Archive for the ‘Walking our Talk’ 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.

Bruce Gerencser’s 8th post in his My Journey series, I Love and Respect Your Position, is something of an open taunt of those who love him enough to try to win him to Christ. In short, he doubts their sincerity. He began the lament in his previous post:

“I am convinced that most Evangelicals and Fundamentalists can not truly be a friend to someone like me. The urge to evangelize, witness, convert, call to repentance is just too great…”

In this post, he objects to the concept that a true Christian could respect his position:

“If you are a Christian, I mean a card –carrying member of the Jesus band you should find my views abhorrent, loathsome,and damnable.

I know you are my friend.

I know you have become adept at separating the man from his message.

I appreciate the fact that people make an attempt to love me where I am, how I am.

But I wonder…

Do they really love me for being me or is their love a means to an end?”

It’s an interesting objection. Once again, he presumes that true love or friendship will abandon its Christian beliefs that their apostate friend will go to hell if he does not repent. He asks for apathy concerning his eternal fate, quite the antithesis of love or friendship.

Would love let a man choose hell if he could convince his friend otherwise? Would not friendship make the attempt to win his soul? What makes Bruce suppose that this concern is a pretense for evangelism, rather than evangelism being the inevitable response of Christian love? Was he this shallow as a professing Christian? Was his love for unsaved loved ones as disingenuous as he proposes everyone else’s must be?

He continues:

“Perhaps you operate under the delusion that if you just love me as you know Jesus loves me that I will return to the Christian faith and the universe, your universe will be in balance once again.

You hold on, hoping that the hounds of heaven chase me down and return me to Kingdom of God.”

If the claims of Christianity are true, could love hope for anything else but his true conversion? Could a friend do ought else but hope that the love of Christ demonstrated toward the unsaved would draw them to Himself?

He then insists that:

“You don’t really love and respect my position.

How can you?

I stand in opposition to much of what you believe in.”

My answer is painfully simple. Yes, he stands in opposition to [dare I say, in adamant defiance of!] much of what I believe in, but I really do respect his position… because I’ve been there. When I say that much of Bruce’s journey resonates with my own, I’m not kidding. If anything, it’s understatement.

Yet I found I had never truly known Christ. I had known about him and been fully engaged in church culture, but never truly known my Lord. Yet now that I know Him, I cannot but speak of Him. The love of Christ constrains me, so that any expression of that love must ultimately compel me to tell others about Him, to warn them of their plight and tell them of His great love and sacrifice for them.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

2 Corinthians 5:10-15

Love will not stand by while you douse yourself in gasoline and strike a match. Unfortunately, this is the level of “acceptance” Bruce is asking of his Christian friends. Perhaps he should be more honest: it is he who cannot be friends with a true Christian, for he knows they must try to convince him of his error if they are truly his friend.

This brings up an interesting, but very important point. If we are to emulate Him who was called the Friend of Sinners, we must realize that the friendship will take much more effort on our part than on the part of the lost. For starters, we must tell them the Gospel if we love them.

I know that some folks will object that they don’t wish to wreck the friendship and that their unsaved friends get upset when they broach the Gospel. In all honesty, I get upset when someone broaches the subject of sports, but I will endure a friend’s fanaticism on the subject. I’ve gone to ball games and familiarized myself with the topic of my friend’s passion because a man who wishes to be friends must be friendly. Friendship is anything but selfish. Since my friend knows of my general opinion of sports, he does not go out of his way to discuss it, but neither does he deny himself. If we are passionate about Christ, He will come up in normal conversation from time to time.

As loathe as I am to mention it, I must also note that eternal separation from our friend will most certainly wreck the friendship! And we must tell them the Gospel as God gives us opportunity; merely living a Christian life, though it can be a witness of our authenticity, might also give our friend the mistaken idea that all is required to enter heaven is to live a good life! We must tell them the reason for all of it!

Friendship demands no less.

God bless you in your friendships,

Rev Tony Breeden

In Bruce Gerencser’s 7th post in his My Journey series, What Should We Do About Bruce?, he makes the following criticism:

“Their Christianity has no place for the world. It has no place for those who are not just like them. Their world is a narrow, homogenous world. They make forays into the world to evangelize, do what business is necessary and to earn a living. The rest of their time is spent within the safe walls of the Christian home and Church.”

