Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

Loving The Christians Without Conforming To Religion

In Church, Freedom, God, Homosexuality, Life, Love, Relationships, The Bible on February 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm

After writing out my current beliefs in my last blog post I started to feel some empathy toward Christians. Since I’ve been developing my unorthodox beliefs for the last three years (by the sweat of my brow, losing friends as well as sleep along the way) I failed to realize how shocking my new beliefs must sound to the average church-attending pew sitter.

From my perspective, I just wanted to get out of a religion that had entire control over my entire life. My plan was to work through the doctrines I was conditioned to believe and replace them with some kind of non-religious way of thinking. For example, instead of attending a planned church event like a proper Christian might do, I’d rather get a couple bottles of wine and go bowling with my girlfriends. This is what I call moving from a religious ritual to real “fellowship.”

And one beautiful day in my future horizon, the sun comes up and I will have forgotten anything there is to know about Christianity, religion and all things associated with it. I will enjoy my kids, my job, my double/decaf/almond milk/with a dash of cinnamon latte in the morning, and then I will live happily ever after.

But the problem is that I’m not leaving a religion as much as I am simply changing my beliefs about God. Although my beliefs might be a stark contrast from the traditional fundamentals of Christianity, if I still believe in some kind of invisible creator power that I also call God, doesn’t this mean I am still at least somewhat religious? I mean, non-religious people don’t talk about God, do they?

Back to the shoes of a Christian, I’m not just preaching a little heresy here and there; it’s more like I’ve taken a friend’s favorite movie that they’ve watched so many times that they’ve got it memorized and I’ve completely rewritten the script. In a sense, I’m attempting to take over their playing field and they were here first. While I thought I was the victim being bullied by their hate mail and hell threats, I am starting to realize that they are only defending their religion which has been around for many, many centuries. And now I’m starting to feel like the bully.

To add insult to injury, when I stopped attending church, I thought I was relatively alone in my front-line, pioneering shove out of the institutional jungle. Apparently, so did a lot of other people. I don’t know the current stats (if you know them, please fill me in) but from the increasing amount of emails and feedback I’m getting from my blog posts, I’m realizing that it’s not just the youth leaving churches anymore. A little research shows that adults and the elderly too are leaving in such high numbers that it’s some amount of concern for church leaders of all denominations.

And people are not only leaving church and retaining their belief in God; they are leaving church and growing exponentially in their love for God, and as far as I can tell, in their love for others. I suppose I should say that this is kind of an amazing phenomena taking place and I get to be a part of it. But I’m not sure I like that idea.

I can understand why Christians might feel a little threatened, especially since one of the foundations of orthodoxy is that it has been around for a very long time and (supposedly) remains unchanged. To redefine Christian doctrine is to, in a sense, destroy the Christian religion itself. Oh, ouch.

But what the heck is going on here? I don’t want to simply be a part of the next post, post, post-modern ultra-emergent church movement. This has been an inescapable pattern throughout church history. Somebody gets a new revelation from God, nails up some theses on a church door, some people get martyred, a lot more people get saved… and a century or two later, it turns out to be just another new (lifeless) church denomination. It’s how the entire Evangelical movement (and all of its divisions) was born. Revivals start out cool and neato yet end up as the classic old time religion. And the revolt against the synagogue by Jesus and the first apostles was not exempt from this pattern. Just look what Christianity is now.

My friend Peter who has been out of the church system for 40 years (a real front-line pioneer) keeps tapping me on the shoulder with an idea that didn’t make any sense to me until now. It didn’t make sense to me because I don’t think I was ready to accept it, and I will explain why in a moment.

The idea is that a significant flux of people are moving from religion to faith. Basically, we’re not just quoting John 3:16 complete with its Bible reference anymore. We actually believe that God really does love the whole world. Love is really that righteous truth that we’ve been trying to figure out all along in all of our Bible dissecting. Love swallows up and puts a final end to any and all theology. The study of love means nothing compared to being overwhelmed with a strong affection for anyone and everyone – simply because that person exists.

