General Commentary on De-Conversions
You might think that this is going to be an article on Christians de-converting to atheism. No. I’ve interacted with those guys over the years I’ve been doing apologetics. I can actually sympathize with their position, and I can even allow for validity in some of their arguments.
One in particular that I hear again and again is that Christians don’t read the Bible for what it says; they cherry-pick whatever doctrine they want to believe and ignore the rest. That’s not true of every Christian, even though the ex-Christian turned critic of his former faith wants the reader of his blog (don’t they all have blogs?) to believe as much.
To bolster this claim, the ex-Christian typically points to the fact that there are many, many different denominations of Christianity. They usually put the number of denominations between 33,000 and 40,000, but it changes quite often. Thirty-three thousand was the prevailing number I heard when I founded this ministry in 2006. By 2009, 38,000 was the prevailing number. In late 2010, I heard 42,000 somewhere.
This number is grossly inflated and literally has no basis in reality. I’ve pointed to this article by James White as refutation (White revisited the issue here) and asked for some substantiation of that number from people who throw it to me. I have yet to receive any documentation proving that number. I’m sure I never will.
Leaving that aside, the next statement ex-Christians usually make is that, with all of these denominations, if you don’t like what doctrines your church has cherry-picked, then you can just go to the church down the road.
This is a horrible mentality, but often is the case with some Christians. Church-hopping is never the answer to a dispute. This is something Catholics have right on the money: the church is the central repository of doctrine; “a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The Christian should be in submission to his local church. He shouldn’t just hop to another church that suits his whims.
I can develop and defend this idea later. For now, let’s just take it as a given.
Recently, I have seen two examples of public figures church-hopping. When public figures do something, it lends respectability to the practice–however illegitimate the practice may be. Something like this just makes Christians look bad, or even hypocrital.
It irritates me to no end when anyone jumps churches–but what makes this horribly sad is that the two church jumpers making headlines this week are Roman Catholic priests.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about staying put where God called you. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that God will call you to do something other than what you’re doing when he finds you, but you should approach such notions with much thought and reflection. And prayer, of course!
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Cor 7:17-24)
There is a great spiritual lesson in this passage. Paul urges Christians to stay in the condition in which they are called. The first portion of the passage talks specifically about theological differences, using circumcision as an example. It’s not the religious practice itself that saves you. With God, it’s always about doing the right thing from the right heart, not the manner or practice of doing it (Prv 21:2). The second part of the passage speaks of current duties, which is why it is often given to people who want to change jobs to enter the ministry.
Hopping from one theological camp to another, or from one job to another isn’t what God wants us to do. He wants us to stay in the same circumstance in which we are called, only moving to a new location after much prayer and reflection.
Yet, what we’ve seen recently is the super-sad case of Addison Hart. Hart was an Anglican priest who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1997, but has just recently denounced Roman Catholicism and re-entered the Anglican Communion. If I were the Anglicans, I wouldn’t be too proud of this guy. He might jump ship again! It doesn’t sound as if he had a firm grounding in either theological camp, which would explain why he’s jumped ship twice in a little over a decade. Father John Zuhlsdorf critiques. Sorry; this never actually happened. A friend of Fr. Hart wrote me to explain that he is still a member of the Roman Catholic Church; he just resigned his pastorate. I apologize for the confusion!
Then, you have the case of Father Alberto Cutie. He was a well-known and well-liked priest from the Miami area who had a popular radio show discussing theological issues. Until a tabloid printed pictures of his hand on the butt of a gorgeous, bikini-clad girl while his tongue checked her for tonsillitis. Not exactly living the pious, celibate life of a good Roman Catholic priest (but at least the object of his affection was of legal age). Cutie took a leave of absence to decide where God wanted him to go. He then entered the Episcopal Church, and published a book on Tuesday about his decision to leave the Catholic Church. Jimmy Akin critiques, and lays out alternatives.
What you have here is the epitome of what’s wrong in Christianity. Truth is truth. You can’t decide what’s true for you. William Lane Craig is being taken to task for making truth a matter of public opinion. Truth isn’t public opinion, it isn’t a consensus, it simply is and is discovered by those seeking it. Therefore, by jumping ship in this way these guys are lending credence to the idea that you can decide what’s true for you.
Maybe Hart and Cutie really discovered that the truth lay in a different venue then what they were in. But my guess is not. I’m betting Hart didn’t thoroughly check what he was getting into before he switched teams. Which is interesting, because I could have told him about papal primacy (he said supremacy, but that’s not really what Catholics call it) and infallibility. I don’t know why those doctrines are suddenly a problem for him after more than a decade in the Catholic Church.
I’d bet any amount of money Cutie is switching to the Episcopal Church because they allow married priests and not for conviction on sharing their doctrine. He realized that he wanted to marry this girl, and instead of putting his original vows before God first (which is what the Christian is called to do), he put his carnal desire first and found a church that would allow married ministers. There is a virtual bottomless chasm of theological difference between the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. I can’t believe he switched out of any sort of conviction of the truth of Episcopal over Catholicism.
At the end of the day, this makes all Christians look bad and adds some concrete examples for the skeptical argument that Christians cherry-pick doctrine. Stuff like this makes my job of arguing for the veracity of the Christian faith that much harder, more so than cutesy Christian slogans that misrepresent theology.