This post is primarily about Protestant Christianity — and yes, Baptists and Campbellites are Protestants. I will leave it to Catholic and Orthodox Christians to duke it out over which sect is the rock upon which Jesus built his church. (Matthew 16:18)
Over the past decade, I have learned many things I didn’t know before about the monolith we call Christianity. Generally, most people believe that Christianity is one religion with a plethora of expressions. However, I have learned that there are numerous Christianities and Jesuses, with every sect, church, clergyperson, and congregant believing that their flavor of Christianity and their vision of Jesus is the right one. While it seems that Christianity is a big tent, a closer look reveals countless pup tents within, and never-ending arguing, fussing, and fighting over which pup tent is the One True Tent®. The Bible says of Christianity: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, but the internecine wars continually fought by Christians show that the faithful can’t even agree on the basics. Of course, the way the various parties settle the disputes is by saying that every brand but theirs is false Christianity. Long-time readers will likely remember this or that Christian objecting to my caricature of Christianity by saying, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Usually, they go on to accuse me of all sorts of ulterior motives such as I hate God/Christianity or got hurt in some way back in my Christian days, and I am now trying to settle the score. When I ask them to give evidence for their beliefs and practices being Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy, most often they present a honey wagon (manure spreader for you city slickers) full of Bible verses, HIS-story lessons, doctrinal treatises, quotes from authors, and personal anecdotes. In doing so, all they do is prove, at least to me, that Christianity is a quagmire of conflicting, contradictory beliefs and practices. Yet, it is we unbelievers who are to blame for our lack of recognizing and understanding the ONE TRUE FAITH®! If we would just ignore all the competing Christianities and Jesuses and accept their Christianity and Jesus as the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, we too could have our sins forgiven, and be guaranteed a home in their God’s Heaven after we die.
As I wander in and out of big tent Christianity, I have noticed that there are three general banners under which the various sects/pastors/congregants pitch their tents: Evangelical, Progressive, and Liberal. Ask the tent-dwellers to define these banners — well, good luck with that. As with everything in Christianity, definitions abound. This post is my attempt to define these three groups, knowing that the moment I do, offended self-righteous Christians are going to vehemently object and say, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Of course, I am deaf to such objections, so here we go.
Generally, Evangelicals believe the Protestant Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God; God is a triune being; and Jesus is the virgin-born son of God who came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on a Roman cross, resurrected from the dead three days later, ascended back to Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of his Father, awaiting the day when he will return to earth to judge the living and the dead, and make a new Heaven and Earth. (And yes, I am aware of the differences between Calvinists, Arminians, Oneness Pentecostals, Charismatics, Holiness sects, et al.)
Generally, Evangelicals believe all humans are born sinners and in need of redemption; that salvation and the forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ alone; that all other religions are false; that non-Christians go to Hell (the Lake of Fire) when they die, and Christians to Heaven (God’s Eternal Kingdom). (Again, I am aware of the disputes among Evangelicals about what constitutes salvation and whether human instrumentality plays any part.)
I have long argued that Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Christians who are on the far left end of the Evangelical spectrum object to the Fundamentalist label, but what they really need to do is admit that they are no longer theologically Evangelical; that their beliefs and practices fall under the Progressive or Liberal Christian banner.
Generally, Progressive Christians and Evangelicals have similar core beliefs. Progressives tend to reject creationism, choosing instead to embrace theistic evolution. Progressives also tend to ridicule Evangelicals as anti-intellectual Bible thumpers. Ironically, many Progressives are former Evangelicals, or as the joke goes, Evangelicals who can read. Progressives also tend to be more liberal politically and socially, though I recently ran into a few so-called Progressives on Twitter who are ardent supporters of Donald Trump.
I have found many Progressives to be every bit as insufferable as Evangelical zealots. While they distance themselves from the social Fundamentalism of Evangelicals, theologically their beliefs are, in the main, every bit as Fundamentalist. It is not hard to prove my contention. Just ask a self-labeled Progressive if all religions lead to Heaven and if atheists will go to Heaven when they die. Honest Progressives will answer NO to both questions. Unfortunately, many Progressives genuinely want to be viewed as friendly people, so they will refuse to answer the questions, saying, “Only God knows for sure.”
Generally, Liberal Christians have a reductionist view of the Bible, rejecting many (most) of the beliefs Evangelicals and Progressives hold dear. (Please see Is Liberal Christianity the Answer for Disaffected Evangelicals?) Evangelicals believe that Liberal Christians are outside of the One True Faith®, as do many Progressives. In their minds, Liberals have given away too much to be still considered Christians. Liberals tend to promote works-based salvation and or preach what is commonly called the social gospel. Liberals focus on people and the present instead of personal salvation and the future.
Under these three banners, you will find countless sub-categories of Christians, proving that there is no such thing as singular Christianity. What would help is if all the Christian sects of the world would get together and come up with a biology-like system of identification for Christianity: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. That would put an end, then, to followers of Jesus saying to me, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Every Christian could have a religion identity card of sorts they could show when questioned about their faith. Oh wait, that wouldn’t work, would it? Christianity is a relationship, not a religion! Or so countless Christians say, thus proving yet again that whatever Christianity might have been died over 1,900 years ago, and lies buried in the same grave as a dead Jewish man named Jesus.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
Charles Andrews, pastor of Osprey Church of Christ in Osprey, Florida, stands accused of possession of child pornography. In yet another case of churches not vetting their ministers, news reports state that Andrews is a registered sex offender who was convicted in 2006 in Alabama of second-degree sexual abuse. It took me all of sixty-seconds to find this:
There’s no excuse for churches NOT doing their due diligence regarding potential or current pastors. Shame on Osprey Church of Christ for giving a registered sex offender access to their church and its children. Just remember, while he was preaching Jesus on Sunday morning, after church he was allegedly looking at photos of children being sexually abused. What say ye, members of Osprey Church of Christ?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported Charles Andrews to the Sarasota County Sherif’s Office after learning he had downloaded approximately 70 images of child pornography using two different e-mail accounts, the latter agency said.
According to the release, Andrews is a minister at Osprey Church of Christ, 406 Pennsylvania Avenue. He is also a registered sex offender who was convicted in 2006 in Alabama of second-degree sexual abuse.
Investigators say Andrews shared six images of child pornography a total of 70 times. He also shared “non-illegal images of child erotica” using both accounts.
Investigators traced the IP address that Andrews allegedly used to download the images to his home in Englewood. There, they confiscated a computer, external hard drive and other digital storage devices.
Deputies say they discovered more than 500 images of child pornography, including at least 50 depicting sexual battery of a child.
“We usually charge about forty counts at a time for possession, possession of child pornography,” said Kaitlyn Perez, a spokeswoman for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. “In this case, Mr. Andrews’ database of child pornography was so specifically heinous … it really elevated the crime. Of those five hundred images, at least fifty of them depicted sexual battery on a child.”
Andrews was arrested Tuesday for 500 felony counts of Possession of Child Pornography and three counts of Failure to Meet the Registration Requirements of a Sex Offender.
You may visit denominational churches and find women preaching, publicly teaching, or leading committees which frequently include men. This certainly seems fair given our modern, common social norms regarding gender equality. However, is this culture consistent with God’s Holy Word? We know what denominational churches [Shannon belongs to the Church of Christ] have to say about women preachers and leaders, but what does God say about it?
