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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

What Does Apostasy Look Like?

Jul 28, 2011

Apostasy, in the Christian scheme of things, has to do with the deliberate and/or formal renunciation of one’s faith. It means saying, “I no longer believe this, I reject it, and I am opting out”. That is fine. In a free country people can do that without fear of physical consequence.

In Islam apostasy warrants the death penalty, and many who have left Islam have paid with their lives. Apostasy is a serious matter, but a properly understood separation of church and state is found in the teachings of Christianity. Thus there will be no death sentence hanging over the head of the Christian who rejects his faith.

But there are of course spiritual consequences of various sorts. The individual in question puts himself out of the saving graces of Christ, and thus faces a lost eternity without Him. And such a public rejection of Christianity will have indirect consequences on others as well.

If a Christian leader renounces his faith – perhaps a faith he never truly had – then many others under his leadership may be tempted to do likewise. So apostasy certainly is a very serious matter. But the way it is dealt with differs from one religion to the next.

So what does apostasy look like? We have many examples in church history to draw upon here. But all we need to do to get a crystal clear example of what apostasy looks like is to look at today’s press. A news article speaks of a renegade Catholic priest who has unequivocally and unashamedly made the decision to fully renounce and repudiate Christ.

It doesn’t become any more apparent and obvious than this. Here is how one press report covers the story. “Sacked Catholic priest Peter Kennedy says he hasn’t given up on God and prayer, but no longer believes in Jesus. Father Kennedy, dismissed by the church for unorthodox practices, says he now considers Jesus ‘a fable’. The rebel priest made headlines in 2009 when he formed a congregation in exile.

“He was earlier sacked by the church for unorthodox practices such as allowing women to preach the homily and blessing same-sex relationships. Fr Kennedy says he still believes in God, just not a God who intervenes in the affairs of humans. ‘It’s true I’ve given up on that sort of a God, that sort of a ‘being’ that sits up there in heaven somewhere and intervenes in human affairs,’ he said today. ‘If you believe in a God that intervenes into human history why didn’t God intervene in the massacre in Norway? Whatever God is, God is not that sort of God, obviously. That’s what I’m trying to say.’

“Fr Kennedy said he still believed in prayer, but not asking things of God. ‘For me prayer is just standing in wonder and awe at the mystery of life, the beauty of life, the goodness of people.’ Praying in church was not about talking directly to God, he said. ‘It (public prayer) is about informing the community of people within the community and outside the community who are in need, it’s not about informing God. God already knows all that, that’s God.’

“But he said he had not believed in Jesus for some time, calling the son of God a ‘fable’ and a ‘metaphor’. ‘There is no corroborating evidence for the existence of a person called Jesus,’ he said. ‘The Gospels must not ever be taken literally. Scripture scholars tell us that. There’s been “dying, rising God-men” around for centuries before Christianity. All Christianity did was to take on those pagan, then Jewish, mysteries. He’s a parable, he’s a metaphor in a sense’.”

There you go folks. It does not really get any more plain, forthright or complete than that. This is apostasy par excellence. He has well and truly told Christ to butt out of his life – for good. In fact, he no longer believes in Christ, but he also claims he never even existed.

This is about as bad as it gets. The truth is, there is hardly any New Testament scholar worth his salt anywhere on the planet who doubts the actual historicity of Jesus Christ. Yet this guy wants to go the whole hog. At least he does not leave us in any doubts as to where he stands.

And what he still has left of his faith – if we can call it that – is such an anaemic, mushy and watered down bowl of pap that he really has become a joke – a caricature of religious conviction. Any atheist or New Ager could come up with such grotesque nonsense.

Consider just one of his odd claims. He asks where God was in the Norway massacres. I have already dealt with that question here: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/24/on-the-norway-massacres/

There I mentioned that it is ludicrous to expect God to intervene every time an individual is about to do evil. Indeed, why stop there? Why not insist that God intervene every time we even start thinking about evil? Why not nip it in the bud? But if God were to put an end to all evil at midnight tonight, who would be around at one minute past?

But let’s apply this challenge to our apostate. He insists that a loving God should not allow evil to spread. Well, in Christian terms, one of the most evil things one can do is deny Christ. Indeed, John tells us this is the spirit of antichrist (2 John 7). There is nothing much worse than deceiving oneself and others about God, Christ, and one’s eternal destiny.

