Why I’m not an atheist, part 7: If you don’t go to church, you’re not a Christian

In this post, the final in my series on why I’m not an atheist, I will address the topic that the post’s title references (nominal “Christians”) and offer some summarizing and final thoughts on the entire series of posts.

Yes, I’m being very blunt here: If you do not go to church; if you do not pray regularly; if you do not read the Scriptures regularly; you are simply not a Christian and have no right to call yourself such. You are, in fact, a functional atheist. You are practicing atheism while claiming to be a Christian. And there are far too many people who do this; I myself was raised this way.

Practicing atheism while calling yourself a Christian is a slander on the name of the faith. It is a slander against the millions (more than 50 million in the 20th century alone!) who have given their lives for being Christians. The Christians of the ancient pagan Roman Empire, of the Islamic empires of the Middle Ages, and of the Soviet Union in the 20th century risked arrest, torture, and death to be able to attend church services, pray in their homes, teach their children about the Faith, and read the Holy Scriptures. These are Christians; those who have full and unimpeded access to the services, to prayer in their homes, to tools for teaching their children about Christ, and to the Scriptures, but choose not to utilize these things, are not Christians.

I’ve heard many reasons (excuses, really) for why people choose not to go to church. Some people think that the church just wants their money. Others view church-going Christians as self-righteous and judgmental. Many will point to the sins of the clergy, such as sexual abuse by priests. But there are two obvious questions that need to be asked of those who present such excuses:

  1. The Church is a hospital for the healing (salvation) of those (sinners) who are sick with the disease of sin. Do you go to a hospital and expect to find healthy people or sick people? (“I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:32)
  2. Why are you letting the sins and shortcomings of others (whether real or perceived) be an obstacle between yourself and Christ? The Lord has told us what we must do to serve him and each of us individually are accountable to him for what we do. (“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” – Romans 10:14)

There is simply no excuse for being a nominal “Christian,” especially in America today where our religious freedom is our guaranteed right and there is no fear of persecution as there are in so many other places around the world today. Christ himself does not give us the option of being nominal followers of him; he states very bluntly, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

If you don’t want to pray; if you don’t want to read the Scriptures; if you don’t want to go to church — fine; but stop claiming to be a Christian and just embrace the title you’ve already put into practice: atheist.

Now I want to offer some final thoughts on my series on why I’m not an atheist before I end this final post in that series.

There are many today who would like to see Jesus Christ as something other than the Son of God sent into the world to save mankind from eternal death. Each new book that makes its way to the “Christianity” section of the bookstore proposes some new and innovative theory about “who Jesus really was.” He was a feminist, some exclaim. No, he was a social revolutionary, others yell. On the contrary, others say, he was a simple Jewish rabbi. Harrumph!, others spit, clearly he was a great mystic and moral teacher.

Each new author in each new book attempts to come up with a “new and amazing” theory about Christ, remaking and reshaping him into their own image — into what they would like him to be. Even atheists attempt to claim him, many accepting him as a great moral teacher and social revolutionary, ahead of his time on feminist issues and economics. But the truth is that the Gospels and the clear tradition held to by the earliest Christians all the way to today do not allow for such interpretations to be made in any honesty.

C.S. Lewis, the famous 20th century Christian author, famously wrote that the Lord offered us only three options for the way in which we are to view him. Either he was a liar or a lunatic or the Lord. Jesus Christ spent several years traveling around ancient Palestine claiming to be God come in the flesh. Imagine someone came to you and told you they were God. You’ve got three options:

  1. He’s lying.
  2. He’s a lunatic.
  3. He really is the Lord.

Atheists and other non-Christians have no right to claim him; they are being dishonest with themselves and others if they say anything but that he was a liar and/or out of his mind.

