Archive for February, 2012

Bruce Gerencser begins his 7th post in his My Journey series, What Should We Do About Bruce?, with a lament about earning a living as a pastor.

As a preacher and the son of a pastor, I’ve gained a few insights into what pastors go through. Bruce points out the highlights, beginning with the application process:

“While I had many opportunities to pastor again I was no longer willing to go to go through the dog and pony show required to get a Church…”

Here’s the deal: Most churches want a pastor who fits a certain ideal. They want a self-starter, an enthusiastic revivalist, a preacher who preaches the sermon with a belly full of fire and a tear in his eye. In essence, they want someone who will do the work of the Church… all by himself. Well, all by himself and with his family’s help, of course. They’re looking for someone to feed them their Bible, to offer good counseling and to reach the lost. So they pick someone based on their enthusiasm level, the positive tenor of their messages, and their pleasantness at the after-church buffet. The problem is that a pastor’s job, according to the Bible, is to equip folks for the working of the ministry. He leads you to green pasture, but if your belly’s not full by day’s end it’s because you didn’t do your part. Likewise, sheep begat sheep, so the work of evangelism belongs to everyone. We shouldn’t be expecting someone to do it all. No one can. In fact, even the Apostles felt overwhelmed trying to do it all, which is where we first got deacons.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t really put on a show for anyone, even if they’re considering for pastor… perhaps especially so.

Bruce’s next few objections deal with the dirty little subject of money:

“I came to see that I sold my services too cheap. I allowed Churches to take advantage of my family and I and I came to see that Churches were quite willing to keep me in the poor house for the sake of the kingdom of God.

I came to the conclusion that many Churches deserved to die, and, quite frankly, many of the Churches that contacted me about pastoring their Churches didn’t deserve the dedication and effort I would give them. I was a good pastor. A hard-working pastor. A selfless pastor. I always put the Church first. The Church bills always got paid before I did. I worked seven days a week for poverty wages. No benefits. No insurance. Not ONE Church I pastored in 25 years offered any form of benefit package or insurance.

Granted, I did this willingly. No one forced me to live this way. I CHOSE to do so. (to the degree that anyone who feels they are called by God can choose to do so)”

We’ve already touched upon how Bruce made the all-too-common error of putting Church before his family, so I’ll refer you to that post for a fuller treatment.

Yet I want to note that he does point out two problems that pastor’s face:

  1. They put in a lot of time and sacrifice that is generally unappreciated, if noted at all. It’s sort of taken for granted that a pastor will teach, preach, pray, marry, bury, counsel, help, visit and otherwise serve his flock. What’s not generally considered is where he gets the time to do that AND take care of his family.
  2. Churches expect a well-educated, ordained minister, but do not expect to pay him according to his educational level. Not all churches can. Here in Appalachia, a pastor can pretty much count on being bi-vocational, with few exceptions. I know pastors who receive a percentage of the tithes, a small fixed monthly amount that no one else in the church could expect to live on, their health insurance paid but nothing else, or, inevitably, no pay at all. Oh, they want several services and Bible studies a week, plus weddings, baptisms, funerals, camps, small groups, revivals, visitations [evangelistic, hospital, shut-ins, and prisons, respectively], and all the rest, but they have no problem with breaking the Scriptural commandment not to muzzle the ox that treads the corn [metaphorically speaking].

He’s right to note that churches want a minister with a degree in, say, pastoral studies, yet they do not pay that minister enough to get by on, much less to pay off his educational debts. This is a miserable situation, especially since a college degree is not really necessary for ministry.

Yes, you read that right. When we come down to brass tacks, all that is required for ministry is unction, serious attention to Bible study and prayer, and a willingness to serve. That’s it. Education can be beneficial, of course, but I’ve seen country preachers with an 8th grade education aflame with Holy Ghost unction leading vibrant, missions-minded congregations, and endured the well-prepared, intelligently crafted sermons of dry, unction-less doctors of theology with churches that more resembled social clubs or living museums. Likewise, I’ve heard clever, even entertaining speakers with relevant, engaging topics who yet lacked unction; they were nothing more than good motivational speakers. And of course, I’ve also heard the impressive thunderings of fiery preachers who were nonetheless clearly full of hot air and a double portion of plain ignorance. It should be considered a sin to make the preaching of the Word of God boring, or a spectacle, or a mere moralizing homily. Worse still, these so-called preachers who try to make it a means of worldly gain and spiritualized materialism.

What makes all the difference is a man of God who preaches with unction, serves with love and humility, and studies the Word to show himself approved. Nothing more is required.

I digress.

It should be noted that these articles admit what is pretty much common knowledge: that there is a difference between the Biblical ideal and the reality of what a pastor is paid. While this should not be so, it is the stark reality of the situation and a man called to pastor should expect to be ready for this state of affairs.

Still, the root of bitterness would have had no place to take hold in Bruce Gerencser’s ministry if the churches he served had been more careful to obey the Bible in this area.

If you’d like more information on the sorts of salaries a pastor can expect, the expenses he will incur as a part of the ministry, or suggestions on what to pay a pastor and how even a poor parish can provide benefits, you should check out these two articles:

A Pastor’s Salary

http://www.crown.org/library/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=148

What To Pay The Pastor

http://www.christianitytoday.com/cbg/2000/mayjun/3.22.html

God bless you, and God bless your pastor,

Tony Breeden

 

I grew up in church. Church is not God ~ and thank God for that!

Like a lot of kids who grew up in church, I “got saved” many times. I believe I was sincere each & every time. I also think that it was a mark of my own insecurity & the awareness of growing up that led me to seek salvation anew; after all, I was just a kid last year; I was much more mature this year, right?

I got baptized even more than that. I’ve been dunked forwards, backwards – I’ven even been double dunked. Most of these immersions, admittedly, had something to do with the possibility of relief from the summer heat and with the attention gained by such dunkings, but a few were serious. I recall one particular incident in the winter that was either very serious or just not well thought out. In any case, wise to our possible intentions, those adults administering the baptisms took to a habit of justifying our deed by holding us down until we REALLY repented!

