Results tagged “Apostasy” from Reformation21 Blog

"In" with the World

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Over the last few weeks, former pastor and Christian author Josh Harris has made a public resurgence through his shocking Instagram announcement. This is sad news, and we should mourn over it. When any supposed brother or sister in the faith announces they have fallen away--whether publicly or privately--our response ought to be prayerful, gentle, and soaked with tears. 

However, his particular announcement also serves as a reminder of the sneaking temptation to seek affirmation outside of Christ. Even as Josh broadcasts falling away from the Christian faith, he goes on to offer an apology to the LGBTQ+ community, writing,

"I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry." 

No doubt Josh's apology is motivated by a sincere desire to extend love. He is acting on desires and themes he learned, believed, and preached as both a pastor and a Christian. Christ himself came to love the unlovable, to extend grace to those desperately needing it, to shine light where only darkness once reigned. Though we're not always great at it, humans feel deep in their bones the desire to be loved and accepted, and to extend the same to others. And there may be real places where apology to the individuals in the LGTBQ+ community is necessary. Every human should be valued and respected as a fellow image-bearer of God. 

With that said, Josh's apology brings up a timely and relevant issue: Misconstrued righteousness. As Reformed Christians, we are taught and believe that true righteousness comes only through Christ. We affirm that, in our mysterious union with Christ, his righteousness becomes our righteousness. As Paul writes, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). We who could do no good on our own must cling to Christ; only then will we have the righteousness needed to stand confidently before God. Christ is our affirmation and commendation before the Father. Righteousness is found only in the Person of Christ; we need not pursue affirmation from any other than Christ alone. 

In today's culture, however, there is another supposed means of righteousness--what I will call "worldly righteousness." I understand that the term "worldly" gets thrown around, so allow me to attempt a definition: By worldly, I have in mind the whole of the philosophies and ideas that coalesce in order to form a particular godless and humanistic worldview. In short, I mean the Zeitgeist, or spirit of the age. For instance, Christians believe that joy is found only in glorifying God through making him Lord and obeying his Word. The Zeitgeist claims that joy is found only in self-independence, self-affirmation, and self-love (these are the actual words used). This is a righteousness wholly distinct from Christian righteousness, acquired in whatever way the current age deems to be right and good and honorable.

Here is where Josh's recent post is helpful. He articulates this worldly righteousness regarding the very complex and difficult issue of LGBTQ+ tolerance and acceptance. According to the Zeitgeist, real righteousness, robust wisdom, and authentic love are found in the total acceptance and praise of another's lifestyle. To remain "in" with the world, one must adhere to and affirm what the world adheres to and affirms. And Josh has decided to do this, trading the truth of God's Word for the philosophy of the age. He has traded Scripture's definition of holiness and goodness for the holiness and goodness of the world. Specifically, he has traded Scripture's clear teaching regarding the sin of homosexuality for the teaching of the world which deems this perfectly good, holy, and beneficial. 

For this decision, he has gained, in a sense, the whole world. He has earned the world's respect for his authenticity and honest struggle against old confines. He will have new friends affirming, encouraging, and welcoming him with open arms. And these new friends will declare him righteous. 

Josh's story matters for Christians, because his temptation to worldly righteousness will become the ever-increasing temptation for every believer. The decision lies between two ways of righteousness: The biblical way finds the alien righteousness of Christ accounted unto the believer as a gift; the worldly way finds the self-declared and mutually-affirmed righteousness of the world... at the cost of forsaking biblical truth. And in the eyes of the world, that cost just a few archaic and intolerant ideas. 

The pressure to accept this cost is already mounting; whether in journalism, social media, or entertainment, there is an ever-ballooning pressure to become a friend of the world. If you do, you gain the world's affirmation, its welcome, and access to its table. You get to be on the inside. Most people want to be "in," something that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his essay, "The Inner Ring." In this case, accepting the worldly righteousness is the way to become (what Lewis calls) an "inner ringer," reassured that you are "in" with the world. And that will be your reward.

Jesus had something to say about this decision in Matthew's Gospel. After telling his disciples that the cost of following him would mean bearing their own crosses, he turns and asks a rhetorical question:

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26).

We know this is a rhetorical question because the answer for Jesus is obvious: There is zero profit in gaining the whole world. For Jesus, the profit at stake is eternal life with himself, enjoying eternal fullness of love with God. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus made the point that for their hollow good works, the Pharisees "have received their reward" (6:2). That reward was the praise of people. The profit for gaining the whole world works the same way. For joining hands with the world, a person gains the fickle praise of other people, and that's all. It is just as Chaucer illustrated in The House of Fame: The praise of people amounts to nothing more than having your name etched in a wall of ice. 

