Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

Is the Atonement Doctrine Used to Control The Christian Masses?

In Atonement, Church, God, Jesus on January 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Did Christ’s death on the cross enable God to finally love sinners? Did God require innocent blood in order to accept sinners into his kingdom? Could people be saved or know God only after the death of Christ and only if they believe in it? I now think these are very grave misconceptions about God and the purpose of  Christ’s death. Please allow me to explain.

Where did the atonement, substitutionary death doctrine come from in the first place?

Romans 3:10-12 says,

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

Romans goes on to say in verses 23-26

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The Apostle Paul got this idea from the old covenant sacrificial system in the Old Testament. This system (instituted by God) set up an animal sacrifice for sins. Through the blood of goats and other clean animals sacrificed by a holy priest who goes through a cleansing ritual, the sins of the people could be forgiven by God.

What I have only recently realized, is that the sacrificial system never worked to take away sins, nor was it ever meant to work. The Israelites still sinned and died which is why the sacrificial system had to continue. But people still sinned and died after Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice too. Sacrifices do not take away sin and death, obviously. The sacrificial system was only some kind of a scapegoat or covering of sin and death. AND it was only a symbolic religious ritual.  What the…?

What did the old covenant sacrificial system symbolize? Not salvation, but the striving of the flesh to try to earn salvation. It was to show that living by the law doesn’t bring life – only more death. Works of righteousness do not take away sin, they only serve as a covering. It’s the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” idea. But we all know what happens when we try to cover up a wrong… We end up doing more wrong and therefore, more damage to ourselves and others.

So not only is the atonement, substitutionary death doctrine nothing more than a symbolic religious ritual, it was a ritual that showed what DOESN’T work.

The interesting thing is that it was the religious system that killed Christ. It was not God the Father sacrificing his own son so that sin and death could finally get its fill or so that his wrath could be appeased. If relating to God was all about living a perfect and righteous life, then no living by the law and the sacrificial system is going to change that. In fact, that system will only cause people to sin more and bring more guilt.

How many people actually feel more guilty at the thought that Christ had to die a painful death because of their personal sin? Killing the innocent blood of an animal or human? That doesn’t relieve guilt, people. That CREATES it. Are you following me here?

It also creates the feeling of… why would a holy God ever love a sinner like me? And this is why so many Christians are unsure of their salvation. Do they believe enough? Do they have enough evidence of their salvation to be accepted? Even Christians seem to doubt that Christ’s death was enough to cover their sin. This is why they still need the feigned righteousness and religious rituals to secure their salvation.

So what Christ “fulfilled” was putting a final end to the religious system that never worked in the first place (and was never meant for the Gentiles. A new covenant is only necessary for those living under the old covenant, which were the Jews – not the Gentiles, which includes the majority of Christians today.)

For the Jews, the sacrificial system had become a religious system that took the place of actually knowing God. The final end of the system meant that the system was “no longer” needed. A mediator priest was no longer needed either. They could now go straight to God whether they had sinned or not. God lived within them (and always did.) And the least of them to the greatest could know God. It was for everyone. Christ’s death for the Jews meant that the Jews could now accept the foreigner, which is the Gentile.

But they were supposed to be accepting and caring for the foreigner all along. Throughout the Old Testament, God actually commands this. But the Jews kept thinking they were God’s one and only people, not realizing that the job of being God’s people doesn’t mean you alone get the blessing. It means you’re the messenger to bring God’s blessing to everyone else in the world – the opposite of what they thought!

Christ was trying to get rid of the whole idea once and for all, not “fulfill” it. But terms like “no longer necessary” and “fulfilled” are used in the New Testament for the Jews because the Jews were still living under the old covenant system. Since it was commanded to them by God, they needed to know it was okay to abandon it.

And yet Christianity perpetuates the old covenant system by teaching that a holy God cannot get close to sinners without blood or a sacrifice for guilt – penance. That’s not God, people. That’s the institutional religious system that still says the symbols are the reality and the symbols can take away sin and death. Yeah, right. We all know it doesn’t work.

It’s our churches today that insist on making the Gentiles live under the old covenant of the law… which only causes more people to sin and therefore brings more guilt. This is why I never felt loved or forgiven while growing up in church. This is why I kept trying to cover my sin with more churchiness and religious rituals such as reading the Bible. The focus was always on sin as opposed to the unconditional love of God. This is also why Christians have to make the rest of the world think that they are excluded from the commonwealth.

