I don’t know if you will read this or not. When I was a teenager, I saw the church in the way that you are describing now. God was a joke as far as I was concerned and I could really care less about religion of any kind. It was a crutch and an excuse for people to pretend to be perfect while abusing others in some way, but I had never really read the Bible. The only exposure I had were those shallow Sunday School lessons that were repeated annually for my entire childhood. That didn’t help.
When I did finally read the Bible, I saw something quite different than what you described as the Christian faith. You stated that you were a Christian for 40 years and a pastor for 20 of those years. You stated that you had memorized 18 books of the Bible and had read the Bible through 24 times. Yet when you described the Christian faith, you described something very opposite from what the Bible actually claims. This is, I think, the thing that disturbs me the most. You referred to the Christian religion as a system that doesn’t work. You even stated that it was your own failing marriage that has partly precipitated your departure from the Christian faith. The implication of your thread of tweets is that this religious system didn’t work to accomplish your own material success and acceptance on this earth by people. So, you fled to a system that worked in order to accomplish the goals you had in mind- love and acceptance (though you never took the time to properly define either of those terms). By your own statements, you spent 40 years of your life trying to gain something from the Christian system.
I was a little surprised when I looked up your most recent church’s belief statement. What you describe as the Christian faith is even contrary to the way in which your local church defines the faith. What you describe is a faith in which the person sought to fulfill him or herself by some sort of religious means. The official statements of your local church, however, stated that people are completely depraved and that all people are “unable to remedy” their condition. I believe this is exactly what the Bible teaches. This means that if we are seeking the ‘love and approval’ of others by some religious (or non-religious) means, we are, in fact, trying to use some system in order to remedy some condition. Consequently, you were trying to utilize a system that wasn’t even represented by the local church you were in. You even described how you were lost in this condition and how you were unable to, by religious means, remedy the condition you found yourself in. By your own thread, you have affirmed the belief statement of the church and religion that you have now condemned. The system you were subject to, then, was one that wasn’t even present in your context. It was a system affirmed by you and not by your church. You were the only one in this religious system that you described and yet that is the system you have condemned. Your new message is self-contradictory and self-condemning according to the standards that you have placed upon the church- standards by which you departed from a faith that seems to have been held only by you in your particular context. I am confused, to say the least. Why would you depart from a faith based on your own evaluation of your own system of beliefs, which didn’t even agree with the church you were ‘pastoring?’
You claim that your new incoherent message seems to resonate with so many people who have denounced evangelicalism. I agree with you on this point. Majority evangelicalism is a sham. As I read your new message, though, it sounds just the same as any works-based religious message. It is very similar to majority evangelicalism, only without God. The goal is the ‘love and acceptance’ of people. You have taken the natural step from therapeutic deism (which was your view, not your church’s) to either agnosticism or atheism (I’m not sure which), a worldview that has teetered morally between Social Darwinism and Social Justice for centuries now (even if those terms haven’t always been used) and a worldview that presents an even more works-based system than you’ve denounced in that false version of Christianity that you defined in your thread and in a way that was inaccurate to source. I, too, once found what you are describing to be attractive. What I found is that there is only ‘love and acceptance’ for those who are on the liberal side of controversy in our day. Those who are neutral are ignored and those who are more conservative are usually hated. If it is your goal to be loved and accepted by non-religious people, of course you should denounce a worldview in which you’ve pretended to be a pastor for 20 years. That is how one gains so many twitter followers in such a short time. Microwave fame!
I want to take a moment and explain what the Gospel really means. It is not for you. You have rejected it, though I believe that if you truly came to Christ He would reconcile you to Himself. Either you have misunderstood the Bible you have read 24 times or you have simply chosen to ignore it. No, this is for all of the others who will read this open letter. We make the mistake of thinking that the Gospel is about elevating us or about fixing all of our problems on this earth. It’s not. In fact, Scripture promises that if we follow Christ we will experience great trouble and tribulation. It also tells us that the reason for such tribulation in this world is for our good, that we might become mature and complete. In fact, that is the very reason for church. I fear that people are afraid to actually grow into maturity and completeness because we care more about our own comfort.
There are many who are wondering if there is a God and everyone needs to hear the true Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about God. God is holy. God is the only righteous one. All people are unrighteous and depraved. This is why Jesus’ message was, “Repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Gospel doesn’t promise that your life will all of the sudden “work out.” The Gospel is not a system by which you can succeed at living whatever you perceive as a “good life.” There is a purpose for pain and immorality and heresy and hypocrisy and even sin. The Gospel calls us to repentance because we have sinned against God. The Gospel promises that we will be made mature and complete and equipped for every good work in Christ. The Gospel bids us be living sacrifices and to love in such a way that we are willing to give our lives for our brothers. The Gospel is clear, we love not to be loved, but because Christ first loved us. For those who will receive the true Gospel, Scripture states that while we were enemies of God He reconciled us to Himself. The way that most people choose, especially so in organized religion, is the way of conditional love. If you are a certain way or have a certain experience, I will accept you. The Gospel is different. True churches are different. While God never promises to ‘accept’ us in our wretched state, He does promise to clothe us in His righteousness alone and to reconcile us to Himself even though we have rebelled against Him. That is the depth of God’s love and that is the truth of the Gospel. If you are reading this and are interested in exploring this idea further, I will provide some resources below.
Mr. Gass. I am truly sorry that your experience with organized religion was so terrible. I truly hope that you come to know Christ for who He really is. My hope for you is greater than your merely being accepted. My hope for you is that you experience reconciliation with God as a result of Christ’s work. My hope is that you stop trying to live your best life now and that you come to Christ for His glory and your genuine good. I do not know all of the details. I do not know what sort of things you taught as a ‘pastor.’ I do not know what your theological viewpoint was or is. I do not know the hardships you’ve endured. I am praying for you and perhaps with you. May God, in His great mercy and grace, forgive us.