For his apology, Joshua Harris gets his name added to that wall of ice. A similar offer stands open to us all. In whose affirmation and commendation will you rest your soul? In whose righteousness will you stake your profit? These are the questions before us. May we consider well our answer. 


Kevin Vollema is pursuing his Master of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also an intern at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi.


Related Links

Leaving the Faith: Reflections of a Prodigal by Lisa Robinson Spencer

Gurnall on Celebrity Pastors by Jeremy Walker

Apostasy Lit: Why Do They Leave? by Steve Nichols

Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread by Carl Trueman

Leaving the Faith: Reflections of a Prodigal

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By now the firestorm of commentary around Josh Harris' public announcement--that he has not only divorced, but departed from the Christian faith--has died down. People have moved on, but not before delivering a slew of analysis, indictments, pleas, condemnation, and speculation.  

When the news hit and I observed all the commentary, I too wanted to offer my two cents. However, I found myself struggling to say anything publicly. While I do think there might be some merit to the contributing factors cited, namely that he was never a true believer to begin with, I know there is more to the story than simple pat answers can provide. Now with the news that Marty Sampson of Hillsong fame has announced his departure from the faith, I am compelled to speak.

You see, I was a prodigal. I came to Christ in my first year in college in 1982. Though I grew up  in a missionary Baptist church, if the gospel was preached I guess I didn't have ears to hear it. By my junior year in high school, I came to the conclusion that church just wasn't for me, and I resisted attendance any further.  

That all changed when I got to college and met a couple of Christians. They didn't talk to me about church; they told me about Jesus. To this day I can't remember everything they said to me, except for this one line: "You're looking for something and you won't find it until you find Jesus." After a couple of visits to the Thursday night worship/bible study, the reality that I needed Jesus as my Savior stirred by soul with such a convicting force that I found myself on my knees in the quietness of my dorm room, telling Jesus I was a sinner and that I needed him. That's all I knew at the time.

Over the next few years, I would be ingrained in the life of the church, including the college group and whatever fellowship opportunities that arose. To be clear, my participation was a direct reflection of what I believed to be true about the faith that I now embraced: That Jesus died for my sins, and receiving him as Savior meant that I was to live for him. For the most part, I tried. I was diligent with Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and the like.

Unfortunately, the deceitfulness of sin began to erode my walk. This is why James issues a stern warning about our own lusts that can lead us down a dangerous path, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15). It didn't help that I sat under some unfaithful and distorted teaching that really didn't deal honestly with the sin nature that still tries the soul.

After a few years from my "conversion," I walked away from the faith in 1986. While I never denounced Christianity or indicated I was no longer a Christian, my line of thinking definitely echoed what I hear Harris and Sampson utter--there was a deconstruction, if you will. But really, it was flat out rebellion. I could not live within a Christian construct any longer, foolishly believing that it was freedom. I lived as one who did not believe, doing what was right in my own eyes, and making many foolish decisions along the way.

That all changed towards the end of 1998. By then I was in my second marriage to a nonbeliever, living under very unpleasant circumstances, and about to experience preliminary stages of a life altering illness. The Lord used the examples of his family members, very committed Christians, to bring about conviction to my heart that eventually led to repentance at the beginning of 1999. Shortly after my husband collapsed from what we would later learn was complete renal failure (which led to his death in 2004), the Lord had fully gripped my heart and wooed me back. His kindness truly does lead to repentance. 

Like so many speculating about Harris, I can give you the precise theological language about my soteriological position from a Reformed perspective. But honestly, I can't tell you whether I was a Christian, so seeped in rebellion that it took 13 years to come to my senses, or if I was never truly a Christian to begin with. All I know is that I was lost and now I'm found. The Lord has so graciously dealt with me, drawing me to himself. He lifted this prodigal out of the depths of sinful mire and gave me eyes to see his grace, beauty and forgiveness.

