Tag Archive: Tom Malone

Why Many IFB Preachers Don’t Have Peaceful, Contented Lives

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a subset under the broad banner of Evangelicalism. IFB pastors and congregants tend to be theological, political, and social extremists. While their theological beliefs differ little from garden variety Evangelicals, how they engage and interact with the broader religious and secular cultures sets them apart from other Evangelicals.

Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Millions more attend IFB-like churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the late 1960s through the early 1980s, many of the largest American churches were IFB congregations. As our society moved leftward socially and morally, IFB pastors and institutions dug in their heels and refused to adapt or change. Thinking the methods they used were timeless truths that must be religiously practiced, IFB churches hemorrhaged members, losing them to churches that were not as intolerant or extreme. By the 1990s, once-filled megachurch auditoriums were empty, resulting in more than few IFB churches filing for bankruptcy or closing their doors.

In the mid-1970s, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Alabamian pulpiteer Tom Malone. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, which at the time was one of the largest churches in America, boasting thousands each week in attendance. Midwestern was never a large college, but the institution was noted for turning out preachers and church planters. By the late 1980s, Midwestern and Emmanuel Baptist were in serious numerical and financial free fall. Eventually, Emmanuel closed its doors and Midwestern became a ministry of an IFB church in Orion, Michigan.

What happened to Emmanuel Baptist continues to happen to IFB churches today. IFB pastors, with few exceptions, are Biblical literalists who refuse to believe anything that contradicts their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. IFB pastors, to the man, believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Some pastors even go far as to say that only the King James Version of the Bible is the Word of God; that other translations are the works of Satan. Literalism and inerrancy are considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. This has resulted in IFB pastors and churches believing all sorts of absurdities. IFB pastors are, without exception, creationists. Most of them are young earth creationists, believing that God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days, 6,022 years ago. Bible stories meant to illustrate greater spiritual truths are often taken literally, resulting in IFB adherents believing, among a host of absurdities, that the earth was destroyed by a universal flood 4,000 or so years ago, the sun and moon stood still (Joshua 10:13), and all humans trace their lineage back to two people — Adam and Eve.  Their commitment to literalism forces IFB pastors to defend fantastical things. If the Bible says it, it’s true. End of discussion!

While there is some eschatological diversity within the IFB church movement, literalism demands that pastors believe and teach that the events recorded in the book of Revelation will one day literally take place. Most IFB church members believe that the return of Jesus to earth is imminent. A wide, deep apocalyptic river runs through the IFB church movement, leading to an extreme love and devotion to God’s chosen people, Israel. President Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol is sure to excite IFB preachers — yet another “sign” that the return of Jesus is nigh. That this move could ignite the entire region and lead to war, is of little concern to IFB preachers. They believe that things must continue to get worse; that Jesus won’t come back to earth until the world stage is set for his triumphal return. This means that a war of epic proportions must occur, ending in Armageddon. While IFB preachers might not admit it out loud, I am certain many of them would welcome nuclear war, believing that such a war will make the world ready to embrace first the anti-Christ and then later Jesus when he returns to earth on a literal white horse to defeat the anti-Christ and Satan.

IFB pastors and churches are politically right-wing. If a survey were conducted with IFB adherents, I suspect surveyors would find that church members overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, and are anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-same sex marriage, and very much in favor of returning prayer and Bible reading to public school classrooms (even though many of them either home school or have their children enrolled in Christian schools). In earlier years, the IFB church movement believed there was a strict separation of church and state. Today, many IFB pastors and churches no longer believe the wall of separation exists, and that the United States is a Christian nation — a country chosen by God. This thinking can be traced back to the late 1970s when IFB megachurch pastor Jerry Falwell, along with Paul Weyrich, started the Moral Majority. Since then, scores of IFB pastors have used their pulpits to advance certain (almost always Republican) political policies and candidates.

Bruce, I thought this post was about why IFB preachers (and many within their congregations) don’t have peaceful, contented lives. It is, but I felt it necessary to show how IFB pastor think and view the world before explaining why so many of them lack peace and contentment in their lives. If the IFB church movement is anything, it is anti-culture. IFB pastors see themselves as prophets or watchmen on the walls, warning all who will listen that God is real, the Bible is true, and hell awaits all those who reject the IFB way, truth, and life. IFB preachers think it is their duty to wage war against Satan and the enemies of God. I can only imagine how hysterical IFB preachers are over LGBTQ acceptance, same-sex marriage, and the increasing prominence of atheism. Anything that challenges their beliefs must be refuted and turned back. Add to this the internecine warfare IFB churches are famous for, and it should come as no surprise that pastors find themselves constantly battling the “forces of darkness and evil.”  Every dawn brings a new day with new battles that must be fought. Not only must IFB preachers wage war against Satan, cults, false Christianity, liberalism, and secularism, they must also fight against those in their own movement who want to make IFB churches more “worldly.”

The battles, then, never end. Day in and day out, IFB pastors are in fight mode. And those who are not? They are labelled compromisers and hirelings who are only concerned with money and prestige. Is it any wonder then that IFB preachers rarely have peaceful, contented lives? Their lives are in a constant state of turmoil. Satan and the world are pushing against their beliefs and values at every turn. Not fighting back is considered cowardly, a betrayal of everything IFB believers hold dear. Go to any town in America where there is an IFB church and ask mainline pastors how they view the local IFB pastor and church. In most instances, mainline pastors will say that local IFB churches have extreme beliefs and seem to thrive on controversy. IFB pastors are viewed as outliers on the fringe of Christianity — haters and dissemblers who have no tolerance for anyone but those who adhere to their narrow beliefs and practices.

Separation from the world and separation from erring Christians is a fundamental doctrine within IFB churches. This too leads to never ending angst and stress. Concerned over encroaching “worldliness,” IFB pastors often have long lists of rules (church standards) congregants are expected to follow. (please read The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) While the rules vary from church to church, they are meant to inoculate church members from becoming infected with “worldly” ideas.  The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, said:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

1 John 2:15-17 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Verses such as these fuel IFB separatist beliefs and practices. The world is evil and must be, with few exceptions, avoided at all costs. This is why IFB pastors and institutions are the forefront of the Christian School and home school movements. What better way to avoid worldliness than to wall off families and children from the influence of “worldly” schools?

I am sure that many, if not most, IFB preachers would disagree with me when I say they don’t have peaceful contented lives. However, I would ask them to consider whether their constant battles against sin, worldliness, liberalism, and compromise have robbed them of the goodness, peace, and contentment life has to offer; that constantly being at odds with not only the “world,” but also fellow Christians, is bound to exact an emotional toll. Thinking you alone stand for God, truth, and righteousness requires constant diligence lest compromise and “worldliness” creep in. Aren’t you tired, preacher, of being constantly at war with everyone and everything around you? Maybe it is time for you lay down your weapons of war and rejoin the human race. Countless former IFB pastors and church members have done just that. Tired of the constant turmoil and unrest, they finally said, ENOUGH! and walked away. Most of them found kinder, gentler forms of faith, and a handful of ex-IFB believers have embraced agnosticism or atheism. Scary, I know, but not having to constantly be on guard lest Satan gain the advantage is worth the risk of judgment and hell. I am sure God will understand. A wild, wonderful world awaits those who dare to lay down their Fundamentalist beliefs and walk away. If you are ready to say ENOUGH! and want help plotting a life of peace and contentment, I would love to help you do so.

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: It’s Shameful for a Man to Have Long Hair by Tom Malone

tom maloneWe have been talking about liberalism in Christianity. I want now to talk about a fundamental, local, New Testament church like this one and others, scattered across America. There is coldness and worldliness even in these churches.

Jesus predicted that it would happen, in Matthew 24:12: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”. This is the day of “situation ethics”. This is the day when people say, “everyone’s doing it; so why not me?”. The Bible says, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”. Now folks, we have reached that coldness in the true, fundamental churches of America. I know organizations of fundamental, Bible-believing churches that are sound in the faith but dead. Coldness leads to liberalism. You can’t stay cold and stay true. If you are cold, you will soon depart from the truth. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”   Saved people are cold to each other. I see in the true church of Jesus Christ men struggling for their own personal benefit. There is a coldness toward each other, a no-care attitude about other Christians, and a disregard for the true body of Christ. God knows there is a coldness toward lost souls. How few Christians really care that multitudes are without God.

