Relegious Dogma

             To begin this teaching, I’ll define “dogma” as defined by most dictionaries: “Dogma is when an individual or group teaches you something in an attempt to convince you their view is authoritative or the only truth about a subject—that their belief or view is the only correct one.”

             Dogma can be asserted or presented in many different areas of life: politics, business, education, religion, science, psychology, archaeology, etc. In this teaching, I’ll be focusing on religious dogma. Religious dogma is not new; it’s been around since the dawn of human history. All religions of all time have presented religious dogma—yes, even the Christian religion.

                There are numerous religious dogmas—too numerous to discuss in this teaching. I will concentrate on only a small sampling of various dogmas that seem to plague contemporary evangelical believers in Jesus the most. I’ll be focusing mostly on those within the ranks of evangelical believers in Jesus in the western world, not among “high church” believers such as Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, or Eastern Orthodoxy; they don’t seem to be plagued by these types of dogmas as much as evangelical believers in Jesus are. Of course, high churches have their own dogmas to contend with. 

                My listing of such destructive and damaging dogmas is personal in that I simply feel these are the worst I have had to personally deal with when visiting, talking, teaching, and counseling with other evangelical believers in Jesus. Others might have different dogmas that they choose to list. There are many: scores, perhaps hundreds or more that do damage to people and that seem to plague them the most.

                My thoughts about dealing with such destructive dogmas are simple—only threefold. First, if more evangelical believers in Jesus understood church history better (especially church history for the first 500 years) and—second—if they had a better grasp of the Bible’s overall teachings about various subjects and topics they would be far less likely to fall prey to dogmas foisted upon them. Simply put, we who believe that the Bible is God’s written revelation of Himself to humanity need to believe what we read rather than read what we believe! Third, believers in the Bible need to learn at least basic information about biblical Hebrew, Aramiac, and Greek, the three original languages in which the Bible was written. I don’t mean they should become fluent in reading and speaking those languages, but simply become familiar with how to look up biblical materials in such sources as concordances, dictionaries, biblical encyclopedias, and the like. There are many such study resources both in print and on the internet.

I hasten to say that in my view many church leaders and teachers of those who foist such dogmas upon others are probably well-intended; they’re simply sharing with others dogmas they have been taught. The problems occur when such leaders and teachers believe their views and interpretations are the only correct views and then falsely warn others directly or indirectly that if they do not believe such dogmas they are being disloyal, seditious, or faithless.

Here’s a simple illustration of what I just wrote: when the book, The Shack, was published, a local evangelical Pastor forbade his congregation to read it under penalty of excommunication because he mistakenly felt the book contained heretical illustrations about the makeup and nature of the Trinity. I know the Pastor; I fully believe he was well-intended, but he himself had a skewed view of the Trinity.

                The very first dogma I will write about is—in my view—the worst of all possible religious dogmas—that of cults. Not necessarily Christian cults, but cults within any religion. Here’s a definition of “cult”: “Usually a group of people following a religious leader who indoctrinates them with dogma, extremist views, practices, or beliefs.” Such indoctrination can range from a Pastor or church school teacher who insists his or her views are the only correct views to an extreme view such as leaders whose teachings are so dogmatic that their adherents will follow such leaders even to death by suicide because of their dogma. In between such extremes are cults which separate their followers from family and friends, isolate themselves from outsiders, live in closed colonies, and the like.

                I know what I’m writing about because many years ago at the beginning of my relationship with God I fell prey to religious leaders of two small cults within evangelical Christianity. Thank God that He mercifully extricated me from both of those cults, but I learned much from my time within them and about the dangers of religious dogma. 

                After God freed me from both cults, He then gave me many opportunities through the years to counsel and help others who were newly freed from both cults. At first I called such people the walking wounded, but later came to see them as the living dead who needed God’s new life within them to return them to some semblance of normalcy within the greater society around them. Some friends are still in both those cults and truly are zombie-like in their beliefs and behavior—even though both of those original dogmatic cult leaders have long since died!

