I first posted this "testimony" to the web on July 27, 2001. If you too have found Christianity specifically, or religion generally, to be less than satisfying for any reason, please consider posting your own "testimony" to this site by clicking here, or message me by clicking here.
It is invariably a shock to Evangelical Christians to come across someone who has turned his or her back on the “faith was once delivered unto the saints.” Most believers will quickly dismiss an ex-Christian by piously pointing out that anyone who turns away from Christ was never a real believer. Or, as an insider might say it, “They were never born again.” There is Biblical support for the assertion. 1 John 2:19, which addressed the problem of First Century apostates, states that: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (KJV) (I’d like to point out here that the previous verse, verse 18, suggests that the writer also believed it was the end of history and that the Antichrist was about to appear. It seems that whoever penned 1 John was premature in announcing it to be the “last time.” He may have been mistaken in his quick judgments against those ancient infidels as well.)
For those from a Calvinistic background, the fifth petal of TULIP uncompromisingly declares that those truly chosen by God for salvation will persevere in the faith. They will persevere in the faith because God will preserve them in the faith. Or, as a Baptist fundamentalist might express it: “Once saved always saved.” For fundies, a believer gone bad was just faking salvation or is presently backslidden and will eventually return to the fold, with his or her tail between his or her legs. There are also a plethora of competing denominations that teach people can lose their salvation. To members of those denominations, a fellow believer who has fallen away might have really been saved at one time, but is now lost again. They believe it is possible to get saved, and lost, and saved again, many times, before a person's allotted lifespan runs out.
The reason for this brief essay is to share my testimony about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and my repentance from that relationship. What follows may unnerve some of my closer associates and will likely alienate some of my good friends. I have absolutely no desire to alienate anyone since I have already spent years as a zealous evangelical Christian, alienating dozens and dozens of people in the name of Christ. However, it is only fair to those who know me to allow them a glimpse into where I am coming from, now.
When I was very young, my parents attended a Presbyterian Church. I used to watch my father pray during the service. His eyes would close and his chin would rest against his chest. I wondered if he was asleep. At home, my mother would tell my brother and I Bible stories. I always had questions for her: “Why did God put the tree of knowledge in the garden since he knew what would happen?” I also wondered whom Cain married, if dinosaurs were taken on the ark, and all kinds of things my mother could not answer. My parents stopped regularly attending church when I was nine, but still sent my brother and me to Vacation Bible School during the summer. I was diligent to learn all the Bible lessons, stories and doctrines, earning multiple gold stars in each class. Though I do not remember it, my mother likes to tell a story that even when I was 5 years old, I would come home from Sunday School, gather the un-churched neighborhood kids together on our porch, and parrot all I had been taught that morning.
I was eleven years old in 1969. My grandmother was a staunch Baptist. In fact, she was one of the founding members of the First Baptist Church in Ashtabula Ohio, and was absolutely devoted to the place. The Church had hired an aggressive youth minister who wanted to see more young people attending services. His name was Norm, and he organized a youth rally which featured a movie produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The movie's aim was the conversion of young people. My grandmother invited me to the meeting and of course I loved my Grandma, so I got a ride from my Dad and sat with her to watch the show. I don’t remember the title of the movie, but the basic plot centered on one of the male characters who accepts Christ and starts to tell his friends about it. One of his unbelieving friends makes terrible fun of the whole thing, mocks Christ, and mocks the threat of going to hell. The unbelieving friend ends up accidentally trapped in a burning barn toward the end of the film and dies horrifically, going straight to a Christless grave.
I am not sure how powerful of a flick it was, but it got to me. Before that movie, I knew about God and the Bible and Jesus, but now I realized I had no personal relationship with Christ, and I needed one. When the altar call was given to come forward and accept Christ, I did not go forward, but listened intently, memorizing the “sinner’s prayer.” Later that night, in the dark and quiet of my room, I got down on my knees confessed my sins, repented as much as I knew how, and accepted Christ into my heart. It was a mind-altering experience for me. In my mind’s eye I visualized the Creator of all physically with me in the room. I felt overwhelmed with what I believed was a personal and direct manifestation of the LORD. I cried and cried. The emotional cleansing and reality of that moment has never left me, and as I write about it now, it comes alive once again.