There is a coldness and an indifference to old-fashioned Bible preaching. God said, speaking to Isaiah, “Lift up thy voice, cry aloud, spare not, make my people know they have sinned.”  You think of God’s admonition in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…”. You think of Christians being joined in lodges and associations with unbelievers. You think of Christians in business with unbelievers. You may not be able to find a grocery store run by Christians. The mechanic who works on your car may not be a Christian. The man who cuts your hair may not be a Christian. I am not talking about a Utopia but about a communion. God said there is never to be a communion between a saved and an unsaved person. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…”   Here is what God says we are to do about it: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate…” (vs. 17). You say, “What is the answer to it?” That is the answer. I am preaching to people who belong to modernistic churches. I have people tell me, ”I don’t hear the truth where I go.”. But you keep going! You send in your money. You help support it. You pay a man of the cloth to speak who denies the Bible. So you are as guilty as he is. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate…” is the answer.

Folks, worldliness and coldness have come even into the true churches. You see it in the imitation of the world. First, I mention immodest dress. God knows the women of America are helping to send this country to Hell. Women, God bless you! We love you and we want to respect you, but for God’s sake, dress like a Christian. Paul wrote in 1st Timothy 2:9 and 10:   “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”   Why wouldn’t a Christian woman want to dress modestly? Some of you don’t like it, and you will whisper back and forth at the dinner table. But some of you want to be like the world. The people around you are going to Hell because you are no different from the world There are coldness and worldliness even in the church.

Let me tell you something else and I say it in love. You may say, “You don’t love men with long hair.”. Oh yes I do! But the Bible says in 1st Corinthians 11:14, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”. And the word “nature” there is “instinct”. What the verse is saying is, “Does not even instinct itself teach us it is a shame for a man to have long hair?”. That chapter is dealing with the fact that a lady ought to have long hair and that her covering before God is her hair. The same chapter says that instinct teaches us that it is a shame for a man to have hair like a woman. This long hair on men and short skirts on women are not pleasing to God.

We need to clean up. Don’t give me this old line, “Jesus had long hair”. All you have seen are pictures not more than two or three hundred years old, some artist’s conception of what Jesus looked like. Don’t give me that line. We don’t know whether Jesus had long hair, or sideburns, or what! but the Bible says it is a shame for a man to have long hair. While talking to someone the other day about the discipline and dress code in our school, this one said, “You mean people will put up with that?”.   I said, “Put up with what?” “Put up with what you put them through.”   I said, “We are not going to put them through anything but a happiness mill. They are happy that way.”. The most miserable people in the world are these folks who go around crabbing about the establishment because they want to be different. If you want to be different, get saved, get an old-fashioned revival in your heart, get a Bible under your arm and some tracts in your pocket and start soul winning and going to church. Folks will say, “Well boy, that fellow sure is different, isn’t he? In fact, I believe he is a little nutty!” Then you will really be enjoying it, right up to the hilt!

— Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan, excerpt from 1971 sermon titled Can America Survive?

1977: The Adventures of a Detroit Delivery Truck Driver

bruce midwestern baptist college pontiac michigan 1978

Bruce Gerencser, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac Michigan from 1976 to 1979. Midwestern, founded in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, is an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Midwestern’s unaccredited status meant that students did not have access to federal or state grant or loan programs. Most students worked a part-time or full-time job to pay their tuition bill. Dormitory students, of course, also had the added expense of room and board. While Midwestern had a rudimentary cafeteria that provided a light breakfast and lunch, dormitory students were not required to eat there. Most dorm residents ate a combination of fast food and boxed/canned food. The dormitory had a kitchen with a microwave and a few tables. Every afternoon and evening, weird wafting smells circulated through the dormitory as students tried to “cook” their meals. I still have fond memories of the time my fiancée, who is now my wife, decided to surprise me with a microwave-cooked meal of liver. Needless to say, the liver was inedible. Students who worked at local fast food restaurants would often bring home throw-aways to either eat or give to their friends. The dormitory did not have refrigerators, so in the wintertime these throw-aways would often be stored — for days on end — outside the dormitory in a snow bank. This crude form of refrigeration would allow students to ” safely” eat three-day-old McDonald’s hamburgers. Ah, the good old days.

I worked a number of jobs while a student at Midwestern. One such job was working for Orchard Lake Cleaners — a now-closed commercial drycleaner and laundry. Each afternoon after classes I would load laundered uniforms, towels, and dust mops into a Ford F350 box delivery truck and make deliveries to Detroit homes and businesses. The man who operated the cleaners was an alcoholic. It was not uncommon for me to come back from my deliveries to find him passed out, head on desk, and a partially emptied bottle of booze nearby. More than once I had to wake him up so he could pay me my under-the-table wages for the week. As will become clear later in this story, this job proved to be quite exciting and dangerous.

Every day, I would load up the deliveries for that day and make my way to Detroit to make deliveries. Some were made to homes, others to businesses. I’ve often wondered if there was more to my deliveries than just laundry. Some of the businesses I delivered to were in seedy parts of Detroit. One day, as I pulled in to a downtown business to make a delivery, I noticed a man and a woman having sex in the backseat of a car. Another time, at the same location, I walked in on some sort of shakedown. I knew that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, so I quickly shut the door and went back to the truck, leaving the order undelivered.

One day, I was driving down a Detroit city street on my way to my next delivery when a car turned on the one-way street and headed right toward me in the wrong direction. I successfully maneuvered the truck to avoid hitting the car head-on, but in doing so I clipped the mirrors off of several parked cars. I reported the accident to my boss, thinking that he would praise me for my astute driving skills. After all, I avoided an accident that would’ve likely totaled the truck. What I didn’t know is that there was no insurance on the truck. Needless to say, my boss was quite angry with me and wondered if perhaps he should get someone else to drive the truck.

Several days later, I was driving down one of Detroit’s many freeways and I noticed in the distance that several semi trucks were parked along the berm. Before I could slow down, I heard and felt a large BAM! on the top of the truck cab. What the heck (Baptist for hell)! I thought, as I quickly put on the brakes and pulled the truck to the berm. I got out of the truck and hopped up on the bumper to see what had hit the truck. Not only was there a huge dent in the cab, there was also a gash in the exterior metal face of the box. As I surveyed the damage, a beat up old car pulled in back of the truck and out jumped two white hippie looking men. They asked me what happened, and then proceeded to tell me that they were undercover Detroit cops. They were working nearby when they noticed a group of teenagers throwing cement blocks from the overpass to the roadway below. The semi trucks ahead of me had caught the blocks in the windshield, causing physical injury to one of the drivers. I was lucky that the block missed my windshield and hit the top of the cab instead. I am sure, at the time, that I thanked Jesus for watching out for me. Cue up Jesus Take the Wheel, right? I now know that I could have been seriously harmed or killed if the block had hit the windshield. Thrown a second sooner, and the block would have smashed into the windshield. Who knows what might have happened next.

Returning to the safe confines of the Orchard Lake Cleaners parking lot, I went into the office and told my boss that my truck driving days were over. Better to mindlessly run a machine than dodge criminals and concrete blocks. Several years later, someone dropped a bowling ball off an interstate overpass, instantly killing a woman. One second, often the difference between life and death. One second, and the life of Bruce Gerencser might have ended at the age of 19 on a Detroit freeway.

Sermon Illustrations: The Lies Preachers Tell

lying for jesus

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Dorm students were required to attend Emmanuel. One Sunday, Dr. Malone made a statement during his sermon that I have never forgotten. Meant to be a joke, Malone said “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.”

I was 20 years old when Malone made this statement. I will soon be 59. In the intervening years, I preached thousands of sermons and heard hundreds of other sermons, either in person or on cassette tape. Preaching is an art form meant to convey some sort of spiritual message to hearers. While Evangelicals love to make much of the Bible, preaching is far more than just reading the Scriptures. Following Jesus’ example, many preachers use stories to illustrates their sermons. Story-less sermons are, in my estimation, boring. I suspect most church goers would agree with me. Imagine going to church on Sunday and hearing a sermon that consists of a droning-fan-on-a-summer-day preacher reading the Bible word-for-word. B-or-i-n-g.

Illustrations help keep parishioners engaged. There’s nothing better than a couple of stories interjected at just the right time. In fact, many parishioners won’t remember anything about their preachers sermons except for the fantastical stories they told. Marge, wasn’t that a wonderful story Pastor Billy told today? Yes it was, Moe. Why, that one story was almost unbelievable. Pastor Bill wouldn’t lie, so I know he is telling us the truth.

