Tag Archive: Faith

A Few Thoughts on People Who Say, “Praise God, I Have Never Changed my Beliefs”

i shall not me moved psalm 16One common refrain often heard in some corners of the Evangelical world goes something like this: Praise God, I have NEVER changed my beliefs. I am seventy years old and I still have the exact same beliefs I had at age twenty — fifty years ago. There is this idea floating on the backwaters of Evangelicalism that posits that change is bad, or even sinful. Pastors and congregants pride themselves in having held the one true faith their entire life, that their Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, rheumatology, and hamartiology is the same yesterday, today, and forever. These theological purists will also say that their behavior hasn’t changed either. The sins they were against in the 1970s are the same sins they oppose today. These “just like a tree planted by the waters, I shall not be moved” Christians believe that they love what God loves and hate what God hates; that their interpretations of the sixty-six books of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Christian Bible align closely with God’s mind; that thanks to the Holy Spirit living inside of them as their teacher and guide, they are spiritually mature people who feast on the meat of the Word of God, not the pablum most Christians eat. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-13)

In most spheres of life, learning new things and discarding old beliefs, practices, and ideas is desired and expected. Not in Evangelicalism. Evangelicals cherish certainty. The Apostle Paul told young Timothy the preacher in 2 Timothy 1:12, KNOW in whom I have believed. Pastors challenge congregants to have a know-so salvation. Is it any wonder then, that because a premium is placed on certainty it breeds arrogance and leads to people to think that their beliefs have never changed? Bruce, are Evangelicals who think this way glorying in ignorance? Yes, and the Bible gives them cover for their ignorance in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

For the Bible-believing Evangelicals, being considered unlearned and ignorant by the “world’ is a badge of honor.  What Evangelicals doesn’t want it said of them, they had been with Jesus?

Paul warns the church at Colossae in Colossians 2:8:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

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Evangelicals are frequently warned by their pastors to beware of the philosophies, traditions, and rudiments of the world. Better to be ignorant and know Jesus than to have a PhD and go to hell. A quick survey of Evangelicalism reveals all sorts of beliefs that lie deeply rooted in certainty-driven ignorance. Creationism, King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism, to name a few, require adherents to deliberately and resolutely tune out any data that contradicts their beliefs. Science tells us that creationism is false. Evangelical solution? Ignore science and by faith believe that what the Bible says in Genesis 1-3 is literally true. The same goes for King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism. When Evangelicals holding these beliefs find themselves intellectually challenged, they run to the safety of faith, ignoring anything that shows their theological and historical beliefs are false. Charismatics and Pentecostals do the same. They KNOW that God works miracles, baptizes people in the Holy Ghost, and gives spirit-filled people the ability to do mighty works in Jesus’ name, including speaking in tongues. Believing that their interpretations of certain passages of the Bible is infallibly correct, these swing-from-the-chandelier Christians reject anything that suggests otherwise.

More than a few Evangelicals will object to what I have written here. While they will admit that there’s a lot of ignorance in Evangelical churches, their churches and pastors value intellectual pursuit, saying that learning is a lifelong process. While this sounds good, when these claims are more closely examined, what is often found is a pseudo-intellectualism. While these intellectual “giants” of the Evangelical faith do indeed read books and spend significant amounts of time studying — I know I did for most of the years I spent in the ministry — it is WHAT they read and study that is problematic. True intellectual inquiry requires following the path wherever it leads, leaving no stone unturned. Such inquiry requires people to meet truth head on, not retreating or attempting to veer around. As a former Evangelical pastor and now an atheist, I challenge Christians to carefully examine what they say they believe. Surely, any belief worth having can withstand scrutiny and investigation, right? Evidently not. When Evangelicals have doubts or find their beliefs challenged, what do they do? Many of them run to their pastors for encouragement and support. Keeping asses in the pews is crucial — no asses, no offerings — so when congregants come to them with questions and doubts, these men of God will often recommend for reading “safe” books written by Christian apologists or approved Christian authors. Some pastors, especially those who pride themselves in having three books in their library — Bible, concordance, and dictionary — will tell doubters to, by faith, cling to Jesus, read the Bible, and pray, reminding them that DOUBT is caused by Satan and his emissaries in the world.

Evangelicals who pride themselves in being “widely” read — commonly found among Evangelical Calvinists — do spend significant time studying and reading. It is what they read that is the problem. While these Evangelicals will, at times, venture beyond the safe confines of the Evangelical bubble, most of their reading and study is of authors considered orthodox. In other words, they only read books that reinforce their presently-held beliefs. While there is some lateral movement in Evangelicalism — Arminians becoming Calvinists, Baptists becoming Charismatics, Premillennialists becoming Amillennialists, Non-cessationists becoming Cessationists, and rigid, far-right wing Fundamentalist Baptists becoming generic Evangelicals — most believers continue to hold on to the peculiar beliefs of their tribe, sect, or church. Their theological pursuits rarely, if ever, take them beyond the safety of their current beliefs and practices. Rare are Evangelicals who are willing to risk losing their faith in their search for truth.

Is it any wonder, then, that a premium is placed on being steadfast in the faith once delivered to the saints?  Revered are men and women whose theological roots run deep and who can always give an answer about the hope that lies within them. As an Evangelical pastor, I learned early that congregants wanted certainty. They wanted a pastor who firmly stood on the Word of God and had unmovable, unshakeable faith. If I had questions and doubts about this or that belief, church members didn’t want to hear about it. Tell us the unvarnished truth, Pastor Bruce. The reason, of course, for such desires is that many Evangelical church members have a borrowed belief system; that what their pastor believes is what they believe. Years ago, my theology shifted from the Baptist theology of the IFB church movement to Calvinism. As I began preaching expositionally and teaching congregants what Calvinists call the doctrines of grace, I was shocked by how few church members had a problem with the seismic changes in my theology and preaching. Looking back on this now, I have concluded that what mattered to members was having a sense of community, having a church family to call home. Most of them were never going to read the books I did or spend hours a day studying the Bible. Unlike their pastor, who had a job where he was actually paid to read and study, they had secular jobs that demanded their time and attention. They also had families to care for. What congregants wanted most of all was assurance that they were on the right path; that what they believed squared with the Bible. They were willing to trust that what I said was true. After all, I was the man God had chosen to be their pastor. Surely God and his man had their best interests at heart, right?