Some Bible believers may shrug off Paul’s command, contending this only represented his opinion or the norms of the 1st-century culture. However, please notice that this commandment was not rooted in Paul’s culture, but rather, the inspired reason sprang from the order established by two universal facts: The creation and the fall of man. The God-defined roles of men and women are therefore transcendent and apply to all of Adam and Eve’s descendants as far as the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin have spread.
Older women are to teach younger women to love and obey their husbands (Titus 2:3-5). This does not imply that this teaching was done in the assembly. It does not imply women can teach minor children the Word while the church is assembled. This does not imply that women can preach, teach, wait on the Lord’s table, lead prayer, or lead singing when men are not present. This does not imply that older women are to teach younger women the gospel or the doctrine of Christ. It does not imply younger women can teach what older women were commanded to teach. It does not imply women can teach the gospel by writing articles on the internet, in church bulletins, or by authoring sermon books, etc
In a generation and society where women are equal to men on so many levels, it is hard for many women to submit to man when it comes to handling God’s Word. Even so, God’s Word does not change from one generation to another. What was true for 1st-century Christian women is true for all other generations going forward. If anyone attempts to change God’s Word they shall be accursed!
Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones) dressed modestly. Follow her example harlots!
Here [Proverbs 7] we find a foolish young man seeking sexual experimentation goes to a “worldly-wise woman whose character is known by the manner in which she dresses. This is a boisterous woman who despises to be in subjection to her husband. She is too active to give adequate care to her home and children because she is occupied trying to appear seductive. She has a face hardened by sin, and can no longer blush (Ezra 9:6 f; Jer. 6:15 cf; 8:12). She persuades her victim using flattery to inebriate him.
This young man is described by the writer of Proverbs as a fool who goes blindly and willingly to his own destruction, not knowing just how great a price he must pay for his indiscretions!
The description of this woman makes it clear that she was a harlot. What is a harlot? The word “harlot” here describes a person who is willing to engage in sexual behavior with someone to whom she is not legally married. The more modern day word for a “harlot” is a “whore”.
If one is available for purposes of sexual immorality, how does one advertise this fact? One way, clearly, is to dress in “the attire or dress of a harlot.” What is the attire of a harlot? Proverbs 7 does not give a description of the “attire of a harlot” or of anyone else’s attire, for that matter. So then, what is the attire of a harlot? The attire of a harlot is any manner of dressing which communicates the message of sexual interest so that there is the underlying implication of sexual availability, the freedom from shame and moral or spiritual restraints.
On the other hand, one who wishes to communicate the message of chastity and moral restraint will studiously avoid dressing in a manner which raises doubt about moral character!
There are many modem ways to wear the “attire of a harlot.” Women may wear the attire of a harlot by either overdressing or underdressing. Dressing in a garish manner, wearing too much makeup, wearing slinky gowns, etc., may be as much the attire of an harlot as underdressing in the skimpy shorts, halter tops, modern swimwear, miniskirts, any attire revealing private parts, etc., all characteristic of those who wish to send the signal – “I am available.” Every such woman is either telling the truth or lying by her manner of dress. If she is telling the truth, she is guilty of the sins of lasciviousness and fornication. If she is lying by her manner of dress she is guilty of the sins of lasciviousness and lying. There is just no “Christian” way to wear “the attire of a harlot.”
All of these things shout one message loud and clear; they are the signals of the decay of the morals of a nation. We are becoming a nation of fornicators – and we advertise it. Celebrities seek a public forum to boast of it. And slowly citizens seek opportunities to imitate the lifestyles of the rich and famous!
No thoughtful Christian who wants to do right will be guilty of wearing the “attire of a harlot” because to do so is to be guilty of lasciviousness, which is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). The penalty for lasciviousness is that those guilty cannot “inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, those guilty of dressing like a harlot will spend an eternity in Hell.
David declared in Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God.” There have always been men who have denied the existence of that supreme being whom we acknowledge as Creator and Lord of all. Not only have those who are opposed to religion made such claims, but today men of religion, self-styled theologians, are also saying that God does not really exist except in the minds of those who think He does. Yet, they themselves offer no demonstration or proof for their allegations besides their own philosophy and reasoning. We ought to have more objective evidence one way or the other. Is there any? Yes there is.
First, we have the existence of the universe to contend with. To deny it exists is absurd (although some have tried it) because our own senses indicate it is here. The immediate question that comes to mind is, how did it get here? There is a scientific axiom, called cause-effect, which states that something cannot come from nothing; every effect must have an adequate cause. Christians believe that God was the First Cause. Moses wrote, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). No more reasonable explanation has ever been offered.
Next, there is the design of the earth to be reckoned with. Our wonderful world, with the perfect timing of its revolution around the sun and rotation on its axis, the water-evaporation-condensation cycle, the movement of the winds from the equator and back, and the ocean currents, runs like one giant piece of clockwork. Now we all understand that a well-constructed house does not just spring up out of the ground. Nor does a watch, with all its minute organization, gather itself together from sundry bits and pieces. Why is it then that some try to tell us that the earth, in all its beauty and precision, is the result of blind chance?
Finally, the nature of man is worthy of notice. It is impossible to deny that man has certain capacities which animals do not. For instance, man has a conscience that helps him determine right from wrong; he can appreciate that which he considers beautiful; and he is rational, having the power to reason and communicate logically. Although animals do have powerful instincts, they do not have these characteristics. So we ask, where did man get them? Science cannot even explain where man came from, much less how he became superior to the animals. If evolution were true, man could not have inherited these qualities from his supposed animal ancestors because they did not have them to pass on; Nor does the environment provide an adequate source as some have hypothesized. The only reasonable answer offered so far is the one that includes God.
We believers need never be daunted by the onslaughts of modern, atheistic philosophy, because evidence for the existence of God is there and it is sufficient. We must also remember that when a person makes the claim, “There is no God,” he is obligated to prove it, and that is something he cannot do. It is self evident that God is invisible from human sight. We cannot see God or hear God (Jn 1:18 cf; 5:37), but we do have His Word which has been proven to have derived from someone who has to be at least 5 thousand years or more. Since no man has ever lived to be so old, this leaves us with only one conclusion_it must be God.
Therefore, if man believes God’s Word proceeded from God, then man will believe in God….Naturally, if man does not believe the bible derived from God, he will not believe in God’s existence. It’s just that simple.
Church of Christ preacher Al Shannon believes that the Christian God is impartial. Quoting Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11, Shannon states:
Our God is impartial. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom.2:11); “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Since all men are his creation, he must make no difference in them.
Shannon goes on to give seven examples of God’s impartiality:
He has declare all under sin.
God has provided a common Savior and gospel for all.
God extends the same invitation [of salvation] to all men.
God requires the same conditions of pardon be met by all men if they are to be saved.
God has given one standard [the Bible] to be followed.
God has provided one church [Church of Christ] for all.
God will judge all as individuals and upon their own life.
Is Shannon right? Does the Christian God act impartially towards people, giving everyone the same opportunities to believe in and worship the right God? Is God really an equal opportunity deity, dispensing to one and all the wonders of his grace?
