Every weekend (mostly on Sundays, although some prefer Saturdays), billions of followers of the Christian religion all around the world head over to a building to sing some songs, donate some money, and listen to a speech (and, in some cases, have a bite of bread and a sip of a grape-based beverage). While I used to attend these meetings quite regularly myself, I haven’t gone to one in many years now. I’ve been asked to return on occasion, but when I explain why I no longer do so it becomes apparent pretty quickly why I’m not able to any more.
When I stopped participating in these practices it wasn’t because I had stopped believing the Bible. When I finally walked away from Churchianity (as I like to call the Institutional Church and religious Christianity) it was because of just how unbiblical pretty much all of the Institutional Churches I’d ever visited actually are. I’ve attended any number of traditional churches back in my religious days and I can’t think of one that had leaders who taught, or even seemed to know, what the Bible actually said. If you attend any conservative church services at all you’ll inevitably hear the preacher telling people they need to get back to the Bible, yet if the congregation listened to him and took his statement to heart they’d quickly stop attending that church. In fact, I don’t believe a single first-century believer would recognize much of anything that was practiced or preached in a modern church.
Now, I’m not going to get into all of the scriptural arguments for why I believe the Bible teaches (and doesn’t teach) what I believe it does (and doesn’t), but I’ll explain some of them and give hints for others so that anyone who wants to figure it out for themselves can do so. Suffice it to say, people who do believe the Bible was inspired by God would do well to A) pick up a concordance (and actually use it), and B) learn a bit about the original languages the scriptures were written in. Pro tip: a lot of the English translations are badly mistranslated in various places thanks to the preconceived doctrines of the translators which they often (mis)translated into their versions. Because of these assumptions and biases that the translators had, modern Christians believe in all sorts of wacky ideas that put them at odds with not only what the scriptures actually say in their original languages, but also with morality, and even basic logic and reality. Remember, if you start down the wrong path to begin with, odds are you won’t end up in the right location at the end of it all.
A great example of this is a pre-existing belief in the doctrine of “everlasting punishment” (a doctrine that didn’t exist among the first believers in Christ, or among the Jewish followers of what Christians call the Old Testament) that caused many translators to horribly mistranslate Greek words like aiónios (αἰώνιος), which really refers to “a set period of time with a definite end” (literally, an eon or an age) into English words that mean “never ending.”
Aside from the fact that anybody who sat down to actually think about it would realize no sin or crime could ever warrant torture that lasted forever (and that physical torture even for a little while isn’t a valid punishment for anything to begin with), there isn’t anything in the original Hebrew or Greek that even implies that hell (which itself is another bad translation of various words that actually refer to different places from each other) lasts forever. These facts, combined with the fact that there are actually plenty of passages in scripture that tell us that everyone eventually will be saved (God is the saviour of all men, especially those who believe — not only those who believe — for example. If a teacher told a class that “everyone passed this grade — especially Lisa who is the only student to get an A” — you’d know that everyone else still got at least a D and passed) makes it pretty clear that the only reason to continue believing in a doctrine like everlasting torment in hell is because you want to believe it.
This horrible doctrine is also probably the biggest cause of religious evil. How so? First, it’s caused millennia of psychological torture for children (and adults). Somehow, religious parents have rationalized the idea that instilling the fear of this mythological torture chamber into their children is a good thing, but all it does is cause sleepless nights for millions of kids who are terrified they or their loved ones will suffer horrific agony for eternity with no chance of escape if the wrong decision or action is made (evangelical “end times” beliefs should also never be taught to young people for similar reasons).
Perhaps worse, though, is the fact that once this doctrine has been completely absorbed into the psyche it makes emotional empathy an extremely difficult thing to possess, causing religious people to think it’s okay to reject and even eject family members (sometimes from their own homes) who believe differently from them, and discriminate against people who don’t follow their religion or who might not think certain “sinful” actions are actually wrong.
I personally believe it also makes people more likely to be prone to violence. If God is going to torture people forever in the afterlife for even the smallest sin, what’s a little temporary violence in this life?
Speaking of one of those so-called sinful actions that aren’t actually sinful, one of the biggest would be premarital sex. While there definitely are sexual acts that are frowned upon in the New Testament, this isn’t one of them.