I pity and feel sorry for Evangelicals who pride themselves in never changing their beliefs. Many Evangelicals are just like people who never travel far from home. They have never experienced the rich diversity that lies beyond their doorstep. Years ago, during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days, a large group new people showed up one Sunday to attend our morning service. I thought, at first, which nearby IFB church had a split? This group was not, however, disgruntled Baptists. They were Methodists. Once a year their church cancelled a Sunday service so attendees could visit a different church. Their pastor believed it was good for church members to be exposed to the heterogeneity found in Christianity. I thought, what an odd and dangerous thing to do — exposing members to potentially heretical teaching. Of course, I was glad they came to Somerset Baptist Church — The Fastest Growing Church in Perry County. God brought them my way so I could teach them the TRUTHWhy, some of these Methodists probably aren’t even saved, I thought at the time. If they were really, really, really saved, they wouldn’t be members of a liberal church.  Later in life, I came to see how wise the Methodist pastor was; that attending a wide spectrum of churches is a cure for arrogant, self-assured Fundamentalism. The next-to-last church I pastored (for seven years) — Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio — used an advertising slogan that stated, The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.  As pastor, I was willing to embrace all those who claimed the name Christian — Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Pentecostals, to name a few. The catholicity of Christianity was more important to me than theological orthodoxy.

I slowly came to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did; that my theological underpinnings were just one of many ways of interpreting the Bible. I finally learned that I wasn’t infallible, and neither was the Bible. I suppose, had my experiences been different, my changed understanding of Christianity and faith might have led to mainline Christianity, liberalism, or Universalism. Instead, questions and doubts pushed me down the slippery slope Evangelical preachers warn about. Better to rest in certainty of belief and practice than end up like Bruce Gerencser, Evangelical pastors warn. Look at what happened to him! He is now, of all things, a God-hating, sin-loving atheist.  I may, indeed, be a cautionary tale, but I am here to tell readers that a wild, woolly, wonderful world awaits those who will abandon certainty of belief and allow intellectual inquiry to lead the way. Life becomes about the journey instead of the destination. Will you join me? (Please read Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser and Ralph Wingate Jr Uses Me as a Sermon Illustration)

Quote of the Day: Reason vs. Faith, Hitchens vs. Luther

dan barker quote on faith vs reason

Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

— Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great

The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not yet to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things but — more frequently than not — struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

— Martin Luther, Tabletalk (Page 120)

Fox’s ‘Lucifer’ — Hated by Evangelicals, Loved by Heathens

lucifer-morningstar-and-chloe-decker

Chloe Decker and Lucifer Morningstar

Fox’s hit show Lucifer began its second season this week, wasting no time as Lucifer Morningstar and others continue to mock all that Christians hold dear. Last season ended with Lucifer’s mother escaping hell. The latest episode finds Lucifer, played by Tom Ellis, explaining to his therapist (played by Rachael Harris) his Dad (God) and Mom’s relationship:

Lucifer: Very well. In human terms, once upon a time, a boy met a girl, and they fell in love. They had sex. The only trouble was, they were celestial beings, so that moment created the universe.

Linda: MM, the Big Bang?

Lucifer: Never knew how appropriate the name was until now, did you? Anyway, they became Mum and Dad. They had a whole litter of kids, including yours truly. And they built a house. They called it Heaven. They were happy. Dad was… Well, Dad, and Mum… Well, Mum was rather lovely in the beginning. But things change, don’t they? Dad started going into the garage and tinkering with a little project he called humanity. Mum grew cold… Distant. And pretty soon, they were both neglecting their family.

Linda: And then one of his children started to act out?

Lucifer: Indeed. Yeah… So Dad got pissed off and tossed me out of the house.

Linda: And what did your mother do?

Lucifer: Nothing. She just stood there and let it happen. Anyway, a couple of thousand years later, Dad kicked her out, too. Cast her into Hell and put her in a cell. So, I did the same for her as she did for me. Zilch.

This season introduces to viewers a new character — a forensic scientist named Ella Lopez (Aimee Garcia).  Lopez, a crucifix-wearing Christian, thinks that the Lucifer in the Bible got a bad rap:

Ella: You must be Detective Decker’s civilian consultant.

Lucifer: Lucifer Morningstar.

Ella: Cool.

Lucifer: I was expecting a different reaction considering your choice of bling.

Ella: Oh. Dude, I had a friend named Adolf. Okay, Adolf. I didn’t hold it against him. And besides, I think the Devil gets a bad rap.

Lucifer: Oh. You do, do you?

Ella: Sure. I mean, what did he really do that was so bad? What, rebel against his dad? Ask some naked lady if she wanted an apple?

Lucifer: Be still my heart. Do go on.

Ella: I suppose he does run Hell. That’s not so great, you know, with the torture and eternal damnation.

Lucifer: I’m retired. And besides, I didn’t create Hell. I just worked there.

Ella: And now you’re talking in the first person. Wait. Are you…

Lucifer: The Devil?

Ella: …A method actor?

Lucifer: What?

Later in the episode, Lopez answers Detective Chloe Decker’s (played by Lauren German) questions about God, angels, the Devil,and the afterlife:

Chloe: Do you believe that it all really exists?

Ella: What do you mean?

Chloe: Say, angels. Or the Devil. That sort of thing. That’s all a metaphor, right?

Ella: Maybe. Maybe not.

Chloe: Oh, okay. That’s pretty…I just thought there would be more faith in your faith, I guess.

Ella: Oh. No, see, my aunt was a nun, okay? And she always taught me that doubt was really important. Right? I mean, if you don’t question something, then what’s the point of believing it? I doubt so that I can believe.

Chloe: So, then, if you had the chance to prove it was all real or fake, would you do it?

