Today, I read “Why I Miss Being A Born-Again Christian” by Jessica Misener on Buzzfeed. This post set a lot of wheels in motion in my brain. It caused me to look inward and search my faith in Christ – to see why I believe what I believe and why someone would leave the faith.
(Before reading this reaction post, do the author a solid and read the Buzzfeed post.)
At the beginning, Jessica talks about coming to the Christian faith as a teenager from an unchurched family. Hot on her evangelical faith, she describes going on missions trips and scrutinizing her friends who drank at college parties.
I’ve been there. I’ve been the overly judgmental, hyperspiritual, proselytizing Christian teenager, attempting to make friends and strangers aware of their sins and lead them to Jesus. As I grew older, I realized how ridiculous it was for me to keep up that way of life. I’m sure I alienated people during that time of my life. And rightfully so. I wouldn’t want to be around someone shoving religion and gospel tracts down my throat.
Jessica explains that she converted to “a very specific kind of Christianity, the Billy Graham and gay Teletubbies kind that preaches Jesus as the only path to salvation.” Evangelical Christianity. The kind of Christianity that guilts and condemns you into conversion, then greets you with judgmental eyes during Sunday service if you don’t raise your hands during worship.
That saddens me. Infuriates me. I hate that most people these days equate Christianity with judgment, scandal, and hypocrisy. I have my own issues with the evangelical church and evangelical beliefs. In recent years, I’ve been on a quest to simplify my faith – rid myself of beliefs that aren’t Biblical, but taught in the church. My focus is Jesus – how he lived on Earth and what He taught. Over the years, I feel like my spirit got weighed down by needless beliefs that aren’t Bible-based – like preachers asking for a certain number of people who need to give a specific amount. Or that every Christian needs to speak in tongues and if you don’t, your faith is incomplete. Ugh. I hate that I thought those things at one point or another.
I am very picky about who I choose to be led by, in terms of church. I’ve been burned way too many times in recent years by pastors who were “doing the right thing” or keeping their dirty work under wraps. And we all know what happens in the dark will come to light, if not now then later. And that’s Biblical – “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” – Luke 8:17 (NIV). Yes, pastors and spiritual leaders are just as capable of making mistakes as I am, but I’m not a fan of subversive and misleading leadership practices.
I can agree with Jessica when she mentions her parents having an “organized religion hangover.” Been there. It’s hard not to be fed up with the Christian church as a whole.
Jessica goes on to say that she made many mistakes during her time as a born-again Christian. Things that include proselytizing during a college party and voting for Dubya. Really though, who doesn’t make mistakes? What I think some people don’t realize is that Christianity is a journey and salvation is a step on that journey. We were never meant to complete everything that God requires of us in a week, month, or year. Am I a perfect Christian? By no means. I curse a lot. Sometimes, I’m selfish. Sometimes, I don’t turn the other cheek because I don’t want to seem weak. I don’t read my Bible nearly as much as I should. But there’s something great about all of my flaws. God loves me anyway. He sees who I am right now and loves me. He sees where I’ve been and who I used to be and loves me. He sees who I’m becoming and who I will be and He loves me. He loves me in spite of myself. That’s hard to grasp at times. But my intermittent inability to fully comprehend God’s unconditional love doesn’t make it any less true or real.
For me, it’s easy to see why many young people are abandoning their evangelical Christian beliefs. No one likes to feel judged or somehow disconnected. As an adult and as a Christian, I do not affiliate myself with any denomination. I used to be Church of God until that got to be too much nonsense for me. In my opinion, denominations are a creation of man throughout the history of the Christian church (church meaning body of believers, not physical buildings) that divide believers down arbitrary theological or spiritual lines.
Jessica describes her graduate school experience in studying religion. She talks about studying the Bible as a “historical work of literature,” comparable to the way one would study Shakespeare. As she dove into her studies of the Bible, she deduced that the Bible is full of errors, contradicting statements, and mistranslated words. She explains that evangelicals like herself found little foundation for their faith, while Catholics had less of a issue because they had traditions “like the Catechism, papal infallibility, and the sacraments” to hold on to. In my opinion, tradition and ritual means nothing if there is no relationship. My faith is a belief and a relationship with God. I do believe that things such as Communion and baptism are important, but they are hollow works that mean nothing if there is no relationship with God. To say that rituals and traditions are a solid foundation for faith makes no sense to me. But, I’m not Catholic and I never have been, so I can’t really speak on the weight of these things to Catholics.
I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God. I believe that it is through His word that God speaks to His church. Do people have different interpretations of what the Bible teaches? Of course. That’s why there are so many different translations and versions of the Bible. I’ve used many different versions to understand different points that a verse or passage could be teaching. One time, a friend told me that he didn’t like using the Message version (a version that uses today’s language) because “it wasn’t spiritual enough.” I nearly laughed. I don’t need thees and thines for my Bible to “feel spiritual enough.” There is a certain level of faith, “a complete confidence or trust in something or someone” as defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary, that brings one to believe in the Bible as the infallible and complete word of God.
