How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 12

The first post in this series can be found here, or you can just keep scrolling down the page till you find it.

In the previous posts, I talked about the actual events of my deconversion. In this one, I’d like to go into some detail about my thought process throughout the experience.

My Starting Point
When I was a zealous Christian, I thought about my faith constantly. If you’ve read the preceding 11 posts, you’ve no doubt come to realize that the Church of Christ is a bit different from most other denominations. I grew up believing that most people, even those in other denominations, were lost. Most of you probably didn’t grow up that way, but imagine what it would be like to think almost every person you encounter is a lost soul: your teacher, the bus driver, your best friend’s parents, even some of your relatives. It made the “religious truth” I possessed an extremely important commodity! I knew what could save these people that I cared about. The problem was, most of them thought they didn’t need it — they already had faith.

If you’re a Baptist, how much luck would you have in converting a Presbyterian? Probably not much — they already believe in Jesus, why should they be interested in your particular flavor of Christianity? That’s the same problem I ran into, except I believed these people still needed salvation. So the problem of the lost was not some far off thing for me — I didn’t have to think of Muslims or Buddhists to imagine the lost; they were all around me.

It was through all those experiences of studying with people from other denominations that I realized how strong the evidence for “true” Christianity would have to be if it was to convince people. Most people, regardless of their religion (or lack of it), feel confident that their beliefs are correct. To be convinced otherwise, they need to be shown some strong evidence, and that’s why I had such a high view of the Bible’s inspiration. If I could show people prophecy fulfillment in the Bible, and show them that every account in it is consistent with the other parts of the Bible, despite all the different people that penned it, it would show that man could not have accomplished it alone — God must be behind it. So we, as people, must strive to follow it. And that’s the message I tried to share with people for many years. It’s also what allowed my faith to be shaken when I saw that the Bible wasn’t as perfect as I had imagined.

I also believed that Christians could lose their salvation if they turned from God. I didn’t believe this happened easily, because I knew God’s grace would cover many things. But I believed that consciously choosing to live in sin (in whatever form that sin took) would cause someone to lose their salvation. And I had known several Christians that fell away for various reasons.

As you can imagine, these beliefs led me to think that the number of saved was very, very small. In a way, that fit with the teachings of Jesus — “the way is narrow, and few there are who find it.” But it sure was depressing. In fact, each time my wife was pregnant, I worried that we were making a bad decision in bringing another soul into the world, when their chances of being lost were so high.

That’s why the problem of Hell was such a big deal for me. Again, I didn’t lose my faith because I didn’t like Hell — but I did wonder why God would set up a plan in which the vast majority of humanity never achieved salvation. And if it was because humans are just so flawed that we don’t want salvation, then why did God make us that way? It’s not that I was unhappy with Christianity; I was unhappy with the version of Christianity I’d grown up with. So I spent time trying to better understand Heaven, Hell, and the nature of salvation.

My Deconversion
Once I began studying the claims against Christianity, it really didn’t take very long for me to realize there were actual problems. On the surface, that might sound as though my initial convictions hadn’t been very deep, but that’s not at all the case. I had always viewed the Bible as either inspired or not — and if it was inspired, then it should have no errors. Not every Christian shares that view, but that was my stance, and it didn’t allow for all the problems I was finding.

Any time you experience a major shift in your world view, it puts everything up for grabs. I remember looking up at the night sky at one point and feeling very, very small and afraid. Who was out there to take care of us? What kept some asteroid from simply obliterating us all? But before long, I realized that the same forces were in play that had always been in play. If the God of Christianity was not real, then that’s the way it had always been, so the sky was not going to suddenly come crashing down just because I’d come to a new realization.

My wife and I also worried about how we would teach morality to our children without a divine authority to appeal to. But again, we soon realized that we wanted our children to be moral for some very good reasons — reasons we could explain to our children. Hopefully, those reasons would make them want to live morally too. But even if they didn’t always live morally, we no longer believed that they would be judged and punished for those mistakes.

That brings me back to Hell. Wasn’t I worried about being wrong and going to Hell? Or about leading my family there? No. When I was still just dealing with doubts, I was very worried about making the wrong decision. I prayed constantly that God would help me find the truth, regardless of what it was. But once I stopped believing Christianity, I had no more reason to be afraid of Hell than I do to be afraid of Frankenstein.