The primary reason that most religious Christians are so against premarital sex is one little word: fornication. Depending on your English translation, you’ll find fornication criticized as a very bad thing that one should flee, and if you look fornication up in an English dictionary you will indeed find that it means sexual intercourse between unmarried partners. The problem is, the word translated as “fornication” in the Bible is the Greek word porneia (πορνεία), which does not literally translate as “premarital sex” the way the most Christians believe it does. In fact, it’s generally agreed that the most accurate translation of porneia is “illicit sexual activity” (or “illegal sexual activity”).
If we take the term “illicit sexual activity” literally, it means sexual activity that breaks the law. Generally, here in the western world, premarital sex doesn’t break the law, and it certainly wasn’t against the law among the gentiles Paul wrote to when he told believers to avoid porneia either.
The truth is, the word porneia actually had multiple meanings, depending on how the word was being used. It spoke of sexual idolatry in some cases, referring to sleeping with temple prostitutes who did so as a part of worshiping other gods. It could also be used in reference to sexual practices that actually were considered illicit by the culture in question, practices such as incest, for example. There was also a spiritual meaning to the word, having nothing to do with physical sex at all.
The one thing it never meant, however, is premarital sex, or at least there’s zero reason to believe it did, despite the fact that your parents and pastor would probably prefer you believed it did. Of course, they likely only think they want you to. If they understood just how many STIs and unwanted pregnancies this teaching is responsible for, they might change their minds. The idea that premarital sex is sinful causes many parents to actively make sure their kids don’t learn about condoms and birth control, but since an equal number of Christians have just as much premarital sex as non-Christians (the religious can’t fight nature and biology any more than the rest of the world can), only without any knowledge of how to minimize the potential risks, young people in conservative areas or with religious parents tend to end up with more diseases and unwanted pregnancies than those who don’t.
Pastors, however, don’t only tell us that certain things are forbidden. They also try to convince us that certain things are required. If you do attend church services and become a member of a particular assembly, you’ll likely sit through a number of sermons meant to make you feel guilty if you don’t tithe regularly, sermons that completely ignore the fact that the “tithe” was meant solely for followers of the Old Testament law. Christians (Jewish or otherwise) are not supposed to follow the law of Moses, and if we do decide to follow any of it, we’re then under a curse and are obligated to follow all of it, according to Paul (that means no more bacon or shrimp or clothes with mixed fabrics or washing your car on Saturday).
Of course, a true biblical tithe is actually in the form of food or livestock, and only goes to the Levitical priests. Unless your pastors are Levites who perform animal sacrifices, they have no scriptural basis for demanding it. There’s absolutely nothing in the New Testament about the body of Christ having to give a tenth of their money to their religious leaders or organizations (and, as an aside, anyone who tells you one should tithe more than 10% has no idea what they’re talking about since the word tithe literally means “a tenth.” It’s no more possible to tithe higher or lower than 10% than it is to give more or less than half of something and still call it 50%).
While tithing for believers might not be a biblical idea, what is recorded as having apparently happened in the New Testament is people giving financial gifts to those in financial need. They didn’t, however, just give money to religious leaders who simply wanted to live off church members’ hard-earned money or keep the power running in a church building.
Those church buildings and pastors themselves, by the way, are also a big reason I couldn’t return to church. Why? To begin with, because modern church services, and the buildings themselves, don’t have any biblical justification for existing in the first place. “The early church,” as the first believers are often referred to, never met in chapels or temples specifically meant for Christian worship. Instead, they met in each other’s homes. And a gathering wasn’t a few songs and then a sermon by a pastor. There might have been songs, and even a speech or two, but the early church gatherings were generally a meal (“The Lord’s Supper” was a part of a real supper; it wasn’t just a little snack) and discussions (actual conversations rather than just a monologue by one preacher). Church buildings didn’t exist until quite some time later, when Christianity became more formal and institutional rather than relational.