Dr. Malone got it right when he said, “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.” Malone knew that preachers love to tell stories, and sometimes their stories are not as factual as they should be. Younger preachers often buy illustration books. These books provide preachers with a ready source of catchy, provocative illustrations sure to get the attention of parishioners. Older preachers often develop a cache of illustrations that can be pulled out of their mental file cabinet and used when needed. These illustrations often come from past experiences, especially for preachers who did a lot of “sinning” before Jesus rescued them. I have heard countless preachers regale parishioners with stories about their lives as drug addicts, drunkards, Satanists, atheists, or hit men for the mob. These stories often seem larger than life. And they are, because these kind of stories are often embellished.

I recently posted a video of anti-porn crusader Dawn Hawkins telling a story about seeing a man watching child pornography on an airplane.  Several commenters said that, based on their flying experiences, Hawkins was lying. I believe they are correct. I think the same could be said for many of the stories preachers use in their sermons. Simply put, these men are liars for Jesus.

The late Jack Hyles, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana was a masterful storyteller. I heard Hyles preach in person and on tape. His stories were mesmerizing, especially to a wide-eyed young Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher from Ohio. However, over time, I came to the conclusion that Hyles was a narcissistic, pathological liar.

For many years, Hyles pastored the largest church in the United States. Those raised in the IFB church movement know that for men such as Hyles, it was all about the numbers: church attendance, souls saved, baptisms, and offerings. The ministry was like a bunch of third grade boys in the restroom playing the who has a bigger penis game. Preachers who had John Holmes or Ron Jeremy-sized churches were considered men who were being mightily used by God. Young preachers and men who pastored smaller churches were expected to sit at the feet of these preachers, learning how they too could have a large church.

Hyles, due to his church’s number one place on the charts status, was viewed as a demigod by many IFB preachers. I was one such preacher. Hyles told stories about how many people he counseled, souls he had won to Jesus, and the thousands of miles he traveled to preach at Sword of the Lord conferences. Wow, what a great man of God, I thought at the time. I want to be used by God just like Brother Hyles.

I now know that Hyles’ stories were lies. He simply did not have enough hours in the week to sleep, eat, shit, have an affair,  pastor a church, win souls, and fly around the country to preach at conferences. As with all lies, Hyles’ stories had elements of truth. However, when carefully analyzed, Hyles’ sermon illustrations sound too good to be true.  Let me illustrate this with several stories found in Hyles’ book Let’s Go Soulwinning:

So I walked in and said, “Hey! Anybody home?” And there was—thirteen people at home—company all dressed up in suits and fine clothes. There I was. Imagine, Rev. Hyles, a cup in his hand, fishing hat on, split tee shirt, patch in his breeches, and a pair of tennis shoes on his feet! And I said, “Hello.” The lady looked at me, she looked at her company, then announced, “This is my pastor.” I was horrified! I was humiliated! I wanted to evaporate but couldn’t.  Finally I said, “Excuse me; I’m sorry.” Then I got to thinking. Shoot! Just take over the conversation. Just act like you have good sense. So in I walked. “How do you do! How are you? Are you a Christian?” I went around the entire room asking the same question. Then THEY got embarrassed.  (I found out long ago that when a preacher goes to a hospital or gets some place where he feels like a fifth wheel, he should just bluff them and take over the conversation. That will help you, too. It really will. You go to the hospital.  Here is the doctor, the nurse, the family. And everybody says, “That’s the preacher.” You know how you feel, pastors. It’s a terrible feeling. So I walk in, “Hello Doc. How are you?” Make HIM feel bad. Make HIM feel like he’s a fifth wheel.)

So I walked in and asked each person if he or she were a Christian. The last man, a young man, said, “No, I’m not, but I’ve been thinking about it.” Well, I said, “I can help you think about it right here.” We knelt there in that home and opened the Bible. He got converted. He lived at Irving, Texas, forty miles from Garland. I said, “Now, J.D., you need to walk the aisle in the church in Irving tomorrow.” He said, “If you don’t mind, Preacher, I’ll just stay over tonight and come to your church and walk the aisle.” He did, and that night he got baptized in my church. Later he joined the First Baptist Church of Irving, Texas.

You don’t realize how many places you will bump into people. I saw a lady while on vacation just recently. She said, “Hello, Brother Jack. Remember when you won me to the Lord?” I said, “I certainly do.” It happened while I was looking for a Mrs. Marsh. I knocked on Mrs. Marsh’s door—I thought. She came to the door. I said, “Mrs. Marsh?”

“No, I’m Mrs. Tillet.”

I said, “Mrs. Tillet, I thought Mrs. Marsh lived here.”

“No, she lives five houses down the street.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tillet.” I walked off. Then I said, “Wait a minute, Mrs.

Tillet. Are you a Christian?” She began to cry. I led her to Christ right there.

I have won shoeshine boys and fellows on airplanes. I was going to Phoenix to a conference last year. I sat down beside a man seventy-two years old, a wealthy rancher. “Where do you live?” I asked.

He said, “On a ranch between Phoenix and Tucson.”

I said, “Do you and your wife live alone?”

“My wife died a few months ago.”

I asked, “Do you ever think about having anybody else come and live with you?” “Oh,” he said, “If I could find somebody who would come and live with me, a friend to keep me company, I’d give anything in the world.” He had chauffeurs, servants. He owned a big ranch with hundreds of acres, but was as lonely as he could be.

I said, “I know Somebody who would come and live with you.”

“You do? Does He live in Phoenix?”

I said, “He sure does. He lives everywhere.”

He said, “Who is it?”

“Jesus will come.” In fifteen minutes that man had Somebody to go home with him to live.

Oh, if we will just take time to witness. The trouble is, we are ashamed of Jesus. We don’t mind saying, “Isn’t it hot today?” or, “I wonder how the Berlin situation is.” We don’t mind talking about Khrushchev. We’re more eager to talk about him than about Jesus. Isn’t that a shame! Here we are redeemed. He died for us on the cross. We have been made heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. He is building a home in Heaven for us. We’re God’s children and we won’t even tell a stranger that we belong to the Lord Jesus. Be soul-conscious.

Storytelling preachers love to tell stories about people suddenly dying and going to hell. What better way to drive a point home than to tell hearers about this or that man rejecting God’s plan of salvation and then dropping dead and awaking in hell. This story can be told numerous ways with different characters and circumstances. The point is always the same: now is accepted time, now is the day of salvation.

Let me conclude this post with several stories I have heard preachers tell. One preacher told a story about a man God had called to preach. The man ignored God’s call and went on to have a large family and made lots of money. One day this man’s wife and children were driving down the road when a truck hit them head on. This man’s entire family was instantly killed. In a quiet moment before the funeral, the man wept over the caskets of his loved ones. And at that moment  God audibly spoke to him, telling him that it was God who had killed his entire family to get his attention. Are you ready to serve me now?, God asked the man. The man collapsed and told God that he would indeed forsake all and follow him.

Another preacher told a story about the people in hell. One day, a crew that was drilling an oil well began hearing what sounded like people crying and screaming. Where was this noise coming from? They soon ascertained that the noise was coming from the oil well casing. One of the workers decided to drop a microphone down the well casing, and sure enough they heard people screaming about being in the unrelenting, fiery flames of hell!

Of course, neither of these stories is true. The first story was a legend of sorts. I heard variations of it numerous times. Preacher Bob heard Big Name Preacher John tell  the story at a Sword of the Lord conference. Bob thought, why not use this story in my sermon, impressing on people the importance of immediately obeying the voice of God.

The second story is pure fabrication. But hey, if souls get saved . . . right? The end justifies the means, even if it means telling stories that are more farcical than the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

Have you ever heard too-good-to-be-true sermon illustrations?  Please share them in the comment section.

 

The Dormitory Years: Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac Michigan

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976

From the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was founded in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone for the purpose of training men and women for the ministry. Dr Malone called Midwestern a character-building factory. Midwestern’s goal was to produce men who would pastor IFB churches and women who would be pastors wives. A small number of graduates would go on to become evangelists, missionaries, and Christian school teachers, but the primary objective was to train God-called men for the ministry.

Dr. Malone was a graduate of Bob Jones College and Wayne State University. While serving as chancellor of the college, he also pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church — one of the largest churches in America during the 1960s and 1970s. Dr. Malone was a native of Alabama and his southern style of preaching appealed to many of the southerners who had migrated to the north to find work in Pontiac/Detroit area automotive plants. Looking for some spiritual home cooking, these southerners flocked to Emmanuel to hear one of their own preach.