What about the forgiveness that Christianity offered? What avenue did I now have for salvation? Once I stopped believing in Christianity, I realized that there was nothing I needed to be saved from. The Christian god is not real, so it’s impossible to sin against him. If there’s such a thing as sin, it’s what we do against one another, and those kinds of sins need to be corrected with the people we’ve sinned against. Imaginary beings just don’t factor in.

Some Closing Thoughts
I hope that helps explain some of my thought processes as I went through my deconversion. It would be hard, maybe impossible, to encapsulate everything I thought about during those months of study, but I think this touches on the main points.

I really appreciate the interest you’ve all shown in this series — it’s been a tough one to write. Going through my deconversion and facing the subsequent problems in our families has been the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through. There are some things that I wish could have done differently, though I’m ultimately glad that I’ve come to this point. I appreciate all the great comments and the compassion you’ve shown, even if you don’t agree with my point of view.

Finally, I want to stress that even though I’ve been critical of the Church of Christ in many of these posts, there are still a number of things I admire about them. They firmly believe that the Bible is God’s perfect word, so it should be followed as closely as possible. Even if they’re incorrect about a couple of their positions, most of them have the best of intentions. It was a good way to grow up, in most respects. My parents taught me to be a critical thinker, and that’s the best gift they ever could have given me. I deeply regret how sad they are over my current beliefs, and I hope that we can one day come to some kind of resolution.

Thanks again to everyone who’s stuck with me through this series. I gotta say, I’m looking forward to writing about something else! 🙂

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50 thoughts on “How It Happened: My Deconversion Part 12”

  1. Nate,
    Thanks for walking through your journey with us. I know it was hard to live it, I imagine it was just as hard to write it (and almost live it all again). I pray that one day your family will give up shunning and embrace you and your family completely.

    The only comment I want to make is on this statement:
    “If there’s such a thing as sin, it’s what we do against one another, and those kinds of sins need to be corrected with the people we’ve sinned against.”

    Can you tell me what you mean by “corrected” in this sense? I’m very curious about this. 🙂

    Thanks again for opening up your life to give us a glimpse.

    Grace and Peace,
    JF

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  2. Hi JudahFirst — thanks for the comment! All I meant with my statement about sin (and I typically wouldn’t use the term “sin”) is that we sometimes wrong one another. When we do, if there’s a way we can make it right, we can try to make it right with that individual rather than praying about it to a god. I think the way I worded it was kind of awkward, so I hope this helps clarify a little.

    Thanks again!

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  3. I asked an atheist how he determined his moral code once and he said that he made decisions based on what would or wouldn’t hurt other people. If it would hurt them, he chose not to do it. This is not so far at all from what Christ told us is the most important commandment. Love God and love others.
    It’s weird when you grow up thinking that the only reason to do what is right is out of fear or for reward. it’s not healthy, I don’t think.
    Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed (and been deeply saddened by) your series. I hope blessings find you and your family every step of the way into this almost new life.

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  4. “Once I began studying the claims against Christianity, it really didn’t take very long for me to realize there were actual problems.”

    So true…when I would hear apologists claim that Christianity could stand up to the most rigorous of scrutiny, I believed them. When I actually allowed my beliefs to be scrutinized, I had the same realization as you…there were actual problems with the truth claims of the Bible. Not just a bunch of wussy atheists who hated God, sitting around making excuses for not believing in his Word.

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  5. Yes, that’s exactly how I felt! Before, I had always heard that people had never found a single contradiction in the Bible and that no piece of historical evidence had ever contradicted anything in the Bible. I trusted those people, and it just never occurred to me to test their claims. So when I finally became aware of the problems, it was a huge shock.

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  6. Nate, thanks a lot for sharing your story with us. I read someone write elsewhere that “we all have our stories and they should be told”. Not only does it help you, but from the comments I can see it has helped a lot of your readers as well (including me). I look forward to more of your insightful posts, and I really hope your family relationships can be healed.

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  7. Brenda and Howie —
    Thanks so much to both of you! I do think it was good for me to write this, and I’m really glad that so many others have seemed to get some value from it too.

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  8. Nathan,

    I hope to reply later in more detail. I know this has been a painful journey, but even more so for your family who loves you more than life itself. It is obvious from many of the comments that quite a few people who have a belief in God think God requires nothing of them. However, if one believes that God is, and that Jesus is His son, and the Bible is the Word of God, the guide for our lives, then withdrawal is not a choice, but a duty. Submitting our will to God’s is sometimes difficult, but we must do it if we are to be pleasing to God. It would be very selfish of me to continue to have contact with you as if nothing was wrong, when the ultimate destination for eternity is what is the most important. I would rather forgo this short time on earth with someone I love and cause them to rethink their position and circumstance and hopefully return to God, thereby spending all eternity in Heaven with them, than to spend time with them now and see them miss out on the most important thing for their soul.