I've had some trying times since that miraculous day in 1999. I've been confronted with doubts and disappointments, trials that sent my mind into a tailspin, times of feelings of abandonment, hard and slow areas of sanctification, and bouts of numbness. The words of Peter in response to Jesus in John 6:68-69 permeate my heart, just as it did that day I read it 20 years ago. When those following Jesus began to depart in droves because they couldn't get with what Jesus was saying about himself, Jesus turned to Peter and asked, "Do you want to go away as well?" Peter's response pierces my soul to this very day: 

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

This has anchored me in those times of apparent contradiction. It has propelled me to keep clinging to Christ and trust in his all sufficient work when my mind and my circumstances tempted me not to. But I also know that it is only because of Christ's love for me and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that has sustained me. And where else could I go, but in the firm grip of the loving Father? Unfortunately, it took me wandering away to really learn there was no place else.  

So while everyone has moved on from Harris, I consider my story and still wonder about him. Perhaps this is not the end. Whether he was ever in the Father's hand or not, I wonder if there still might be hope for him to find himself there. I know what it's like to "feel" like you're free from the shackles of what your rebellion deems a restrictive religious paradigm. But I also know that apart from Christ, there truly is no freedom at all.  


Lisa Robinson holds a ThM degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (2014). She is newly married and recently moved from Dallas, TX to Roanoke, VA where she resides with her husband Evan and attends Christ the King Presbyterian Church. She blogs at www.theothoughts.com

How Not to Fall Away

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"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." So was the recent confession by former pastor, Joshua Harris. It is not uncommon for people to fall away from Christianity. But Harris' recent announcement is particularly troubling. It is hard when a seemingly humble and genuine follower of Jesus, a gifted author, and a pastor of a large congregation falls out of love with the God of Scripture and renounces the faith. It is impossible to say whether Harris's rejection of the Christian faith is evidence of an unregenerate heart or of serious backsliding of a true Christian. Still, this is a learning moment for us. 

Paul used particular instances of apostasy to warn the church and urge believers to press on. He mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander who had blasphemed and "concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck" (1 Tim. 1:19-20). What a terrible image. But Paul wasn't exaggerating. He had been shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:25). He knew that apostasy was no less tragic than the sinking of a vessel on which people's lives depended. These particular apostates punctuate Paul's charge to the church to "wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience" (19). How can we learn from others' failures in order to be diligent to resist falling away?

Take Heed Lest You Fall 

The surest way to fall away from the faith is to assume you are immune to falling away (1 Cor. 10:12). "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13). Jesus charged his closest friends: "Abide in Me... If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:6)."We have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end" (Heb. 3:14). 

Understand the End of Apostasy

Apostasy is not simply a different way to practice faith. Apostates turn off the path that leads to eternal life. Those who renounce faith will be cut off from the tree of life (Rom. 11:22). "For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them" (2 Peter 2:20-21). 

Not everyone publishes their apostasy in carefully postured social media posts. Some who have professed the Christian faith quietly stop coming to church and bearing fruit but continue to identify as Christians. They want to avoid a public scandal. But they simply postpone the most scandalous confrontation imaginable. On the Day of Judgment Jesus will say to all apostates: "I never knew you; depart form Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23).

Beware of the "Wrong-Side-of-History" Narrative 

It isn't hard to read in Harris' announcement that he was rattled by the worldview clash that Christianity demands. The world will always see serious Christians as being on the wrong side of history; biblical morality seems ignorant and contrary to human progress. Christians will face "the tribulations and persecutions on account of the world" (Matt. 13:21). 

So be careful what you repent of. Harris quotes Luther on the life of believers being a life of repentance. That's true. And Harris's list is a fine place for us to start repenting: self-righteousness, a fear-based approach to life, mistreatment of women (or men), faulty parenting, bigotry toward those with different sexual understanding and practice. But genuine repentance is sorrow over sin and the practice of new ideas and actions that more clearly reflect God (2 Cor. 7:10). 

The "wrong-side-of-history" motif is like trying to solve a constantly changing maze. To be politically or socially fashionable you will have to change your religious boundary markers and risk apostasy. 

Ground Your Hope in Jesus Not Laws 

Many have pointed out that the courtship movement that Harris once promoted could easily become a version of the prosperity gospel; it centralized a sexually fulfilling marriage while marginalizing organic union with Christ. Sexual purity is a good thing that God requires. But if we make premarital virginity and marital sex our chief ends they become idols. Idols--rather than restrain the flesh--actually fuel ungodliness and encourage apostasy. The biblical model for a God-glorifying life is to build your hope on nothing more nor nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. 

Beware of Gradual Drift 

Harris probably didn't undergo a sudden, Damascus-road-type de-conversion. Studies indicate that a strong majority of those who leave the faith do so gradually. Every time we ignore the urging of our conscience we smooth and broaden the path of apostasy. We need to develop the kind of spiritual disciplines and friendships that will help ensure that if we begin to drift church leaders, family, and friends will notice and take action.

