A couple of weeks ago, a friend wrote this blog post and it got me thinking. I have a somewhat different take on why people ‘deviate from the truth they once knew’ as she puts it. Let me preface this with a little bit of my journey. Over two years ago, I found something new happening to me as I would sit in church. As I would listen to the sermon, this question kept coming back to me: ‘What is the message of the cross?’ I found myself listening to the words spoken and wondering if this truly was the message of the cross. Or were so many other things being added to the message that the true message had been lost?
You may wonder what I’m talking about. Here’s one example: we say the message of the cross is that Jesus died for our sins so we could be free; we don’t have to strive to be ‘good enough’ to be a part of God’s kingdom. Yet how do we measure whether or not someone is a faithful Christian? They need to read their Bible every day, attend church regularly (meaning Sunday morning service), pray, tell others about Jesus, volunteer in a church program… the list could go on and on. Although we say there is freedom in Christ, the relationship we have with Him can become a bunch of rules to follow. Where is the freedom in that?
People may argue that there is a part the individual has to play in this relationship. God does not do everything. While I agree that a relationship takes two, so much of what I see does not really focus on the relationship but rather on the ‘list’ of things we should do to be a ‘good’ Christian. The relationship part seems to take a back seat to everything else.
I believe the church has ‘tacked on’ so many other things to the message of the cross that the true essence of the Gospel has been lost.
So here’s my question concerning those people who walk away from the truth: did they ever really know the Truth in the first place?… Did they experience the reality of the message of grace? Or were they promised one thing, but received something quite different?
This leads to my theory of why people leave the church (meaning they stop attending church on Sunday morning). I see two reasons:
1. They believe there is more to life in Christ than what they’ve experienced in ‘regular’ church and they leave seeking more depth in their relationship with God and with others. These people don’t necessarily stop meeting with other followers of Christ; they just don’t do it in the Sunday morning church context.
2. They are disillusioned by the disconnect between what Christianity promises and their own church experience. They cannot reconcile the two and so give up on the whole thing. They abandon Christianity (or at least their understanding of it).
In this last case, I’m not saying these people were never Christians. I consider myself a Christian and yet I admit that I don’t have a clear understanding of God’s grace, which I believe is key to the message of the cross. But this also begs the question, “Why don’t I understand? What have I been taught to hinder my understanding of this fundamental truth? If my life does not reflect the belief that I am truly saved by God’s grace (which is what we as Christians say we are), why is that?” I can see why people would become disillusioned. Being saved by grace sounds appealing, but its not the reality I see in the lives of a lot of Christians. Is there something horribly wrong with the salvation message we speak of?
In her blog post, my friend said she didn’t suppose it was up to her to decipher the whys and whats behind people’s reasons to leave. I disagree. I believe it is very important to examine the reasons behind the exodus from the church. If the reason has to do with a skewed presentation of the Gospel, then the church is at least partially responsible for the reason why so many are leaving. This should be a warning for us to re-examine what we believe and ask God to reveal whether what we say we believe – is the Truth or an altered version of the Truth (which in reality is no truth at all).