At first I started trying to reinterpret scriptures, making this new idea of love fit within the confines of Bible doctrine – you know, just to make sure I had some substantial back up. And there are plenty of Bible verses about love to use as a proof text; but pretty soon, this power alive in my heart began bursting the bindings right off the sacred, holy book. Who even cares what the Bible says when I’m too busy actually living the truth I believe it describes? Not to mention the deplorable fact that the Bible can be and has been repeatedly used to say whatever someone wants it to say, my Bible god is becoming entirely irrelevant.

Evangelist Ray Comfort says, “When we obey God, God reveals himself to us.” I’m sorry Mr. Comfort but I think you are gravely mistaken. It’s not obedience that reveals God to us, but love. Simple love. And yes, this means actually liking a person and hanging out with them too. Just being a friend seems to be where we find God, at least in my experience. And in all of my devout adherence to pulpit teaching, I had no idea.

While Christians are spending time pointing out that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, the gays are in reality loving people. I’ve seen more devotion, care and commitment by gays to their partners than I saw in all of my Christian charity functions combined. The issue goes far beyond gay sex because it’s a pure and innocent love for one another – the same kind of love we find in that first and second Jesus commandment. And what argument, or so-called sin, can stand against love? Who gives a rip about sin when you’d give your life for another human being? I think this love is the GLBT secret weapon that will finally win them the same civil rights the rest of the world already enjoys.

My starvation for love is why I packed my bags, left the only life I knew as a Christian and set off into the great unknown. I didn’t know where I was going; I only knew I couldn’t continue the empty religiosity. What I discovered was a whole new country – a nation of freedom to have my own personal view of God, except the traditional, fundamental view of God. This is because Christianity is a belief system that does not have any room to move around in its teeny, tiny little box called the Christian religion. There is very little freedom while shackled to a religion; but a life of love opens our eyes to our ultimate freedom. Love just doesn’t fit in some kind of a safety deposit box. It generally gets destroyed that way.

And now back to my dilemma. I’ve been resisting Peter’s idea of religion vs. faith, because it still sounds like religion to me by calling it faith. I don’t want to escape one labeled box only to jump into another labeled box. The whole reason I’m leaving a religion is so I don’t have to be religious anymore, or even doctrinal. Because of its abuse in my past and its associations, “faith” and other such terms make up the kind of stuff that gives me nightmares.

But I also don’t want to find my freedom, only to find myself surrounded by the same kinds of people doing the same kinds of things, believing all the same truths. That’s when fake newcomers simply conform and before you know it, we’re writing up mission statements, church bylaws and outlining exactly what we believe and what you have to believe too so you can have that special anointing of the Spirit like us and not feel inferior. I don’t want to watch the religious iron curtain torn in two, only to see a new one take its place – a line drawn between the new free believers and those who still follow the old rigid regime.

And, perhaps out of fear or from selfish motives, this is why I want the old regime to remain solidly in its place, without it having to contend with some new world order such as a new Christian form of peace and love. I want to know that my miserable life within institutional Christianity is just as significant as my departure from it. I want to know that I am the same person, not being deceived into thinking I’m someone special now, and hopefully the poor Pharisees will stop being blind too. Although I can’t deny my new awesome discovery of life, it just sounds like divisional religion all over again.

What is the solution? I really don’t know. I think I am holding out hope that this new freedom, a life of love, really is freedom and will remain so. While there are little stepping stones out of religion, and our lives slowly phase out of that lifestyle into a simple one of living life, maybe we really do end up forgetting religion entirely…. yet while growing in our respect for religion.

Maybe I am still in the process of learning to really love – love people as well as unique yet mundane little life events. A love for life and for the world itself. Maybe at some point, my vision will be so broad that it finally includes everyone and everything, without distinction. And this includes the beloved Christians and Christianity too. Maybe I’m just not totally there yet, and so it remains a dilemma.

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  1. I understand and relate when you talk about other people. I have been “unwinding” for a number of years now. Left the institutional church because of betrayal(I was on staff of a large church). For too long I was angry. I no longer have that emotion. I am trying to love others as difficult as it can be sometimes. I have also stopped trying to convince others of feeling the way I do. Even to the point of telling others that if I shared my journey it may offend them and that is not what I want to do. I tend to tell people not to follow me. Follow Abba. Sadly so many people feel their pastor is Abba.

