"My Testimony" by Former Pastor Bruce Gerencser

Former Pastor Bruce Gerencser shares his deconversion story:

Those of us who grew up in a Baptist church are quite familiar with Sunday Evening Testimony Time. Church members were given the opportunity to give a testimony about what God was doing in their lives. Many great and wonderful stories of faith were told during Sunday Evening Testimony Time. Sometimes a new convert would be given the opportunity to tell their salvation story. While the details varied from person to person the basic storyline remained the same. The person was a lost, wretched,vile sinner before they trusted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Many new converts told wild stories about their life before Christ. Now that they were a Christian their lives were transformed and Jesus had made everything new. I have often wondered how much different the testimonies would have been if the new convert had been required to wait two years before giving their testimony. I suspect the story would have been very different. (if the new convert was still going to Church)

This post is My Testimony. I want to share, as briefly as I can, where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced, and what has brought me to where I am today. This is the testimony I would give if agnostics were allowed to give a testimony at the local Baptist Church.

I spent the first 50 years of my life in a Christian church. I attended the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church as a child. When my family moved to California in the early 1960s we began to attend a Baptist church. It was at this Baptist Church that I made my first profession of faith. I made several more professions of faith during my elementary school years. I was baptized by immersion several times. Most children raised up in the Baptist Church have multiple professions of faith(or rededications). My last profession of faith came when I was in high school. I attended a revival meeting at our Church. I felt convicted of my sins, so I walked the aisle during the invitation and knelt at the altar.While kneeling at the altar I prayed the sinner’s prayer and at that moment Jesus came into my life. I was baptized and several weeks later I told the church that I believed God was calling me to be a preacher.

A few weeks after being called to be a preacher I preached my first sermon. I was 15. I would preach my last sermon at age 48. All told I was a preacher for 33 years. I pastored churches for 25 of those 33 years.

From 1976 to 1979 I attended a fundamentalist Baptist College. I met my wife while in college and we were married in 1978. We had a singular purpose in mind. Our desire was to serve God in the ministry wherever he led us to be.(wherever eventually meant Ohio, Michigan, Texas, and Arizona) We were willing to burn ourselves out for God. We determined to make God the number one priority in our lives, even before family and friends.

I entered the ministry as a fundamentalist independent Baptist. I believed the King James Bible was the inerrant, inspired, infallible, perfect Word of God. I believed my calling in life was to win as many souls as possible and build a church up for the glory of God. I was premillennial and dispensational. I believed the rapture could come at any moment and that it was important to be busy serving Jesus when the rapture took place.

I left the ministry as a tired, worn out,abused preacher. When I left the ministry I was still a believer. I thought that the problem was the churches I pastored or perhaps me personally. If I just found the right church to attend the ship could be righted and all would be well. For four years, and five states, I looked for that one church that took Christianity seriously and practiced teachings of Jesus. After visiting over 125 churches, attending some of them for months, especially those in the community I lived in at the time, I came to the conclusion that no matter what the name was on the door every church was the same.

My crisis of faith did not begin as a theological struggle. It began as I looked at the Christian Church as a whole and came to the conclusion that, for the most part, the Christian church was a meaningless social club. While I certainly realized there were probably some exceptions out there somewhere I didn’t find any.

19 months ago I attended my last church service. I finally came to the place where I could no longer embraced the meaninglessness and the indifference of the Christian Church. I did not want to waste one more moment of my time doing something that didn’t matter. If I chose to,and if I could get everything I ever wrote erased off the internet, I could pastor again tomorrow. When I last thought about pastoring (2005) I was contacted by several dozen Southern Baptist churches interested in me coming to be their pastor.

During the time from my last pastorate in 2003 until today I have invested great time and effort in reinvestigating the Bible and the claims of the Christian Church. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Bible, as great of a book as it is, is not the inerrant, inspired word of God. At best, the Bible is a spiritual guide and a book of mythical stories written by men thousands of years ago. It is not a book that is overly relevant to the world that we live in today. The stories make for great reading but they offer little real practical wisdom for moderns in a 21st-century. I still enjoy reading the Sermon on the Mount, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms. There is wisdom to be had from the Bible but it is certainly not a book that one can govern their life by.

