CHRISTIANITY’S BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION

I’m finding more and more Christians all the time that believe … to be a good Christian and to go to heaven you must be an AA Christian. “AA” stands for attendance and abstinence. To go to heaven you must have faithful “attendance” in church (which includes singing, giving, communion, etc) and “abstain” from bad things (cheating, cussing, lying, etc). The good Christians who do the two “A’s” will go straight through the pearly gates.

I like that theology because it’s simple, but the more I read the bible and the more I listen to Jesus teach, the more I have a problem with the AA theology. One of the texts that have always challenged the AA theology is found in Matthew 25:31-46. It’s there that Jesus tells me about two groups of people. The first group on the right gets eternal life and is going to heaven. The second group on the left gets eternal punishment and is going to hell. What’s the difference in the two groups? Did the group on the right go to church every time the doors were open? Did they take communion every Sunday even if they had to stop on the road to do it? Did they always abstain from the bad stuff? AND, did the group on the left fail to attend all the services and abstain from everything?

Here’s what Jesus said about what the first group did right, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “

And here’s what Jesus said the second group did wrong, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I’m not saying you don’t need to attend church services and I’m not saying it’s okay to do whatever we want morally. Attendance and abstinence are good, but they don’t make you a Christian, and neither will save you. Christianity wasn’t founded on the two A’s, but on a relationship with God, obedience to Him, and our service to others. I believe Jesus put it this way when he was asked what’s really important, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

So I need to ask myself …

  • When was the last time I fed someone who was hungry?
  • When was the last time I invited someone into my home?
  • When was the last time I sat by a dying person?
  • When was the last time I visited a nursing home?
  • When was the last time I gave someone a second, third or fourth chance?
  • When was the last time I offered forgiveness?


“Jesus never says to the poor, ‘Come find the church,’ but he says to those of us in the church, ‘Go into the world and find the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned.’ ”

“We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” ~Shane Claiborne

Maybe what Jesus is telling us that Christianity is more about service, love and giving of ourselves to others, than it is about attendance and abstinence.

  • What do you think?
  • Have you ever been taught AA Christianity?
  • Have you ever bought into it or met someone who has?

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Article by Trey Morgan

I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast. Read 1182 articles by
24 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow man that hits home. I remember being raised that way…Not by my family but by my church family. After going to college and realizing that is all a religious mindset that gets you no where. (thats my opinion).. I think there is a huge difference in being spiritual and religious.. Thanks for the post this morning.. really encouraging – Zach

  2. preacherman says:

    Yes,
    I have heard it taught recently by a man who lives by the AA Standard. He told the class that his spiritual gift was a fruit picker and that he could pick out the people who didn’t go by the AA Standard as week and not really true disciples.
    Sad.
    :-(!
    He told the class he believe the Bible is a rulebook given to us so we can pick out the AA Christians and hang out with them.
    Trey,
    Wonderful post brother.
    I pray God blesses your week.

  3. Stoogelover says:

    I was yanked up on that theology and even taught it for far too many years. God didn’t drop us a King James bible on a line with the note attached, “Good luck!” (I heard that from an old Texas preacher, Charles Hodge.) He gave us a Savior with whom we can have a relationship that will change us from the heart. Good reminder.

  4. Jeff Slater says:

    Good stuff, Trey. I’d like to use this in our church bulletin, with your permission.

  5. Kyle Parker says:

    Man, as usual this is some good stuff. Pat called me this morning and told me to look at it (like I don’t everyday anyway). You are hitting the nail right on the head.

    I’m worried about the American church. This may be a world-wide epidemic, but these are the people I see day to day. So many are so self-centered and self-focused that they have become self-worshippers. When did the church become a consumeristic commodity? I have to caution myself not to become the same way. I could go on and on…working on my 95 thesis at the moment. I digress…

    To quote from the DC Talk “Jesus Freak” album: “The single greatest cause of atheism today is Christians; who praise God with their lips and go out and deny him by their lifestyle. THAT is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

    It is good to see men and women in the church who continue to minister to the needs of people around them (sometimes at their own expense), to bring the light of Christ into the world! Thanks for reminding us of our responsibility to be Jesus in this world.