I believe God instituted this religious system to a certain nation to show that nation, as well as the rest of the world, that it doesn’t work. Life does not come through the law. Well, actually it does, but in a round-about kind of way. The law condemns people and brings guilt. And guilt brings death. This is why Christ was scandalously tortured and murdered. And through that death to the religious system, we find life. But apart from the law, we have no need to die to the law. So how about we skip the religious system idea altogether, learning from Israel, and go straight to God, or life?

The book of Romans, if studied carefully does not support the substitutionary death doctrine, from what I understand. I think Paul was only speaking in Jewish terms to a Jewish audience in order to show the Jews how their religious system was history. If they insisted on thinking in those terms, then with those terms Paul will show its end. They could now have peace with God without a sacrifice because the final innocent human sacrifice put an end to all of them. I think Paul was virtually saying, “let’s move on now from this nonsense.”

So the contemporary church institution seems to be a replica of the old covenant tabernacle system which Christ put an end to, and was never meant for the Gentiles in the first place. Perhaps now I appreciate unconditional love much more because I was stuck in the religious system for so long. Or maybe I never would have discovered grace without it. Who can say? All I know is that I now believe it is unnecessary and I wish I never mistakenly thought it was necessary. God loves me no matter what I think, say or do… and he always has… for all. And that is the real good news.

  1. Like you said,God instituted the Old Law as a shadow of things to come.. Just like the story of Abraham being told to sacrifice his only son Isacc.. then God stopping him. His faith was tested indeed.. but the real message was that this was a foretelling of what God would do. God sacrificed His only son as the ONE TRUE offering for our sins. So the story of Abraham and Issac is also a lesson about the coming Messiah. The very heart of the old law (or God I should say) was in preparation for the Messiah that was to come, and did come! And when he did, all those who were faithful in the practice of the Jewish covenant and died.. their sins were rolled ahead into Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for sin. Anyways if Jesus were to appear without any preparation such as all that is in the old testament..I’m sure the people would have rejected him completely. Therefore, if it werent for God’s great wisdom establishing the practice of Judaism, and using the history of the Jews and their practices, plus the 300 prophesies that came forth from within their nations, then Jesus and Gods Kingdom (church of Christ) may have never been accepted by anyone and His kingdom would not have been established here on earth as it was on the day of Penticost. Honestly, personaly I would not want to live under the old law.. too many rituals and so forth.. but at the same time, I don’t understand why you are so critical about Gods old testament to His people. It was God’s plan to show man that they could never live up to perfection..(meaning totally faithful,unselfish and 100% loving at all times!)thus in need of attonement, and so God had planned from the beginning..Genesis 3:15 and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
    that it would be Jesus. But sin was and is the thing that separates us from our Creator. In the old testament there were all kinds of rituals to go through before the Sins of the people were removed from the camp.. in the New Testament, If one believes in Christ, repents of his sins and is baptized for the remission of their sins.. God forgives and removes his/her sins and adds him/her to His church, the spiritual body of Christ. By faith we are saved through grace.. but we know that if Christ say’s (“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” Mark 16:16).. we know then that it is true. Baptism is for the washing away of sins..”Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:20-21).
    The Old testament had a devine purpose so we cannot say that Jesus died ONLY to get it (the old system)out of the way.. because in reality he totally FULLFILLED the whole entire law to absolute perfection,by living a sinless life, and since he was the only one able to do this.. he also was the one who would ultimatley show us what perfect love looks like.. by laying down his life for us. This pleased God and it was finished. Only Jesus was capable of fulfilling the old Law and putting it to rest, thus being himself the perfect sacrifice once and for all for our sins. The blood of bulls and goats was only sufficing until Christ, and so now there is no more need since perfect one was to come.

    We are ALL guilty of death because of our sin.. but there are 2 types of sorrow over wrong doing, one is a worldly guilt/sorrow that leads to death…..ei Judas.. the other a Godly sorrow that leads to life in peace. Thats what true repentance is… a holy type of sorrow, that leads us to want to change our ways.

  2. Corrina,

    Thank you for your comment. I too think that God’s old covenant that was established with the Hebrew nation is a beautiful and meaningful story. The Christ was their Messiah and answer to THEIR question of guilt – guilt which was never imputed to them in the first place except by the law, or at least their use and understanding of it.

    What I am critical of is the way modern day churches have used the story of the Jews to obligate Christians to live under the law, and this is even after the death of Christ.

    You may (or may not) want to question what you have been taught. You say, “…But sin was and is the thing that separates us from our Creator….” Here are some of my questions for that teaching.

