Institutional Churches Are All the Same

A friend, looking for a new church, recently asked me for my thoughts on what sort of denomination she should be looking for. Obviously, I directed her to my post from a few months ago about why I can’t return to (the institutional) church since I can’t in good conscience recommend any of the traditional denominations out there. And if you are going to ignore that post and pick one of these traditional churches it doesn’t really matter which you choose, since there isn’t any important difference between any of them.

That might sound like a strange statement based on how vastly different the various denominations seem to be from each other, but these differences are primarily cosmetic. Yes, on the surface the thousands of different denominations don’t seem to be very similar to each other, but there are some important common threads that tie every institutional church I’m aware of together. Whether you are a member of a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Southern Baptist, Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon church (along with pretty much any other denomination or cult that falls under the label of the Christian religion), the common denominator is pretty much always the same. No matter which of those churches you attend, you won’t be given the good news (Gospel) that you will see your loved ones again at some point in the future (even if they weren’t smart enough to choose the right religion before they died), you’ll be told that sin is something to be actively avoided rather than something that’s already been taken care of and that it should be treated as such, and you’ll also be taught that salvation is by works rather than by grace alone.

Now, while they will pretty much all happily admit to disagreeing with the idea of Universal Reconciliation and the idea that the body of Christ has better things to think about than trying to avoid sinning (which should be enough to disqualify them as churches worth having anything to do with if you have studied Paul’s epistles), most will vehemently deny teaching salvation by works (at least most of the Protestant denominations will). Despite their protestations to the contrary, however, they are still quite guilty of teaching this. The reason I say this is because nearly all of them claim that you need to stop sinning and choose Jesus as your lord and saviour in order to be be saved. The first part of that is bad 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 they could, 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).

Of course, Christ died for the sins of the world, and God is the saviour of all men, especially those who believe (not only those who believe; especially. 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). So, while everyone has already been ontologically saved by Christ, not everybody been given the faith to believe this good news and be noologically saved (remember, faith itself is a gift, and it’s not given to everyone, but rather only to the few people God had predestined to become a part of the body of Christ and have eonian life, even if everybody else eventually will be raised from the dead). 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. 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 a little one), 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.

At the end of the day, if you can’t find a church that teaches the Gospel as Paul did, you’re better off not being a part of any local assembly. Unfortunately, there are very few Christians left out there who understand Paul’s teachings, and even fewer local churches that do, so there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find an assembly to fellowship with. If you can find a good Open Church that does teach the true Gospel, however, you are one of the lucky few so don’t take it for granted.

Of course, if you yourself don’t believe the Gospel as Paul taught it, it really doesn’t matter which denomination you choose or church you decide to attend. Yes, you’ll still enjoy salvation along with everyone else at the consummation of the ages, but that’s a long time away so, in the meantime, at least pick a church with good music.

The Purpose of Evangelism

Members of the Christian religion are under the impression that there is a desperate need to save sinners from everlasting punishment for their sins. Of course, religionless Christians are well aware that God already took care of all that through Christ some millennia ago, and that nobody will be punished forever. But if everybody has been (or will be) saved from death, what is the point of evangelism?

As much as we’d love to see everyone enjoy eonian life (a better translation of the Greek term that religious Christians translate as “eternal life”), we also know that only those God has elected for it will. But those who have been elected still need to hear that Christ died for the sins of the world and saved them. In order to believe this good news (aka Evangel, which is where the word “evangelism” comes from), they do first need to hear it. We don’t know who God has predestined for eonian life, so we preach the Gospel to everyone, not so they’ll be saved from the mythical fires of hell if they’re smart enough to choose to stop sinning and ask Jesus to save them (this is the false gospel of works that the Christian religion preaches), but so the chosen few can hear that they have already been saved and be given the faith to believe it (faith is a gift from God; a gift He doesn’t give to everyone, but rather to the few He elected to be members of the body of Christ).

When the last chosen member of the body of Christ is brought in, this eon is finally supposed to come to an end, and we can move on to the next eon. So we proclaim the good news in the hope that we’re speaking to the last member of the body of Christ and can finally leave this dark age behind and move on to better things. In some ways you could say that we preach the Gospel, not to save sinners from hell (which doesn’t exist anyway, at least not as most people understand it), but to save ourselves from this fallen world (eschatologically speaking, of course).

