When reading Jon Steingard’s exit-Christianity manifesto I could hardly sit still as I wanted to reach through the screen and explain to him that he was wrong about so many things. How so many of his reasons for leaving Christianity, for abandoning faith, and yes, for leaving the multi-award-winning Christian rock band, Hawk Nelson, were just childish!
I set off to counter his reasons for abandoning his faith, point by point, in an attempt to show Jon that this exit strategy was flawed thus negating his leave. So I thought.
He would ask such novice questions such as, “Why is there evil in the world?” and “If God is so loving, why does he send people to hell?”
Being a wannabe apologist I wanted nothing more than to destroy his many arguments and critiques in an effort not to bring him back from apostasy but to soothe my faith and reassure myself.
And Jon, in his simplicity of character and transparency partially concludes his public statement with:
“I’m open to the idea that God is there. I’d prefer it if he was. I suspect if he is there, he is very different from what I was taught. I know my parents pray that God reveals himself to me. If he’s there I hope he does.
Until then – I feel like the best thing I can do is be honest.”
I was moments away from ripping whatever hair I had left on my head just to prevent this man from plummeting to the depths of utmost depravity, loss, and darkness.
I can also recall the exit of Christian Couples and Marriage Advice Guru, Joshua Harris, who authored the world-renowned I Kissed Dating Goodbye book. I was completely oblivious to the book until a lady from a previous church I attended and a church where I was the youth leader lent me the book.
Having read two, possibly, three chapters of it I gave up because it was the epitome of purity culture turned up to Victorian Christianity. It was so prudish and anti-modern and lacking self-awareness that I could never have taught that to the youth group I ministered to. I presume that was that lady’s intention, that I would use it as a tool to instruct our young aspiring church kids with it.
Thank God I never did. His book was unhealthy and doctrinally unsound but Joshua Harris became a family favorite within evangelical conservative circles, as his book flew off the shelves, selling by the thousands, becoming the number one go-to dating advice for prudish teens and young adults who were bound to meet, marry, and regret their life choices in nothing short of ten years time.
But Joshua Harris was a Christian titan, pastor, husband, father, and a community organizer, until, well, until he and his wife faced a tumultuous season in their marriage, which unfortunately led to divorce and shortly thereafter his leave of ministry, church, and faith.
“If you’re not living according to the teaching of the Bible, and if you’re living in unrepentant sin, you have to be put out of the Church. And I think I came to the point of recognizing, ‘You know what? I’m not living according to this.’ And I held other people to this standard, and I excommunicated myself, essentially.”
He denounced his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye book as something that should not have been produced in the first place, denounced his position within the body of Christ, and left through the back door with his head down and dozens of interviews lined up through which he would use to explain his leave.
I never liked his book or his other books on the topic of dating and purity but he was looked at as some sort of archetype of moral, sexual, and spiritual superiority only to abscond from that life and faith years later.
Reasons for Leaving
Now, keep in mind that there are many people who leave the faith every day, exiting ministry and church for the sake and safety of their family; abandoning cults for their mental and physical well-being; exiting faith communities that serve no other purpose than brainwashing, isolation, indoctrination, and radicalization.
There are people who leave the church because they have been offended by someone or perhaps the entire church. The one group that was supposed to be healthy and wholesome become traitorous and vile.
Some have left the body of Christ because it lacked intellectual and coherent responses to life’s greater questions about purpose, origin, destiny, morality, meaning, cosmology, philosophy, apologetics, and other more higher-thinking types of questions and concerns. They found greater comfort for their overactive minds in secular humanist thinkers because in these books, novels, and peer-reviewed documents there was evidence, facts, astute pride, and bravado in how they spoke and believed in things. They found the church lacking in intellect and sought it elsewhere.
Others have left for the very opposite reason. Seeing the higher-thinking in the church and the total, complete, and ashamedly disinterest in the human heart, emotions, sentiments, and cares of its congregants. Where the church is filled with walls and walls of books on the topics of antinomianism, monergism, possibly synergism, Pelagianism, and soteriology and ontological arguments for the existence of God, heaven, hell, reason, logic, debates, and in-depth scholarly bible studies these same groups turned a blind eye to the struggle of the poor, the homeless, the widow, the battered wife, the sexually abused orphan, or the financially sketchy pastor who met with prostitutes on the regular and faced little to no repercussions for his immoral life-style.
There are others, yet, who have left the church to pursue immoral gains, living in such ways that would not be allowed nor celebrated within a body of believers and to further inundate themselves in pleasure, in pain, in hedonistic bacchanalia they found freedom in all of the worst things possible since there was no one or no group left to hold them accountable.
My Previous Approach
So you can imagine how a former, and yes, I take very much pride in saying I am a former fundamentalist because I was raised in that circle and by God, people, I look back at it and compare it to the simplicity and totality of the biblical person of Jesus and I can confirm, without a shadow of a doubt that Christ was not within those man-made laws, rules, regulations, and mandates that do nothing to control the flesh.
But there I was and I wanted nothing more than to shutter, condemn, spit at, distance myself from, and publicly repudiate any and every person that set their foot on the stepping stone of apostasy.
And don’t get me wrong, biblically speaking, anyone who does apostatize from faith in Christ Jesus, having known Him, per se, or showing an outer knowledge or appearance of having known Him will, in turn, have to answer for it at the end of days.
But today’s topic isn’t apostasy and end times, it’s about our conduct towards people who have left the church and/or faith.
I wanted nothing more than to reach out to every reprobate soul that left the church to castigate them, better inform them of their stupidity, and drive them back into the building from whence they left in hopes of being the one person left in the world, and the universe, who could push them back onto saved grounds.