So now the choice is yours to make. I’ve demonstrated, in this series of posts,

  1. that Christianity is the root cause of modern morality,
  2. that without Christianity the natural (and logical) tendency is toward utilitarianism and nihilism,
  3. that atheists, in order to be consistent, must view human beings as no more than animals,
  4. that atheism is incapable of producing great individuals like Mother Teresa, while Christianity regularly does so,
  5. that atheism is a religious choice, not a choice against religion,
  6. that the Resurrection of Christ is a historically verifiable fact,
  7. that the common stereotype of Christianity found in the minds of evangelical fundamentalists and atheists alike is not real Christianity, but a later invention under pagan influence,
  8. that the Orthodox Church is the Church founded by the Apostles and, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, continues to hold to the ancient Apostolic Faith,
  9. and that Christianity does not give the option of nominal adherence, but only active faith.

And now it is time for you to give your answer to the question Christ puts to us all:

“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

22 thoughts on “Why I’m not an atheist, part 7: If you don’t go to church, you’re not a Christian”

  1. I agree. I think there are times when we drift from the church and the Lord has mercy on us and calls us back.

    However, I do believe that if we truly love our Lord, then we will love what He loves, and He has declared the church to be His bride and called His followers to serve it. THus… I don't think one can truly follow God and not be in the Church.

  2. Peter:

    Good catch — duly corrected; thanks!

    Kacie:

    I don't think one can truly follow God and not be in the Church.

    Well said; I totally agree.

  3. Yes.. only this time I wasn't kidding.. 🙂 NEVER underestimate the power of nominalism..

    For instance, I was taught basic Christian doctrines and morals by my grandma.. but Church was BORING!

    The only thing that I did like was the preaching: it was the only thing that was truly meaningfull and to which I could relate to..

  4. And look at you now — #1 Orthodox internet apologist 😉

    I've always been the opposite, honestly — and I can see it in my son too — it's always during the homilies that he and I start to get a little antsy, but we're actively engaged the rest of the time 🙂 We're still working on lighting candles without the need for a fire extiguisher close at hand, however…

  5. [According to] “C.S. Lewis…Jesus Christ spent several years traveling around ancient Palestine claiming to be God come in the flesh….[So] You've got three options:

    1. He's lying.
    2. He's a lunatic.
    3. He really is the Lord.”

    But there actually are more options, like for example believing that he didn't ever claim to be God. After all, in the Synoptics he never claims any such thing, but only in John. In the Synoptics he begs God to “Let this cup pass from me, if there be any other way” to save mankind besides the cross and he sweats great drops of blood, because he is a man afraid of death like any other man. But in John he says “My soul is troubled now, but what shall I say? Father save me from this hour? But for this hour came I into this world!!! Father, glorify Thy name!” So in John he is a God who has no fear of death but rather absolute determination to finish the job he came into the world to do. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke he wants to avoid the cross if at all possible — in John he mocks the very idea that he might try to get out of the cross. In the Synoptics he's just a man (a prophet, but still just a man) — in John, he's God. And John's gospel apparently wasn't fully canonical until after Arius' objections to it were made heresy at Nicea, so prior to Nicea the fourth option was much more apparent than now. Its still obvious if you know how to read.

  6. Beowulf

    like for example believing that he didn't ever claim to be God.

    In other words, just ignoring everything he ever said. Right, that's a viable option… not.

    After all, in the Synoptics he never claims any such thing, but only in John.

    I've seen others try to wiggle out of the Lord/lunatic/liar problem in the same way. The attempted wiggling doesn't hold up though.
    1. Read Jacob Neusner's A Rabbi Talks With Jesus — he reaches the very same conclusion about who Christ says he is based on what Christ says about the law from a Jewish perspective; and he only used the Gospel of Matthew, not John!
    2. The argument only works if we avoid St. Paul's epistles — and, of course, the question is: why would we? St. Paul's epistles, according to a majority of scholars, were written 15-25 years before the first gospel was written — and very clearly refer to Christ as God. Why should we suppose that Mark turned back the clock to a lower Christology when he wrote his gospel and that Christology had to wait until John's gospel to return to the state it was at when Paul wrote his epistles? Doesn't make sense.