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977

Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart. This picture was taken days after we got engaged.

Polly, while still a student at nearby Oakland Christian School, enrolled at Midwestern in January of 1976 and began taking classes. I enrolled 8 months later. Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, graduated from Midwestern in the 1960s. Her father, Lee “Cecil” Shope — called late in life to be a preacher — graduated from Midwestern in May of 1976. After graduation, Lee moved to Newark to be James Dennis’ assistant. He would later, with my help, start a church in nearby Buckeye Lake — Emmanuel Baptist Church. After Emmanuel closed its doors, Polly’s parents returned to the Baptist Temple. They remain, to this day, faithful members of the church.

The dorm at Midwestern was a two-story building with a finished basement. It was named after IFB giant and editor of the Sword of the Lord John R. Rice, and was home for single students. All single students — unless they lived nearby with their parents — were required to live in the dorm. The men lived on the first floor and the basement. Women lived on the second floor. The north men’s wing was called the party wing and the south men’s wing was called the spiritual wing. The basement was called the pit. I, thankfully, lived on the party wing.

The dorm supervisors were Ralph Bitner and his wife Sophie. A young, inept couple, the Bitners had no idea how normal, heterosexual young adults thought and lived. Their job to make sure we kept the rules, including keeping our rooms clean. Ralph was also responsible for the Sunday night Devotional/Singspiration held in the dorm common area.

Two older single male teachers lived in the dormitory. One was a man who suffered from some sort of mental illness. As long as he took his medications, he was fine. Sadly, thinking that God would help him live a “normal” life, this man would often stop taking his medications. This resulted in bizarre behavior, which at the time seemed quite funny. The other was a gay man who lived on the spiritual wing. He was quite effeminate, which was odd considering that Dr. Malone had zero tolerance for “sissy” men. This man had a student who lived with him.

Midwestern strictly regulated every aspect of dormitory life. Students were required to adhere a puritanical dress code. Midwestern also controlled who students could date, when they could date, and where they could go while on a date. Rule-breaking resulted in infractions being written on a demerit slip and turned into the dean of men. If students were written up, they were required to appear before the disciplinary committee to answer for their crimes. Most infractions were minor ,but other infractions — such as breaking the six-inch rule — could result in students being expelled from the college. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six Inch Rule)

When dorm students left the college campus they were required to put their names and destinations on the sign-out sheet. This sheet was religiously checked by the Bitners. Students quickly learned how to manipulate the sign-out sheet so they would never be in violations of the rules. Dorm students were not permitted to go beyond a ten-mile radius from the college campus (an exception was made for work). Single dating was banned and couples could only date on Saturday and Sunday evening — and only then with permission from school administrators. Weekends were often a scramble as dating couples tried to find another couple to double date with. Dating couples who had problems keeping the six-inch rule would seek couples with a similar rule-breaking mindset. Most of the dorm students broke the no-touch, six-inch rule. Copping a feel for a Midwestern dorm student meant trying to secretly hold a girl’s hand.

Midwestern was an unaccredited college. Students were not eligible for federal or state financial aid. As a result, most students worked one or more jobs. Polly worked at several restaurants, cleaned offices, and did house cleaning for a rabbi and his wife during her college career. I worked numerous jobs, mostly second shift factory jobs. I also worked at several grocery stores, sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners, pumped gas, worked as a mechanic, and drove a truck for a local dry cleaner. I changed jobs so often that I was threatened with expulsion if I changed jobs again. These jobs paid between $3.00 and $5.00 an hour.

One of the teachers — knowing that I worked on automobiles — asked me if I was interested in a mechanic’s job. This teacher worked part-time for Anderson Honda on Telegraph Road, and my job there would be an entry-level position. I would primarily be responsible for prepping new cars, oil changes, and doing minor repairs. My starting wage was $7.00. After working for Anderson Honda for a few weeks, Dr. Malone called me into his office and told me that I would have to quit my job. He told me that I would just have to trust him, and that working at Anderson Honda was not good for me. I later learned that the Andersons used to attend Emmanuel Baptist church and left after having a falling out with Dr. Malone. I would later learn that the teacher — a married man — who offered me the job was having an affair with a woman who worked at Anderson Honda. That woman just so happened to be the wife of Midwestern’s dean of men. Both couples would later divorce.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Shope Gerencser, May 1978

Polly and I started dating a few weeks after I enrolled at Midwestern. We tried our best to keep the six-inch rule, but it soon became impossible for us to keep our hands to ourselves. That said, we did not kiss each other for the first time until we had been dating for four months. Our first kiss took place during my visit to Polly’s Newark, Ohio home during Christmas break. Polly’s Mom asked her to go down to laundry room and check to see if the clothes were dry. I went along with Polly to help her check on the laundry. Amazingly, it took forever to ascertain if the clothes were dry.

Needless to say, when we returned to Midwestern in January of 1977, we had a huge problem on our hands. Let me explain it this way. It was like going to a Dairy Queen the first time for a milkshake. The milkshake was tasty, but after sampling that delight, every time you drove by a Dairy Queen you wanted to stop and get another milkshake. Kissing for Polly and me was like drinking a milkshake at Dairy Queen. Once we started we didn’t and couldn’t stop. For the next 18 months, Polly and I lived in fear of being caught — knowing that such dangerous living would likely result in us being expelled from school if we were caught.

In the spring of 1977 — six months after we started dating — I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes. I bought Polly an “expensive” diamond engagement ring. It had a 1/4 carat diamond and cost $225.00 at Sears and Roebuck. Years later, the diamond fell out of the cheap setting and it was lost. We sold the ring for scrap when gold prices started escalating. Our engagement only served to add fuel to the physical fire. Weekend dates became make-out sessions — times when we were free from the ever-watchful eyes of teachers, dorm supervisors, room monitors, and students who were saving their kisses for their wedding night.

During our sophomore year, Polly and I were caught breaking the six-inch rule. I played on the college basketball team. During practice one day I slapped at a basketball and severely dislocated the middle finger on my left hand. I had to go to the emergency room to get the finger put back in place (an excruciatingly painful procedure). Male students were required to wear a necktie to class, and thanks to my injured finger I was unable to tie mine. Polly and I would meet each weekday morning in the common room so we could walk together to classes. Unable to tie my necktie, I asked Polly to tie it for me. She did so, and we then walked to our classes. Unbeknownst to us, someone saw us break the six-inch rule and turned us in to the disciplinary committee. Ironically, the couple that turned us in were notorious six-inch rule breakers. It was rumored that they had rounded the bases and slid into home. Today, this couple is faithfully serving Jesus as pastor and pastor’s wife at a Southern Baptist church.

Polly and I made our required appearance before the disciplinary committee to answer for our crime. The disciplinary committee consisted of two men — Gary Mayberry, the dean of men and Don Zahurance, a recent Midwestern graduate. These “pious” men told us we had committed a serious breach of the six-inch rule. Zahurance even went so far as to suggest that I got some sort of sexual excitement from Polly tying my necktie. Each of us was given 50 demerits and warned that any future infractions would result in us being campused — not permitted to leave the campus or date — or expelled.

Dr. Tom Malone thought by having puritanical rules — similar to those he experienced at Bob Jones —it would keep students from engaging in more serious sexual behaviors. Dr. Malone was quite naïve, and outside of a few a self-righteous rules-keeping students, dating couples, with passion and fear, broke the six-inch rule. Whether it was in the back seat of a car while on a date or in an out-of-the-way corner of the college campus, dating dorm students found ways to act on their basic need for human connection and touch. I have come to understand that Midwestern, regardless of their intention, taught an aberrant, crippling form of moralism. Instead of quashing passion, it stoked it. Learning nothing from the countless moral failings of the past, Midwestern still enforces a strict moral code of conduct. (Please see The Midwestern Baptist College Handbook)

Midwestern prohibited freshmen students from marrying. Dorm students could not marry until the summer of their sophomore year. Students who broke this rule were required to drop out of school for one year. Needless to say, come the summer of our sophomore year, there were a number of couples who got married — Polly and myself included. Due to the difficulty in arranging housing, the college allowed couples who were planning on being married in the summer to look for housing before school let out in May. One couple rented a house that quickly turned into a place for couples to have sex. While Polly and I never went to this house, the couple who rented it were friends of ours and we knew that they, along with other couples, used the house for secret booty calls. Some of these couples are now in the ministry, and several are luminaries in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I find myself amused when I read their moralizing sermons and websites, remembering the time so many years ago, when they gave in to biology and passion and lost their virginity.