Why I Couldn’t Return To Church

 

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 the Institutional Church it was because of just how unbiblical pretty much all of the evangelical 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 who time-travelled to the present 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 is God’s word 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, including the so-called 1611 Authorized Version (aka the King James Version) are badly mistranslated in many places thanks to the preconceived doctrines of the “translators” which they (mis)translated into their versions. Thanks to 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.

Hell

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 a punishment that lasted forever (and that physical torture even for a little while isn’t a valid punishment for anything), 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) makes it pretty clear that the only reason to believe 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 Christian evil. How so? First, it’s caused millennia of psychological torture for children. Somehow Christian 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 Christians 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?

Sex

Speaking of some of those so-called sinful actions that aren’t actually condemned in the Bible, one of the biggest would be premarital sex. While there definitely are sexual acts that are frowned upon in the Bible, 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 “immoral sexual activity”). Some of the more modern versions of scripture actually do translate porneia as “sexual immorality” rather than “fornication,” which is a superior (even if not perfect) way of rendering it.

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. In fact, it wasn’t even technically against the Mosaic law, at least not for men. For women, it depended on how much of a bride price their fathers wanted in exchange for selling them to their future husbands. Remember, women were considered property back then among many cultures including among followers of the Jewish faith, and virgins went for a higher price (this is also why adultery was considered wrong, because it was a violation of a man’s property rights. It’s also why adultery doesn’t necessarily mean what we assume it does when we read the word in the Bible, but that’s yet another discussion).

The truth is, the word porneia actually had multiple meanings, depending on the context it was being used in. It is believed that it spoke of sexual idolatry in some cases, referring to sleeping with temple prostitutes in order to worship other gods. It could also be used in reference to sexual practices that actually were forbidden in the Old Testament, such as incest or bestiality. There also could have been a spiritual meaning to the word in some cases, 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.

Money

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. Gentiles (Christian or otherwise) are not required to follow the Mosaic law, and if they do decide to follow any of it, they’re then 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 Levite priests. Unless your pastor is a Levite who performs temple sacrifices, he has no scriptural basis for demanding it (but if he does demand it, bring him a tenth of your goats or your grain and his response will show you just how biblical he really is). 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, any pastor who tells you to tithe more than 10% is an outright fraud 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.

Church

Those church buildings and meetings, by the way, are one of the biggest reasons I couldn’t return to church. Why? 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.

 

I should also say that the idea of a pastor or priest who leads a church (a word which simply means the “group” or “assembly” of believers in an area, by the way; it never referred to a building) isn’t in the Bible. Local churches were led by a group of (unpaid) “elders,” not by one (paid) man.

Morality

There are so many other traditional Christian 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 conservative Christian morality. 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 not only is it often encouraged, but that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying porn either, from a biblical perspective.
  • Abortion is condemned by the Bible as murder. Abortion is never 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 a sin. This is a topic I admittedly haven’t studied in as much depth as the others I’m discussing, but I can say that the Bible definitely doesn’t condemn lesbians, and it’s extremely questionable as to whether it says anything about gay or bisexual men when the original languages and context are considered as well. I will also say that digging into what “the sin of Sodom” really is might help guide you in the right direction too.
  • Swearing is shameful. The Bible has plenty of profanity in it in its original languages, and “taking the Lord’s name in vain” isn’t what most people assume it is.
  • Drinking alcohol is forbidden. The Bible actually recommends the consumption of alcohol in various places.

 

All of that aside, though, worrying about morality is a huge red herring, at least if you’re a member of the body of Christ. The thing followers of the Christian religion forget is that all of the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” among everything else they seem to think they need to practice and avoid in order to please God, causes them to completely miss the point of Paul’s teachings to begin with (Paul’s teachings are the ones the body of Christ is supposed to be concerned with; Jesus’ teachings, and the teachings of the other apostles, are a good source of context for Paul’s teachings, but their doctrines were pretty much meant only for Israelites and Jewish proselytes). Starting with a flawed presupposition about doctrines like sin and grace will cause you to think that you’re supposed to be concerned with rules when being a member of the body of Christ is actually about something else altogether.

