I feel like I was lied to.
I feel like the gospel wasn’t fully preached to me. It feels as if I was deceived, given a bait and switch, as if what was taught to me was simply wrong. Growing up you don’t really have much say in what you are indoctrinated into. So when the time comes in your life, and you begin to examine your beliefs, asking if they still work, asking what kind of fruit they have produced, asking if you can continue to believe what you were told, when this time comes, if you find the doctrine that was passed to you doesn’t ring true with the Spirit’s harmony, you have to begin the work of peeling back the layers, peeling back the beliefs, peeling back the identity that was biult of what feels like a lie.
What do you do with a lie?
You can get angry. You can rationalize, justify, and try to jump through hoops to twist it into the truth. You can continue to believe the lie. Ultimately, if you want to get through and pass it, you must grieve the lie.
But what was I, where we, Lied to about? What mistruth are we grieving? What is this doctrine that was so damaging, so hurtful, so completely and utterly untrue that it left us breathless when we began to see it for what it is?
You can argue for any number of doctrines being harmful, bearing bad fruit, but ultimately they all rest on one thing: the gospel. Ya, I feel as if I was lied to about the gospel. The good news. The thing that is supposed to save me and the cosmos. I feel I was lied to about the gospel.
It may not have been their intention, in fact, I don’t think the lie was. The lip service that was given to the gospel said one thing, and the actions, urgings, counseling, and practical applications said another. We were told in action (and sometimes blatantly in word, because sometimes this lie was preached as truth) that the gospel was moralism.
Somewhere along the way we were convinced it was our actions that truly mattered; that sin was simply fucking up, and if we were righteous enough we could get our shit together. We were offered grace and forgiveness, but when we took the bait, hook line and scripture, it was nothing more than another way to control actions, pull ourselves together, and fall in line. The gospel that was given to us, the lie that was told to us, was nothing more than a way to tame the wildness of youth, the freethinking young adults, and the adults with a rebellious streak.
Story after story was told to us, testimonials they were called, of someone who’s life was filled with wrong doing and harmful behaviors. Once they received Jesus as their lord and savior, saying some variation of the sinner’s prayer, their lives were utterly transformed in the twinkling of an eye. There was no more drugs, sex, and rock n roll. It was the straight and narrow from then on. These people went around giving their testimonial, saying you can have a transformed life. They said you can be forgiven. What they meant was, you too can become conformed to the moral code of evangelical culture.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe these people and their stories. I’m not here to doubt their narrative and somehow brush them all away as nothing but frauds. There is some sort of transformation that happened, and they have found a life that works for them. I applaud them for finding what they need to change their lives.
“If you believe, you’ll be good. You won’t drink or smoke or go with people who do.” This was the underlying message of the testimonials. Moralism was the real gospel, and many of us were crushed under its weight. And this message was reiterated from the pulpit by the life application sermons that were nothing more than railings against the immorality of the culture around us.
We were told that since we’re forgiven, we needed to keep ourselves pure to prove or (depending on who you asked) keep our salvation. We were given a clean slate, morally zeroed out, washed by the blood, but it was our job to stay pure. We lured people into faith with talk of grace, and once they were in the pew, we fed them nothing but moralism and works.
My heart breaks at this. I wish I could put on sackcloth and ashes and atone for this message that they, that I passed on.
Where did the fire go?
Whatever happened to the tongues of fire?
When the first believers were set ablaze by the Holy Ghost, they didn’t head out preaching moralism. They didn’t tell Jew and gentile to conform to the religious culture of the newly forming church. There weren’t lectures on the evils of the society around them. The words that poured forth from the lips of Peter, Paul, and Juanita were words about the risen Christ. They spoke about Jesus crucified and raised from the dead by the poser of God. When Paul testified about what Jesus had done in his life through the Holy Spirit and a crazy encounter along the road to Damascus, he said it was grace upon grace and mercy that led him to believe and now speak about this power that was changing the world.
The haunting of the Holy Ghost isn’t to make us good people. It’s to bring us to life.
We have lost the art of testifying to the risen Christ. We have traded in resurrection for morality and being nice. Over the years, we took the verses in scripture urging Christians to live out loving God and our neighbor and transformed them into words calling us to segregate ourselves from the people around us, so we don’t get dirty. This is passed off as the good news: work hard and you too can achieve holiness. However, our efforts at being enough for God, at living completely pure, at being nice Christians have transformed our gospel into something more akin to the life of the religious Jesus called out as hypocrites and vipers.
If Jesus is for the broken, the marginalized, and the smoldering wicks, then adding to their distress by claiming they need to toe the line of church culture is nothing more than tying millstones around the weak and telling them to swim harder. Jesus’ yoke is easy, his burden light. So why the hell are we piling on a rule after rule and conformity after conformity onto the shoulders of the children of God?
Let’s stop tricking people with an offer of grace and a serving of moralism. Let’s start speaking of Jesus, who brings the dead to life, who loves recklessly and wildly, who shields the hurting and the broken with his very body. He is our tongue of fire, full of grace and truth. He is the liberator, the healer, the lover, the friend. If we’re gonna follow in his footsteps like we say we want to, we must come see that true holiness isn’t a matter of moral superiority. It’s a going, a leaving of power and privilege, and moving outside the city to live and identify with the oppressed, the needy, the rejected. It’s what he did.
This is why so many of us have left the pew and the pulpit. We stopped imagining Jesus was to be found in the moralistic behavior we were indoctrinated into. The places we were told we would find Jesus, places like purity culture and culture wars, in the end proved hollow and vacant of the divine. We were left hiding anything that could be perceived as sin for fear that we would be thrown out. So we left. In the leaving, in the going, many of us found Jesus, full of grace after grace. Acceptance is the default stance of Jesus, and where we are accepted, complete with our hurts, trauma, and anger at being fooled by a fake gospel… where we are accepted, we will stay.
Leave moralism in the grave and find the freedom of grace. This is a plea I will make over and over. The burden of being perfect is too much for any of us staggering meat suits to take. We need the freedom of grace, the grace that was first promised us. We need that promise to be real.
And in Christ, it is.