July 22, 2020
Far too often in the past year, when we glanced at a Christian magazine, we saw the headlines of Christian leaders renouncing their faith. Saddest of all, this is only a small percentage of Christians, who are not in the spotlight, that have done the same. The first question we probably ask ourselves is “Why?” Paul warned that a time was coming when this would take place. But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1Ti 4:1). Fall away is the word from which we get ‘apostasy’ and means desert, withdraw, abandon, turn away, or leave. Every version translates it differently: some will desert the faith; some will abandon the faith; some will fall away from the faith; some will depart from the faith; some will renounce the faith. What we are seeing today are people who not only fall away from their Christian faith but abandon all forms of religion, often becoming atheists or agnostics.
In 2011, a psychologist who had abandoned her evangelical upbringing and belief in all religions, coined the term ‘Religious Trauma Syndrome’ (RTS) to describe those who struggled with emotional damage after leaving a cult or a repressive religion. Psychologists now include individuals who leave churches with an authoritarian leader and dogmatic rules and traditions. Studies have focused only on people who totally abandon religion. However, there are a host of believers struggling with their belief system who haven’t renounced their faith. They include Christians who have been hurt, wounded, and manipulated by authoritarian church leaders and indoctrinated with rigid rules and traditions. Some merely continue in these churches but live in misery, fearful to change because they would face terrible consequences. Others quietly withdraw from a church setting. They still believe in Christ and live moral lives, but something shattered their belief system. They no longer know what to believe, they trust no one, so they retreat into the shadows. Throughout our ministry, my wife and I have led Bible studies in homes for those in this category. We called the group, The Wounded Sheep.
Even if subconscious, both Christians and non-believers, have what we call an ‘assumptive world concept’. It refers to the assumptions or beliefs of what we hope reality will be in the foreseeable future. Christians base this on what they learn from the Bible and teachings from other believers, which may be incorrect. We depend on a belief system to ground, orient, and stabilize us as we go through life. However, we must be aware that more than painful church experiences can challenge and even shatter our hopes. Any traumatic experience, as the death of a spouse, can shatter our basic assumptions and beliefs. The hopes of our foreseeable future are gone. This requires us to reexamine our beliefs and establish fresh hopes based on the Word of God.
OK, I realize this has been a detailed technical overview of belief systems. But it brings us to the challenges Christians are facing today. We see people renouncing their faith in Christ, believers who retreated into the shadows, and an all-out assault on Christianity. If that weren’t enough, our belief systems are being challenged by the lingering world crisis with COVID-19 and racial conflicts that have shattered our hopes for the future we thought we would have. Challenges like these can bring about several results. Something shattered the ‘assumptive world concept’ of the Christian leaders referred to in the opening. It can cause people to live in misery or lead one to retreat into the background, not knowing what to believe. Or the good news, it can lead us into a time of spiritual growth. Our current circumstances are providing the time and opportunity to evaluate our assumptions and beliefs. The Holy Spirit will help and guide believers into establishing a biblical belief system that plagues or cultural conflicts can never shake.
Two years ago, I would have labeled myself as a ‘wounded sheep’ having worked for years under authoritarian leaders and trying to obey dogmatic rules and traditions. Several events shattered my belief system. Praise the Lord, He loved me enough to allow those things to happen. Since then, through His Word and the Holy Spirit, I have a belief system that has brought healing, freedom, and peace. The world pandemic has changed some of my hopes of what life would be like in the future. But that’s OK because He has promised to sustain me even in the valleys of deep darkness and lead me to new green pastures. Best of all, this world is temporary, and eternity lies ahead.
Sustaining Word for the Week: We live in a unique time when the Lord longs to heal our land and pour out His Holy Spirit on all of mankind.
By: Dr. Arnold Gause
The Sustaining Word can also be found at Sustainingword.org