the mother of a woman who was a member of the church (along with her husband and two children). I had visited this woman and her husband several times at their home, hoping that they would join their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in worshiping Jesus at the “fastest growing church in Perry County” — as the church’s sign said, anyway. I knew the woman had some charismatic tendencies, but I thought I could preach all that nonsense right out of her if she would only give me the opportunity to do so.

For those of you who are not aware of what charismatic beliefs are, let me describe them this way: all the miraculous spiritual gifts found in the Bible — healing, raising the dead, speaking in tongues, to name a few — are in force today. The favorite gift of charismatics is speaking in tongues — an unintelligible prayer language God gives to people who are filled/anointed/baptized with the Holy Ghost. As a Baptist, I believed that when a sinner was saved he received all of the Holy Ghost, and there was no more of Him to have. All Christians needed to do was utilize the power that was already within them. Charismatics tended to be an emotionally excitable lot, at least while worshiping Jesus. (I preached at several Charismatic/Pentecostal churches during my tenure at Somerset Baptist.) In their minds, babbling nonsense they believed was given to them by the Holy Ghost was a sign of God’s presence and power. Just turn on any of the dozens of national Christian TV channels and in short order you’ll see tongues-speaking on display.

The woman I mentioned above was a babbler, and this worried me a bit, but I thought that my Bible-saturated preaching would deliver her from charismaticism. Not only did this woman speak in tongues, she also believed that Jesus spoke to her, audibly. That’s right, this woman had conversations with a mythical entity she believed was the Jesus of the Bible.

As was our custom for many years, the church has a testimony time on Sunday evenings. This was time allotted for church members and visitors to stand up and share with everyone in attendance what Jesus had done for them over the past week. Sometimes, these brag-on-Jesus times turned into narcissistic, look-at-what-I-did-done-do for Jesus sessions. Often, testimony time was a time for congregants to lie about their relationship with God. One dear woman, who had been a smoker her entire adult life, stood up one Sunday and praised Jesus for delivering her from the filthy sin of smoking. We had a quite a praise-fest that night, thanking our Lord for delivering Sister R from her addiction. Years later, I learned that Sister R had, in fact, never stopped smoking, and that the only reason she said that she did was so she could have the appearance of a victorious Christian life like the rest of us. Oh, if she had only known that NONE of us, including her preacher, had victory over sin, she might not had felt compelled to lie. Sister R felt so guilty about not being as spirit-filled as the rest of us that she was willing to lie to her friends about her deliverance from smoking. Not long ago, Sister R died of cancer. I do hope that she found peace and rest. While her smoking most certainly contributed to her death, she had other qualities that deserved praise and admiration. Sister R was a kind, compassionate woman, but sadly, in the IFB church she attended, all that mattered was her sinful habit. As her dumb ass preacher used to say, smoking won’t send you to hell, but it sure will make you smell like you have been there! (Please read  Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Dinosaurs, and the SIN of Smoking)

On one particular Sunday night, the charismatic lady mentioned above decided to attend church with her daughter. She had visited several times before, and let it be known that she really liked my “old-fashioned” preaching. Prior to my sermon, I asked if anyone had a good word they wanted to put in for Jesus. Several people raised their hands, signifying that they wanted to brag a bit on their Lord and Savior. The charismatic woman excitedly raised her hand, anxious to let everyone know about a recent encounter she had with Jesus. When it came time for her to testify, she popped up  from her seat and said this (as recounted from thirty years ago):

I was asleep last night, and all of a sudden I awoke, feeling a “presence” in my bedroom.  As I stood to see this presence, my eyes saw a blinding blue light. Now, I knew that Satan could present himself as an angel of light, so I spoke to this light, saying, If that’s really you Jesus, please make yourself known to me. And right then and there I heard, Attention K-Mart Shoppers! (Okay, that last sentence was a bit of literary fiction, also known as preaching.)  And right then and there I heard a voice that said, it’s me, Jesus. Praise, the Lord. I knew then that the presence in my room was Jesus.

For those of you raised in the IFB churches, imagine my homicidal thoughts as this woman was regaling congregants with her version of a blue light special. I was oh-so-happy when she stopped testifying, and later let it be known among church members that her testimony was NOT an approved meeting with Jesus. We Baptists only talked to Jesus in English, and only while we were on our knees praying; and even then our talks with Jesus had to align with what the Bible said. In other words, ATTENTION CHURCH MEMBERS! There will NOT be any blue light specials at Somerset Baptist Church.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Don’t Trust Your Intellect by Bert Farias

bert-farias

Most Christians have a difficult time distinguishing their spirit from their intellect. Your conscience is the voice of your spirit. The Holy Spirit is more closely associated with your conscience than your intellect. As you pray in tongues, you are praying from the channel of your conscience through which the Holy Spirit speaks.

Our problem is that we are more accustomed to looking for God’s voice in our intellect. Our intellect is generally an unsafe guide because it is usually clouded with a mixture of the world’s thinking, where much of our decision-making is based on our best interests. Most Christians have a difficult time hearing from God, because their soul which comprises much of their intellect, is clouded with self, mingled with the world and yet has some Word in it.

— Bert Farias, Charisma News, Why Every Preacher Should Embrace Praying in Tongues, January 31, 2017

Bruce Gerencser