                The next dogma I want to examine is Christian religious dogma. There are many that teach that “Christianity is a religion,” just like all other religions. It isn’t. Christianity is a relationship with God through Jesus—decidedly not a religion. Almost all religions imply and teach that by their own efforts their adherents can impress or placate God by their good works so that He accepts them into a specific religious club—whatever club that might be. That’s not true. God loves and accepts people into a relationship with Him solely through the merits of what Jesus has done to draw them into that relationship.

                Let’s examine some current religious dogma that has been foisted largely upon those people who call themselves evangelical believers in Jesus. Let’s begin with the current teaching about an event called “The Rapture.” Ask most evangelical believers in Jesus what they believe about Jesus’ return to earth to establish his Kingdom, and the first thing they will tell you is that Jesus will “rapture” believers before, during, or at the end of a seven-year period of time called “The Great Tribulation.” Then they often go on in great detail to explain what they believe the Bible teaches about the rapture. It doesn’t! Nope, the Bible teaches nothing about a rapture, yet most evangelical believers in Jesus will strongly insist that the Bible does. The English word rapture is not found anywhere in the Bible although many believers in a Rapture strongly insist that it does.

                If the Bible doesn’t teach about a rapture, where does the idea come from? It’s a long story (read my other teaching on this website titled “The Rapture” if you’re interested in that long story). In brief, very little about a rapture was ever hinted at or taught before about 200 years ago, when a man named J. N. Darby from England first began to teach it—from what his creative imagination caused him to believe was taught in the in the Bible about Jesus’ return to earth. Then his mistaken views were picked up from Darby here in USAmerica by a man named Charles Scofield who popularized that view in his well-known Scofield Bible. Then contemporary authors and teachers such as Hal Lindsay, Jack Van Impe, Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, and others began to teach it.

                For example, Tim LaHaye teaches about the rapture in his fictional series of books titled “The Left Behind” series. His books are pure fiction, but multitudes of evangelical believers in Jesus mistakenly believe them to be pure “gospel” right out of the Bible—without ever questioning if the rapture is really taught in the Bible. 

                Dear Reader, the rapture is religious dogma, seldom even questioned by multitudes of evangelical believers in Jesus. You might ask, “So what? What harm does it do to believe in a rapture?” Much harm, because it presents a false view about Jesus’ return to earth to establish his Kingdom. And, it does much further harm if and when people learn they have believed such false dogma: it causes shame, embarrassment, and a feeling that maybe they can no longer trust the Bible or religious leaders and teachers. It has even caused many people to reject the Bible and Christianity altogether when they realize they’ve been duped, hoodwinked, or bamboozled by the false, dogmatic teachings about the Rapture by certain religious leaders and teachers.           

                Let’s look at another dogmatic teaching most evangelical believers in Jesus have believed to be true as taught in the Bible: the reasons for the sacrificial atonement of Jesus on the cross of Calvary. Most believe something like this. God was absolutely seething with wrath, anger, and vindictiveness about the sins of humanity. He was sitting on his throne in some far-off Heaven just ready to cast lightning bolts down to earth to destroy people because He was boiling over with wrath and anger at our sins. In his haste to come up with a solution to deal with human sin, He decided to send Jesus to appease his wrath by atoning for our sins on the cross of Calvary. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s the “atonement theory” as most commonly believed and taught as dogma among most evangelical believers in Jesus: God’s anger and wrath moved Him to send Jesus to atone for our sin.

                Okay, if that dogma is not true, what is? We believe the Bible teaches another view of God’s reasons for the sacrificial atonement of Jesus on the cross. Matthew 1: 21 in the New Testament (and other confirming Bible references) teaches very clearly that Jesus came to save humanity from their sins, not to placate and assuage the wrath and anger of God. Moreover, the Bible teaches God’s essential nature and character is that He relentlessly loves all humanity with an eternal love (1 John 4: 8, for example). Jesus’ atonement flows from the Father’s relentless, eternal love for humanity, not from his wrath and anger.

                Furthermore, let’s examine what the Bible really means when it teaches about the wrath of God. Serious students of the Bible know that for every subject taught in the Bible, there is always a certain portion, paragraph, chapter, or section of the Bible that basically summarizes that particular subject. Then many other portions of the Bible tend to support that basic section of the Bible that summarizes that subject. For example, the basic reference about the subject of resurrection is the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. The basic text about human makeup consisting of body, soul, and spirit is 1 Thessalonians 5: 23…and so on for other biblical topics and subjects.

