Another 95 Theses

 1: Having differentiated itself early on from the strictly hierarchical OALC, the church resists allowing any single or central authority to speak for “God’s Kingdom,” limiting the problems of individual ego and power that plague so many other religious organizations.

 2: Despite some cultlike characteristics, the church is not a cult; even when strong leaders have wielded a great deal of personal influence, they ultimately were servants and not masters, and every aspect of the church’s doctrine and practice has some basis in earlier forms of Christianity.

 3: Even after nearly five hundred years, the church follows Luther’s teachings about personal absolution to a degree that is remarkable, especially considering how little attention it has paid to his writings.

 4: If the “Spirit of truth” Jesus promised to his followers will guide them “into all truth,” it is reasonable to expect that those so guided will not be found in different groups with significantly different teachings.

 5: The church provides a wonderful social environment for most of its members: loving homes, large extended families, lifelong friends, and a sense of acceptance and belonging that fills a deep social need not easily met in the isolation of today’s suburban, technology-driven society.

 6: The church’s doctrine of conversion by personal absolution has remained consistent for a hundred years, an impressive span of time despite the issues with the first Laestadian conversions.

 7: The church practices what it preaches about a “level-headed flock,” fostering an attitude of genuine humility, accountability, and timidity in its preachers and elders, consistent with Luther’s teaching and the beautiful sentiments of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:1–2.

 8: The everyday religion of the church is now fairly low-key, sincere, and pragmatic; members go about their lives mostly without burdening themselves or others with showy public prayers, overt expressions of piety, or confessions.

 9: The church is unwavering and quite biblical in its commitment to the sanctity of marriage, consistently teaching against extramarital sexual activity and divorce.

10: The church has encouraged its members to put aside racial prejudices and accept as equals its new members in South America and Africa.

11: The church’s self-sustaining doctrinal bubble of belief without understanding makes it all just empty devotion, faith in other people who are likewise repeating the old slogans with no more actual knowledge.

12: The church teaches almost nothing about Laestadius, and its members would be shocked at his sermons (almost all of them post-conversion), which were harsh and crude, full of legalism, pagan superstition, and sexual imagery and content.

13: The church teaches that its doctrine never changes, yet its founders entered into “living faith” without the benefit of the very proclamation of the forgiveness of sins that is one of its distinguishing characteristics and central doctrines.

14: The ecstatic visionary mysticism that Laestadius fostered is utterly foreign to what people experience in the church today, yet he considered it an essential indication of “living faith.”

15: For reasons nobody can really explain, the church condemns OALC members as hellbound heretics even though they adhere more closely to the teachings and social outlook of Laestadius, follow stricter behavioral norms, and practice confession as part of absolution much more consistently.

16: The supposedly heretical OALC is actually the more authentic form of Laestadianism, having received Raattamaa’s full support during the schism with the Heideman group.

17: The church writes off the FALC as “the last heresy,” despite the contribution to the schism from the church’s 1970s witch-hunt atmosphere, the traditional and forgiveness-oriented nature of the FALC’s current-day writings, and the FALC’s identical preaching of absolution.

18: Even a “heretic” who accepts the preaching of absolution from a church member is not accepted as a believer because of the circular argument that he is not part of “God’s Kingdom.”

19: The church’s membership comprises about 0.002% of the world’s population; everyone else who is mentally competent and has achieved some vaguely defined age of accountability it consigns to an eternity of screaming torture, a fate that eventually will be shared by almost all of the billion or so of the world’s children.

20: Surrounding every congregation are many thousands, even millions, of people who live out their lives believing in Jesus without ever having the slightest clue about these few hundred secreted away among them who are supposedly the only true Christians.

21: The church reduces Christ’s suffering and death to near irrelevance, making it utterly ineffectual in all but one of the tens of thousands of Christian denominations that would emerge over the next 2,000 years.

22: The church’s members are themselves condemned, in the view of millions in other sects that all make their own claims of being the one true form of Christianity.

23: The church is sustained not by persuasion but procreation, being freed from the need for interaction or even credibility with outsiders by its members’ high birth rate and the effectiveness of childhood indoctrination.

24: The church’s preachers readily caricature the beliefs of others (who are usually just trying to achieve salvation via the spiritual framework they were taught from childhood) while avoiding and discouraging any real exposure to those beliefs.

