Apostasy, Part 2 – Introduction

Introduction 

This is a subject that finds little approbation in our day. Apostasy is not a topic that is spoken about very often. That is unless it is spoken of in reference to others rather than in reference to us. Sinful human nature shuns self reflection and not only that, this is a day in which discussion of other people’s degree of faithfulness is mostly forbidden. Sin is also what make apostasy a most unpleasant subject for everyone to discuss. By nature, any discussion about the subject of apostasy requires that certain judgements be made about either ourselves or others. This is a day in which any judgement of others is usually considered to be unloving. Since this has become a matter of public opinion, the subject of apostasy as it relates to people is considered rude and not politically correct to engage in. This leaves only our self to be the proper subject of examination on whether there is some guilt of unfaithfulness or not. Self examination is as unpleasant for most as it is unpopular. This is so because this is an age in which everyone is thought to be essentially good. Even in vast areas of the church sin is downplayed as something less than it is.

Unfaithfulness is clearly something that is not considered to be a good thing according to the standard of most people. Since that is so, good people cannot possibly be engaged in it, can they? At the same time because of the pressure to downplay sin as simply a mistake, or the result of some weakness or mitigating circumstance, unfaithfulness in modern society is often tolerated. No one likes to have their spouse cheat on them, yet, the number of people that currently do this in society is staggering. With a divorce rate of nearly fifty percent in America it would seem that the current definition of faithfulness has undergone a radical change over time. Forty or fifty years ago, a church might have one, maybe two people in it who had been divorced. Today, the exact opposite is true; Maybe one or two people in the church have not been divorced. Since this situation is the present reality, it is near impossible to engage in discussion that deals with the subject of apostasy.

The reason for this too, is due to the fact that this is a post modern era in which we now live. Post-modernism is a philosophy that all things may be believed, whether they are right or wrong, true or false, or simply illogical. Whatever a person wants to believe is true simply because that person believes it. This kind of mentality makes the subject of apostasy difficult at best to deal with. The reason for this problem is that those who most need to hear about it is those who most likely will not listen to it when spoke to. This is the way that post modernism has managed to style itself. As a philosophy it acts as an insulator against all criticism. In fact, according to the post modernist anyone who does criticize is automatically an offender of decency. This is what political correctness is all about. It is an attempt to shut down all scrutiny against certain behaviors that at one time were considered unacceptable by society.

It is not society that is in view here however, when discussing the subject of apostasy. Apostasy is a subject that relates primarily to faithfulness in religion, and it is the Christian religion we are concerned with. Therefore, it is a matter of importance to the church. When we talk about apostasy, we are talking primarily about those who profess faith in Christianity. This is most definitely a judgement toward others, the very thing that political correctness forbids. Also, apostasy ultimately should be a matter of self reflection too if we are counted as professors of the Christian faith. Such a qualifying self examination as this strikes at the heart of another cherished philosophy today, that of self esteem. We are told that it is not acceptable for anyone to think of themselves as wrong in terms of what or who they are. But the subject of apostasy is one that demands self reflection, whether it is popular to do so or not.

Well then, what is apostasy and why is this so important a matter for us and others who believe in the Christian faith? A popular dictionary definition given of apostasy is that it is “A total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.” (Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition 2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009). More specifically stated, apostasy is an unfaithfulness toward God leading to unbelief. Apostasy is a most serious matter for anyone who thinks him or herself to be a Christian. There must be certain consequences for those who may become apostates. Whether a post modern perspective frowns on it, or a psychological culture of self esteem, militates against it, consideration of apostasy from God and the Christian religion must be addressed.

There are several questions which might be asked in regards to this. If apostasy is unfaithfulness to God leading to denial of Him, how is this to be defined? That is to say, is apostasy as unfaithfulness a matter of degree, substance or consistency which gives it its specific meaning? If apostasy is unfaithfulness by degree then how much is too much? If apostasy is the substance of unfaithfulness how do we know it? If apostasy as unfaithfulness is a matter of consistency of behavior where is the point of no return? All of these questions need to be answered, and many more. Unfortunately, there is little desire in the post modern affected Christian church to ask or seek answers to these kinds of questions. To do so would be to offend the sensibility of most post modern professing Christians. Therefore, most people within the organized Christian church are unconcerned about the subject of apostasy.

Apostasy is a word and subject that finds little interest or usage at all in modern society Christian or not. The reason for this is that it is primarily associated with the standard of organized religion. Although words that have a religious connotation are often used in modern language most of these have by and large lost their meaning on today’s irreligious people. A word like apostasy has become especially difficult in its meaning to the post modern mind. This difficulty is because the post modern man is himself an apostate in the proper religious sense of the word. It is interesting to note that when polled, most Americans say they are spiritually minded compared to their European counterparts who consider themselves to be more secular. Yet, in spite of this boast, the very same people by and large do not attend places of worship on any discernibly regular basis.

If this is so, why then would he, the modern man want to retain an understanding of the meaning of such a word as this? The post modern man is largely an apostate in the religious sense, for him to understand the word and what it means is for him to fall under the condemnation of what it is. This will not do for the post modern mind. Post modernity denounces the very means of measurement necessary to determine what is or is not faithfulness. The logic used is that spirituality is considered to be an entirely subjective matter. It need not be confined in any way to outward forms or ceremonies and certainly not to any written code. Spirituality it is reasoned, cannot be defined by such criteria. If spirituality is such a personal thing so as to elude external judgement then to suggest it is so with anyone in particular is an offense of the worst kind. Therefore, for modern man to retain the proper use and understanding of the word apostasy is rather difficult. The meaning of the word when considered inflicts a wound upon the conscience of those who have no interest in organized religion.

