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.