To be fair, it’s not the buildings that are the real problem; it’s the “organization” and lack of real, spontaneous fellowship. Yes, you will almost certainly hear the word “fellowship” in most traditional church meetings, but you also almost as certainly won’t experience any there, despite how much so many pastors seem to love the word. But you can technically meet in a home and still be an Institutional Church, or rent a hall and be a relational, Open Church (as this sort of gathering is often called). As nice as a home gathering is, it’s really the openness and fellowship that are the important factors.
In addition to this, however, the idea of a pastor or priest who rules over a church (a word which simply refers to the “group” or “assembly” of believers in an area, by the way; it never referred to a building) isn’t in the Bible either. Local churches were led by a group of (presumably unpaid) “elders,” not by one (paid) man. If you have one person leading a local gathering of believers, or overseeing a group of assemblies in a geographical area, I would suggest not having much of anything to do with them or their gatherings if you value your spiritual wellbeing.
There are so many other traditional religious ideas that aren’t in the Bible but that you’ve no doubt been taught are biblical. There’s no better example of this than the conservative “Christian” morality taught by Churchianity. For example, you have probably been taught that:
- Lust is always wrong. When you discover what “lust” actually refers to in the Bible you’ll realize that it is often encouraged, and that it’s also time to reconsider your thoughts on pornography as well.
- Abortion is condemned by the Bible as murder. Regardless of your feelings on abortion, it isn’t ever mentioned in the Bible; and since murder is a legal term, it can’t legitimately be defined as murder in places where it’s legal.
- Homosexuality is forbidden. I’m not aware of anything in the Bible that forbids women from being sexual with each other, nor where it says anything at all about romantic feelings between people of the same sex in general, and many scholars will also argue that it’s questionable as to whether the New Testament (whatever the Old Testament might say, it isn’t particularly relevant to Christians here) actually forbids anal sex between men when the original languages and context are considered as well, particularly for those living in the current dispensation (and, even if it does, it doesn’t seem to say anything about any other form of sexuality or love between consenting males). Either way, the manner in which followers of Churchianity treat LGBT people (especially LGBT youth) is absolutely deplorable, and until they remove the logs from their own eyes about the way they do treat people based on who they happen to be attracted to, they have no business saying a word about this topic. I should also say that digging into what the Bible says “the sin of Sodom” really is would be extremely helpful too (it’s not what most people think it is).
- Swearing is shameful. The Bible has plenty of profanity in it in its original languages. In fact, the only thing that looking down on profanity does is demonstrate what an unspiritual snob one is.
- Drinking alcohol is forbidden. It’s definitely not pro-drunkenness, but the Bible actually recommends the consumption of alcohol in some places.
- Dancing, movie theatres, certain music, card games, and various other “worldly” activities should be avoided. Some Institutional Churches are worse than others, and most aren’t this extreme, but these examples, along with the various so-called “sins” I’ve already covered, are a great example of how the religious like to add rules to the Bible that were never mentioned in there to begin with, or twist teachings that are in there to try to make them say things they never actually meant. Yes, avoid the appearance of evil, but the things that most religious Christians mistakenly think appear evil aren’t even close to actually appearing (or being) evil at all to anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed by Churchianity, while their attitude and actions towards people not following their rules definitely is quite evil.
All of that aside, though, worrying about morality (at least the way conservative Christians understand morality) is a huge red herring. The thing followers of Churchianity forget is that all of the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” causes them to completely miss the point of Paul’s teachings to begin with (not to mention Jesus’ teachings). Starting with a flawed presupposition about doctrines like sin and grace will cause you to think that you’re supposed to be concerned with religious rules when being a member of the body of Christ is actually about something else altogether.
Bottom line, the body of Christ doesn’t actively try to avoid sinning by their own strength, since they’ve repented of their religious ways and are justified (and living) by faith. Basically, never trust a religious teacher who tells you, “touch not; taste not; handle not.” And if you hear someone espousing “traditional family values” or telling you to follow the Mosaic law in any way, don’t walk; run! It means that they are very likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying to lure you into their religious trap. At the very least, they are extremely confused and likely have nothing useful to teach you (at least from a spiritual perspective). As Paul would say about them, let them be anathema. Remember also that, while not all things are a good idea, all things are permitted.