    And John's gospel apparently wasn't fully canonical until after Arius' objections to it were made heresy at Nicea,

    Your willingness to completely distort history has been full evidenced in the past; the rest of us, though, prefer real scholarship over agenda-driven drivel.

  7. 1. You say Jacob Neusner's comes to the conclusion that Jesus claimed to be God reading only Matthew not John. — I haven't actually read Neusner's work but only read reviews, and I don't know how you are aquainted with his work, either by reviews like myself or if you read it yourself. But from what I know of his work it focuses mainly on the Sermon on the Mount and how it functions as a new Torah. The conclusion to take from that is obviously not that Jesus is claiming to be God but that he is claiming to have authority to provide a new Law that replaces the one that Moses gave. After all when Jesus speaks of God in this sermon, he speaks of God in the third person, and he never says anything like “I and the Father are one” as in John. In fact a little after this sermon, he bites the rich young ruler's head off for calling him good (in the standard text of Matthew 19:17) with the whole outrage about How dare you call me good! Only one is good–God! which is a clear denial of being God.

    2. The argument only works if we avoid St. Paul's epistles — The argument is about Jesus as he historically was not as he has been interpreted theologically. Paul is a theologian not a historian, whereas the evangelists are both. Paul has no concern for Jesus' life and doesn't give us any details about it–he preaches only Christ crucified “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;” (1 Cor 1:23) as an event of theological significance than historical. What Jesus taught is of no importance to Paul. If we want to know what Jesus actually said it is in the gospels, not Paul, that we must look. Besides, Paul didn't even know Jesus. He just saw a vision or 3 after Jesus was crucified. “St. Paul's epistles, according to a majority of scholars, were written 15-25 years before the first gospel” — I don't buy that. Maybe they were written before our four gospels were edited into their final form, but they (Paul's epistles) also were edited into their final form about the same time, circa 180. The only way Paul's epistles could really have preceded all the gospels is if Marcionism was the original version of Christianity, in which case Jesus' being God would not mean he is the God of the Old Testament nor that our present New Testament accurately reflects him. This argument in favor of the liar, lunatic, LORD (all caps) scenario doesn't hold.

  8. As to your complain against my comment that “John's gospel apparently wasn't fully canonical until after Arius' objections to it were made heresy at Nicea,” the chart you link to at http://www.ntcanon.org/table.shtml does not disprove that. It shows what writer accepted the gospel of John, but that does not prove it was officially considered canonical by the whole church. That doesn't appear to be the case until Nicea — otherwise, how else could Arianism have gotten such a stronghold within the church??? Nobody can read John 1 as inspired Scripture and then question Jesus' deity. So, either half of the church didn't accept John as Scripture, or the Arian controversy never actually happened (and we know it happened). There is no way of getting around the fact that the real issue at the council was the authority of John's gospel. Like Gaius of Rome before him who had rejected the gospel of John as a Gnostic forgery, Arius obviously rejected it as a forgery and about half the church followed him in this — thus the council was about the canonical status of John.

  9. As for the premise “that Christianity is the root cause of modern morality,” it seems it is actually the root cause of its demise. Christianity elevates ceremony above morality. If you're a good moral person you will still go to hell (Christianity says) if you don't accept these ceremonies and accept these historical claims. How is this a force for morality? It seems Religious Deism founded our modern morality, since it was Deists who invented the United States of America, the Bill of Rights, the concept of Human Rights and all that. What we are finding today is that since Christian ministers and priests were capable of snuffing Deism out, they snuffed out morality along with it. The churches are in moral disarray. Most teach faith onlyism. Most attack morality outright. We're headed back to the middle ages, when Christianity reigned supreme and there was NO morality.

  10. Beowulf:

    I haven't actually read Neusner's work but only read reviews

    Maybe you should actually read it before you comment on it; I know we're not all geniuses like you but that's what the rest of us do. While you're at it, read Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth, which is mostly a response to Neusner's work.

    and I don't know how you are aquainted with his work

    By reading it.

    it focuses mainly on the Sermon on the Mount and how it functions as a new Torah.