The very next morning, I started carrying a small New Testament to school with me. I was in the sixth grade, reading a KJV, and doing my best to understand what I could from its inspired pages. I began attending church that week, and became a regular customer at the local Christian Book Store. My paper route wages and tips found investment in books and comic book tracts by Jack Chick, which I read and distributed zealously.
After my twelfth birthday I was asked if I would like to be trained as a counselor for the new Billy Graham evangelistic movie entitled “For Pete’s Sake,” which was being sponsored by several local churches. The showings were to be at Shea’s Theater in downtown Ashtabula. I eagerly agreed and dutifully submitted myself to the counselor training by memorizing the required verses and receiving a certificate as a bona fide counselor. At the end of each night, a short salvation message was shared by one of the local pastors, followed by the traditional Billy Graham style altar call. During the course of the weekend, I was able to assist several young people from my own age group as they came forward to make decisions for Christ. Following that crusade, I was excited. I began to do street evangelism on my own. I witnessed to other kids at school, and even led a fellow Boy Scout to the lord while on a week long Boy Scout camp. His name is Phil and is presently a pastor at an American Baptist Church outside of Youngstown Ohio. I started a junior high school Bible study group, and taught the others who joined how to lead others to Christ ala Billy Graham. (“The Romans Road” with some small variations, was what Billy recommended back then.) The early 1970’s saw the height of the Jesus People Movement in the US, so naturally I became involved with other non-denominational youth study groups held at various houses around town. I was introduced to CS Lewis, Watchman Nee and other famous Christian authors during this time. I drank every word written in those books like it was water. A prolific reader even in junior high I was insatiable for more and more information.
Reggie Kirk, my Boy Scout Master, recognized my thirst for more spiritual enlightenment and invited me to his church, the local Assembly of God, where I learned I needed the Baptism in the Holy Spirit to be a complete Christian. I attended one Sunday night when, providentially, the topic being discussed was that very doctrine. I went forward during the altar call to receive the “Baptism” and kept those poor people there long after the service ended as I pleaded with the Almighty to grace me with the Holy Ghost and tongues. Finally, after two hours of eye watering, knee hardening prayer, and some helpful coaching from a woman who stood with me, I babbled a few syllables. Everyone pronounced proudly that I had indeed received the Holy Spirit. Now, as a full-fledged tongue-talking Jesus person, I went full steam into making a difference in the world for Christ.
My parents, who at best were only nominally religious, viewed my obsessive enthrallment with church-stuff as disconcerting and worrisome. My mother, knowing I loved to read, decided to introduce me to her understanding of reality which was embodied in the writings of Edgar Cayce. My mother was a Reincarnationist. I rejected her teaching, witnessed to her unceasingly for the next 25 years about the love of Christ, and read everything published concerning the psychic Cayce. My grades suffered terribly in junior high, as I could not see any value to secular learning. I viewed the world as passing away, valueless compared with heavenly knowledge with eternal relevance.
As puberty became more influential in my thought processes, I struggled terribly with the hormonal demands of my body verses the tenets of the Church concerning any sort of sensual pleasure. Jesus taught that it is just as sinful to have any sort of lustful thought, as to actually act on any of them. I found adolescence very difficult on my thought life, finding myself in a perpetual war with guilt. I agonized over my sexuality, begging God to deliver me from temptation, to no avail. It was depressing.
