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. 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.

 

Even 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, check out some of the earlier article on this site, and I’ll add more thoughts to this site as I’m able to as well, but right now I’m going to mostly leave it to you to study the Bible more so you can determine for yourself what the right answer is in the meantime. 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.

Just as a final addendum, you might have noticed that I didn’t include a single Bible verse reference in this article. 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.”