The mention of God’s wrath occurs throughout the Bible. But what is God’s wrath? The section of the Bible that most clearly defines and summarizes God’s wrath is the first chapter of the New Testament book of Romans written by Paul the Apostle. Other references throughout the Bible support Paul’s teachings in the first chapter of Romans. Let’s take a look at that chapter in Romans.

Beginning with verse 18, Paul begins to define the concept of God’s wrath. His definition and explanation continues through the end of the chapter. In verses 21 clear through to the end of the chapter, Paul lists a lengthy litany of numerous sins we humans commit. In verses 24, 26, and 28 Paul uses the expression “God gave them up,” meaning God simply turns people over to suffer the results and consequences of their sinful behavior. One translator of the Bible, Eugene Peterson, has translated “God gave them up” in this way: “Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose:…” (The Message Bible)

Other references in the Bible, for example, Psalms 81: 12, Acts 7: 42, and Zechariah 7: 12, support the Bible’s teaching that God’s wrath is defined as when He turns people over to their own sinful behaviors to suffer the consequences and results of such behaviors. Thank God, that because of his basic character and nature of love, God is continually and eternally drawing all humanity to Himself so at some point they will cease stubbornly resisting God, change their minds (repent), surrender their lives to God, and allow God to lovingly restore them into his image. 

That’s the truth of what the Bible teaches about the wrath and anger of God, not the religious dogma that He is just waiting for us to mess up so that He can cast down lightning bolts at us from where He sits on his throne seething with wrath and anger. Jesus’ excruciating atonement on the cross was pre-planned by God on the basis of his love for all humanity to save us from our sins, not to placate and assuage the wrath of a very angry God.

You might ask, “So what? What difference does it make why Jesus died to atone for our sins?” Here’s why. The typical view that He died to appease an angry and wrathful God leaves many people focusing on the fact that God is still angry with them in spite of what Jesus did to assuage God’s anger. It leads many people to believe that God is just waiting for them to mess up so He can somehow punish them or make them suffer for their sinful behavior. They mistakenly believe that God’s very nature is that He is mean, vengeful, judgmental, and full of wrath and anger.

The opposite is true. God’s essential character and nature is that He loves all humanity with an everlasting love, and out of that relentless, eternal love, He sent Jesus to atone for our sins so that we can be reconciled and restored to God in an eternal, loving relationship. Again, it’s a relationship, not a religion. Religious dogma teaches God is angry and full of wrath against most of humanity, and that the majority of them will suffer conscious, eternal torment in hell forever. No! God’s relentless, eternal love sent Jesus to die on the cross for you and me so that we will all have a loving relationship with God throughout all eternity!

Here’s another matter of religious dogma—a really, really serious and nasty one: Hell! The English word hell occurs a number of times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. That’s true; we can’t dispute that. But wait a minute, what Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words in the original languages of the Bible are correctly translated into the English word, hell? None!

The original languages in which the Bible was written (and wrongly translated as the English word, hell) are words such as grave, place of the dead, place where the dead go, abode of the dead, etc. They are Hebrew and Greek words such as sheol, hades, gehenna, tartarus, abaddon, etc. In none—absolutely none!—of those cases can those words (using genuine linguistic scholarship) be translated into the English word hell, meaning a place of fiery conscious torment in a hell that burns forever. Honestly, those original words just don’t mean that. How those words came to be translated into hell is a long story that I won’t cover in this brief teaching; if you’re interested, there are many scholarly books and writings about the subject: you can find most of them on tentmaker.org and hopeforallfellowship.com.

I hasten to say, however, that the Bible does teach clearly that there is a phenomenon called the lake of fire which many people equate with punishment in an ever-burning hell. That, too, is another long story. I’ve covered that subject in some detail in another teaching on this website titled “Fire!”  No, there is no ever-burning hell as commonly taught; it’s a myth, an illusion. Yes, there is a lake of fire, but—as I said—that’s another story.

