Christian Backsliders: 4 Absolutely Important Things We Observed
It is not uncommon to see Christian backsliders in the church. In the past few months however, we have seen two famous Christian backsliders (Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson) who claim that they have either lost their faith, or are in the process of ending up as so. I myself have seen my fair share of those. I saw at least a couple of my ex-leaders in church who are no longer identifying themselves as Christians, thus being considered as Christian backsliders. I have quite a number of young and old believers whom I have led and they are today no longer believing in Christ.
As such, on top of the numerous articles that have been written about Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson, I would like to offer 4 things I have observed of the Christian faith in light of what happened so as to put some perspectives to this.
1. Christian Backsliders call into question how we see spirituality
I think it is incredibly sad to see Christians backsliding, especially those who have important contribution to the formation of your faith. I am thinking of people like Joshua Harris, who wrote “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and influenced a generation of young Christians in their view of dating (be it good or bad), and my ex-leaders who tried to teach me the Bible and the faith itself.
Many times, we used to see these Christian backsliders as being “spiritual” as a result of their ministries. However, as I study spirituality, I found that just because we do things for God doesn’t mean we are spiritual for God. It definitely doesn’t mean that we are close to God. Spirituality with God is not about doing a lot of things for God.
But our church today runs the risk of viewing so. As I reflect, this is how we drive many young believers “to the wall” when we require them to serve beyond what their spirituality with God allows. While there is a link between what we do for God and our being with God, I do think we allow the doing to do too much of the talking pertaining to our relationship with God.
And I think seeing the stories of Joshua Harris and such should make us pause and think otherwise on how we assess maturity and spirituality in church.
2. Christian Backsliders call into question who we worship
And when Christian backsliders are people whom we look up to, it is difficult for some people to continue to stand firm in their faith. This is understandable, as these people are important in our Christian formation. When they fall away, we start wondering if what they have taught us is indeed true.
But I would dare to suggest that, while such events affect us a lot, it is really a reflection of who we worship at the end. This is very subtle, and to some extent, so underneath the iceberg that we do not realise ourselves. We may claim that God is the one whom we worship but if seeing Christian backsliders calls into question about what we believed in, then we need to re-examine whether we really worship God or we worship the people who have built us.
Unfortunately, in my part of the world, the line is not always clear as respect and reverence for authority is a given for most of us. Nevertheless, events such as Joshua Harris should cause us to pause and examine the real object of our worship.
3. Christian Backsliders are not the final authority of our faith
Related to my second point is whether Christian backsliders should end up as the final authority of our faith. I say this as a reflection of reading a reflection on the famous Christian backsliders by John Cooper. I quote from the article:
I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?
As we find out that these people are not the ones whom we should worship, we also find out that these people are the final authority of our faith. We cannot simply take what they have taught as the canon and yardstick. On top of going back to God for worship, we need to turn back to His words for the final authority. This is a call for us to step back and re-examine what we know of God’s word. It doesn’t mean that God has lied if these people have taught wrong stuff in the past. It just means that this is the opportunity for us to go back and learn the Word for ourselves.
In fact, I would go one step further and say that as a people of God, we might even want to be more reflective about our faith rather than taking in wholesale what is being taught or preached in public.
4. These do not mean we shun Christian Backsliders who chose to leave the faith community
But yet, I do not think that it is right for us to reject the Christian backsliders completely, especially when they are right from your own backyard. It is therefore sad to hear some people from Joshua Harris’ ex-community to say that he was not a real Christian to begin with. Granted that this is a logical conclusion from a Calvinistic viewpoint, it doesn’t mean that you flip table and burn bridges.
From my recent experiences in dealing with some pastoral issues, I think there is value in “leaving the backdoor open.” This means that anyone who chooses to leave the community should know that they have a way back if they need support. This is after all the hallmark of a real Christian community – that we choose to love those who have turned away from God so that they will turn back to God. In fact, this is exactly what we do in evangelism. So why should we behave differently towards Christian backsliders?
This brief post voices my observations in the events of Christian backsliders. The cases of Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson in recent times as well as other high profile cases such as the case of Bill Hybel are examples of Christian leaders falling. But it doesn’t mean the end of the world as Jesus is still coming back.
Share with me your thoughts in the comments.