Calvinists, of course, would reject Shannon’s proofs out of hand. In the Calvinistic scheme of things, the Christian God, through a divine lottery, predestined certain people to be saved. These “winners” — also known as the elect — are the only people who will be saved. Before the first humans were created, God, through a process known only to him, chose to save certain people. Over the thousands of years humans have lived on planet Earth, this God has been regenerating (giving spiritual life) only the people on his will call list. These lucky winners will, at some point in their lives, be given eyes to see and ears to hear the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and upon hearing it they will — without fail — repent and call on Jesus to save them from their sins. And if they are truly saved, these elect people will persevere until they die. Failing to persevere to the end means that those who failed were not part of the elect. (See Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?)
For Calvinists, then, God is quite discriminating. God only chooses to save some people. Thus, when Jesus died on the cross for human sin, his atonement was only on behalf of the elect. No true Calvinist will ever say that Jesus died for everyone. There are “Calvinists” who adopt Amyraldianism, believing that Jesus’ atonement was “sufficient” to save everyone, but only “efficient” for the elect. Realizing that particular redemption/limited atonement makes God look bad, these four-point Calvinists attempt to put a better face on their deity’s partiality towards a very small portion of the human race — past, present, and future. Regardless of how the atonement is viewed, ALL Calvinists believe that only a certain number of people will be saved. All others need not apply.
Shannon, of course, is not a Calvinist. In fact, as most Church of Christ preachers do, Shannon considers Calvinism to be heretical — a cult. (Calvinists return the favor, saying that the Churches of Christ are a cult that preaches works salvation.) According to Shannon, every person that has ever been born has an equal opportunity to be saved. Shannon’s God makes an indiscriminate offer to all: repent, be baptized, persevere in good works, and you shall be saved.
While there are certainly Bible verses that suggest that God is impartial, there are other verses that suggest otherwise. As I mentioned above, Calvinists can make a strong case for the notion that God’s love, grace, and salvation is discriminating, reserved only for those whom God has chosen to bestow his favor upon. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike spend significant amounts of time and energy challenging each others Biblical interpretations — proving that the Bible can be used to prop up virtually any system of belief.
We don’t have to get into the theological minutia of this internecine war to conclude that Shannon’s claim — God is impartial — is false. In fact, the Old Testament provides overwhelming proof for the partiality of God. For those of us raised in Sunday School, we heard numerous stories and lessons about God choosing Abraham and his seed to be his chosen people. Abraham’s seed was later was named Israel (the Jews). According to Deuteronomy 7:6-8:
For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
A special people. So much for the impartiality of God. Showing that he indeed had a favorite, God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide, killing countless men, women, children, and unborn fetuses. So much for God being pro-life! God wanted ethnic and theological purity, going to great lengths to ensure that the only people left living were his “special” people.
In Genesis 6 through 9, the Bible records the mythical story of Noah and the Ark. It is likely that millions of people lived on the face of the earth at the time God opened the windows of heaven and flooded the earth, killing everyone save Noah, his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. Out of millions of people, God only found eight people he was willing to save. So much for the impartiality of God. Imagine the poor sinners living on the island of what is now called Japan. One day it started raining and in a matter of days everyone on the island died. On judgment day, these people, having never heard of the Christian God will stand before Jehovah and be judged for their “sins.” I can only imagine their confusion. Born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, these resurrected drowning victims will be told that they should have known what they could not possibly know: that there is one true God and Jesus is his name. Off to hell they go without ever clearly understanding why. Perhaps a Calvinist will pipe up on that day and say, Ha! You weren’t chosen by God! Burn motherfuckers, burn! Oh, sorry, Lord about saying motherfucker. I forgot about that “thing” with you and Mary.
Even in the New Testament, we see a Jesus who had no interest in anyone save his chosen people — the Jews. It was not until the writing of the Apostle Paul that we hear of non-Jews being saved and made a part of God’s family. Jesus’ disciples, all of whom were circumcised Israelites, spent their time preaching the gospel to only the Jews. Deeply versed in the teaching of the Old Testament, the Apostles knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people. While Christianity (Paul’s version) certainly spread to the outposts of the Roman Empire, it is clear that Jews were the intended target. In Romans 11, Paul reminds Gentiles that the Jews were God’s original chosen people. Gentiles were, according to Paul, grafted into the Jewish branch. Gentiles should feel lucky that God became upset over Israel’s unbelief and decided to let them in on salvation and eternal life. In other words, God is similar to a jilted lover. Spurned by his one true love, he seeks out and marries another person.
Most of the people who have and yet will grace the pages of human history will die in their sins without ever knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Born at the wrong place and time, these “sinners” will worship the God of their culture, thinking that their devotion will be enough to grant them favor with God and an eventual home in heaven. Most of these people will never “hear” about Jesus or the “right” Christian gospel. (See Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?, Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?, One,Two,Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style and Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says There are Only 2 Million Christians in the Whole World). They will die in ignorance, yet Al Shannon’s God and the God of millions of Christians will eternally torture billions of people in the flames of hell for things over which they had no control. For the people God saved, all they can say is lucky me, it sucks to be you. Those who are saved will owe all praise, glory, and honor to Jesus. Every Christian sect believes that God alone saves. Those who find themselves on the winning side of the ledger will have no reason to boast. It is God, through the merit and work of Jesus, who saves sinners. This is, contrary to Shannon’s assertions, the perfect example of partiality and discrimination. It is also one of reasons many people reject Christianity and its God. These unbelievers see God as a capricious deity, a divine bully who is running some sort of cosmic scam — one in which he allows billions of people to think they are on the right path to salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, only to find out that God was just playing with them. Similar to a cat catching a mouse in his mouth and letting it go, only so he can catch again, the Christian God toys with the human race, knowing that just as sure as the cat eventually will kill the mouse, he will sentence the vast majority of people to a life worse than death — eternal torture in the flames of the Lake of Fire.
As with the idea that God loves everyone conditionally (see Does God Love Us Unconditionally?), the idea that God is impartial sounds good to those who value fairness and justice; actually reading the Bible proves otherwise.
One third of the world’s population claims to be Christian (2.1 billion). Yet, only a few of those have obeyed the gospel of Christ. So few that they are nearly invisible (approximately one in one thousand or 2,034,338). Now consider this, of these few who have obeyed the gospel of Christ, only a handful of these will be saved. And if only a handful will be scarcely saved among these, imagine how hopeless it will be for those who know not God and have not obeyed the gospel of Christ.
Shannon knows EXACTLY who is going to hell when they die:
This means every Catholic will be cast into hell. Every Baptist will be cast into hell. Every Presbyterian, every Methodist, every Adventist, every Mormon, every Pentecostal, yes and every denomination under the sun will be cast into hell. These are the ones who claim they are Christians, but have not obeyed the gospel of Christ. The other two thirds of the population of the world who know not God will also be cast into hell.
Of course, Shannon is one of the select few who will make it to Heaven. Cultists such as Shannon always think they are numbered among the True Christians®. The same goes for Calvinists. I have yet to meet a Calvinist preacher who didn’t think he was one of the elect.
I have often wished that preachers such as Shannon could die, see that there is no life after death — no judgement, heaven, or hell — and then be brought back to life to live the rest of their days knowing that everything they preached is a lie.
Church of Christ preacher Al Shannon wants pubescent teen girls and women to know that if they dress “immodestly” and are raped it is their fault. And if parents don’t teach their girls to dress modestly and they end up being impregnated by Christian horndogs it is the fault of lax mothers and untrained daughters. Shannon writes:
Mothers with young girls will do them a real favor by teaching them while little to learn to dress in modest apparel. It just may keep your unmarried daughter from being raped or getting pregnant out of wedlock.