Bottom line, the body of Christ doesn’t try to avoid sinning, since they’ve repented of their religious ways and are justified by faith. And those who haven’t yet been saved don’t need to try to avoid sinning either, since it wouldn’t make a difference (and would only serve to make their lives more miserable in the meantime). Trying to avoid sinning, or trying to force others to avoid sinning, is a good sign that you aren’t a member of the body of Christ (I should say that “the bride of the lamb” does – or perhaps I should say did – need to try to avoid sinning, but they’re a different group from the body of Christ and the rules they had to follow don’t apply to you and me).

Basically, never trust a religious teacher who tells you, “touch not; taste not; handle not.” And if you hear someone espousing “traditional family values,” 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 haven’t believed the Gospel as Paul taught it, 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, if you’re a member of the body of Christ then all things are permitted.

If you really insist on concerning yourself with morality in this world, however, simply love your neighbour as yourself, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Just don’t do it to try to get on God’s good side. Rather, do it because it makes the world a nicer place for everyone to live in.

Doctrine

But a flawed understanding of morality isn’t the only problem. There are so many doctrines that nearly every 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 the biblical definition of sin actually is.
  • The origin of evil according to the Bible, not to mention what evil actually is. Hint: evil and sin are two completely different concepts.
  • Who the “enemies” of God are. They aren’t people such as atheists (it’s hard to be an enemy of someone you don’t believe exists), or even Satanists (who generally don’t believe that God, or even the devil, exists either), by the way. Rather, just as in the time of Jesus and Paul, they are the religious, meaning those who try to follow and enforce “the law,” among other religious and moralistic rules. Remember, it wasn’t atheists who had Christ crucified, or who persecuted Paul and the early believers. It was the religious conservatives of their day, trying to get everyone around them to follow their rules and “family values” (sound familiar?). On an interesting and only somewhat related note, the Bible doesn’t teach that Satan is a fallen angel who rebelled against God and was kicked out of heaven, despite what you might have heard, but I’ll leave it to you to dig deeper into that one (although, as a suggestion, I’ll say to dig into the difference between Satan and Lucifer in the Bible).
  • 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 here, but it doesn’t mean the ability to choose.
  • Baptism for believers. Most people assume that after you believe the gospel you should be baptized, but I personally believe that baptism was only meant for Israelites who accepted that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). Yes, Paul did baptize a few people early on in his ministry to the Gentiles, but he stopped pretty quickly. Now, this isn’t a hill I’d die on, and I could be wrong about this one, so if you want to get baptized, have fun (for the record, I myself was baptized when I was much younger), just as long as you realize it isn’t anything other than a symbolic act and isn’t something you need to do in order to be saved, at least for members of the body of Christ (although, yes, I agree that the bride of the lamb was required to be baptized after repenting).
  • 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.

Salvation

The majority of Christians who think they are members of the body of Christ are actually not, at least if Paul is to be believed. To clarify, I should point out that there are different stages to salvation. 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; 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 be raised from the dead and be given immortal bodies so they can live forever.

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).

I’ve hinted at it before in this article, but I should probably explain that there are two gospels in the New Testament, the Gospel of the Circumcision (also sometimes known as the Gospel of the Kingdom) and the Gospel of the Uncircumcision (also sometimes known as the Gospel of Grace). John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples taught the first one specifically to the Israelites (and those who believed it were the bride of the lamb), while Paul was singled out to teach the second one, and it’s the second one that is for you and me in this “dispensation of grace” (believers of this gospel are the body of Christ). There is a third “gospel” mentioned by Paul as well, but it’s not actually a gospel at all. Rather, it’s an attempt to combine the two other gospels together, mixing law with grace, and is the “gospel” that religious Christians in the Institutional Church follow due to not rightly dividing the word of truth because they don’t realize that not every book of the New Testament was written to them. I’ll also say that the lack of understanding regarding the difference between these two gospels is a major cause of the disagreements one finds between the many Christian denominations, whereas understanding it resolves a lot of the apparent contradictions that seem to be prevalent in the New Testament.