The question might be asked, what is religion if it has no outward form, no confessional standard, no requirement of duty or devotion of any kind? The thought of this is patently absurd. Can it be imagined that a person would say they love another, yet, never show any outward display of devotion or loyalty to them? This is a ridiculous notion in any context let alone in a religious one. There was a time when people in the government or in the military would swear an oath of allegiance to defend the constitution of the United States. It is still a violation of military code for an officer to engage in adultery. Yet, when it comes to the subject of religious faith no one seems to think that there is any outwardly objective standard by which it may be judged anymore. How did this come to be, how did a nation so blessed of God in history end up being so unfaithful to the same? This is a question that needs an answer.

In ascertaining exactly why the concept of this word apostasy has lost its usage in modern language, it becomes necessary for us to define it theologically. Once this has been done, it is certain that a clue can be obtained. Rev. Charles Buck’s Theological Dictionary provides a brief definition of apostasy which begins with the assertion that it is “A forsaking or renouncing our religion, either by an open declaration in words, or a virtual declaration of it by our actions.” (A Theological Dictionary, Woodward Edition 1825). Certainly, the first part of this two-part proposition has no ambiguity. To be religious and then to renounce it by a declaration of words is obviously an apostate action. No one should be stuck on the nature of that issue. Even so, it is lamentable that post modern thinking might not consider it to be that way at all. There are some who identify with what is being called emergent Christianity, who claim to be atheists at the same time. Whether these so-called emergents have verbally confessed faith in God at one time, only to renounce Him later does not seem to them illogical while they retain the name Christian.

Apostasy is a defection from a previously held commitment to God. An outward manifestation of this very thing by someone who has made a public profession of their faith, then reneged on it deserves the title of apostate. Nevertheless, the church has always struggled over those who have left or renounced their faith and then come back after leaving for whatever reason. Desertion from the faith under severe persecution was the very first controversy to trouble the church in the second century. Many who left the church when persecuted would then later repent and desire reinstatement in the church. This caused great arguments to ensue between the Bishops over whether to accept them back as truly repentant Christians or to regard them as spurious believers. The issue was whether these were actually apostates, or whether they were simply overcome by the temptation for relief. But certainly, those who renounce their faith without such trying circumstances as persecution should not be hard to decide on as to where they stand.

The second part of Charles Buck’s definition of apostasy is much more difficult to tackle. What actions are those which speak audibly in themselves to a defection from faith in God? To the post modern mode of thought there seem to be virtually no actions at all that rise to a level of unfaithfulness in religion which can rightfully be called apostasy. The problem arises as to who defines spirituality if it is entirely a subjective matter? This would explain why there are so many today who claim they are religious, but have no outwardly religious practice of any kind. One of the characteristics of the modern Christian philosophy is that it emphasizes individual liberty to the point of absurdity. Religion is so personal now that it can be practiced anywhere, anyhow. In other words, this is religion that abhors discipline and authority. There is no doubt that this has given rise to the televangelist whose audience can’t be bothered to leave the comfort of their home.

There are many too, who do not renounce Christian faith but have ceased attendance in public worship for other reasons. These people often cite corruption and hypocrisy in organized religion as their reason for leaving, claiming they can practice their faith apart from it. This is a charge that is hard to refute, yet, these hardly have a legitimate position from which to claim fidelity to their own definition of religion. When someone says that they are a Christian but not religious, as though that were an evil to be avoided, what on earth are they saying? Jesus practiced His faith. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” (Mark 1:35). “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16). Apparently Jesus was very religious, both privately and publically.

The home church movement has become a popular way of doing this very thing too. This movement views the organized church as illegitimate simply because it is organized. The claim they make is that it is the organized church which is the apostate. The house church is claimed to be a return to apostolic legitimacy because the early Christian met in homes. They did this because it was dangerous for too many of them to meet publically at one time in one place, it was a matter of self preservation. The house church advocates believe the informality of their circumstance makes for piety. In fact, where there is any group of professing Christian people who seek to separate from any identity and association with historic Christianity they are actually in danger of becoming cultists.

But there is another side to the issue of action oriented apostasy that is way more serious than that of these religious phonies. These are those who are in the church and outwardly devoted, yet, they have turned from God in their hearts completely. There is no one knows who they are, not even their own families oftentimes. Many of these have grown up within the church, have been Baptized and made their profession of faith. But all of this was done for no more than ascetic, cultural purposes. Being a Christian to these people is actually a matter of personal pride, of refinement and character. After having done their religious duties convincing themselves they are genuine, these apostates devote their mind and heart to the world. These may even secretly practice some form of delighted in immorality.

The church is full of this sort of apostate and naturally so. Jesus illustrated this very point in one of His sayings. “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:11,12). The sons of the kingdom are the unregenerate family members of believers. These apostates appeared to be true according to their outward association with Gods people. The closeness of family members to the church through marriage or offspring is a great privilege. It is also no guarantee of spiritual fidelity to the Lord. Oftentimes the Baptists will deride their Paedo-Baptist brethren over the fact that many of their children trust in their Baptism. Baptists are not immune from the same thing when they rush their children to the water only to see them leave the church one day.

This is a good note to conclude on also, for there is one good historical example in Scripture of this very thing to consider. Even the apostles were fooled by a public profession of faith by a man called Simon (Acts 8:14-24). This man made a profession of faith and was Baptized. All was well until Simon opened his mouth later on and revealed the fact that his motives were impure. The spiritual discernment of the apostle Peter to pick up on this quickly uncovered this mans sin and hypocrisy. But apparently sufficient spiritual discernment was absent when the apostles just as quickly Baptized and received Simon into the church. How many more false apostate Christians is there that, are never uncovered, that fill the churches and corrupt them with unbelieving impurity of heart? If we can discover the truth concerning this from Scripture then maybe we will have a clue as too why things are as they are today in the church.

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