Shannon also wants sexually aware girls and women to know that if they dress inappropriately and some poor, hapless, weak, pathetic teenage boy or man lusts after them, it is their fault. Shannon writes:
The Bible teaches that we must dress in modest apparel. “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shame facedness and sobriety” (1 Tim. 2:9). A failure to dress properly induces others to sin. Mary Quant, the London fashion designer and mother of the miniskirt said, “Mini-clothes are symbolic of those girls who want to seduce a man . . . and leads to sex.
Modesty Enforcer Shannon also wants teen girls and women to know that if they wear skimpy bathing suits they shouldn’t be surprised if teen boys and men lust after them and want to fuck them. Shannon warns:
Women on board the hi-jacked pleasure ship Santa Maria left off wearing “enticing clothing of shorts, halters and swim suits” and stayed out of the ship’s pool for fear the rebels might have designs on them sexually! This was in the 1960’s. If you plan on swimming, you need to pick a place other than where there is mixed swimming. When women dress in such a way as to entice men, don’t be surprised when they want to do more than just look! Women of the millennium wear macro [sic] bikinis that reveal every aspect of he [sic] human anatomy. In other words, women of today parade themselves naked before the eyes of the world to see and cause them to lust after their bodies.
What about how teen boys and men dress, Preacher Shannon? Here’s what he had to say:
Fathers need to also talk to their boys about proper attire. Way too often today we see boys wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants and revealing the imprint of a certain body part. This is totally indecent.
Oh my God, teen boys are showing off their underwear by wearing it outside of their pants and this somehow indecently shows the imprint of “certain” body parts! I wonder what that “certain body part could be? Penis? Dick? Or any of the dozens of euphemisms men have for their rod? Is Preacher Shannon ashamed to say the word “penis,” lest he corrupt the minds of his readers? How does wearing underwear outside of your pants show off your penis any more than wearing underwear inside of your pants? And why doesn’t Shannon mention men’s bathing suits?
While women continue to make inroads outside of the Evangelical church, within its walls they are still viewed as the keepers of zippers. If teenage boys and men are to keep their “certain” body parts in their pants, it is up to teen girls and women to make sure that they never dress in ways that will cause lustful Johnny to reach for his package. Once Johnny unzips his pants and lets loose his manhood, why, there’s no telling what he might do. And if he impregnates or rapes a woman he’s not to blame! Remember, the Bible says in Proverbs 7:
For at the window of my house I looked through my casement, And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house, In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. (She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves.For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him. He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her.
Never, ever forget that when men lust women are ALWAYS to blame. If teen girls and women would just dress like they did in the days of Little House on the Prairie or wear some sort of Christian burka, burning male lust would be extinguished, women would no longer be raped, and no children would be born out of wedlock. Or so say the Al Shannons of the world. Perhaps the real solution is for women to stay away from Evangelical churches, much as they would dimly-lit alleys late at night. If Christian men are so easily aroused that exposed cleavage, legs, or tight clothing causes them to lust and have thoughts of rape, wouldn’t women be safer if they spent Sundays at home?
The Churches of Christ along with the Baptists and the Roman Catholic Church consider themselves to be the one true church of Jesus Christ. According to catholic365.com, there are five reasons the Roman Catholic Church is the true church:
1. Authority- Jesus gave specific instructions regarding dealing with members of the Church who were in sin. Matthew 18:15-18 says “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What Evangelical/Protestant Church has the authority to remove someone completely from the church? None. If an individual is removed from a ‘congregation’ then he/she can go down the street and join another ‘congregation’ of the same denomination. The congregations are individualized and have no authority outside their own denomination. That is not true with the Catholic Church. If removed from the Catholic Church, one cannot go to another city and join another Catholic Parish.
2. History- The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest and original Christian Church, therefore, the beliefs and teachings of the Church were directly passed onto the leaders of the Catholic Church by the apostles. The Catholic Church began with the teachings of Jesus Christ, around 1st Century AD in the province of Judea of the Roman Empire. The Catholic Church is the continuation of the early Christian community established by Jesus and no modern Christian Church can make that claim. By the end of the 2nd century, bishops began congregating in regional synods and to correct doctrinal and policy issues and by the time the 3rd century came around, the Bishop of Rome (Pope) served as the decisive authority, kind of like a court of appeals, for problems and issues the bishops could not resolve. This is identical to the Bible’s teaching. In Exodus 18 we see where the children of Israel brought their disputes to Moses and Moses settled those disputes. However, it also shows where leaders appointed by Moses also worked to settle disputes.
The Catholic Church remained the only Christian Church until the East-West Schism of 1054, which caused medieval Christianity to split and become two separate branches. The greatest division, however, came during the Reformation from 1517-1648, led by Martin Luther. The East-West (Great) Schism was caused by Patriarch Michael I. According to Titus 3:9-11, the divisions led by Patriarch Michael I and Martin Luther were sin. “Avoid foolish arguments, genealogies, rivalries, and quarrels about the law, for they are useless and futile. After a first and second warning, break off contact with a heretic, realizing that such a person is perverted and sinful and stands self-condemned..”
3. The Catholic Church gave Christians the Bible- The first official list of books contained is what is the Bible was done at the Council of Hippo in 393 and then again in Carthage in 397 and 419. However, the Council of Trent in 1556 was the first time the Church infallibly defined these books as ‘inspired’ because it was questioned by Reformers. We have to admit, the apostles did not walk around with nice leather bound Bibles in their hand. There are many parts of the Bible that are oral tradition which was written down because when early believers attended the Synagogue or church, the scripture was read. They did not have their own copy with their name engraved on the front. Oral tradition was the norm of practice long before writing and reading was a part of life. The Jews followed the Old Testament before Jesus was born and Jesus is pictured in Scripture reading from the Old Testament in the Synagogue. There were multiple writings from this time but it was only after the list of books determined to be the ‘inspired Word of God’ by the Catholic Church first with the Council of Hippo in 393 that the world had what is called “The Bible”. The Bible remained the original 73 books determined by the Catholic Church until the Reformation, when Martin Luther threw out 7 books of the Old Testament that disagreed with his personal view of theology…the same Old Testament adhered to by the Jews. He threw these 6 books out in the 16th Century. Luther also attempted to throw out New Testament books James, Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. In referring to James, he said he wanted to ‘throw Jimmy into the fire’ and the book of James was ‘an epistle of straw’ with no usefulness. After Pope Damasus I approved the 27 New Testament Books however in 382 AD, Luther agreed with the Pope and accepted the New Testament books but denied the Old Testament books …which remained out of his Bible. Non-Catholics will accept the Biblical books which are contained in the Protestant Bible but do not acknowledge they are accepting and trusting the authority of the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church was the one who proclaimed the entire list, as a whole, as ‘inspired’. The letters within the Bible are not the only letters and materials written by the Apostles so, as a result, those contained within the Bible had to be declared ‘inspired’ and it was the Catholic Church which did that duty.
4. The Sacraments are Biblical- The Apostles were given the power to ‘forgive sins’ in John 20:23, Peter taught in I Peter 3:21 that ‘baptism now saves you’, ‘anointing the sick with oil was shown in James 5:14-15, laying on of hands in Acts 8:17 and 2 Timothy 1:6, marriage in the Lord in I Corinthians 7:39 and Jesus stated numerous times that the disciples should participate in the breaking of bread (Eucharist) by stating ‘he who eats my flesh has eternal life’.