Spreading lies and falsehoods about the God of the universe and Jesus who died for our sins is about as bad as it gets. So this guy should be insisting that God should have intervened in his life long ago, and prevented him from spewing his poisonous falsehoods.

One could go on, refuting his quite silly and juvenile objections to Christ and Christianity. Indeed, many atheists do a far better job of making their case than this renegade does. But to try to reason with him may be a lost cause. He appears to have decided to soundly renounce Christ and there is not much I or anyone else can do about it. But we can at least keep praying for him.

The truth is, one day he will stand before this Christ who he now claims is simply a myth, a “parable”. Then all his flimsy and laughable excuses will vanish in an instant. Then he will have nowhere to hide, and no more cheap excuses to dish up.

However, perhaps one good thing about this tragic and blatant case of apostasy is that it might serve as a warning to others. Scripture offers many warnings about falling away. Jesus often spoke about this. In Matt. 24:10-13 he said: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Or as the writer of Hebrews put it (3:12-14): “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”

This one priest is just one very blatant example of such apostasy. But with God’s grace, that shall not be our fate.

www.perthnow.com.au/news/rebel-catholic-priest-peter-kennedy-still-believes-in-god-but-not-in-jesus/story-e6frg12c-1226102884265

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11 Responses to What Does Apostasy Look Like?

  • Whenever you write, Bill, it seems to me that you have been moved and guided to do so. If only there were more shepherds like you, with words like yours, Christianity would have withstood the war of attrition waged against it by the agents of sin, more bravely. I feel blessed whenever I read your essays on faith, and strengthened in purpose. May God, His Precious Son and the Holy Spirit continue to bless, move and guide you!
    Kenya Lee Lowther

  • Prov. 16:25 – There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

    Will Evon

  • Actually, his religion sounds a lot like the scientist wonder that Dawkins lauds in the God Delusion.

    Not surprising that.

    Take the meat out of the stew and you’ve got dishwater

    Michael Hutton

  • Dear Bill, Thank you for the brilliant article. Sadly the case of the apostate priest is just another example of Satanic deception which manifests itself in all sorts of ways. They are saying now that Breivik the Norwegian mass murderer is INSANE but that explanation is a typically secular one. I believe he is simply EVIL – controlled by Satan if he can actually believe that mercilessly killing hundreds of people can be justified in the name of preserving traditional Norwegian culture. What he did was a result of SIN and not being in a state of Grace.The sooner people return to calling a spade a spade the better. Another example would be calling couples who lived together outside marriage as ‘living in a de-facto relationship’ not ‘living in sin’ like they used to call it. That is what they are doing -engaging in regular fornication which is a sin against purity and breaks the seventh commandment. You never hear this expression now because people living in a nominal Christian society are confused about what they believe in. The catholic priest in question is obviously confused and influenced by Satan who is the master of deceit. I have a devotion to and always ask for the intercession of St Michael the archangel in my prayers to protect me from the ‘wickedness and snares of the devil’ because we don’t always realise just how extremely cunning and deceitful he really is. I believe he answers my prayers. I also have a a blessed marble statue of him in my entrance hall so he will also protect my home.
    Patricia Halligan

  • How can he reject Christ when Jesus is the only way to the Father? We have been warned about wolves in sheep’s clothing, deception and apostasy. Thanks Bill for your commitment to Christ it encourages me to see that there are still Bible believing Christians around. This text came to mind.
    1 John 2:22-24 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
    Greg Sadler

  • Hi Bill
    You have touched on a couple of interesting issues here: that of apostasy in general and that of apostasy in the ‘shepherds’ (regardless of whether they are called priest, father, pastor or whatever). However, I’m not sure that apostasy itself is always so clear-cut.

    Apostasy is essentially unbelief, but unbelief itself is more of a continuum, or spectrum, (the “falling away” in Mt 24:10-13 isn’t an event -it’s a process) and I would suggest that apostasy isn’t a defined point on that continuum. As can be seen by the vast array of issues on which you write, the majority of people in the Christian church have some level of unbelief. The degree of that unbelief, or the point at which they are on that continuum, determines how they see the issues of the day – be they abortion, homosexuality, Islam, etc., and also how they respond. We see, on the one hand, people doing nothing, and, at the other extreme, some trying to kill abortionists or what has just happened in Norway.