  6. Brie says:

    I grew up in a church like that. Don’t forget the qualifier that your attendance has to happen in a building that says “church of Christ” out front or it doesn’t count. They weren’t (I think) bad people. They just had missed part of the point, which is the fact that taking care of other people is the truest ministry we can do.

    The church we are part of now is a very compassionate church. My favorite, absolute favorite memory of church is from when Dad was sick.

    Dad had been a deacon at church. He was in charge of adult education, so he taught a lot of classes and got to know a lot of people. He also led singing from time to time, although he didn’t do that as much after he got sick because standing for a long time tired him out. He had a stroke after one of his rounds of chemo that temporarily took away his ability to read or remember the songs he had sung all of his life. Eventually, he was sick enough that he couldn’t get to church anymore. After a few weeks of missing Dad at worship, they decided to take worship to him. They told everyone that evening services were taking place at the Cahill house, and about 40 people drove for 30 minutes longer than they would have had to drive to get to the building to get to the house. They filled the den. We sang. And sang. And sang. And then, someone asked Dad if he wanted to lead a song. He threw his head back and launched into “I’ll Fly Away” while the rest of the family (and no few people in our church family) sniffled like crazy just to get through the chorus. It was awesome. It still gives me goosebumps to think about how much of a difference it made to him to get to worship one more time.

    I love that kind of family.

  7. TREY MORGAN says:

    Greg – Hodge is the bomb!

    Jeff – No need to ever ask.

    Kyle – Love the DC Talk quote.

    Awesome story Brie.

  8. sherryfisher says:

    Trey…One of the things I have learned about “church” is that Jesus wants us to become more and more like Him. If we become like Him, act like Him because we love Him and follow Him, we will feed people who are hungry, clothe people who are naked, give thirsty people something to drink. Because He did. It’s not just something I earned because I acted a certain way…I’m not earning gold stars on my chart by doing good. Because the right thing can be done with the wrong attitude and intention. So it’s more about following Jesus (which entails becoming like Him..imitating Him) than anything else.

  9. Kyle Parker says:

    I heard a great quote from a minister while listening to NPR on the road today. He said “In some places the church needs to be converted to Christianity.” Great line!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am struggling with this right now. So is what you are saying is that I can be a Christian and NOT attend any kind of churh at anytime.
    How can I have a true relationship with God, and say that I put him first in my life, if I go fishing on Sunday mornings instead of going to church. I have been taught to be at chruch every time the doors are opened and I do not think that is a bad way to be brought up. This is Christ’s church, does he not want us to attend his church, I understand it is not about the building, are we not commanded to go to church, take the Lords supper ect.?
    I understand that there are some that say “Going to church is all that matters and you get a free ride, does not matter what you do with the rest of your life.” I do not agree with that, but I do think that church attendance is very important. Help me understand this. If church attendence is not important than why do we encourage others to attend our church through, friends days, and ect?

  11. TREY MORGAN says:

    Anonymous – Here is my exact quote from the post, “I’m not saying you don’t need to attend church services and I’m not saying its okay to do whatever we want morally. Attendance and abstinence are good, but they don’t make you a Christian, and neither will save you.”

    I’m not saying church isn’t important. In fact I regularly preach, “You need to be in church every time the doors are open.” Church is where we find so much good, learning, blessings and encouragement. And yes, I’m so thankful to God for all He has done for me that I want to come to church every time the doors are open. Please understand church is very important, and I want to get as many people as I can to go with me.

    That being said, it’s not going to church or attendance that saves me, it’s Jesus and too often we miss what God really wants us to do because we’re to busy focusing on only a few things. If I drive by on my way to church someone needing help, I need to stop and help them. Or I’m no different that the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan.

    God once told the children of Israel that he was frustrated with them because they focused on just sacrifice (the very thing He asked for). They weren’t balanced. They were so worried about sacrifice that they missed being merciful to one another. His exact words were, “For I desire from you mercy, not sacrifice (although He asked for sacrifice).

    God does want us to attend, to put Him first, to commune around His table, give, etc. But not get SO caught up in those things that we miss out feeding the hungry, offering mercy and providing for the poor.

    As mentioned in the text of Matthew 25, Jesus commended those who gave to the poor, reached out in love and mercy. He didn’t mention any of the things we might think are important to get to heaven.

    The point I’m trying to make and the problem this post addresses are that there are people (I know plenty) that go to church 3 times a week and they think that this is all that matters to God… that they are faithful in their attendance. As long as they go, that’s really what God wants. That is such an unbiblical concept.

