Posts Tagged ‘Family’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was anything but love and unity.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Preacher

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

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

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

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

I’m getting ahead of myself.

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

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

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

…his marriage and family…

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

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

…and his finances:

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

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

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

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

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

It even speaks specifically against this where clergy are concerned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you,

Preacher