Now please don’t get me wrong. Believers are supposed to live righteous lives, but most members of Churchianity don’t have the slightest inkling of how that is supposed to happen, or even what that actually means. And the biggest irony is that while nearly everything religious Christians think is sinful actually isn’t anyway, almost all of the actions and attitudes that they live by are extremely wrong. As anyone looking in from the outside could tell you, greed, pride, fear, envy, prejudice, hypocrisy, malice, and spite are the hallmarks of most of Churchianity.
Regardless of one’s views here, however, whatever the New Testament might actually say about morality within the body of Christ, it’s limited to the body of Christ, contrary to what so many in the Institutional Church seem to believe. Trying to force those who are not a part of the body of Christ to live a supposedly “Christian life,” by legal means or otherwise, is not even slightly justifiable. Nowhere in the Bible is it even hinted at that the body of Christ is called to influence (or force) our cultures to be more conservative or follow religious laws. In fact, the only thing we’re asked to do regarding the government is to obey the secular laws and to pay our taxes. Yes, in a democracy we the people technically help determine the secular laws to a certain extent, but there’s still zero biblical excuse for trying to create laws based on religious morality (especially when we consider the fact that most religious morality isn’t at all biblical, as already discussed). And culturally, there also isn’t any reason to go around putting down non-believers for doing things that go against one’s moralistic and legalistic sensibilities (particularly, again, since most of the things the religious think are sinful aren’t actually even slightly sinful to begin with), for trying to pressure the rest of the world into acting the way conservatives want them to, or for any number of the cruel or unnecessary actions that the many of the religious seem to feel obligated to perform against those in their communities and countries. Actions such as trying to get people fired, kicking people out of their homes, or not being willing to sell things to people, all based simply on who they happen to be attracted to or what gender they identify as, for example; or actions such as trying to enforce prohibitions against consuming certain beverages or plants, or at least enforcing prohibitions against purchasing such things on certain days of the week (to name just two of many examples). Any attempt to legislate religious morality, or attempt to pressure the rest of the world into following your conservative leanings, will do nothing but drive people even further away from the faith you no doubt want them to embrace, and will also continue to cause everyone to misunderstand what Christianity is actually about (hint: it’s not about trying to be as big of an asshole as possible towards those who don’t believe and act the way you do, as so many conservative Christians act like they think it is).
This is an important factor for parents to keep in mind too, by the way. Raising your kids to be good citizens who live peaceable lives is important, but trying to force people to live “godly lives” misses the entire point of the New Testament. You can’t force the Holy Spirit into somebody, and trying to force people (children or grown adults) to live according to religious rules will only cause them to sin and rebel all the more, as the apostle Paul makes quite clear (that was the whole purpose of the existence of the Mosaic law, after all).
History is very clear about all of this as well, of course. When religious “morality” gains control of government, people suffer. There’s almost nothing scarier, or more antithetical to freedom, than a theocracy or theonomy (remember, it is for freedom that we have been set free; it wasn’t so we would put ourselves back under religious bondage). When religious conservatives run governments without a secular hand to restrain them, people are censored, fired, expelled from their homes, imprisoned, tortured, and even executed simply for their beliefs (or lack thereof), as well as for the most innocent of actions. If someone challenges the religious status quo or does things considered sinful in a theocratic society, religious conservatives become extremely evil towards such heretics and infidels (and even today in more secular countries you find religious conservatives trying to take or keep civil rights away from people who might live differently from them for no reason other than the fact that these differences might not line up with their religious beliefs). This is another reason I like to stay far away from religious conservatives in general (or at least only meet with them in public places). Torture, theft, and killing are a major part of the heritage of nearly all religions, and I have no doubt that many of them would bring that legacy back into practice if they could. That’s not to say all religious conservatives would do this if they had the opportunity, but I still wouldn’t want to take that chance. And regardless of their propensity towards violence, I have no doubt that most of them would definitely (and happily) fight against freedoms and civil rights for people who are different from them in various ways, particularly when it comes to sexuality, and I see no good reason to have much to do with people who would be so heartless and mean.
But a flawed understanding of morality and politics isn’t the only problem. There are so many doctrines that nearly every religious church leader would insist one agree with them on to be a part of their group, when they themselves are quite confused about said topics. Topics such as:
- What sin actually is. Also, what is actually considered sinful under the New Covenant, and the way we avoid sinning as members of the body of Christ (it isn’t by our own strength or willpower).