I began to distinguish myself in music during this time, receiving nothing but positive feedback on my performance. By the time I was 14, I was being hired to play trombone semi-professionally. It was fun. I had begun finding inconsistencies in the Bible when I noticed numerous contradictions between various number citations in the Old Testament. Then I was confused by the multiple conflicting details in the resurrection stories in the Gospels, as well as in Paul’s version. One of the biggest contradictions I could not rectify was whether or not Judas threw his money into the temple and hanged himself or bought a field and fell headlong into it. I wrote to an evangelistic radio ministry out of Richmond Virginia, asking for direction about these apparent problems. I was only thirteen and they responded to my cry for help with a short note. Instead of an intellectually satisfying apologetic, they merely admonished that some things could only be answered through the eyes of faith. I pretty much got the same answer everywhere I went. Regardless, I continued to attend Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, Assembly of God on Sunday nights, and various home study groups during the week. Then, the summer before entering High School, the Baptist church hierarchy decided to fire the youth minister. He had held an all night youth rally event at the church. The geriatric power people in the church thought his tactics to lure young people to church were inappropriate, so they brought the issue to vote and that settled the matter. He was there one week and gone the next. During the same time period, the Pastor of the Assembly of God church was caught having an affair with one of the lady members. Both he and the woman were married to other people, so when the affair was discovered, he resigned and left the church. I still wonder how long that had been going on. My growing dissatisfaction with the church’s inability to answer my Biblical questions, my budding musical career and the hypocritical church politics worked together to help me fall away from Christianity for a time. My grades in school improved immensely. I finished High School early, in the top 10% of the class. I auditioned for the Air Force Band, was accepted, and as soon as I turned seventeen, I left for basic training in San Antonio.
As the years went by, I continued to have an interest in the Bible, studying textual variants and translation problems. I had several years of revival, when I buried my questioning and simply emulated the faith of a little child, trusting that though I could not understand many things, God knew what he was doing. Eventually, I would get a headache from such pious mind games and find myself drifting again. I spent years in and out of Charismatic meetings where healings were performed as well as Words of Knowledge, messages from God, and rousing sermons proclaiming the imminent return of Christ. The emotional feeling of those early charismatic events was like a drug high.
During these up and down spiritual times, I swung between being fanatically zealous, to totally apostate. I comforted myself on my lack of consistency by reasoning that at least I was not lukewarm. In the next few years I belonged to several different Baptist Churches and several different Charismatic Churches in succession. I was married, had a son, got divorced, remarried and had two more children. In my thirties, I finally hit bottom and decided I would simply dig in, buy books like crazy, and study until I got all my answers.
My second wife and I were deeply involved in an English speaking Assembly of God church while living in Japan. We ran the music ministry, the bookstore and participated in English evangelism at a local Japanese speaking Assembly of God. Once again, my inquiring mind reared its ugly head and put me at odds with the church. For years I had accepted the Pentecostal teaching that all Christians must speak in tongues to demonstrate they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. I had also accepted the harsh Arminianism preached there. As I began to study John Calvin, Matthew Henry, John Bunyan, Matthew Poole, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther and a host of other teachers from the past, I began to realize that there was a whole other gospel of which I was completely ignorant. I questioned the pastor of our AG church on some of these matters. He did not answer any of my questions, assuring me that God would comfort my heart as to the truth of the Assemblies’ teachings in time. He responded to my inquiry by removing my wife and I from all our leadership responsibilities until such time as we came to peace with the issues I brought up. He said if I were to remain in leadership with doubts on various Pentecostal doctrines, it would cause confusion for the congregation. Of course we were welcome to stay and attend the services, he said. We left the church that day. I started a home Bible study where we studied such things as Romans 9, Ephesians 1, and other strikingly Calvinistic chapters, without forcing any dogmatic conclusions. It was well attended. I led that group into street evangelism in Japan, passing out tracts at train stations and other public areas. I wrote letters to Christian leaders all over the world, soliciting their input on various doctrinal issues and spent a small fortune on books, studying the reformed theologians who lived prior to this century’s “charismania”.
I retired from the Air Force, left Japan and started over again in the town where I grew up. My parents and other relatives were apprehensive of my resettling near them, since they knew I was a religious fanatic. We attended, and even joined, several churches over the next few years, trying to settle in with the local evangelical, non-charismatic Christians. We wanted to find acceptance, and learn sound doctrine. As I learned more, and leaned more toward the Reformed Faith, I was made aware that I was living in adultery with my present wife. This was because my previous marriage did not end with a scriptural divorce. One counselor advised me that I should leave my present wife and live celibate in order to obey Christ’s commands. Failure to leave my present wife was considered continuous adultery in this Reformed denomination. This made no sense to me. Can one grievous sin be offset by committing another, I wondered? Should I really abandon my wife and two children because I blew it on my first marriage? I also discovered that any illusions I might have of ever being in any kind of leadership in any Reformed church, was out of the question. Divorce and remarriage was treated, except under the narrowest of scriptural scrutiny, as if it were more unforgivable than murder. The husband of one wife was the badge of acceptance required above all. Of course I still had questions. That, apparently, is a bad thing, as it did nothing but set me at odds with pastors and congregants alike. We finally found a Reformed Baptist Church in Pennsylvania, which accepted my past miscarriage of wedlock and we attended for several months. Originally the church had been an Independent Baptist Church and quite Arminian in theology. They had made the switch to Calvinism in soteriology, but remained Darbyite in eschatology. The primary preoccupation they seemed to have was with such important topics as head coverings for women and hating homosexuals. If the pastor was questioned in private concerning even the smallest detail of his teaching, the next service would be laced with personalized rebuke and condemnation pointedly aimed at the doubting inquiries and directly at those mouthing them. We left that church too.
