Friday, January 2, 2015

USED-TO-BE CHRISTIANS?

Occasionally in conversation, correspondence or reading, I come across sayings like, "I used to be a Christian," or "I was raised as a Christian, but ...," or "Back when I was a Christian ...."  This seems to happen more and more often lately.  In the past people might have referred negatively to "church" or something like that, or spoken of their "church background" (such as "my grandfather was a preacher" or "my grandmother was religious").  I don't recall people often speaking directly, either negatively or positively, of Christianity itself as something in their past.
 
Times have changed.  Those who refer to themselves as "Nones" on religious surveys comprise the fastest growing "denomination" in America today.  I can understand that.  Those who never made a profession of faith of any kind are bolder today.  But when people claim that Christianity is something in their past, I am troubled.

First of all, I have a theological problem.  The Bible tells us over and over that those who are followers of Christ - those who have put their faith in Him - are chosen by God.  We're even told that this choice was made in eternity past, long before we born - "before the foundation of the world."  Did God make some wrong choices?  We're told that we've been "born again."  Can a person get un-born?  We're told that we're secure in God's hand and that "no one can pluck (us) out."  So based on my understanding of the Bible and the theology derived from it.  I'd have to conclude that the "used-to-be Christian" either never was in fact a Christian in the biblical sense, or that this person still is, but is for some reason denying it, perhaps even to his or her own self.  We're not always able to tell the difference.  Ultimately only God knows.

I recognize that there are those who believe that a believer can "lose his salvation" and that this dispute has been going on for nearly 2,000 years.  I don't desire to enter here into a theological debate with my friends of that persuasion.  I believe that what I'm speaking of is a different matter that should trouble them as much as it troubles me.

So who are these who claim that Christianity is something they once held to but have since turned away from?  I believe that there is no single profile of the "used-to-be Christian."  The profiles that follow are from my own experiences with people I have met or read.  I am not attempting to be judgmental.  If I offend any reader, I ask you to please let me know.

I suppose that for a great number of used-to-be Christians, Christianity was assumed as part of the family tradition.  Their families attended church regularly or occasionally.  They may have attended Sunday school or catechism class.  They were labeled by some denominational title.  They were culturally Christian and as they grew older, they simply turned away from something that was never internalized.  This turning away may have come about for any number of reasons or any combination of reasons:
·       Dogmatism of the parents or church leaders, possibly accompanied by an inability or unwillingness to answer disturbing questions.
·       Perceived hypocrisy - a "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" attitude on the part of those parents or leaders.
·       Some traumatic event or events that occurred, especially if tied to the religious environment.
·       Intellectual problems - an insistence that Christianity has to be tied to ideas that contradict current scientific (or perceived scientific) data.
·       A study of comparative religions that reveals similarities and seems to negate the exclusiveness of Christianity.
·       Legalism - the insistence that Christian behavior must be confined to burdensome rules and seemingly senseless regulations.
·       Political positions - these are, to many, so directly tied with their Christianity that when a political view is abandoned the accompanying faith is jettisoned as well.

I recognize that there are many other factors.  And yet there are many who have experienced many or all of the above factors and more, and have not rejected their faith in Christ.  Some have actually grown stronger in faith in spite of - or because of - any or all of these (I would place myself in that group).  Some too have abandoned institutional Christianity without claiming that Christianity is a matter of "used-to-be" (I've found myself at times close to joining that group).

I also recognize that "used-to-be" can simply be a debating technique, a sort of protection from having to listen to Christian witness.  Christians want to tell unbelievers stories about their conversion.  Unbelievers can counter with their stories of "un-conversion."  It can just be about winning the argument.  But I don't think this is usually the case.

I am not writing this to win an argument.  I do not in any way feel that my faith in Christ is threatened by any of the above factors or arguments.  But they do trouble me and I would like to know more about used-to-be Christians.  So I'm asking any readers who can make that claim or who share my concern to send me their stories.  It can be done as a comment on this post or more privately by e-mail.  Just click "contact me" above.  I will not share any private comments without permission.

2 comments:

Sandy Kendell said...

Hey, Pastor Bill! Thanks for being interested in my thoughts. They actually align well with yours.

Based on Scripture, I believe our very faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8), and since he is the initiator and giver of our faith, I, like you, believe in eternal security. In John 10 25-30, Jesus says no one can snatch us out of God's hand. "No one" would include even ourselves. So, like you, I believe those who "used-to-be" Christians were either never truly converted in the first place or they are "backslidden" - somehow in denial of their faith. Only God knows the true state of their heart.

In my experience, many "used-to-be" Christians often come from traditions that are highly legalistic, and so they got the message that being saved meant scrupulously keeping a set of rules. Having misunderstood grace, when they walk away from keeping rules, they walk away from being Christians. Others have chosen lifestyles that do not fit with what the Bible teaches is right, particularly in the areas of sexual conduct or the relentless pursuit of rewards in this world, and so, again, they move away from and disown the Christian faith. Others were severely hurt by a church or another Christian, and they do not separate those entities from God himself, so in their pain and anger they walk away from the faith.

That being said, I Timothy 4:1 and Hebrews 4:2 seem to discuss those who will or who have fallen away. Hebrews 4:2 in particular seems to imply that those who fell away did not have faith in the first place.

Ultimately, God knows each individual heart and he is faithful to keep all of his promises. I pray we and those we care for are never counted among the "used-to-bes," and if any should be, his grace will ultimately be irresistible to the lost sheep.

Bill Ball said...

Thanks Sandy.