While all of these events tend to muddle together into one distorted childhood memory, I do clearly recall the last time I got saved as a child. My family lived in a trailer somewhere in WV. I couldn’t sleep that night, because I just kept thinking, “If I die before I wake… Is that a joke?!?” Every time I closed my eyes, an implacable force both pressed down upon me and made me wieghtless all at once. It felt as if I were being dragged off into the void of Deep space, while someone tried to crush me out of existence. I was afraid that if I died that very night that this would be my fate! My mother assured me that this was only a nightmare, for there were only two possible post-mortem destinations: Heaven (which sounded pleasant enough) and Hell. Yes, Hell. Not a metaphor. Not a bad acid trip. A real place of torment and agony, full of flames and sinners, where you never, ever wake up! Given the options, I chose the less painful one. (Fire insurance anyone?)

At the age of 16, I began going to a Christian school. My father had felt the call to preach that year and had decided that his children should receive better Christian instruction than we’d received previously. We’d always been VERY active in church. I’d been singing in church since I was four. We’d helped with tent revivals and the like. My extended family is jam-packed with gospel singers and preachers. I digress. Yet Dad didn’t feel a Christian education by proxy was adequate. He also wanted us brought up with a Biblical rather than Darwinian worldview. My public school science teachers had openly mocked my parents’ Biblicist views on Genesis when I brought it up in class [so much for a student's rights to voice his religious views and for scientific freedom of inquiry!].

Being in a Christian school doesn’t automatically guarantee you’ll be a SUPER CHRISTIAN, even if it’s a fundamentalist Christian school. It doesn’t even mean that you’re a Christian. (Marilyn Manson went to a Christian school.) I was serious about Christianity, but many of my peers thought the whole thing was a joke.

I learned about such faith giants as DL Moody and George Meuller. I learned about Jim Elliot, and other missionaries and martyrs, who paid the ultimate price for their salvation. I memorized entire chunks of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. I discovered not only my Biblical roots, but also the rest of my spiritual and historical heritage. I felt a sense of pride to know that I was a Christian. This is my heritage! This is what I believe! This is why I believe it! While at Christian school, at the age of 16, I felt the call to preach God’s Word.

I’ve related all fo this to make a point. If I had remained a Christian from that day forth, an argument for belief due to social conditioning could potentially be made. I was deep into fundamental Bible-believing Christian culture. This is full disclosure.

So is the rest of the tale…

While part of my reasons for abandoning my faith had much to do with my disillusionment with the church (Sorry, that will have to wait for some later post), Darwinism was the wedge that eventually shattered that faith. After a couple years of formal Christian education, my parents relented to my younger brothers’ pleas to go back to public school. In high school, Darwinism pervaded nearly everything they taught us. It was clearly indoctrination. My problem is that I wanted to be thought of as smart. After my first few skirmishes with condescending pro-Darwin teachers, I kept my mouth shut. Then in the absence of an alternative or even a critical look at some of Darwinism’s flaws, I began to slowly but surely slide into a belief that perhaps God could have used evolution [since all of the authority figures in my life seemed so convinced of evolution as a fact].

I didn’t know it at the time, but the things I found so convincing back then were all mostly lies and propaganda. Pictures of peppered moths [glued] on tree bark. Haeckle’s famously fudged embryo drawings. The Tree of Life drawing which never once hinted about its notoroiusly missing links; why didn’t someone tell me it was mostly speculation? The geological age strata cutaway chart showing the ages ["a gazillion billion years ago"] and a neat march of macroevolution from microbes to man laid out in the fossil record. Colorful pictures illustrating the mythological evolutionary tree of life. That over-used Ascent of Man chart showing a monkey at one end, a human at the other and a bunch of ape-men which never existed in the middle. The now-disproven vestigial organs canard. I was told in no uncertain terms that Darwinism [macroevolution, though it was never termed as anything but evolution] was a fact [as proven by... microevolution!?? Wait a minute! That's a bait-and-switch!] of science and science was how we’d gotten technology like video games, microwave ovens and cable. This equivocation of macroevolution with microevolution [it was always just called "evolution"], [this amalgamated] evolution with science and science with progress and intelligence came with a not-so-subtle equivocation of the Genesis Record with myth or superstition. Science [and the amalgam evolution concept] was juxtaposed with religion [as pre-scientific and superstitious explanations of the world]. Of course, I didn’t realize I was being indoctrinated to buy this scientific evolution versus Biblical myth false dichotomy. But eventually it began to have an affect on my beliefs.

At first, I satisfied myself with some sort of uneasy compromise between the two origins worldviews. I didn’t bother asking deep questions.  What I hadn’t considered was that, like Adam and Eve, I was listening to Satan’s question, “Has God really said?” I’d decided that one part of the Bible wasn’t true based on the wisdom of men, most of whom were dead.  That led me to question whether other parts of the Bible were true. It led me to toss out much of Genesis, most of early Israel’s Biblical history and Jonah’s fish story. I carefully kept away from criticizing the Gospels, just in case. But I began equating the Bible and religion and even God as increasingly irrelevant to modern life [being pre-scientific explanations of the world], to my life. It didn’t help that I’d come out of fundamentalist subculture who’s increasing hostility to the culture, vividly undeniable hypocrisy [Baker, Swaggart, TBN in general], isolationism and crazy rule-mongering led me to see the church as increasingly irrelevant as well!

I should’ve kept my eyes on God. I realize now that all of this internal conflict was evidence that I had a commitment to a religion rather than a relationship with Christ. After all, if I had truly known Him, how could I have ever left Him? The busy-ness of church had blinded me to the fact that I was doing a lot for Christianity, doing everythinf in His Name, but that I simply didn’t know Him.

Instead, I dropped out. Unwilling to hurt my parents’ feelings, I continued to go to church for a while, to sing, and oh-so-rarely to preach, but the fire was gone. By the time I graduated high school, I had dropped out completely.

I gloried in my ability to “think for myself”, and couldn’t stomache the carbon copy cool conformity of Christian society. I also couldn’t stand my own hypocrisy when I was there, white-washed on the outside, but hollow and rotting on the inside.

Finally, I turned my back on God. How could I trust the Bible if it was so full of holes? I accepted some sort of fuzzy notion about God and would readily identify that God as Jesus if pressed, but He wasn’t really MY God. I became a back-sliding stereotype. I began smoking, cussing, and drinking. I grew my hair out. I threw wild parties. I used God’s name as a swearword every chance I got. I experimented with the occult, particularly runes. I loved the works of H.P. Lovecraft & similar authors. I even perverted my God-given drawing & writing talents, creating morbidly occult fiction & often demonic artwork for band fliers and mere personal amusement. I was the meanest, most spiteful, most cynical person I’ve even known. Even though I was cocky & arrogant in public, I often suffered horrible depression & the aforementioned rage in private. I tried not to let any hint of my true emotions slip through my armor, but I was hurting horribly inside.

