Man Overboard

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The Christian news lately has been filled with commentary on the “departure” of Josh Harris and Marty Sampson from the faith. (Good articles can be found here and here.) These have made the news because they are fairly well known names, but they are not unique. The fact is that such “de-conversions” happen every day in churches around the country. Some studies have said as many as 60-80% of Christian youth disengage with their faith when they head to college. We’ve probably all seen faithful attenders disappear from the pews. There are numerous reasons why people may abandon the faith they once proclaimed. Some may include:

  • Inadequate training in the foundations of faith that can’t stand up to scrutiny in the public square.
  • Lack of ongoing meaningful relationships with older Christians in the church.
  • Perceived hypocrisy in the church such as leadership failures, church splits, misuse of authority, and exclusivism.
  • Lack of application and a perceived conflict between faith and real world issues.
  • Believing that there’s no hope for sinners to really be reconciled with God, thus failing to understand the true gospel.

Most churches probably could do better in terms of teaching and training people and fostering deeper relationships. No church is perfect, and every church member has their faults. Ultimately, though, each departure from the faith is a failure of belief—a decision that the god that I think I know is not worth dedicating my life to. That may happen as a fairly quick abandonment of the faith, or as a slow growth of apathy. In His parable of the sower (Matthew 13), Jesus indicated four conditions: the seed may get snatched away before it can root; it may grow shallow roots and immediately fall away; it may start to grow but get choked out by the cares of the world and be unfruitful; or it may take deep root and grow powerfully. The seed is the same in each case, but the soil conditions make the difference.

While I believe from Romans 8:28-30 and other passages that the true believer can never lose their salvation, I also believe that there are those who think they are Christians who are putting their faith in other gods. Some may believe that God promises health and peace and positive answers to every prayer, and when they get disappointed they lose what faith they had. Some may believe that God shouldn’t judge people for doing what gives them pleasure, and they can’t accept that God is holy and just and righteous. Some may believe they are Christians because they assent to the faith of family members but never really investigate or embrace it for themselves.

If someone’s beliefs about God are false, they need to abandon that faith and get to know the one true God. We should pray that many will do just that. However, I fear that some of the big name de-conversions will instead lead people to edit their Bibles and write a “choose-your-own-god” faith. Let’s remove everything about rules and sin and judgment, and have a god of love who supports the marginalized, empowers the weak, and accepts everyone into a paradise of personal pleasure forever. We’ll keep the baby in the manger, but forget about the coming King.

That may sound good, but has some major problems—one being that it defeats its own purpose. If our faith is solely about love and acceptance, what is to be done with people who are more interested in committing murder and rape and theft? If some people are to be judged for their actions, who sets the bar? Can we really trust humanity to establish morality when we can’t even agree on who should run our country? Removing universal truth results in anarchy, not love.

I too had a time of questioning my faith. The church was not being a good witness; I had no faithful friend to talk me through things; and I didn’t much like God’s standards of holiness when the world’s ways seemed more appealing. I questioned whether I wanted to keep following Him. But in the end I had to say “You’re God and I’m not.” My ways may seem more enjoyable for a time, but they will not bring ultimate fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace.

As John Owen wrote in Overcoming Sin and Temptation (in 1675!):

 “False opinions are the work of the flesh. From the vanity and darkness of the minds of men, with a mixture more or less of corrupt affections, do they mostly proceed. The apostle was jealous over his Corinthians in this matter. He was afraid lest their minds ‘should by any means be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ’ (2 Cor. 11:2-3); which he knew would be attended by a decay and declension in faith, love, and obedience… We have seen some who, after they have received a sweet taste of the love of God in Christ, of the excellency of pardoning mercy, and have walked humbly with God for many years in the faith and apprehension of the truth, have, by the corruption of their minds from the simplicity that is in Christ, by false and foolish opinions, despised all their own experiences, and rejected all the efficacy of truth, as to the furtherance of their obedience…

“We have innumerable instances hereof in the days wherein we live. How many are there who, not many years since, put an unspeakable value on the pardon of sin in the blood of Christ—who delighted in gospel discoveries of spiritual things, and walked in obedience to God on the account of them—who, being beguiled and turned aside from the truth as it is in Jesus, do despise these springs of their own former obedience! …And this is one way whereby indwelling sin produces this pernicious effect of drawing men off from the power, purity, and fruitfulness attending their first conversion and engagements unto God… There is not anything we ought to be more watchful against, if we intend effectually to deal with this powerful and subtle enemy” (378-379).

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it… How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard” (Hebrews 2:1, 3 ESV).

“By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19b).

© 2019 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.

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