    I am very content to sit quietly and listen to what the spirit has to say. If I can get quiet enough, I am amazed what I hear!

    • Jay, I am sure that your anger played a significant role in your journey. There is a time to be angry just like there is a time to be at peace.

  2. Wow, what a story. I was “saved” in the Baptist Church, baptized, married, taught, asked to leave etc. I know where you are coming from.I left institutional church in 1965. Received more insight and revelation in the following years than ever thought possible. Problem was it had to filter through all the garbage that had accumulated in my memory and mind. First heard a message called “Sonship” in 1968 or 69. Now after a time of testing (40 years) lol, I see clearly what was a fuzzy picture at the time.
    I reached the same conclusion that you did…LOVE is God..God is LOVE..I came to this conclusion a little differently, I actually studied the First Chapter of Matthew for years, because right there in plain sight, in front of God and everybody is the key to the mystery. Matthew said “The book of the GENERATION of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Then Matthew lists the GENEALOGY Jesus. Genealogy comes before (in this case Jesus) and Generation comes after. For those interested in seeing the foundation of The New Covenant, make a list, number the list and fill in the names of all that preceded Jesus. You will find that 40 (theres that number again) precede Jesus and He is number 13 & 41.
    The third 14th and 42nd Generation is “CHRIST” not “Jesus, who was called Christ.” By this first, out of the gate explanation, It became obvious that we are His Seed in the Earth. Sons of Jesus, Sons of God. This truth applies to ALL born after Resurrection. We are born of, and filled with His Holy Spirit. Adam’s entire race ended at Calvary along with the Law that condemned that race. The redemption at Calvary was total, complete, entire, all encompassing, for all people everywhere for all time. There is nothing we can do about that. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more (or less) We are His offspring, by His choice and to reject or deny that relationship leaves us divided, and in confusion and consternation. To know that you are my Brother and Sister is so very liberating. To believe that we are His child because of something we do, or say or believe is foolishness. What child ever, ever chose his parent(s)? Bless you my Brothers and Sisters, Grace and Love to each.

    • I’m not sure I understand the genealogy and numbers idea, Stan….

      It seems to me that this Spirit was alive and well before Christ, and that we can resist the Spirit after Christ, no?

      “What child ever chose his parent(s)? Great question!

  3. Good thoughts. My only issue with the idea that one can leave doctrine behind is that they then don’t recognize it when they subconsciously build their own doctrine. The second you say that God is Love then you have to define Love, and then you end up with doctrine. I can’t think of a way out of this.

  4. Hmmmm… it seems to be a difference between becoming a slave to a doctrine, or a doctrine setting us free…? They seem to be two different kinds of doctrines, but maybe the only difference is our perspective or understanding… since we can view the same doctrine from at least two different angles.

  5. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for reminding us about the supreme importance of love (agape). Yes, a lot of non Christians do indeed love more than a lot of us Christians. Most of us have heard a thousand sermons teaching us that love must be paramount in our personal faith. Your friend Peter and you act like the command to love is some hidden gem in the Bible, but the command to love is all over it–1 Cor 13 and 1 John 3:10-1 for example.
    I enjoy your blog, but you seem to present either/or choices a lot. For example, we can either believe the Bible or practice love, we can either believe in Hell or love people, etc………I don’t see the dilemma. Jesus says to do both. Over half of my friends are non Christians. They know what I believe and they like me anyway 😉 I love them and don’t look down on them because of their un belief. ALL I am called to do is love EVERYONE and give info. about Jesus when an opportunity arises. I tell them the Gospel out of agape and not out of guilt. Besides the promise of heaven, the Bible promises agape and freedom for those who believe in the Jesus as their savior.
    I am very familiar with Ray Comfort. When he says that God will reveal Himself to us when we obey Him; well, love is part of the obeying part. Besides, Comfort was probably talking to Christians who had faith, but were lacking a closer walk with God.
    Concerning the modern church exodus that you bring up, there seems to be 2 DIFFERENT crowds. One is forsaking the Christian faith and its MAJOR doctrines and still others are retaining a belief in historical Bible doctrine, but are staying away from their local church due to the impersonality that they feel from it.

    agape,
    Clyde

    • Clyde,

      Ray Comfort said this as he was out on the street evangelizing to strangers, and from what I know of him, it is quite a common statement for him to make.