    God gave the Torah; Moses never acted on his own authority but on God's. Christ gave the Gospel; Christ consistently acted on his own authority (“You have heard it said… but I say unto you…”). It's not that hard. Your incapacity for logical thought is disturbing.

    he speaks of God in the third person,

    Great refutation of Modalism; now actually try to address Orthodox Trinitarianism.

    How dare you call me good! Only one is good–God!

    But that's not what he said, is it? Good job misquoting the Lord.

    as an event of theological significance than historical.

    For St. Paul, the two were one and the same; try reading his letters to the Corinthians again.

    What Jesus taught is of no importance to Paul.

    In fact, try reading ALL of Paul's letters again.

    If we want to know what Jesus actually said it is in the gospels, not Paul, that we must look.

    And we're really to assume that the Gospel writers were completely unfamiliar with Paul even though they wrote 15-25 years after him, within churches that he frequented and even founded, and two of them (Luke and Mark) were his longtime traveling companions? As with most of what you say, this stretches the imagination significantly.

    Maybe they were written before our four gospels were edited into their final form, but they (Paul's epistles) also were edited into their final form about the same time, circa 180.

    Once you're done reading Paul's letters (and the Synoptics) again — perhaps you should expand into reading the Apostolic Fathers as well.

  11. Beowulf:

    It shows what writer accepted the gospel of John, but that does not prove it was officially considered canonical by the whole church.

    Right, it just happened to be considered canonical by every single Christian writer after the mid-2nd century — but that doesn't mean anything, right?

    otherwise, how else could Arianism have gotten such a stronghold within the church???

    The Arians used the same Scriptures that the Orthodox used (Athanasius, amongst others, points this out frequently); the different was in interpretation. In fact, some of the Arians' favorite prooftexts came from the Gospel of John.

    Nobody can read John 1 as inspired Scripture and then question Jesus' deity.

    Except the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses … and, of course, the ancient Arians. Athanasius wrote several times on the Arian (mis)interpretation of John 1.

    So, either half of the church didn't accept John as Scripture,

    When was “half of the church” Arian?

    (and we know it happened).

    Or maybe we don't, if we're willing to play loosey-goosey with history like you are.

    There is no way of getting around the fact that the real issue at the council was the authority of John's gospel.

    Right — even though the canon of Scripture — whether John or any other book — was never once mentioned at all. That makes sense… not.

    Arius obviously rejected it as a forgery

    Sure; he only quoted from it as Scripture but “obviously” he “rejected it as a forgery” — obviously! Once your done reading the Synoptics, Paul's letters, and the Apostolic Fathers, perhaps you should read Arius' writings too.

    and about half the church followed him in this

    He had 17 Bishops in support of him at Nicaea out of a total of about 318. 17 is not half of 318. Most of them represented relatively small dioceses — so they even represented less of a percentage than their own actual number.

  12. Beowulf:

    We're headed back to the middle ages, when Christianity reigned supreme and there was NO morality.

    I'm not going to waste my time addressing this; perhaps you should re-read my posts (after you're done with the Synoptics, Paul's letters, the Apostolic Fathers, and Arius' writings).

    Here's the deal: I'm sick of you coming here, making insane assertions that contradict every bit of scholarly research in existence and then retreating into silence every time you're blown out of the water. From now on, every time you post here you will provide a scholarly and/or primary source for each fact-claim that you make. If you fail to do this, your post will be automatically deleted without further discussion. Prove that you're interested in learning and researching like the rest of us and not just trolling — or go away. Simple as that.

  13. I've read Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. Come to think of it that's where I know of Neusner from. I've also read the so-called apostolic fathers, and most of the ante-nicene fathers generally. And of course Alexander and Athanasius. Since most of what you say is just typical catho-prot regurgitation the only thing I wish to respond to is your question “when was half the church Arian?”. Well if it never was the case why was Nicea held? You don't get a universal council called by the emperor himself over one guy who has only like three followers! Unless this issue was splitting the church across the whole empire why would the emperor get involved?

