In Part 1, I explained my departure from the church, belief in God and my worldview while I was an atheist. In Part 2 ,I explained how my new belief in science, logic and reason began to break down when faced with the real world, emotions and personal experiences. In this last section, I'll explain how I came back to Christ, really researched Christianity, the Bible and my faith and ultimately came to the conclusion that what I was really frustrated with...was religion, the modern Church and the hypocritical people who called themselves Christians.
To the outside world, Christians get lumped all together. You, Me and Jesus get lumped together with the Westboro Baptist Church, Creflo Dollar and Ted Haggard. When you or I go to invite someone to our church or share the Gospel message with them, we are contrasted with anyone bearing the name Christian who has hurt, gossiped, judged or turned their nose up at that person. It's really sad.
How have some churches and Christians departed so far from Jesus' messages and the disciples teachings to the early Church?
According to Lifeway research, "a majority of Americans believe in God but do not want to attend or be associated with a Church" because they feel that modern churches do not accurately reflect Jesus' message. Barna Group Research echoes this by stating that "a majority of non-church attending Americans believe the modern Christian Church is known more for all the negative things they are against", than the Fruit of the Spirit and Jesus' message of love.
Despite the early disciples best efforts to explain Christ's message and record it in writings, somewhere around 300 AD - the Christian Church started to implement many of the old, legalistic rules of the Temple Model back into Christianity.
The Temple Model existed before Christ and grants extraordinary power to sacred men in sacred places who determine the meaning of sacred texts and then tell followers how to live and worship God. The obvious flaw of this system is our own human fallibility and the corruption this system entails. Jesus himself cursed the hypocritical pharisees and the Temple Model of His day in Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness."
Despite Jesus curses and the early disciples explicit instructions, ultimately men twisted Christ's message and used religion for their own devises for hundreds of years. The Crusades, The Inquisition, and legalistic rules added for conformity and to give power to the few.
This was once my view of God, Faith and the Church and ultimately why I left. I went to church for 20 some years and mostly heard a list of "Do's and Dont's" act a certain way, look a certain way and look down on those who sin or don't have the same beliefs as our group. Of course it's not often said explicitly but that is the perception I was given.
I know not everyone has had this same experience, but I also know that I'm not the only one who had this same experience with the Church? I hear people everyday tell me the same story but they insert their own personal details and often pain and hurt from the experience. How did we get so far off the mark?
For hundreds of years, we relied on the Temple Model of sacred men in sacred places who read the sacred texts and told us how to live and worship God.
But somewhere around 1530, William Tyndale translated the Bible into the common language - English and for the first time, encouraged followers to read the messages for themselves. How did the Church react? Tyndale was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. He was threatening the power of the Temple Model.
Despite Tyndale's efforts almost 500 years ago, most Christians today are assimilated into the Church, show up on Sunday and listen to the Pastor's message but rarely pick up the Bible and read it or research it for themselves.
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great churches who are Bible focused and are doing a great job today in teaching people the Scriptures but I think we often miss the most basic message of Christ.
The arrival and sacrifice of Jesus signaled the end of the Temple Model and the start of something new.
Jesus showed up and threw the Temple Model out. Jesus raised the standards so high that no one could meet them except through Him. The Temple Model is a you-centered approach to faith and the heart of the Temple Model is this question: "What must I do or believe to make things and keep things right between me and God?" It's based on personal works and adherence to rules rather than faith and trust in God and works through the fruit of the spirit.
Jesus came to show us we should be other-centered, Christ-centered. Upward and Outward Focused, not Inward. Everything Christ taught is about love and truth, he taught compassion with compromising truth. He loved and showed mercy and grace to the sinner but hated sin and called us to turn away from it.
When the Early Church struggled with this very issue, Paul got so angry at people who were trying to insert the Temple Model into Christ that he wrote to the Church in Galatia - "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" Galatians 5:6
Forget everything else, if you miss this one - you've missed the entire point.
Instead of engaging in hundreds of rules for behavior modification and sacrifices for repentance, which is simply how to get more out of God for less obedience. With the Christ-centered model - we need to demonstrate, authenticate, and illustrate our love to God by radical service and love of other people - which in turn is obedience.
Trying to maintain the old Temple Model is no longer necessary and works ferociously against living, walking with and serving Christ.
I believe that my own struggles with faith and ultimately why I became an atheist was because I was raised in churches who unintentionally were keeping the Temple Model.
Once I broke free from this, read and researched the Bible for myself and felt the power of God's grace and love in my own life, everything changed. My attitude towards others changed.
The message is so simply. Love God, Love Others.
Christians get so caught up in theological debates, political debates and often times looking down at others that we forget Christ's most basic message.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35
Imagine a world where people were still skeptical of Christians because of what we believe...but envious of us because of how we treated and loved others?