I was at my worst when I was the lead vocalist/songwriter for a hardcore/rapcore band called Midian, which I more or less founded. Certainly, it wouldn’t have survived without me, for I wrote almost all of the lyrics (we wrote nearly 100 songs in our brief year & a half of existence; less than 10 of these songs were not written by me), made all of the contacts, promoted the band via fliers, radio, and various publications, booked our concerts, and put together multi-band concerts. Midian was my choice for the band’s name, which is perhaps ironic, since this was my time “on the backside of the desert”. Later, we briefly changed the name to Hate, I Preach. We did covers of Marilyn Manson, Korn, Rage Against the Machine, & others of our genré, but 95% of our shows were comprised of originals, some of which made those cover tunes seem tame by comparison. Aside from the previously mentioned bands, our influences & idols also included Metallica, Iron Maiden, The Doors, Cypress Hill, The Misfits (later Danzig), Megadeth, Faith No More, & Type O Negative.

Anyway I simply wanted to give you a glimpse of who I was for a decade. Some claim that once you get saved, you’re always saved ~ that you can never lose your salvation no matter what you do. I seriously believe that had I died during that time, I would have went straight to Hell. Do not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $100. I know that now. I knew it then. In any case, I was definitely no longer a Creationist. Social conditioning via scholastic indoctrination had the intended effect. This, by the way, is why we need to teach the controversy in public schools.

It took a bit of old-fashioned EXTORTION to get me back into church. I was poor. I had no food. I hadn’t eaten in several days. Since I didn’t have a job, it didn’t look like there was gonna be any food in my future either. They say that sin is fun for a season. My season apparently was up. God had had enough of my running.

Mom made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She said, “Son, you know the church I go to has a FOOD pantry. If you come to church, we’ll fix you up couple bags of groceries. But if you don’t… well, it’s your decision!” she finished cheerily. Talk about an incentive to change!

So I went to church.

But I didn’t make it easy on them. After all, I had made up my mind about how I felt about Church and Christianity.

Yet to my shock and surprise, they actually listened to my gripes and accusations about the Church & its Christians. No one judged me. No one wrote me off as hopeless or “too far gone”. They treated me like a person ~ not a no-good, dirty, rotten sinner. Nor did they treat me in that patronzing “I-told-you-so” manner that is usually reserved for backsliders. In fact, a few became good friends of mine before I started attending regularly. Needless to say, I’m now VERY big on “friendship evangelism.” Through half a year of conversations, i began to realize that I had somehow decided how I felt about Christianity and church culture without really evaluating how I felt about God. As they patiently answered my questions and objections, I stumbled upon the fact that I’d never really known the Jesus who was portrayed in the Bible. I knew a stained-glass Sunday school version of Him that we were all supposed to emulate, but the bold, out-spoken, controversial Christ of the Bible… This guy was amazing! How had the church managed to keep this scandalous God-man a secret?

A year after my first co-erced visit, I gave my life and my heart my life to God on March 23, 1997. The preacher talked about the “Blood Covenant” we make with God upon salvation, as if the Invitation on Heaven’s Door reads: “Whosoever Will may Come” but upon entering we find that the other side of the sign reads: “Foreordained from the Foundation of the World!” I somehow knew that this was my last chance. I’m not a fool. I went to the altar crying (something I hadn’t done in years) and got up preaching (I had to let it all out) and ultimately changed.

Now I had a problem. I had come back to Christendom based on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and fulfilled prophecy, but I still had a fuzzy notion of Biblical authority. How could I trust it for salvation but not for what it said about why I needed to be saved in the first place, that we have all sinned in Adam? As Jesus asked Nicodemus, How could I trust him concerning heavenly things if I couldn’t hear him on what he said about earthly things?

So I began re-examining Genesis. Most of http://DefGen.org is a written exploration of my conclusions. The issue of origins isn’t one of faith versus reason, but rather which reasonable faith [Darwinism or Creationism] is ore reasonable given our shared pool of data and our common capacity from reason.

You see, I’m a thinker. At long last. I thought I knew how to think for myself when I reject the social conditioning of my religious childhood for Darwinism, but I really just fell prey to the more immersive [and therefor more comprehensive and conditionally compelling] social conditioning of scholastic indoctrination in public schools. I didn’t learn to think for myself by believing what they told me; I learned independent thought by daring to critique and question what I’d been told [an art never taught in public school] and making my own decisions. The Bible’s account simply better fits the facts of the observable world.

-Rev Tony Breeden

Bruce Gerencser’s sixth post in his My Journey series on how he came to apostacize covers ground we explored in his first post. Via a clever analogy of the Church as Mistress[OK, I admit that his likening his weekly counselling sessions to getting a weekly VD shot was a bit much], he explains how what we often call church ministry consumed his life, his relationship with his family and ultimately affected his health, both mentally and physically.

Unfortunately, none of this was ever necessary. As I stated in my maiden post:

“God never intended for any minister [or any of the laity for that matter] to sacrifice their families upon the altar of church business or even ministry. Speaking of those who oversee the churches, the Bible plainly states the following necessary qualification:

“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” 1 Timothy 3:4-5

This brings up an interesting insight. If you cannot manage your own household, you cannot be expected to manage the household of God; therefore, a man’s ministry to his family comes before his ministry to the church. It has to, because it is the barometer of his fitness for ministry. If his family is a wreck, he’s not fit for ministry, so how then can he be expeced to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry??

The answer is, of course, that he can’t and that he shouldn’t. Yet so many Christians, clergy and laity alike, fall into this trap, where they suppose they are putting God first by placing their families after ministry. This should not be so. The very fact that the church is called the family of God is because God patterned his church after the family, the very first institution He established.

Bruce strained his marriage, his relationship with his children and his family’s well-being for a noble purpose. But it was wrong. God cares about the family. God is not Molech that He should desire the sacrifice of our children! Ministry together and mutual sacrifice for a greater cause is one thing, but if we put church before God, we’ve got our priorities out of whack.”