    Can you see that there needs to be a balance in our lives? I hope this makes sense. Thanks for asking the question.

  12. a cowgirl at heart says:

    Oh, Trey…great post! Have you ever read “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller? I know it has become somewhat of a faddish read and that is somewhat of a shame, because this is what the book is all about. I think many of us Christian conservatives, or conservative Christians if you rather, grow up being guilted into going to church. I’m wondering if the AA mindset comes from that somehow? I am one who is frustrated with the “rules” of organized religion sometimes and the judgements given to those who may not follow the rules to a “t” for whatever reason.

    I’ve never been directly taught AA Christianity, but I think indirectly I have absorbed some of it.

    AND…I have never bought into it, but I do believe it has clouded my thoughts about what kind of God I worship. I find myself having to really remind myself that He is not a vengeful Father and when I mess up and then something bad happens in my life, it is NOT because He is punishing me…I think this can be a very dangerous side effect of AA Christianity. And my Presbyterian roots DO NOT teach AA Christianity, so I’m not sure where those thoughts come from.

    Thanks for sharing…again, I really liked this post.

  13. Terry says:

    Trey,
    Great post! And I loved your response to anonymous’ good questions. Very biblical!

  14. Odgie says:

    Trey,

    I think too many youth ministries contribute to this; kids get care and attention based on their attendance and activities. Also, the rules at our Christian colleges reinforce this perspective.

  15. donna says:

    Been there…thought that.

    The hard thing is breaking free from that thinking without tilting in the other direction…or at least having those that remain think you are on the short bus to condemnation. Christianity should be a free and full life, with our allegience to Christ alone. But we have set up churches that with good intentions feel that people should answer and be committed to the organiztion.

    The problem for me is I do NEED the community, but I am sick of the political/corporate structure, but I find it hard to give up. Weird huh?

  16. Jeanne M. says:

    What about the people who attend just on Sunday morning for “worship service” and do not have anything to do with fellow christians the rest of the time? They must be comfortable with this action, but I have often wondered how they could really feel part of the “community of believers” if they never were involved with the church family. I do not believe we must only do “works” with others, but when there is a need made known, how can these people even know of it when they are estranged from the “family?” When we are part of the family, we know and can share in the concerns of each other. There are many good people who do many good works, but Matt. 7:21-22 tells us that Christ did not accept just their good works. There is a need for good works – and obedience to His will. I grew up in a family where the parents did many things for others, but that doesn’t mean I always followed their example, to my shame. It is something we must always be aware of – how can we serve? Maybe that is the key – we must be a servant as Jesus claimed to be, thinking of others’ needs rather than our own.

  17. Joshua Tucker says:

    Amen, bro. It’s easy to make Christianity about a lot of things. I’ve heard people (including myself) bind so many commands on people that were really just tradition, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone try to bind these very simple ones. And they ARE tied to very definite “Heaven and Hell verses”. Seek the outcast… love the unlovable. Thanks for the encouragement. :)

  18. doug young says:

    Trey,

    Yesterday I was thinking about the same thing. Jesus taught a lot of things about how to live according to His Way, and what that Way will grant a person. Your point about Matthew 25 is one often ignored. Jesus could have used a lot of different examples to show what will shut a person out of heaven. He chose the issue of social justice.

    Amazing…He didn’t choose a doctrinal matter, He chose how you treat those less fortunate! Like you, I’m not suggesting that doctrine isn’t important. But doesn’t Jesus’ choice of illustrations say something?

    Things like this leave me asking the question, “Can we really call ourselves Christians if our approach is so different than Jesus’?”

    Great post!

  19. Steve V. says:

    Peace and grace from our Father, God.

    Trey, I have not formally introduced myself yet. I am Steve Valentine from San Angelo. I am one of those that just float though the blog world taking it in and occasionally making a comment. I came across your blog through a chain of others and have been blessed ever since. I commend you for the work you perform for the Lord.

    This post has hit a spot deep in my heart. I was a PK (preacher’s kid) that unlocked the doors three times a week. Thankfully my father knew there was more to Christianity than just walking through the doors one-way on the “appointed times.” He knew that no matter what direction you were going through those doors, whether in or out, you were walking with the Lord and in the sight of God.