25: The church fears and discourages public discussion of its doctrines in anything but an officially sanctioned, devotional manner, on the Internet or otherwise.

26: The church cites “God’s Time” as a reason for its evangelical silence during much of the last century, when a reluctant God let the “dead faith” Christians of Finland go off and preach supposedly empty words in foreign countries while his true believers sat around preaching to each other and awaiting some sort of divine inspiration to undertake any missionary efforts of their own.

27: If church members really believed that their contact with someone at the workplace, school, gym, barbershop, etc. were the only means by which God offers the gift of eternal life, of avoiding perpetual, unimaginable torment in hell, they would use every opportunity to convince that person to accept this incredibly valuable offer instead of engaging in superficial social interaction and going about their business.

28: In order for some random person among the seven billion on earth to be saved, as the church claims is God’s will for all, he or she must feel a need to depart from the worldview inherited from parents (a rarity), have a personal encounter with a member of a tiny unknown sect, be convinced of the need to renounce his or her previous self as a damned sinner, and join the sect, too.

29: The church claims that God gives everyone its particular “faith” at birth and that he offers everyone a “time of visitation” later, both of which are absurd in the highest degree given the microscopic number of people on the planet who have such faith, few having gone without childhood indoctrination and a lifetime of avoiding “worldly” ideas and friends.

30: With the exception of the “keys to the kingdom” passages (which have issues) and one other vague possibility, the Bible contains no teaching or examples of people being converted to or sustained in Christianity by hearing the proclamation of the forgiveness of their sins, not even in Saul’s conversion or the case where it would seem most instructive—Peter’s denial of Christ.

31: Profoundly moving religious experiences, including peace obtained from conversion and absolution, offer no support for the church’s truth claims, being widespread among “worldly” religions, too.

32: It is a sad irony that the church insists on conformity and subjugates the individual conscience when its major historical figures—Paul, Luther, Laestadius—were all strong-willed individuals who rebelled against the status quo.

33: Evolution profoundly contradicts the Bible and foundational Christian doctrines, but has been proven by overwhelming evidence, and theological imperative for creationism does not equal truth about science. (See also Price and Suominen, Evolving out of Eden.)

34: The LLC (to a lesser extent the SRK) makes a doctrinal centerpiece of the fall of Adam and Eve and treats them as historical figures, which would require God (or Satan) to have falsified the overwhelming archeological, paleontological, biological, and genetic evidence for the gradual emergence of Homo sapiens as a small African population over 100,000 years ago, evolved from earlier hominids.

35: Having published a book in 1986 that backtracked from Luther’s young-earth creationism while making ill-informed criticisms of evolution and condemning it as “outrage to the word of God,” the SRK is now backtracking further, away from creationism itself.

36: The church’s emphasis on “sin corruption” based on an inaccurate view of human origins fosters an unhealthy self-loathing and turns God into a second-rate creator who made “man in his own image,” saw everything that he had made, including man, as “very good,” and then stood by helpless to prevent the serpent—one of his creatures—from corrupting man, the supposed crown of creation.

37: The church continues to teach the ridiculous story of Noah’s Ark as a factual event, ignoring its origins in the Epic of Gilgamesh, textual contradictions, and insurmountable problems that are obvious to most everybody; thus it reduces God to a stage magician who waves his wand and poofs absurdity into reality just to confirm an ancient text that can’t even get its Flood stories straight.

38: By ignoring the disgusting barbarity, physical and sexual abuse of women, tribalism, terrorism, slaveholding, and human sacrifice of the Old Testament God and his designated servants, and by defending the Bible that describes these atrocities, the church has entirely surrendered its moral credibility to the slavish worship of a book it considers too holy to question.

39: The church has a simplistic and idealistic view of the ancient Israelites as “believers in the promise,” but the evolving religion of the Old Testament never looked anything like Christianity, much less the church’s Pauline grace-and-forgiveness version of it.

40: Contrary to the impression left by the church’s superficial readings, the Old Testament contains no hint of any coming sacrificial Messiah; every single supposed prophecy (including the famous “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah) contains material inconsistent with Jesus and really just concerns events of its writer’s own time.

41: The Old Testament’s depiction of God begins one step removed from primitive polytheism with a human-like deity having physical attributes, limitations, regrets, and insecurities, evolving into a fussy director of priestly regulations and temple worship, then a tribal warrior deity who terrorizes his people and directs the brutal conquest of their neighbors, and finally a distant, hidden God who isn’t much interested in sacrifice or feast days.