Conclusion

I could go on and on about the multitude of ideas that 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). However, for those chosen few of you who do dig deeper and then realize that you need to reject the institutional church 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 generally 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’re a believer of the facts I’ve mentioned in this article).

Speaking of studying the Bible, you might have noticed that I didn’t include a single scriptural verse reference in this article (although I did include some links to some of my earlier articles that are relevant). That’s because I want you to take the time to really dig into why you think I might believe what I do about the Bible. So, those of you who are inspired to do so, pull out your concordances and Koine Greek dictionaries, fire up your search engines, and start studying to “shew thyself approved.” I will, however, also suggest checking out Martin Zender’s website, since he is probably the closest to understanding the Bible of anybody I’ve ever met.

Profane Hypocricy

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

It’s said that Tony Campolo would often begin speeches with the previous quote, and it’s a great example of how certain people get offended by the wrong things.

People all over the world, even the western world, are being persecuted solely on the basis of who they happen to be sexually attracted to. Much of the time this persecution is perpetuated by those claiming to follow Christ. People in the US are going into debt because they had the gall to get sick or be injured and require medical care, and many of the people insisting this debt should continue to be forced upon them are also Christians. Children and adults alike are going hungry all over the world, even in America, while there’s more than enough food in the world to feed every single one of them. Many women, often while they’re still just children, are forced to be sex slaves, even here in the west. People are arrested and thrown into prison every day for the crime of ingesting (or even simply possessing) a plant that God created, while actually harmful drugs are allowed to be created by greedy companies and sold to us in order to make these rich men even richer. And politicians continue to create unjust and harmful laws all over the world, again, even here in the west; and what’s worse, a large majority of people often actually support these laws because they think their deity will bless them if these rules are created and obeyed.

Most of us have become desensitized to these tragic everyday realities. Honestly, most of us really just don’t care (if we cared we’d do something about it). Yet, while these horrible things don’t phase most Christians anymore, some still get terribly offended when they hear certain sounds or read specific combinations of letters. And, let’s be honest, that’s all swearing or profanity really is.

I’m not going to exegete all the passages in the Bible about language, though I will quickly point out that saying “oh my God” isn’t taking the Lord’s name in vain since “God” isn’t even close to being the Lord’s name in Scripture (and the commandment isn’t talking about profanity either anyway; it’s basically referring to perjury after swearing not to while using the Lord’s name in your oath). Instead I’ll point out the hypocrisy, not to mention haughtiness, of having trouble with profanity.

All profanity means is “outside the temple,” ie., anything that isn’t sacred. I won’t get into the problems with the secular/sacred dualism most Christians hold to, but technically anything non-religious is “profane,” not just certain words. However, pretending for a moment that certain words are more profane than others, the idea that words can be bad in the first place quickly becomes comical when you begin to deconstruct the idea.

Let’s break it down. Is it the particular combination of letters, or the specific sound the word makes when spoken, that makes a word wrong to use? It’s obviously ridiculous to think so, otherwise the words “damn,” “hell,” and “ass” shouldn’t be read in the KJV Bible, or said in a homily, as they’d be just as inherently bad in Scripture or sermon as when spoken in everyday parlance.

Is it the meaning behind the word? If so, simply saying “sexual intercourse” (or “rats” or “ouch” any other number of euphemisms) would be just as bad as saying “fuck;” and “crap” or “faeces” would be just as bad as saying “shit.”

Is it the intent behind the words? For instance, is it okay to say fuck if you’re referring to sex, or just using it as a playful adjective, but wrong to use in anger against another person? I’m okay with this, but only as much as I am with the idea that we shouldn’t be saying anything with the intention of hurting another person (whether in anger or not), regardless of what words we’re using.

When it comes right down to it, getting offended by these “vulgar” words implies that you think you’re too good to hear everyday, common language, and that you probably need to be brought down a peg or two.

Honestly, the old childhood saying about sticks and stones is true, and words can only hurt you if you let them. But, if you really insist on being offended by certain words, how about choosing to be offended by those words intended to hurt people who don’t happen to share your particular values or preferences instead of words that simply add a bit of colour to everyday speech.

But I’ll make a compromise. Get offended by the many injustices and atrocities being committed not only around the world but even in your own backyard, and I mean offended enough to actually do something about it, and I’ll try to pretend you’re not a snob when you turn up your nose at everyday language. And I won’t even say the word uterus around you if that helps.

