Friday, July 24, 2009

on apostasy in the Christian church

These days, I'm encountering friends who are or questioning or leaving the faith. Perhaps the scariest thing of all is these are not the outcast and rebellious ones who used to smoke cigarettes outside of the church while the service was going on or the ones who dragged to church by their parents and later realized that they were neither genuine Christians nor even very sympathetic to the faith in the first place. In fact, they were the ones with whom I rubbed shoulders in ministry, who led outreaches, cell groups, Christian events; the ones who I saw weeping in repentance and who lifted their hands in fervent worship!

Now, they were bordering on atheism at worst, and agnosticism at best. Some common things I find about these friends, from what they related to me:

1. They are questioning the Church, its culture, its customs, its leadership.
2. They were a part of a parachurch organization, filled with fun and excitement, but only for a season.
3. They were confronted and hurt by Christian leaders.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will work in their hearts to revive them from the blindness they presently experience. In my theology of perseverance, those who are genuinely saved and inhabited by the Holy Spirit will never finally or ultimately fall into apostasy but will be preserved to the last day. It would utter sadness to know that these brothers who fought beside me in the trenches of ministry were never truly born again to begin with!

Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:21-23). This passage always struck me as sensational, something I never thought would actually happen. Only now do I how possible this scenario really is.

Perhaps the fundamental problem is that their entrance into faith was birthed within the context of a particular season or phase of life, or through the trappings of a well-done presentation of how exciting being a Christian can be. Now, it's not wrong that people come to faith because of a need in their life- indeed all genuine conversion must start with a deep sense of despair and helplessness. The problem is that the need was cosmetic and not fundamental: they sought Christ to fill a temporary and superficial need, be it a need for community, physical provision, a sense of calling. Once this need was met for a while by the religion called Christiantiy, the demands of the One called Christ began to be an impediment and obstacle to their real goals in life: to live for themselves. Rather than meeting the risen and glorified Christ, the exalted ruler of the universe who demands total allegiance, they met Christianity, the established institution that provided a momentary sense of belonging and purpose.

Yes, it's true that the Son of Man came not be served but to serve (Mark 10:45a). But read on ... "... and to give his life as a ransom for many." Once he ransomed us from our enslaved and pathetic state, he became exalted and we became free from sin so that we can be enslaved once again to a new Lord and King: Jesus. Hence, the Apostle Paul calls himself Doulos, slave of Christ Jesus.

Embracing Christianty is simply the easiest part. Embracing Christ, however, is much more demanding.