42: The church laments the way “God’s Word” is being questioned but has no answer for the Bible’s multitude of undeniable errors and contradictions, which are not just quibbling details but significant problems with the biblical accounts of creation and the natural world, God’s nature and desires, and a lot of the Jesus story—when and where he was born, his attitude about his own divinity, whether he taught entirely in public or kept some things secret for his disciples, the ideals of his preaching versus his own actions, and almost everything about his resurrection.

43: The New Testament provides no reliable historical witness of Jesus, just a few vague references by Paul and some accounts written by other devotees decades afterward that contain a great deal of copied material, significant contradictions, and mistakes about history, geography, and customs of the time.

44: The preachers who supposedly channel the Holy Spirit to offer the only truthful Bible interpretation reveal little but ignorance and sectarian cheerleading in their sermons and writings, citing notoriously inauthentic passages, favoring mistranslations, twisting texts for doctrinal convenience, disregarding inconvenient contradictory passages, and naïvely treating every book as if it were part of a single consistent, unquestionable “Word of God,” which even Luther didn’t do.

45: The Bible sits somewhat uneasily on a pedestal, revered as the “Word of God” yet not a book whose words can really be depended on for instruction, obedience being expected to whatever “faith” and “God’s Children” say that it says.

46: It is absurd to claim that an omnipotent (all-powerful) God is perfect despite having needs and creating an imperfect universe, is loving despite allowing a world full of suffering, hates sin despite allowing it to flourish, and is righteous despite creating most people as fodder for the flames of hell.

47: God cannot be omnipotent and omniscient (all-knowing) because knowing the future makes him helpless to change it; the omnipotent ability to choose whether to make a change in course defeats the omniscient ability to know whether it ultimately gets changed or not.

48: For a jealous God who demands that people follow a very particular path to reconciliation with him, this God is certainly not exercising any omnipotence to clear that path, since almost nobody manages to get saved unless they have the good fortune of dying during childhood.

49: An omniscient God doesn’t need to try anybody’s faith—not with the cruel stunts that the Bible says were inflicted on Job and Abraham, not by allowing temptations, not by inflicting trials.

50: An omnipotent God could just overlook human faults by divine fiat and grant salvation to everyone (which is what various Bible passages say he wants), and an omnibenevolent (all-loving) God would not hesitate to do so.

51: It is meaningless devotional fawning to praise as “gracious” and “loving” a God who carried out the Old Testament atrocities, has allowed untold billions of people to die of starvation, disaster, war, and disease, and condemns billions of people to eternal torture in hell, which—depending on the preacher’s inclination—is even part of the divine plan.

52: God remains hidden to almost everyone, leaving them in the supposedly erroneous belief that they have experienced some sort of correct understanding or revelation of him, and allowing them to go to their graves damned by that false consolation.

53: According to the church’s Trinitarian doctrine, God in the First Person made a blood sacrifice of himself in human form (the Second Person) to appease his own displeasure with what he had created; the Second Person proceeded from yet was somehow co-eternal with the First, incarnated into a man by a Third Person of God (the Holy Spirit) impregnating a virgin after thousands of years of monotheistic worship.

54: The portrayal of Jesus expands in the decades over which the Gospels were written, beginning in Mark as a temperamental teacher and miracle worker with limited powers, no claims of divinity, and a great deal of angst about his execution.

55: There are no Greek or Roman records of Jesus, not even a mention until the second century; the only Jewish records outside the New Testament are two passages written by Josephus around 90 A.D., the most descriptive of which is widely discredited as at least a partial forgery.

56: The Gospels describe Jesus performing extraordinary miracles, sometimes before throngs of people, and say his fame spread through the land, yet none of the authors and observers of the day—Pliny the Elder, Josephus, the hundreds of anonymous writers whose personal letters and mundane records have been preserved, even Paul—had any of those events brought to their attention and thought them worth recording.

57: Because there is no distinction between how the church and those OALC and FALC “heretics” who supposedly lack the Holy Spirit are understanding and practicing the forgiveness of sins, the Spirit’s guidance is making absolutely no difference where it supposedly matters most.

58: With little scriptural support, the church puts so much emphasis on the congregation “mother” as to make it a fourth member of the Godhead, turning the church into an object of its own worship.

