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Flirting With Apostasy

Apostasy1_1Are emerging church leaders sufficiently aware of the inherent dangers involved in encouraging people to deconstruct their faith?  Is it possible that instead of eventually leading them to a more vibrant faith, they may actually be contributing to some people's apostasy?

Consider the words of Jesus:

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck." - Mark 9:42 (NIV)

The NIV fails to render the Greek, skandalon, correctly here.  It more accurately conveys the idea of causing someone to fall away from their faith  (cf. NRSV, NLT).  And the consequence for causing someone's apostasy will be worse than death.

I suppose there are MANY ways by which we might "cause" someone to abandon their faith:

  • abusing our Christian freedom in front of weaker brethren.
  • being a leader who is spiritually abusive.
  • forsaking the faith ourselves.

In light of all this, here's what I'm thinking:  If we think we can challenge the tenants of our faith, and encourage others to do likewise -- and do all this without assuming any personal responsibility for its outcome in the lives of others, I fear we are treading on very dangerous ground.  The culture at large seems to stress the individual nature of faith, rarely if ever emphasizing how our beliefs and practices have an impact on (or ar tied to) others.  I for one certainly grew up viewing apostasy as purely the choice and action of the individual.  If someone chose to reject Christ, that was entirely "their" responsibility.  But Jesus' teaching in Mark 9 is now challenging me to think otherwise.

How long will we keep hanging on to the "I'm not my brother's keeper" mentality?  What will it take for us to take on the sobering and frightening realization that our actions (even when part of our "freedom" in Christ) have the potential of shipwrecking someone else's faith, and pointin us out as the responsible party?

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This is a nightmare I have. For me, it is religiosity and personal pompousness that I feel could put me in this danger. Please pray for me.

I can see where you're heading. On the one side the wish not to cause division, on the other the feeling that you need to challenge the way our faith is presented. How do we enable change in the tenets of faith without going astray?

Well, look at verse 30 in the chapter you quote. Keep the peace among yourselves. Check the beginning of the chapter you quote: Who will be greatest in heaven? Not the competitive arrogant, they won't.

The responsibility of a pastor is great, to give leadership and to lead by example. I have a gut feeling that if your heart and works are in the right place, God will be able to forgive you if you do fall into error once in a while. Let me put this into a positive:

If it weren't for corageous christians who did fall into error at times, our faith would be a monolith and lack in variety.

That picture is great--too funny !

Wow, DP, from TheOoze to this? They won't let you post there anymore if you insist on questioning whether Emergent leaders are taking people into apsotasy.

Apostasy is all around us. It makes it very hard for Christians to stay true to the Lord today.

"Is it possible that instead of eventually leading them to a more vibrant faith, they may actually be contributing to some people's apostasy?"
And yet, on the flip side, the deconstructing of our faith is what is keeping many from apostasy too! I know many (and I might even include myself) that were raised in a very conservative/fundy/etc. way and have grown weary and sceptical of the Christian faith all together and if it were not for the "corageous" few, we may very well have walked away all together.
So you are damned if you do and damned if you don't... *wink* I mean that light heartedly. I agree whole heartedly with Carlo's last statement.

Faith, thanks for pointing out the flipside of this reality:

"And yet, on the flip side, the deconstructing of our faith is what is keeping many from apostasy too! I know many (and I might even include myself) that were raised in a very conservative/fundy/etc. way and have grown weary and sceptical of the Christian faith all together and if it were not for the "corageous" few, we may very well have walked away all together."

So tragic and so true. Over and over again I encounter people whose experiences in strongly fundamentalist/legalistic churches either destroyed or crippled their faith.

Those of us who are pioneering new expressions of what it means to be the church do not want to bury our heads in the sand on this one, or convince ourselves that we're immune to this sobering topic. That's why I desire to explore the various ways apostasy might be encouraged or caused by others. What's that saying about an ounce of prevention? :D

DLE, I want to respond to what you said:

"They won't let you post there anymore if you insist on questioning whether Emergent leaders are taking people into apsotasy"

LOL! I've been challenging EC'rs (including myself) on TheOoze as long as I've been posting there, Dan! And it kinda goes without saying that no EC leader in their right mind would do such a thing intentionally. But if "community" is as important to us as we repeatedly claim, then we have to get off of our individualism-ridden butts and step up to the plate in terms of our responsibility for one another -- especially those with whom we have an obvious influence.

In the past, Fundamentalists have injured some people's faith through their legalism. I'm praying that EC'rs don't end up injuring some people's faith through different means.

Always nice to see you posting here, by the way.

Everyone I know in the emergent movement is keenly aware of the communal aspect of our faith. I think it's what we are emerging out of that poses the danger: suffocating people by not giving them freedom, insisting there is only one right way to interpret scriptures and truth, not being able to be honest about struggles and doubt.

But I hear your heart on where you are coming from here though.

Gina, thanks for your honesty. I think we could all benefit from our praying for one another in this area.

Lord, help us.

"I think it's what we are emerging out of that poses the danger: suffocating people by not giving them freedom"

In some places, you're right. Fundamentalism and legalism in particular have certainly damaged lives and undermined the Kingdom.

But Benjy, I've also seen EC leaders who indeed have "freedom", but who have been reckless with it -- whose unrestrained sense of tolerance and que sera sera attitude toward morality (for example) have led to damaged lives and destroyed communities of faith.

Freedom and responsibility.
Freedom and restraints.
Freedom and self-sacrifice.

Seems to me that this is what's needed.

What your rhetoric seems to lack, my friend, is more evidence of the "both-and" thinking that characterizes those who operate from a postmodern point of view.

"Everyone I know in the emergent movement is keenly aware of the communal aspect of our faith"

What does that mean? Do you refer to the acknowledged "importance" of community? The "desire" for community? Or the actual "practice" of community? You and I have talked before about how our culture longs for authentic community, but -- due in part to the absence of prior modeling and experience -- is struggling in their attempt to figure it all out.

"But I hear your heart on where you are coming from here though."

Okay. I'm glad to hear that. But what exactly do you mean? Are you acknowledging that there's "truth" in my concerns? Or are you simply acknowledging in a nice way that I have a contrary viewpoint? I could take your remark either way; that's why I ask.

What I mean is that it's really to early to say. This new way of thinking and living started a decade ago, or maybe 25 years at the most. Of course we should expect to see some extremes at the beginning.

I was hearing you say that you felt that I was being too general and not specific enough, but I would say the same about the original post. Just b/c this movement has the potential to mess people up doesn't mean that it already has. I can't say that I know of anyone not in relationship with God right now b/c they were offended by the exercise of someone else's freedom. But yes, I do agree that the potential is there.

And yes, it's not either/or but both/and.

"What I do with others bears on my own salvation"- Protestants don't hear this well, so conditioned are/were we to think that God's got it all covered for us. The Holy Spirit will fix it all better in the end.

Yes, he will, thank God. But I need to be working out my salvation in fear and trembling every day. That makes a person cautious, in a positive way- conservative. For me this perspective shift is one of the gifts of Orthodoxy I'm most grateful for, along with the inherent checks of being part of a definable tradition and community.

I see conservatism in the emergent movement in that there's a willingness to pull back and re-examine the premises of evangelicalism. The difficulty is in how to go forward again from that pull-back position. The answer seems to be to experiment.

On TheOoze I've said before that experimenting with the position of my desk lamp is one thing, with the configuration of a high-voltage transformer another. In the emergent movement, what are the circuit breakers that kick on to say "enough, no farther"?

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