Several years ago, Polly and I drove to Pontiac to see what had become of the Midwestern campus and Emmanuel Baptist Church. We were saddened to see the places that once were a major part of our lives now closed and for sale — testifying to the bankruptcy of the IFB church movement. Midwestern still exists in a much smaller form as a ministry of a nearby IFB church. While Polly and I have many fond memories from our days at Midwestern, we are grateful that the college is but a shell of what it once was. No longer will Midwestern have the opportunity to infect large numbers of young people with its pernicious ideology.

Did you attend an IFB college and live in its dormitory? If so, please share your experiences in the comment section.

 

Midwestern Baptist College: The 1978 Yearbook Incident

From 1976-79, my wife and I attended Midwestern Baptist College (IFB) in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, was established in 1954 by the famous IFB pulpiteer Dr. Tom Malone. Forty years later, the college campus is up for sale, Tom Malone is dead, and the church he once pastored, Emmanuel Baptist Church is shuttered with weeds growing around the buildings and through the cracks in the parking lots. Due to increased costs, buildings that are falling apart, and declining enrollment, Midwestern moved to Orion, Michigan so it could use the buildings of Shalom Baptist Church for classes. David Carr, Midwestern’s president, is the pastor of Shalom Baptist.

In the spring of our sophomore year, Dr. Malone gathered the student body in the chapel so he could talk to them. Students were told to bring the recently released 1978 yearbook with them. As the students settled into their seats, Dr. Malone stood up and came to the pulpit. It was clear that he was quite upset about something. We quickly learned that Dr. Malone was livid about three of the yearbook pictures. The photographs were shot by Mike Veach, currently the pastor of First Bible Church, a fundamentalist church in Staten Island, New York. Mike was (is) a wonderful photographer. A few months after what students would later call “The Yearbook Incident,” Polly and I went to nearby Cranbrook Gardens so Mike could take pictures of us. We still have these pictures, reminders of the youngsters we once were some forty years ago.

What was so offensive about these photographs, that a noted IFB pastor and college chancellor would deem it necessary to talk to the entire student body about them? See for yourself.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number one was taken during Founder’s Day. Always held on the Friday after Thanksgiving (students were not allowed to go home for Thanksgiving), Founder’s Day was a day set aside for showing the college to prospective Fundamentalist high school students.  Part of the day’s events included a singing talent show. This picture is of a group from a nearby IFB church.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number two is a picture of Julian Lyons, the Emmanuel Baptist Church bus pastor. Lyons and I did not get along. He considered me a slacker because I didn’t want to work in the bus ministry after my freshman year. (All students were required to work in the bus ministry their freshman year.) I considered Lyons a racist because he stopped running the buses in Detroit. (The overwhelming majority of the kids from Detroit were poor and black.) One day, as I was exiting the school building, he and I ran into each other and had words, each telling the other what we thought about them. We never spoke again. I was surprised that I did not get expelled from school for what was surely viewed as insubordination.

1978 midwestern baptist college yearbook

Photograph number three was shot during one the chapel services. Pay close attention to the student in the middle of the picture.

I am sure you are scratching your head right now, trying to figure out what is wrong with these pictures. Can’t you see it? Look closely. Put your IFB alternate reality glasses® on…Still nothing?

In the first picture, the boys have long hair, and in the second picture it looks like Lyons’ hair is over his collar. Midwestern had/has a strict policy against men having long hair. Male students were required to keep their hair short, with the college even going so far as to legislate that the back of men’s hair had to be tapered and not block cut.

And the third photograph? The student “looks” like he has bushy, long hair on the back of his head. What he really has is the hair of the student in front of him, that student being my future wife, Polly. As photographers know, perspective and angles can do strange things to photographs. Sadly, Dr. Malone was only concerned with the “appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).

Dr. Malone was furious over these photos, so much so that he took one of the yearbooks and tore it in two right in front of the student body. He then ordered the yearbooks collected. The yearbooks were later returned, but not before the offending photographs had been marked-out with black, permanent ink felt markers.

So why do I have an unaltered copy of the yearbook? I refused to turn my yearbook in to prison authorities. Even then, as Fundamentalist as I was, I knew that Dr. Malone was acting like a crazed wild man over these photographs. It made no sense to me to mar the yearbook just because three of the pictures showed men with long hair. If Dr. Malone was serious about giving “sins” the black permanent marker of death, why not mark out:

  • The numerous photographs of the man who was having an affair with the wife of the dean of men
  • The photographs of the homosexual teacher who lived in the dorm

Both of these “sins” were well known by students, yet they were pushed to the deep recesses of the Midwestern closet. Instead, very ‘70s looking hair became the target of Dr. Malone’s “righteous” indignation and wrath.

I know these kind of stories sound bat-shit crazy to some readers, but this is a good example of the Fundamentalism I was raised in and a part of for many years. To this day, there are IFB pastors and churches who preach against the “sin of men having long hair.”  A man with long hair is considered rebellious and effeminate. If you have not read my post Is it a Sin to Have Long Hair?, please do so. I think it will help you understand the kind of thinking that goes into someone concluding that men having long hair is some sort of mortal sin.

Note

Every week, there are a dozen or so Google searches on “is it a sin to have long hair”  which result in a person being brought to this website (first page, seventh search result).

I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

preaching

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small fundamentalist Baptist college.  Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. In the 1970’s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door.

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone’s preaching was fervent and punctuated with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the grave, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard men that had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter.  Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring preaching. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher that is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they don’t understand they are doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie become reality and they think it is the truth.

Take Jack Hyles, by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord and Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived.

“Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted.

“Who called you?” he asked.

“I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.”

“Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble.”

I got another creeper, laid down on it, and roiled myself under the car with him.

“Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted.

“How can you tell from under here?”

“I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.”

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.”

Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Saviour to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.

Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978, With Polly’s grandfather and parents.

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

I was fifteen years old when I went forward at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio and informed the church that I thought God was calling me to the ministry. A few weeks before, I had made a public profession of faith and was baptized.  I had no doubts about God’s call on my life. In fact, my desire to be a preacher went all the way back to when I was a five-year old boy in San Diego, California. My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a preacher. Not a baseball player, not a trash truck driver, or fireman. I wanted to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never wondered about what I wanted to do with my life. God called-preacher, end of story.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, a small fundamentalist college in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly Shope, my wife to be, started taking classes at Midwestern in the spring of 1976 while she was finishing her senior year at Oakland Christian School. At the age of fourteen, Polly went forward at the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church, Bay City, Michigan and let the church know that she believed God was calling her to be a preacher’s wife. When Polly enrolled at Midwestern, she had one goal in mind, to marry a preacher.

polly gerencser, pontiac, michigan 1978

Polly in front of our apartment, Fall 1978

Polly and I were immediately drawn to one another. She was quiet, reserved, and very beautiful. I was outspoken, brash, with a rebellious spirit. According to Polly, I was her bad boy. We started dating in September of 1976 and by Christmas we were certain that we were a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents thought we were a match made in hell. My parents were divorced and Polly’s mom thought that divorce was hereditary. Though she did her best to quash our love, in the spring of 1978, we issued an ultimatum: give us your blessing or we will get married without it (a few weeks earlier, we had seriously considered eloping). On a hot July day in 1978, Polly and I exchanged vows at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio. As Mark Bullock, the soloist for our wedding, sang the Carpenter’s hit, We’ve Only Just Begun, Polly and I had thoughts of the wonderful life that awaited us in the ministry. Little did we know how naïve we were about what being in the ministry really entailed.

Polly’s idea of the ministry was quite idealistic. In her mind, we would have two children, a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live in a beautiful two-story house with a white picket fence. She saw herself as the quiet helpmeet of her preacher husband.  My idea of the ministry was a bit more realistic. Preaching, teaching, winning souls, visiting the sick, all in a church  filled with peace, joy, and harmony.  No one had prepared us for what the ministry would really be like. I still remember a time when I was standing in a three-foot deep hole partly filled with sewage trying to repair a broken septic line. Polly came out to see what I was doing and I said to her, well, they certainly didn’t teach me this in college. No one told us that the ministry would far different from our idealistic expectations.