Anticipate Deconstruction 

In his documentary I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Harris seems undone by the revelation that the theology and ethics of his early years were too simplistic. Of course they were. Maturity guarantees some level of worldview deconstruction. Those raised in a covenant home begin by believing everything they learn from parents and other close influencers. But maturity happens when we scrutinize the faith we have inherited (1 Cor. 13:11) by searching the Scriptures and searching our souls. Parents and church leaders should welcome the intimidating, genuine questions of their children.If you enter a phase of confusion over who you are and where you are headed don't assume you have fallen away. 

Confess the Historic Faith 

Sound, time-tested public theological formulations ground believers in truth that is bigger than our own, fluctuating ideas. Historic confessions help us know what we must believe as God's children. We must trust that God is, that he has revealed himself both in nature and Scripture, and that he will reject those who reject him and reward those who earnestly seek him (Heb. 11:6). Confessions allow for significant latitude of expression while providing a solid biblical foundation on which to build, and boundaries within which to work. 

Trust God to Keep You from Stumbling

Writing to Christians who seemed to be on the brink of apostasy the apostle to the Hebrews was still optimistic: "We are not of those who draw back to perdition but of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39). He's teaching us to be hopeful. Don't agonize over the weakness of your faith, the holes in your understanding, or the unbelief mixed in with your faith. Be confident in Christ. It is not your faith that makes you lovely to God but only Christ's righteousness. Life is complicated. We are all tempted to compromise our faith. But we have a simplicity in Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). Hidden in Christ alone we are safe. He "is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 25).

De-Conversion

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De-conversion is the reverse of conver­sion. While some creep away from the faith like a gliding glacier, the de-converted are glaciers calving off, crashing into the sea with devastating effect. Read on with holy fear.

Paraphras­ing Dr. Michael Kruger,

De-conversion stories seek to convince Christians that their 'outdated, naïve beliefs' are no longer worthy of assent. People tell how they once thought like you, but have now 'seen the light'. Christian­ity has never lacked people, who once in the fold, later left. They tell their stories with a conviction, passion, and evangelistic zeal to make a televangelist blush. Today, these powerful stories are high profile, wide-spread throughout the internet.1

Also, today de-converted people have greater zeal. They don't leave quietly, as they might have genera­tions ago. Now their purpose is to 'evangelize' the found rather than the lost sheep. In their minds, they are missionaries, compelled to help Christians realize their 'mistake'. Modern examples of people in the de-conversion business include Bart Ehrman, Rob Bell, Peter Enns, and Jen Hatmaker. We could add the "Jesus Seminar" and, for the UK, Steve Chalke.2

They experienced overwhelming 'aha' moments.3 The Bible suddenly jarred with their intellectual integrity, personal sensitivities, or cultural proclivities. Whenever that happens, the Bible loses out. Scripture speaks of de-conversion with terrifying seriousness. The technical, theological word is 'apostasy'. (Hebrews 10:31)

Apostates heard the Gospel, understood it, and acknowledged its truth. Their wills once consented to it, and apparently their hearts embraced it. Some are in pulpits, where they once preached the truth. Some are in seminaries and remain, but teach something different. These are people who know better. Still they break off, like glaciers calving. Thunderously!

Apostasy often begins by avoiding worship, including the preaching and teaching of the Word. Hebrews' unknown writer warns his audience against, "neglecting to meet together ..." 'Neglect' is too weak; it should read, "To utterly forsake..." Christ's Church. It's not sleeping in a couple snowy Sundays a year!

People fall for various reasons. Some find the teaching too strong, too hard, or too mainline Biblical for their taste. Whatever their reasons, they wish their minister would dish up a different spiritual diet. Jesus had followers who found His teaching too 'hard', so they "no longer walked with him." (Isaiah 30:9-11, John 6:60-66)

Or perhaps being seen with 'those eccentric Christians' was embarrassing, compared to those in their office or social circles. Or perhaps they rebelled against Biblical morality.

Again, maybe they mouthed the words too long. One day, they ask themselves, "Do I really believe this?" Or they succumb to American individualism, thinking of it as "finding my own space." So they ease up when they should go deeper.

For whatever reason, apostates abandon the churches they once knew and loved. Some adopt a distorted 'Christianity', crafted to suit themselves. They attend 'alternative Bible studies'. They often say, "Well, that's what you believe, but I like to think of God as...." They think Almighty God is amenable to their definition of Him.

