should I leave the church?
Updated: Jan 9
"That guy you are interested in is talking to another girl."
"Your brother has an incurable, unknown disease."
"How can you believe God made the earth? That is so obviously a fairy tale. If you want to study science you better embrace evolution."
What statements have you heard that make you question what you believe in? I have shared mine above. Each of these comments were said to me at some of the lowest times in my life. Each of these comments made me question the way I viewed the world. At some point all of us, regardless of who we are or how we were raised, must determine what our reality is.
Growing up in a religious family, I always found my sense of security and my worldview rooted in a religion. I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist and so I am going to speak from that perspective but I think that many Christians, regardless of denominational preference, may be able to relate to my experience. My father was an Adventist pastor, and this meant I learned a lot about what "we" believed from an early age. Every Saturday I was in church, memorizing Bible verses and singing songs. I enjoyed church, I had friends there, and I honestly didn't know any other way of living. I never questioned God or his existence because I didn't need to.
My entire life, from kindergarten through high school, I attended Adventist schools. I memorized the books of the Bible and I knew all of the ten commandments by heart. I loved the Bible stories I was taught. I was used to acting them out or reading them during Bible class. I learned how to pray. I was baptized. Once again, I never questioned God because everything I was taught supported his existence. I remember someone asking me about why I believed in God when I was in high school. The person asked if I had ever doubted the things I had grown up hearing. I dismissed their questions and said I just knew what I believed in was real. My christian education had helped me in many ways, but it had also caused me to be weak in some areas. I never learned how to explain what I believed in.
It wasn't until I began classes at an Adventist University, that the doubts finally entered my mind. By this point, I had come up with a viable response to people who asked me what I believed. I simply told them I was a Seventh-day Adventist. I got used to rattling off some facts about the denomination...
We go to church on Saturday.
We don't believe dead people go directly to heaven or hell.
We don't typically wear jewelry or dress immodestly.
We don't typically eat meat.
We have this lady who we consider a prophet named Ellen White.
We eat this thing called a haystack.
I was very good at regurgitating all these things- things I had been exposed to and instructed on throughout my entire life. Yet I started to realize that they were meaningless to me. I would go to church and I would greet everyone with a, "Happy Sabbath!" but what did that even mean? I was just going through the motions. I knew what I was "supposed" to believe, but I didn't really know why I was supposed to believe it.
When I was in my early twenties, I finally started doing my own research about religion and world view for myself. I started to see hypocrisy in the church which led me to doubt the things I had learned. It was doubt that prodded me to start my own investigation. According to LifeWay research, most youth drop out of church in their teen and young adult years (read article here: https://tinyurl.com/y84ypogj ) I think this is primarily because at some point, regardless of denomination, young Christians must decide if religion is meaningful to them or simply superficial. They look around and they have questions. Unfortunately, without the right foundation, for many people religion is only skin deep. They feel that people are only playing church. They feel no deep connection.
In a nation where 65% of Americans identify as Christian, only 11% have ever read the Bible all the way through (www.barna.com). I am one of those Americans. If you really think about it, it is quite ridiculous. If someone said they were an expert on the life of Shakespeare but had never read any of his writings, you wouldn't trust their "expertise". If someone told you they were a die-hard football fan, but had never watched a single game, you would laugh at them. Both of these scenarios seem obvious to us, yet we don't seem to grasp the necessity of Christians reading through the very book that introduces us to Christ!
It is for this reason that I have "left" the church. Now don't get me wrong, I still identify with the Seventh-day Adventist faith. I still intend on supporting the Adventist church through my tithes and offerings and even attendance. I am a strong advocate for Christian, specifically Adventist, education. However, when someone asks me what I believe in, my go-to response is not going to be the name of a religion or a denomination. My response is going to be that I believe in the Bible. My allegiance, my devotion, and my trust are put in the Word of God itself, not any organization or group of people. The Bible comes first because it teaches me about Jesus. Based on my studying of it I am able to choose a church family.
Look at the life of Christ. Look at the Jewish community of that time- the very organization which was founded on preparing for a Savior! Yet when Christ came, they didn't even recognize Him. They clung to their religion, their culture, and their own man-made rules and regulations rather than accepting Jesus. Look at the great leaders of our modern protestant communities. Martin Luther only discovered the flaws of the Roman Catholic Church because he studied the Bible for himself. In Adventist history itself, William Miller discovered the teachings we continue to cling to not from a church, but from the Bible. Both of these great spiritual men rose up in times when thousands of well-intending believers were led astray. How arrogant are we to believe that we won't be led astray if we aren't careful? We must read the Bible for ourselves.
I do believe there is a place for church in a person's spiritual walk. I think of the cliche, "no man is an island", and I am reminded that we desperately need to be able to fellowship with other believers. Hebrews 1:24-25 says "and let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.." I believe God wants us to routinely get together. I believe that having a church organization is very useful in our humanitarian and global mission field efforts. However, the purpose of being a Christian is not about sitting through a sermon or telling someone "Happy Sabbath" . The purpose of being a Christian is to spread the love of God, and you can't spread that love if you don't know anything about it from it's original source.
Instead of focusing on all these legalistic issues that we see rising up in church congregations today, let us return to the heart of why we are following God in the first place. Let us return to the Bible where we can learn about Jesus for ourselves. Pastors should be teaching their members Bible study skills and tactics. People often think of the Bible as boring and hard to understand. We need to work on changing that opinion. A sermon should motivate me to go study God's word for myself. The Bible is the only tangible thing we have to prove that what we believe in is accurate. We have lost sight of that. Let us return to Bible study, and let go of our church politics. I believe the young people who are walking away from church, would be more interested in staying if they actually knew why they believed what they did. Teach them to study the Bible.
Hello, my name is Melissa, and I believe in the Bible.