[This is the longer (!) post that was promised/threatened HERE. That post is foundational to this; if you haven't read it, please do.]
One of my life-themes is that I keep being surprised by what should no longer surprise me.
When a question is asked and answered, it still surprises me that the answer is not received, if it is disliked. When an issue is clear-cut and the implications huge, folks who don't like it still find ways to cloud it up. The spirit of Elymas still lives.
Take, for instance, Mormonism. With the Presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, Mormonism continues its march to the spotlight. For years I have been amazed at the many who will sell their reasoning processes to make the "Mormonism is Christian" argument. Goodness, folks, it isn't rocket science. Just to take one point:
Religion A = there is only one true GodGiven the fundamental nature of the definition of God, can these possibly be compatible religions? But many of us have friends who are Mormon, and once again, as I discussed last week, sentiment overrules Scripture, and folks end up thinking what they want to think because they want to think it. "A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, But knowledge is easy to one who has understanding" (Proverbs 14:6).
Religion B = there are many true gods
Yet we have self-(and-oft)-proclaimed evangelical Hugh Hewitt, who recently denied that Mormonism is a cult, after fabricating his own definition of the word. This isn't terribly surprising, since Hewitt is obviously sadly muddled (for instance) about Roman Catholicism, proclaiming himself an Evangelical Roman Catholic Presbyterian. So Hewitt's addle-headedness on Mormonism cannot be too surprising; what is surprising is that Evangelicals respect his opinion on spiritual matters, and keep buying his books.
On Roman Catholicism, I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here at Pyro. Unlike too many today, we do not functionally pretend that the Reformation never happened. We do not proceed as if it were a mistake. We know why it happened, we celebrate it, and we've learned from it. We're not (as it were) 10/30/1517 Christians. We know that the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone is (A) central, (B) pivotal, and (C) at irreconcilable with Rome's "gospel."
Our Bibles still have Galatians 1:6-10 and 5:4, and we still believe them.
So what happens when a professed Evangelical such as Dr. Francis Beckwith, whom perhaps we have grown to trust, like, and admire, becomes a Roman Catholic?
If Beckwith had become a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Mormon, would any hesitate to call it apostasy? But he has now identified himself with an institution who is on-record as opposed to the Biblical Gospel. Is the Gospel no longer an essential issue, if we really like the person who forsakes it?
Suppose the revert were not Beckwith. Suppose it was some obscure nobody, or some disliked figure. Would we so hesitate to use the word in his or her case?
Is it not apostasy, when the person involved is someone we really like?
This has never been merely an academic issue for me. Years ago, I accidentally (=providentially) was sent an email from a dear, Christian friend. This man's intellectual firepower was to mine as that of the Sun is to a wooden match. A wet wooden match.
Not knowing that the email hadn't been meant for me, I read it. To my utter horror, in it my friend expresses the sentiment that he was toying with the idea of becoming a Roman Catholic.
When this friend had earlier left an evangelical church for an Episcopalian church, I had expressed alarm and concern. I had said, sharing my real concern semi-humorously, "First step, Canterbury; next step, Rome; next step, Hell."
"Bud" assured me that no such thing would happen, that this church had deepened his love for God, and his earnestness to spread the Gospel.
And now "Bud" was telling a Roman Catholic that he was thinking of becoming one, himself. That was what had become of his evangelistic zeal.
So how could I respond? Given my deep affection, should I alter reality, "massage" the facts, to accommodate his choices? Would that honor God? Would it help my friend?
I wrote him right away, in deep concern and alarm. This, in part and slightly edited, is what I wrote him:
I'll be blunt, as love would (I think) require: When I hear a Christian say he's considering becoming a Roman Catholic, I hear him saying that he is considering leaving Jesus Christ.We exchanged some further correspondence. He asked me, since I was a Calvinist, what I would make of (say) a woman who had a "verifiable" born-again experience, had attended Bible Study, and basically gave every impression of being a Christian for 15-20 years — and then became a Roman Catholic. Was that person leaving Christ? Did she lose her salvation? How could I square that with my Calvinism? I replied in part:
Nor does that arise from ignorance (though every Roman Catholic invariably charges anyone who voices critical thoughts of Rome with ignorance). There may be ignorant, saved Roman Catholics. Still, for someone to have tasted of the fruits of the genuine Gospel, and to turn his back to take on the shackles of such an anti-Christ sect (as Hebrews 6:1-4 describes that tasting and turning)... I can find little comfort to offer, or hold to myself.