We found another church some 35 miles away from our house that seemed promising. This church had been very charismatic originally, but had found deeper meaning in the teachings of R.J. Rushdooney. They had made a complete 180-degree turn toward Reconstructionism. I was totally unfamiliar with this brand of Christianity, so we stayed there for over three years. In that time we experienced and were taught a whole new brand of Christianity. Waving the Westminster Confession as the flag of truth we were encouraged to be filled with anger against sin, against worldly politicians, and to be fiercely aggressive political activists, so we might gain temporal power and obey Christ’s command to go into the entire world. “Discipling the Nations” was their clarion call. When the assistant pastor raised money to go and publicly support a civil war in a small African country, in the name of Christ, we finally knew it was time to leave that arena too. During the three years we were there, not one person became our friend. Everyone was too busy condemning pietism, marching and campaigning, and supposedly changing the world for Jesus.
Since leaving that church, I have spent the last couple of years reading other materials. Books by disillusioned Christians, pastors and others who find religion generally, and Christianity specifically, lacking in truth has become my books of choice. I have come to accept my initial adolescent doubts about the Bible. It was not simply rebellion, but the seed of good common logic and sense. I no longer claim to have all, or many, of the answers to life as I once claimed when my fanaticism expanded to full bloom. Since I have had to accept the fact that my theology has been wrong time and again, even though I supposedly had the Holy Spirit guiding me, it is quite unlikely that I have ever been totally right on much. I have changed my foundational beliefs several times as my religious self-education has evolved. I can’t say that I am content to be stagnant even at this juncture of spiritual understanding – I reserve the right to once again change my mind. Surely, if God could make a mistake and repent of making man, I can acknowledge error and repent of making a god and any decisions about my belief in it.
What do I believe now? Like I said, I am not sure. I suppose that makes me an agnostic. At this point, that is the most intellectually appealing position for my tortured thought processes. It allows me the freedom to keep an open mind while absorbing all the viewpoints without completely immersing myself in any of them. You might consider it an R&R from mind control, or perhaps I simply want …………, a sabbatical.
That is what I said then, and for the most part I would not change a thing. However, as my mind has cleared from the constant programming or self brainwashing I willingly subjected myself to, I have upped the "Anti", you might say. While I really cannot credit or blame anyone else for the positions on religion I have held, I find that much of the feedback I am receiving from this site implies that I have rejected Christ because of how people treated me. I regret I have written in such a way so as to mislead some on this point. Though I indeed was treated poorly by the bulk of Christians I know, I do not hate or dislike any of them. Neither did I leave the faith solely because of their behavior. I endured trials like that for nearly 30 years, and though unpleasant, it did not discourage me from my commitment to Christ. I remained stalwart for years, reasoning, as many of the people who write me, that Christians may be imperfect, but they are forgiven, and Christ is not like them, and so on. The main point I had hoped to accomplish in reiterating a few of the unpleasant experiences I had with the "chosen few" was to show that there is nothing supernatural going on in the lives of Christians. We are taught that the Holy Spirit is within us, transforming us, quickening us, destroying our sin nature, putting to death the "old man" and on and on ad-nauseam. The simple truth is: it is not true. Christians are absolutely no different than any one else. They do not have GOD ALMIGHTY in their bodies, making them into new creatures. Oh, sure, many resist temptation and endeavor to live a pure, moral life, but their thoughts continue to trouble them, and have to be resisted until death. Anyone who claims otherwise is a lying fool.