It’s very easy to get God and church backwards, but so many people do it.

This brings up the issue we explored in our last post, whether folks who abandon the faith were ever saved. I think that Bruce’s post gives us a bit of insight into the problem. In our last post, I stated that:

“Being a Christian is more than adherance to a lifestyle or a commitment to doing Christian things and saying Christian things. It’s a relationship: You know God and He knows you, intimately.

Here’s the rub: Bruce [and I'm sure countless others] will say that they truly knew Him whom they believed, but if we really knew Him and He knew us, how could we ever think to leave Him? If we truly knew Him and loved Him as we claimed, how could we not endure anything, overcome anything, do whatever we had to to stay in the relationship? The answer is that Bruce and I never knew Him. We knew about Him. We certainly thought we knew Him. But if we had truly known Him [as I know Him now], we could never have left.”

But we were passionate about the ministry, we were totally devoted to ministry for Jesus, right? And here we gain further insight into the problem: While we thought we were in a life-giving relationship with Christ, we were really in a life-sucking affair with Church. It’s very easy to do. We get so busy doing ministry that we miss the fact that the object of our devotion is Church. Instead of the church being the body of believers working toward a common goal of discipling the world and one another, it becomes the end-all and be-all of our faith.

Want further proof? OK, do you invite folks to church or do you invite them to follow Christ? Do you hear about someone’s problems and cluck that they need to be in church, or do you say that they need Jesus? Do you need to be coaxed and guilted into reading your Bible, praying, doing good works, witnessing and doing devotions with your kids? Worse, is Sunday [and/or midweek Bible study] the only time you crack open your Bible, bother to pray a non-meal-related prayer, etc? Do you rely on your pastor to feed you? Or is your relationship with Christ so passionate that you can’t survive on that minimum? Do you read the Bible seekig His will for you and to learn more about your Beloved? Likewise, do you witness out of obligation or guilt, or because you can’t stop talking about one of your chief passions? Do you go to church out of guilt, or a desire to fellowship with folks who love Christ as you do?

Do you see the difference here? What we’re asking, if you’re saved, is have you left your first love for a mistress of duty, guilt and obligation? If you’re not saved, did you substitute Church or Christianity for Chirst?

Because it makes all the difference.

-Rev Tony Breeden

As noted in our last post, Bruce Gerencser experienced some backlash for making his decision to “de-convert from Christianity” publicly via letter. He mentions this in the fourth post in the My Journey series, Letter To My Friends, Family And Former Parishioners Update, which, as I noted, is something of a pity party.

In his fifth post in the My Journey series, You Met A False Jesus, Bruce concentrates on the reaction of one of his [former] friends:

“Laura replied to the letter and let me know that, in no uncertain terms, I was unsaved, had never been saved, and, in fact, it was evident that I met a false Jesus.

Just like that my entire life was erased and I was no different that a whoremongering drunkard. I was a child of Satan, deceived, damned, and headed for hell.”

Ah, Bruce, I feel your pain. There’s a bit of argument around whether a person is saved or was ever saved if they fall away from the faith. I myself struggled with how to define myself when I came back. Was I saved before? Did I just get saved now? Was it even accurate to say I’d “re-dedicated my life to God?”

Bruce and I have much in common concerning where we were and what we did before we fell away from the faith. He preached and taught and pastored, which are undeniable evidence of pretty high commitment levels within Christianity.

As he puts it:

“Yet I publicly declared my allegiance to Jesus. I believed the Bible to be the word of God. I lived according to the precepts of the Bible and taught others to do the same. I preached, witnessed, tithed, read my Bible, prayed and loved Jesus with all my heart, soul, and might.

I offer a challenge to those who say that I never was a Christian, that say I met a false Jesus. I challenge you to find ONE person that knew me as a Christian, as a pastor, who thought, at the time, I was unsaved.

I was a man zealous of good works. I lived and breathed Jesus. I probably was as devoted to Jesus, if not more so, than the very people who now say I was never saved.

It is an absolute denial of reality to suggest I never was a Christian, that I never was a follower of Jesus the Christ. I don’t care what your theology says. I KNOW in whom I HAD believed. (2 Timothy 1:12)”

I’d like to comment on a few things he says in that quote, but first let me note that Bruce and I were very much alike. I likewise preached, taught the Bible and witnessed to anyone who would listen before I turned my back on the faith of my youth. I tithed, read my Bible, tried to live according to the precepts of the Bible, and performed good works. I was convinced that I loved Jesus and you would not have been able to name one person who doubted my sincerity, devotion and… my salvation. We realize of course that whether other people think we’re saved or not is irrelevant to the point, but we still must ask: Given our high levels of Christian commitment and activity, and our belief that we were saved at the time, were we truly saved or not?

As Bruce writes, the rub is this:

“Most of Evangelical Christianity is Calvinistic to some degree or another. Most Baptists are at least one point Calvinists, believing in what is commonly called “once saved always saved.”

When confronted with someone like me, a lifelong Christian, with 25 years of pastoral ministry experience, they are faced with a dilemma. They don’t believe a person could fall from grace so they MUST conclude I was never saved.”

Or as he says elsewhere in this post:

“Because I reject the Bible as truth I can not be a Christian. Since once a person is truly saved they can not fall from grace, it necessarily follows, that since I am not NOW a Christian I never was one.”

Before we examine this claim, we should note that there is a flip-side:

Some well meaning people want to protect me from the “you were never saved” crowd by suggesting that I am still saved. I am just going through a rough spot in my life and I will come around.

Others suggest that I am still saved and that God is going to chastise me. In fact, me having MS is a sign that God IS chastising me. I have been warned that God is going to KILL me if I don’t repent.”

This view has people getting saved, perhaps in their youth, then going on to live Bible denying, Christ denying lives and then going to Heaven very much against their own will. The problem is that anyone whose mind is thus at emnity with God would make a hell of Heaven in short order! These well-meaning folks propose such a ridiculous bargain because they are convinced of the authenticity of the apostate’s former claim to salvation. Maybe they are convinced by their good works, their Christian service and their general disposition. Unfortunately, the Lord answered this objection in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23

OK, so doing a bunch of stuff in the name of Christ will not guarantee that you get into Heaven. But Bruce claims that he “lived and breathed Jesus. I probably was as devoted to Jesus, if not more so, than the very people who now say I was never saved.” And didn’t he also cite 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed?”

