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Christian free thought and unbelief

By Webmdave ~

While living in Japan in the early 90’s, my family was deeply involved in an Assembly of God (AOG) Church catering to a congregation of resident Americans and local Japanese. My wife and I were part of the music ministry, led evangelistic outreaches in the local area as well as in remote rural areas, led weekly evangelistic English classes at a sister Japanese church, led a home group and ran the church bookstore.

I was hungry for “the truth™,” and believed I’d found it in Christianity. Like any “true Christian™,” I had loads of questions, so I immersed myself in studying the bible, systematic theology and apologetics.

One day the regular pastor was temporarily recalled to the United States and an administrative leader from the AOG hierarchy took over during his absence. This new man’s apparent claim to fame was a recently published book he had authored on the “Gifts of the Spirit.” Predictably, his opus magnus was the foundational basis of all his teaching and preaching.

According to him:

“All the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit emanate from the light of God's holy menorah. Each gift of the Holy Spirit sprouts from one of the branches of the sevenfold Spirit of God. Let’s consider these gifts and discover how they interrelate with God's menorah.”

Weakly supported doctrine, especially when authoritatively emanating from the pulpit, was a sticking point for me. His dogmatic sounding premise that physical Old Testament rituals were prophetic metaphors of New Testament spiritual truths seemed, well, extra-biblical at best. It concerned me, so I politely asked for a private meeting with him.

We met and I expressed my doubts about his teaching, stating I was unable to find any Biblical or historical support for what seemed to me to be a new doctrine. He listened and then instead of addressing my concerns said that since I had doubts about his teaching, it would be best for the entire congregation that I step down from my various leadership positions.

I wasn’t particularly surprised. Even then, nearly 10 years before I left Christianity, I sensed that expressing doubts of any kind might be seen as a challenge to authority. And, since in his eyes I was no more than a lowly parishioner, while he was a great denominational leader… Well, how dare I! My family soon left that church, never to return.

Today I am grateful to this gentleman. Thanks to his decision to quickly dismiss me for nothing more than harboring a few contrary thoughts, in spite of my having donated many hours of dedicated service, he unintentionally set me on the path of closely examining what I believed and why. In time, after much study, many churches, a wealth of contradictory doctrines and colorful religious characters, an irreparable fissure formed in the gray matter between my ears. Once free thought and reality was allowed to shine brightly in my mind, the clouds of magical and delusional thinking cleared, and I was ready to leave Christianity.

In practice, Christianity historically supports the tenant that those who challenge the status quo should be held at arms length and viewed with suspicion. Freedom of thought is not encouraged, because Christianity cannot exert control over its people’s minds without maintaining compliant obedience. In Christianity, holding the approved thoughts is really all that matters and thought control is of primary importance.

Any doctrine, teaching, history, etc. -- religious or otherwise -- that cannot tolerate questions and doubts is what should be viewed with suspicion and skepticism.

What do you think?