    I want to re-read all the aspects of this series, and then will comment some more (if that is o.k. with you).

    Love,

    Dad

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  9. I want to re-read all the aspects of this series, and then will comment some more (if that is o.k. with you).

    Absolutely. Feel free to comment any time.

    Love you too.

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  10. whoa! must be tough, i can’t fully imagine how difficult this all must be for Nate, or for his family.

    Nate leaves his faith because he no longer believes in it, and thereby leaves his family because he knows their convictions. Nate’s family must leave him because they believe that God tells them to.

    If God told you to do something, then i guess you had better do it… But I guess this is where the disconnect is within the family – only as I see it from what i have read and inferred from these posts and comments.

    Why does Nate’s family think that the Bible is God’s Inspired and Divine Word? And why does Nate not see bible that way?

    What is the bible, but a collection of human writings that make claims of god? Are those claims accurate and trustworthy? If we can plainly see that there are some errors or contradictions within the bible, then why do we allow ourselves to be taken in by it, to believe the supernatural claims of men? If we do trust them, isnt our faith in their claims more than it is god, who did not reveal himself directly to us, has not whispered in our ears, has not visited our dreams?

    How sad would it be to withdrawal from your loved ones here, only to receive no payoff later? How happy could heaven be without the one’s you love, knowing that they are burning in hell forever because they weren’t convinced on the flimsy evidence?

    Most of that is rhetorical, i know. Sorry. Nate, or Jim I guess, did your church believe everything about the bible was literal, or were there some things viewed as literal and others viewed as metaphorical? Was there a certain criteria they used to determine which was which, if they did?

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  11. Hey, William,

    As a believer I came to the conclusion you wrote here:

    ” How happy could heaven be without the one’s you love, knowing that they are burning in hell forever…?”

    I began to study man’s teachings about hell as opposed to the Bible’s teachings and found quite the discrepancy. Actually, I found that God’s purposed will is that all are included in Christ’s death and resurrection and there is an open door of hope to everyone, even after death (see Revelation 21-22) (you can check out some of my blogs for more Scriptural evidence of these claims). It is also my belief that God always gets His way. 🙂

    Thanks for your excellent questions above.
    Grace and Peace to you,
    JF

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  12. Reading this series was somewhat difficult for me. Much of your story mimics my own I feel great sadness at your loss of family support. Mostly because I have experienced some of that too. Your dads comment is so sad to me. Though I understand to an extent what he is saying as ive been on the Christian end of it before, its sad because it doesn’t have to be this way. It only makes me work harder to make sure that I let my children know that i might not always agree with them, I will always support and love them

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  13. Thankfully Jesus did not withdraw from anyone “cause them to rethink their position and circumstance and hopefully return to God.” I guess He knew something we don’t. 😉

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  14. Nate, I can only echo the comments of others that this must have been a somewhat painful journey for you to document. I hope you can move on – in fact I’m sure you can.

    I’m glad to that your dad is willing to contact you in this way despite the “withdrawal”. I hope (and in fact will pray) that good comes from that.

    I would like to discuss the practice of “withdrawal”, because I think I understand the Biblical basis for this practice, but I believe as a christian it can be clearly seen to be misapplied in your case. I won’t go in to that now, but wonder whether a post on that teaching might be helpful to you and your dad, and the rest of us.

    Best wishes.

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  15. Thank you for your story, Nate. I appreciate the difficulty it must have put you through to (re)live this part of your life. I also thank your Dad for having the … ‘guts’, for lack of a better word,… to respond, and in some meager way, reach out to you in this way. Though many, within and without the faith, may disagree with him, I appreciate his honesty and candor, as well as yours. Cheers my friend!

    BTW, I absolutely love this quote: “Any time you experience a major shift in your world view, it puts everything up for grabs.” THAT is truth!

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  16. And to Jim Owens, I would add this:

    It is unfortunate that you hold the belief that withdrawing from someone far from God will somehow lead them into a closer relationship with Him. How do you interpret Paul’s counsel to the Romans in 10:14-15? That sounds like the OPPOSITE of withdrawal to me. And in Nate’s case, having heard the Word of God, who does he have in his life right now (that he has contact with) to show him the love of God? And please do not tell me that withdrawal of contact from those closest to him is showing God’s love in any way. His (Nate’s) reaction would not be what it is if that were the case. I’m sorry, God doesn’t work like that.

