If you underwent any sort of Christian religious conversion, you probably took few breaths as a new, spiritual babe in the kingdom of God before you were plonked on a pew to begin absorbing all you need to know to live your life in Jesus. We are vaccinated with conventionalized Billy Graham teachings, one of which is, “Get those new believers into a church where they can be nurtured.”
Or, as it says on Graham’s own training site for pastors who promote his events:
(As an aside, new bodies tend to bring in new money as well, but it’s not . . . Christian to talk about finances. If we did, we might ask why celebrity Christians, and their “ministries,” are so monetarily blessed.)
But back to Graham’s, not God’s, coaching, and what the church “nurturing” of new, and old, believers tends to teach:
- Attend service regularly. If you love God, you will want to be in His house. (Funny. I thought the Jewish Temple was destroyed, replaced by something, or Someone, better.)
- Read your Bible. And since it’s probably too difficult for you, make sure to be part of a small group for this. An elder or pastor or other leader will be able to “direct” your studies. (Nurturing 101.)
- Tithe. This is how you show your trust in God. (For all that we talk about grace and Christ’s fulfillment of the law, church Christians are heavily steeped in Old Testament doctrine, with the injunction to tithe being far and away the religious establishment’s favorite commandment. Jesus mentioned a couple that He thought more important [Mark 12:30-34].)
- Do not ask difficult questions. This is doubt, and doubt is sin. (One of the first questions older children and teenagers ask — if they haven’t been trained yet to stay silent — is, “How can a loving God condemn someone who has never heard of Him, and couldn’t possibly hear of Him, to hell?” Another logical one is, “Why would God create something that He hates so much that it’s (we’re) damned?” Oh, and, “God tells us in no uncertain terms to forgive — but He Himself doesn’t seem willing to do that, insisting upon the death of an innocent sacrifice. Why does He live by different standards than He expects us to?” My own son asked similar questions, quite genuinely, in a junior high Bible study. He was quickly shushed, and we were alerted that he was a bad influence on others.)
- Obey your leaders. God has set up a strict, inflexible hierarchy, and you must accept your place — generally near the bottom — in it. (While this is an ersatz teaching of groups like Bill Gothard’s Basic Life Principles, it doesn’t look much like, well, Jesus’s teachings [Matthew 20:25-28].)
I could go on, but if you’ve attended church for any length of time and tried to correlate what you’re told with the concept of a loving, merciful, gracious Father, one who is embodied in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), you may get a bit frustrated. And if your central nurturing consists of items 1-5 above, you may feel reluctant to admit — often years after you began the journey — that you don’t know what this is all about, you’re not sure what the answers are and are dissatisfied with the ones that you’re given, and you’re feeling a bit . . . lost.
Because we’re not so supposed to be lost, right? Not as Christians!
But, as author J.R.R. Tolkien says in his Lord of the Rings Trilogy, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
Indeed, it is those who are moving, those who are traveling, those who are walking to new places and discovering new things, who frequently find themselves confused, wondering just where they are. The more they seek, the more they find that there is to find. The more questions they ask, they more questions they find that there are to ask.
When we stay within a group, whether that group is a gaggle of 8th grade girls or a “community of believers” in a church, we are subtly but inexorably influenced to not disturb the status quo of that group: sadly, peer pressure does not end when we accept our high school diploma.
In our work, in our schools, in our shopping, in our movies, in our political arena, in our churches, we are relentlessly and unremittingly instructed in what and how to think, so much so that it takes us a long time — and some people never do wake up — to realize that our thoughts are frequently not our own, but simply weak infusions of Things We’ve Been Told.
So it is with our Christianity:
“This is what the church fathers said.”
“This is the doctrine of our church.”
“Jesus said it’s so.”
The most effective, and dangerous, counterattacks to propaganda, false teaching, and indoctrination are
- Questioning what we’re told,
- Finding resources and reading for ourselves (this includes the Bible),
- Praying — directly to God — for wisdom, and
- Trusting that He will answer that prayer, and has given us enough intelligence to think for ourselves.
I guarantee that, when you do this, you will eventually feel lost, because one of the first results of questioning the tenets we’re taught is the realization that they’re not necessarily true.
But keep going — keep questioning, keep researching, keep praying, keep trusting, keep wandering — and you will find yourself in a better place than where you started. And then you keep going from there.
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. By the way, if the questions about God and hell are ones that have always bothered you, find a copy of the book, The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views by James Beilby (Editor) and Paul R Eddy (Editor) and start there. As one of the contributors said, the majority of American Christians have only heard one version of why Jesus died and rose again.
Wouldn’t you think that, in all those Sunday School classes you’ve endured, someone would have mentioned that there are valid, alternative ways of looking at things?
Posts complementing this one are