Ella: I mean, that kind of defeats the point, don’t you think? It’s faith…

I wish more Christians would take Decker’s approach. Hebrews 11:1-6 states:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Christian apologists spend countless hours scoring the Internet looking for opportunities to rationally defend their faith. As science continues to make belief systems such as Christianity largely irrelevant, zealots fight back with worn-out, stale, irrational arguments for the veracity of their beliefs. Have they not read Hebrews 11? The essence of Christian belief is FAITH. Attempting to “prove” Christianity to people such as myself is a waste of time. I am unwilling to surrender reason to faith; unwilling to just believe. Either someone believes, or they don’t. I don’t, and Lucifer Morningstar’s tale of heaven and hell is every bit as “real” to me as that which is found in the Bible. It’s all entertainment, and these days I think Fox’s ‘Lucifer’ is far more entertaining.

Christianity and Certainty

guest-post

Guest Post by Exrelayman

It seems to me that there are three approaches to certainty. These would be, science, philosophy, and faith. I will delineate what I mean by these terms and discuss their relative merits and weaknesses. I recognize that my use of these terms may not accurately reflect how someone else thinks about them, but I have tried to think clearly. How well I have succeeded in this I leave to the reader.

Faith basically means accepting that which cannot be investigated, that which you do not choose to investigate, or that which has been investigated with results contrary to the proposition accepted by faith. The strength of faith is that it requires little work to attain. You simply accept what you have been told, or accept that your own thinking about the matter is sufficient and true. A weakness of Biblical faith is that great apologetic effort is required to protect faith from facts (some support of this contention to follow). Another weakness of Biblical faith is that the emotions of hope and fear are used to inculcate and reinforce it, emotions being less reliable means of knowing than reason. A weakness of faith in general is that a bias is established in the mind in favor of the proposition believed, clouding judgment. So that, as is often observed, the person attached to a faith proposition tends to seek information confirming the bias, and downplay information that disconfirms it. Faith often attempts to use the other approaches to certainty for confirmation, but generally misuses them because of the bias faith entails.

Philosophy is simply thinking more in-depth about things than accepting what you are told, or believing your first thought about the matter in question. It uses logic and constructs arguments (in the logical sense, not the disagreement sense, although logical argument often is used in disagreement arguments!). Philosophy thus has the merit of using logic and order to organize the thinking. But philosophy as generally understood (or misunderstood) means thinking about things without empirical testing. Some will object, and say science is a branch of philosophy. This may well be technically true, but my usage here reflects a rather common view of philosophy: sophisticated thought not necessarily grounded in the tangible world. It is stronger than faith by virtue of using the tools of rationality, but weaker than science by being divorced from empirical confirmation.

Science is basically applied common sense. It should thrive in Missouri, the ‘show me’ state. It recognizes that we all have biases, and strives to minimize their effect using investigation and logic. (Of course science doesn’t do this, men thinking scientifically do.) Thinking in a scientific manner means subjecting the mental model to empirical test. It is thus stronger than philosophy (as used herein) by virtue of seeking confirmation in the real world. One observes some aspect of reality, or some proposition. One thinks, ‘how can I go about learning why that phenomenon occurs, or whether that proposition is true’. The thinking will then consist of, ‘If X is true, I would expect Y’. Examination of the real world seeks to observe Y or ‘not Y’. There cannot be certainty about X. Finding Y offers confirmation of hypothesis X. Finding Y repeatedly, while never finding ‘not Y’, is greater confirmation of X, but always some miniscule possibility of a ‘not Y’ result remains. Thus all knowledge is provisional, with the level of confidence proportionate to the amount of evidence. While this is true, vast, overwhelming quantities of evidence support most established science, so that withholding belief in well established science is not reasonable. Out on the frontiers of science, there is less confidence because the evidence is less.

But nota bene: in science, ‘not Y’ results have equal power and serve to disconfirm proposition X. More investigation is then indicated to attempt to learn if this investigation is flawed, or proposition X is flawed. One application of this principle to the faith proposition that there was a Christ who was crucified and resurrected approximately 30 AD is as follows. Earthquakes, and the resurrections of many dead saints are said to accompany this occurrence. If X is the proposition that these things occurred, then Y would be the expectation that they are so remarkable that some contemporary non-Christian historian or writer about natural phenomena would have noticed them and written about them. Since we in fact have ‘not Y’, proposition X has disconfirming evidence and is questionable. Though this be but one example (brevity for the sake of a blog post), instances of disconfirming evidence to Bible story elements are plentiful, to the extent that belief in the Bible as a reliably true document is not reasonable. The more so, as incredible rather than credible stories are predominant.

In recognition of many such weaknesses in Biblical accounts, and in response to enlightenment thinking, some Christians have resorted to ‘metaphor’ and ‘allegory’ to exculpate Bible elements that are clearly contradicted by real world observations. They then are apparently Godlike in their ability to rightly discern what is metaphor and what is not. The fact that other equally sincere and equally intelligent Christians divide the Word differently, so that Christianity disintegrates into myriad sects and factions, troubles them not. Those more scientific and skeptical entertain the proposition X, that if the Bible were a revelation of a God who wanted us to understand it and worship It, then Y, it would be clear and understandable, as evidenced by the one united church. We see instead ‘not Y’, another disconfirming evidence.

We thus observe that science works, and that as more and more scientific study is conducted on the world around us, hypotheses converge into one theory accepted by the vast majority of scientists. While as more and more people perform exegesis (or eisegesis) on the Bible, division of thought, and more and more sects, ensue. This is in contrast to the results of the most effective approach to knowing.

An Evangelical Christian Asks: What Happens When We Die?

louis ck life after death

An Evangelical Christian asked me, what happens when we die?  Here’s my answer.

The power of religion rests in the hope it gives people concerning life after death. Remove this from religion and churches would be shuttered overnight. Hope, along with fear, is the glue that holds most religions together. What would religion be without the fear of hell and the hope of heaven?

The problem though is that there is no proof for the existence of heaven,hell, or life beyond the grave.  All we have to go on is the various religious texts that clerics use to “prove” that there is a hell and a heaven. No one has ever gone to heaven or hell and returned to tell us about it. The same goes for any life  after death, whether it be reincarnation or Christian resurrection. There is no evidence for life after death. Any belief to the contrary requires faith.

As a skeptic,I rarely appeal to faith. I try to judge matters according to what I can know. What does reason tell me about life after death? What do my observations tell me about reality? What do my experiences tell me about the prospects of eternal life beyond my last breath?