    It is also unfortunate that you believe the action of withdrawal as ‘a duty, not a choice’, and anyone not believing that same stance (even fellow believers) as them, in essence, saying ‘God requires nothing of (me)’. God requires A LOT of us. Look no further than Matthew 22:37-40 and Matthew 28:19-20 I’m sorry, but I don’t interpret these truths to mean either requiring nothing of me or ‘forgoing this short time on earth with (someone far from God) and cause them to rethink their position and circumstance and hopefully return to God’.

    Get in the world, my friend! Get in the trenches! Get dirty! We need you down here! Get your light out from under its basket!

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  17. I have been following the blogs of Nate and TheBitterSweetEnd over the last few weeks while rewriting the introduction to my own blog.
    As a former member of the Worldwide Church of God I have considerable empathy with both Nate and his Dad. Like Jim I believed that I was a member of the one and only true church. But in my case it was because nobody else kept the Sabbath and the biblical Holy Days as they should be kept. But in 1995 the leadership of the church (membership about 150,000 worldwide) announced that some of their theology was misguided. That was a traumatic experience that resulted in significant family breakups.

    At Nate said, “Any time you experience a major shift in your worldview it puts everything up for grabs”. This was the second time that I had had to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught. I can relate to just about all the questions that Nate has been raising – but the big difference is that by 2003 I had become aware that tens of thousands of committed Christians were asking similar questions. While many like Nate have effectively become completely disillusioned with the Christian RELIGION there are many (like me) who now have a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Christian FAITH and the real LOVE of a loving heavenly Father.

    As a Brit I had a particular interest in the history of the King James Bible and some of the subtle and not so subtle changes that were made to satisfy the King who believed in the divine right of Kings – so that there are significant differences between that and the ‘Geneva Bible’ published around the same time. I have long understood that the traditional teachings of the theology of ‘hell’ are not the only way that make sense of the scriptures.

    I know what it is like when children walk away. When the changes occurred in 1995 my daughter’s in-laws went one way and we went another. My daughter and her husband who were youth leaders at the time decided (understandably) that we couldn’t both be right and are now atheists.

    There seems to be a major lesson here. These people walked away from the Christian RELIGION because they were getting mixed messages. Does anyone really believe in a god who would send them to hell in such circumstances – I certainly don’t. I’m fairly certain that they will get a chance to understand when they are confronted with the real TRUTH that will not necessarily be in this physical life.

    If anyone is interested in the story of my faith journey please feel free to look at my blog.

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  18. As I followed you through this series, many questions arose that I was waiting to address, along with a few answers (I haven’t forgotten one of your questions, and I still intend to get to it soon). However, as the comments continue to pour in across both blogs, most of those questions and comments were answered and/or addressed. Overall, all I can say is “well done” for speaking about such a sensitive and painful period of your life. I think you handled it exceptionally well, with aplomb and eloquence. I’m curious to see what comes next as you move forward.

    One remaining concern of mine is the response of family and friends connected with the Church of Christ (a sentiment also voiced by unklee above). I want to address that here, since I see this post as an appropriate place for it. The remainder of my response is addressed primarily to them, and I hope that any who are following this blog will find my comments useful.

    From an administration standpoint, I can understand removing someone (excommunicating, disavowing, or whatever term you want to use) from attending the church. It’s no different than membership in any other organization. Once that person no longer shares common beliefs, ideas, and goals, then that person’s continued presence can only serve as a distraction from that organization’s stated purpose.

    Outside of the church, I don’t agree with this stance. Paul exhorted the people of Corinth not to associate with the immoral person “who calls himself a brother”. (1 Cor 5: 9-11) Paul was very clear that this did not extend to the world at large, but only within the church. The reason is simple, as this person would not be who (s)he claims to be, and could only be up to no good. If Nate was still attending the church and pretending to be something he was not, then this would apply to him (not immorality, per se, but a falsehood of character concerning his identity and beliefs). This is not the case; in fact, he has been very open and honest concerning his shift in beliefs, as this series demonstrates.

    Furthermore, continuing to engage in conversation (and, as for family, get-togethers) is not yoking yourselves to him (2 Cor 6:14-16). If you hope to bring him back to the faith someday (and I’m sure you do), wouldn’t shunning him disallow peaceful opportunities for this to happen?