    Your post draws to my mind another man that Jesus said we must not be like. The Pharisee’s prayer was the thinking of an AA Christian. The Pharisee bragged I have done this and I have abstained from this. In my opinion, AA thinking is the hardest thing to fight in our own lives especially if we have been Christians for many years or grew up in a Christian family with a long heritage of church going. Why? Because these things make us feel good about ourselves. We can look at the results of what we have done and stand up straighter. Stick our chest out further. Even stand on the street corner to pray. There is nothing wrong with benchmarking, checking our progress. Matter of fact there are certain things in scripture that give us the criterion to see our progress. We can inspect our lives against the fruits of the spirit to see if we are reaching maturity, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The fundamental question that must be asked in this process of checking ourselves is this, have I truly submitted my will to God’s will. In our human minds the way up is up, but in the ways of Christ the way up is down (Philippians 2.1-11). Have we truly humbled ourselves to submit to God or are we keeping tally marks for attendance and abstinence?

    In Christ our Savior,
    Steve V.

  20. Preston Belt, Beautiful Downtown Lockney, Texas says:

    Trey!

    Wow! That is one thing that I have struggled with for many years! Born and raised in the church, I was lead to believe that all I had to do was “be good” to get to heaven. And, of course, be a memeber of the church. That’s not at all right. We have been doing an extensive study on Romans on Wedensday night. One thing that I have learned is, by keeping the “law”, not the Law of Moses but any “law” that condemns me, causes me to sin. Romans 8:1 “Therefore (get ready, he’s about to say something very important here), there is now (not later, not before, but NOW!) NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because (here’s why) through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me (even ME!) free from the law of sin and death. vs 3 (here’s the point) For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the lawmight be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

    Now just how does that make you feel? It makes me feel good! I died to sin in baptizm. Raised by the holy spirit! REDEEMED!

  21. TREY MORGAN says:

    Sharla … very well said. I think it took you about 3 sentences to say what it took me 50. :)

    Cowgirl … Blue Like Jazz? I’ve heard about it but have yet to read it. I’ll have to put that one on the list.

    Jeanne … very well put.

    Joshua … Thanks for dropping by. I’m honored.

    Doug … as always, you leave great comments. It’s exactly what I was trying to say.

    Steve – Honored to meet you brother. I know you’ve been stopping by for a while. Thanks for the introduction. Thanks for your comment and I pray I show my children the same faith you father showed you.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Late to this post but wanted to add my comment.

    I was raised with AA theology and a very unhealthy dose of guilt. Roll was taken every Sunday a.m., p.m. and Wednesday evening. And yes, I bought into it. Complete with having nightmares that no matter how good I was, how much I repented, that I was in the flames of hell.

    I was taught to be proud to be in an exclusive church. The only group that had any possibility of eternal life in heaven.

    I then went on to a college that stood firm on AA Christianity. “Outsiders” were treated differently and watched very carefully. If you stood out in the crowd, life was hard.

    I started questioning the way I had been taught and started seeking answers to the many questions I had.

    I quit going to church during my college years and it took a good decade to work through the guilt and shame I carried for all the years prior.

    I left a mindset, a building, I did not leave my faith in God. I started listening, opening my heart, stopped being so rigid and judgmental, and started letting God lead me.

    I finally learned about grace!

    Your post is excellent! I would’ve loved to have read it 25 years ago! I am confident that someone, somewhere will read your words and find a piece of the puzzle they have been missing.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Brandon: I think this is one of your best blog posts ever “Trey!”

    ps. I sent it to most of my friends.

  24. Robert Lukenbill says:

    I am late on this one as well…but here are my 2 1/2 cents.

    1. When we figure out that Christians are the church and we don’t go to church we will be closer in our relationship with God. Understanding that Jesus purchased the church with his blood makes us special people. God didn’t write a bunch of rules to punish us, but rather letters to help guide us through life and teach us what to do when we do mess up.

    2. Abstainence is a fine concept for someone who lives in a bubble without TV, the internet, radio, newspaper and eyeballs. If you can see you are going to lust at some point in your life or you are going to covet or you are going to have some undesirable feeling. I think John pens it best “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:10).”

    great article Trey!

About Me

Trey Morgan Here are my thoughts about marriage, family, raising children, humor, faith and the life God intended for us all. I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast.

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