Jessica states that “losing Jesus…felt like losing a friend, even if he was imaginary all along.” That statement makes my spirit hurt. I’ve always known Jesus to be real, even before confessing my sins and professing Him as my Saviour. I don’t know a life not knowing Jesus. I’ve had season when I wasn’t as close to Him as others, but He’s never been any less real. I’ve tried to imagine my life without my faith in God and I see an empty, selfish, and hopeless life. Mind you, I’m talking about myself here. I’m not saying that all of my non-Christian friends are living empty, selfish, and hopeless lives.
Throughout this article and especially at the end when Jessica describes an emptiness and a drawing back to her faith, it’s evident to me that Jessica had a real relationship with Jesus at some point. Otherwise, she wouldn’t feel that emptiness. He was her friend. He can still be her friend. I’ve had times throughout my life so far when all I had to hold onto was my relationship with God. God has seen me through some really rough times – times that could’ve lead me down a very different path had I not decided to stick with God. Throughout prayer and counseling, I’ve been able to overcome the once-pervasive feeling of wanting to completely disappear from the world. I never thought that in a suicidal way…more in like a run away and hide way.
It hurts to read that Jessica sees Christianity as “opiate of the masses.” To me, Christianity is a relationship. Not Sunday service. Not handing out food at a food bank. Not donating to a Christian cause, but a relationship with the Almighty. Everything that comes along with the faith – volunteering, attending church, etc. is meaningless without a relationship. And vice versa, if you have the relationship and do nothing with it, then what does the relationship mean? James 2:14-26 summarizes and explains this well:
“14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
This relationship with God that defines my Christian faith is certainly not evangelical brainwashing or mindless following of whatever. That’s no relationship.
Here’s what I believe in the simplest of terms:
I believe that God is the Almighty God. He is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent.
I believe in the triune God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He was sent to Earth to stand in our place, to take on our sin so that we could be saved.
I believe that Christianity is a journey, not an event.
I believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God.
I believe in unconditional love.
I believe in the importance of Communion, baptism, and dedication.
(I might some things out of that list, but like I said before, I’m trying to live a simple faith.)
I’ve gone through bouts of questioning my faith, which I think is completely normal and quite necessary at times. I went to a Christian college, and that experience really taught me that I cannot lean on my mother’s faith, but develop my own faith. Philippians 2:12-13 states, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (NIV). I believe that questioning is part of working out your salvation. Every time I’ve questioned my faith, I come back to things that God has done in my life that cannot really be explained any other way. I thought I’d never get over my past – I thought I’d always be at odds with my stepdad – I thought I’d never be able to forgive him. By secular standards, I shouldn’t have. But I did. How? God. Through counseling and prayer, He gave me the time and tools necessary to forgive someone who’d hurt me very deeply.
Another way that God has proven Himself faithful is by the tenet of tithing – giving 10% of your earnings to God. In real life, that translates to giving 10% to the church where my husband and I attend. Why do I tithe? Because I believe in it and I’ve seen its benefits. Luke 8:18 states, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him” (NIV). I started tithing regularly when I wasn’t getting paid enough to make ends meet. Slowly but surely, I started to make more money at my job. Even when I went from full-time to part-time and had to pick up two other jobs to make ends me, I tithed. Now, I have an incredible job with great pay and I’m tithing more than I ever have. During that time, I learned how to become more financially stable. And tithing was part of that learning.
I’m not a fan of witnessing in terms of sitting someone down and shoving Jesus in their face. I believe and hope that my life is my biggest witness. That someone can see Christ in me and want to know more. The often quoted saying, “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary” rings true with me. With God’s strength, I try to be the best witness for Him by living out my life. By the way I treat people. By the way I view people who aren’t like me. I try to emulate Christ’s example. He didn’t care about who He hung out with. In fact, if you read through the Gospels, the people He’s most critical of are the religious people of His time. Hardcore fundamentalists tend to forget this.
My faith isn’t something that’s dusty, lying on a bookshelf somewhere. It’s living and breathing. It’s in real time, not just Sunday mornings. My sincere hope is that Jessica and others like her that have left the faith will find their way back and engage in a real relationship with God again. I hope and pray that they realize the emptiness they feel on occasion is the Holy Spirit calling them back. I hope they realize that Christianity isn’t what they’ve intellectualized it to be. I hope they realize that faith can be simple. (I was inspired to live a simple faith by none other than Bear Gryllls. I read his autobiography, Mud, Sweat, and Tears, and I loved the way he described his simple faith in Christ.)
I could keep writing, but I’ll end this here. Thanks for reading. I’m here for any questions.