When we die we are dead. That’s it. End of story.  When my heart stops pumping and my lungs stop breathing, I am dead. Every one of us will come to this end. No one escapes death. I know of no one who has come back from the dead. I know of no one who is not right where they were planted or scattered after they died. As with God, there is no empirical evidence for hell, heaven, or life after death. Since there is no evidence, I must conclude that these things do not exist.

Now, this does not mean I don’t wish it could be different. Heaven, eternal life, a pain-free body, being reunited with my father and mother; all these things appeal to me. But then, so does having magical Harry Potter-like powers. Both are fantasies that have no foundation in fact.

Some day, sooner rather than later, I am going to die. It is unlikely that I will be alive 20 years from now. I hope I am, but my body and its slow, gradual, painful decline tells me that death is lurking in the shadows and some day it will come and claim me. Believe me, I want to live. I have no death wish like many Christians do. Take me Jesus, I am ready to go, many a Christian says. Not me. I have no desire to leave on the next boat or any other boat.  I hope the long black train that’s a-comin’ gets derailed in Hell, Michigan.  I want to live as long as I can. I want to be married for 50 years, see my grandchildren get married, and hold my great-grandchildren.

You see, we skeptics value life because this is all we have. We know, based on what the evidence tells us, that there is no hell, heaven, or life after death. This is it, and because this is it we want to wring as much as we can out of life. We are not content to off-load life to a mythical Sweet-By-and-By. Every day matters because every day lived is one less day we have to live.

I have lived about 21,288 days/510,912 hours. What is most important to me is how I spent my past, and how I will spend what days I have left. Have I lived life to its fullest? Have I made a difference? Am I a better person today than I was yesterday? This is enough for me; a well-live life. What more can anyone ask ?

Sadly, many Evangelicals view life as something to be endured so that the can get a divine payoff after death. I know this description sounds crude, but it is the essence of the Christian belief concerning life after death. Endure! Suffer! Be Patient! As the Christian song says, Some day it will be worth it all. Some day you will cross the finish line and receive the prize that awaits you, the Apostle Paul says.

I don’t fault the Evangelical for believing in hell, heaven, and the afterlife. The Christian Bible certainly says these things are real. The Bible clearly says who will be going to hell and heaven. However, as a skeptic, I see no evidence that these beliefs are true. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to suspend reason on these matters. I am unwilling to waste my life in the pursuit of that which, as best I can tell, does not exist.

 

Churches That Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things and Why Bad People Do Bad Things Part 3

elmer gantry

Is Your Pastor an Elmer Gantry? Are You Sure? How Can You Know?

In my last post on this subject I wrote:

In this post I want to deal with Churches that Abuse: Why Good People Do Bad Things. This post deals with a very difficult and controversial subject.  It is easy for us to understand evil actions in a church when they are committed by evil people: wolves in sheep clothing. It’s much harder for us to understand evil actions in the church when the evil is committed by individuals who are generally considered good people…

Let me digress for a moment and lay some groundwork for what I will say next. Evangelicals believe:

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God and is sufficient for faith and practice. I am deliberately avoiding the various  arguments about inspiration, inerrancy, etc. Every Evangelical believes the Bible, to some degree or another, is God’s truth.  If they don’t they are not Evangelical.
  • That what the Bible teaches is to be believed, obeyed, and practiced.
  • The Bible is to be, with rare exception, read in a literal sense.
  • The pastor is called by God to preach and teach the Bible to the church membership. I am well aware that a minority of churches have multiple pastors or elders, but the majority of churches are pastored by one person.

As I mentioned in the previous posts in this series, when we add these things together we end up with a church that believes everything written in the Bible. Its members believe they are to live by teachings of the Bible. They believe the most important thing in the world is to be obedient to God.

God has given them a man or a woman (most often a man) to teach and guide them in the teachings of the Bible. The pastor is linchpin of the church. He is the main cog upon which the machinery of the church turns. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance the pastor plays in what people believe and practice. The amount of power that a pastor has is astounding.

How do pastors gain such power over people?

People want to believe that when they go to church they are safe. After all, they are surrounded by people who love Jesus and who seem to sincerely follow the teachings of the Bible. The “it’s what is inside that counts” sounds nice, but in most churches everything is measured by what can be seen and experienced. If people “look” Christian then they “are” Christian. If they “act” Christian then they “are” Christian. People enter the pastor/parishioner relationship with their guard down. They trust the pastor. Surely, he has their best interest at heart.

This is why, when charges of abuse are brought against their pastor, it is hard for churches to accept that their pastor is an abuser. “He wouldn’t do such things.” “He is a man of God.” “He is kind and loving.” “He would never do anything to hurt the church or his family.” Looking in from the outside, the level of denial seems astounding, but church members are taught to be loyal. They are taught to stand firm no matter the circumstance. If they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

I know of countless church scandals where the facts of the scandal were not in dispute, yet many members refused to believe the facts. They steadfastly denied reality. When the late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hammond Indiana (at one time the largest church in America),was charged with infidelity, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement was divided into two groups of people; those that stood with Hyles and considered all the evidence against him to be false or circumstantial and those who believed Hyles was guilty of the things he was accused of.

The evidence was overwhelming. I have no doubt that Hyles did what his accusers said he did. Yet, the 100%-Hyles people — those who actually wore buttons that said “100% Hyles” — won the day. Thousands of people left the church, but Hyles survived the scandal and pastored the church until his death. After his death, his son-in-law Jack Schaap pastored the church.  He, too, found himself accused of sexual misconduct. Unlike his brother-in-law David Hyles, who got away with having sex with numerous female church members, Jack Schaap was found guilty of having sex with a minor and is now serving a twelve-year prison sentence.

Hyles had what we called the “Hyles Mystique.” Jack Hyles had god-like qualities.  He was a super-Christian, a super-pastor who somehow got thirty hours out of every twenty four hour day. He preached at conferences every week, preached at his church on Sunday and Wednesday, counseled dozens and dozens of people each week and still had time to be a wonderful father and husband. His preaching was inspiring and he had command of the pulpit like few other preachers. Surely, such a man could not “sin” or “abuse” other people. I was quite the Hyles fan, but I later came to see that Hyles was a narcissist and a serial liar.