      If you can explain how we (or God) can love people yet send them to an eternal torture chamber that lasts forever… please explain.

      I think that if we truly believed what the Bible says (which does not come from studying it to death academically) then we would love others. I do not think the Bible and love are an antithesis, but I do think that traditional Christian interpretation of the Bible IS an antithesis to love.

  6. I’m not sure that you are actually “leaving Christianity” as much as you are being drawn out of religion. Although Christianity can be studied as a religion, following Jesus has nothing to do with external obligations such as attending a service, etc., which I believe you’re waking up to.

    I think that the largest problem in your journey may be that you think that you must reject all Christian doctrine if you want something pure and unadulterated. But, knowlege is a part of intimacy (love). If God has revealed Himself to the world, it is expected that human beings would theologize, and institutionalize it to death. And it makes sense that many would come and go, and even those who “stay” would struggle w doubt, deep theological problems, etc.

    Speaking from experience, I believe that every time we get a deep, world-shattering revelation from God, we tend to swing to the opposite extreme initially. Don’t worry, you’ll swing back soon enough; I know I always do. Just remember that this is not some journey that you initiated. God is the Pursuer, and we are responding to said pursuit every day. Don’t give up your questions/doubts, but also don’t be so quick to dub all your problems as “Christianity”. Truth is, what you’re calling “Christianity” is really “churchianity”. So, be fair. Your need is to grow in the knowledge of Christ, and His Gospel, which absolutely invovles losing your religion. You’re in good company! Take care, and keep digging.

    • I actually do not think that one must reject all Christian doctrine, but thanks for assuming. Thanks for the condescending advice as well.

  7. Jeremiah 3:16 And it shall be that when you have multiplied and increased in the land in those days, says the Lord, they shall no more say, The ark of the covenant of the Lord. It shall not come to mind, nor shall they [seriously] remember it, nor shall they miss {or} visit it, nor shall it be repaired {or} made again [for instead of the ark, which represented God’s presence, He will show Himself to be present throughout the city].
    Rev 11:19 Then the sanctuary of God in heaven was thrown open, and the ark of His covenant was seen standing inside in His sanctuary; and there were flashes of lightning, loud rumblings (blasts, mutterings), peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a terrific hailstorm.

  8. In all my years as a “Christian” I could never TRULY understand why I “needed a saviour”. If I born was born in sin, how can I be judged for that? Why am I forced to BELIEVE else be cast into a flaming fiery hell blah blah blah blah blah….etc.
    I received a new revelation this week. And it surrounds FAITH. We all know faith cannot be “worked up”, yet that is exactly what Christians try to do – the whole name it and claim it, believe it and you’ll receive it thing. And when you don’t receive it, you weren’t believing hard enough. That kind of faith is LAW BASED. We have no faith of our own that we can boast of. It is a GIFT of God – freely given. God imparts HIS faith to us, through Jesus Christ. And THIS is why we need him (a saviour). We need HIM to give us HIS faith. He IS the faith that God gives. He IS the promise that was made. He IS our life. We are free to BE whatever it is that we ARE. It is impossible to try to be something we already ARE. It is however possible to try to be something we are NOT. So anytime we are TRYING to BE – we are missing the whole point. Just rest and let God BE in and through you. No more doctrines required. Hope this makes sense?

  9. Sorry, I’m not very articulate with words lol! I’m basically trying to say that true CHRISTIANITY involves giving up all your own efforts to believe anything. If God doesn’t show up (by imparting HIS faith to you), Christianity is completely and totally a religion and not a reality.

    • Love this Louis, “If God doesn’t show up (by imparting HIS faith to you), Christianity is completely and totally a religion and not a reality.” So true. If it’s not an ease, a flow, a gush, a oneness, it’s not life and it’s not God.