5. Sola Scriptura is not supported in the Bible- It is difficult to make a claim such as Sola Scriptura (The Bible Alone) when, in its very essence, the claim must be written within the Bible in order to be Biblical. The concept of “Bible Alone” says it is not truth if it is not contained in the Bible, therefore removing ‘tradition’, but the Bible refutes that principle. Jeremiah 25:3 says the “Word of the Lord” is “spoken”, not just written. Paul told us to hold to our traditions, which are taught by word and mouth or by letter, according to 2 Thess 2:15. The Bible also portrays where a Council was held to settle doctrinal disputes in Acts 15. (Who else has a Council to settle doctrine disputes and holds the authority to do such other than the Catholic Church?) The Bible also warns about ‘twisted’ interpretations of Scripture in 2 Peter 3:16 and I Timothy 3:15 says THE CHURCH is the pillar and the bulwark of the truth. The Catholic Church has one teaching…one unified teaching…as opposed to the now 43,000 evangelical (Protestant) groups currently established, with 2.3 added each day. Their views on everything from the Trinity, homosexuality, abortion, and salvation all contradict each other. Truth cannot be false at the same time and Truth cannot contradict each other.
Many Baptist churches also consider themselves to be the one true church. These Baptists believe that they can trace their lineage all the way back to Jesus and his apostles. In 1931, Baptist pastor J.M. Carroll published a booklet titled The Trail of Blood. This booklet detailed what is commonly called Landmarkism or Baptist Successionism — the belief that some Baptist churches are the church founded by Jesus Christ. Carroll gave ten infallible marks of a true church:
1. Christ, the author of this religion, organized His followers or disciples into a Church. And the disciples were to organize other churches as this religion spread and other disciples were “made.”
2. This organization or church, according to the Scriptures and according to the practice of the Apostles and early churches, was given two kinds of officers and only two–pastors and deacons. The pastor was called “Bishop.” Both pastor and deacons to be selected by the church and to be servants of the church.
3. The churches in their government and discipline to be entirely separate and independent of each other, Jerusalem to have no authority over Antioch–nor Antioch over Ephesus; nor Ephesus over Corinth, and so forth. And their government to be congregational, democratic. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
4. To the church were given two ordinances and only two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These to be perpetual and memorial.
5. Only the “saved” were to be received as members of the church (Acts 2:47). These saved ones to be saved by grace alone without any works of the law (Eph, 2:5, 8, 9). These saved ones and they only, to be immersed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). And only those thus received and baptized, to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and the supper to be celebrated only by the church, in church capacity.
6. The inspired scriptures, and they only, in fact, the New Testament and that only, to be the rule and guide of faith and life, not only for the church as an organization, but for each individual member of that organization.
7. Christ Jesus, the founder of this organization and the savior of its members, to be their only priest and king, their only Lord and Lawgiver, and the only head of the churches. The churches to be executive only in carrying out their Lord’s will and completed laws, never legislative, to amend or abrogate old laws or to make new ones.
8. This religion of Christ to be individual, personal, and purely voluntary or through persuasion. No physical or governmental compulsion. A matter of distinct individual and personal choice. “Choose you” is the scriptural injunction. It could be neither accepted nor rejected nor lived by proxy nor under compulsion.
9. Mark well! That neither Christ nor His apostles, ever gave to His followers, what is known today as a denominational name, such as “Catholic,” “Lutheran,” “Presbyterian,” “Episcopal,” and so forth–unless the name given by Christ to John was intended for such, “The Baptist,” “John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11 and 10 or 12 other times.) Christ called the individual follower “disciple.” Two or more were called “disciples.” The organization of disciples, whether at Jerusalem or Antioch or elsewhere, was called Church. If more than one of these separate organizations were referred to, they were called Churches. The word church in the singular was never used when referring to more than one of these organizations. Nor even when referring to them all.
10. I venture to give one more distinguishing mark. We will call it–Complete separation of Church and State. No combination, no mixture of this spiritual religion with a temporal power. “Religious Liberty,” for everybody.
In the 19th century men such as Barton Stone, Thomas Campbell, and Alexander Campbell took it upon themselves to restore Christian churches to their First Century Apostolic purity. Firmly rooted in Baptist soil, the Restoration movement caused numerous fractures and splits, leading to the establishment of groups such as the Churches of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). While Landmark Baptists and Churches of Christ have similar doctrinal beliefs, neither considers the other part of the true church. These two groups have spent much of the last 160 years fighting over whether baptism is required for salvation. Put a Church of Christ evangelist in the same room with a Baptist elder and they will spend their time together arguing over the Greek word eis (for) in Acts 2:38:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The evangelist will argue that the word for means that a sinner must be baptized in order to have their sins to be remitted. The elder argues that the word for means because of. Christians are baptized, not to have their sins remitted, but because their sins have already been washed away.
Al Shannon is a Churches of Christ preacher who displays his theological prowess on the Biblical Proof website. In a May 20, 2016 post titled Are There Any Christians in Denominational Churches?, Shannon makes sure his readers understand that the only true Christians are those who are a member of a Churches of Christ congregation. Shannon writes:
Are there good people in all denominational churches? Are there any Christians once named among them? It’s a fundamental question because denominations profess to be Christians, yet they deny what it requires to become a Christian.
Most Christians understand that when someone obeys the gospel (Rom. 6:17) the Lord adds him to His church (Acts 2:47), of which is the only blood-bought (Acts 20:28) institution the Bible speaks. This is the “church” which Christ built (Mt 16:18).
The Bible speaks often of the Great Apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3-4 f; 2 Tim. 4:3-4). This manifested itself in Roman Catholicism, from which every denomination in the world today sprang (Rev. 17:5). Error truly does begat error.
The Bible also speaks of (and condemns) sectarianism and division, which is what denominationalism really is, as each term stands firmly against the Bible-based unity declared in Ephesians 4:4.
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists “factions, parties, and divisions” as being “works of the flesh,” and warned all men everywhere and for all time that “they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
In trying to understand why there are no Christians in any denomination, let us consider three points. First, there was division at Corinth. Just a mere six years after the Corinthian church was planted some of these brethren had developed a sectarian spirit. In 1 Corinthians 1:11 Paul begs his brothers in Christ there to free themselves from all contentions.
Secondly, the overwhelming bulk of the denominations in the world today subscribe to most of the views of John Calvin, in particular the false doctrine of “faith only” (that they are saved at the point of belief, separate and apart from further obedience, regardless of what John 3:5 may say).
Therefore, those in the denominations have never obeyed the gospel. They have deceived themselves into believing a lie (2 Thess. 2:11-12), and will, therefore, be destroyed at the Lord’s coming (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
Finally, New Testament Christians must be careful not to make man-made laws for our brethren (as some sought to do in Acts 15:1-2). When such happens, a sectarian spirit will develop and will result in something other than New Testament Christianity (Psa. 127:1).
Based on what I have shared above, the Catholics, Baptists, and the Churches of Christ all claim to be the one true church of Jesus Christ. What makes things even more difficult is that there are numerous other groups that claim they are the one true church. How are people supposed to know which sect is the one true church? The Catholics, Baptists, and Churches of Christ all point to the Bible (and history) as proof for their true church declaration. In Ephesians 4:5,6 the Apostle Paul wrote:
One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Paul seems to be saying that there is only one true church. While Protestants will say (Baptists and Churches of Christ do not consider themselves Protestants) the one true church is comprised of the true Christians found in the various Christian sects, the Churches of Christ and many Baptists reject what is commonly called the Universal Church or the Invisible Church. They believe that the only church is local churches, each independent franchises of the One True Church Club®.