    I (and a few others here) do not agree in general with Nate’s conclusions concerning Christianity. However, I (and hopefully others) recognize that nothing is gained by shunning and ignoring those that do not share our beliefs, whether they have never held similar beliefs, or if they once did, but no longer do. By engaging in peaceful conversation, each of us has the opportunity to be challenged, strengthening understanding and allowing us to form better answers for that which we continue to hold true, while discarding that which proves false in the light of examination. In addition, those observing on the outside get to see that discourse does not necessitate animosity.

    It is my hope that Nate’s family and friends will come to accept Nate’s new convictions, even if they do not agree, and reach across the aisle in love. If there is a chance for Nate to regain some of his beliefs regarding Christianity, then living it, not saying it, will be your strongest argument.

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  19. Thank God for you, Don! You were able to put into words what has been whirling around in my heart all week regarding the verses in Corinthians which talk about church discipline!! Thank you, thank you!

    Of course, the rest of your comment was excellent as well. 🙂
    Grace and Peace,
    JF

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  20. “I have a couple of posts that deal with it, in case you’d like to see the passages that the CoC usually turn to in support of the doctrine:
    Withdrawal Part 1 — My Situation
    Withdrawal Part 2 — Doctrinal Considerations

    Nate, I read the two posts you referred to, but since others are commenting here, I decided to do the same.

    I think I am pretty much in agreement with what Kent and Don say, as well as your own analysis, that the teachings of the Church of Christ are a misapplication of the NT teaching way beyond what the passages actually say.

    1. The only context of “withdrawal” seems to be when a person within the fellowship disgraces the faith (or more importantly, disgraces the name of Jesus), and the two – the fellowship of believers and the recalcitrant member – must be separated for a while. I see no reference to withdrawing from those who have already separated themselves from the fellowship of believers.

    2. I note that even in the CoC documents (Loudon and The Preacher’s Files, the term used is “withdrawal from fellowship”. This reinforces my point above. But more importantly, while believers can have friendship with unbelievers, we can’t have spiritual fellowship of the kind envisaged in the NT, because that is a product of the Holy Spirit which believers share but unbelievers do not.

    You have already withdrawn from fellowship, what your family is doing is withdrawing from friendship, family relationships and contact, which go way beyond the NT teaching.

    3. I note also that all contact is not forbidden, but contact aimed at restoring the erring member is encouraged. Now I would have thought that in every contact between you and your christian family, they would be seeking your salvation – not by preaching which would get your back up, but by showing love and the quiet witness of a godly life.

    4. You have suggested that some of your family disagree about the withdrawal, but submit to the church because they are in a minority. But the NT says anything we do without faith is sin, and says we are freed from law and compulsion to act in the power of the Spirit. It would be quite in keeping for them to follow the NT on this rather than the dictates of the church.

    I don’t suppose there is much new in that for you, but those are my initial thoughts. Best wishes.

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  21. Nate,

    I seem to have fallen foul of a bug – it seemed to accept my comment, but didn’t show it, but when I tried to re-post says it is a duplicate. Is it there? Do you have an anti unkleE filter? : )

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  22. Peter, Kent, and Don — thank you so much for your comments! And Peter, thanks for sharing more of your story.

    UnkleE, thanks for letting me know about that comment problem. The links made WordPress think it was spam… And thanks for offering your insight into the withdrawal issue. I think all of you guys have brought up some excellent points, and hopefully someone from the CoC will address them.

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  23. Nate,
    Given that I do not believe in God, I hesitate to give much advice here. My concern is that even if the advice is useful there may be some subconscious feeling among your believing family members that any advice from a nonbeliever should never be followed.

    So instead I am wondering if there is any way a C of C member who believes in a more moderate interpretation of the withdrawal passages could voice their opinions on your blog. I know you mentioned they are in the minority and thus afraid, but perhaps some could be brave enough to offer some help to the situation that all of you seem so torn over.

    From my reading of your older post on withdrawal it seems that there may be some C of C members who believe that the God they believe in does require things of them, but perhaps they believe that the way this withdrawal is being done in your situation is wrong. I hope there are members who could offer some opinons about this here.

    This whole situation just seems like the kind of thing that could bring up terrible feelings of regret very late in life in your believing family members if they ever might wonder that the interpretation of bible verses is incorrect. This would be a very sad situation indeed. I wonder what other Christians who have commented here feel about this concern.

