Why People Leave the Christian Faith

Last July the evangelical world received the sad news that Joshua Harris, the author of the best-selling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the former lead pastor of Covenant Life Church and the founding church of Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, Maryland, announced that he and his wife Shannon Harris were getting a divorce after more than twenty years of marriage. They were married in 1998. Joshua and Shannon have three children.

In the statement in which he made public his decision to abandon the Christian faith, Harris said, “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is deconstruction, the biblical phrase is falling away. By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.” In announcing Harris’ decision, The Wall Street Journal had the following headline: “Joshua Harris Kisses Christianity Goodbye.” And according to CBN News, “After Kissing Christianity Goodbye, Joshua Harris Joins Vancouver’s LGBTQ Pride Parade.”

Then, at the beginning of August, a famous Australian songwriter, Marty Sampson, announced: “I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me.” According to a deleted post published in the Christian Post, Sampson said that the church had failed him.

It is difficult to understand how people can make a decision to leave the Christian faith and depart from their fellowship with Christ. On one occasion when many of Jesus’ disciples quit following him and left, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:67-68).

Scot McKnight wrote an excellent post in which he seeks to explain why people depart from the faith. In one section of his post, Scot writes,

Theoretically speaking, all conversions are apostasies and all apostasies are therefore conversions. Everyone who converts leaves a former faith, even if that faith is ill-defined. Everyone who leaves the orthodox Christian faith converts to a different faith, even if that new faith is as ill-defined as a kind of agnosticism or personal theism or even gentler forms of atheism. Those who study conversions often observe that a conversion to something means a conversion from something else.

Scot McKnight and Al Mohler have given different explanations of why people leave the faith. Their posts are worth reading. In this present post I want to take a different approach to why people leave the Christian faith.

Over the years I have received many emails and comments from people who once were Christians but now call themselves “ex-Christians.” People who call themselves “ex-Christians” are people who for one reason or another gave up their faith and stropped believing in God.

The statements by Harris and Sampson made me think about the reasons people leave the faith. Like Harris and Sampson, there are many others who have made similar decisions to abandon their faith and stop calling themselves Christians.

Harris’ and Sampson’s decisions to abandon the Christian faith prompted me to ask myself: “Why am I a Christian?” In an attempt to answer that question, I had to understand some of the possible reasons people stop believing in God and leave Christianity.

Why am I a Christian? The first reason I am a Christian is because I know whom I have believed, not what I have believed, the what being the Bible.

Christianity is focused on Jesus Christ, who he is, how he lived, what he did, how and why he died, and the fact that he rose again. Without Christ there is no Christianity. Christ is the foundation upon which faith is built.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). As Christians, we have to believe in Christ and also be convinced that he is able to keep us faithful until the final day.

However, in the Christian life, many people put their faith in the Bible. They say: “I believe in the Bible.” Some believe that the King James Version is the only version God has inspired, and when the King James is criticized, that criticism becomes an attack on their faith.

Some people have problems with the God of the Old Testament. They focus on divine violence, the killing of the Canaanites, the actions of some people in the Old Testament, and some practices that are unacceptable by today’s standards. These people leave the faith because they cannot reconcile their morals with the morals of the people of the Old Testament.

Some people are shocked about the fact that the final verses of Mark may not be genuine or that the Trinity verse in 1 John 5:7 in the King James is not original to the letter of John. Some people are concerned about the veracity of some biblical passages and when they discover that some passages in the New Testament are not genuine, they stop believing the Bible and leave the church and their faith.

The Bible is very important to Christians, but faith in Jesus Christ is not destroyed because a verse is corrupt or because a passage has been added to or deleted from the Gospel. One must remember that people believed in Christ even before there was a New Testament. In the life of the early church, faith in Christ preceded faith in the Bible.

The second reason I am a Christian is because I know whom I have believed, not what I have believed, the what being the church. The Apostle’s Creed says in part: “I believe in . . . Jesus Christ . . . I believe in the holy catholic church.”