   What’s another matter of religious dogma? Let’s look at good works. A large segment of worldwide Christendom teaches that the way to attain entrance into Heaven is to perform good works in this life—good works that outweigh our “bad” works. If our good works are sufficient to satisfy God, then we are eligible for entrance into Heaven. If not, God will cast us into an ever-burning hell to suffer forever because we did not commit enough good works in this mortal lifetime. In brief, that’s the dogma of good works.

If that is dogma, what is the truth of the matter? Good question. Simply stated, Jesus was the God-substitute for all our bad works. His life of good works, death, resurrection, and return to Heaven completely displaced and replaced our bad works. God’s eternal and relentless love for all humankind was such that He sent his God-Son to earth to die as our substitute for sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was a full and complete substitute that did not simply substitute for our sin, but completely removed and eradicated our sin—our bad works. 

Indeed, flowing from his great love for us, God actually replaced our unrighteousness with his own righteousness. God no longer sees humanity as unrighteous sinners, but as completely redeemed, restored, reconciled, righteous sons and daughters. No, our good works were not good enough to earn our way into Heaven. God took matters into his own hands and did the work for us. Jesus’ sacrifice took care of the entire matter of good works, bad works, and human sin, paying the full redemptive “price” to secure our entrance into Heaven by his own good work, not ours’.     

The next matter of religious dogma I want to discuss in this teaching is the matter of the so-called “sinner’s prayer.” Throughout most of Protestant Christian evangelicalism there is a belief and teaching that for one initially to become a believer in Jesus, one must recite (from the heart with meaning, of course!) a certain “formula” of words—the sinner’s prayer. The formula varies from denomination to denomination, from theological belief system to theological belief system, but, nonetheless, is a formula of sorts.

Samples of such prayers are: “God, I am a sinner, I believe Jesus died on the cross for me; please forgive my sin and come into my heart.” “Have mercy upon me O Lord.” “God, I repent of my sins, ask You to forgive me, cleanse my heart, and give me a new heart.” “God, I turn away from my sinful past and receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” And on go the sinner’s prayers—

I am not doubting that such heartfelt prayers are effective for one to begin one’s new life with God, but they alone do not necessarily mark a person as a believer in Jesus. They are merely a starting point on a lifelong journey of following Jesus. For example, many studies by reliable pollsters were conducted during the mid- to late 20th century to follow up those who came forward in the large Billy Graham evangelistic crusades and prayed a sinners’s prayer. Over time, only about 15% of those people were later found to be authentic followers of Jesus. I’m not criticizing Billy Graham’s crusades; I was a counselor in two of his crusades, and I thank God for those 15% who remained true to their initial confession of faith!

As a matter of fact, at age 12 I went forward at a crusade held in my hometown by another evangelist similar to Billy Graham. I prayed a sinner’s prayer. It wasn’t until 6 years later I became an authentic follower of Jesus in a situation having nothing to do with that prayer 6 years earlier. Yes, it could be said that my prayer at age 12 began the process of my salvation, culminating in the situation at age 18 when I became an authentic believer in Jesus. But I know otherwise: I don’t feel one experience was connected with the other.

My point here is that simply praying a brief prayer (or it could be said: making a brief statement or promise to God) may or may not result in one’s salvation. It may well be a starting point, but it does not necessarily constitute being “saved.” What is being saved? What is salvation? Who is an authentic believer in Jesus? How does one become such a believer? How does it happen?

First, we must realize that Jesus talked with numerous people about having a relationship with God—and about following God. Never once did He tell someone they must pray a sinner’s prayer. Never once did He specifically tell anyone how to “get” saved. He simply talked about his own relationship with his Father—and modeled that relationship privately and publicly. Here’s how one of his followers, Dr. Luke, the physician worded it: “Jesus of Nazareth was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with great power. He did wonderful things for others and divinely healed all who were under the tyranny of the devil, for God had anointed him.” (Acts 10: 38TPT)