    Does God say that sin separates us from him? Or do we assume it does? Doesn’t the Bible say that A) God is omnipresent and B) Nothing can separate us from his love?

    Doesn’t the Bible say that God is love and that his mercies are new every morning? If God is love, then why can’t God love us just the way he created us?

    Did we really need a savior or did we only think so? Or do we only need a savior if we are living under the religious law which condemns us?

    Exactly what debt did we owe? And who did we owe it to? A perfect God? Or a Creator who created us imperfect?

    And exactly how did Christ take the place of those who owed this debt? I still see people both physically and spiritually dead, and many of them call themselves Christians. Did Christ make people perfect? Okay, where is that perfection? Does it magically appear after you die or something?

    Why do Believers still suffer and die? Is there any difference between people before the death of Christ and after? Is there any difference other than a religious one between Believers and Non-believers?

    And why is Christ’s payment only good for some people but not for those who “fail to believe?” Why is it that people who go to do religious works such as go to church, read their Bibles and pray, are sinners like the rest of the world but only their debt is paid?

    That is not only a very demanding and unjust God, but there are a lot of holes to fill in with that belief as well. Think about it.


  3. Let me respond to Elizabeths’ post before reading the other comments.
    We have obviously come to similar conclusions as a result of very different journeys.
    I recently completed a study of Romans starting from the premise that Paul was writing ONLY to CONVERTED Jews and gentiles and chapter 9 seems to me to suggest that in Paul’s eyes only a few were being called to salvation in the early NT church – children of Abraham – chosen by God.
    Paul, when writing to the gentile Christians at Ephesus reminded them that they had been without Christ, utter strangers to God’s chosen community, Israel, and had no knowledge of, or the right to, the promised agreements. They had had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom they could turn (Eph 2.11on).

    Elizabeth has suggested that Christianity perpetuates the old covenant system … all part of an institutional religious system. Have you ever considered that Jesus came to do away with the Pharisaical legal system (as understood by Paul before his Damascus Road experience) with its laws and rituals and traditions – only for it to be completely replaced within some 300 years by what can subsequently be seen as the Christian RELIGION.

    I understand Elizabeth’s anger and frustration but I have now been on this journey a long time.

    The Old Testament is the story of God’s chosen nation. There are many pointers to the coming of the Messiah but most of the Jews missed his coming – there were looking for a conquering hero. Some two thousand years later they are still keeping the Old Testament alive. The Christian church that subsequently developed into the Catholic church has kept much of the NT story alive without fully understanding some of the important aspects of the teachings of Jesus. Many of the daughter churches (those who broke away) have seen some of the errors and then built ‘denominations’ that concentrate on their own special understanding – but there have been so many breakaways …

    Could it be that God knew this sort of thing would happen – mankind wants its own leaders just as the Israelites wanted a king and were given Saul.

    Could it be that we are now seeing a coming together of people who have been drawn away from the churches that they may have attended for many years – something that couldn’t have happened without the birth of broadband – and are now able to share the stories of our own journeys and realise that individually we are only seeing a small part of the overall picture – but together there may be the development of a real Christian fellowship – a development of the Christian FAITH and away from the hindrances of the Christian RELIGION.

    Sorry – I really got carried away didn’t I! As someone who kept the Sabbath and all the biblical Holy Days including the Day of Atonement for over 20 years I just find myself wondering how we could have been misguided for so long. But at the same time I’ve realised that we couldn’t have learned many of the lessons we now understand without that first hand experience.

    • Hi Peter, Believe it or not, there is a true body of Christ in the world today.. but its only one body, with one head which is Christ.. one lord, one Faith, and one Baptism. Beginning from the days of Rome..It was the Church that was in the wilderness.. the groups of Christians who were of pure hearts and one mind studying faithfully while being massively persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church. (The rise of the inquisitions were for this very reason) Christ body is not apart of any human creed such as Luther’s creeds or John Calvin’s, nor is it any part of the Baptists or Presbyterians.. its neither any part of the mega Community churches built on the foundation of Rick Warren’s borrowed philosophy from Peter Drucker, a modern day Communist and marketing guru..the idea that you can grow a church by adding enough entertainment to equal a country club might certainly make the church grow.. but they WILL come crashing down. Anyway.. the point is that Jesus said.. thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Well, the Kingdom did come and was established on the day of Penticost. The true church of the Lord are those who follow the bible only and the new testament pattern, rejecting all other human creeds. I have to say that I do know that I am worshipping in a church that is only following the bible. The recipe for the church is plainly written, and if you follow that recipe.. you can start 10 different churches all around the world.. not knowing anything of what the others are doing.. and if they follow that which is laid out in the New Testament.. they will believe and be worshiping in all the same things.. just as they did in the apostles days.. ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM..EPHESIANS 4:5. The true church is alive and well or God is a liar.. buts its not what most people think..”but narrow is the way..”