    I would also suggest that the moment unbelief creeps in is the point where someone has doubt as to the Bible – in its entirety – being true. The point where someone crosses from unbelief into apostasy varies and will depend on just how far an individual is prepared to genuinely think through their position and how it relates to God, Jesus and what has been written. Very few people are encouraged to do this, let alone do it. Most prefer to remain ‘comfortable’ in their faith (‘faith’ being the same Greek word as ‘belief’) – or lack thereof – and, as a result. are not always aware of where they are at.

    Coming back to the distinction between the shepherds and the flock, individuals have their views shaped by a number of sources, but generally, the most significant is the teaching from ‘the shepherd.’ However, the shepherds generally have their belief influenced by the cemetery – sorry, seminary – that they attend. If the people teaching the shepherds do not believe the Bible, as is overwhelmingly the case today, then one must expect that same unbelief to be taught in the churches where the shepherds eventually go.

    The imagery Jesus used regarding shepherds highlights just how crucial good teaching is and how destructive false preachers can be. If an individual goes into apostasy, the impact is limited, but if a shepherd goes down that same path, he can lead astray many sheep.

    The attack on the church today is massive and whereas it’s comparatively easy to see when the guy you mention in your article has gone beyond simple unbelief into apostasy, there are many others who are in the danger zone, or may have even moved beyond it without even realising they have done so.

    Roger Birch

  • I always wonder about these people who say: “Why did God allow [insert the latest tragedy here]?”, because there were dozens of similar terrible events, human-made and natural, around the time they chose the ministry/ordination, and lots and lots of them before. Why was the Nazi holocaust not something that caused this priest to reflect on things before ordination, and drop out then? Why the Norwegian tragedy? Why now? I think the answer is that many people apply to the ministry, and unwise church leaders accept them, too early in life, when they haven’t thought things through, and they still have a naive, half-formed faith. OK, I applied – and was rejected – in my late 30s, so you could say I’m biased.
    John Thomas, UK

  • In the example with the priest apostasy is a very black object against a white background, in reality I believe apostasy can be and is much more dangerous when it shows itself as a translucent gray against the same background. Where is it’s true boundary? Is willful disobedience to God’s stated precepts a form of unbelief, and therefore apostasy? If so the church today even those that claim Christianity is swimming in very murky water.
    Jim Drago

  • I followed the case of Fr Kennedy for quite some time. He should have been removed from his post decades ago. The reason he wasn’t was because his immediate boss Archbishop Bathersby lacked the courage to do so. So many Catholics complained about his behavior to Archbishop Bathersby and they were ignored. Many of his followers criticized those who complained with calling them names. The Vatican, after having displayed enormous patience with Kennedy, finally removed him. The alleged number of his followers was highly exaggerated. Claims of thousands turning up for his “mass” were false. I came across a photo taken from a height, inside the church of those attending. I enlarged the photo and proceeded to count the number present. It came to 110. Also concerning the old chestnut about God intervening to stop evil in the world. God did not create a collection of robots to inhabit this world. He gave us free will, which if we use wisely, we will be rewarded with a place we earned for eternal happiness with Him. I have often prayed for certain outcomes in life which resulted in a different, sometimes opposite outcome, only to find that my prayers were answered fully, but only with God’s infinite wisdom, not mine. I suppose you could call that God inteferring.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • Apostacy in the shepherds usually disquises itself. They will not say, “I don’t believe the Bible.” Rather they say, “I do believe the Bible, but I don’t interpret it the way you do.” Is this an example of apostacy?
    Tas Walker

  • One simple ‘fact’ appears missing in this article Bill. Peter Kennedy is an ‘affirming’, (as opposed to repentant) homosexual. He is/was actually living with, and who knows what else, another man.
    That in, and of, itself must surely amount to ‘Apostasy’.
    Was the ‘Bishop’ of Brisbane also ‘Apostate’ to allow that to happen/continue unchallenged for so long?
    Romans 1 tells us of the slide Roger mentions above and where it leads – into sexual immorality. Sadly this is a problem the Catholic Church has let go for way too long and now so many other ‘denominations’ have the same problem – unchallenged ‘sin’ leading to apostasy.
    Peter Stokes

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