Monday, March 10, 2008

ASK THE PASTOR - Question about Apostasy

Question from Regina

ASK THE PASTOR: If someone renounces his faith, is he considered an apostate or does the church just say that he was never saved to begin with and is treated as a non believer?

The term 'apostate' is used to designate one who has, wholly or in part, left the true faith to embrace a false belief [1]. It is different in meaning from the term 'heretic'. A heretic is someone who distorts or misconstrues the central beliefs of Christianity while simultaneously claiming to represent true faith. An apostate is someone who voluntarily and absolutely denies and abandons the faith. In church history, the term is most specifically applied to the Roman Emperor Julian. Though a nominal Christian when he ascended to the throne, he quickly renounced his Christian faith and used every means in his power to re-establish paganism within the empire.

The New Testament contains a host of images of apostasy, including a plant taking root among the rocks but withering under the hot sun of testing (Mk 4:5–6, 17 par.), or those who fall prey to the wiles of false teachers (Mt 24:11), heretical beliefs (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 4:3–4), worldliness and its defilement (2 Pet 2:20–22), and persecution (Mt 24:9–10; Rev 3:8). The Christian apostate is pictured as a branch that does not abide in the vine of Christ and thus withers and is cast into the fire (Jn 15:6). Animal behavior is evoked in a dog returning to its vomit or a clean pig returning to the mire (2 Pet 2:22) [2].

The Apostle Paul predicts a time when there will be a mass falling away (e.g. apostasy) from true faith (cf 2 Thessalonians 2:3). Though he does not specify this time, he envisions it being in the last days. But he also warns believers in his own day to be wary of that possibility in their own lives. In 1 Corinthians 10:12 he writes, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall!”. For Paul, apostasy is a real threat and he continually urges believers to examine their commitment to Christ. Apostasy is a serious sin. For the author of Hebrews, apostasy is the spurning of the Son of God and a profaning of the blood of the covenant (Heb 10:29). That verse ends by saying such apostasy "outrages the Spirit of grace".

Now that we have understood apostasy, the next question is whether or not such apostates were true Christians to begin with. Scripture speaks directly to this issue. The Apostle John, writing about apostates in the last days, clearly indicates that they were never true believers. He states, "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" (1 John 2:19, NIV). John 6:64-71 describes how many of Jesus' "disciples" left him because they could no longer embrace his teaching. Though scripture uses the word "disciple" to describe those who rejected Christ, it also makes clear they were not true disciples. Although they looked like followers of Christ for a time, ultimately their rejection of Christ proved they never gave their hearts to Him.

[1] McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclessiastical Literature: Volume 1: A-B (Baker, 1981 reprint), p 308.
[2] Ryken, Leland; Wilhoit, James C.; Longman III, Tremper, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

1 comment:

  1. This is NOT a joke question. I am GENUINELY interested in an answer. I KNOW that God doesn't do ANYTHING for no reason at all. Can anyone tell me why Jesus is coming to reign a thousand years? (Revelation 20:4, Revelation 20:6) Agreeably a thousand years is a long time but it is NOT eternity