59: The church makes Satan far more powerful than God, controlling almost all of human culture, all religious teachings including every form of Christianity but one unknown sect, and the souls of everyone but children who die in childhood, the mentally incompetent, and a “truly believing” portion of a hundred thousand or so sect members, who live in fear of the daily temptations he throws at them.

60: A few decades ago, the church accused many members of being possessed by various false spirits, which it described in fanciful detail and grimly sought to eradicate by conducting hundreds of “caretaking meetings” but now doesn’t even want to talk about.

61: The church says the purpose of the law is to bring the knowledge of sin to unbelievers, but its instruction about the multitude of things it considers sinful is directed to its own members, not outsiders.

62: The law is neither preached nor effective, comprising a multitude of harsh and often baffling commandments made to a tribe of Bronze Age desert nomads, having little applicability to today’s society and largely unknown to everyone including the preachers of the church.

63: If God gave the law to awaken people to the knowledge of sin and ultimately lead them to the church, it’s hard to imagine how he could have failed more spectacularly, with perhaps a few million out of the seven billion people throughout the world even being aware of this sect and only a tiny fraction of them showing any interest in converting.

64: There are no visible efforts by the church to perform works of charity on behalf of those outside the group; even the humanitarian aid work of recent years is directed specifically to the new believers in West Africa and Ecuador.

65: It is just a case of Stockholm Syndrome, not genuine devotion, to praise God for the “gift” of faith when its value cannot be questioned and the consequences of rejecting it are social ostracism in this life and an eternity of torture in the next.

66: In an obvious and desperate effort at special pleading, the church claims that human reason doesn’t apply to its teachings or the Bible, despite Paul’s “reasoning” with the Jews and Felix, Luther’s voluminous writings, and its own written materials and instructional camps.

67: Reason is considered a gift from God that is useful for everything but objectively considering the most important question of your life, the answer for which you must accept without reservation from largely uninformed preachers of a single tiny sect that doesn’t even entirely follow the teachings of its predecessors.

68: By inflicting the fear of hell for unbelief or “sins unto death” on impressionable children and limiting their social development to its narrow confines, the church maintains a membership of doubtful coerced worshipers who have no real freedom to question the beliefs that have been imposed on them.

69: The church tries to sanitize doubt by focusing it on uncertainty about one’s individual salvation and by blaming the “carnal mind,” making the attribute of critical thought about very real doctrinal problems into a source of additional guilt for which it can offer forgiveness, thus deflecting scrutiny of its doctrines while perpetuating a cycle of dependency.

70: The church considers a multitude of activities sinful and will not long accept those who willfully engage in those activities, but doesn’t like references to “rules” or “dos and don’ts.”

71: The church offers no actual reasons, biblical or otherwise, for many of the rules, relying on vague appeals to what “a believer would not want to do” and the authoritarianism of instructing obedience to whatever “God’s Kingdom” has said.

72: Few of the rules have any biblical basis, and some (e.g., against alcohol, dancing, and earrings) are frankly contradicted by the various parts of the Bible that the church hardly ever mentions.

73: The rules seem primarily motivated by authoritarianism, Christian asceticism, the fundamentalist need for societal differentiation and keeping people within the fold, selective adherence to biblical edicts, and maintaining ample material for the all-important forgiveness of sins to work with.

74: Despite claims of divine guidance and unchanging doctrine, much more is accepted in the church now than would have been even thirty years ago: wearing of short, styled, uncovered hair and pants by women, some form of video entertainment in nearly every home, instructional video in school, fiction books, classical music, and a new medium (not contemplated by the Holy Spirit that is congratulated for warning against TV in the 1960s) now making high-resolution images and video of any “worldly” subject instantly available for the private viewing of any member.

75: The rules are questioned and even disregarded by many of its members, but the church seeks to promote an illusion of unity by holding groupthink “discussions” where few opinions are expressed but those of standard-bearers.

76: The church allows for no other means of forgiveness than the proclamation of absolution, contrary to the Bible’s examples of forgiveness by prayer and baptism, and the teachings of early Christianity and Luther about forgiveness by prayer, baptism, and Communion.

77: The church emphasizes the regular preaching of forgiveness, yet the constant, compulsive absolution on which it has caused its members to depend (previously along with confession, though now less so) has absolutely no biblical or pre-Luther historical precedent.

