To begin this teaching, I’ll define “dogma” as shown in 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 when humanity first began to be religious. 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 follower of the Bible and Jesus the most. I’ll be focusing on those within the ranks of evangelical followers of Jesus in the western world, not among “high church” beliefs 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 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 personally had to deal with while visiting, talking, teaching, and counseling with other evangelical followers of 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 followers of 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 complete, final written revelation of Himself to all 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, Aramaic, 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 the 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 had mistakenly heard the book contained heretical illustrations about the makeup and nature of the Trinity. He never read the book himself! 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 now 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 such 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 new 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 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 wonded, but later came to consider them the living dead who needed God’s new LIFE within them to return 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 dogmatic cult leaders have long since died!
The next dogma I want to examine is about what constitutes being a Christian? There are many that teach that “Christianity is a religion,” just as all other religions. It isn’t. True and authentic 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, reach, or placate God by their good works so that He will accept them into a specific religious “club” (church), whatever that club 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 inexorably draw them into that relationship.
Let’s examine some more current religious dogma that has been foisted largely upon those people who call themselves evangelical followers of Jesus. Let’s begin with the popular teaching about an event called “The Rapture.” Ask most evangelical followers of Jesus what they believe about Jesus’ return to earth to establish his long-awaited Kingdom, and the first thing they will tell you is that Jesus will “rapture” his followers before, during, or at the end of a seven-year period of time called “The Great Tribulation.”
Then, they often go into 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 followers of Jesus will strongly insist that the Bible does. The English word rapture is not found anywhere in the Bible although many believers in such a rapture strongly insist that it does. I invite you to read another teaching on this website titled The Rapture.
If the Bible doesn’t teach about a rapture where does the concept come from? It’s a very l-o-o-n-g story; my teaching about The Rapture on this website explains that long story. The rapture is religious dogma of the worst sort, seldom even questioned my multitudes of evangelical followers of 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 learn they have been duped, hoodwinked, or bamboozled by the false, dogmatic teachings about the rapture by certain religious leaders and teachers.
Now let’s look at another dogmatic teaching many evangelical followers of Jesus have believed to be true as taught in the Bible: the reasons for the sacrificial atonement of Jesus on the cruel cross of Calvary. Most believe something like this. God was absolutely seething with wrath, rage, anger and vindictiveness about the sins of humanity against Him. 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 with wrath and anger over the sins of humanity.
In his haste to come up with a solution to deal with human sin, He decided to send Jesus to appease his great 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 followers of Jesus.
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 biblical references) teaches very clearly that Jesus came to save all humanity from their sinful condition, not to assuage and placate the wrath and anger of God. Moreoever, the Bible teaches God’s essential nature and character is that He relentlessly loves all humanity with eternal love (1 John 4: 8, for example). Jesus’ atonement flows from the Father’s relentless, eternal love for all 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 sequence of verses that basically summarizes that particular subject. Then many other portions of the Bible tend to support that basic section of the Bible that summarizes the subject. For example, the basic reference about the subject of resurrection is the 15th chapter of First 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 portion of the Bible that most clearly defines and summarizes God’s wrath is the first chapter in 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.
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 (translated into English) “God gave them up,” meaning God simply turns people over to suffer the results and consequences of their own 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 suffer the consequences of their own sinful behavior and actions. Thank God, that because of his own basic character and nature of love, He is continually and eternally drawing all humanity to Himself, so that at some point in time 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 about what the Bible teaches about the wrath and anger of God toward human sin, 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…and cast us into an ever-burning hell. Jesus’ excruciating, atoning death on the creoss was pre-planned by God on the basis of his eternal love for all humanity to save us from our sins, not to placate and assuage the wrath of an exceedingly 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 might still be 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 their lives by sin so that 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…not that He is really and truly a loving, caring, gentle Father.
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—once and for all!—so that we can be reconciled and restored to a loving relationship with Him. Again, it’s a relationship, not a religion. Religious dogma teaches that 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 for me so that we will all have a loving relationship with Him 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. 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 words in the original languages simply do not mean that. How those words came to be translated into the English word, hell, is a very long story I won’t cover in this brief teaching; if you’re interested, there are many scholarly books and teachings about the subject; you can find most of those on tentmaker.org and hopeforallfellowship.com
I hasten to say, however, that the Bible does clearly teach 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 the subject in great detail in another teaching on this website titled “Fire!” Yes, there is a lake of fire, but 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 gain entrance into Heaven is to perform good works in this life—good works that outweigh our “bad” works. If are 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 all 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 substitute for our sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was a full and complete substitute that did not simply substitute for our sin, but completely eradicated and removed 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 gain us access to Heaven. God took matters into his own hands and did the good works 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 works instead of 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 to initially become a follower of 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, and forgive my sin.” “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 into my life as my Lord and Savior.”
I am not doubting that such heartfelt prayers are effective for one to begin one’s new life…nor am I belittling or making light of such prayers. However, they alone do not necessarily mark one as a follower of Jesus. They are merely the starting point on a lifelong journey of following Jesus as one of his disciples. For example, my studies by reliable pollsters were conducted during the mid- to late-1900’s to followup those who came forward in the large Billy Graham evangelistic Crusades and prayed a sinner’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 sinner’s prayer.
