Archive for the ‘Hypocrisy’ Category

We have now reached Bruce Gerencser’s 10th post in his My Journey series, Why Are We Who We Are? A Personal Reflection, which explores fundamentalism in the nature versus nurture context. Basically, he asks whether it is our environment or our biological makeup that makes us who we are. Sociologists have debated this question ever since we conceived of it. The general consensus is that we are a product of both, though some favor one over the other.

My problem with the whole nature versus nurture question is that it precludes the possibility of God’s intervention in a person’s life. It also marginalizes free will, pretending that our decisions regarding religion, politics, ethics, et cetera are largely the product of either genetic predisposition or cultural conditioning.

Folks with this mindset of nurture versus nature often make the argument on the side of nurture that Christians would be Muslims if they had been born in a different country. This ignores the fact that people convert to Christianity in Muslim countries despite the peril to their lives and families this personal decision entails. Likewise, if we were largely a product of either biology or sociology, folks like Bruce should never leave the fold. For that matter neither should’ve I or any of the other churched youth who leave the church each year. Furthermore, the nature versus nurture approach presents a false dilemma that is ultimately self-defeating, for we are then forced to ask the proponent of such an approach whether his decision to accept the nature versus nurture approach is the product of either nature or nurture: if it is the product of nature, how can we be sure he is biologically hard-wired in such a way that he can trust this opinion is true, and, likewise, if his position is the product of nurture, how can he be sure his society has stumbled upon the correct philosophy?

Clearly there is more to our decisions than nature versus nurture. There is an element of free will.

Now Bruce charges fundamentalists with erroneously seeking simple answers to complex questions. This is a misrepresentation. Fundamentalists seek out absolute answers, because we believe the truth can be known and has been revealed in God’s Word. Of course, some fundamentalists [and I do believe this is the stripe Bruce is referring to] want their world ordered down to the last detail. They forget that without faith it is impossible to please God, so that while the truth is absolute and can be known, we are not exactly omniscient.

Our lack of omniscience, especially coupled with the fact that we have free will, leads to a problem: we do not always recognize or accept the truth; furthermore, we often come to the truth by degrees or in stages, so that Paul warned that grace and longsuffering toward our brethren is absolutely necessary.

The stripe of fundamentalism Bruce encountered is one I’m unfortunately well acquainted with. Their rule-mongering reminds us of the Legalists of Ancient China. The Period of Warring States was, as the name suggests, a time of upheaval and civil war. In order to maintain order and control, a philosophy arose called Legalism, which drew up extensive and detailed lists of crimes and assigned exacting punishments for each one. This code was so detailed that a Legalist judge’s job was not to determine the punishment for a crime, but merely to define the crime itself – for the punishment was already prescribed for any crime he eventually decided upon. Like the Legalists of Ancient China, legalist fundamentalists want their world completely ordered in strict categories of black and white. Therefore, they decree [implicitly or expressly] dress codes, speech codes, forbidden places, music codes, entertainment restrictions, and a whole host of similar nitpickery. Some of these legalists were so legalistic that they denied that they were actually legalistic based on an exacting and legalistic definition of legalism!

I have even heard legalists argue over the “correct method” of evangelism. While I attended Appalachian Bible College*, there was a church who regularly handed out soda to folks stuck in gridlocked traffic near the church. These sodas had a little verse affixed to them inviting the thirsty to learn more of Christ and an invitation to their church. They did similar things with handing out gum, snacks and various other things. This church was also big on what they called “friendship evangelism” and what I simply call authentic discipleship. Unfortunately, there were certain professors within the cult of pseudo-spiritual legalism at ABC who objected to these evangelistic methods for various reasons, insisting instead students use tracts, the Romans Road and more traditional evangelistic approaches. They had the perfect right to express a preference or even to point out any weaknesses they saw in novel approaches to evangelism – I would go so far as to say that they had a duty to do so – but they went further by condemning these novel evangelistic methods as incorrect and even unBiblical. Paul, they argued, would never have handed out cans of soda with Bible verses on them. Peter preached; you would never have caught him encouraging “friendship evangelism.” We need to stick with the methods revealed in the Bible! Of course, the counter-argument is that Jesus so utilized friendship evangelism that he was derisively named a friend of sinners. The Bible reports that he regularly ate with sinners, tax collectors, and even self-righteous religious folk. Likewise, in addition to traditional teaching and preaching, Jesus utilized parables [clever teaching stories] and regularly utilized statements we might term thought-provoking hooks. For example, He called Himself the Bread of Life and the Living Water, and called his disciples to be Fishers of Men. In fact, it was one of Jesus’ hooks that He spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the Well that this church was affixing to their soda cans in their allegedly unbiblical and incorrect evangelism methods!