- The origin of evil according to the Bible, not to mention what evil actually is. Hint: evil and sin are two completely different concepts.
- Free will. Aside from being an entirely unscriptural concept, it’s also a complete impossibility from a purely logical and scientific perspective. That said, I don’t think most people know what “free will” actually means. I won’t get into it right here, but it doesn’t mean the ability to choose.
- The point of the Mosaic law, not to mention the Old Testament in general. Many religious Christians will insist that we are meant to follow the law of Moses (or at least certain parts of it), not having a clue what the New Testament says about such things. It seems safe to assume, however, that these people have never understood Paul’s epistles (seriously, go re-read Romans and Galatians in their entirety if you think Christians are supposed to have anything to do with the Mosaic law).
- The Sabbath. This is one where various sabbatarian denominations are actually partially correct, although they’re also quite wrong about it at the same time. The Sabbath is indeed Saturday as they claim; it was never changed to Sunday. But since the whole Mosaic law is now fulfilled and we are not to follow it in any way as Christians, it doesn’t really matter what day it was since our Sabbath is now something (or rather Someone) else.
- Baptism for believers. Most people assume that after you believe the Gospel you should be baptized in water, but I believe that water baptism was only meant for a limited amount of time. In many cases baptism was actually a spiritual reference in the Bible, having nothing to do with water at all. Yes, Paul did baptize a few people in water early on in his ministry to the Gentiles, but he stopped pretty quickly.
- What repentance, salvation, and grace are really supposed to be. I can count the number of Christians I know on one hand who could accurately explain these things, but since salvation is also one of the most important parts of the Bible I’ll go into a little more detail in the next section.
As I mentioned before, nobody spends forever in a place called hell. Just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive, but each in their own order. So, while every human who is affected by the curse will also be equally (actually, more so) affected by the cross, it doesn’t happen to everyone at the same time.
According to Paul, only those few people God has elected (chosen) for eonian life (a transliteration that is a far superior rendering of what most Bible translations call “eternal life”) will be given faith and be saved (noologically speaking, as I like to call it; everyone has already been saved by Christ, ontologically speaking) in this lifetime; they will get to experience the eons or ages to come. However, at the consummation of the eons, everybody will live forever and God will be “all in all.”
This faith is not something you can just decide to have, however. You can’t choose to believe the Gospel without God first giving you the faith to believe (faith is not of yourself; it’s by grace, rather — a gift of God to certain chosen people who are predestined for eonian life for a specific purpose), and to teach otherwise is to teach salvation by works.
I’m sure the idea that “choosing to accept Christ in order to be saved” is actually salvation by works goes against what most of Churchianity has probably taught you, but if you need to stop sinning and decide to choose Jesus as your lord and saviour in order to be be saved, how could it be anything else? The first part of that should be obvious enough, since forcing yourself to stop sinning in order to be saved is obviously a works-based salvation, but even having to choose to believe is a work. If you don’t agree with me, try choosing right now to truly believe in Thor as your lord and saviour. Can’t do it, can you? Forcing oneself to believe something that one hasn’t organically come to believe is one of the biggest mental works a person could do, and I doubt that anybody is actually capable of it. Regardless, even if someone could somehow brainwash themselves into believing something they really didn’t previously believe, it would still be an action (even if just a mental action) they had to accomplish to save themselves (or accomplish to participate in saving themselves). Basically, nearly every denomination out there teaches salvation by a combination of Christ’s sacrifice plus our own “free will,” but if salvation is by anything other than grace alone it becomes salvation by grace plus something else, ultimately making it salvation by works (and a false gospel). Accepting Jesus as your saviour doesn’t mean choosing to allow him to save you (which would mean you would have a role in your own salvation, even if just the small role of making the right decision), but is rather accepting that he has already saved you after you’ve been given the gift of faith to believe the good news of your already existing (ontological) salvation. And if one isn’t among the elect, then damnation is a part of God’s sovereign plan for that person, and they couldn’t possibly believe the Gospel no matter how hard we try to get them to.
