by C Michael Patton
I sat down with a young lady not too long ago and had a conversation. This was a conversation about faith—her faith. Better put, this was a conversation about a faith that once was and is no more. She was a very interesting and bright lady—inquisitive, well-read, and very suspicious. She began by telling me that she was a Christian (past tense) and had since left the faith. Christ was once a part of her confession, but, as she recounted to me, after a long voyage of not finding sufficient answers for her doubts, she believes that she had no choice but to follow her own integrity and renounce Christ all together. I asked her what her problems were and she became very emotional. It was like I represented Christianity and she was ready to take it all out on me.
Ignorance. Pity. Shame. These are all good descriptions of what she thought of Christianity. But the primary description that I felt coming from here was “betrayal.” She had been betrayed by the Church because they duped her into a belief not unlike that of the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. When she discovered this “betrayal,” no one had a valid answer or excuse. So she left. She is now an unbeliever—a soon-to-be evangelistic unbeliever no doubt. I talked to her for a long time, but she was at such a point in this process that no matter what I said, she was not open to listen.
As many of you know, a part of my ministry is dealing with people who doubt their faith just like this young lady. I have well over a dozen books giving autobiographical sketches of those who once proclaimed to be Christian and are now evangelistic atheists, agnostics, or skeptics, with their goal to convert or, rather, unconvert others. I have been in contact with many people who either have already left or are on the verge of leaving in the form of emails, phone calls and visits in person. Many, I am glad to say, have been restored.
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Leaving (Christ)ianity is an extremely serious issue that the Church is facing today. Under our nose is an epidemic in Christianity—an epidemic of unbelief among our own. Crowding our churches are those who are somewhere in the process of leaving. No, I am not talking about leaving a denomination. I am not talking about abandoning some institutionalized expression of Christianity. I am not talking about leaving the church (though related). And I am not even talking about renouncing their beliefs. I am talking about those who are leaving Christ. (And this is coming from a Calvinist who does not believe that those who are truly elect will ever leave).
Over 31 million Americans are saying “check please” to the church and are off to find answers elsewhere. Jeff Schadt, coordinator of Youth Transition Network, says thousands of youth fall away from the church when transitioning from high school to college. He and other youth leaders estimate that 65 to 94 percent of high school students stop attending church after graduating. From my studies and experience I find that leaving church is many times the first visible step in one’s pilgrimage away from Christ.
There are so many complicated reasons why people “leave Christ” and I don’t suppose to do justice to them here. But I do want to talk about the steps that I have observed over the years that people take in leaving (Christ)ianity…
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