Now, of course someone is going to give me one of the stock theological answers to this puzzle, such as, the sin nature will never be destroyed until death. Or they might say that we are never perfectly sanctified in this life. There are plenty of well-rehearsed answers, all with supporting Bible verses, and interestingly, many of those bland explanations contradict one another, depending on the denominational bent of the various unharmonious voices. I readily admit that I have never been anything more than a layman. I have no official seminary or theological schooling to adorn my walls. I have, however, read extensively from the writings of Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke, Martin Luther, John Calvin, R.C. Sproul, the historic Confessions of Faith, commentaries without number, The Sword of the Lord, Charisma Magazine, Bill Bright, Frank Morrison, Hendricks, etc.
Listing all my reading is possible, but I only mention the books I can see from my computer desk. If I were to go to the basement, I would recite dozens of other well known authors in Christendom. I owned a Dake Bible and I own an old Geneva Bible. I have a reprint of Tyndale's original English New Testament. I was, and am, highly interested in the Christian faith. Does all this reading make me the authority? No of course not, but it was not only emotional dissatisfaction which led me to my present position. The more I studied the Christian faith, its history, how it has mutated and evolved over time, I began to realize that I was not being intellectually honest with myself. How can “the truth once delivered” change so much over the course of 2000 years if GOD ALMIGHTY was running the show? For example, Arminianism was heresy to Protestants when the Bible was published in English. Now it is the Calvinists who are held in disrepute.
Chances are that many of the Christians who read the mentions of Calvinism, eschatology, soteriology, etc., have no idea what I am talking about. That is another topic that contributed to my first suspicions that Xtianity is a false lie: the striking ignorance and loathing for learning that is rife in the Christian community. Claiming to love god with all their hearts and souls, yet reading His Word, memorizing it, studying theology to better understand HIM, is quite beyond most, if not nearly all Christians. Finding anyone who understands the history of Christianity prior to Darby's Dispensational gospel is nearly impossible. I would try to strike up conversations about theological and historical topics that were churning in my mind only to find blank stares in the Christian's faces to whom I would address myself. Now, that would be understandable if I were addressing novices, or baby believers, but the blankest stares would come from the pastors themselves. One pastor actually admitted to me that he found if very difficult to study the Word of God. He found study of theology very dry and boring and emphasized to me that Christ was relational, seeking a living relationship with his children, not living in dry books but living in beating hearts. Oh, how pious sounding! No doubt some reading this now have heard such tripe, and maybe some even heard their spirit bear witness to them that, yes that is true, Christ desires a relationship with us. To this nonsense I say that since Christ and his Dad are not talking in any other conventional way except through the words of Scripture in these last days, how is it I can hear His voice, unless I immerse myself in His WORDS? How is it I can say I am filled with the Holy Spirit, I love GOD more than all, I am being made into a new creation, and yet still find studying Christianity to be dull? The answer is simple of course. It is dull, and it is dead. There is no living Spirit indwelling believers, and only the compulsive, people like me, have the natural drive to totally focus on boring stuff.
Finally, finding no answers to my questions, I read the books of such people as Thomas Paine, Mark Twain, Dan Barker, Charles Templeton, Austin Mills, James Randi, Richard Dawkins, and a host of others. I began to see that there was a whole world of Freethinking Ex-Christians, and NON-Christians out there, people who were fairly invisible to the general public, especially the Christian general public. My mind was opened to reality, and is continuing to be opened to reality, as the myths and gods of my youth are abandoned to be replaced by reason.
I do not consider myself an agnostic anymore, finding fence sitting untenable. I could say I am now an evil Atheist, or I could use the softer sounding title of Freethinker. For now I will simply call myself an Ex-Christian, though there is more to it than being an ex something or another. I no longer believe in any gods or goddesses, they are all primitive imaginings reflecting an escape from fear and ignorance. There are many things we do not know about the world and the universe at large, but not knowing the how’s or why’s of things does not predispose us to believing in a giant Sky Daddy, or Tri-Daddy, or whatever.
None of this proves or disproves Christianity, I realize, but the purpose of this paper is to show the thinking processes that led to my de-conversion.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)