As a matter of fact, at age 12 I went forward at an evangelistic crusade held in my hometown by another evangelist similar to Billy Graham. I prayed a sinner’s prayer. It wasn’t until six years later I became an authentic follower of Jesus in a situation having nothing to do with that prayer six years earlier. Yes, it could be said that when I prayed the sinner’s prayer at age 12 that was a “seed” planted that came to “harvest” six years later when I chose to become an authentic follower of Jesus.
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.” Who then is an authentic follower of Jesus? How does one become such a follower? 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 that they must pray a sinner’s prayer. Never once did He specifically tell anyone how to get “saved.” He simply talked and taught about his own relationship with his heavenly 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 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: 38, The Passion Translation)
Yes, Jesus did talk about numerous subjects: about being “born again,” about beautiful flowers, about serving God, about becoming as little children, about how to enter the Kingdom of god, 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 seeds, 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 for rest if people are weary and beaten down by life, 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 and dogma, about sin and evil, about denying Him, about taking up one’s cross and following Him, ad infinitum.
The last point—following Him—is the key to whether or not one is an authentic Christan. Throughout the four biographies (the four Gospels) in the Bible, Jesus often said to various people these simple words: “Follow Me.” Those people who became committed followers of Jesus (no matter their starting point), in whom He places Holy Spirit, who obey his commands, and who continue to follow Him throughout their mortal lifetimes—they are authentic Christians.
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 mortal lifetimes, come what may. Simply put, my own view is that following Jesus marks one as an authentic Christian, regardless whether or not one has ever prayed a so-called sinner’s prayer at the beginning of one’s journey with Jesus.
At this point, I hasten to add that I have no quarrel 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 such a 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 that he or she is ready to become a follower of Jesus, I lead them in praying a 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 that 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 and obey you all my life.”
Another important point of religious dogma concerns when the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, was written. Simply stated the untrue dogma is this: Revelation was written by the aged Apostle John in roughly 90 A.D., and for the most part the Book of Revelation is about events that were to occur 2,000 years (+ or – ) in the 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 that were to occur primarily in Israel and Jerusalem very soon, NOT 2,000 years in the future. Revelation 1: 1 is very clear: The Revelation iss about events that 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” about Jesus and by Jesus. It’s largely about a Person, Jesus, NOT so much about events, although it does describe many events which were soon to occur.
Okay, as briefly as I can explain it, here’s the truth about the Book of Revelation, 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 in the far-distant 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 duing 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 awful 7 years. This period of tribulation included the sacking and razing of most of Jerusalem and the destruction of the great Jewish Temple in that city. 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, children, infants, and babies living in and around Jerusalem. Most of the remaining Jews fled and were scattered here and there throughout the Roman Empire.
Followers of Jesus living in Israel and Jerusalem during those dark times were miraculously 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 and his coming Kingdom. Jesus had told his followers to “Go into all the world.” They did!
Chapters 19 – 22 of the Revelation are about future events—a time when Jesus will return to consummate his heavenly Kingdom on earth and begin 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 two 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 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 at amazon.com. I don’t agree with absolutely every point of each book, but then it would be a dull world if we all agreed on everything we read.
Okay, there you have my response to the generally accepted—and untrue—evangelical dogma that the Book of Revelation was written about 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 and scary, complex, and hard to understand. If you read it from the perspective I’ve set forth, it’s much easier to understand, and you’ll even be “blessed” by reading it, as Jesus promised you would be in Revelation 1: 3.
The final harmful dogma I have selected among my smatterings of destructive and harmful dogmas is that of the so-called end-times as taught by many leaders and teachers among evangelical followers of Jesus. 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. Between the extremes of those two horrible tragedies, dogmatic evangelical leaders and teachers can mistakenly lead others into confusion, bewilderment, consternation, and chaos about what is true and what isn’t about so-called end-times.
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 have known it will come to a tumultous, horrible, fiery end. Such a view includes horrible beasts, hailstones weighing up to 100 pounds, destructive planet-wide floods, large 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, deadly planet-wide plagues, an army of 200 million from China invading the Middle East, including 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 cited are really only a small part of the overall, end-time scenario being proclaimed on television and radio, in print, and in large conferences by various religious leaders, teachers, and self-appointed, so-called end-time prophets!
The actual end-time view taught in the Bible is remarkably simple. Whenever Jesus returns (it could be soon, it could be later) to usher in and consummate 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—to numerous to mention and explain in this brief teaching) that the actual end-times began when the God-Man, Jesus, was here on 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 proclaimed around the globe in preparation of Jesus’ return to usher in his long-awaited Kingdom, whenever that will occur.
Jesus said that only his Father knows when his return will occur. 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 consummate his long-awaited 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 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 religionship 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 to all humanity through the completed work of Jesus on our behalf. Are YOU merely religious or following a certain religion or set of religious beliefs or dogma? Or, are you fostering, developing, and enhancing your relationship with God instead of just being religious?
I invite you to read two companion teachings on this website: God and Religion and God: Relationship or Religion?
Life Enrichment Services, Inc.
Revised and Updated February 2023
Life Enrichment Services, Inc
Revised and Updated February 2022