The problem is, believing in Christ and believing in the church are two different things. Faith in Christ is faith in a person: “I know whom I have believed.” When we put faith in Christ, we know that he is Truth and that he will never disappoint us. But the same cannot be said of the church.

In the history of Christianity we read about the many evils committed by the church. The church has made many mistakes and has perpetrated many atrocities that shock believers and non-believers alike.

In a lecture delivered to the National Secular Society on March 6, 1927 titled “Why I Am Not A Christian,” Bertrand Russell gave many reasons why he was not a Christian, one of them was that the church “inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering.”

Those who put their faith in the church will be disappointed because the church, sooner or later, will fail them, and out of disgust or unhappiness, they may stop believing in the church. But Jesus never fails because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The third reason why I am a Christian is because I know whom I have believed, not what I have believed, the what being dogmas and creeds. Christian denominations are separated because of doctrines. Doctrines about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, justification, and a host of other doctrinal positions divide believers, but none of these saves; Jesus saves.

Unable to distinguish which doctrine is correct or which view is better, some people give up on Christ and stop believing altogether. The fact is, that doctrine separates but Christ unites. If people would put their faith in Christ rather than dogmas or creeds, there would be no reason to abandon the One who remains constant in the lives of believers.

In the fallible world in which we live, one can find many reasons to leave the church or abandon one’s faith. Church members are human, and they fail us and God. We may give up on them, but God never does. The church is not perfect because it is composed of imperfect human beings. We may give up on the church, but God never does for, as Paul said, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

To be continued tomorrow. Tomorrow I will discuss what happens when people abandon God.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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26 Responses to Why People Leave the Christian Faith

  1. kiabooks says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re saying people leave the Faith because they weren’t really truly Christians. Is this whatnnyou are saying?


    • Dear Friend,

      What I am saying is that people are putting their faith in things, not on Jesus. People are offended by things, great or small, and this motivates them to leave the faith. People must remain faithful to Christ, in good times and at times when things are not so good.

      Claude Mariottini

      Liked by 1 person

      • kiabooks says:

        So in a way you are saying they were not really Christians in the first place. Please just yes or no. “Let your yea be yea, and your no be no. More than this is from the evil one”


      • Friend,

        Anyone who places faith in the Bible, church, or doctrine is putting faith in the wrong place. Christian must believe in Christ because he is the only one who can save. No one can say for sure if a person is saved or not; only God can. I can say yes or no to a lot of things, but I cannot read the human heart. Let God decide whether or not they were Christians.

        Claude Mariottini


  2. bobspen says:

    Thank you Bro. Claude. This is an excellent article and a great perspective for people to ponder. “Things” never have and never will save us. One’s focus or trust or belief should be on the one and only Jesus Christ. While I can believe that someone never was a Christian, it is dangerous for one to have “tasted”, according to Heb. 6:4 and then return to whatever previous state they were in. And according to Heb. 6:6, once they have fallen away, it is impossible to return to the faith. Personally, I would hate to admit that I once was a Christian. As you said my brother, Claude, it is the Whom and not the what one believes in. It was Jesus Christ Himself who came into my heart, not the church or the Bible. I too believe in Jesus Christ!


    • Bob,

      Thank you for your comment. People tend to put their faith in things and as a result, their faith in Christ will not be as strong as it should be. People will leave the church and the Christian faith for many reasons, but they will never leave the faith because Jesus has stopped loving them. Jesus’ love for us is what keeps us strong in our faith.

      Claude Mariottini

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kiabooks says:

    What happened to my second comment?


  4. Pingback: Why People Leave the Christian Faith | A disciple's study

  5. I appreciate your perspective and wisdom. One’s faith must be rooted, grounded, and lived in and through Christ. I’ve given a great deal of thought to this very subject as I watch the Christian scene and observe young people raised in the church abandoning the faith of their parental, spiritual, and Christian heritage. How I wish they could know the fellowship of relational intimacy with God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The heart is changed when Christ becomes real in their understanding and being. It grieves me that many are ‘falling away’ and my heart is heavy. It’s burden prompts me to pray for God’s intervention in the hearts of my acquaintances, family, and public figures such as Joshua Harris. Faith must be real and living or it has little value or worth. I, actually, appreciate their honesty. Their stories are not finished yet.