Two months after we were married, Polly informed me that our use of contraceptive foam had failed and she was pregnant. Not long after her announcement, I lost my job at a Detroit area production machine shop. Financially, things quickly fell apart for us. We went to see Levy Corey, the dean at Midwestern, and told him that we needed to drop out of college. He told us we just needed to trust God and everything would work out. While I was able to find new employment, it was not enough for us to keep our head above water. In February of 1979, we dropped all of our classes and prepared to move to Bryan, Ohio. Several of our friends stopped by before we moved to berate us for not having faith in God. One friend told us that we would never amount to anything because God doesn’t bless quitters. Years later, at a Newark Baptist Temple preacher’s conference, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern, mentioned that I was in the crowd. He said that I had left Midwestern before graduating, but if I had stayed, they (the college) probably would have ruined me. He meant it as a joke, but I took his comment as a vindication of our decision to leave college.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about  Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

021916

 

The Day Abraham Blew Himself Up at Emmanuel Baptist Church

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the mid 1970’s.  All dorm students were required to attend Emmanuel Baptist Church. Emmanuel was pastored by Tom Malone, the chancellor of Midwestern.

in the 1970’s, Emmanuel Baptist Church was a large church, one of the largest churches in the United States. The church ran buses all over the Pontiac/Detroit area. During my time at Emmanuel, the church operated 80 buses.

One of the bus riders was a young man name Abraham.

Abraham was a walking contradiction. He was a brilliant, crazy, mentally ill young man.

Abraham would walk up in back of people and snip hair from their heads. A week or so later Abraham would bring the person a silk sachet filled with the hair and his finger nail clippings.  Needless to say, most of us were freaked out by Abraham and kept a close eye on him.

One day there was an explosion at the church. Abraham had built a bomb and brought to church. He carried the bomb into the restroom and, whether accidentally or on purpose, the bomb detonated. It was the last strange thing Abraham ever did. The bomb blew Abraham to bits. One man who helped clean up the mess said bits and pieces of Abraham fell from the drop ceiling.

At the time, I thought all of this was quite funny. I thought “I guess Abraham won’t do that again.” Years later, my thoughts are quite different. The buses brought thousands of people to the services of the Emmanuel Baptist Church. Most of the riders came from poor and/or dysfunctional homes. Their need was great, but all we offered them was Jesus.

Jesus was the answer for everything. Except that he wasn’t. As I now know, the problems that people face are anything but simple and Jesus is not the cure for all that ails you. What Abraham really needed was residential treatment and psychiatric care. What he got was a Jesus that could not help him. In the end, his psychosis won.

The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist

bruce and polly gerencser 1976

Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976, Polly is first row on the left, Bruce is third row, eighth from the left.

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College , an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly also attended the college, as did her father, and uncle. While not as large or as prestigious as institutions like Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson, Tennessee Temple, or Pensacola Christian College, Midwestern is known for turning out men who are church planters and fierce defenders of the Word of God. Started in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern once had an enrollment of over 400 students. These days, the enrollment is less than a hundred and in 2010 the college moved its location to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan.

At one time, Midwestern advertised itself as a character building factory. Over the past 62 years, this factory has graduated hundreds of men and women, each devoted to the fundamentals of the faith. While some of the students who attended Midwestern no longer wear the fundamentalists label, I do not know of one Midwestern attendee who is a liberal. Best I can tell, there is only one man who became a liberal and that is me. Certainly, many churches pastored by Midwestern-trained men are Evangelical and to the left of the fundamentalism taught by the college, but none of them, as far as I know, are liberal or progressive. Even more amazing, as far as atheism is concerned, I am the only person who attended Midwestern and entered the ministry as a Midwestern-trained preacher who is now an atheist.

i am special

I am soooo special.  From time to time, I see in the logs  search strings like “the Midwestern Baptist College preacher who became an atheist.”  Google? This site is #1. Bing? #1. I am as rare as real science exhibit at the Creationist Museum. I am sure there are others who attended Midwestern who no longer believe, but I am the only person who has dared to poke his head above the hole and say so.

Let’s Go Soulwinning

lets go soulwinning

Let’s Go Soulwinning by Jack Hyles

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30

Soulwinning — the art, the endeavor of sharing the gospel with sinners and leading them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. A metaphor for evangelism or witnessing. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

Soulwinner —  a person whose purpose, desire, and motivation is to share the gospel with sinners and lead them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)

The Bible makes it clear that every church should be a soulwinning church and every Christian should be a soulwinner.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

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

Matthew 28:19,20 is commonly called the Great Commission. While some may argue that the Great Commission was given ONLY to the eleven disciples, most sects and pastors think the Great Commission is a command given by Christ to every Christian.

Why is it then that most Christians never verbally share the gospel with another person? I am not talking about inviting them to church so the head soulwinner, the pastor, can preach the gospel to them. I am not talking about nonverbal, just let your light shine or any of the other excuses Christians give for not verbalizing the gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why is it that most Christians never, one time, in a clear, concise way, share the good news of the gospel with a lost, hell bound sinner? Isn’t not doing so a direct repudiation of the Great Commission, a direct command given by Jesus to his followers?

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has turned soulwinning into a fine art. Churches hold soulwinning conferences and clinics. These special events are used to light a fire under church members who are not soulwinners. They are also used to train members in the best soulwinning techniques. Technique matters. Dennis Corle bragged to me that he could win a soul in five minutes. According to him, all a soulwinner had to do is follow the script. Follow the script, use proper technique and you too can be a great soulwinner like Dennis Corle.

No one was a bigger promoter of soulwinning than Jack Hyles, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Hyles was famous for telling stories like this:

A few years ago I was in a Bible Conference in Houston, Texas. After a morning service, I returned to my room at one of the large motels on the north side of Houston. To my surprise, the door to my room was open and I heard singing coming from the bathroom. After checking the room number with my key, I realized I was in the right room. Perhaps someone else was in the wrong room.

I hollered through the door, inquiring who was there, only to find it was the Negro maid cleaning out the bathtub. She was actually down in the tub cleaning out the ring.

I asked her if she were a Christian. She said, “Mercy, no! I am as mean as the devil.” I got my Testament out and showed her the plan of salvation. All the time she was in the bathtub. After I showed her how to be saved, she knelt in the tub and received the Saviour.

I have laughed many times about this and have jokingly said, “I guess I am the only preacher in the world who ever won a lady in a bathtub!” This is just another of the many unusual experiences that God gives to soul winners. We should be on the lookout constantly for people who need the Saviour

I have won people to Christ in train stations, in bus depots, on airplanes, in grocery stores, in barber shops, in shine parlors, in service stations, in garages, in school buildings, on ball diamonds, and in many other places. There are many hungry hearts waiting for someone to tell them the story.

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. (Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.)

You can read more of Hyles’s soulwinning stories here. (Hyles was a powerful preacher and a masterful storyteller. He was also a pathological liar.)

For decades, Hyles and First Baptist Church conducted what they called Pastor’s School —  a week-long event used to motivate pastors and church leaders to win more souls. Under the leadership of John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson, the Sword of the Lord held Soulwinning Conferences all over the country. These conferences were used to encourage and motivate pastors and churches that had forgotten Jesus’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

From the 1960’s-1980’s, countless IFB churches experienced explosive growth as they went into the highway and hedges and compelled (without vampire powers) sinners to put their faith in Jesus. In the 1970’s, most of the 100 largest churches in America were IFB churches.

Today? First Baptist Church in Hammond, once the largest church in the world, no longer conducts the Pastor’s School,  The Sword of the Lord no longer holds soulwinning conferences all over the country. Based on the 2013 Outreach 100 Largest Churches List, there is not one IFB church on the list. (Many large IFB churches refuse to publish their actual attendance numbers.) Most of the IFB churches that made the Top 100 list in the 1960s-1980s are shells of what they once were. Some have even closed their doors. What happened?

In 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, a small IFB college, was known for producing preachers who were great soulwinners. Tom Malone, the founder and chancellor of Midwestern, was also the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every student was required to attend Emmanuel.

For many years, thanks to its bus ministry,  Emmanuel experienced explosive attendance growth and was listed as a Top 100 church. Emmanuel saw high attendance days of over 5,000. Soulwinning was the lifeblood of the college and church. Students were required to go out soulwinning at least once a week, and each week were required to account for their soulwinning activities.

