Posts Tagged ‘Accountability’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

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

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

A Pastor’s Salary

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

What To Pay The Pastor

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

God bless you, and God bless your pastor,

Tony Breeden

 

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