    • My thoughts exactly, Louise. But I’ve given up on using “Christianity” to describe this. I just don’t see any way around the fact that Christianity is a religion.

  10. The title was so interesting. I was looking forward to getting a good look at how Christians are perceived. Thanks for that Elizabeth. I, too, left the traditional church and haven’t been back for 3 years. One of the best choices I’ve ever made.
    You said, “My starvation for love is why I packed my bags, left the only life I knew as a Christian and set off into the great unknown.” Yep, religion’ll do that. It has no love at all b/c it’s foundation can’t possibly produce real love. Anyway, you’re a great writer. Thanks for sharing this.

    Erna

  11. Elizabeth, I’m about to leave for the weekend, but for starters, here is a link on hell:

    http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/loving-god-would-never-send-anyone-hell

    • Oh Clyde, good ol’ CARM. Humorously enough, it was Matt Slick of CARM who was largely responsible for helping me see that the idea of ET (Everlasting Torment) is, in fact, NOT a biblical doctrine. His lack of ability to argue successfully against UR (Universal Reconciliation) on his message boards (before he banned the topic there) finally convinced me that Christian Universalism is the only biblical soteriology.

  12. Well said Punk. Your unknowing is refreshing.

  13. You’re making wonderful progress in your own road to “work out your salvation.” Among the comments that should be made are just two that really seem important:

    1. Jesus already reached your understanding… sort of. He said the only two “rules” to Christianity are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself. That’s the stuff of “following Christ,” and other doctrine is simply to clarify how various groups choose to focus and keep from straying (even if it almost never works.)

    2. Love for God is obedience. Jesus himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (See above for those commandments.) Loving God is obedience to commandments. Loving the _________ (insert denomination) church is being obedient to the denominational rules.

    Now, the difficulty I have with your current (transitional?) position is the claim that many are closer to God with faith but without religion. To begin with, I agree with you in part, but the difficulty comes in that Jesus-ness is not possible without the real Church, which is the fellowship, the Ekklesia in Greek. And, to make it more challenging, it remains vital to believe in the divine life, physical death and

  14. Well, gosh, part of my message is lost in the ether.

    … it remains vital to believe in the divine life, physical death and resurrection of Jesus. What Louise said is about as straightforward and precise as it ever gets. (I love people who aren’t very good with words, don’t you?) If you don’t get it, you haven’t got it. If you really believe it, you know it.

  15. […] Loving the Christians Without Conforming to Religion. Elizabeth, the author of this blog, has churning out  a spree of fantastic posts recently. She’s walking down a road that I know all too well. I cannot disagree with her hunch that love will have the final say, though. […]

  16. Lot of food for thought there. I love how you deconstruct your thoughts so carefully and to the smallest detail.

    When I first left the Christian church, for a long time I kept looking for like-minded people and trying to figure out where I fit in. But after a while, I concluded that it was futile. Once I left the church, I became a freethinker, and freethinkers, almost by definition can rarely have a set of beliefs like anyone else’s.

    So, no. I don’t believe you will end up like this or that person or that group. You will end up being like YOU. And isn’t that a beautiful thing?

  17. Not one Church teaches the Bible. Not one church is from God. We do not choose God, he chooses us. We will not go to Heaven, or a hell of fire.
    Religion is designed to draw people who love God away from his truth.

    Here is how simple God has made his word clear; Ask yourself this question. “Dose God ever make a plan that does not work?”
    I’m sure your answer would agree, “All Gods plans work…he does not fail.”
    What was Gods plan for the human family? Answer; “To take care of the Earth for him. (God.) Man was not designed to die.
    Satan lead the human family into death, which was not Gods plan. Does that mean Gods plan did not work? Did God step back, and say, “Hmmm, that did not work, so I’ll make a plan B. Lets see? I’ll have the human family come to Heaven, or dispose of them in a hell of fire.” Is this what religions want you to believe? Any religion that teaches humans go to heaven, or a hell of fire…are bold face liars. That is not what the Bible says.

    You should ask this question, “Why did Satan, and 1/3r of the angels rebel against God? And what did it have to do with Adam, and Eve?

    Here is what God says regarding religions…”Get out of them MY PEOPLE.”

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