In the Evangelical church, pastors are considered to be a step above the rest of the human race. They are God-called, God-inspired men who speak on behalf of God. They have vast knowledge of the Bible and they have an answer for every question. If the God/Bible/Pastor doesn’t have the answer to a question…well that’s never happened.

Church members are taught that the Bible is God’s divine answer book. In the Bible Christians will find everything they need that pertains to life and godliness. If it is not in the Bible, it is not worth knowing. Say what you will about evangelicals, but many of they take seriously the teachings of the Bible. They read it and study it, desiring to know how to live their lives in conformity to its teachings.

Church members are taught to NOT trust their own reasoning. They are taught to NOT trust the vain philosophies of this world. Out in the world Satan walks to and fro seeking whom he may devour. This is why church members are discouraged from reading  books or magazines that are not written by approved Christian authors. They dare not open their mind to the world, and by living this way they ultimately lose their ability to rationally think and, over time, to spot error and contradiction. Skeptics do not make good Christians. The Bible, or should I say, the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, becomes the only thing that matters.. This is fertile ground for the seeds of abuse to grow and mature.

Sunday after Sunday, people gather together in Evangelical churches to listen to their pastor expound and illustrate his interpretation of the Bible. They think they are doing so with an open mind, but instead they have closed off their mind to everything except what their pastor teaches. Since he is the man of God, he is explicitly trusted by almost everyone.

Before I go on, I need to say that I think most pastors are honorable people.  I think they, as I did, entered the ministry with the best of intentions. They sincerely want  to help people and to teach people how to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Regardless of my beliefs about God, the Bible, and Christianity in general, I greatly respect pastors who selflessly work hard to minister to their churches.

Most churches are pastored by one person. Churches with multiple pastors or multiple staff members make up a small number of the total number of churches. Even in large churches, with numerous staff members, there is usually one person who is THE pastor. Take a look at the mega-churches. Tens of thousands of church members and dozens of staff members, yet the churches are labeled as John MacArthur’s, Rick Warren’s, Bill Hybels’  church, etc. No matter how many elders are on the board, there is no doubt whose church it is.

No matter the size of the congregation, the church revolves around the pastor. He  the head honcho, the bwana, the chairman of the board.  The pastor has tremendous power granted to him by the church body. In many churches, the power that a pastor has is almost absolute. Granted, a church CAN dismiss a pastor, but rarely are disaffected church members willing to get into a turf war with the pastor. In every church there is a core group of people who are on the pastor’s side. Disaffected church members find it difficult to take on the pastor and those who support him.

As time goes on, the pastor, whether on purpose or not, tends to consolidate his power/authority in the church. He becomes the go-to man for everything, even things that have nothing to do with the Bible or the church. The pastor may even deceive himself about this. He may see this as the church and pastor maturing together like an old married couple.

I am sure you have heard the line absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sadly, this is often the case in many churches. Over time, the pastor becomes  a monarch ruling from a throne. First Baptist Church becomes John Smith’s church. The pastor’s name is on the sign, the church letterhead, and every piece of literature put out by the church. If the church is a corporate body, with every member being an essential part, why does it matter what the pastor’s name is?

The answer is quite simple. In America we are attracted to personalities. We live in a culture that puts a great premium on star power. As a result, people view pastors as stars and personalities. As with actors and political personalities, when a pastor begins to believe the hype about himself, he has taken the first step to being an abuser. Filled with pride and arrogance, the pastor begins to actually believe what people say about him. “Great sermon pastor.” You are the best preacher I have ever heard.”  “What a powerful man of God you are!”

The pastor and the church are complicit in providing a fertile ground for abuse to occur.  While ultimately the abuser is the one who must give an account  for his abuse, the church is complicit to the degree that it failed to see all people, INCLUDING the pastor, as mere humans. Pastors are capable of committing the same sins and behaving the same way as church members and non-Christians.

Trust is a good thing. Generally, we should trust one another. However, there is a difference between eyes-wide-open trust and blind trust. Closing off one’s mind to the possibility that good people can do bad things is irresponsible.  Every week there are news reports of good people doing bad things. Sometimes it is bad people acting like good people doing bad things, but sometimes it really is good people doing bad things.

Good pastors are capable of doing bad things. I have pondered the WHY of this for a long time. I want to conclude this post with a few thoughts on the “why” of pastors that abuse. Why to good men do bad things?

First, they believe the hype about themselves. Pastors foolishly begin to believe the accolades that are thrown their way. Pretty soon they begin to think, I AM SOMEBODY. This is especially true if the pastor is a gifted communicator or has great people skills. They forget that Bible says pride goeth before a fall. The story of Nebuchadnezzar and his rise to power and fall should be burned into the mind of every pastor. The book of Daniel records Nebuchadnezzar saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”  Many an Evangelical pastor has uttered a similar statement, only to be ruined by his arrogance and pride. (see Tony Soprano Would Make a Good Independent Baptist Preacher)

Second, they think they are more knowledgeable than they really are. The longer a pastor serves in one church, the more willing people are to come and talk to the pastor about the troubles they are facing. Most pastors have little or no training in counseling or psychology. Even when they do have training, most often they are trained to view the Bible as the answer to every problem. When I was a pastor, rare was the day that someone didn’t come to me and say “can we talk.” I counseled hundreds of people over the years. Evangelicals have the same problems as non-Christians do. Sometimes they have MORE problems than non-Christians, due to literalist interpretation of the Bible. The Bible does not make life easier to live. It’s commandments, rules, and regulations are often a source of conflict and mental/emotional stress.

This is complicated further by the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible. In the hyper-fundamentalist wing of the Evangelical church, you will find lengthy codes of conduct said to be taken straight from the bible. This code of conduct is enforced through the preaching of the pastor. (see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) Many times, the pastor’s own personal code of conduct is presented as the standard by which everyone else must live. After all, the pastor got it right from the Bible! (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalist?)