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  24. @Howie – spot on. And, if they feel intimidated about commenting on a blog (there are many who do not for fear of a lack of eloquence), perhaps they can offer this personally. I don’t believe Nate’s experience is unique, but representative of a bigger problem within the church as a whole. Interest in issues such as faith and spirituality is not in decline, but church attendance is, for reasons exemplified by Nate’s journey. IMO, it is not a question of whether the church should address these challenges, but when.

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  25. Howie,
    I agree with Don in that you’ve suggested a brilliant idea! I’ll reach out to a few people and see if they’d be interested in joining the conversation here — they could even remain anonymous, if they preferred.

    Thanks for the suggestion!

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  26. Nate, Unklee, and others,

    I Corinthians 5 deals with withdrawal, specifically in the case of adultery/fornication. 2 Thessalonians 3:14 also addresses the idea of withdrawal. Nathan was for many years a member in good standing in the Lord’s Church. At the time the congregation he had been attending withdrew from him, he was still purporting to be a member. Withdrawal was not instigated to spite or harm Nathan, but was done because the members love Nathan, and wanted to get him and his family to recognize the seriousness of his decision. Many of his family, as obedient servants of God, honored the withdrawal. This doesn’t mean that we have no contact whatsoever with Nathan or his family, but it does mean that we continue to try and reason with him about his position and attempt to get him to return to the truth.

    For those of you who think we are not acting in love toward Nathan, you plainly don’t know what you are talking about. The scriptures plainly say we are not even to eat with one who is immoral or an idolator. This is not talking about those who are of the world, who have never rendered obedience to God’s commands, but is talking about those who have rebelled against God’s commands after having been a part of His family. Certainly, after making a commitment to serve God, then later renouncing this to serve oneself, Nathan could be classified as one who seems to fit the criteria established by God. Nathan knows this, and is aware of how deeply we love him and have been distressed by his faithlessness and efforts to influence his other family members to leave the faith. Our desire is to 1) obey God in all things, and 2) to bring Nathan back to the truth. Serving God is not about doing what I want and expecting God to be happy with it, but rather about serving Him by obeying Him. True obedience is doing what is commanded even when I would rather do something else.

    Unklee, we have not withdrawn our relationships and contact. We are still related and we still talk. However, our conversations are not about mundane things, but about those things which are most important, matters that affect the soul.

    I’m a few days away from being ready to respond more fully to Nathan’s blog, but wanted to try to set the record straight and correct some misconceptions.

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  27. Hi Dad,
    Thanks for the comment.

    The scriptures plainly say we are not even to eat with one who is immoral or an idolator.

    This comes from 1 Cor 5:11, which says:

    But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

    But as some have pointed out, I’m not claiming to be a brother or sister in Christ. And as you know, the only reason I was still attending church at the very end was to stave off withdrawal. It was not because I wanted to continue portraying myself as a Christian. And regardless, I certainly don’t portray myself as one now. So does that change your view of my situation at all? What scriptural basis is there for withdrawing from people who have completely and publicly left the Christian faith?

    I know that you have done all of this out of love — that’s what’s so tragic about it. But you’re only doing the right thing IF your understanding of withdrawal is accurate and IF the Bible was actually inspired by God. To me, those seem like awfully big ifs that might warrant additional study before committing to see this course through the rest of our lives.

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  28. After reading both of these comments, I am seeing a few misconceptions on both sides. It’s completely understandable. Both sides are in unfamiliar territory, with emotions running high for both sides involved.

    Mr. Owens, I simply want to thank you for commenting here. I think you did clear up many misconceptions, succinctly and with clarity. Your added citation of 2 Thess, along with your description pertaining to the way you and the family have approached this and your reasons for doing so, eliminates my concern that those closest to Nate were completely ostracizing him as a form of punishment. I’m sure for you, Nate, that it doesn’t always feel this magnanimous but, again, emotions are running high for all concerned, as they also search for a way forward in the midst of something that turned their world upside-down as well.

    The bottom line is that I hear conversation taking place and that both sides are working on finding answers and resolutions through difficult times. I can only encourage all of you to be kind to each other, forgiving, and to take frequent time-outs, as the answers will not come all at once. Keep working at it; it’ll be worth it in the end.