Bible Verses to Help in Your Fight Against Abortion

Have you ever wanted to come up with a good 1-2 punch from the Bible to help you win arguments about why God hates abortion? Well, now you can. Here are the only passages you need to know to turn your abortion loving friends against killing babies:

  • Exodus 20:13 – “Thou shalt not kill.”

Well, that isn’t going to work if we’re going to support the death penalty and war and cops carrying guns in the line of duty. Let’s see… Oh, I know. Other translations put it as, “You shall not murder.” That’s better. Hmm… Except that murder technically means “illegal killing,” and if abortion is legal then it can’t actually be labelled murder. Well, let’s find a better passage then.

  • Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”

Great! No, wait, all that really tells us is that God knew Jeremiah before he was born. Hmm… does this mean that we exist as spirit babies before we’re born? This is going to help Mormons defend some of their theology, but all it does for the rest of us is explain that God foreknew Jeremiah’s existence and planned for him to become a prophet beforehand, so we’d better keep this one under wraps if we don’t want to have to wear special undergarments. Anyway, it doesn’t tell us that God hates abortion like we know He does from the Bible, so we’d better find those passages telling us that He does.

  • Psalm 139:13-16 “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”

I’m not sure what that says, let’s check the NIV. Oh, that’s just more of Jeremiah 1:5, explaining God’s foreknowledge and predestination. Since most of us want to keep believing in free will, it wouldn’t be a good idea to take that passage too literally anyway. Moving on…

  • Luke 1:39-42 “And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

Yes! Babies in the womb can leap when the Holy Spirit inspires them to do so. Although, on second thought, what does that have to do with abortion? Drat, I thought I was onto something there. Well, let’s see what else I can find. Hmm… I’m out of passages. Well, at least we know that God loves children and would never do anything to harm them:

  • 2 Kings 2:22-24 “So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake. And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.”

Whoa, God sent bears to kill children for making fun of someone’s baldness? That’s scary. Maybe He only loves children while they’re still in the womb. It’s a good thing we’ve got all those passages explaining that He does, isn’t it?

Disclaimer: This post isn’t meant to support either the pro-abortion or anti-abortion positions. The only point is that the Bible can’t be used to defend the idea that God hates abortion or is pro-life. God does LOTS of killing and sanctioning of killing, even of children, according to the Bible, so it isn’t in your best interest to try to use it to fight abortion.

Also, if you believe in everlasting torment in hell and the age of accountability, you should be hoping that every pregnancy ends in abortion.

All Things Are Permitted

There’s a very simple bit of theology that the church in general doesn’t seem to have caught onto yet: According to the Bible, we can do whatever we want to do (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Does the Bible really tell us we’re free to sin? Yes, technically it does. We can do pretty much anything and we’re still covered by grace. In fact, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

However… just because we CAN do whatever we want doesn’t mean we SHOULD do whatever we want. While 1 Corinthians 6:12 does tell us that everything is permitted (or lawful, depending on your translation), it goes on to remind us that not everything is expedient or profitable. Remember, your actions are going to have consequences, both to you and to others.

And not only do we have to consider the possible negative consequences, there’s the fact that the more we give in to harmful desires, the more we can become enslaved to harmful habits. Since the whole point of Christianity is supposed to be freedom (it’s for freedom you’ve been set free, Paul says in his letter to the Galatians), being enslaved by harmful desires is no better than being enslaved to religion.

The bottom line is, don’t let any religious leader tell you you’re not allowed to do something, but it’s also a bad idea to let any habit or desire rule your life. And always consider what the consequences of your actions might be, not only to yourself, but to others as well.

That being said, not everything that we’ve been taught to believe is sinful or harmful by our religious leaders actually is sinful or harmful. I brought up one of these “sins” in my recent post on premarital sex. The problem is, there’s a lot of confusion, and even outright misinformation, about some of the things that we’ve been taught are wrong to do. This means we should each reevaluate our ideas of what some of the things we might personally need to avoid are, but we also need to keep in mind that some of the things which might be harmful or habit forming for me might not be the same for you, and vice versa.

