I am going to blog on the topic of apostasy for a minute, the reason is I have some comments I want to make on the recent news about Joshua Harris and his falling away. I have written on this topic in the past but not at the depth that is necessary for the reader to understand the things I want to say. If you want to look at my older posts you can find them below:
There are a number of verses that teach a believer can fall away from belief in Christ. For this section of the blog post I am going to defend from a few selected passages the following thesis.
A penitent believer in Christ can fall away and in so doing lose the saving faith they had been given
‘For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. ‘ 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 ESV
The above verse isn’t a typical passage that I would recommend be used to defend my thesis. The reason I selected it is I want to start out arguing from a weaker position to make my point on how seriously I believe scripture should be taken. If Paul believed that a Christian could not fall away wouldn’t you agree this is a strange choice of words for him to use?
Eve was spiritually good all the way around and did indeed fall to the point of breaking the universe, and the deception he is warning Christians of falling to is away from a pure devotion to Christ and to stray in like manner of Eve’s fall.
If Paul was intending to teach once saved always saved (OSAS) or perseverance of the saints (PS) then he could have certainly chosen his words more carefully.
‘if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. ‘ Colossians 1:23 ESV
‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— ‘ Galatians 1:6 ESV
‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, ‘ 1 Timothy 4:1 ESV
I think the above passages are more clear, to shift these to be talking about false converts falling out of the faith in a corporate sense only removes the teeth from Paul’s warnings. If he is merely talking about someone falling away from being fallen these passages are a waste of ink on what would have been very valuable paper.
Also it’s simply incompatible with the text itself to remove the two categories we see Paul working with. In Colossians a shift is spoken of from one category to another. In Galatians one is deserting someone they were with. In Timothy one is departing from a faith they were a part of. To twist these passages into different modes of a single category is antithetical to the authors choice of words. Stated another way, why would an author use two category teachings to convey a one category idea?
‘For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. ‘ Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV
The above passage is the easiest one for me to use. In one of my earlier posts making this case I think this is the only passage I bothered to use simply because it is so clear. As I recall, I wanted to silently make the point that one should take scripture seriously enough for one passage of this clarity level to be sufficient.
That said, this passage is most useful with reformed because they can’t category shift on it. Reformed thinkers very consistently place repentance in the category of being regenerate. Some believe that you have to repent before God regenerates you. But even those would believe that you are regenerate after repentance. So the notion of being restored to repentance would force the idea that you did repent at one point and were regenerate.
Which is why in my conversations those who subscribe to reformed theology and take the text as its written insist that the writer is speaking in a form of irony and doesn’t actually mean what he is saying in a literal sense. Like a verbose idiosyncratic statement meant to teach another idea.
My response to that is that I don’t see any other idea coming out of the text. If that’s the case the writer of Hebrews must be using a falsehood to teach nothing and for some reason chooses to comfort his audience on an idea he doesn’t believe to be true.
‘For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. ‘ Hebrews 6:7-12 ESV
Instead we get the writer of Hebrews assuring his audience that he doesn’t believe they are falling away. He doesn’t say its because he was speaking in irony, he instead assures them with the evidences he has seen of their faith. He see’s a faith that is bearing the fruit of good works and encourages them to keep it up.
Why would he feel the need to comfort his audience after warning them about apostasy if apostasy from a point of saving faith and repentance isn’t possible?
The plainest answer is that scripture does indeed teach a Christian can fall away from the faith. There is no need to bend these passages around, just accept them and concede you don’t understand if that’s what you have to do.
The problem with Fundamentalism
The root cause of error here is really fundamentalism. In my observation and personal experience a fundamentalist approach to scripture is one where the passages that the individual reader finds to be more expedient (for whatever reason) are weighed or even pitted against other clear passages with magisterial reason rather than harmonized with ministerial reason.
Some fundamentalists will point out that many passages do teach eternal security, therefore those teaching something that appears contrary to their understanding of eternal security must be bent a bit.
Whereas another group of fundamentalists will read the passages on apostasy and marshal them over and against those teaching eternal security.
The problem here is that ultimately this approach isn’t objectively falsifiable. It’s an approach that places the reader in charge of what the scriptures are teaching. This is why I don’t recognize fundamentalism as conservative. I see it as being just as liberal as the approach used by ELCA types who tell me the Bible only contains the word of God.
Fundamentalists usually do lean more conservative, particularly on the readings they select over others. This is because at the end of the day they are still limited to what’s actually in scripture were as liberals are only limited by their whims and imaginations. In my analysis, the cash difference between the two historically is that fundamentalism takes a few generations longer to bear the fruit of mass apostasy than liberalism does.
How are eternal security and the reality of apostasy both true at the same time?
With a sacramental understanding of Justification by faith alone this is actually quite easy. One is eternally secure in word and sacrament. Outside of word and sacrament your faith should be expected to fall away as described in the Matt 13 parable of the sower.
That said, ministerial uses of reason shouldn’t even be necessary!
If you’re not willing to go there then simply say you believe both are true by faith and concede you don’t understand. Do not bend the scripture with reason, when you do that you are adding to the scripture in the same severity that the Pope does, the only difference is that the tradition you’re doing it with is newer.
Regarding Joshua Harris I will be approaching this topic in a way that categorically allows for him to have been a believer and brother in Christ before he fell. I will not assume he was only a false convert. That said, I wouldn’t exclude that category either as I don’t know his heart. So if you want to keep reading and just disagree with me there then that’s fine. I won’t be pulling any punches though.