So since I've barged on friendship this far, I shall barge yet further.
If you asked me, I'd say, _____, for your sake and your family's, do leave the Episcopalian church. But don't leave it for Rome; leave it for God. Find a church, a little obscure church with 47 people in it, or a large thriving one with 4700 people, but a church that preaches the pure and unvarnished Word of God, without fancy trappings and encrustations. If you want culture, go to the museum twice a month. Buy a CD. But go to church to hear Christ and His Word proclaimed, without fetters or trappings.
There you have my heart for you. If you're angered, I'll be sad, and you should go ahead and hammer away. But my love for you, what, ___ years strong and still going, requires I speak my heart plainly to you.
Again I say, if I can be of any use to you whatever, please don't hesitate to let me know.
Calvinism or not, it is the teaching of Christ that none of His sheep ever perish (John 10:28), and I accept that on His authority. But I affirm Hebrews 6:1-4 as well, and find it a terrifying warning. But it is not a warning of losing salvation; it is a warning of being all but saved, of hearing the Word of God repeatedly, of giving outward acquiescence (as unconverted Simon did, in Acts 8) of even participating in the life of the Church outwardly and giving every indication of spiritual reality to the outward eye, and yet of turning out not to have been truly saved at all.My friend stopped writing me.
It is well-said in Hebrews 3:14 -- "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,...." Note the tense: "We have become [abidingly and at some point in the past; perfect tense] partakers of Christ if we hold...steadfast [at the present moment; aorist subjunctive] until the end." So the indication of past salvation is present reality. The converse would clearly be, "For we have NOT become partakers of Christ if we FAIL TO hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end."
Imaginative lad that you are, you could pummel me with a thousand situational questions. Let's try just to stick with the teaching of the text and the specific situation at hand. What if I knew someone such as you describe, who left Jesus Christ to join himself to the monstrous Roman Catholic church? What would I conclude? I would conclude that it may be that I was mistaken about that person's spiritual reality -- as ELEVEN of the apostles themselves were indeed mistaken about ONE of their number, until he revealed his true colors. I would fear for that person's soul, and abandon all assurance of his or her salvation. I would give a clear and unambiguous call to him or her to repent, to leave off the seductive and ornate rationalizations of heresy, and to cling to Jesus Christ alone.
And if someone insisted, "Oh, I am! I cling to Him by taking to myself all these layers and layers of myth and symbolism and pageantry, and by sacrificing Him again and again in this beautiful Mass, and by loading myself with endless reams of notions never found in, and in fact ruled out by, the Word of God!", then I would be left with a choice, wouldn't I?
My choice would be: do I stand with the Word of God, or do I cast it all aside at my friend's word?
To ask that one is, surely, to answer it. And how could I help my friend if I countenanced his or her apostasy, or pretended that it was but one choice of many possible good choices? How would that be being a friend? How would that be any attempt to carry out Jude 23?
My question then is my question now: how do we help anyone by lying to him? Were I a doctor, surely I would rather tell my patient that he has a benign cyst, than a malignant, cancerous tumor. But if I do, he will not know his danger, he will not seek the right cure.
Is it really about him? Or is it about making me feel better about the situation?
Apostasy is apostasy, no matter who commits it. Telling the truth in love is the only Christian option. That, and mourning, humbling ourselves and doubling our self-watch against our own inner apostate, and praying for God's convicting, converting, restoring, saving mercy towards our friend's imperiled soul.
But to hold out false hope and sentimental ameliorations, when what should be expressed is vivid and fearful alarm (cf. Galatians 1:6; 4:19-20; 3:1f.; Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:26-31; Jude 22-23, etc.)?
Ah, there's the crime.