As I look back over twenty-five years in the ministry, I now realize the churches I pastored had far more dysfunction than I was willing to admit. My staunch, literalist stand on the teachings of the Bible caused some of this dysfunction. Thinking the Bible is the answer to what ails us is not only ignorant, it can be dangerous. This dysfunction was furthered by my own arrogance as I allowed myself to become THE answer man. I could justify myself by saying that many of the people I pastored were lazy Christians. They were quite willing to accept whatever answer I gave them. One church member, when asked “what do you believe?” answered, “I believe whatever the preacher believes.” Brutal, but honest.

Most church members read the bible devotionally and never spend a moment studying the doctrines they say they believe. Of course, I now see that this is essential to the long-term survival of Evangelical Christianity. Ignorance is bliss or, in Evangelicalese, ignorance is faith. When Evangelicals embark on an intellectual journey to truly understand Christianity and its teachings, they often end up leaving the faith or embracing some form of liberal Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is not well served when looked at with the microscope of reason and fact. For this reason, pastors encourage their parishioners to read only approved books, and they are encouraged to only send their kids to approved Evangelical colleges. This is vitally important for keeping the ship afloat. Non-approved books and non-approved colleges usually cause trouble and often lead to people leaving the church. Knowledge is power.

Over the years, I counseled a number of people who needed immediate psychological or psychiatric help. At the time, I despised the mental health profession. I viewed them as tools of Satan. Instead, I gave people lame, unhelpful advice from the Bible. Instead of helping them, I abused them with the Bible. Several church members had nervous breakdowns and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I viewed this as their fault, their unwillingness to trust God and obey his commandments. Those who had a nervous breakdown later left the church. They found out that what I was selling was snake oil. I proclaimed Jesus as the cure and they found out he wasn’t.

When given the opportunity, I tell young pastors to stick to doing what they were trained to do. Leave mental health issues to the professionals trained to deal with them. The same could be said of many things pastors counsel others on without having the proper training to do so.

Third, the pastor thinks of himself as being impervious to sin. He is, after all, the man of God. He is the servant of the Most High. He has his Ephesian 6 armor on 24/7. Pastors can begin to think that they are invincible, that they are above the fray. They really should know better, but arrogance and pride blinds them from seeing themselves as they really are. As this point, the pastor lacks self-awareness and is extremely vulnerable to self-deception and open to doing things considered sinful and abusive.

Pastors have a legal, ethical, and moral obligation to act appropriately and  responsibly. The Bible, in 1 Timothy 3, sets a high moral and ethical standard for pastors, as do the laws of most states.

Here in Ohio, a pastor is considered a person of authority. He can be held criminally liable for not reporting abuse or for violating the trust of a parishioner. Let me give an example. If church member Joe has an affair with church member Sue, the Bible calls their behavior adultery. However, when a pastor has an affair with a congregant the Bible still calls the action adultery, but the law calls his behavior an abuse of authority. Uncounted pastors end up in prison because they ignored their moral, ethical, and legal obligations to church members.

Pastors who commit sexual sin with a church member are abusing the trust given to them by the person. The state recognizes this and accordingly criminalizes such actions, Pastors, due to the sensitive nature of their interactions with congregants, put themselves in situations where the potential for sin and abuse is great. They often see people at their worst. The conscientious pastor acts appropriately, giving what help he can and recommending secular services for those things he can’t help with. The abusive pastor sees vulnerability as an opportunity to take advantage of a church member. Such pastors are rightly considered the lowest of the low, like dog shit on the bottom of a shoe. Preying on the weak and the vulnerable might work in Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but in the church members rightly expect their pastor to treat them ethically and morally.

Let me share a personal story that I believe will help illustrate what I am trying to say. One spring day, a young woman who used to attend the church came to my office dressed provocatively.  Her parents still attended the church, but she had left the church, off to sow her wild oats.  She had a short, tight skirt on and when she sat down and crossed her legs she definitely had my attention.  It didn’t take me long to realize what her intentions were. In her mind, the best way to get back at her parents was to screw the preacher and ruin his ministry and the church. Fortunately, I realized what was going on and had my wife come into the office with us.

In no way do I intend to present myself as a pillar of moral virtue. I wasn’t then and I am not now. In the above-mentioned story, I was fortunate that I did not take a bite of the forbidden fruit. I just as easily could have. If I had, I would have been guilty of abusing this young woman. Never mind her attempt to seduce me. As a pastor, I was the one who had the responsibility to act appropriately in every circumstance. That’s what the Bible teaches and what the law demands.

A number of the readers of this blog were abused in Christian group homes and boarding schools. Their stories of abuse still bring me to tears. How did these people, children at the time, end up in abusive settings? In almost every circumstance it began with their pastor. Let’s face it, troubled teens are not easy to deal with. But, we must remember that “troubled teen” in an Evangelical context does not mean the same thing as it does elsewhere. A “troubled teen” in an Independent Baptist church might be nothing more than a teen who listens to rock music, drinks a beer now and again, fools around with her boyfriend, or admits to trying pot. This, of course, explains most everyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.

Evangelical children are taught to obey authority, especially the authority of their parents and pastor. When parents have a child or a teen they can’t control–and I readily admit there are some kids that need help beyond what  parents can provide — they most often seek out counsel from their pastor. When teens end up in a Christian group home or boarding school, they almost always end up there based on the recommendation of their pastor. In my opinion, when these kids are sent off to a group home and abuse happens, the pastor bears just as much responsibility as the abusers. He is culpable because he is the one who recommended a home, such as New Bethany Home for Girls, Hephzibah House, or the Roloff Homes. Our legal system recognizes this, equally punishing the bank robber and the person who drove the getaway car. (See Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls and Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sins.)

Truth be told, pastors often are just as trusting as church members. Parents come to them seeking help for their “troubled teen.” The pastor remembers that “so and so” from college runs a group home, so he  gives the parents the phone number for the home, thinking he has done all he needs to do, The pastor has NOT done his due diligence. He should thoroughly check out any place he is recommending to parents with “troubled teens.” The same could be said for Christian colleges. Many Christian colleges are purveyors of institutionalized abuse, yet pastors blindly recommend these colleges to prospective students.  Rarely, does anyone consider how the bizarre codes of conduct at many Christian schools affect the minds of the students sent there. Pensacola Christian College goes so far as to withhold giving the student and their parents the complete list of rules and regulations until the student is on campus. Pastors are responsible for the people, places, and things they recommend. Ignorance is not an excuse.

