The Bible is full of warnings about apostasy. The term means to deliberately renounce or reject one’s faith commitment. It is an act of defiance and rebellion, which is taken very seriously indeed in Scripture. Consider just a few of the many passages which address this issue:
Mathew 24:9-14 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 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 the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
1 Timothy 1:18-20 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
I Timothy 4:1-2 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
Hebrews 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.”
II Peter 2:20-22 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”
The warnings are clear. Yet that has not stopped plenty of folks from joining the apostasy line. Some recent articles about pastors renouncing their faith and declaring their atheism have recently come out of the US. These stories make it clear that apostasy is alive and well – at least in America.
One news item says this: “More than 200 church leaders across the country now say they no longer believe in God, including a Houston-area pastor who was one of the first to publicly announce his decision. Mike Aus, who was pastor at Theophilus church in Katy, made that announcement during an appearance on a Sunday morning show on MSNBC. ‘Hardly anyone reads the Bible,’ said Aus on the ‘Up with Chris Hayes’ program. ‘If they did, the whole thing would be in trouble.’
“Theophilus church members told Local 2 Investigates they were blind-sided by the announcement. They said they had no idea Aus had completely changed his beliefs until they saw him on the program. ‘Are you going to preach next Sunday?’ host Chris Hayes asked Aus. ‘I’m going to go back next week and meet with my leadership and talk about where we go from here,’ said Aus. ‘We’ll see.’
“Aus was a long-time Lutheran pastor at churches in the Houston area, but now he said he no longer believes in the message he had been preaching for almost 20 years. Aus declined Local 2’s request for an interview. He said his statements on MSNBC explained his loss of faith. ‘As I started to jettison the beliefs, I came to realize fairly recently there wasn’t a whole lot left,’ Aus said.
“The effect was immediate on his church with about 80 members. Weeks after his announcement, the church dissolved. Members did not want to talk with Local 2 on camera, but they said their pastor’s complete change in faith was devastating.”
Another article on this began this way: “Jerry DeWitt entered the ministry when he was 17, launching a 25-year career as a Pentecostal preacher. He traveled all around his home state of Louisiana, preaching and ministering wherever he could.
“All these years later, DeWitt, 42, is still on the road, and now takes his message all over the United States. But the nature of that message, along with his audience, has changed dramatically. DeWitt is now an avowed atheist, and his audiences are made up of religious ‘nones,’ the growing number of Americans who are atheist, agnostic, humanist or just plain disinterested in identifying with a religion. Today, DeWitt preaches a gospel of disbelief.
“During his speeches, he talks about the process of leaving his preacher job. ‘If you don’t believe, then you will be like me – you’ll suddenly find yourself where you only have two choices,’ DeWitt told a group in Johnson County, Kansas, earlier this year. ‘You can either be honest that you don’t believe … or you can pretend that you do,’ he said. ‘Which is what so many people are doing and that is called faith.’
“The transition from preacher to outspoken atheist has not been easy, and DeWitt is trying to smooth the way for other former believers. He is executive director of Recovering from Religion, an organization founded in 2009. Its slogan: ‘Thousands of organizations will help you get INTO religion, but we’re the only one helping you OUT.”
Hey, Jerry, a word of advice for you: one does not really need any help in getting out of religion. It is the easiest thing in the world to do. Just do nothing and it will happen automatically. Just as a nice garden will go to the dogs by simply not doing anything, so too can we shipwreck the faith.
The thing that is difficult – at least in biblical Christianity – is staying in. Jesus made it crystal clear that following him was no joy ride. Indeed, it made things very difficult for people to follow him. And he said the Christian life is about self-denial, crucifying the flesh, and carrying our cross daily. He even said this: “He that endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
The article ends as follows: “When DeWitt runs into people he used to preach to, he still averts his eyes. Going to the post office and to Walmart, he said, can be stressful because of the possibility of running into a former congregant. ‘It is because places in which you were once admired now you are suddenly scorned or pitied,’ DeWitt said, who admits not having many friends anymore. ‘It makes for an extremely uncomfortable life.’
“And yet DeWitt said his atheist life mirrors his old religious one in some key respects. In some ways, he said, he’s still a minister. The origin of the symmetry is me, is my personality, my love for people, my love for ministering,’ DeWitt said. ‘What I have always tried to do is to minster from where I personally am at. When I was 17, I preached what I believed was best for people at the time; when I was 20, it was a little different; at 25 it was different, too,’ he said. ‘And now at 42, I am still the same guy preaching what I see is best for people’.”
No wonder he went off the rails. Since when is ministry about “where I personally am at”? Ministry is never about you – it is about Him. He is the goal, the focus, the centre, the rock, the guide, the source, and the mainstay. Personal feelings and experiences are never to be the basis of how we minister.
What we have here are simply a bunch of false shepherds. In addition to the many warnings about unbelief and apostasy, the Bible also frequently warns against false shepherds, which these men obviously have been. Here are just a few of these warnings:
Jer, 23:1-2 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings.” says the Lord.
Matt. 7:15 Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
Acts 20:28-31 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!
2 John 1:7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
The need for perseverance in the Christian life is crucial. As we read in Revelation 2:10: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” I need to write more on this another time, but until then, see this: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/05/11/on-the-perseverance-of-the-saints/
We have a perfect biblical summary of these tragic stories of apostasy found in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
Apostasy, sadly, is alive and well.