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  29. To Mr. Owens.
    I just don’t understand. One can find a verse for nearly anything they want. I put my faith in Jesus and strive to be like Him. i just don’t see this withdrawal as anything Christ modeled, practiced or encouraged.
    And just because it’s out of love, doesn’t mean it’s not punishment.
    I’m sure you think you’re doing what is right before God, and someday you’ll give an account, so I understand you have to do what you think is right. I just think it’s wrong, and I know someday I’ll have to answer for that to.
    Nate,
    I wish you all the best and thank you again for sharing your heartbreaking story. I hope many blessings find you and your family in your journey for truth.
    ~SacredStruggler

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  30. Dear Jim,

    Thank you for responding to me and others, as well as Nate. I think everyone here appreciates you are doing this, and I don’t think anyone doubts your sincerity or you love for your son and his family. But it is clear this withdrawal action is hurtful for many people, so I’m sure you would only want to do that if it was really necessary.

    Now the scriptures you quote don’t seem to make it at all necessary in this situation.

    As Nate has pointed out, 1 Cor 5:11 addresses a brother (in the fellowship) who is behaving immorally, but is no longer in the fellowship. But he is not behaving immorally, so that scripture doesn’t apply to his situation.

    The same is true of 2 Thessalonians 3:14, where Paul has been addressing the situation of a brother (i.e. a christian) who refuses to work but is idle (verse 6). He continues to discuss idleness and unwillingness to earn an honest living right up to the verse you quote. So that passage doesn’t apply to Nate either.

    Surely you must now treat Nate as a person you love who is no longer a christian brother and no longer in the fellowship, and therefore the statement in 1 Cor 5:9-13, where we are told we cannot and should not withdraw from contact with non-believers.

    I think the key is this. Nate regards himself as a non-believer, you and the church seem to regard him as a rebellious believer. But for how long can you honestly maintain that view? What if he is still a non-believer in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? When would you cease to regard him as a rebellious believers but a non-believer? (I hope this doesn’t occur by the way, but it is a serious question.)

    I do hope and pray you can see that you have interpreted the scriptures harshly and out of context. Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss this important matter with you. Best wishes.

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  31. Hi Nate, like everyone I admire your honesty. I dont want to bang on about my perspective, but it seems to me the religion you grew up with has little resemblance to the message of Christ. I know you examined your belief system and decided to reject it on the grounds of insufficient evidence – what if there is a completely different perspective that stands outside of the examination so far made, what if faith was never intended to be like that, and you were actually examining a thing that God has also rejected as false… just a few rambling thoughts, cheers Graeme

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  32. Well, I don’t know much, but I believe Jesus has the answer to William’s dilemma stated above. Nate changes his view and family continues to love and care. Does that make sense? No it doesn’t if when Nate changes his view my view is threatened. I have to reject Nate when he rejects my view.

    I am not assuming or saying it is easy but…people are not acceptable or unacceptable based on their views. If that were true, no one is acceptable to God. As modeler of Jesus love, Jesus followers continue to love when people change their views or become “unlovely” in our narrowly focused view of what is lovely. I have dear friends around me whose children have moved far away from what is wholesome, lovable, put your adjective here… They are called, we, all Christ followers are called, to love.

    I am left to assume that Nate’s family are not Christ followers. They are not, in that they are not following Him in the most basic tenet of His teaching–love.

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  33. @Graeme,
    Thanks for the comment. That is actually something I considered when I was going through my deconversion, but I’ll also try to keep an open mind on it as I continue this process.

    @papapound,
    Thanks for dropping by.

    I am left to assume that Nate’s family are not Christ followers. They are not, in that they are not following Him in the most basic tenet of His teaching–love.

    I see what you’re saying here, and I understand why it might seem that way. But I know my family and my wife’s family love us. They believe that God has commanded them to pull away from us, even though they don’t want to. It’s a sad situation, and they wish things were different. I just hope they’ll take another look at these passages on withdrawal.

    Anyway, thanks again for the comment!

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  34. Nate, I think what your family believes is that pulling away will show you the error of your ways and bring about the change they want to see in your beliefs. This is a common misconception about how God deals with us. Unfortunately, this pagan idea has crept into the church over the centuries as we have lost the sense of God drawing near to us in order to draw us near (Jesus’ incarnation and multiple verses I don’t have time to cite here). Unfortunately, especially in the West, we have adopted the idea that ‘tough love’ can win someone back to Christ. Utter nonsense. If Jesus showed us anything (and if the parable of the Prodigal Son speaks at all) it is that LOVE draws people near, not punishment, pain, or shunning. It’s sad to me what has happened to peoples’ concept of the Gospel. I am praying for a change in the thinking of Christians, and many have changed. Overall, though, the church continues on in the Dark Ages.

