Theologically speaking, apostasy has to do with turning away from the faith, and denying the basic truths thereof. It is a renunciation of the faith, and an abandonment of it. This can be true of individuals, but it can also be true of whole denominations.
Some denominations have so jettisoned the basics of the Christian faith, that they can only be described as apostate. And when the basics of the faith are abandoned, then anything goes. We have a perfect example of this in Francis Macnab, a Uniting Church minister in Melbourne. According to a story in today’s Age, the minister has taken his theological liberalism to its logical outcome. Here is part of what the article said:
“‘The Ten Commandments, one of the most negative documents ever written.’ With that provocative claim posted high over two city streets, controversial cleric Francis Macnab yesterday launched ‘a new faith for the 21st century’, a faith beyond orthodox Christianity. Dr Macnab says Abraham is probably a concoction, Moses was a mass murderer and Jesus Christ just a Jewish peasant who certainly was not God. In fact, there is no God, in the usual sense of an interventionist deity – what we strive for is a presence both within and beyond us. Dr Macnab, a noted psychotherapist and executive minister at St Michael’s Uniting Church in the city, said the new faith was necessary because the old faith no longer worked. ‘The old faith is in large sections unbelievable. We want to make the new faith more believable, realistic and helpful in terms of the way people live,’ he said.”
The article continues, “St Michael’s is promoting the new faith with a $120,000 campaign over several months, involving newspaper and radio advertising, the internet, banners and billboards. Dr Macnab is being advised by Barry Whalen, who was the media guru for Cardinal George Pell when he was Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. According to Dr Macnab, the new faith transcends denominations and religions. It is about searching, not dogma. It seeks the good, the tender and the beautiful, and finds it in Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism.”
So it seems the good minister has abandoned his Christian beliefs altogether, and is now pushing for a pantheistic soup where any belief is as good as another. Indeed, as he said, God is not even needed in this new faith. Just look to the god within.
Of course such nonsense is nothing new. Every day some renegade, heretic or apostate is coming out with such foolishness. The important point to note here is that these things do not arise in a vacuum. Apostasy does not occur overnight, but is part of a process.
The Uniting Church has been known for decades as a denomination which has for the most part abandoned orthodox Christian teachings and has adhered to rabid theological liberalism. Thus Macnab’s new faith is simply the logical outworking of a watered down and corrupted faith.
Of course many prophetic voices in the past have warned about the dangers of a liberalised theology. For example, J. Gresham Machen penned a little, but explosive, book entitled Christianity and Liberalism in 1923. In it he argued a simple and clear thesis: liberalism is not Christianity. When you so water down basic Christian teachings, you no longer have biblical Christianity.
Said Machen, “In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called ‘modernism’ or ‘liberalism’.”
Liberalism is non-redemptive because there is nothing in need of redemption. We are just fine the way we are, thanks. Indeed, if god is within us, we must be doing pretty well. So who needs a saviour? In the 1930s H. Richard Niebuhr had warned about this very thing. He lamented the emptiness of liberal Protestant theology in which “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” That is the essence of theological liberalism, the likes of which is being pimped by our good minister.
Machen continues, “But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism, that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God.”
Indeed, God is dethroned in liberalism, and man is deified. It’s the oldest trick in the book. It worked in the Garden with our first parents, and it’s been occurring ever since. Thus the liberal theologians stand as one with their atheist colleagues, as they embrace naturalism and deny supernaturalism.
Dorothy Sayers, perhaps better known for her Lord Peter Wimsey crime detection novels, was also very concerned about the importance of sound doctrine. In 1940 she gave a very important address entitled “Creed or Chaos”. She was quite right to argue that when we abandon creed and doctrine, we end up with chaos. And that is just what we see here with Francis Macnab.
Sayers put it this way: “Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – dull dogma as people call it. The fact is quite the opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama. Christ, in His divine innocence, said to the Woman of Samaria, ‘Ye worship ye know not what’ – being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshiping. He thus showed Himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth-century mind, for the cry today is: ‘Away with the tedious complexities of dogma – let us have the simple spirit of worship; just worship, no matter of what!’ The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.”
She also said, “The thing I am here to say to you is this: that it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.”
This is exactly what we see coming out of a very liberal Uniting Church. Macnab’s new age mumbo jumbo is the bitter fruit of the rejection of sound doctrine and biblical truth. He has simply sold out his faith and embraced the spirit of the age. Of course Jesus warned about this very thing.
For example, he warned about false prophets who would come along and deceive many: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:22-23)
Paul and Peter also warned about this apostasy. Paul gave this warning in 2 Tim. 4:3,4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
Peter said similar things: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).
So we should not be surprised by such apostasy. It should shock us, grieve us, worry us and move us. But it should not surprise us. It will probably only get worse. All the more reason for those of us who still are true to Christ to redouble our commitment to him and to defend Christian theology anew.