So what are sinners to do? Which church is the one true church? How can anyone know whether any sect is the one established by Jesus and the Apostles? You would think Jesus would come down from Heaven and make clear which group is his Church. Better yet, why not rain fire down from the skies and destroy every church that is not a part of the One True Church Club®. Surely unbelievers can’t be expected to figure out which church is the right one. Come on God, help us out.
This graphic perfectly illustrates the puritanical culture found in many Evangelical churches. Women are considered lust magnets, sure to attract weak, pathetic Christian men who have little control over their sexual desires. Starting with primary school age, females are taught to never, ever expose any of the sexual parts of their bodies–breasts, cleavage, bare shoulders, legs, and ass. In other words, girls and women are expected to dress similar to burka-wearing Muslims. The only difference is the head covering.
This kind of thinking robs Evangelical girls and women of any sense of self-worth. Like pornographers, modesty Nazis reduce females to commodities that must be protected and hidden until it is time to put them on the (marriage) market.
The most astounding fact about this picture is that it comes from Harding University — a Churches of Christ-affiliated institution. It is hard to imagine — in the twenty-first century — grown women willingly submitting themselves to this kind of male-driven body control. Yet countless young women attend Evangelical colleges and universities that have rules which govern virtually every aspect of their lives. Such control would be impossible without women being indoctrinated as young children and teenagers by pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and parents.
Just remember girls. Regardless of what you think, IT’S THE RULES.
Uplift Camp Dress Code — Summer Youth Camp held (and sponsored) at Harding University (Note that the majority of the rules apply only to women.)
Youth ministers and sponsors are responsible for their group (adults included) complying with the dress code for Uplift. You should have a meeting with all participants and make sure they understand the dress code BEFORE they pack for Uplift. The dress code will be enforced. If you have students or adults who are out of dress code, we will come to you or a sponsor to address the issue. If there are offenses while at Uplift, it will be your responsibility to see that all in your group meet dress code. You may need to take your campers to Walmart, Goodwill, etc. to find suitable clothing.
All clothing must have sleeves (guys and girls). Sleeveless clothing is not allowed under any circumstances, even recreation time. This includes sundresses, tank tops, sleeveless blouses, athletic shirts, and cut-off T-shirts.
No visible midriffs. Clothing that exposes any part of the mid-section when standing, sitting or bending over is not allowed. All tops should be long enough to be tucked in.
Shorts must be fingertip length at least when standing straight, arms to the side. This is measured from the shortest part of the shorts. Nike-style running shorts are not allowed, even if they are long enough.
Skirts and dresses must come down to the top of the knee.
Skin-tight or otherwise revealing clothing is not allowed. Low-cut shirts, spandex, tight jeans, halter tops, etc. are not acceptable. Leggings do not count as pants. If your outfit is against dress code without leggings, it is against dress code with them.
Shocker!! Harding University has students who are gay. Students operate a site called HU Queer Press: The State of the Gay — “a self-published zine that aims to give voice to the experiences of gay and lesbian students at Harding.”
If I were to ask Christian readers to define alien baptism, I suspect very few could do so. Alien baptism? Baptizing creatures from other planets? Baptizing people who are not legal residents of the United States? Nope. In the ersatz world inhabited by Independent Baptists, alien baptism is the re-baptism of people who were saved and baptized in churches other than Independent Baptist churches. If Methodist Joe Smith and his family move to Purity, Kentucky and want to join the local alien-baptizing Baptist church, they would be required to be re-baptized before being permitted to join the church and take communion. Now if an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family moves to Purity, they would not need to be re-baptized. Well, most of the time anyway. The new church pastor, before accepting them as members, would make sure that their previous church was a like-minded Baptist church. If their old church was an IFB church but had different doctrine, the new church might require them to be re-baptized. Got all that?
Then there are churches that are commonly called Landmark (Baptist Brider) Baptist churches. These churches typically treat all other churches as alien, thus requiring new members coming from another church to be re-baptized. Landmark Baptists also practice close or closed communion. Churches that practice close communion will allow people who are visiting from a like-minded church to take communion. Most Landmark Baptist churches take communion (Lord’s Supper) every Sunday. Some Landmark Baptist churches practice closed communion. No one outside of the local church membership is permitted to take communion. Years ago, I preached for Jose Maldonado and the Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. When it came time for the church to take communion, Joe whispered to me, we practice closed communion, brother. In other words, I could preach at the church, but not take communion with them. Welcome to the wonderful, wacky world of the Landmark Baptists.
The Trail of Blood Chart, showing that the Baptist Church is the True Church (Full size here)
These type of churches, similarly to the Roman Catholic Church, believe in Baptist successionism (Baptist perpetuity). Wikipedia defines Baptist successionism this way:
Baptist successionism (also known as “Baptist perpetuity”) is one of several theories on the origin and continuation of Baptist churches. The tenet of the theory is that there has been an unbroken chain of churches since the days of John the Baptist, who baptized Christ, which have held similar beliefs (though not always the name) of current Baptists. Ancient anti-paedobaptist groups, such as the Montanists, Paulicians, Cathari, Waldenses, Albigenses, and Anabaptists, have been among those viewed by Baptist successionists as the predecessors of modern-day Baptists.
To simplify things for readers: John the Baptist baptized Jesus, so that made Jesus a Baptist. Jesus baptized the disciples, so that made them Baptists too. This means that first Christian church was Baptist (First Baptist Church of Jerusalem). So there ya have it, the Baptist church is the one, true, historic church.
The Campbellite movement (Restoration movement) of the 19th century which birthed the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ, found its roots in the Baptist church. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, in an attempt to restore the Baptist church to its apostolic roots, contended that baptism was required for salvation. The Baptists believed that baptism was an outward sign that one has been saved, whereas the Campbells believed baptism was salvific, that sins were washed away in the waters of baptism. Today, Churches of Christ and Baptist churches bitterly fight over which church is practicing New Testament baptism. Most of the debate centers on the word FOR (Greek word eis) in Acts 2:38:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Baptists believe the word for means because your sins have been remitted. Churches of Christ believe the word for means in order to have your sins remitted. Back in the days when I pastored churches in SE Ohio, I would preach sermons against the Churches of Christ. I would then take tapes of the sermons and mail them to local Church of Christ preachers. And they would do the same, refuting my Baptist ecclesiology and soteriology.
But Bruce, doesn’t the Bible says, ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE Baptism? Doesn’t this mean that all Christian baptism is legitimate in the eyes of God? Silly you, to think such things. ONE baptism? Why that is Baptist baptism. All other baptisms are — drum roll please — alien baptisms.
Warning: a good deal of my thoughts and feelings on all this are quite raw. If I come across that way, I’m not meaning to demean or offend. I do my best to be polite. I can’t help but feel I am taking an awful risk. It’s with a great deal of trepidation that I get into this more than on a surface level. The images of children stumbling and millstones have a permanent imprint on my mind. But, I think everyone here can handle it. Besides that, I’m not encouraging anyone to follow my ways or path–you are responsible for yourself, your faith, your life with or without god. But I do–and you should–proceed with caution.
