Aka The Death of Ananias by Raphael (Acts 5)
What was original Christianity like, long before it acquired that name? Before Paul’s ideas took hold? Clearly the cult existed prior to Paul. He tells us so himself: worship groups were around – the one he writes to in Rome, for example – before he established his own.
The early faith seems to have emanated from the visions of early believers such as Cephas and James. Quite what they ‘saw’ is open to debate but it led to them setting up a sect within Judaism that focused on the saving power of a risen celestial being.
And everything was absolutely hunky dory within these early communities. Members shared all their possessions (except when they didn’t, in which case they were annihilated on the spot) and lived in perfect harmony together, worshipping Jesus and experiencing miracles on a daily basis.
According to Acts, that is. According to Paul, by the time he came to be involved, it was all very different. Many of the early ‘churches’ were characterised by squabbling, greed, legal disputes, confusion about doctrine, sleeping around, visiting prostitutes and power struggles (Galatians 5.20; 2 Thessalonians 3.14-15; 1 Corinthians 1.10, 4.21; 1 Corinthians 6.1-10; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; Galatians 1.6-9; 1 Corinthians 5.9-13 etc.) Worse still, there were defections by converts who came to their senses and left the cult.
How can this be when, according to Paul these people were inhabited by God’s holy spirit and saved once and for all by the redeeming blood of Jesus? Just as today, early believers, including Paul, had a hard time explaining how a person could be once saved and then lose their faith. They came up with various excuses how this could happen:
Excuse #1. Apostates were never really been saved: they were faking it in some way, their faith hadn’t been deep enough or Satan had snatched it away from them. One enterprising and influential cult member even came up with the sneaky idea of putting these explanations into the mouth of Jesus (because of course he would have foreseen the problem.) So arose the parable of the sower. According to Mark 4.1-20, the ‘word’ doesn’t always ‘take’. It might seem as if it has but sometimes it is uprooted by the cares of this world. Alternatively, it falls on stony ground and really doesn’t stand a chance of growing. Or Dick Dastardly Satan intervenes and destroys the faith of those who once believed. As a cultist called John later put it,
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us… (1 John 2.19)
Which really says nothing: ‘they left, so really they weren’t part of our gang to begin with.’ A brilliant bit of exposition.
Excuse #2. Apostates are still saved. In direct contradiction of the parable of the sower, some Christians invented a different way of accounting for those who had ‘fallen away’: the ‘once saved always saved’ argument, based on a few cherry-picked bible verses. Despite appearances, those who’ve left the faith are nonetheless still saved. The ‘reasoning’ is that because salvation is a work of God, it cannot be undone, no matter how much one refutes the faith, or provides reasons for leaving it or demonstrates the untruthfulness at the heart of it. Salvation is like a tattoo you regret getting but with which you’re stuck for the rest of your existence. (Except not really, for a whole host of reasons but principally because there’s no God to work the magic in the first place.) This line of reasoning runs entirely contrary to the acknowledgement in the parable of the sower that there are always those who will leave the faith.
Excuse #3. Apostates have been hurt by the church and as result have abandoned the faith (but Jesus is waiting for them to return!) While I don’t know anyone who has renounced Christianity for this reason alone, it does play a small part in some defections. Why? Because self-serving and vindictive Christians are evidence that Christianity simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t make ‘new creations’, infusing people with a holy spirit that makes them better people. Believers, despite their claims, are no more moral than those who are unsaved. You’ll know this if you’ve been on the receiving end of Christian judgment or condemnation. When Christians themselves undermine the claims of their religion it creates a justifiable scepticism in one-time brothers and sisters.
Excuse #4. Apostates just want to wallow in sin. Back to the parable of the sower for this one: ‘Satan has ensnared you into life of sin and debauchery and you have abandoned the one true way’. I have to say this is not true of any ex-Christians I know. They’ve dispensed with the wholly religious idea of ‘sin’, and now live their lives as authentically as they can, looking after their loved ones and helping others where possible. Then again, so what if people want to wallow a little bit?
The one reason that causes others to leave the fold that is never recognised by Christians is the gospel itself. No sir. That some people are able to see how irrational, contrived and downright untrue it is, is not a possibility Christians are willing to entertain. Jesus himself, however, seems to recognise that some people are just too intelligent to go along with it:
I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children (Matthew 11.25).
Even he knew – or, far more likely, the sect that put these words into his mouth – that for anyone capable of a modicum of critical thinking (‘the learned and the wise’), the cult’s claims simply don’t stand up to inspection.