I bring this up because we’ve also been looking at Barna.org’s Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church.  Reason #1 on that list is “Churches seem overprotective,” and under that heading is found the following comment:

Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%)…”

The basic charge here is one of irrelevance.

This is just sad, because while we are charged to fulfill the Great Commission to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we are also charged with good works.

Consider the following Bible verses concerning good works:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to
keep himself unspotted from the world

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

1 Peter 3:15 [K]eeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

When you look at these verses, you begin to get a picture of the importance of good works in a Christian’s life. While we are not saved by good works, good works are an evidence of a transformed life and the mark of true religion. We were saved for the purpose of good works that glorify God, point men to Him and put scorners to silence even when they disagree with us. Is this the Christianity we see today in USAmerica?

Is this the Christianity we see reflected in you? What good works are evidenced in your life and how do they glorify God? Do people think of you as good people, good at argument, or good for nothing?  Do they see you as holier-than-thou and self-righteous, or someone who truly loves and cares for folk?

The thing is we have to earn the right to be heard in many cases; especially in those cases where folks have been burned by the church.

Let me give you an example from my own life. When I was living as an agnostic who regularly blasphemed God in song, I was asked on many occasions to join the ranks of atheism. Surely having been exposed to the hypocrisy of the church, I could boldly say that God did not exist, they reminded me. Yet in my case, I was fully aware of two imperfect people who were Christians, who truly cared about me and were not hypocrites: my parents. Furthermore, my father was so down-to-earth that I could not fathom why he would believe in God unless he was convinced it was reasonable and useful. I watched them as they served God, did good works and, yes, stumbled and fell. Each time they messed up, they confessed their fault, made amends and moved on. Their good life and works and their testimony prevented me from becoming a full-fledged atheist – in essence, they gave me a reason to doubt my doubt about God and opened a door that made me receptive [if still highly suspicious] to hearing their take on things.

This is what Christians need to strive for. Like it or not, the perceived hypocrisy and irrelevance of the church is an impediment to the Gospel. In many cases, it is not just our silence that prevents the Gospel but the absence of any evidence of the Gospel in our lives!

Here’s a thought-provoking article I ran across with a list of 100 practical ways to love and serve others:

http://learnthis.ca/2010/02/100-ways-to-serve-others/

Can you imagine how this world would be turned upside-down if Christians actually began re-asserting the importance of good works in our lives?

I leave you with the words of G. K. Chesterton as a challenge:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried!”

God bless you, and may love constrain you to serve,

Tony Breeden

During a bit of research into something else entirely, I stumbled across a September 28, 2011 article from Barna.org called Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church. The article was obviously a teaser for their book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church, why I intend to review sometime this year. Barna.org states that a “five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman… was comprised of eight national studies” which focused on young adults who were “regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.”

The study revealed that there was no single reason why our kids decide to quit church. So much for a magic bullet! Instead, their research “uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”

The given reasons, in the order they were presented in the article, were:

  1. Churches seem overprotective
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic towards science
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

That’s a pretty interesting list. This post will concentrate on their first reason, with posts on the remaining reasons to follow.

Barna.org claims that young Christians leave our churches in part because churches seem overprotective. The article elaborates that:

“A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).”

It is true that this generation has an unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews, thanks in large part to the Internet and new portable, interactive technologies. Kids today carry around stuff we only saw in sci-fi movies back in the 80s. It’s awesome, but there’s a bit of danger to any new technology. Even without the technology, there’s a danger to unguided access to non-Biblical worldviews… which is what makes this generation’s “prodigious consumption of popular culture” so troubling to many Christians. Popular culture is not worldview neutral. Granted, most movies and TV shows aren’t as overt in their worldview as the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy or the Joss Whedon’s Firefly series [both of which I enjoyed immensely, by the way; I wish Christian films were as adept at conveying our worldview!], but that’s precisely what makes them so pernicious. You aren’t even aware in many cases how cultural saturation is gradually changing your worldview. Of course, the reason that teenagers can’t be President is because wisdom comes from experience. As you get older, you begin to notice these things. The reason that 18% [almost in 5] of our churched youth don’t see what the big fuss is over movies, music and games is that to them it’s just movies, music and games. It’s just entertainment. They’ve no idea of how the messages they consume, consciously and unconsciously, eventually affect their worldview. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that most of what we consume from the media is antagonistic towards a Biblical Christianity.