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Is Living By Faith an Excuse for Irresponsibility?

faith

The Bible commands Christians to live by faith. According to Hebrews 11:6, without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God.

Christians are saved by faith, through grace. Ephesians 2:8, 9 says: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

According to the Bible, no one deserves salvation. God, a gracious, kind, loving and just deity, purposes to save some sinners out the mass of sinners called the human race. God doesn’t have to save anyone, but he chooses to save some. We all deserve judgment and hell, so no one can charge God with favoritism because he chooses to save some but not others.

Those who are saved by the wondrous grace of God become a new creation in Christ Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Since the Christian is a new creation in Christ, they are commanded to live a life of faith. The Holy Spirit indwells (comes to live inside of)  every Christian, teaching them everything that pertains to life and godliness.  The Christian doesn’t have to go to church to find God, God is with him 24/7. God has promised to never, ever leave the Christian.

According to the Bible, the essence of the Christian life is FAITH. Romans 1:17 says:For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faithRomans 5:1,2 says: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church that Christians walk by faith, not by sight.

From beginning to end, the Christian life is one of faith  There is no work a Christian can do to gain favor with God. God gives the Christian the gift of faith and commands them to live a life totally dependent on him.  To live a life according to the flesh or according to the philosophies of this world is to deny that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.

Let me repeat, the Bible makes it clear that without faith it is impossible to please God. IMPOSSIBLE!

How does this life of faith work out in the day-to-day life of the Christian?

The Christian is taught to tune into God’s radio channel. Through prayer and reading the Bible, along with regular attendance at public worship, the Christian can divine the will of God. God has a perfect will for everyone. Since God  is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, he knows exactly how the Christian should live their life. The Christian is called on to live a life of self-denial, a life where the only thing that matters is God’s will. The Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, through prayer and reading the Bible, can determine exactly what God wants him to do.

It would seem that, if the premise above is correct,  all Christians would believe the same thing and live their lives in similar fashion. But, as anyone familiar with Christianity knows, the Christian church is hopelessly fractured. Sectarian splits and internecine wars are quite common as a denominations and churches slug it out to see who has THE truth. It seems that God has a hard time making up his mind about what the “faith once delivered to the saints” is. It seems God is uncertain about how the Christian should live the life of faith. One Christian says ________ is a sin and another Christian says no it is not.  Both appeal to the Bible as the authority for their belief and practice.

I have sat through countless church business meetings filled with people who had prayed about the matters that were going to be discussed. One would think that everyone in the business meeting would come to the same conclusion, but I never experienced a business meeting where everyone was in agreement. I’ve seen plenty of business meetings where everyone seemed to be in agreement, but two or three weeks later, after the church gossip line had run its course, I found out that there were people not in favor of what we voted to do. It seems that the Holy Spirit changes his mind quite often.

I spent most of my adult life intimately involved with the Christian church. As I’ve said many times before, I know what really goes on behind closed doors and I know where the bodies are buried. While Christianity likes to paint itself as a unified body of people who are in love with Jesus and follow him wherever he leads,  the truth is there is little or no unity, and quite often, if Jesus is headed one way they are headed in the opposite direction.

Christians who are  serious about their faith work very hard at trying to know what God wants them to do with their life. They listen intently to the pastor’s preaching hoping to hear and feel that little nudge from God. They diligently read their Bible hoping that one of the verses will jump out at them, and with blaring sirens alert them to what it is God wants them to do. The Christian will spend a significant amount of time in prayer. Prayer is where the Christian talks with God and hopefully God responds.

I’ve heard countless Christians say, and I have said it many times myself, God has laid ____________ on my heart. How does the Christian know that God has laid something on their heart? They just know it. It’s that spidey sense, that feeling that one gets when all is well and everything is at peace. It is not uncommon to hear a Christian say “I have peace about this matter.” Of course there is no way to know that it’s God. How  could a Christian ever PROVE that God is laying something on their heart?

Many Christians realize the danger of living a life solely dictated by faith. They read their Bible, pray, seek the counsel of other people, yet they still have nagging doubts about what God is asking them to do. Sometimes, the Christian cannot bring themselves to do what they believe God wants them to do, and at that moment they become a person that is commonly known in the church as someone who is “out of the will of God.”

There are two labels that no Christian wants attached to their life: out of the will of God and backslidden. Preachers spend a significant amount of time preaching to those who are considered out of the will of God or backslidden. These sub par Christians are blamed for a lot of things. The church would have revival or the blessing of God or have their financial or spiritual needs met if only backslidden Christians would get right with God. It is a tremendous weight to feel that you are not right with God and that you are the blame for all the bad things that are happening.

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. I was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I was intent on following the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) wherever he went. I attempted to live my life according to the premise “what would Jesus do?” Every day I purposed to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. Most every day, I failed at this impossible standard, but I kept trying, trying, and trying.

I was taught, and I taught others, that every Christian has a cross to bear. Every Christian has a weight in their life that weighs them down, a burden they must carry. In my life I thought my weight was living in poverty. As an act of self-denial, I believed God wanted me to live a life of poverty and he wanted my wife and kids (collateral damage) to do the same. Of course,  pastoring poor churches made it a lot easier to live a life of poverty.

As I look back on this time in our life, I realize how foolish it all was. Good intentions perhaps, but nonetheless very foolish. I was so focused on the work of the ministry and getting sinners saved that nothing else mattered. Retirement? I had no plans to retire. I planned to die with my boots on. Savings? Why save money when you can give it away to the church and those in need. Disability insurance? Who needs that? God will protect me and give me the strength that I need.

My family and I did without so that the work of God could prosper and God would be pleased. Church members found great pleasure in telling other people about how their pastor and his family lived a simple life unencumbered by material things. Of course, the same church members that praised us rarely had any desire to live the same life we were living. While they saved, planned for retirement, bought their home, and had insurance, my family and I lived in poverty.