But the Bible also says that we should examine ourselves, for we may not be true Christians:

“Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?” 2 Corinthians 13:5

How might we examine ourselves? This verse implies that we must prove ourselves, or put our faith to the test and endure. Too many Christians hear the word, but never act on it, deceiving themselves. But what about me and Bruce and others like us? Fellows who supposed we were giving our all for Christ and then hung it up [if only for a season]. The answer is found in 1 John 2:19:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us”

I had always pondered what this verse meant. I mean, why should it be true that those who abandon the faith were never really of the faith to begin with, despite all appearances to the contrary? Then it hit me: Jesus said that many would come to Him saying, “Lord, didn’t we preach in your name and do all of these good things?” but He would answer, “Depart from me, evildoers. I never knew you.” Being a Christian is more than adherance to a lifestyle or a commitment to doing Christian things and saying Christian things. It’s a relationship: You know God and He knows you, intimately.

Here’s the rub: Bruce [and I'm sure countless others] will say that they truly knew Him whom they believed, but if we really knew Him and He knew us, how could we ever think to leave Him? If we truly knew Him and loved Him as we claimed, how could we not endure anything, overcome anything, do whatever we had to to stay in the relationship? The answer is that Bruce and I never knew Him. We knew about Him. We certainly thought we knew Him. But if we had truly known Him [as I know Him now], we could never have left.

This post isn’t purely about Bruce. It’s about me and everyone like me and Bruce who did very Christian things and convinced ourselves that we were Christians when we weren’t anything of the sort. Yes, we were fully immersed in Christian culture, but we weren’t saved. We were tares among the wheat and no one was the wiser. Wolves among sheep are much easier to spot, even when they wear sheep’s clothing.

This should worry us a bit, for how many of us are partakers of Christian culture rather than followers of Christ? I remind you that the Bible says that MANY will come to Him in that day, saying, “Lord, Lord,” but He will tell them He never knew them. There is a great danger here. So many Christians go through the motions, but they live un-examined lives.

The Lord reminds us via the Parable of the Sower that many call themselves Christians, but not all who receive the Word bear fruit. We can easily identify those who bear no fruit because the Word is immediately snatched from them. These are those who hear the Word but the Devil snatches it from their hearts, leaving them still unbelieving. I believe that this accounts for the unchurched world. A second group receive the Word with gladness, but when adversity and trouble come, they wither and die before they can bear fruit. Others still are so wrapped up in the cares of this world, the daily grind, or the foolishness of riches that they do not bear fruit. Our churches are busy, but are they doing anything? Are we wrapped up in the cares of this life? Are our churches and its Christians characterized by apathy, complacency, materialism, or a desire to disciple those around them?

Bruce’s story is similar to mine in that it was Christians who served Christ with their lips and their Christian activities but denied Him with their backbiting, complacency and lack of love, unity and service who caused me to become disillusioned and embittered toward the Church. My situation was made worse by the fact that many of these folk calling themselves Christians while they fought and gossipped amongst themselves were family members. And of course, I grew up in the 80s, where just about every televangelist you could name was having their gross hypocrisy advertised across the world. When my emotional outrage and disgust at Christianity was coupled with intellectual doubts, I determined to leave the fold at the first available opportunity. So when I graduated from high school, I more or less graduated from church as well.

I had made up my mind about the Church and Christianity, but I had not settled the question of whether the God of the Bible existed. If I had, I could not have left the faith no matter how many Christians failed to live up to it. My salvation and my faith is found in Christ, not Christians. All those burnt-edged, runny-middled, egg shell-riddled omelets can never invalidate the recipe for the perfect omelete. Nor can they discourage me when I know the Master Chef, so that I have absolute confidence in His Cookbook.

So I leave my readers with this final challenge: Examine yourselves to see whether you are of the faith. You owe it to yourself.

God bless you,
Rev Tony Breeden
aka Preacher

Bruce Gerencser has noticed this blog and he has dubbed my judgments regarding his life “misguided and naïve.” I didn’t exactly expect him to be pleased with everything I write here, but I cannot address his concerns if he has nothing more than sweeping generalizations to make.

As a result of this notice, his fan club have made a point of peppering this new-born site with derogatory comments, questioning my intelligence, my motives and my temerity. More than one commenter has made the accusation that Bruce’s posts must’ve shook my faith in order for me to dedicate a blog to hashing through his journey. This is a ridiculous non sequitur, of course; Those who know me likewise know that I deeply care for those who have fallen from the faith and that I am keenly interested in why people fall away, partly because most of my generation likewise abandoned the faith of our youth and, unlike myself, very few returned.

I seek to understand, because I wish to do what I can to prevent this from occurring in future generations, and to understand the fallen so that I might help them reclaim return, God willing.

Of course, I expected backlash and misunderstanding when I began this endeavor, so I’m hardly surprised. Our decisions have consequences, as Bruce learned when he sent a series of letters explaining his new-found apostasy to his friends, family and former parishioners. Or perhaps he didn’t learn this lesson. I dunno. Judge for yourself.

You see, Bruce Gerencser’s fourth post in the My Journey series, Letter To My Friends, Family And Former Parishioners Update, is something of a pity party:

“Almost two years ago I sent my friends, family and former parishioners a letter concerning my decision to deconvert from Christianity. I wish I could say my letter was well received. I wish I could say that people told me they supported my decision. I wish I could say I have been treated in a kind and respectful manner.

But I can’t.”

I thought he reactions to his letter were predictable enough: One guy drobe 3 hours to talk him out of it. Others wrote letters and emails, either attempting to change his mind or condemning him. Some apparently gossipped behind his back.

I personally cannot stand gossips. Why there should exist the level of pervasive gossip within Christendom when the Bible plainly condemns it is beyond me. Granted, I cannot recall the last time I heard another preacher mention it. Nor can i recall the last time I heard of a minister putting a mmeber under church discipline for spreading rumors and gossip. The general impression we get is that it’s something of a necessary evil.

The Bible has a completely different view of gossipping. Leviticus 19:16 forbids it with an all-too-familiar “Thou shalt not…” Proverbs 26:20 pretty much sums up why the Church should refuse and condemn gossip when they hear it:

“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceaseth.”