    Grace and Peace to you,
    JF

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  35. I’ve written to you a few times about my distaste for ‘withdrawal’ doctrine. I find it at best ineffective and at worst cruel to those who need to see Christ’s love the most.

    Mr. Owens,
    I’ve met you a few times, though I doubt you’d remember me. I believe you to be a good man, mostly by evidence of the son you raised. So please take the following with the understanding that it is coming from someone who loves the Lord, but also cares about your son and his eternal life.

    Your view of your duty to withdraw is flawed, it is never going to work, and in the end will only do more harm to Nathan and his family. I know its hard to see that, but it is the truth.

    I am aware that Nathan now believes my faith is useless, that the god of the bible does not exist. I can only pray that over time and through God’s power and grace I can one day convince him that he is wrong. I can only do this through interaction, fellowship and relationship building with him. This can not be accomplished by somebody practicing the CoC’s doctrine of withdrawal.

    I also realize that I may never accomplish my goal, in fact the odds are heavily stacked against that. However I am not comfortable with not giving it 100%, and not trusting that God can work through me. Remember, faith without works is dead, and simply believing that ‘God could change Nathan’s heart’ is way different than doing everything you can to help him.

    With respect and sorrow for the pain your family has been through.

    Matt Pair.

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  36. Thanks JudahFirst. And Matt — always great to hear from you. Thanks for the comment!

    And to everyone else, I’ve put up a new post that continues this conversation a little further, in case you’re interested.

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  37. By the way, Matt, I meant to say that I thought this was a very good (and well stated) point:

    I also realize that I may never accomplish my goal, in fact the odds are heavily stacked against that. However I am not comfortable with not giving it 100%, and not trusting that God can work through me. Remember, faith without works is dead, and simply believing that ‘God could change Nathan’s heart’ is way different than doing everything you can to help him.

    Thanks again for your kind comment!

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  38. I really enjoyed reading your story. I never know about the CoC withdrawing thing. My mom grew up in the denomination, but they weren’t too serious about it. I can’t imagine how incredibly hard it must have been.

    I am still dealing with the emotional fallout of my change in thinking. I can go from relief to depression and back pretty easily these days. It’s good to know others have been there too.

    I’m reading through the Daniel material here as well, so I can start giving a better explanation about why I am doubting.

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  39. Hi Alice,

    Thanks for all the comments! And if it helps, I also have links to several articles in my About section that cover contradictions and failed prophecies. For me, those were the biggest issues.

    I’m sorry you’re having to deal with some of these same issues as you go through your own evolution in thinking. I wish you all the best, and I’ll be sure to check out your blog as well. Take care!

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  40. Nate, I looked through the comments on this post, especially those from your father. It really touched my heart. How difficult for you and also how difficult this must be for your family. What must be the pain they are feeling when they feel obliged to withdraw from you, especially as they consider an eternity as perceive it to be?

    I knew this happened in the cults like the Jehovah Witnesses, but had not realised it was prevalent in mainstream Christianity.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Thanks for the comment, Peter. It had been a while since I’d read this thread, so I went back and reread everything just now. I wish I could say that in the three years since I wrote this things have completely changed with my parents, but they really haven’t. I talk to them a handful of times a year — typically to coordinate when they can see my kids. It’s cordial and everything; just very different from the way things used to be.

    However, things have gotten better with some of our other family members, which is great. I hope that trend will continue!

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  42. I just read this again from christianagnostic near the top:

    “So true…when I would hear apologists claim that Christianity could stand up to the most rigorous of scrutiny, I believed them. When I actually allowed my beliefs to be scrutinized, I had the same realization as you…there were actual problems with the truth claims of the Bible. Not just a bunch of wussy atheists who hated God, sitting around making excuses for not believing in his Word.”

    it made me think of someone walking on hot coals who believed that some special thing would allow them to do it without feeling pain – liking drinking milk before hand, as example.

    From birth a person is told that milk is good for them and that if they drink it it will enable them to grow strong and even be able to walk hot coals pain free. Told that lots of people had walked on hot coals after drinking milk and felt no pain.

    Since they fully believed these claims they step out onto the hot coals one day only to instantly feel the pain. They quickly jump off and abandoned their belief in milk’s power against hot coals. They tell other milk drinker the same, except most of the milk drinkers refuse to believe him, asserting that he just did something wrong, while they refuse to even try walking on the hot coals for themselves.

    anyways, long story for an obvious point, sorry.

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