The sovereignty of God and His purposes for creation from before it all began might actually be the most important factor in the Bible that followers of Churchianity ignore; yet it’s the one that ties pretty much everything together. Most religious Christians believe that God hoped humanity wouldn’t sin but is now on Plan B because we did. They don’t realize that everything about creation, be it good and evil, sin and righteousness, faith and disbelief, even Satan and the crucifixion, were all intended by God from before the beginning of creation. Of course, many Christians dislike the idea of predestination since it would mean God decides that certain (actually, most) people will suffer for eternity in a literal lake of fire if their soteriology is correct. It’s only when one realizes that God has a specific reason for electing only certain people to be (noologically) saved in this lifetime, and that nobody stays in hell forever (not to mention that both hell and the lake of fire probably aren’t what most people think they are), but rather that God actually had a plan all along that works out for everyone in the end, that one might come to understand that predestination is ultimately in our best interests.
Many Christians like to say things along the lines of, “God doesn’t want robots,” and teach that God gave us free will to decide to choose Him for ourselves. These people don’t understand basic science and logic, however, since “free will” is a misnomer and can’t actually exist in reality. They’ve also ignored all the teachings throughout the Bible where God takes credit for both the good and evil that exists in the world (even the Devil was created the way he is for a specific purpose), as well as for who ultimately gets saved in this lifetime and who has to wait until later.
Meanwhile, as religious Christians ignore the Bible and try their best to do and avoid all of the things they think they need to do and avoid (or, as is more common, try to force the rest of the world to do and avoid these things while they only pretend to), the most important thing they actually are told they’re supposed to do (aside from having faith) is the one thing that I’ve almost never witnessed from anyone within Churchianity (with a few rare exceptions). The body of Christ is called to love each other (those inside the church) and love their neighbours (those outside the church), doings unto others as they would want those others to do to and for them. But, despite their lip service to love, it’s so rare to actually see any real love towards other people inside or outside the Institutional Church that they might as well just toss the whole Bible aside and make up their doctrines as they go along (yes, I’m aware that’s basically what they’ve already done, since it has been the point of this entire article). This goes for the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit as well, I should add; it isn’t only love that is lacking. None of the Fruit of the Spirit seems to be a trait of Churchianity in my experience.
Of course, when one believes that God (who is love) will allow the majority of humanity to burn forever in a literal lake of fire, it’s not surprising at all that so many religious Christians have no trouble being as cruel and hateful as they are.
I could go on and on about the multitude of ideas that religious Christians are ridiculously confused about thanks to the flawed assumptions they begin with, and a lack of desire to actually take the time to pick up a concordance and dig into what the Bible really says, taking their pastor’s word for it instead, but that should be more than enough to explain why I couldn’t ever return to a modern evangelical congregation. Not that I’d be welcome back at one anyway, if I ever wanted to return. At least not if I refused to keep my mouth shut about the various things actually taught in the Bible. So perhaps the real question shouldn’t be why I couldn’t return to church, but why you yourself might still consider having anything to do with such an unbiblical, not to mention harmful, institution.
Now, I suspect that most of what I’ve written here is brand new for many of you, and that you’re not sure what to believe (or think it’s so foreign to what you were taught growing up that you’ll just reject it out of hand). This is quite sad when you think about it, since most of the ideas I’ve covered are considered to be “milk doctrines” for those who are new to the faith (vs “meat doctrines” for those who are more mature in the faith), as Paul would put it. However, for those chosen few of you who do dig deeper and then realize that you need to reject Churchianity and organized religion, you’ll be left wondering what you should do instead. Well, first of all, it means that you get to sleep in on Sunday mornings if you want to. Beyond that, however, if you can find an Open Church that actually teaches what the Bible says, it might be a good group to check out. Otherwise, just keep studying the Bible (you’re better off not attending any church than you are attending an Institutional Church. Yes, it’s important to not forsake the gathering of likeminded believers, but you won’t find many likeminded believers in the traditional denominations, at least not if you happen to agree with what I’ve mentioned in this article). Bottom line, those of you who are inspired to do so, come out of Babylon, then pull out your Bibles, concordances, and Koine Greek dictionaries, fire up your search engines, and start studying to “shew thyself approved.”