Midwestern held a soulwinning contest while I was studied there. Students competed with each other to see who could win the most souls. The winner of the contest usually won a hundred or more souls. Every student was required to participate in the soulwinning contest. One year, the college put up a big banner and chart that was used to track who was winning the most souls. In the mind of Tom Malone, soulwinning was all that mattered.

for sale sign midwestern baptist college

For Sale Sign in Front of Midwestern Baptist College

Today? Midwestern has its campus up for sale, having moved its small student body to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion Michigan. Emmanuel, a church that once bragged about being a Top 100 church is no more. As with the college, its facilities are up for sale.

for sale sign emmanuel baptist church pontiac

For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan

What happened? Why is Emmanuel closed, Midwestern a shell of what it once was, and the IFB church movement facing steep attendance declines?

If you ask IFB pastors this question, he will likely tell you that the WORLD is the cause for the attendance decline. People love their sin more than they love Jesus. They might even point the finger at Evangelical mega churches and their slick marketing, worship bands, and relational sermons. Where they will never point the finger is at themselves. In their minds, they are the true church, preaching the true gospel. They seem unable to see that it is their theology and methods that have led to their decline.

Instead of preaching a transformative, holistic gospel, they preached decisional regeneration, also known as easy-believism. Salvation became a simple transaction between a sinner and God. Sinners were told to pray a prayer:

 

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Come into my heart and save me from my sins. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. I am trusting you to take me to heaven when I die. Amen.

If people prayed that prayer, they were considered born-again Christians. Millions of Americans have prayed a prayer such as this. From Billy Graham crusades and Campus Crusade outreaches to Southern Baptist churches  and IFB churches, the sinner’s prayer contained the magic words that made one a child of God. This bastardized version of the gospel filled churches with people who had no idea about  what it meant to a Christian or a member of a Christian church.

The sin of the soulwinning movement and the IFB church is that they thought that winning souls was just a matter of using the right techniques. Pastors taught church members to use certain formulas such as The Roman’s Road to lead people to saving faith. Got Questions, a fundamentalist website explains The Roman’s Road like this:

The Romans Road to salvation is a way of explaining the good news of salvation using verses from the Book of Romans. It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.

The first verse on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who is innocent. Romans 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives.

The second Scripture on the Romans Road to salvation, Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death. Not just physical death, but eternal death!

The third verse on the Romans Road to salvation picks up where Romans 6:23 left off, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ died for us! Jesus’ death paid for the price of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins.

The fourth stop on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins – and we will be saved! Romans 10:13 says it again, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and rescue us from eternal death. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The final aspect of the Romans Road to salvation is the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 has this wonderful message, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship of peace with God. Romans 8:1 teaches us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will never be condemned for our sins. Finally, we have this precious promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Would you like to follow the Romans Road to salvation? If so, here is a simple prayer you can pray to God. Saying this prayer is a way to declare to God that you are relying on Jesus Christ for your salvation. The words themselves will not save you. Only faith in Jesus Christ can provide salvation! “God, I know that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. With your help, I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”

Have you made a decision for Christ because of what you have learned through the Romans Road to salvation? If so, please click on the “I have accepted Christ today” button below.

The soulwinners were told to stay on point, reiterating the points in the soulwinning plan. If the sinner asked questions not related to salvation, the questions were to be ignored and the sinner steered back to the soulwinning plan. They were to give the sinner just enough information to get saved. Questions would be answered later after they were baptized and became a part of the church.

Think for a moment about what I have written here. Doesn’t all of this sound similar to a sales program used by Amway or some other direct marketer? Work the plan! Stay on point! Press the prospect to make a decision! Close the sale!

When I was in college, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. My Dad sold them for many years and I thought, like father, like son. Every Saturday, the local Kirby office would hold mandatory sales meetings for their salesmen. These meetings were pep rallies meant to motivate salesmen to sell more vacuüm cleaners. They even sang songs with lyrics like There’s power, power wonder working power in a Kirby, sung to the tune of the There’s Power in the Blood.

The Kirby pep rallies were quite similar to that which took place at Hyles’ Pastor’s School and Sword of the Lord Soulwinning Conferences. The goal was the same: motivate salesmen to hit the street and sell merchandise. In the case of the IFB church, the merchandise was Jesus, salvation, and fire insurance.

Were you a member of an IFB church? Were you a soulwinner? Was your church an aggressive soulwinning church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

031816

Hustling for Jesus: Christian Home-Based Businesses

christian business

Comic by the wildly entertaining Jeffrey Weston, at Ape, Not Monkey.

Suzanne, who blogs at Every Breaking Wavehad this to say about her experiences with home-based Evangelical Christian businesses:

One of the things that the ladies kept trying to pound in my head during those early days, besides telling me that I should use “To Train Up A Child” to discipline my very ill child, was that if I was going to be a good Christian submissive wife I was going to have to not work outside of the home. Which was foreign to me, I’d always had some sort of job outside of the home, even if it was part time, and mostly tried to work at a time when Jim could take care of the kids so that they didn’t have to go to daycare.

This was the first time I’d heard of the family economy. I did this for a year or two, did the quilting, to make some money while I was incapacitated by the fibro. But eventually I did go back to working outside of the home, to the disappointment and derision of the ladies of the church. I just kept telling myself that they didn’t know any better, none of them had college educations and it seemed like a waste of my own education to not work.

But like any good cult, eventually the messages being replayed over and over again went into my head and I started seeking a way to do the home-based economy thing, find something I could do. When I started making flags it seemed like the perfect answer, most of what I made was either an air-brushed design, or something like a 9 foot long half round lame flag with an inset of glittery chiffon or a special shaped, painted, stoned, flag that was one of the kind. One of the most popular ones I sold was a half round flag with a flaming sword appliqued into place and bejeweled and stoned with a hand-worked sword hilt on the flag handle.

What I’m trying to say is that the flags were one of a kind, hand made, designs I’d come up with, more like art work than anything mass produced. I charged accordingly, because, none of those things I’m talking about are quick and easy. Sometimes I’d have close to sixty dollars in materials alone in the flags.

At first I sold quite a few, and I’d get contacted frequently to make something special, or perhaps an entire set of flags just for a church. Did so well and had enough orders that I quit my job as a systems admin at an insurance company. Home-based economy, honoring God, etc…

…With the flags and large banners I ran into a snag after a few months, a snag I’ve seen played out again and again and again in the Christian home economies in many different divisions.

It would go something like this. I’d be at a teaching conference, or someone would see my now-defunct website and start asking questions about one of the items. Most of the time this was about the half round 9 foot long flags with a half round center of glitter bedecked chiffon, not an easy item to make, but one that I’d managed to come up with a nearly fool proof method to make. I had my own pattern I’d made, and my own special technique for appliqueing in the center, while cutting away the solid lame in the center. It wasn’t easy, but it was my way to do it that worked every time.

The problem with this particular highly-coveted flag is that you needed a minimum of 5 yards of very expensive materials. It was usually about sixty dollars for fabric in that particular one. The ones that contacted me proclaiming what Good Christians™  they were also were the very ones that demanded either a) a big discount or b) to know exactly how I made that flag so they could make their own. Why? Because the $90 I was charging was thought to be too much for this item that took lots of expensive fabric and the expertise to make.

Many times I’d give in with a sigh, sketch out how to make one if I was at a conference, or explain via email. Usually what happened is that the person would get so far into the project, screw it up and then demand I fix their mess. For free. Most of the time when I looked at what they’d done I’d have to point out that they’d mangled the delicate fabric so badly that they’d have to start from scratch again. Would have been way cheaper just to buy from me in the first place

Eventually I’d sell the pattern, but people would still balk at spending ten bucks for a pattern and demand I explain for free.

And the people who were whining and demanding were also screaming out what Good Christians™ they were so I owed it to them because I was a Christian.

I got to see that Good Christian™ dynamic at work in just about every place, public secular business or Christian business, people saying that since they were doing the work of the God they deserved a discount or freebie, who would not let up until they got their way. Vyckie Garrison and I have had discussions about the Good Christian discount whine.

To add insult to grievous injury every single freakin’ time I’d come up with a new design, something I’d sketched out, made the pattern for and then made the sample and posted it on my website within a week I’d see a badly executed copy made from discount fabric of my original design up on Ebay for a cheaper price. To me that is what separates true artists from the artisans. Artists do it because it’s inside of them, artisans are just looking to make a buck.

Even as sales were decent after awhile I got most burned out by the attitudes of entitlement, the begging, whining, demanding a discount and the general intellectual thievery. I stopped making flags for anyone but myself, or when someone who’s seen one of mine and is willing to pay without whining. Just readied a big box of flags going on a missions trip to Cuba next month.