Yes, Jesus did talk about many different subjects: about being “born again,” about beautiful flowers, about serving God, about becoming as little children, about how to enter the Kingdom, about receiving the Holy Spirit, about loving God and one another, about those who are blessed, about how to pray, about wheat and weeds, about sowing seed, about feeding the hungry, about being baptized, about fig trees and vines, about farmers, about how to regard and handle money, about coming to Him if people are weary and beaten down, about rivers of living water flowing from people, about being fishers of humans instead of fish, about healing the sick and downtrodden, about phony religious practices, about sin and evil, about denying Him, about taking up one’s cross and following Him, ad infinitum—

That last point—following Him—is the key to whether or not one is an authentic believer in Jesus. Throughout the four biographies of Jesus (the Gospels) in the Bible, Jesus often said to various people these simple words: “Follow me.” Those people who become committed followers of Jesus (no matter their starting point), in whom He places the Holy Spirit, who obey his commands, and who continue to follow Him throughout their lifetimes—they are authentic believers in Jesus. 

Again, it matters not their starting point—whether or not they have prayed a sinner’s prayer—it matters whether or not they continue to follow Jesus throughout their entire lifetimes, come what may. Simply put, my own view is that following Jesus marks one as a Christian regardless of whether or not one has ever prayed a so-called sinner’s prayer at the beginning of one’s journey with God.

At this point, I hasten to add that I have no problem overall with evangelical believers in Jesus using a sinner’s prayer as they attempt to influence others into becoming followers of Jesus—as long as people praying a sinner’s prayer are not led to mistakenly believe that praying a sinner’s prayer is all that is needed to get them into Heaven and keep them out of hell.

When I am visiting with a pre-believer and perceive he or she is ready to become a follower of Jesus, I lead them in praying a sinner’s prayer that goes something like this: “Jesus, I invite You to come into my life in your unbodied form of Holy Spirit and take up permanent residence inside me. I understand You and I will then enjoy loving union with one another for all the ages of time and in eternity. I promise to be your follower all the days of my life.” 

Another important point of religious dogma concerns the “timing” of the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Simply stated, the dogma is this: Revelation was written by John the Apostle in roughly 90 A.D. and for the most part the Revelation is about events 2,000+ years in John’s future. That’s the generally accepted evangelical “party line,” the religious dogma. But that dogma is not correct. Revelation was written by John in 65 or 66 A.D. and for the most part is about events to occur primarily in Israel and Jerusalem very soon, NOT 2,000+ years in the future. Revelation 1: 1 is very clear: the Revelation is about events which will shortly take place!

Keep in mind, too, that the Book of Revelation is really not principally about events, but it’s about Jesus—it’s a “revelation” by Jesus about Jesus. Yes, it tells about various events, but it’s first and foremost a revelation about and by Jesus. It’s largely about a Person, Jesus, NOT so much about events, although it does describe many events which are soon to occur.

Okay, as briefly as I can explain it, here’s the truth, not the religious dogma. The first 3 chapters of Revelation are letters the resurrected and ascended Jesus in Heaven asked his servant John to write to 7 churches in the eastern Mediterranean area—churches that existed at that time in history, not way in the future. The letters to those 7 churches are self-explanatory. 

Chapters 4 – 18 of Revelation are generally about events that Jesus revealed to John that would occur during the next 7 years from 66 to 72 A.D.—events mostly in the land of Israel and in the city of Jerusalem. This was a period of “great tribulation” for the Jewish people living during those 7 years. This period of great tribulation included the sacking and razing of most of Jerusalem and the destruction of the great Temple in Jerusalem. This destructive period by the Roman armies under General Titus brought about the end of thousands of years of Jewish religion centered around the Temple. It is estimated that the Romans slaughtered approximately 1,000,000,000 Jewish men, women, and children living in and around Jerusalem. Most of the remaining Jews fled and were scattered here and there throughout the Roman Empire.

Christians living in Israel and Jerusalem during those dark times were forewarned by God to “flee from the wrath to come”; most of them escaped before the Roman armies began that horrible time of slaughter, carrying the Good News (the gospel) about Jesus with them as they dispersed throughout the Empire, some even fleeing as far away as India, China, and the British Isles. The entire world (as it was then understood by those in the Mediterranean portion of the world) heard the Good News about Jesus. Jesus told his followers to “go into all the world.” They did!

