Family Driven Faith ~ Part 1: God's Highest Calling

A Former Independent Fundamental Baptist Pastor’s Perspective on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

by Bruce Gerencser

For seven months in 2004 our family attended a vibrant, growing church in Central Ohio. We thought we had finally found a church to call home. One Sunday, after the morning service, Polly (my wife) was talking with a group of women who were trying to get to know her a bit better. One of the women asked Polly what she did during the day and she, without a moment’s hesitation, said “I work.” 

In a split second everything changed.  You see, in this church, none of the women worked outside the home. The pastor taught that it was a violation of God’s divine order for women to work outside the home. They could have home-based money-making enterprises but they were not to work outside the home.

From that day forward the women of the church were stand-offish towards Polly. Never mind that Polly had to work due to her husband’s disability. Never mind her job was the only thing that stood between us and living on the street. All that mattered was that our family was not ordered according to God’s divine plan. We stopped attending this church a short while later.

In the 1990’s I pastored a growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church in Texas. A young woman in the church professed faith in Christ and desired to be baptized. Customarily candidates for baptism were asked to give a public testimony before being baptized. This posed a problem for this particular woman. Her husband not only believed that the Bible taught a divine order for the sexes and the home, he also believed women should be silent in church. (His wife also wore a head covering.)

The woman wanted to give a public testimony but she didn’t want to disobey her husband. The standoff went on for weeks until, one day, the woman came to my office in tears, lamenting that her husband was keeping her from following Christ. I agreed with her and told her that her husband was standing between her and Christ. I counseled her to disobey her husband. Needless to say my counsel to her set off a bomb in the church.

This church also believed that church business was the domain of men. When the church held business meetings women were not allowed to speak. If they had a question they had to whisper their question to a man and then the man could ask the question on their behalf. Women were allowed to verbally ask for prayer and sing but everything else was the domain of men. Very few of the women worked outside the home.

While I found both of these positions to be somewhat excessive and quite demeaning to women, I also believed that such positions could be proved from the Bible. While I didn’t take things as far as the above mentioned churches I certainly believed that God had a divine order for the family and the church. I believed that God had ordained men to rule and women were to submit to the male authorities in their lives. The highest calling for a woman was to marry, bear children, and be a keeper of the home. Children were to submit to authority and obey every command given to them.

I believed that the Bible taught a hierarchical system that must be kept in order to enjoy the favor and blessing of God. God, through his son Jesus, was the head over all things. Of course what this really meant was that the Bible was the head over all things. Christianity is, above all else, a text-based religion. Without the Bible there is no Christianity. (in any meaningful way) As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant words of God. The Bible was the final rule for everything.

IFB pastors say that the Bible is the rule for everything but what they really mean is that their interpretation of the Bible is the rule for everything. I cannot emphasize this point enough. At the heart of the IFB church movement, the Patriarchal movement, and the Quiverfull movement is a literalist interpretation of the Bible by pastors. Pastors, the under shepherds of the church, under direct authority from God, have the singular responsibility of teaching the church what the Bible says. (or better put, what his interpretations are) The pastor, called by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit is the mouthpiece of God.

Practically speaking, the pastor is the final authority in the church. He is the law-giver and he alone has the final say on virtually everything. The Bible is clear, the pastor is to rule the church and church members are to submit to his rule. Pastors spend significant time reminding the church that God says he, the pastor, is the boss. The common phrase used to define this is pastoral authority. (1)

In a hierarchical system God and the Bible came first. Underneath God and the Bible was the pastor. Church members are taught that submitting to the pastor’s teaching and authority is pleasing to God and, if practiced, will bring the blessing of God.

As an IFB pastor I taught that the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. The Bible was clear; the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.

I taught women that God’s highest calling for them was marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home?

I taught men that God’s highest calling for them was to be leaders. Men were called to lead the church and the home. (and lead the government) The strength or weakness of any culture, church, or home depended on whether or not men were fulfilling their divine calling to lead.

Children were at the bottom of the hierarchical system. They were under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother. (And according to my sons, the oldest brother) Children had one divine calling in life, obey!

Polly and I have been married almost 33 years. We have six children. Our older children went to a Christian school for a few years and for 17 years we homeschooled our children. For the first 20 years of  marriage we followed the hierarchical system detailed above. For the most part Polly didn’t work. I was the breadwinner. I pastored churches fulltime but, due to the notoriously low pay in IFB churches, I also worked a number of secular jobs. For years on end I worked 60-80 hours a week, neglecting my wife and children. Regardless of the neglect I was still the authority in the home. I was the final answer for every question. I ruled our home with a rod of iron and my family feared me. Of course I never called their fear fear. I called it a healthy respect for authority. I gave the orders and they obeyed.