Wanna know why a lot of churches aren’t united? Wanna know why a lot of them are full of strife and back-biting? Because they’ve a gossip among them, usually more than one. My advise is to resist the Devil and watch him [or her] flee from you. If we made churches less inviting to gossips, well, let’s face it: most gossips like to stir up trouble and watch what happens, but it’s no fun without a fan club to appreciate it. Our actions have consequences; likewise, our lack of action where it concerns these gossips has consequences as well. As we mentioned when commenting on Bruce’s 2nd post, Bruce admitted the following:

“This is one of the reasons I ultimately rejected the Christian faith.

I couldn’t square my day to day experience in the Church with:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34, 35

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: John 17:2-22

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 1 John 4:7

It was anything but love and unity.”

This ought to give us reason enough to commit ourselves to preventing gossip in our churches, starting with stopping our own mouths.

Nevertheless, I think Bruce has missed the point that his own actions have consequences. No man is an island. Yet he pretends as if his decision should not affected anyone except himself. For example, he gives the following illustration of the woes that have befallen him since he made his decision public:

“Last Christmas, the patriarch of the family, a pastor of 40 plus years, was intent on confronting me about my apostasy. I am grateful my mother-in-law quashed his plan to confront me. It would have been ugly. I mean ugly, ugly.

My wife decided that we would not do Christmas at her parent’s home any more. The stress and undercurrent are such that it is impossible to “enjoy” time with the family during the Christmas holiday.

Did you notice I said my wife decided?” [empasis his]

He pretends as if his wife made the decision to spend Christmas without their family to avoid the strife his decision had created of her accord. She made the decision because his decision had consequences for her and her relationship with him and her family. She was forced to deal with the backlash his decision resulted in. Not him. I get a bit ruffled when I see grown men abdicating responsibility for their own actions, yet this has become common for many in America, especially those of the Baby Boomer generation. Nothing is ever their fault. It’s always someone else’s. Everybody else’s reactions to their narcicism is always unexpected and unreasonable.

For example, Bruce laments that he had hoped that his letter would be well-received and that folks would support him in his decision. Why? Why would he reasonably expect that?

He knew their beliefs, for he helped instill some of them. He knew that they believe that Bible-denying, Christ denying apostates go to hell. If he knew them at all, he should have expected those whom he taught and those he labored alongside to feel betrayed, at the very least. He should have expected them to feel they should try to convince him otherwise if they loved him at all. By stating that he did not wish them to try and convince him he was wrong, he was asking for their apathy, not their love. Apathy can sit by and allow someone to destroy themselves; love cannot!

Our decisions, actions and inactions have consequences. If the church could make this simple revelation, we could actually begin being the church God always intended. Why do I say that? Because meekness, a fruit of the Spirit no less, is the ability to put other people’s best interests and needs above your own. Jesus and Moses [no push-overs, mind you] were exemplars of meekness, according to the Bible. I submit that it is impossible to display or actualize meekness if you cannot fathom that what you do affects others. Personal accountability is absolutely essential for genuine meekness, and genuine unity.

God bless,

Preacher

As noted in my last post, Bruce Gerencser’s second post in the My Journey series, My Testimony, dealt with, in part, how he came to the conclusion that the Bible was neither inerrant nor inspired and how that affected his other theological views.

His third post in the series, A Letter To Family, Friends and Former Parishoners gives further insight into how he came to doubt the veracity and ultimate authority of the Word of God:

“I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.”

The most obvious insight we gain from this quote is that Bruce is a fan of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is another sad case of fundamentalist-turned-apostate. He’s written several books which attempt to destroy the credibility of the New Testament Scriptures. In a Washington Post article called The Book of Bart, we gain insight into how Ehrman studied at Moody, Wheaton and finally Princeton Theological Seminary. Princeton is of course a hotbed of liberal theology. One may as well get their theology from the local skeptics society. It is little wonder that while at Princeton that his doubts began, as his studies under liberal Bible haters began to reveal that “the Bible simply wasn’t error-free.” The article relates how Ehrman finally began to doubt the Bible was God’s inerrant, inspired Word:

“He wrote a tortured paper at Princeton that sought to explain how an episode in Mark might be true, despite clear evidence to the contrary. A professor wrote in the margin:

“Maybe Mark just made a mistake.”

As simple as it was, it struck him to the core.”

As a result of his liberal theological studies at Princeton, Ehrman ultimately lost his faith. [By the way, this is a FAIL for any institution claiming to teach theology]:

“Ehrman slowly came to a horrifying realization: There was no real historical record. It was, he felt, all incense and myth, told by illiterate men and not set down in writing for decades.”

Liberal theology is simply apostasy and hersey with a more polite label. Jesus spoke of such when He said:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” Mathhew 23:15

Likewise, 2 Timothy 3:7 speaks of those who are ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of truth. Why would this be? Maybe because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge and these professors, making no difference between the holy and profane, treat the Bible like a human document rather than the Word of God. In other words, the go about criticizing the Bible as if it were a fallible Book which came about by the will of pre-scientific men and, shock and surprise, they confirm their own presuppositions.

And then they in turn convince others to abandon the faith and accompany them cheerfully on the road to hell. When Bruce exposes his wife to the false teaching of Ehrman,  I can’t help but point out that this Eve giving Adam the forbidden fruit in reverse.

How many times does the Bible warn us to beware of false teachers? Let us remember that just because someone has a title or a doctorate and appears outwardly like one of the flock of God doesn’t mean that this person isn’t a ravening wolf inside. We need to remember that respect of persons can blind us to the knowledge of God.

Likewise, the desire to appear knowledgeable can be a snare. Bruce certainly displays a bit of intellectual pride when he warns his friends, family and former parishioners:

“Here is what I don’t want from you:

• Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?

In Bruce’s defense, he fell for the self-same temptation that tripped up Eve. Gensis 3:4-6 relates the following:

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

Note that part of the temptation for Eve to disobey God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was that she desired to be wise, but she did not begin with the fear of the Lord; rather, she began with accepting the denial of God’s Word.

God bless you,

Preacher

Bruce Gerencser’s second post in the My Journey series, My Testimony, dealt with, in part, how he came to the conclusion that the Bible was neither inerrant nor inspired and how that affected his other theological views.