I’m sure by this point someone is going to suggest that I should have done things differently. (Ya think?)  Family and financial security come first. I certainly believe that now, but at the time I believed I was doing the will of God living the way I did. I knew God has called me to preach and pastor churches, so the fact that I only pastored one church that paid me a living wage was immaterial. Here I am Lord, use me, was all that mattered.

I now realize that I made a lot of mistakes. My college professors and mentors taught me that my wife and family were secondary to the ministry. If I had to make a choice between family and the church, God wanted me to choose the church. I wrote about this in the post It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had An Affair. I now know my family comes first. I now know that the first priority must be to provide for the material well-being of my wife and family. I wish I had come to this revelation while I still had strength of body, but now it is too late. My body is wracked with pain and I have found it  impossible to find gainful employment that will accommodate my disability.  I realize there are no do overs, so I must move forward with what I have. Fortunately, my wife has a good job, and through careful planning and budgeting we can live a decent life.

Eight years ago we bought our first home. In the past, we owned a couple of mobile homes that sat on rented property. Now we own not only the house, but the ground underneath it. It still thrills us to know that we own our own place and can do whatever we want.  In recent years, we have purchased several new cars. Our last new car purchase before now came in 1984, a Plymouth Horizon that I put 100,000 miles on in 2 years.  Between 1984 and 2010, Polly and I drove everything from cars bought at Buy Here-Pay Here lots to $300 clunkers. There are some cars that we have owned that if I brought them home today Polly would likely do a reenactment of the Burning Bed.

I’ve come to the conclusion that faith was an excuse for irresponsibility; that waiting for God to provide was an excuse for doing without. If I had to do it all over again, I would have been a bi-vocational pastor. I would’ve worked a secular job. I would’ve made sure that my family was provided for, that we had insurance, that we had money saved, and that we had adequately planned for the future. As with all things in the past, it is what it is. All anyone can do is learn from their mistakes and hope that the same mistake is not repeated.

Why Evangelical Christians Believe the Bible is the Words of God

bible word of god

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgement or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgement, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgement, but we subject our intellect and judgement to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.  (John Calvin)

I wish Evangelicals would be honest about this instead of trying to “prove” the Bible is true, reliable, accurate, scientifically correct, historically precise, etc, etc, etc.

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the words of God  because the Holy Spirit tells them it is. The Bible is truth because God tells them it is. Their belief is a matter of faith. If it is not, then they are guilty of using circular reasoning; the Bible is truth because the Bible says the Bible is truth.

Evangelicals embarrass themselves and their religion when they attempt to “prove” that the Bible is truth. One either accepts the claims of the Bible as truth or they don’t. It has always been about faith.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:1-6)

I am an atheist today because I do not have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Bible is in any way truth or God’s message to humankind. While I can competently discuss, argue, and debate the intellectual reasons why I think the Bible is an errant, fallible work of men, the reason I am not a Christian is because I am unwilling to set reason and rationality aside to accept, by faith, that the Bible is an authoritative text straight from the mouth of Jehovah.

Faith and the Chair

dog in a chair

I suspect most of us who were raised in fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity have heard the faith/chair analogy. If you have not heard it before:

Faith is like deciding to sit in a chair. You don’t know that the chair will hold you, yet by faith you believe it will, so you sit down in the chair.

Quite deep theology there, brethren.

I read an Evangelical blog post the other day that used this analogy, so it is still out there being used by Evangelicals zealots to wow the ignorant.

Here’s the problem with this analogy; sitting in a chair does not require faith at all. Let me explain it this way. I am a big man, so making sure a chair will withstand my considerable ass sitting in it requires me to use the scientific method of inquiry.

Before I ever sit in a chair I ask myself, does this chair LOOK like it will hold me? Now looks aren’t enough, as I learned several years ago at a Toledo Olive Garden. After the hostess brought us to our table, I glanced at the chair and quickly sat down. Except I didn’t make it all the way down. As I started to put my weight on the chair it kicked out from me and I landed flat on my back in the middle of Olive Garden. I hit my head on the cement floor and could not get up. The manager came running in to make sure I was all right. I was. The only injury was to my pride. So, was the chair defective? Not at all. The chair had roller casters and I didn’t see them. As I started to sit down, the chair rolled out from underneath me and I fell. Because I didn’t pay attention to the construction of the chair, I ended up on the cement floor. This is what having faith in the chair got me.

Most of the time, when we go out to eat, I carefully check not only the construction of the chair, but the ingress and egress. As a disabled man, it is important for me to know the lay of the land. Where’s the bathroom, can I easily walk to the bathroom, etc. As far as the chair is concerned, I rock the chair back and forth and side to side making sure it is solid and I press on the seat  making sure it will hold me. I have been to more than one restaurant where I’ve had to ask for a different chair lest the one they wanted me to use breaks. The only thing worse than a chair breaking is the embarrassment that comes from it.

Using the scientific method, I test a chair to make sure it will hold me. After I have done so, and it passes the tests, I feel confident that the chair will support my 6 foot, 360 pound body. I have been a big man most of my adult life and this method of determining chair worthiness has never failed me. The only time I have ever had a chair break is when I “faith” it.

The faith/chair analogy breaks down in another way because the chair is an inanimate object that I can see and touch. God can not been seen or touched and believing in God requires, to some degree, blind faith.

This is one of the reasons I am an atheist. I see no evidence for the Evangelical Christian God. Believing in such a God requires faith, a faith that I do not have. For me, seeing is believing, and I do not “see” the Evangelical God.

Hebrews 11:1,3 states:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

What is Christian faith?

  • The substance of things hoped for
  • The evidence of things not seen

Perhaps the wording of the NIV will make it clearer:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Many Evangelicals get upset when someone suggests that their faith is a blind faith. But isn’t that exactly how Hebrews defines faith, believing without seeing; that faith is the proof of belief in that which can not be seen?

Creationists would do well to read Hebrews 11 the next time they try to scientifically prove creationism. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that believing God created the universe requires faith. It requires faith to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence for the formation of the universe, earth, and life. Creationists embarrass themselves and besmirch their religion when they try to make creationism fit in a scientific box. And when their efforts fail, what do they do? They retreat to the safety of faith, a place they should have stayed to start with.

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