I came to see that the Christian church’s attempt to prop up the Bible was a house of illusions. Instead of confronting the fallibility of the text and the many errors within that text, the Christian church instead developed convoluted and humorous explanations for the perceived errors and contradictions in the Bible. Explanations like….. inerrant in the originals.

Robert Price said that once a person stops believing that the Bible is the Word of God they are on a slippery slope where there is no natural stopping place. That’s where I find myself. For a time I was content to call myself a progressive, liberal Christian. As I continued to slide down the slippery slope I thought that maybe Universalism was the answer. And quite frankly, if I was going to have any religion at all it would be Universalism. But, at the end of the day, Universalism did not satisfy me and I came to a place where it was time to stop calling myself a Christian.

I believe the word Christian means something. In fact I believe it means something more than a lot of Christians I know. To be a Christian means you believe the Bible to be the word of God. To be a Christian means you embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith. Since I do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and I no longer embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith,I am no longer a Christian.

My deconversion came at the moment where I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the Bible to be the word of God. As I have often said, It really is all about the Bible. I am thoroughly convinced that what Christians say about the Bible simply is not the truth. I bear them no ill will. I firmly believe that every person has a right to believe what they want. As long as that person does not try to force their religion upon me or attempt to control the government or society with their religion I subscribe to the live and let live theory. Unfortunately we live in a day where many Christians feel called by their God to turn America into a theocracy and to establish the Bible as the law. For this reason I continue to fight Christians who have such an agenda.

These days I call myself an agnostic. I do not know if a god exists or not. I have room in my worldview for a God but I am quite certain that the Western, Christian, evangelical God, the God of the Bible is no God at all. Some people like to label me an atheist. I am not. Perhaps there is a God who created everything. Perhaps there is a God who put everything into motion. But even if this is true, God is nowhere to be found in the day-to-day lives of the human race. It’s as if God created everything and then said “there you go boys and girls have at it.”

I am comfortable with what I believe about the Bible and God. I believe I have investigated the matter sufficiently, and based on the information available to me,agnosticism is the label that best describes me. I don’t believe that reading another Christian book or listening to another Christian apologist will change my mind. As Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. I seriously doubt any new argument can be made to me that would make me ever want to embrace the Christian faith again.

I know a lot of you will find this disappointing. Some people think this is a phase I’m going through. Perhaps I have PTSD from all my years as a fundamentalist Baptist pastor. Others suggest I have mentally lost it. I have nothing to say to people who think like this. It seems they simply cannot accept that someone can walk away from Jesus. That someone can reject Christianity. That someone can weigh Christianity in the balances and find it wanting.

I have very few Christian friends these days. I don’t blame those who run or walk away from me. They find my testimony disheartening and threatening. They simply cannot bear to think of pastor Bruce Gerencser as an unbeliever. They can’t bear to think of me as a Bible denying, Christ denying agnostic. For those few Christians remain my friends I appreciate their friendship. We have learned to tolerate one another.

This is my testimony. This is my life and how I have lived it so far. While I know where I’ve been, and where I am today, I have no idea where I will be in the future. I continue to read and study. I continue to ask questions and seek answers. And I also remind myself that the day when the truth or lie of all this will be made known is inching ever so closer. When I draw my last breath one of three things will happen. Either God will take me to his heaven, send me to his hell or I will simply exist no more except in the hearts of those I have loved. I am content to let the ship go where it may.



Zyrover said...

Very written Bruce. If there is a 'god' then he/she created the world and is now no where to be found just as you mentioned.

Susannah Anderson said...

It's not often I read about the deconversion of someone who was in the church for a half-century. I was another; I was well into my 50s when I left. Like you, I moved slowly from fundamentalism, to liberal Christianity, to Universalism, to agnosticism. For the last 10 years, I have called myself an atheist. Like you, I found the Bible to be the key; once I realized it was not inerrant, the whole house of cards started to wobble.

(Like you, if you could erase everything I've ever written off the internet, I could move back into mission work with no difficulty; I've had offers. Except for the need to disguise my disbelief, of course. I couldn't do that; that's why I resigned, even before I had become and agnostic. But I now find it strange that the church would accept me back into a leadership position at the drop of a hat.)

"Perhaps I have PTSD from all my years as a fundamentalist Baptist pastor."

I had to laugh at that. I can relate!

