Why I Left the Church

When I went away to college the church almost lost me. I went to college and met thinkers; to me this was a completely new concept. Questioning things and not just believing things because I was born into some religion was a new concept. Realizing there were thousands of other people born into other religions that thought the same thing I thought, I’ve got it all right, scared me to death.

I met the people of the “world” that my church told me would be so bad, and I liked them. They were cool people who encouraged deep thoughts of question and doubt. I met a group of people that loved philanthropy; this was a new concept to me. Even though Jesus was the greatest philanthropist ever, I wasn’t exposed as a child to serving the least of these.

By no longer attending church I no longer had to endure the messages each week of “try a little harder to be a little better” … the exhausting treadmill of works based teaching that I knew I’d never be able to meet.

Moving out of the confines of the church I began to feel free. Free to think. Free to live. Free to love those who didn’t look, talk and think like me. Free of the flannel board characters of the Bible. Free of the place that said the world was 5000 years old. Free of the place that said women were inferior to men. I was ready to explore the real world of thinkers.

To me it was a higher level of thought. I was leaving behind the world of the uneducated Christians who were confined to so many rules because they weren’t smart enough to think for themselves. I was so disillusioned by the church by the time I was 20 that I had grouped them all together as the intolerable nuisance that I must learn to tolerate. To me religion was just a coping mechanism for death.

My husband and I were out to dinner the other night with some great friends and thinkers. We were discussing our worst fears for our children. Our worst fears weren’t pornography, drug addiction, or pre-marital sex (though they were on the list). One of our worst fears was that our children would grow up to be that single minded, Pharisaical church goer who isn’t able to think.

It is a natural instinct to want to shelter our children from the world, but it is a disservice and dangerous not to encourage them to think, question and explore the doubt they will inevitably experience at some point in life. If we do not encourage our kids to think, they will be encouraged by agnostics and atheists to think once they leave the protection of our nests. If we (parents and church community) do not encourage them to discuss science and history with an open mind … I fear they will mature into lukewarm Christians who don’t know what they believe or why they believe it. They will miss the point.

When we moved to Florida ten years ago, I begrudgingly went to church. To be candid, I was looking for a break from my one year old and I knew she would have fun with the other kids in Sunday School. We didn’t know anyone in Florida, and I assumed the people in child care had gone through security checks. I wanted an hour to myself to sit in quiet while my daughter had an opportunity to interact with other children.

What I discovered was a body of believers who were trying to follow Jesus and answering hard questions. I was introduced to people that said “in opinions liberty, in faith unity, in all things love.” I was introduced to how electrifying God is. I started reading about faith from great thinkers like CS Lewis and Francis Chan who introduced concepts that were foreign to me, though they shouldn’t have been foreign since they have been in the Word of God for 1000’s of years.

In my youth I wasn’t reading and examining the Word of God. I was just listening to what other (well meaning) people told me. If and when I actually read the Bible it was to help justify what I already believed. There are two ways of gaining knowledge in God’s Word:

Eisegesis: an attempt to import a subjective, preconceived meaning into the text. Cults use Eisegesis to justify their beliefs. Eisegesis has been used to justify everything from slavery to greed to lust to a litany of other sins and social injustices.

Exegesis: an attempt to discover the meaning of the text objectively. Start with the text, draw out its meaning and allow the Spirit to illuminate it.

God is truth. He provides us the Holy Spirit for clarity. Don’t believe everything you have been told. The God of the universe has provided an avenue for you to learn truth. Open your Bible. Be an exegesis. Be a thinker.

There are some mysteries we will never fully understand on this side of eternity. I will encourage my daughters to study exegetically what God’s Word says, to ask the deep questions, and to be thinkers who study history, biology, philosophy, psychiatry and sociology. No matter if they come to the OPINION that the world was made in 6-days or 6-billion years, I pray that it only strengthens their FAITH that we serve an awesome God so they may extend His LOVE to this broken world.

Written by Karen Culbertson

Wife, mom and licensed mental health counselor.

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