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What Do Churchgoers Believe – And Why?
The Good News – February 1984
What Do Churchgoers Believe – And Why?

by Herbert W. Armstrong

The plain truth is a little shocking–and illuminating!

Nothing is so astonishing as the truth! It is often stranger than fiction.

Most people who attend church regularly, or even occasionally, would be really surprised if they should probe into their own minds far enough to ask WHY they go, and just WHAT is their religious belief–and WHY.

Do you KNOW?

As a baby, I was taken to church. As a child, I was taken to Sunday school and church. It was a Quaker church. I attended church until I was 18. Then I began attending the theater, the athletic contests or the dance.

When we were married, my wife and I felt we ought to attend church. We looked over the churches in the general area of our home, selected one that was convenient, respectable, with a reasonably modern building, a friendly and personable pastor and members we liked socially.

But WHY did we join? WHY did we attend church?

Well, we just felt we ought to–that’s about all. Did we stop to reason why we ought to attend church? Well, no. But all people should attend church, should they not? We supposed so. Why? We probably didn’t think much about why! But hasn’t everybody always heard that one should go to church?

Of course! And so we simply assume, take for granted and accept without question what we’ve always heard. Usually we don’t know WHY.

What did we believe?

Did we have a definite religion? Reflecting back, my answer would have to be “No”–how about you?

What did we believe? Well, we had no deep-rooted convictions. We believed, of course, those things we had most often heard in church. We believed in heaven and hell–an ever-burning hell. We believed in the immortality of the soul. We believed in Sunday and Christmas and New Year’s and Easter, and from boyhood I had heard the pastor talk about a few weird things, or names, or something that had absolutely no meaning to me–“Pentecost,” “grace,” “Antioch,” “sanctification,” “justification,” “dead in trespasses and sins.”

Of course I knew all those things came out of the Bible– but then, I always said, “I just can’t understand the Bible.”

And, speaking of the Bible, what does the average churchgoer think about the Bible? I think that in those years I was typical of many. It was “the good Book.” I did, in a way, regard it with a certain superstitious awe. It was beyond my comprehension.

Of course I assumed our church got its beliefs out of the Bible. The preacher could understand it. But then, too, I grew up looking on the minister as a person different from the rest of us. He was a sort of holy man, not tempted to sin or to enjoy the worldly pleasures like the rest of us. He was like a man from another world.

But the Bible was the book men laid their hands on when taking the oath of office. And it was the one book I should have been too embarrassed to carry down the street.

Did I look on it as “the Word of God”? Well, yes, I suppose so. But then I never thought of it in specific terms as the message, the instruction of God, to give man the explanation of what he is, and why he is here, and where he is going, and how he ought to live, and how he can be happy, and prosperous, and enjoy life more.

Somehow “religion” was for Sunday morning–except that I had been taught that its prohibitions lasted all day Sunday. It was sin to go to the theater on Sunday and it was a sin to dance or smoke or swear or drink at any time–and even theater going was “worldly” and probably a sin. Playing cards was a sin, too.

Religion? Well, vaguely I had heard that Adam was the first man, and that he sinned and “fell”–whatever that meant. As a result I vaguely conceived that life was like a one-way trip on a train. Because of Adam, the switch in the track at the end of the line is thrown to shoot us all down to hell. So I knew we needed to “get saved,” although I had been taught that I had a “birthright membership” in the church, so I guessed I probably was already “saved”–I never worried about it.

When one is “saved,” the switch in the track is then thrown so that, when he gets to the end of the line he will be shot instantly up to heaven, “to be with the Lord” in mansions above, “over the river” or “on the other shore,” wherever all that was. Anyway, it was “up yonder” and when they called the roll, I was going to be there.

And what was my idea of GOD–and of Christ–and of the devil? Well, God was One to fear and be appeased, in a way –and yet, if we pleased Him, He could make things break our way for us. If we faced a frightful tragedy and possible death, crying out to Him might save us. But generally, I think I rather took it for granted that God didn’t want us to be happy or enjoy life–He certainly frowned on all worldly pleasures. Christ, however, was more kind and loving–He was our Savior.

Above all, neither God nor Christ were REAL to me–they were in reality “far off.”

Now these were not definite, concrete beliefs or deep-rooted convictions. They were just ethereal, vague assumptions. I never gave them deep or specific thought. I just took them for granted, supposing everybody believed these things. My mind was focused on the material interests of the moment–things closer to hand.