I found your testimony encouraging; I have many relatives, of whom I despair; we are an old, multi-generational missionary family, and I watch one after another of our young ones follow their parents down the same dead-end street. (Only one of mine, happily; the other 4 families slowly eased out after I was no longer "encouraging" them to be active Christians, preferably on the mission field.)

If only my brother, my in-laws, my cousins could see ... It might happen; now I have a bit more hope.

Papalinton said...

Hi Bruce
Thank you for your story. It is interesting that your de-conversion started with questions about the bible. In fact, where would christianity be without the book? I know that catholicism tried very hard to keep the bible away from the ordinary folk for millennia. It was only the clergy who were permitted to interpret the arcane messages of the bible. It was considered too dangerous for simple folk to make 'proper' sense of it. And of course, it was Luther who thought that everyone should have a personal experience with god of the bible and believed the masses should have their own bible, the basis of the protestant reformation.
For me, more importantly, how do you feel now that you have exposed the achilles heel of the bible? Do you feel more at peace within yourself and with your life? Please share.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I am much more at peace with myself and the past. I see a counselor on a regular basis. He has been very helpful in working with me to undo the damage done by a lifetime of immersion in Baptist Fundamentalism.

I have been forced to rethink everything. What do I really believe about ____________? Morals. Ethics.

Fortunately, my wife of 32 years is with me on this journey. Her family poses a problem for us. Five fundamentalist Baptist preachers in the immediate family. Makes for strained relationships.

For those of us who are older it is difficult to leave all we have ever known.Things like......a job resume that has a huge 25 yr hole in it. Pastoring does not translate well into the real world.

All in all, the journey has been great. I am glad I am where I am.


Shawn said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with us Bruce. You sound like someone who has raised his consiousness and intellect.
Welcome back to reality.
You can still live a loving and generous life and leave this world a better place for you having visited.

Clare said...

Bruce, your idea of God as having made the universe and then having nothing more to do with it is sometimes called the "absentee landlord" view of God.
Now you need to look at possible explanations for the origins of the universe- Dr Lawrence Krauss or Steven Hawking can help. If the universe is flat, then gravity is zero and there can indeed be something created out of nothing.

Thin-ice said...

Clare, I'm not speaking for Bruce, but having followed his website/blog and exchanged emails with him, and having come from several decades in christian ministry to agnosticism, I can honestly say that the origin of the universe is not relevant to my daily life.

Sometimes I feel that hard-core atheists would like me to go "all the way" and embrace militant atheism. But having sent the Christian God packing is enough for me. There is no real God revealed in any human religion, and that's all I need. Whether there is a supernatural force or not is a question I feel no compulsion to answer, nor do I think one can answer that with certainty. I think Bruce feels similarly, but I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong! (G'day Bruce, great to see your story here!)

Clare said...

Wesley, the reason I brought up cosmology is that this is the best argument so far that Christians have for the existance of a God. This has nothing to do with militant atheism.

Bart said...

Inspiring story, it gives me hope for the future.

I also don't know if god exists or not. He is remarkably silent on the issue. Yet I call myself an atheist.

This might be a bit pedantic, but atheism just means a lack of belief. If you don't believe in a god or specific supernatural dogma, you are an atheist. If you don't claim knowledge, then you are an agnostic. A person can be a Christian who doesn't claim knowledge, just belief. That Christian would also be an agnostic. You can also be an agnostic and an atheist at the same time.

Both titles have function in society. If you want to challenge someone who is bashing on your door at 9am on Sunday to share the 'good news', then pull out the atheist title! It's a great shocker, and puts them back a step. At work, if you want to keep things civil, the title agnostic works great. You can also call yourself secular, or just simply a non-believer.

Titles are just a way of presenting yourself to others. Philosophically, there is no difference between a non-believing atheist, and a non-believing agnostic.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank everyone for their kind response to my post. I appreciate it very much.


Granny Kate said...

So the wolf has finally taken off his sheep's clothes. Took a while.

Anonymous said...

Well Cathy....

Looking at your blog I see links to people who were part of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas.

I was excommunicated from this Church in 1994. I am sure my apostasy "proves" to them that their actions were right. I wrote about this http://nwohioskeptics.com/2010/03/i-am-a-publican-and-heathen/

I will leave you to your delusion, Cathy.