  14. Beowulf:

    just typical catho-prot regurgitation

    Yes, I'm sure that every single scholar of a wide variety of religious affiliations — atheist, Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox, etc. — are all just regurgitating Catholic & Protestant propaganda.

    Thank you, by the way, for a classic example of the “ad hominem fallacy”.

    Well if it never was the case why was Nicea held?

    Why do you make me quote myself? “He had 17 Bishops in support of him at Nicaea out of a total of about 318.”

    Perhaps you can cite a scholarly source or a primary text in favor of your position rather than some kind of haphazard adolescent logic?

  15. No source I've ever read minimizes the controversy the way you do. You insist “He had 17 Bishops in support of him at Nicaea out of a total of about 318” — but that's by the end of the council, and that only counts bishops not parishoners and not presbyters, and only the bishops who were in attendance since some bishops refused to even show up. And of the 318, many who came as Arians caved just as a result of the cult of personality of the Emperor. Eusebius himself came as an Arian and left an Athanasian, remember — and it was he who wrote a monument on idolatry in praise of the Emperor (the unbaptized emperor, need I add?). You can play naive, but we all know that civil penalties were imposed in the council on anyone who voted in favor of Arianism. Most bishops caved because of the threat of compulsory public service or other fines, even banishment. The 18 that had the balls to vote their conscience in face of such antichristian tactics ought to be held as heroes, regardless what their position was.

  16. Beowulf:

    No source I've ever read minimizes the controversy the way you do.

    What sources have you read?

    You insist “He had 17 Bishops in support of him at Nicaea out of a total of about 318”

    I don't “insist” as if I made that up — that's what both Socrates and Sozomen, two of the best primary sources for the Council, state.

    — but that's by the end of the council

    No, that's at the beginning of the Council.

    and that only counts bishops not parishoners and not presbyters

    Each Bishop was allowed to take two priests and three deacons with him. So, assuming that each Arian Bishop took his maximum amount allowed and that all of the Priests and deacons he took with him shared his Arian leanings, that's 17×2 and 17×3 respectively. As for parishioners, we certainly don't have polling data, but the historical sources indicate that the Arians were always and always continued to be in the minority.

    and only the bishops who were in attendance since some bishops refused to even show up.

    Source?

    And of the 318, many who came as Arians caved just as a result of the cult of personality of the Emperor.

    Source?

    Eusebius himself came as an Arian and left an Athanasian, remember

    Which Eusebius? Eusebius of Nicomedia or Eusebius of Caesarea? Neither became an Athanasian, either way…

    — and it was he who wrote a monument on idolatry in praise of the Emperor

    Be more specific; what writing are you referring to?

    (the unbaptized emperor, need I add?)

    Great attempt at dredging up historical trash that's already been covered by numerous scholars.

    You can play naive, but we all know that civil penalties were imposed in the council on anyone who voted in favor of Arianism.

    If we all know it, then what's your source? The historical fact is that St. Constantine imposed no penalties on anyone for voting a certain way at the Council and that he eventually went back on enforcing its decrees and ordered Arius readmitted to Communion; he himself was eventually baptized by the semi-Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia and Arian emperors ruled Rome until the time of Julian the Apostate.

    Most bishops caved because of the threat of compulsory public service or other fines, even banishment.

    Source?

    The 18

    Source?

    I told you once already to start giving sources for your fallacious fact-claims; this is strike two.

  17. Thanks for taking the time to write about this. I came across this series from Orthodox Apologetics blog. It was a great refresher for me! Keep up the good work. I hope you are having a productive Lent.

  18. Hi David, thanks for your post. I have to say though, there are many who don't go to orthodox church but are strong followers of the commandments of Christ- I would go as far as to say that there are some that are more zealous and God-loving than many orthodox christians I know especially in level headed charismatic circles.

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