For many years my wife (2) and I followed the general tenets of the quiverfull movement. (though we didn’t know it as that at the time) Our children are ages 32, 30, 27, 21, 19, and 18. Between our 27 year old and 21 year old we embraced Calvinism and became persuaded that using birth control was a sin. We believed that God was sovereign and He opened and closed the womb. Who were we to stand in the way of God blessing us with more children?

Our first child born under the “let God have his way” form of birth control was a beautiful redheaded girl with Down Syndrome. Two years later we were blessed with another beautiful redheaded girl. 20 months later our youngest child, a son (should I call him beautiful?) was born.

Before we could blink we had three more children, all in diapers. Polly was known in the family as Fertile Myrtle. I was persuaded that if I looked at her she would get pregnant. I have no doubt that we would have had 20 children if we had continued to abstain from using birth control.

Fortunately Polly’s doctor intervened and told us in no uncertain terms that Polly’s last pregnancy had taken a huge physical toll on her and any future pregnancies could kill her. We decided, God’s will be damned, that we were not going to have any more children. I was considered a hypocrite for not trusting God in this matter, but I had no desire to be wifeless with six children. (sadly my motivation was selfish) Several years later Polly had a tubal ligation and the rabbit died.

In a future article I plan to write about how the thinking mentioned in this post affected the churches I pastored and how it affected my family. I want to detail how this kind of thinking almost destroyed my marriage and how abandoning such thinking transformed my relationship with Polly and our children.

(1) Pastoral authority, IFB style, leads to dictatorial autocrats ruling over, and controlling virtually every aspect of church member’s lives. Some churches recognize the problem with one man having so much power so they have a plurality of elders, or a board of elders or deacons. Sadly, all this does is make a group of men dictatorial autocrats ruling over, and controlling virtually every aspect of church member’s lives

(2) I don’t like using phrases like my wife and my children. While most people see these phrases as harmless they are a reminder of the past, a past where Polly and the children were treated like slaves and property. I try to avoid using these phrases, but in some instances they cannot be avoided.

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum!  Comments are also open below.

Read all posts by Bruce Gerencser!

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates the Fallen from Grace blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 32 years. They have 6 children, and five grandchildren.

  • Emily

    I’m so thankful that we have never fallen into the trap of ‘Pastoral Authority’ in our (QF) family. I experienced it in small form in the church I grew up with where group bible studies without the presence of a pastor were banned, and disagreeing with a sermon was seen to be causing discontent. But I never experienced it to the extent I have seen it taken in others lives, it is a very dangerous, and completely unbiblical, idea. In these cases, church members are often unable to approach the pastor when they disagree, and voiced disagreement often leads to complete shunning or even a form of ‘excommunication’.

    This also has a strange pattern of people joining and leaving these churches. The number never seems to grow or shrink, and I see as many people begin to believe it as I do people who have stopped believing it.

    God gives the bible so all can read and understand it for themselves, and a church is a place of gathering to worship and learn from one another, not a school with a single professor.

  • Jenny Islander

    One of the beauties of the Anglican congregation I attend now is their Education for Ministry class. (It isn’t just for people planning to become clergy; the course material assumes that if people know we’re Christian, they’ll have certain questions, so we’d better be knowledgeable Christians, every one of us.) For four years, we read the entire Bible minus some of the Apocrypha, plus a history of the Church and a primer in theology (ouch, my head!). We do this on our own time. And then we get together and debate. The priest is often at the class, but as a fellow learner. Occasionally he or she–the class has been running for years, with different priests–has to refer us back to the Creeds or another founding document, but that often leads to another discussion.

    And yet, we’re still here. Giving up priestly autocracy has not caused us to implode. We have some problems, but power games wouldn’t fix them.

  • Kristen

    I don’t believe God intended Christianity to be a text-based religion. I believe it is meant to be a Messiah-based religion. We need the texts to tell us the story of the Messiah– but if we read the Bible as doing anything other than pointing us towards the Christ and the message of love of God and others in the new-creation kingdom of God, we’re missing the point of Christianity. It’s too easy to become like the church in Rev. 2:1-7, zealous for the faith but missing our first love– the love of Christ which is the whole point.

    A hyper-literalistic reading of the Bible elevates the text above the God who gave it to us. But the real problem, the root and cause, of the hyper-literalistic reading is the belief that Christianity is all about the Bible. Christianity is all about the Christ, and the Bible is only a means to that end. I sincerely believe that we must put the Bible back in its proper place in our faith, or the whole thing becomes distorted.

  • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce Gerencser

    The problem with the Messiah approach is that we have no Messiah apart from the Bible. No Bible, No Jesus. If the Bible is the Inspired Word of God then it reveals to us Christ. Now if it is not, how does one know Christ? I suppose a person could say that the Holy Spirit reveals Christ but it still begs the question…how do you know it is the Holy Spirit and how do you know what that Spirit reveals is truth? Once again, we are back to the Bible.

    If I can trust the Bible to point me to Christ, why can’t I trust what else it says? If I am expected to literally believe its message about Christ why should I not literally believe the rest of it? How does one decide what is literal and what is not? It seems that Christianity is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the Bible so they have jettisoned everything except Jesus.

    Christianity started as an oral tradition and quickly become a text-based religion. How can a person know anything about Christ, about Christianity, without the Bible? How will a person determine that what they have been told or what they believe is truth? Once again, we are back to the Bible.

    Bruce

  • Kristen Rosser

    Yes, Bruce– we need the Bible to tell us about Christ. But that’s the Bible’s place– to tell us about Christ, not to be exalted as if it, itself, were our Savior. Christ Himself said to the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures, thinking that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that point to Me, and you do not come to Me.”

    I’m not saying not to trust the Bible. I’m saying that it was meant to be interpreted as being all about the plan of God to bring the Messiah to redeem humanity. Redemption can never come through having lots of children, or taking over the government, or winning the culture wars– the whole point is supposed to be about Jesus changing hearts and lives from within each person– not through anything imposed from the outside. Any teaching or doctrine that comes about through lifting a verse or verses out of their place in the whole- the whole being that Redemption-through-Christ story, cannot be a correct doctrine.

    The Bible has an important place in this– but not the most important place. And it must be kept in its place, lest we make it into an idol and follow it rather than the Christ it tells of.

  • Kristen Rosser

    PS. Yes, Christianity started out as an oral tradition. Why? Because the important thing was the story of Jesus and what He did– not having a written text. If it were the written text which was the primary point, would Jesus have walked about preaching and teaching, or would He have sat His disciples down and dictated a book to them? Since He did not do the latter, it’s clear that the important thing is the former.

  • Another Halocene Human

    All of this stuff about not educating women and not using birth control seems like both a) a deliberate act towards regression and b) to ignore economic realities.

    A) Effective development work focuses on educating women. Lowered birth rates follow. This is an extremely crucial tenet of all development work.Why would anyone deliberately choose a path towards regression? Think of the mortality and morbidity, lowered quality of life, and the miserable prospects for the children. Incredible.

    B) As in your own story above, women work outside the home in the United States because they must. Only a minority of wage-earners make enough money outside the home to support a non-working spouse. While adequate childcare is very expensive, it is only needed for a few early, crucial years. (Of course, our system cruelly gives parents only a few weeks.) The value of all other domestic labor is low due to technological advances and modernization (infrastructure–one example is tap water).

    If income were distributed more equitably, then more households could contain non-working [in the cash economy, that is] adults to provide child care. However, Christian churches in the US today seem hell-bent for leather to exacerbate societal inequalities through an increasingly regressive tax system and destruction of the social safety net. (Where were the churches, for example, when our leaders elected to start a costly war of choice?)

    There is no madness worse than deliberately making a bad or mediocre situation worse. Ay yi yi.

  • A-bb

    “As in your own story above, women work outside the home in the United States because they must.”

    Maybe you didn’t mean it this way, but your above statement comes across as fairly demeaning of women. It carries with it the assumption that it’s normal for women to be the non-earning spouse. Why would that be? So women can stay at home and have children? Some women work outside the home even though they would rather not, welcome to life as an adult. Many women work outside the home because they choose to and find fulfillment and satisfaction in their work.

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  • Andie

    I agree. I come from a long line of working women, so I don’t buy into this Cult of Motherhood. I hold down a job and work hard to advance, because it’s foolish not to try to maximize the amount of money your get paid for your time. At the same time, my career is not the end-all be-all of who I am just as it’s rather silly to identify a man solely by what he does for a living. I’m not sorry that I have to work and I believe it imparts a good example to my daughters— that they’re not too dumb or incapable of contributing significantly to the family’s bottom line.

  • Phil Tiessen

    Does anyone know what happened to Bruce’s website? The domain brucegerenscer.net looks like it expired and has been taken over by namecheap.com. He has let this happen before, and I expect he will turn up again somewhere soon. Google turns up nothing new.


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