There were people described in the NT who fit all the categories you identified. (Whether they were “saved” or not or will always be saved is a different issue.) Since you tell us that you were once a Christian, you can better speak to that than I.
But what I find disappointing is that for some reason many think they must justify their departure by painting a distorted picture of Christianity. The meme at the top of the page is an example. Ananias did not die because he would not give all his money to the cult. Peter told him that while the money was in his hand, it was his to do with any way he wished. He could keep it all and there would be no fault. He could have given part of it with no fault. IT WAS HIS LYING ABOUT GIVING IT ALL that was the problem.
And people who did not give all they had were not annihilated on the spot. Even people who lied were not annihilated on the spot. Ananias and his wife were the only two we know of.
Didn’t you see that? It is a critical part of the story.
There are surely issues you have with Christianity that don’t require distortion for you to make your point.
Oh give it a rest, Don. It’s a story; fiction from beginning to end, yet you’re splitting hairs over it: ‘Ananias died because he lied about not wanting to give his money to the cult, not because he didn’t want to give his money to the cult’ I mean,
give us a break! Then you say ‘not everyone was annihilated by Peter’s new superpowers, only two people were.’
If you’re not allowing me my take on this silly story then don’t expect me to listen your idiosyncratic interpretations of other silly stories from your magic book.
Then read it like fiction. When I taught literature, I taught students to pay attention to the details if they were to determine the theme of the piece. As someone acquainted with literature, you know that. So, what is the theme (message) of the little story?
BTW there is a similar story in Numbers 15:32-36. After that there is no record of anyone being stoned for working on the Sabbath. What do you see as the underlying similarity as far as reason is concerned?
Don’t even think of messin’ wid da mob or da boyz is gonna deal wid ya. They does miracles. Capeesh?
Read it like a story. You don’t have to believe in God or gods to do this, but you should not leave out crucial details about God or gods in you analysis.
I already did that.
You’re forgetting though that this isn’t your literature class and I don’t have to do any homework you set.
Just following up on your idea of this piece being a story. Don’t read into a story your own ideas. Read out of it the ideas of the author. That’s a fault of many Bible readers, Christian as well those approach it as literature.
You’re hilarious, Don. You fall for the intentionalist fallacy every time. Remember, anything involving magic – like Peter zapping someone who doesn’t fall in line with cult beliefs – is fiction. Believe it all you like, this only demonstrates your naivety and gullibility.
Excuse 4 doesn’t even make sense as a hypothetical reason.
Why would someone who just wants to “sin” leave the religion that promises forgiveness for nearly anything?
Because it also promises change. It does not take great wisdom to see that sin – lawlessness, as the scriptures have it – is destructive of everything good. The current war in Ukraine is a good example. Lawlessness destroys even those who embrace it.
I became a Christian because I saw in myself a fatal flaw. I needed forgiveness, yes. But I needed to be changed just as much. And I am being changed. I am grateful for that.
So if I may continue, one reason people leave Christianity is that they do not want to change. It is not the only one, but it is more often the case than we realize.
Change to what?
They don’t want to change their lives. They like who they are, how they are living, and their values. Never mind that personally and collectively all of that is creating a world in crisis and a society that is crashing. All of that is someone else’s problem. Entertain me and I’m happy.
Funny. I don’t see things that way. To me, the “religious” are the ones creating crisis. Instead of simply letting people live as they choose, they want everyone to follow the “heavenly” Pied Piper. And funny thing. Those that do are some of the worst offenders.
One reason I left Christianity is it did change me; into something I wasn’t. I became a fake and a fraud. And before you say this was the Holy Spirit or some such, it wasn’t. It was the effect of belonging to a collective (the church) that imposed conformity on its members. That’s how change is achieved in a religious system.
That is not how change is achieved really. But you are right, the church too often imposes righteousness on its members. Probably every Christian experiences that at some time. That is legalism. But legalism always fails because it tries to change us from the outside in by imposing rules and expectations. The Bible tells me that change happens from the inside out.
There is at least one good thing that is achieved by legalism; it reveals how basically powerless we are to really change. It creates frustration. It preaches reformation when what we need is transformation. Frustration leads one to either give it all up, as you have done, or to seeking the answer by looking deeper.
I and many believers experience transformation by simply soaking up Jesus. (2 Cor. 3:18)
And we find that it is wonderfully freeing .