I am a product, not of IFB/Evangelical fundamentalism, but of Campbellite/Church of Christ fundamentalism. I left that for liberal Evangelicalism, only to find the grass wasn’t greener. I am currently in the long, drawn-out process of leaving the Faith altogether. But, I will admit “faith” is something I’m not so sure I am leaving. I don’t know, anymore.
I admit right off the bat that I am not an atheist. I am agnostic, but lean toward some kind of Jesus pursuit. I no longer believe in any inerrant bible or literal “word of God”, but I still think the Bible is a valuable document to carefully read and consider, in the same way the Tao Te Ching or Das Kapital are valuable to read and consider. I doubt I would be considered “Christian” in most senses, anymore.
I was born in Amarillo, Texas, the firstborn to parents who were at least third-generation Campbellites. As such I grew up in the non-institutional, non-instrumental churches of Christ. If you know the history of that “movement”, you will know that says enough about the theological baggage I carry around.
Campbellite baptism is how I was taught to approach “getting saved”, which was always separated from believing. I had always believed, always knew Jesus, even from childhood; until now I never knew a time of “unbelief.” That did not mean I was saved, however. “Faith and works” were always held in tension, and neither were sufficient to get me into Heaven. My baptism sprang from a fear of Hell, but it also developed from teenage angst about growing up in the church. I relented under the typical church pressures, but my conversion was sincere even if less than fully “educated.” An argument can be made that no discernible change in life resulted. Looking back, that is a significant note to keep in my back pocket.
I met my wife in high school. She was a profoundly unhappy girl and I vowed to be the one person in town who would not add to her sadness, if not be the one to make her happy. There was just one problem: she was a Catholic. Again, if you know anything about the Churches of Christ, me even dating her was a mighty scandal.
That is what marrying my wife made us. After we both graduated from college, we moved to the Detroit area, far away from our Colorado home. Incidentally, we lost two children, and I nearly lost my wife. What I also lost was my armored perspective on good and evil, right and wrong. We moved back home soon after and had our first [living] child. We then, almost immediately, lost my mother-in-law. Our firstborn was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at age 5, as was I one year later–as an adult. Gain and loss have became prominent themes in our life together. These events solidified our existence as misfits, and life soon became an exercise in dealing with the unmet expectations of others; not least of which were the expectations of other Christians.
What I was learning was that my family were–and are–the greatest gifts I have been given. I discovered they are more valuable than even my “salvation.” My family, and not the church, taught me about love. Everyone else taught me about expectations, and the consequences of not meeting them.
I am an engineer. For a time, I worked construction, which was not the industry for which I was educated. Once again I was a misfit, a fish out of water. Years of this lead to a restlessness and anxiety, feelings of being trapped with no other options. The funny thing was that my time in that job was a sort of parable of my wider life. At the time I mistakenly thought it was a “faith-lesson” strengthening my Christianity. Big mistake. I did learn what faith truly was, and it was not what the church told me it was.
The Hebrew Bible talks of the refiner’s fire. My branch of engineering deals with steel-making, so blacksmithing has deep root in my consciousness. There are no miracles in the blacksmith’s world, only long, arduous work. The blacksmith doesn’t “believe” or “pray” for a result, he takes his hammer, anvil, and a very hot fire and beats on a piece of steel until it is a useful tool. It takes hours, days, or weeks to create something of use. Only after hard work does his effort bear any fruit.
Similarly, Jesus talked of moving mountains with only a little faith. Christianity has left us with the mistaken notion that the right faith would allow us to instantly throw that trillion-ton pile of rocks and trees into the ocean with a wave of our hands. Or, that the right faith would bring us untold riches and health. Life has taught me otherwise. Moving mountains takes faith, alright, but the kind of faith that picks up the shovel and scoops the dirt day after day, week after week, year after year. A mountain is moved one rock at a time. I know this because I watched it happen on a job site: one shovel, one bucket, one dump truck, one day at a time. It was boring and monotonous. And it surely was not instant.
Finally, Jesus talked about building on rock and not sand. This was the easy one to learn. Any house or other structure worth its money is built on a solid foundation. What is the foundation of fundamentalism? What is it but the sand of inerrancy, or the shakiness of one literal, modern interpretation of a collection of ancient texts. Even the “eyewitness” accounts of Jesus of Nazareth are rife with corrupted and uncorroborated evidence. Christianity, as it stands now, is built on a surprisingly shifty foundation. Not a good start to building a life.
Learning these lessons has shown me, in the here and now, that I generally live life in tension; I am holding contradictory positions. It is not a good situation for an engineer to hold to an existence of cognitive dissonance. So, now I’m wavering.
Where I’m At
In a manner of speaking, I have no issue with the people of the church, although I haven’t been to meetings in many months. I am happy with most of the people, however the church is, and all churches are, bound by a system and spends too much energy and treasure to feed itself. Having so much stock invested leads to rules and expectations on people that aren’t really justified. From what I read and understand in the Bible, the church was meant to be about a community in relationship. But, so much of the activity and program of church makes authentic relationships nearly impossible.
But none of that is the driving issue with me. I might be able to live and cope with those idiosyncrasies. Coming face to face with some of the things happening in my life–random, causeless things–has caused doubts to take center stage, doubts I’ve always harbored and tried to work out on the back burner. As it is now, I’m skeptical of nearly everything–church, theology, family priority, god itself. I feel like I’m watching the deconstruction of everything I’ve ever believed, hoping to be left with enough to rebuild, or to be convinced rebuilding is worth the energy, or even necessary.
[Warning: severe understatement ahead.] Generally speaking, the church doesn’t deal with doubt very well. Just try to question a pastor’s decision, debate the elders’ authority, resist any authority, doubt the Bible, or doubt an agenda or program. Try questioning the small group ministry and see where it gets you. Simply asking the question, any question, gets you branded. This doesn’t even consider questions about the arguably more important topics of doctrines and practice. Individual friends, even while uncomfortable, will help you entertain doubts, to a point. But when the corporate body is involved, doubt is quashed, because it can’t be managed or controlled.
I doubt. I question. I doubt well-established, deeply held, fundamental things. From the time I was a boy, as far back as I can remember, I have never really doubted god. For the years that I’ve known and learned about god, I had never doubted who he was or that he somehow loved me. That is, not until now.
I suppose the spiritual growth process requires doubt at some time. It seems that in doubt, faith and perseverance must grow to overcome it. Still, when these doubts came, it brought a tremor deep within that I did not expect. It has brought fits of very intense emotion. It has been difficult to keep my composure when confronted with my doubts.
Over the past few years, I have been exposed to new–at least new to me–theological hypotheses. What they are is not the point, and I don’t wish to argue their merits or faults here. Their effects on me, however, I need to work out. Having believed a certain thing about god for so long, I have agonized over having that foundation cracked, even if just a little or just in perception. After half a lifetime of being quite sure of what I believed, that assurance has been shattered, and worse, may yet be proven to be based on something completely false. To someone like me, who is comfortable with facts laid out in an orderly, black and white fashion, this is the height of uncomfortable.
While I don’t like to call it “panic”, a sort of core panic has set in. Admittedly, my first reaction was one of anger. I felt lied to and duped. To some extent, I still do. I re-read scripture passages, along with a few new sources of information and I begin to see all sides as having some merit in their positions. A deeper depression sets in, and then harder questions rise up. “Which is it?”, I ask myself. “Both?” “Neither?” “Does it matter?” In my black and white mind, there must be an answer. What is truth?