Chapters 19 through 22 of the Revelation are still future—a time when Jesus will return to establish his Kingdom on earth and began his royal reign over all the earth and the far-flung universe from the city of New Jerusalem.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the events of Revelation as I just outlined them, I recommend 2 books: One is a paperback book titled Victorious Eschatology by Harold Eberle and Martin Trench; it’s sort of an introduction to the matters about Revelation I’ve mentioned. The second book is a very thick, hardbound, scholarly book called an expository book examining every single verse in the Book of Revelation; it’s titled Days of Vengeance by David Chilton. Both books are available on Amazon.com. I don’t agree with absolutely every point of each book, but then it would be a strange world if we each agreed with everything we read. 

Okay, there you have my response to the generally accepted—but false—evangelical dogma that the Book of Revelation was written approximately 90 A.D. and is about events 2,000+ years in the future.   Many people won’t even read the Book of Revelation because they feel it’s too weird, complex, scary, and hard to understand. If you read it from the perspective I’ve outlined, it’s much easier to understand, and you will even be “blessed” by reading it as Jesus said you would be in Revelation 1: 3.

The final harmful dogma I have selected among my smattering of destructive and harmful dogmas is that of the so-called end-times as taught by leaders and teachers within the evangelical Christians community. Harmful effects of such dogmatic end-time teachings can range from Jim Jones who influenced 800+ of his followers to follow him in a mass suicide a few decades ago, to David Koresh who led his followers into fiery deaths when the FBI invaded his end-time compound in Waco, Texas not long ago. From the extremes of those two horrible tragedies, dogmatic leaders and teachers can mistakenly lead others into confusion, bewilderment, consternation, and chaos about what is true about so-called end-times and what isn’t.

First, what is the typical evangelical view about the end-times? Simply put, it is that we are living in a period of history when all hell is about to break loose on planet earth—and human history as we know will soon come to a horrible, fiery end. Such a view includes horrible beasts, hailstones weighing up to 100 pounds, planetwide floods, meteors striking earth, people forced to take a “mark of the beast,” a third of humanity destroyed, blood running as deep as two or three feet due to horrible destructive weaponry being used, destructive, planetwide plagues, an army of 200 million from China invading Israel, a person known as “the antichrist” controlling all humanity—ad infinitum, culminating in the great Battle of Armageddon between God and his armies of angels and Satan and his minions! 

And those examples I’ve given are really only a small part of the overall, end-time scenario being proclaimed on television, in print, and in large conferences by various religious leaders, teachers, and self-styled prophets.

The actual end-time view taught in the Bible is simple. Whenever Jesus returns (it could be soon, it could be later) to usher in his Kingdom on earth, it will be the beginning of the most peace-full, harmonious time in all human history. In reality, the Bible is clear from a number of references (all available on request—too numerous to mention and explain in this teaching) that the actual end-times began when Jesus came to earth 2,000 years ago—and humanity has been living in those end-times since then; during those 2,000 years, the Good News about what God—in Jesus—has done for all humanity has been spreading around the globe in preparation for Jesus’ return to usher in his long-awaited Kingdom—whenever that might occur. 

Jesus said that only his Father knows when that will happen. True, we are possibly living near the end of the end-times, but those times are overlapping with the beginning of the “new times” when Jesus will return to establish his Kingdom on earth for which millions of people have been praying in the Lord’s Prayer for 2,000 years. Jesus’ peaceable, golden Kingdom will come to earth, He will be the righteous King and Lord of all—and all will be well!

Those, then, are only a few points of “wrong” evangelical religious dogma foisted upon people for various reasons—generally to control or wrongly influence them to be religious or to follow a certain segment of Christianity, rather than have a vital and thriving relationship with the Living God through Jesus. I repeat: Christianity is decidedly NOT a religion, nor does it consist of religious dogma; it is a RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD provided all humanity through the completed work of Jesus on their behalf.  Are YOU merely religious or following a certain religion or set of religious beliefs and dogma—or are you fostering and enhancing your relationship with God, instead of just being religious?

Bill Boylan
Life Enrichment Services, Inc.

Leservices38@yahoo.com

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