    • Norma,

      I agree with you. I have seen many people abandon the faith of their parents once they begin High School. Young people today meet many unbelievers in High School and in College. These people will challenge their faith and put roadblock on their way so that they cannot be faithful to Christ. You are right, when people lose their intimacy with Christ, they become vulnerable to spiritual attacks. One thing I have observed: most Christians today do not read their Bible and spend very little time in prayer-fellowship with God. I believe this is one of the major reasons people abandon their faith.

      Claude Mariottini

      Liked by 1 person

  6. chieftwostar says:

    Dear Dr. Claude,
    Like many Christians, I know people who have “lost” their faith, some very close to me whom I love a lot. There is often disappointment, anger, and hurt expressed by those who depart from us. I appreciate the clarity your post brings to this difficult and painful subject; I have found it very helpful.


    • Dear Ken,

      I share your feelings. I know people who have left the faith and today they do not even want to talk about church. When this happens it hurts a lot of people. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

      Claude Mariottini


  7. essiep says:

    I left religion because I read the Bible, all of it. Additionally, because of the contradictory, immoral belief system it proposes. Finally, the behaviour of Christians and their hypocritical actions and beliefs.
    I find the whole edifice disgusting, polluted and morally wrong.
    Keeping well away!


    • Essiep,

      I came to church because I read the Bible, all of it. Additionally, I became a teacher of the Bible and have enjoyed teaching the Bible for many years. When you judge the practices of people who lived three thousand years ago by the standards of our twenty-first century society, what then people did in their days would be unacceptable today. Let’s face it, there are hypocrites everywhere, including a few of them inside the church.

      Claude Mariottini


      • essiep says:

        How do you do that – do you leave out the nasty bits from your.lessons? You know, god’s genocide, slavery, revenge and all the immoral stuff ..


      • Essiep,

        I deal with those issues not from present day morality. You have to understand the culture, society, and values of people who lived three thousand years ago. Until a few years, pistol dual was a matter of honor. This is not true today.

        Claude Mariottini


  8. Odd that a post about why people leave the faith should prove so disinterested in the reasons given by the people who do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daniel,

      Thank you for your comment. The focus of my post was to give some possible reasons people leave the church. If I would focus the post on people who already left the church, I am sure that some of the reasons I mentioned in my post would be the reasons why they left the church.

      Claude Mariottini


      • You’d rather speculate on possible reasons than address actual reasons provided by those who do. That you are sure your speculation would be accurate makes the dodge no less absurd.


      • Daniel,

        People leave the church for many reasons. I only mentioned a few of those reasons. It does not matter what I might say, people who left the church will always be bitter about their experience with the church. To me, church has been a blessing and I am very happy to be part of the church, no matter what negative views people might have about the church.

        Claude Mariottini


      • Your contempt for the very subject of your own post is duly noted. Goodbye.


  9. Pingback: When Leaders Walk Away | Christianity 201

  10. ChrisC says:

    I appreciated your article. It was a good reminder. My husband and I have been struggling with church due to hard things that have happened. But while we may end up leaving one congregation to seek another so we can heal from the hurt, we know Jesus never changes and he is our foundation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chris,

      The problem you mentioned in your comment is the reason so many people leave the church. I have been in the ministry for more than fifty years. I have to confess that I left one church because two families in the church were always fighting and that made my ministry there very difficult. Although I left that church, I did not leave Jesus and I did not quit going to church. I found another wonderful church and was there as their pastor for twenty years. Remain faithful to Jesus and he will never leave you.

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

      Claude Mariottini


  11. Pingback: CHEER UP | Norma L. Brumbaugh

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