I think of Job… what an awful thing to happen to one person. Not only did he lose almost everything, his wife and three friends were of no comfort. Nevertheless, god steps in to end the argument. God, interestingly enough, lectures Job on speaking where he has no knowledge. Funny—the whole time Job is crying out to god as his final arbiter, calling for vindication—he receives a stern reprimand. All the while, Job gets no answers to who was right in the final theological analysis. None. Job and his friends are left wondering. And so am I. It seems everything was set aright, for the most part, for Job after all. But what was the point of having to suffer so overwhelmingly? Was it just so god could prove a debate point?
If the experiences of Job teach me anything (assuming that god is indeed benevolent), it is that god doesn’t call us to nail down our theology to be acceptable to it. He calls us to trust it. All of our understandings are feeble. This isn’t to say truth is not important. It is to say that god holds truth, not us, and not me. Therefore, we need to trust him and not scholars, theologians, preachers, or ourselves.
Such is wholly unacceptable to some people. I get that. And, it is all predicated on a god who is there to trust in the first place. What if it isn’t? Can “God” be reasonably presupposed, even with the claims of the Cloud of Witnesses?
I can’t really nail down a single event which has brought all of this to the forefront. I could name several candidates, but how exactly they fit in would take volumes to describe and tie together. The nearer ones would be easier than those far off, but only relatively. Whether it was a grandfather’s declaration that I wouldn’t amount to much, or a pastor’s desertion of the flock in his charge—or any of a thousand more incidents and accidents—all had their part to play in my derailed faith.
Even so, if I had to venture a guess at a common thread it would be this: cognitive dissonance. That is, that which I believed or wanted to believe was not what I saw or thought I saw. The truths I held were not what in reality was or is. Mutually exclusive ideas cannot be true at the same time.
Over the past few years I have been dealing, in my mind, with the dichotomy of how life should be versus how life is. I am unable to confirm the quote, but Mel Blanc is purported to have said, when comparing his characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, “Bugs is the ideal we all try measure up to, but Daffy is who we see in the mirror every morning.” That seems to fit it into the nutshell I’m talking about. Similarly, the “Christian life” is such a lofty ideal, but when compared to reality, it looks like a sham.
Is there any hope? Society surrounding me leads me to believe not. Depending on which preacher you sit in front of on Sunday mornings, no matter the platitudes and “gracious” language (if you’re fortunate enough to get even that), the answer is still no. For every fellow addict who understands and knows the struggle, there are 99 “good” citizens who deny any issues of their own and stand in judgment of your law-breaking.
So, I’m left with a choice. I can be honest with myself and everyone, taking the barbs and arrows from a society and a religion who don’t understand and don’t really care to understand, or I don the mantra of the Wizard, hoping to distract all Oz from the reality of who I am. It feels like the only way is the wrong way.
I really don’t know what to do with this. I haven’t been taught to deal with it. It has always been that I don’t measure up, and I have to measure up before god will love me, but it’s impossible for me to measure up. To a certain extent, I have been convinced there is no hope. Go to any church, and likely you will find there are rules and expectations before you are accepted as “one of us.” Churches are not the only culprit, society at large has the same expectation—do what we say or else.
But, if you boil down the story of the Bible, that is not what god seems to be saying, at least that isn’t how I read it. No matter what I think of god and his interaction (or lack thereof) in this screwed up world, the book says that through Jesus somehow things are different. The man behind the curtain can be exposed for who and what he is, and god accepts him… accepts me. He will deal with me kindly and fairly.
I don’t know about you, but I never hear that in the churches I’ve been associated with to this point. Spend a single day in the secular world and you will find this, too, is an anathema. I’m only now getting the whole thing through my own thick, judgmental skull. The thing is, I still don’t know what to do with it.
There is no point in running down the list of things I still believe or things I don’t believe anymore. The details of the jots and tittles have caused enough madness. The best I can give you at this point is that I am agnostic about the whole thing. I simply don’t know. Further, I’m skeptical of anyone who claims they do know. I’m skeptical that some things are even knowable.
If you want to know what I believe, watch me. See what I do and how I act. That will tell you all you need to know. Maybe the reason there was no change in my life at my conversion was that I didn’t really believe it in the first place.
I was and continue to be skeptical of any Sunday School teacher or pastor from my past. I know they don’t know. And here I am: a walking contradiction. For all my years, this is what I have heard: Sure, god loves me and sent Jesus to save me, but… BUT… if I don’t ________, then [insert any one of the typical religious threats here]. For all my years, I have tried to conform and do as I was told. It has gotten me nowhere. I’m still the same person, with the same personality issues, the same social ills, the same faults, and the same sins.
I can’t continue down the same path. I’m not sure I even want to, anymore. I can’t keep the inevitable at bay.
My conclusion is that I’m done. I can’t do it. I have never been able to do it. All I hear is, “You need to do more… do better… don’t do that… do this… change… pull your weight… contribute… make a difference… obey…”
So, I’m not going to try, anymore.
A well-written deconvert to atheism explained his experience in this way:
“These are the three things that changed my thinking: a major crisis, plus new information that caused me to see things differently, minus a sense of a loving, caring Christian community.” –From John W. Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist, Prometheus, 2008.
I mention this quote not to say that all of this must turn out, in the end, as me turning to atheism. It is more of a warning to myself that I am three-thirds of the way down that path Loftus describes.
To this point I have found only one fact I can rely on: love. While that fact carries a lot of weight in and of itself, it doesn’t necessarily answer the questions I’m haunted by. It is a hopeful start, even so. I consider love to be the chief end of life; love of others, primarily. Life is too difficult to go through without a friend to help along the way. Jesus supposedly spoke of love, but his followers show an appalling lack of it. This is the chief reason I have left the church and Christian religion: so few of Jesus’ so-called “disciples” actually love anyone. I don’t blame Jesus, I blame those who do what they do in his name. I still believe in love, even if I don’t know if I believe in god.
That, of course, could all change. In all of this, I’ve learned something about myself. I’ve told you the story, for the most part. From as early as I can remember I have felt like a misfit, not meeting family, friends’, and others’ expectations. Well, my response to it all has always been, “I’ll show them.” I was driven to prove myself to any- and everyone. High school valedictorian, smallest defensive end in the league, if not the State (All-Conference). Graduate from the best engineering school in the country in 4 years. Aced the class the prof said I had no business taking. Save the company I work for millions per year. Professional Engineer Certification in a 3rd discipline I was not educated in. Prove my boss wrong. Defy church leadership because–damn it–they’re wrong. Etcetera, and etcetera, blah, blah and blah. Then all of it came crashing down.
No matter how good, right, or correct any of that stuff is, I only did it to justify myself. My complaints toward anyone who opposed me, criticized me or didn’t “like” me was not one of rightness, but of not validating me, my ego. Like many before, I didn’t like myself, so I sought to force everyone else to do so as compensation. “I’m the smartest guy in the room; I’m right and you can’t deny it.”
I am who I am. That is enough. Jesus told his followers, “Love your enemies.” Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
I figure, now, I just need to let it all go. I don’t need to show anything to anyone. I just need to love and forgive, and not grasp at those I find around me. Then I can let the rest of it fall where it does. That doesn’t answer any questions, but maybe in the end that is the beginning.