However, there’s still one more factor to consider. Even if we know that an activity is completely harmless to us, some of our brothers and sisters won’t have the same understanding we do, which can lead them into harmful habits themselves if they don’t understand proper balance. Similarly, many of them (most of them, in all honestly) don’t have very strong faith in God’s grace, and publicly practicing certain activities they consider to be sinful can cause some of them to stumble at times, so abstinence, at least publicly, might be the advisable course of action in some situations (though less often than you might think. Helping someone remain “weak” in their faith isn’t necessarily doing either of you any favours). This, of course, brings up all sorts of other questions, but those will have to wait for another post.

Disclaimer: Just because something is covered by grace or is not against God’s law doesn’t mean it isn’t against one of man’s laws. This post is not meant to encourage anyone to break any of the laws of the land where they live, as unjust as certain laws may be.

Dialogue With an Evangelical: The Movie

Three years ago, I shared a little dialogue between myself and a random evangelical on the subjects of hell and Christian Universalism.

For the fun of it, I decided to make up a short video of that discussion using those talking bears I’ve been seeing around the web over the last few months.

It seems to have a couple unusual pauses in the dialogue for reasons I haven’t determined yet, but otherwise it seems to have come out well for my first attempt at a video.

Avoid Sexual Immorality

A few months ago I pointed out that not only can lust be a good thing according to the Bible, but that even Jesus lusted. I also claimed that the Bible actually says a lot less about premarital sex than we’ve been told it does. Here’s a quick explanation of why I said that.

If you grew up human, you probably know that those in the Christian religion normally condemn premarital sex (along with various other sexual practices that seem to make them squirm). They’ll usually tell you that this is because God also condemns it in the Bible. Of course, like nearly everything else, they generally haven’t actually studied whether or not Scripture really says what they think it says.

The primary reason that most Christians are so against premarital sex is one little word: fornication. Depending on your English translation, in the New Testament 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 Bible wasn’t originally written in English.

The word translated as “fornication” in the Bible is the Greek word porneia (πορνεία). The thing is, this word does not literally translate as “premarital sex” the way the religious would like you to believe it does. In fact, it’s generally agreed that the most accurate translation of porneia is “illicit sexual activity” (or “immoral sexual activity”). Some of the more modern versions of Scripture actually do translate porneia as “sexual immorality” rather than “fornication,” which I think is a far superiour way of rendering it because it raises questions for us instead of spelling out a definite answer.

The most obvious question, of course, is what exactly constitutes “sexual immorality” (or “illicit sexual activity”). Of course, if one has been brought up with the presupposition that premarital sex is wrong then one will naturally assume that it falls into this category (hence the “fornication” translation in many Bibles). But one should never make assumptions when it comes to theology, even if it is the easiest route to take.

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 Christians to avoid porneia. In fact, it wasn’t even technically against the Mosaic law among the Jews, at least not for men. For women, it depended on how much of a bride price their fathers wanted in exchange for selling them to their future husbands. Remember, women were considered property back then among many cultures including the Jews, and virgins went for a higher price (this is also why adultery was considered wrong, because it was a violation of a man’s property rights. It’s also why adultery also doesn’t mean what we assume it means when we read the word in the Bible, but that’s probably best left for another post).

The truth is, the word porneia actually had multiple meanings, depending on the context it was being used in. It is believed that it spoke of sexual idolatry in some cases, referring to using temple prostitutes for fertility goddess worship. It was also used in reference to any sexual practice that was considered obscene, such as incest or bestiality. There was also a spiritual meaning to the word in some cases (the idea of worshipping other gods). The thing to take away from all this is that we can’t simply take the word and force the meaning of premarital sex onto it, despite the fact that your pastor would probably prefer you did.

Now, I could go over each occurrence of the word porneia in the New Testament with you, but it would be better for you go over them for yourself. Here’s every occurrence of the word in the KJV where it’s translated “fornication.” What I want you to do is read each passage and replace the word “fornication” with the word porneia in your mind, and then think about whether premarital sex is what the passage is definitely talking about. I think you’ll find that, at least in most (if not all) cases, there’s little to no justification for making that assumption.

