Today is a sad day. A day to reflect. A day to fear. A day to remember our frailty and need for God’s grace.
Over the past couple of years, I have seen, one after another, people I revered and respected come unhinged from orthodoxy. While these people were/are public figures, and the shipwrecking of their faith, to use Paul’s words, has been visible to many, for some of us the shock and pain has been more acute. While I will not name names for the people I have in mind who have fallen away in the past, I will mention one person whose apostasy I learned about just this morning.
Joshua Harris gained notoriety back in the late 1990’s with his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I was one of the thousands who read that book and decided to eschew dating as it was defined by our culture. Right, partially right or wrong, that book influenced my decisions as a young man in positive ways and helped restrain me from more folly and heartache than I already endured.
Fast-forward a decade. I visited Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, while I was attending training for three months, and then periodically for a month or two at a time for a few follow-on training courses over the next few years. There was Josh again. His teaching influenced me greatly during those cumulative few months and have undoubtedly helped shape my theology and praxis ever since. In fact, I gave him a shout out in my novel, Love Unconditional, that I wrote largely during the first time I was there sitting under his teaching.
Fast-forward another decade. Josh Harris just publicly announced not only his divorce from his wife, he also essentially announced his divorce from Jesus Christ. He said, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian” and used biblical language to make clear he has “fallen away.”
Today is a sad day because yet another Church leader has gone “out from us” (1 John 2:19) in a very public way, providing critics and mockers more fuel for their fire of unbelief and hostility against the Church. Yet, what’s sadder is a now ex-wife and three children are left without a husband and father. And what’s even sadder is what will happen after this life is over if the Prodigal does not return to his Father from the distant land to which he has traveled.
Today is a day to reflect because of this verse (1 Corinthians 10:12): “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” There are no such things as an infallible person or an infallible church. As such, we should take heed when we see supposed giants of the faith fall, or when we learn about the sins of the “greats” – such as Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism or John Calvin’s over-zealous burning of heretics. When we read headlines about another pastor caught cheating on his wife or busted in a child porn sting, we should look to ourselves rather than point fingers of judgment. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have sins that, if exposed publicly, would stain or ruin our reputations and sully the name of Jesus Christ. We need to focus on our own repentance and holiness.
Today is a day to fear because of this verse (Philippians 2:12): “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” This passage provides the counterbalance to the idea that we can live as we please because God is gracious and merciful. There’s definitely a tension in the Bible between “once saved always saved” and “…if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…” We should rest in the security of the Father’s hand, but also preach the Gospel to ourselves daily to remind us of both our sin and our Savior.
We must, as I just alluded to, consider well our frailty and utter dependence upon God’s grace for all things. The Bible teaches that apart from Jesus Christ we are totally depraved and dead in our trespasses and sin. We are all born God-hating rebels destined for the just punishment of hell unless and until God rips out our stone hearts and gives us a new heart that beats with spiritual life, love for God, and hope for an eternity with him.
Finally, this day is a reminder that we are to look to only one man – Jesus Christ – as our perfect, infallible teacher and example. People will fail, and if our faith is built upon them rather than Jesus Christ, our faith will fail with them. Our hearts are prone to idolatry, even of Christian figures, dead or alive. This is not a new thing. Paul addressed this in 1 Corinthians where there were sects of the church who followed Apollos or Peter or Paul rather than the Christ those three men preached. Today, it’s Calvin or Arminius, Baptist or Assemblies of God, Complementarian or egalitarian, etc.
May this recent falling away (which I pray will lead to a place of repentance and deeper relationship with Jesus and restoration of his family) remind us of Hebrews 12:1-2, which says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”