78: In the 1970s and early 1980s, as the supposedly inerrant “mother” stood idly by, the church conducted hundreds of abusive “caretaking meetings” where members were sat in front of the congregation, interrogated and rebuked, and often “bound” in what the church considered an unsaved condition.

79: Prayer offers only the illusion of influence to the one praying, since an omniscient God knows both the future and our innermost thoughts, and his perfect will about the course of the universe is not subject to change by the typically self-centered petition of some puny human.

80: Preachers pray for the repentance of unbelievers, to a God who has either predestinated everyone from the beginning of time or has proven unable (perhaps unwilling) to do anything about all the damnation that is going on, despite many prayers from the seeking and the self-satisfied alike.

81: Neither the church nor early Christianity has consistently taught the Real Presence, despite Luther’s insistence in belief that the body of Jesus is bodily present in the Communion wafer, a body that physically ascended to heaven two thousand years ago and has been parceled out in churches around the world ever since.

82: The church’s rejection of intermarriage between members and outsiders leaves its youth in North America with fewer than 600 potential marriage partners on their own continent, a considerable number of whom are likely to be relatives.

83: With its claims about divine foresight and direction in conception, marriage partners, and (sometimes) eternal salvation, the church makes God into a puppet-master who stage-directs the universe down to its tiniest details in an inane drama whose uncountable trillions of acts and final ending are all pre-ordained.

84: With little scriptural support and considerable private dissent by individuals, the church firmly rejects contraception in every form and family situation, resulting in an ample supply of new members but also a great deal of mental and physical suffering on the part of parents, especially mothers.

85: The church’s efforts at “sowing the seed” are almost entirely focused inward, dedicated to proclaiming the Word over and over again to those who have grown up hearing it and enforcing conformity within the fold.

86: With its preachers flying around a world that wasn’t supposed to be round, in jet aircraft burning fossil fuels from reservoirs that weren’t supposed to be millions of years old, immunized against microbes that aren’t supposed to be evolving, the church and its predecessors have lost every one of their battles with science, and “faith” is in full retreat from its former position of authoritative teaching about the natural world.

87: Ever since Laestadius, the church’s preachers have been anticipating an imminent end of the world in their time, misled by the same shortsighted apocalypticism as Luther, Christians of the first centuries, Paul, and yes, even Jesus.

88: The God who was constantly making threats of bodily harm against his chosen people and fussing about endless details of their behavior declined to offer a single warning about any eternal punishment until late in the Old Testament, leaving ambiguity about the subject even into the New Testament; he allowed it to appear that there really is no hell at all, not even really an afterlife, with several different parts of the Bible describing the end of human existence in the grave, of good and evil all going to the same place.

89: Preparing an eternity of horrible torture for most of the people you have created, without providing any means of avoiding it or rehabilitation once they are there, is the worst possible evil, an act of the most unimaginably cruel and pointless sadism.

90: If the predestination taught by Augustine and Luther (less consistently by the Bible and the church) were true, then all of the church’s preaching and forgiveness would be utterly futile, since none of us puppets can change the outcome of God’s scripted show.

91: Both the Bible and the church contradict themselves about predestination, saying that God is omnibenevolent (all-loving) and wants all to be saved, yet at the same time saying he is omnipotent and reveals salvation only to his elect, chosen few.

92: Despite carefully worded public statements, the church is unable to sincerely accept blame and apologize for anything because of its claim of inerrancy; there is nothing for the “pillar and ground of truth” to be genuinely sorry about.

93: When approached about significant child sexual abuse problems in the SRK, the response by the SRK leadership was marked by hesitancy, dangerous normalizing of abuse as sin, and personal attacks on those raising concerns; the public communications of both the SRK and LLC were inconsistent with private teachings and discussions, and evaded their institutional responsibility.

94: Contrary to the church’s doctrinal requirements, there is no historical evidence whatsoever for any special group of believers passing along the keys of absolution in an unbroken chain from Jesus and the disciples; rather it is clear that there was a slow evolution of Christian thought—over many painful centuries—about the nature of sin, whether it might be forgiven at all after baptism, and the limits and means for obtaining such forgiveness.

95: The church’s exclusivity claims are utterly irreconcilable with Luther’s teachings about the broad scope of the Christian Church and the means by which it may be identified, his criticisms of efforts to identify it as being restricted to one particular organization, and his defense of other types of Christians in different areas.