The irony of the legalist fundamentalist’s position is that when Paul addressed their plight, he called them weaker brethren and advised the rest of us to humor them and show them long-suffering. In fact, he recognized that their faith relied upon the crutch of legalism and so Paul advised brethren who’d grown beyond the need for that crutch to voluntarily limit their liberty lest their weaker brethren stumble and transform liberty into license. Of course, they were expected to grow up at some point…

Now let’s compare this Biblical revelation to Bruce Gerencser’s conclusions concerning legalist fundamentalists, especially preachers:

“My upbringing helped to shape me into what I became. From the age of 5 all I ever wanted to be was a preacher. I never had the struggle many men have about what they want to be when they grow up. My heart was set on being a preacher and from the age of 14 to the age of 50 that is exactly what I was.

I looked up to the pastors of our Church. They taught me how a preacher is supposed to live his life. Every pastor I ever had was an ambitious, judgmental, controlling person. The College I went to was populated with teachers that were former and current pastors and they reinforced what the pastors of my youth taught me. The pastor of the Church I attended while in College was a control-freak. He was the boss of all bosses. He was the potentate of the Church. He was a Moses on Mt Sinai. As a 19 yr old boy I revered this man. He was everything I wanted to be.

I pastored my first Church when I was 22 years old. I was arrogant, controlling and full of myself and the Holy Ghost..                         I was taught leaders are meant to lead. A good pastor was an in-charge pastor. A good pastor was a decision-maker. A good pastor would not let anyone deter him from doing whatever God led him to do. (and God talked to me personally through the Holy Spirit and the Bible)

Every pastor I knew was just like me. After all, birds of a feather flock together. Every pastor I knew was controlling and authoritarian. Pastoral authority is a big topic of discussion in fundamentalist Baptist churches.

Time and circumstance tempered me. Towards the end of my years in the ministry I came to realize how wrong I had been about the ministry and how a pastor should conduct himself. I was very sincere and honest as a pastor, but I came to see that I actually hurt people by being a controlling, authoritarian pastor.

I met some evil people during my time as a pastor. I met pastors who preyed on the people they pastored. They manipulated and controlled people in order to gain financial, material, or sexual favor. Lynn is quite right when she said:

I think nasty, authoritarian people are drawn to fundamentalism.

Most fundamentalist churches are pastored by, and controlled by, one man. He is the man of God. He is the one person in the Church that has God’s ear and God,in return, has his.

I would add that fundamentalism also attracts church members who are authoritarian and controlling. Fundamentalist churches are rife with conflict and it is quite common for people to leave the church over conflicts with the pastor or other power brokers in the church. Most fundamentalist Baptist churches have experienced a split at one time or another. It is not uncommon for a group of people to leave the church and go off on their own and start another church. (always led by the Holy Spirit of course)”

How much of what he says here resonates with your journey? In my case, I can honestly say that I empathize with his general impression of the fundamentalist movement as legalistic, grace-less and controlling. I can also tell you with certainty that this generalization is not always fair. Not everyone in the fundamentalist movement is authoritarian and controlling. Many join the fundamentalist movement because they affirm the core doctrines of the church and, despite their warts and dress codes, the fundamentalists generally stand for those doctrines without dissemblance. I know lots of people like me within the fundamentalist movement who aren’t part of the legalist element. In fact, I am ordained through the Association of Fundamental Ministers and Churches, so you could call me a card-carrying fundamentalist; yet I tell you the truth, our local AFMC meetings [which consist largely of ministers and Gospel workers] are some of the best times I’ve ever had. I can’t think of a more graceful, joyful, friendly bunch and I am richer for my fellowship with them. And I will tell you unequivocally that, fundamentalist they may be, but they are not the sort of fundamentalists Bruce describes.

Which brings me to my ultimate point concerning nurture versus nature: I think that the entire reason why ex-Christians like to put their experience in terms of nature versus nurture is to minimize their personal responsibility for being the type of Christians which they now despise. Surely they were just a product of their environment or their biology! Surely they were simply being swept along by the forces of society or genetics until the moment they woke up! You see, being that type of legalistic Christian comes with a fair measure of guilt, which can never be absolved in an atheist paradigm except by denying their own free will and responsibility at that stage of their lives [while arbitrarily suggesting that they are free of such overruling forces now so as to freely exercise their will, right?]. On the other hand, the Christian may admit their accountability, repent of their legalism and seek to make amends, and strive to be more Christ-like instead.

We will discuss legalism a bit more in the next post.

God Bless You,

Tony Breeden

*This post should not be taken as a blanket condemnation of Appalachian Bible College. Nor do I contend that everyone at ABC, then or now, is legalistic. In fact, I support my alma mater’s stance on the authority of the Word of God and its mission to train up servants for Christ, though I caution anyone within fundamentalism that grace AND truth came by Jesus Christ.

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

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