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

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Comments
  1. Very penetrating, Pastor Tony. I think that especially many young people are simply culturally conditioned into the institutional church, and often do not really begin to deeply examine their belief system until they are older adults, if then. Being religious,and being found in Christ are two very different realities.

    Of course as mere humans, we are only able to discern by outward appearance. It’s God who truly knows the thoughts and intent of the heart. (I can certainly see the Biblical wisdom of allowing the tares to grow with the wheat.) Let God be the judge at the parousia. When everything else is stripped away, it is Jesus Christ who is the church’s one foundation..

    Our Lord’s peace, and blessing to you as well.

  2. […] Were Apostates Ever Truly Saved? Are They Saved Now? (howtofalldown.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Daniel Bauersachs says:

    Very good analysis. For 34 years I have struggled only to wind up a shipwreck. Maybe I believed in a false Jesus as well. I have thought about deconverting, but I am afraid. I do not know what to do.

  4. DavidC says:

    I read your testimony Rev Breeden in another post. You abandoned your faith in radical fashion, and yet here you are. That doesn’t seem to square with Hebrews 6:4-6 which says that those turn away cannot and will not be brought back to repentance.

    Unless the Christian message you embraced is dramatically different from the one you rebelled against (i.e. two different gospels but this isn’t the impression I got from reading your story) I would suggest not only did you leave a false gospel, you’ve now comeback to it!

    • Tony Breeden says:

      That’s a pretty arrogant remark to make. You just judged my previous and present salvation as false based on what? I thought I made it clear that I immersed myself in cultural Christianity without ever having had an actual redemptive experience the first time. The thing that should truly frighten you is how closely cultural Christianity can mimic the real thing, especially in churches where dead orthodoxy and conformity to Christianized cultural norms is stressed over a radical soul-winning and discipleship. Oh, and I dropped the Rev a while back, mostly because I have no airs to put on, though I am still an ordained minister, so just call me Tony.

  5. Joe says:

    In reading your testimony, I found it unusually insightful and penetrating. Yet in doing so, it also led me to ask some basic questions that in overview, would seem to be at the heart of what seems to be a paradox….

    If a believer does leave, does that automatically mean 1 John 2:19? Does it conclusively prove they were a tare? The vast majority of the warning passages that were given in the scriptures seem to also reassure the readers being addressed that they were truly saved. Yet how does the actual salvic condition of the saints that are being warned (Hebrews, Galatians, Corinthians, etc.) square with any negative results, as if proving they never were? (1 John 2:19, Matthew 7:23). What then is the point of the warning? Shouldn’t all the warning passages have then been more geared to 2 Corinthians 13:5 where if you are strongly tempted to do any of these things, (or worse, actually go through with it) you should then be questioning whether you may be a tare?

    If the saints were reassured of their being in Christ and encouraged to endure, but then warned not to fall away, wouldn’t they have been better served to have been told to be sure they really were in the faith?

    After all, to finally leave must mean you were never of us, right?

    Was the underlying message from all the writers: “As far as we are concerned, we consider you as saints until you finally leave.” Yet they were writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit does not lie in His witness. So how does this all jive, especially in light of eternal security?

    In reflection upon these questions, (which I would be very much interested in hearing any comments and/or responses), I must also state what I believe is the heart of the matter:

    The issue is whether God knows you intimately (Gal.4:9) This is what actually gives our claim to knowing Him any merit. It’s the genuine patina of the truth. It’s not a matter of accumulated knowledge, but of having been known by Him which gives us the knowledge, but from a relational aspect of revelation that cannot be faked. This is because it actually requires God Himself to witness our relationship with Him. It goes beyond anything we could do or claim. Our life becomes no longer our own in this intimacy, His ownership actually being a reflection of our being so loved.

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