They engage in activities with a churchy gloss, while pursuing their own moral or 'spiritual' agenda versus the clear teaching of Scripture. Their hearts become resistant, hardened to instruction from God. All this is sin, but we cannot yet label these people fully apostate. (Isaiah 30:9, Hebrews 3:13-15)

The apostate adds defiance to sinning. They sin deliberately, willfully, fiercely. Again, 'deliberately' is too weak a word. (Hebrews 10:26)

An article in First Things describes such defiance:

[T]he Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Derek Browning, [i]n his Yuletide message to his disappearing flock... confessed that in his "darker moments," he sometimes wondered whether "the world [would] have been a better place without [Jesus].... would there have been no Crusades? Would there have been no Spanish Inquisition?"4

Nor are Roman Catholics immune. One priest substituted a "syrupy pop-religious tune... for the Creed" because he didn't believe it anymore.

Both are apostate. They proclaim their beliefs from pulpit and altar. However, people may depart from the truth privately. They slowly, but steadily detach themselves ...until the break comes. Their hearts and minds no longer subscribe to Scripture. Divine revelation is the heart of the matter. Apostates become adversaries of revealed truth. It's not just that they don't believe it; they are actively opposed.

Let me reassure some of you. These weren't poorly taught Christians with doubts. These weren't people bowing to extreme pressure, like many who failed the test under persecution but repented. They weren't in some dark psychological state of confusion, nor were they coping with medical depression.5 They weren't struggling with a difficult passage or a lesser doctrine here and there. They weren't caught off guard by unforeseen temptation, falling into sin.

No, these people - eyes wide-open, with deliberate intent, by free choice, without coercion - embraced what Scripture calls 'an evil heart of unbelief'. (Hebrews 3:12)

We would like to think the de-converted could return. Perhaps a few are not truly apostate. However, psychologically, as a group, they never want to repent. They never feel sorry for leaving the Church. They box themselves into a decision freely made.

You might ask, "What about the Perseverance of the Saints, or Eternal Security?" Actually, it leaves those intact. How so? John says of such people, "They went out from us, but they were not of us...." Their departure demonstrates that something was always missing, says John. True believers persevere. (1 John 2:18-19)

Believers must be challenged to endure, hold fast, retain their confidence, make a clear confession without wavering - to the very end, whether natural death, martyrdom, or the Second Coming. Such challenges are necessary today.

Believers must cheer each other on! How? Gather for worship. Listen attentively to the sermon. Focus on heavenly things throughout the week. Otherwise, we are vulnerable to de-conversionists.

If you worry you might be apostate, ask yourself:

  • Would you feel sorry to be truly outside the Church?
  • Do you care what godly people think of you?
  • Is it frightful to contemplate eternity without Christ?
  • Are you willing to work your way back?

If you say 'yes' to any of these, you are not among the de-converted - but perhaps you should tidy up loose ends in your Christian life.

De-conversionists don't care. They place themselves outside the discipline of Christ's Church. Eternity means little or nothing to them. They have no desire to repent. They should be truly frightened! Outside His Church, Christ is not the Mediator of the Father's wrath. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Psalm 10:4-6, Hebrews 10:31)

Paul says, "Avoid such people." It's pointless to argue. If you yourself are struggling, flee! They look for Christians at their weakest. Flee into the arms of your Savior (2 Timothy 3:5b-8). God will deal with them in His own good time.

 

1. Dr. Michael J. Kruger is President of the Charlotte NC campus of Reformed Theological Seminary. He wrote an article entitled, "The Power of Deconversion Stories: How Jen Hatmaker Is Trying to Change Minds about the Bible." Our apologies to Dr. Kruger. It was necessary to paraphrase and abbreviate this citation in the interest of space. You can read the original post here.

2. Two reviews of Steve Chalke's book can be found here and here.

3. This is Peter Enns' term.

4. An excerpt from, "Men without Convictions, Churches without People," in First Things.

5. Such conditions may require a doctor. See one - and then read your Bible, in that order.

More on Sudduth

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With characteristic aplomb and passion for Christ's glory, Steve Hays over Triablogue has written more on Sudduth's deconversion. See here.

One thing this whole mess has sparked in me, besides anger and sadness, is a renewed interest in Owen's massive work on apostasy from the Gospel (vol. 7, I think). Look for some posts on this work in the coming weeks - it is a gold mine!