But does the Church demonize everything outside the church, as ¼ of the churched youth surveyed believe? I was considering this question thoughtfully when I ran across a new post by none other than Bruce Gerencser [the fellow who inspired me to begin researching why folks leave the church]. Bruce’s post was on the subject of culottes, a sort of ill-thought-out cross between pants and a dress. There’s simply no way to put the “cool” into culottes. They’re just that bad. There’s an Old Testament law against cross-dressing and, back in the day, some fundamentalists decided that a woman wearing pants was a violation of this particular Thou-shalt-not. I’ve also heard arguments for modesty made on behalf of wearing these silly-looking things. Oddly enough, Bruce’s post reveals that he had an occasion to see more than he bargained for despite Baptist endorsements of a modesty factor second only to the burqa. The post was both amusing and painful.

You see, culottes could be something of a poster child for the idea that the church demonizes everything outside the world. In this case, pants on women. As a matter of historical irony, the word culottes originally denoted knee-breeches for MEN. During the Victorian era, culottes came to denote a long, split riding skirt that allowed women to ride a horse like a normal human being rather than side-saddle. From there, culottes [also known as skorts] were developed for a wide variety of purposes including gardening, bike riding, house cleaning, and attendance of religious schools, with the faintest appearance [dare I say, hint] of wearing a skirt. No, I’m not a fan. Yes, I speak sarcasm.

The problem with culottes is that they help engender a Christian ghetto of sorts. It’s life in a religious bubble. We read Christian books, buy Christian movies, and yes we even have a Christian dress code. I hear we even have Christian breath mints! We seem to be trying to be neither in the world nor of it. Because we’ve demonized the world, we are forced to create a Christianized version of it as a safe haven. Yet our Lord commanded us to go out into the world and make disciples. Certainly, He who was called the Friend of Sinners would not condone or approve of the strategy of the separationists. Separationists aren’t interested in adding to the church, but simply preserving it against loss. They had best look to the fate of that fellow in the Parable of the talents who thought as they do!

Do not get me wrong here. This is not a blanket condemnation of fundamentalists or even people who wear culottes. I’m a card-carrying fundamentalist. I believe in modest. I don’t believe in cross dressing or that culottes are the answer. I mean, where did we get the idea that modesty means frumpy? Yet I often joke that I’m trying to put the fun back into fundamentalist, because – let’s face it – the duh and the mental are pretty much covered. We forget that we are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not merely conformed to a code of dress and conduct. This transformation is what separates us from the moralizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies and Muslims. I would submit that this fundamentalist preoccupation with rule-mongering is actually detrimental to the Church in two ways:

  1. It most often comes across as judgmental and grace-less, and
  2. It makes it difficult to determine the truly transformed from the cleverly conformed to the point where we often give folks false assurances of salvation based on how well they can follow the dress/speech/conduct code.

And here I must make a critical observation: the reason these churched youth are able to complain about the way Christians seem focused on what media they consume or that they seem to demonize everything outside the church is because Christians are not leading transformed lives. Transformation is difficult and requires dedication, commitment and submission to God’s will for us. There may be an ugly period while your caterpillar faith transforms into a creature capable of flight. The horridness of your transformation will be naked for the whole world to see. Conformation is a varnish, a touch of make-up, a suit that can be put on or cast off with relative ease. You’re still you in the end. Like a chameleon, you change your colors but not your essence. Nothing internal, nothing of substance has changed. You can hide what’s beneath under a shiny veneer. No one has to see what’s really there. The chameleon Christian is what I run into more often than not. A truly transformed Christian, even a Christian in the messy process of transformation is painfully rare; but it is the difference between Christ in you, the hope of glory and Church on you, the pale reflection of glory. No wonder they complain about what we warn against, rather than asking us a reason for the hope within us!

In my next post, we’ll discuss further why the church seems so disconnected from the world it is called to reach for Christ.

God bless you, especially you who strive for true transformation,

Rev 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