  4. Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
    Hi again, I am not sure if you have read a lot of the bible or not, but you will indeed find the answers if you haven’t read.. Now weather you want to accept the truth or not of who God really’s completely up to you. If you believe the bible to be the word of God and that it is His divine will that produced and preserved it throught the ages.. then you would believe that God has revealed himself to us within the pages of the bible. We can’t possibley know God unless we read about Him. Just like you and me. I cant possibly really know you or about you unless you yourself make it known. God is really not just “the man upstairs” like some people think he is.. There is a lot about our magnificiant creator that we don’t know, but what He does want to reveal to us is within the pages of the bible. And from what I have read.. the idea that God is only loving and nothing else is a huge fallacy. He is a far greater entity than we are, and we see his awesome creation around us. Proverbs begins with “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”! We cannot bring God down to our level, or attempt to puff ourselves up to His. HE is God, and we are not! When we learn how to put that into perspective, and seach with an open heart without preconceived notions, then we can really see who God is, and understand him better. I hope my responses are helpful..

  5. This is a conversation involving only three committed followers but we are struggling to understand exactly what the others are saying.
    Over the years I have listened to over 2000 hours of sermons and was at one time convinced that I was a member of God’s only true church because no other church kept the Sabbath and the biblical Holy Days as we did. To then be told by the leadership of that church that our their theology was misguided was in some respects like the experience Paul must have had on the road to Damascus. Since then I have been through a long wilderness experience (about 15 years), and looking back I can see that I have been learning so much about why people believe what they believe, often as a result of divisive DENOMINATIONAL theology. We cannot ignore the fact that there are more than 30,000 Christian denominations all of whom seem to think that their own theology is important – no wonder there are so many agnostics and atheists!

    I had never heard the suggestion that it was the Church that had been in the wilderness since the days of Rome, but that makes so much sense when you recognise the Church as the ekklesia – the real body of Christ – those who have a living, meaningful RELATIONSHIP with God.

    Elizabeth and I may express some of our thoughts slightly differently but we seem to be on a similar wavelength. But as a result of my awareness of why people believe what they do, we might well have a different perspective on the significance of “the Kingdom did come and was established on the day of Pentecost” but I don’t see that as a problem – there are many overlapping views – and I’m convinced that there is often no one right answer.

    Jesus said, “follow me” – it is a narrow way – and not many are able at this point in time to put their full trust (something far greater than just a belief) in that calling.

    For some 30 years I was a committed ‘Christian’ who accepted the Bible as the Word of God. Since then I have come to see the Bible as the story of the calling of God’s chosen nation Israel, their inability to live up to that calling, the coming of the Messiah (as predicted throughout the OT) and the beginning of the subsequent journey for those who respond to the calling of the Holy Spirit and/or the willingness to allow Jesus to live his life in and through us.

    There are I suggest two ways of looking at the Bible – one is as the Word of God – the handbook for life – and I think that it would be fair to say that is the way that most evangelical Christians see it. I have no problem with that if it helps to create a meaningful foundation, but my experience over just the last few years has shown me that it is really Jesus who is the Word of God and that if and when we are drawn to a deeper understanding of the Christian FAITH the Bible takes on a greater meaning.

    So much has been simmering under the surface for so long – there is so much I would like to be able to share – so many questions I have been considering over the years (not in an academic way) – but I just don’t know where to start – I guess I’ll just start sharing my thoughts as and when I feel I have something to offer.
    But I do recognise that as someone who has always lived with Aspergers Syndrome I really do have trouble expressing my thoughts in ways that are meaningful to others.

  6. Hi Elizabeth, I just wanted to say thanks for this. It really blessed me. I found this article through a mutal FB friend (I am also a recovering CCBC graduate). Anyway, thanks, and you’ve got a new reader.

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  8. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read something like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thanks for starting this up. this website is one thing that is wanted on the net, somebody with a bit originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

  9. “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    FYI a law has been added to the law after Jesus’ crucifixion. Ref. Rom. 5:20 & Heb. 7:12. Salvation, i.e. the grace to escape from the penalty of eternal death, is predicated upon the Way this added law must be obeyed. The hierarchy of these contemporary churches, however, are lying by teaching that the crucifixion of Jesus is a direct benefit.

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