The Problem With the Origin of Evil

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to an excellent series on the topic of questioning God over the existence of suffering and evil. It’s been an interesting look at the question of why God allows evil and suffering in the world, as well as asking whether it’s okay to be upset with God over it.

The reason for this post isn’t to get into whether it’s okay, however, but rather it’s because I became very uncomfortable while listening to today’s sermon on the topic of the origin of evil. He asked all the right questions, and brought up the logical argument that if God is all powerful and all knowing then He must ultimately be responsible for its existence. He then decided that, since God couldn’t have created evil, it must originate in man’s free will. I had a couple problems with this, the first being the sudden assumption, seemingly out of nowhere, that God couldn’t possibly have been responsible for evil’s existence.

I know that it seems like a noble thing to try to take the blame away from God, but doing so also takes away from the godness of God (or perhaps we should say the sovereignty of God, to use a more theological term).

Trying to blame humanity’s free will also causes problems. I’ve written about this before, but human “free will” is a complete logical impossibility. We can make choices, but those choices are predetermined by our nurture and nature (both physical and spiritual). Sure, we have a will, but it’s anything but free. There’s no way around this that I’m aware of, and to simply wave our hands and say free will exists because we want it to doesn’t actually give us any answers or help us in any way.

Despite what I’m assuming is his desire to keep the blame for evil from falling on God, both logic and the Bible tell us that God is responsible. If God knew that Adam and Eve were going to sin (presuming the story in Genesis 3 actually literally happened) and still created them anyway, then He has to take the responsibility; there’s just no way around it. Considering the fact that free will doesn’t exist, there was no way that they weren’t going to eat the fruit. If God didn’t want evil to exist He never would have created the fruit or the talking snake.

In the end, though, God ultimately takes responsibility for evil anyway (at least He does if you believe the Bible). In Isaiah 45:7, God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (for those who aren’t using a Bible with Strongs numbers, the word for “evil” there is the Hebrew word ra`, the same word used in the name of the tree Adam and Eve ate from, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”).

We also read, in Amos 3:6, “shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?”

And finally, simply put, “all things are of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

It might seem honourable to try to blame humanity for evil, but God Himself takes the credit so we might as well let Him have it.

Having said all that, I also want to point out that using the word “evil” can completely distract us from the real problem, which is suffering. As I’ve previously written about, evil doesn’t actually exist as an ontological “thing” (which, thankfully, the preacher does briefly acknowledge). Suffering, however, is very real, and most of it originates in what we call “acts of God” (the figure of speech we use just goes to show that we recognize, even if only on a subconscious level, that God is ultimately responsible for the suffering we experience in this life).

There’s more I could say on all that, but I’ll end off by pointing out one more common evangelical assumption he made in the sermon, the idea that Satan was once good but fell from grace at some point in the past due to pride. The truth is, there’s nothing in the Bible that actually comes out and says this. In fact the Bible actually says that the devil was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44), which indicates he was probably never actually good. There are a couple passages that evangelicals tend to read into when trying to back up this Christian urban legend, but it’s not good exegesis in my humble opinion.

All that being said, nobody is perfect, and I still think this preacher is pretty good on a lot of other topics as well.

The Lusts of the Flesh

Is it wrong to lust after an attractive girl? Did Jesus ever lust? I’ve been meaning to write about the topics of lust and sex for a little while now, but a friend of mine beat me to it. So, before I get into the subject myself, I want you to first watch Martin Zender talk about it in his biweekly Crack O’Dawn Report:

It’s not just Jesus who lusted (seriously, watch the video), the Old Testament prophets did too (“desire” in that passage is the same Greek word translated “lust” in Matthew 5:28). Not only that, the Apostle Paul tells us that lust can even be a good thing at times (again, same Greek word being used for “desire”).

It all comes down to context. When Jesus compared lust to adultery, He was most likely talking about coveting a woman who already belonged to another man, not to simply finding a single girl sexually appealing (the same Greek word is also translated as “covet” in at least one passage).

The Christian religion might be primarily about sexual repression (okay, it is; there’s no “might be” about it, despite what people might say), but the Bible isn’t as against sexual desire as most Christians believe it is. It even says less about premarital sex than most people may think, but I’ll get into that in a future post.