His third post in the series, A Letter To Family, Friends and Former Parishoners treads over some of the same ground we’ve already covered, but it also includes this rather intriguing quote:

“A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.”

Of course, in order for his political views to begin to color his theological views he had to have already rejected, at least in part, the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. As Christians, as Bruce pointed out in his last post, the Word of God is to be our thinking in every area:

“To be a Christian means you believe the Bible to be the word of God. To be a Christian means you embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith. Since I do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and I no longer embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith,I am no longer a Christian.

My deconversion came at the moment where I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the Bible to be the word of God. As I have often said, It really is all about the Bible.”

So rather than having our views influenced by politics or the culture, our views should be a reflection of the revelation of the Bible.

Too often we stub a dearly held opinion or political view on a verse of Scripture, but if the Bible is truly God’s Word we’ve no right to edit it or take it ala cart. It’s when we’re tempted to echo the doubt of the Edenic Serpent, asking “Did God really say that?” because we want to impose another meaning upon the Text that we begin abandoning the ultimate authority of the Bible – and begin down the slippery slope to further unbelief.

Sin is, after all, rebellion against God and His Word, an attempt to supplant His Will with our own.

In our next post, we’ll explore some further thoughts from Bruce’s Letter.

God bless you,

Preacher

 

Bruce Gerencser’s second post in the My Journey series, My Testimony, deals with two separate issues:

1. The pointlessness of much of what we call church ministry

2. His conclusions on the Bible

We dealt with the former issue in our last post, Church Outside Four Walls. In this post, we deal with the latter issue.

In My Testimony, Bruce makes a stratling admission:

“To be a Christian means you believe the Bible to be the word of God. To be a Christian means you embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith. Since I do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and I no longer embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith,I am no longer a Christian.

My deconversion came at the moment where I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the Bible to be the word of God. As I have often said, It really is all about the Bible.”

What started him down this path? He sheds further light elsewhere in that post:

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Bible, as great of a book as it is, is not the inerrant, inspired word of God. At best, the Bible is a spiritual guide and a book of mythical stories written by men thousands of years ago. It is not a book that is overly relevant to the world that we live in today. The stories make for great reading but they offer little real practical wisdom for moderns in a 21st-century. I still enjoy reading the Sermon on the Mount, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms. There is wisdom to be had from the Bible but it is certainly not a book that one can govern their life by.

I came to see that the Christian church’s attempt to prop up the Bible was a house of illusions. Instead of confronting the fallibility of the text and the many errors within that text, the Christian church instead developed convoluted and humorous explanations for the perceived errors and contradictions in the Bible. Explanations like….. inerrant in the originals.”

The orthodox position of Christendom is that the Bible is inerrant in the original autogrpahs and that God has preserved His Word as it has been passed down. A lingering bias of King James Only-ism seems to have kept him from accepting an orthodox position [see next quote].

He certainly does not tell us which alleged errors or contradictions he found in the Bible, so we cannot address those. Perhaps he is more transparent in later posts, but his charges are void for vagueness at this point.

In any case, I cannot fail to note that he called the Bible a “book of mythical stories written by men thousands of years ago.” This is a direct contradiction of the Bible’s claim that no prophecy of Scripture ever came by the will of men, but holy men of old spoke as they were moved of the Holy Ghost [2 Peter 1:21]. How might he have come to this conclusion that the Bible is a purely human book? The very phrase “mythical stories” is suggestive of the fact that he accepted millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution and then rejected the Genesis record of Creation and the Flood.

In his first installment of the My Journey series, Why I Retired From The Ministry, Bruce listed one of his reasons for leaving the ministry as:

  • Changing understanding of the Bible. I started out the ministry as a King James Only, every word is inerrant believer. I have come to understand that such a belief is not only unsustainable theologically but absolutely irrational. I no longer use the Bible as a science or history textbook and I no longer need to read any particular systematic theology into the text in order to enjoy reading the Bible. I simply enjoy reading the Biblical narrative for its own sake. It now speaks to me in ways I never thought possible.

Now, I am King James Preferred and I have never preached out of any Bible save the King James, but I tend to shudder at the very idea of King James Only-ism. Why? Because I cannot fathom why someone would suppose that God wanted the Bible in English to preserved in an increasingly anachronistic variant of English, when He wants the whole world to read and understand His Word.

Yet note that he ststes that he no longer uses the “Bible as a science or history textbook.” This is a common argument from those who affirm millions of years and/or evolution. This is evidence that his rejection of the Bible began with an acceptance of millions of years of evolution.

Note the sobering consequences of rejecting the ultimate authority of the Word of God, as recounted by Bruce Gerencser himself:

“Robert Price said that once a person stops believing that the Bible is the Word of God they are on a slippery slope where there is no natural stopping place. That’s where I find myself. For a time I was content to call myself a progressive, liberal Christian. As I continued to slide down the slippery slope I thought that maybe Universalism was the answer…  But, at the end of the day, Universalism did not satisfy me and I came to a place where it was time to stop calling myself a Christian.”

Think about it. he went from fundamentalist to liberal Christian to Universalist to, in his own words, “a Bible denying, Christ denying agnostic.” Worse still, while Bruce tentatively affirms deism at the writing of My Testimony, he currently identifies himself as a full-blown atheist!

We must remember that it really does come down to whether one’s ultimate authority is God’s Word or man’s.

Preacher

Bruce Gerencser’s second post in the My Journey series, My Testimony, deals with two separate issues:

1. The pointlessness of much of what we call church ministry

2. His conclusions on the Bible

This post explores some of his thoughts on the first issue. God willing, we’ll deal with the second issue in the next post.

Bruce has some rather strong criticisms of much of what we call church ministry. In fact, he introduced this complaint in his first installment of the My Journey series, Why I Retired From The Ministry, citing one of his reasons for leaving the church as:

  • The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I have come to realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money…..It seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating . Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.

In My Testimony, he relates how he began to search for a church that reflected the ideals of the Bible:

“I left the ministry as a tired, worn out,abused preacher. When I left the ministry I was still a believer. I thought that the problem was the churches I pastored or perhaps me personally. If I just found the right church to attend the ship could be righted and all would be well. For four years, and five states, I looked for that one church that took Christianity seriously and practiced teachings of Jesus. After visiting over 125 churches, attending some of them for months, especially those in the community I lived in at the time, I came to the conclusion that no matter what the name was on the door every church was the same.