One thing I started to notice during my years at good old Creek Church, the tendency of the Creekers and other Good Christians™ to take advantage of people, press every advantage and try to drum up business by means fair and foul. Example, just about everyone that sucked up to the Pastor’s wife bought Pampered Chef merchandise and many ladies at the church signed up to sell beneath her every single time she started putting the pressure to people over being Good Christians™ helping out each other.

It was as if none of them thought hard work and conviction was enough, they had to press every advantage and try to game the system each and every time. Some of them still are, hence Mrs. 5 by 5 fleecing two different sets of the elderly she did the books for out of over 20K. Today I saw her with another new senior citizen that has a small business and I’m going to see if I can talk to her newest employer’s relatives before she steals from this women…

… Here’s what I learned in the last twenty years plus years dealing with Fundigelicals and their businesses/home based economies:

(1) If they can take some small advantage of you, then they will. If you call them on it they will claim it’s their right as Christians to be entitled to more or they outright deny they’ve done it.

(2) They believe if they can whine, beat you down, demand, threaten or haggle long enough you will give in to their sense of entitlement and give out something for free or deep discount. Why? Because Christian! Because Bible!

(3) If you happen to not totally agree with their flavor of True Believer then they might refuse to serve you and/or jack up the charges.

(4) They act like they have some sort of moral superiority over you all the while behaving badly.

You can read the entire article here.

Suzanne’s wonderful rant and roll got me to thinking about my own experiences with Evangelical Christian home-based businesses/Christian businesses and a church that considered establishing such businesses as a command from God. Let me share several stories with you.

First, let me say I don’t have a problem with a person starting a home-based business. It is a great way to make money. But, when such businesses are wedded to a religious ideology, that’s where I have a problem. While Polly and I were ardent homeschoolers and came into contact with a number of families who had home-based businesses, we never had the desire to have a home-based business (the money was a lot better in the “world”).

In 2005, while we were living in Newark, Ohio, we attended Faith Bible Church in Jersey, Ohio. Polly and I really loved this church, and we thought maybe, just maybe, we had found a church to call home.

Faith Bible was a growing patriarchal Calvinistic, Reformed church filled with young families with lots of children. Everyone home-schooled, the women kept the home while the men worked, and home-based businesses were quite common. I suspect Faith Bible had a lot in common with the church Suzanne mentions in her post.

One day after church, our family was fellowshipping with several families and the discussion turned towards our family. It was assumed that we were like they were, that Polly was a keeper of the home and that I was in the world making money to support my family. When Polly let it be known that she cleaned offices for State Farm and that I was unable to work, the air was sucked out of the room and the friendly discussion stopped. It was quite clear that the manner in which we were trying to keep our heads above water was disapproved of, perhaps even regarded as sinful. From that moment forward, everything changed for us. We felt a sense of distance from other church attenders, and it was not long before we decided to attend church elsewhere (we attended Faith for many months).

It was not uncommon for families at Faith Bible to have a lot of children. Polly and I have six children, and in most churches that would be an exceptionally large family. At Faith Bible? We were just one large family among many. With families being so large and women not being permitted to work outside of the home, home-based businesses became an easy way to supplement family income.

Churches such as Faith Bible have a distrust of the government. They are quite conservative, vote Republican, and think the government should stay out of their lives. The Terry Schiavo case was in the news while we were at Faith Bible, and I vividly remember a discussion that went on one night at a men’s meeting. Everyone, well everyone except me, was against allowing Schiavo’s husband to terminate life support. I found it ironic that the men felt the government should step in and stop Schiavo’s husband, yet, to the man, they thought the government should stay out of our lives. (I did appreciate the respect the men afforded me even though I voiced an opinion they considered immoral. I suspect I was quite the topic of discussion later.)

What better way to stick it to the man, to get the government out of your life, than to operate a home-based business? There are few government rules or regulations that apply to home-based businesses. Often, such businesses fly under the radar. They often don’t have the proper licenses or permits, pay taxes, or file tax returns. This illegal behavior is justified as “not giving the immoral, godless government any more money than they have to.”

Suzanne mentioned what is commonly called “getting the Christian discount.” Years ago, my Fundamentalist grandfather operated an airplane engine repair shop, T&W Engine Service, at the Pontiac Airport (now Oakland County International Airport).  Tom Malone, chancellor of Midwestern Baptist College — the college Polly and I attended in the 1970s — owned an airplane that was housed at the Airport. One day, Malone’s plane was having engine problems and he asked my grandfather to take a look at it. (He knew Grandpa was a Fundamentalist Christian) Grandpa did, told Malone what was wrong, and how much it would cost to fix it. Malone asked for the “Christian discount.” After all he was doing the Lord’s work. Shouldn’t a Christian businessman want to help out a pastor? Grandpa told Malone that there would be no discount. Malone was quite upset that Grandpa wouldn’t give him preferential treatment.

I pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years. I can’t tell you the times I had a business owner ask me if I wanted the “pastor’s/church discount.” In every instance I said NO! Just because people are Christian or pastors doesn’t mean they deserve a discount. Yet, some Christians and pastors have no problem begging for Jesus. Like Tom Malone, they say they are doing the Lord’s work, and shouldn’t EVERY business owner want to give God’s special people a discount?

While businesses often grant Christian discount requests, it doesn’t mean they like it. They are pragmatists, fearful that if word gets out that they aren’t giving the discount that they will lose customers who are Christian. Maybe they will, but better to lose customers than to do business with those who try to extort you in the name of God. (A political example of this was John McCain being stuck with Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. McCain hates Evangelicals, but fearing the loss of the Evangelical vote, he gave Republicans the ‘Christian discount” and made the IQ-challenged Palin his running mate.)

I, for one, do not frequent businesses that use the fish symbol to advertise their business. By using the fish symbol they are saying to me that Christian business and Christian money has more value than mine. From time to time, I will run into Christians in store parking lots selling their wares. Often they try to convince me to buy by giving me a guilt-laden speech about the money going to support their Christian family, their church, their youth group, orphans, or overseas missionaries. I NEVER buy from people who use Jesus to make a buck. In fact, I go out of my way NOT to buy from them (and mock and insult them if they try to pressure me into buying).

I pastored one church where I had to ban home-based sales marketing during church. From Mary Kay and Avon to Pampered Chef and Tupperware to Girl Scout Cookies and Amway, church members tried to get other members to buy their wares or attend their parties. I began to think that the church was turning into the story in the Bible about the money changers in the Temple. I saw myself as Jesus cleansing the Temple. As I look back on this, I now realize that my preaching helped to promote such an environment. I was a complementarian, traditional-family, women-not-working believer, so church women, for the most part, didn’t work. This created a huge problem because most of the families were quite poor and they NEEDED two incomes to make ends meet. Wanting to honor the commands of Bruce Almighty®, they turned to home-based businesses to supplement their incomes. Rarely did their home-based businesses generate as much income as they would have made in the evil, sin-filled, secular world.

Several churches I pastored had Christian business owners that also home-schooled their children. In every case, the children became a free or poorly paid work force. One such business was totally staffed and operated by children. What upset me the most was that the children would be running the business during the times they should have been home doing their school work. Their parents told me that their children did their school work in the evening. They used ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) materials so very little parental involvement was needed. This family never properly registered with the state or local school officials, so they were pretty much free to do what they wanted. Still, I am surprised no one ever reported them. I suspect one reason they weren’t is that the children were quite engaging, a pleasure to be around. It was hard not to see them as a rural Ohio version of a sweat shop.

Let me reiterate, I am not against home-based businesses. I am all for people making money and providing for their families. What I am against is the religiosity that is connected with many of these endeavors. Putting out a booklet that lists all the home-based or traditional Christian businesses in the area is a sure way to make sure they never get one dime from me. I expect the people I do business with to compete in the marketplace. I expect them to play by the rules, have the proper licenses and permits, and pay taxes.

Notes

Just in case someone is getting ready to whine and complain, I am not saying that all home-based Christian businesses are like those mentioned in this post.

Over the years, numerous Christians have called me up to schedule an appointment to share with me a wonderful, God-honoring way to make shit-loads of money. (OK they didn’t say shit-load.)  A.L. Williams, Amway, Excel, and more vitamin, weight loss, better health MLM  programs than I can count. In every case, they are no longer in business. Evidently, God failed to bless their hustling for Jesus.

072816