On Apostates, Heretics, and the Hurting

Over the last few years there seems to have been a rash of public Christian personalities (I hesitate to call them leaders) either apostatizing, espousing heresy, or admitting that they are struggling to hold on to orthodox Christian beliefs; and in the most heartbreaking cases, committing suicide.
 
First, I realize all leaders struggle. But we seriously need to ask ourselves if these men (or women) were actually called to be church leaders to begin with. And before you take offense at that statement, ask yourself a couple of questions:
 
“Would you advise your child to become a pastor if you knew that it would lead to him apostatizing, espousing heresy, ruining his life, or even taking his own life?”
 
I hope no one answered yes.
 
“If you knew a Christian leader was struggling to the point that it might cost him his sanity, his marriage, his family, or especially his life; would you advise him to continue on or step down and get help?”
 
We have to remember we are dealing with men’s lives and not just with the question of what constitutes a “calling.” It would be best to fall on the side of saving lives than it would be to defend an opinion that if someone feels called, they are called, no matter the result.
 
My next thought however is on apostasy. I honestly wish that all false believers would identify themselves by apostatizing. It makes my job alot easier to not have to sort them out, and/or call them out. Moreover, if I were to have an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them, I know to start by sharing the good news with them.
 
Do not misunderstand me, I feel for the hurt that they go through on their way to apostatizing; and for the people that have been hurt by their apostasy. But the harsh truth is that they would have done far more damage by continuing to live as a false believer.
 
In the case of those espousing heretical beliefs; again, I would personally rather they outright apostatize than continue to pretend be followers of Christ. But, it still makes my job easier to identify them as false believers and to know how to address their false beliefs.
 
As for those admitting that they are struggling to hold on to orthodox Christian beliefs; I feel the most empathy for them. Usually they are either true believers who have been the victims of poor discipleship and/or bad theology; or they are false believers who are at least convicted enough to seriously consider the difficulty of what it really means to follow Jesus as His disciple and what it might cost them.
 
Because honestly, I have yet to hear them ask one theological question I couldn’t give a reasonable, coherent answer to. And while I do have a seminary education; there are also other men out there who are much smarter and more educated than me, who can assuredly answer all of their serious questions.
 
But the next thought I have is, “Why are we so surprised when people fall away?”
 
Did Paul not clearly write:
 
“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
 
Now, we may not be at the point of THE Apostasy, but surely there will be an escalation of apostasy leading to the final apostasy since Satan is already at work in the world deceiving people as much as he is allowed to. For as Paul continued:
 
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
 
My final thought is to ask, “Why did these apostates believe that they were true followers of Jesus to begin with?”
 
One part of the answer is simple; we (the church and in particularly church leaders) have not been preaching and teaching to people what it means to really be a follower (a disciple) of Jesus.
 
This then allows for the next part of the answer; people have mistaken an emotional experience as following Jesus.
 
The confusion comes from the duration of the emotional experience. We tend to think that “an emotional experience” can only be a temporary experience.

 

But, think about spending time with your family. Every time you get together, it is an emotional experience.
 
Think about someone who is a lifelong fan of certain sports teams. Everytime they talk about them, and especially when they watch them play, they have an emotional experience.
 
Think about being fans of a specific type of music, a certain movie (or movies), or a TV show. People have an emotional response when experiencing them.
 
Think about watching Schindler’s List for the first time. It elicits such a strong emotional response that many would call it a spiritual experience.
 
But in reality it is not a true spiritual experience, it is simply an overwhelming emotional experience.
 
So here’s my point…
 
The good news of Jesus coming to rescue and redeem His lost image bearers is such a powerful story that it would be difficult not to experience some sort of emotion when being in it’s presence.
 
The problem is when people mistake that emotional experience for a spiritual experience. And then, that initial emotional experience has to be fed by more emotional experiences for it to continue to feel real.
 
People in this state generally “have to have” certain things to keep them “spiritually” happy. They have to have a certain type of music, a certain building, a certain type of preaching, et cetera. It gives them an “emotional buzz” of sorts.
 
They then become addicted to this “emotional buzz” and thus need these things to continually stoke the fires of the emotional experience they have mistaken for a genuine spiritual experience.
 
You can sometimes identify these people by how they act when people mess with their emotional buzz and/or the things that give them that emotional buzz…
 
They tend to get very upset with people messing with their spiritual traditions, worship style, buildings, favorite preacher, et cetera.
 
But what happens when something happens that impedes, challenges, or diminishes those emotional experiences?
 
The person can lose the emotion and the buzz, and thus, believe that they have lost their faith.
 
But it was never faith at all; at least not faith in the REAL Jesus.
 
Because faith in the REAL Jesus means believing in His words, teachings, commands, example, life, death, resurrection, and kingdom to the point that you are willing to abandon all (especially control over your own life) in order to imitate Him as His disciple; no matter what the cost.
 
And ultimately, people only fall away because they are unwilling to do that; no matter what reason they give.
 
If you are reading this, and you are thinking about walking away from the REAL Jesus by apostatizing, adopting heretical beliefs, or even by ending your own life; please know that the REAL Jesus can be trusted to carry you.
 
But, you have to be willing to accept everything that comes with Him; and abandon anything else that does not.
 
Jesus said:
 
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).