And as previous denominations had taught me, if they failed to obey, which normally everyone does once they’re shunned by the church body for leaving, we shun them even more.
I don’t mean a sneer and a stare, I mean blackmail them, possibly speak ill of them, gossiping and secretly enjoying whatever evil befell them after that because that was a sign that God was protecting us and harming them for their apostasy.
Waiting for reports of abuse, addiction, arrests, prison sentences, illnesses, and yes, also waiting for reports of their death just to remind us that anyone who left our denomination and church would, in turn, face the most dangerous consequence imaginable!
They have abandoned God by abandoning our church afterall!
Why are we so stupid?
I remember a very close friend of mine, who I shall leave unnamed, having come to faith after leaving atheism, as I called it, approaching me to express that he would soon leave Christianity because he said, and I quote:
“I have never felt so lonely in my life until I joined and started attending church.”
My New Approach
What fanaticism, especially Christian fanaticism easily found within Christian fundamentalist circles is that the tighter you hold on to people and things, in hopes of being the God in people’s lives, the sooner you will see them dissipate and disappear.
What Christ has shown me over time and blessed be the Lord for being so merciful towards me and I pray He continues because He knows I need it!
He has shown me that He alone has the power to save and maintain someone’s life and faith.
The weight of holding someone’s salvation in my hands seemingly dissipated, right there.
I know Christ is King and Christ redeems and He controls the sands of time, the balance of existence and the stretch of eternity so who am I to force someone back into a place they find absolutely no pleasure being in?
Someone once said hell is being in God’s presence whilst hating God. No one is forced into heaven nor hell so who am I to pressure someone into a building once or twice a week when God can woo and persuade their hearts into His presence for eternity?
Now this is what gives me hope.
Only God knows if someone has stepped away from the faith and belief for good. While there is life there is hope and I believe God can work the land of someones heart to return them to His presence. He can remove the thorns and thistles, clear away the rocks, and prepare the ground well enough for the seed of the gospel to find root and flourish.
We may plant, perhaps water, even, but it is God who gives the increase, the supernatural growth, the unexplainable faith that leads to salvation.
We have a limited and linear view of reality but God exists outside of time and at the same time works within it without bringing His or our existence into catastrophic cosmic ruin.
He is in the future and at the same time He is here, in the present with us therefore we must hope and pray, leaving fate at His feet, regarding the redemption and recovery of those who have walked away from Him.
It is said that we are called to chase lost sheep but we must allow God’s Holy Spirit to chase the prodigal children to bring them back.
In this, we must ask Him for wisdom on when and how to approach each and every situation because each and every situation involves a person with dreams, hopes, aspirations, problems, doubts, questions, trauma, stress, loss, and fears.
I ask, now, that you turn your attention to the epistle of Jesus’ brother, apostle Jude:
“And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Jude 1:22-23
We must show mercy. Not hatred. We must at times reach into the fire, at risk of danger or peril to rescue some from error and harm. This is difficult because some of us venture into this path without proper preparation and end up burning out and joining them in their error.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2
And at times, we must allow people to walk the life they have selected for themselves for we cannot, and I cannot repeat this emphatically enough, we cannot force anyone into the kingdom of God.
It will not work.
Our behavior and conduct must be exemplary because our love is not dependent on someone being present and proximal to us in a building or even being of the same mind and belief.
Our love must extend beyond race, creed, nationality, orientation, predilection, disposition and personality.
We must reflect the person of Jesus more than anything and allow His Holy Spirit to work in someone’s heart. Our own included!
We do more by displaying love and patience, a servitude to God’s sovereignty and control of time than willful ignorance and meanness to someone who has opted to leave our fold.
I guarantee that my friend, the one I spoke of above, I love him. Independent of his philosophy of life I love him. I cherish him and I honor our friendship.
We need more of that. Former believers need more of that.
Jesus was a friend of sinners.
They need to see that we’re not statuettes, demigods, who express no emotion, experience no ill or sickness, never feel depressed or anxious.
We’re human. We need to display our humanity as Christ did His. We need to bring unbelievers and former believers into our heart, wisely, of course, especially if they’re people of reputable and respectable conduct, and befriend them to show that we, too, are human.
I trust my friend, I express my concerns, my pains, my doubts, my hurts, my anger, my frustrations with him because we have that level of platonic intimacy to do so.
He and others can see how Christ works in my life, time allowing, to get me through these circumstances and if not, they’ll see how Christ sustains me through them.
It is a witness in and of itself when we love even when the person has abandoned their faith.
I do not want to be misunderstood as promoting heresy or erroneous teachings.
Paul admonishes the church that if there are people who still claim to be believers but lead others astray or cause trouble in the name of pride and fail to acknowledge their damage then we must distance ourselves from them because they’ve found pleasure in seeing division, discord, and argumentation in the body of Christ. These individuals live and breathe to cause problems whilst claiming to be children of God.
I am not speaking of the insolent fool who loves to cause trouble.
I speak here of people who have walked away from the church, from their faith, from belief in God because of a lack of intellectual consistency in the church, a lack of moral and social integrity in the church, a particular person or body of people who forced them out or because the person has found more pleasure in a particular lifestyle than in the person of Christ.
We must, I cannot emphasize this enough, we must love as Christ loved and pray for their restitution without exhibiting a dangerous and noxious personality that is the antithesis of the person and character of Jesus Christ.
“But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” Romans 5:8
We needn’t wait for someone we know to share the same room and church with us for us to love them. Love them now. Where they are. As intellectually and philosophically, and yes, as morally compromised as they may be, love them now.
And lest we forget:
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25