Why I left the faith: How the church must do better
Quek Hao Yi // July 12, 2017, 1:32 pm
Editor’s note: This was written by a reader in response to There is a place to be vulnerable and Don’t depend on the church to give you all the answers.
Some might ask: Why publish a story that doesn’t paint the church in the most positive light? The truth is, most of the New Testament doesn’t paint the church in the best light! Most of Paul’s letters to churches was to gently – sometimes not-so-gently – point out their missteps, then exhort them to consider their actions and posture in the context of Christlikeness.
We publish this not as an exercise in criticising the church. But we believe the church should always be in a process of honest self-examination. Where we have missed the mark, how can we improve? Where we have lost sight of our kingdom purpose, how can we refocus? Where we have hurt someone, how can we be part of the healing and reconciliation?
The church is human. Or rather, the church is humans – a collective of fallen flesh and carnal nature, doing our best to stay on the narrow path, but not always succeeding. In such instances, we must have the humility to ask for forgiveness, and the posture to change.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong — not so that people will see that we have stood the test, but so that you will do what is right, even though we may seem to have failed.” (2 Corinthians 13:5-7)
I grew up in a church, with my parents both church leaders. Bedtime stories were Bible stories, dinner conversations were sermon lessons. I was even water baptised at the age of 14. My baptism verse was Proverbs 3:5-6 – probably the only passage I remember to this day.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”
Who would have known that I would eventually come to “lean on my own understanding”? Prophecy brownie points for the pastor who gave me this verse.
My eventual decision to leave the church at the age of 21 was not a rash decision. I had been grappling with many unspoken issues in church before I finally decided to pull the plug. These gaps lurk in the darkness – just that most people refuse to openly acknowledge them.
Judgment by church leaders could cast such a looming shadow that it was something even harsher than the sin itself.
MY ISSUES WITH THE CHURCH
1. The lack of empathy
Blame it on the Asian culture if you may, but emotions in the church are “occasional”. Not in the sense of them being few and far between, but because it seemed there had to be an occasion in order for emotions to be justified. Tears and sadness are limited to funerals, anger is reserved for discipline (along with even further justifications for Holy anger).
To be angry, to be guilty, and to be ashamed, or any “borderline” emotions were seen as ungodly and to be prayed away through submission. It appeared that there was no place for anything other than calmness, determination and discernment. It created an emotionally mute environment, perpetrated by both culture and religion.
In this unemotional environment, it’s no wonder people who cry at the altar are seen as having a breakthrough. If that was the case, would you say that my depressed friend was having a breakthrough every night? It makes you realise why mental health is so overlooked in Christianity.
2. The lack of confidentiality
Full accountability – something that I was uncomfortable with because I was always a very private person, and at the same time, I was dealing with sexual sin. I found that there was no one I could talk to due to the nature of the sin.
Judgment cast such a looming shadow that it was something even harsher than the sin itself.
This was also used as a weapon of pride among leaders; one of my fellow cell leaders would brandish his “knowledge” of his cell members’ lives.
On one hand, it made me feel inferior because I felt that I should have the same “level of knowledge” of my cell members as he did. But on the other hand, I was not comfortable with him telling me of someone else’s private confession. He did not know the balance of accountability and privacy.
I once even overheard them negotiating over information about others, gained through conversations shared in the spirit of accountability. This made me even more afraid of sharing my journey.
3. The lack of relevance
Most of my friends attended a Bible school right after Junior College and they returned with a new fervour in Biblical scholarship. They would carry on with their debates on Calvinism and Arminianism, condemning church leaders and members alike for their – I quote – “pitiful faiths”.
I was never great at memorising Bible verses, and these people scared me with their deafening aggression for their faith and knowledge. I used to think that knowledge opened the minds and ears, but the church taught me that “knowledge is power”, and not in a good way.
Shortly after this, I found I had consistently more questions than answers that no one in the church could give more of a reply to, beyond “God knows” and “Have faith”. Yes, there is a lot of theological scholarship, but not enough in the area of apologetics, or practical application.
The same answers that my parents’ generation are satisfied with – “in God’s timing”, “trust His plan” – does not satisfy my generation. I attended external apologetics seminars and courses and looked to my church leaders but I could never be satisfied.
With all this biblical knowledge and theological debates, what is the use of blind faith?
Some day, if I set foot again into the church, I sincerely hope it will have changed – facing the facts, and grappling with them honestly. Free, as it preaches to be.
WHAT SHOULD CHURCH BE?
And so I left the church, sickened by all of my experiences.
Despite my disbelief, I do care for the people in the religion. I am the only person in both my immediate and extended family who is a non-believer. To be the only person with their eyes open during meal prayers, and the only person who keeps silent during Christmas carols – I can see the faith and the joy that they hold, but I constantly wonder: How many of them are lying to themselves constantly as I did?
I guess I’m writing all this from a unique position of being a non-Christian, where I hope someday I can find the conviction again to believe.
I found the church that I left was destitute, unable to provide for its members. And some day, if I set foot again into the church, I sincerely hope it will have changed – facing the facts, and grappling with them honestly. Free, as it preaches to be.
If the church is unable to embrace our being, or if it is a place where emotions, confidentiality and theological discourse are unacceptable, then where else can you turn to?
If you feel now as I had, I urge you to embrace questioning your faith and examining your salvation with fear and trembling. Be honest with yourself. It is only through thorough inspection that beliefs and convictions are strengthened.