My crisis of faith did not begin as a theological struggle. It began as I looked at the Christian Church as a whole and came to the conclusion that, for the most part, the Christian church was a meaningless social club. While I certainly realized there were probably some exceptions out there somewhere I didn’t find any.”

He has a point: we’re hardly turning the world upside-down. Many of us are merely weekend warriors. I speak this to our shame.

He continues this thread in another post called Does the Church Matter?:

“I know this sounds harsh, even mean, but it is the truth, Most people AREN’T in Church on any given Sunday. Most Churches rarely venture outside of the four walls of their building. For the most part their impact on the day today lives of most people is nonexistent.

Certainly Churches are a source of comfort, encouragement, support, inspiration and instruction for many of the people who attend on Sunday. Certainly each Church members has the potential to make a big difference in the world. To the degree that the individual finds what they need at Church I say Good for them. But, to suggest that the Church makes a huge difference in our society is a gross overstatement.

Outside of a one night a week youth outreach in an abandoned lumberyard building there is no visible demonstration of the Church outside the four walls of the Churches.

What we have is convenient,nice, polite, meaningless Christianity. What is absent is the life changing, counter-cultural, subversive message of the man named Jesus.”

Think about it. What is missing from society is a Christianity that engages the culture with good works and the message of Jesus! Did you know that, according to Barna Research, the majority of Christians go through their entire lives without ever leading even one single person to Christ? How can this be? How can we have come so far from the Great Commission? How can we have come so far from engaging the world with the life-changing message of Christ? The early Church prayed for boldness in the face of opposition; the modern church stays safely and irrelevantly behind Church walls and unconvincingly laments that the lost do not come to hear the message we were sent to preach in words and works.

Bruce’s concluding remarks from Does the Church Matter are chilling, but I think his assessment is unfortunately accurate:

“This is one of the reasons I ultimately rejected the Christian faith.

I couldn’t square my day to day experience in the Church with:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34, 35

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: John 17:2-22

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 1 John 4:7

It was anything but love and unity.”

Now I know this is a silly reason to quit Christ; after all, all the burnt-edged, runny-middled, egg shell-riddled omelets in the world do not invalidate the recipe for the perfect omelete. They just show why it’s important to follow the directions! But let’s face it: people are turned off by the hypocrisy and irrelevance of much of modern church. People want to be a part of something that has purpose. They want action, not lipservice. Works, not just words. They wants something authentic and compelling.

They want Christ in us, the hope of glory, even if they do not yet know it! They need someone to show them the way, and this is why we are commanded to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven [Matthew 5:16]. How long will we hide our lamps under a basket, shuttered within the safety of our church walls? When will we be bold enough to shine bright for Christ, outside the church walls in the fields that are ripe for harvest?

Men and women of God, may Christ find your lamps trimmed and brightly burning when He comes!

God bless you,

Preacher

As I finished reading Bruce Gerencser’s first post in the My Journey series, Why I Retired From The Ministry, I was left with two distinct impressions:

1. This guy undeniably had a mid-life crisis:

“I have become progressive in my thinking and I identify with more liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was but neither am I the man I want to me. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently “it is normal in mid-age to revaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.””

2. He somehow got God and Church backwards. It’s a common error. From Billy Graham to the preacher next door, clergy get it in their heads that since God is first in their lives, Church or ministry needs to be first as well. But that just ain’t what the Good Book says.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bruce’s sobering post lists many reasons for why he left the ministry, but we get the not-so-subtle impression that it was affecting his health, physical and mental…

“I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist work-a-holic. I worked myself into a physical collapse thinking all the while that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.”

“I came to the realization that I was was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s (or men who spoke for God) standard. I despaired for my life.”

…his marriage and family…

“I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.”

“I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life”

…and his finances:

“Thousands of Churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit on the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps and my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes all so people could say “we have a pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing,salary and reimbursements, was 26,000.00. While everyone one else progressed economically my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never had the Church (any Church) on their own volition offer a raise to me. I had to ask, and most often plead and beg. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores and yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”’

He right, of course, when he laments that a great many churches treat their pastors to salaries that they could never live on, but somehow expect them to! My dad was a pastor and I don’t anyone ever considered how hard it was to do full-time ministry and work a full-time job as well, simply to make ends meet for a family of five. A lot of Appalachian churches cannot pay their ministers much, and I suspect that there are poor churches across the US who are in the same boat. So this comes with the turf for most ministers in my neck of the woods. Of course, everyone still expects that preacher to visit the sick and imprisoned, preach on Sunday and officiate weddings, baptisms and funerals regardless of his work schedule. And, yes, this comes with the turf, whether folks appreciate it or not. I’m simply stating that I can empathize with his aggravation at seeing his family do without while church members blithely offered Bless Yous. Ye rich, howl and weep… [James 5:1]

The Bible plainly condemns the apathy that many well-off Christians show to those in their churches [including their pastors] who barely scrape by:

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?” James 2:15-16

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18

It even speaks specifically against this where clergy are concerned:

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his hire.” 1 Timothy 5:17-18

But some of Bruce’s problems were his own fault. God never intended for any minister [or any of the laity for that matter] to sacrifice their families upon the altar of church business or even ministry. Speaking of those who oversee the churches, the Bible plainly states the following necessary qualification:

“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” 1 Timothy 3:4-5

This brings up an interesting insight. If you cannot manage your own household, you cannot be expected to manage the household of God; therefore, a man’s ministry to his family comes before his ministry to the church. It has to, because it is the barometer of his fitness for ministry. If his family is a wreck, he’s not fit for ministry, so how then can he be expeced to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry??

The answer is, of course, that he can’t and that he shouldn’t. Yet so many Christians, clergy and laity alike, fall into this trap, where they suppose they are putting God first by placing their families after ministry. This should not be so. The very fact that the church is called the family of God is because God patterned his church after the family, the very first institution He established.

Bruce strained his marriage, his relationship with his children and his family’s well-being for a noble purpose. But it was wrong. God cares about the family. God is not Molech that He should desire the sacrifice of our children! Ministry together and mutual sacrifice for a greater cause is one thing, but if we put church before God, we’ve got our priorities out of whack.

I think a lot of us could learn from Bruce’s all-too-common mistake in this area.

God bless you,

Preacher