Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. – Acts 20:28
After recent reflections of my years seeking God outside of Christianity, I feel compelled to elaborate upon this all too common occurrence – people leaving Christianity. Yet, before I dive in I first have to preface (and I hate it when people preface me so I do apologize): In no way shape or form am I condemning any institution specifically nor the people who subscribe to their teachings. When I reflect on legalistic churches, and there are many, I am not speaking about one in particular. When I reflect on shepherds who mislead, I am not speaking about one shepherd in particular. This post simply comes as an explanation and as a warning… an explanation for those of you who do not understand why people leave the church (Christianity, even) and a warning to Christians who have influence on others. And that means you. Because ALL Christians have influence.
I’ve written before about my spiritual wanderings… but I feel the need to revive it again and talk about something beyond legalism. But to summarize legalism in Christianity… simply put, it runs people off (not to mention, it isn’t in line with the teachings of the Bible).
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:21
Legalism in Christianity is performance driven – I NEED to do something to ensure I am in good standing with God. Certain prayers and certain rituals are penances that will lessen my days in purgatory, or better guarantee my entrance into heaven. My salvation is dependent upon myself.
Growing up with performance to please God surrounding my soul, it’s no surprise that my image of God was a wrathful, unhappy man. I believed He was around every corner with his checklist, marking off every bad deed I did. Even our grade school teachers, in an effort to get us to behave, would tell us to remember that God is watching everything we do. … and the screams and hollers from the poor kid in the principal’s office getting the paddle. It’s no wonder I thought God was a little scary.
We were reminded of how sinful we were, we were told things we did made Jesus sad. While this may be true, shaming a child by making them feel badly about what they did to a man who died on a cross is a bit much, don’t you think?
Professionals may even call this “spiritual abuse.” That’s a different topic for a different time.
Something else that runs people off…
In my previous blog post on legalism, I wrote, “I found myself painfully, and I’m not joking around with the word pain, craving God but feeling so far away from Him at the same time.” I never elaborated on this and it needs to be dwelled upon.
As a teenager I began to see a little bit of light in being a Christian… so much so, in a twisted way, I KNEW heaven was better than earth and I contemplated ending my life. More than once. But I felt an ache, a calling, a desire, a thirst that would never get quenched.
I sought to extinguish this ache through new age beliefs because it couldn’t be taken care of in my Christian beliefs.
I LONGED for God. I longed to feel Him. I longed to feel His love. I longed to feel Him take over my life and my body. I longed for Him to direct my paths. The only way I could scratch this itch was through new age beliefs and even practices.
I know how silly that my read to some of you, but it’s not that uncommon, actually. Think about people who read their horoscope or follow the moon cycle. People SEEK connection with God here on earth because we want Him. People don’t SEEK new age practices because they think they are evil, they aren’t trying to turn away from God. They are trying to turn TOWARD God. I have yet to meet one single pagan or person who has dabbled (or continues to practice) in New Age practices tell me that they were running from God. Now, it could be that their image of God was changing, but it’s quite possible the original “image” of God was completely flawed to begin with if it was based upon a vengeful, wrathful, scary man.
So, another very strong reason that people leave Christianity is that they FEEL called but their church doesn’t speak to this. People feel this ache. They FEEL this yearning. They already feel this connection but they don’t know what it is. This is the design by God! Yet, most traditional churches don’t support, promote or talk about this fact.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. – Psalm 42:1
Folks who KNOW that feeling that they feel deep inside is real will turn to new age and/or pagan beliefs/rituals to access and understand these feelings because they aren’t taught what to do with them in most Christian religions.
I’m no theologian or religious scholar and I seek not to divide but to make people ponder and think, as I have, so we can be more compassionate… more thoughtful in our knee-jerk judgements and condemnations. The only way I know how to do this is to study to the best of my ability, have deep conversations and to share my own personal experiences, and those of whom I know very well.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6
… He rewards those who SEEK him. … which has me thinking about sheep.
I read that verse and was wondering if sheep seek their shepherds. After talking with a local farmer I learned that, not only that sheep are dumb and skittish, they do remember their name (if given one) and they remember people.
So, if we are like sheep, would we not want to go running to God when He calls our name? Wouldn’t we feel the joy in hearing Him call our name?
According to a thorough article written in 2012, there appeared to be over 40,000 different Christians “beliefs” in the world. 40,000 different religions all chasing Christ the best way they know how. Can you believe that ANYONE would slip through those cracks and find themselves “outside” of Christianity?
While churches needs to be very vigilant about their teachings and doctrine…
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” – Mark 7:6-9
We have also got to start addressing the reasons why people leave churches. Some reasons aren’t even as deep as I wrote about, they are simply things like their church had a rude pastor, their church didn’t care about anyone else except the people within their four walls, their church didn’t care about social justice, their church treated divorced and single mothers a certain way, or their church treated homosexuals a certain way. People are not dumb. They see hypocrisy in the teachings of Jesus compared to the way some Christians (institutions even) operate… and this CAN, in fact, be enough to paint a dark cloud on the entire religion and cause people to turn away.
If we really care about this topic, we need to really care about the reasons WHY.