As I said, religion was for Sunday. It had no relation to or connection with the rest of life as a whole–my school, fun, play, hobbies and, as I grew older, business, philosophy and beliefs.

What a “Bible Christian” is like

Years later my wife and I became acquainted with a woman who, in some ways, was rather peculiar.

This woman really had a religion. She read and studied the Bible every day. She seemed to understand it! She had definite beliefs and convictions, and she said the SOURCE of all of them was not anything she had heard at church, but what she read in the Bible. She said the Bible carried authority, and was the only source of knowing the TRUTH.

She actually studied the Bible to learn how to live –not just on Sunday, but every day! Actually, this woman was HAPPY in her religion. She prayed a great deal, and she seemed to really know God and to be on personal terms with Him!

She was, judged by customary standards of the general public that attends church but has little conception of what one’s church actually does believe, a peculiar woman. She didn’t believe any of those major beliefs I had always heard in church: being an immortal soul, going to heaven or hell when one dies and, strangely, she did not observe Sunday or Christmas or New Year’s or Easter or Valentine’s Day or Halloween. She said none of these ideas are taught in the Bible.

This woman was a “Bible Christian.” The SOURCE from which she got what she believed was the Bible.

This woman asked my wife, one day before I had met her, to open her Bible and read a certain passage. Then she asked my wife to turn to another passage and read it–then another, and another. After reading several of these passages, my wife, in astonishment, exclaimed: “Why, this is not what I’ve always been taught. I’ve always heard and believed just the opposite of what it says here in the Bible!” My wife thereupon believed what she read in the Bible–and that changed her religious belief. To me, she had become a religious fanatic. I was angered, furious. Argument did no good. She had all the answers –and right out of the Bible. This was the incident that challenged and angered me into the first real study of the Bible of all my life.

I said: “You can’t tell me that all these churches are wrong. I know they get what they believe out of the Bible!” So I devoted six months to intensive, almost night-and-day research and study to try to find, in the Bible, what I had been taught in church.

I, too, was astounded to find just the opposite.

I obtained the literature of churches supporting their beliefs. I searched the commentaries, the lexicons, the Bible encyclopedias. I searched out the arguments of higher criticism on these points. I tried my best to overthrow my wife’s new Bible beliefs–but they definitely were in the Bible.

I studied evolution, almost doubted the existence of God, researched science and philosophy, and PROVED that the all-intelligent personal Creator God does exist. Then I put the Bible to the test and, by several infallible proofs, PROVED it to be the revelation of God to mankind, carrying final AUTHORITY.

At last, once I swallowed my pride, admitted defeat, was humbled, had repented and accepted the Christ of the Bible– a different Christ than I had previously pictured–I had found the true SOURCE for belief.

What a difference there is between professed “Christians” who are churchgoers and a true BIBLE Christian! I know that difference because I have been both!

Regardless of whether one has been angered into an honest study of the Bible, as I was, or whether he has never been to church or heard anything else in the first place, or WHY he looks into the Bible for himself, he will find the same thing there that I found–if he is honest. A person who is born and reared on a faraway, uninhabited island in mid-ocean, having never heard any religious belief, if he had a Bible and was able to read, would be a total stranger to many of these things I was taught in church–he would see, in the Bible, just what everybody else does who looks into it honestly.

What’s wrong, then? When today’s “enlightened” clergy and its theological seminaries where young ministers are educated spend more time trying to determine how much of the Bible they wish to classify as myth and how little as truth–when only 1 percent of theological students, by actual survey, believe in any “Second Coming” of Christ that is stated and affirmed repeatedly in the Bible–when theologians and the clergy “interpret” the Bible to mean the very opposite of what it plainly says, in order to pretend that it supports their pagan teachings–then you may know what is wrong.

If you will read Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 13 and 34, which are prophecies of conditions now, in our day–and Christ’s statement of Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 24 of the false preachers that would deceive the MANY–and the many statements in the Bible that the whole world would be deceived–you will begin to understand. It is, indeed, hard for one born, reared and steeped in this world’s education, religion, customs and ways, to realize that this is not God’s world, but Satan’s. It comes as a jarring shock! I know. I’ve experienced it!

The Bible ought never to be interpreted. It means what it says, and it says what it means. Taken as it is, it makes sense.

Don’t be a spiritual coward. Look into it for yourself. It’s full of surprises–it’s full of TRUTH–it’s full of the way to a positive peace of mind, to happiness, to prosperity, abundant living here and now and to salvation in joyous eternal life–FOREVER!

God’s world is soon coming–the peaceful, happy WORLD TOMORROW!