By Michael J. Brooks
“Apostasy” isn’t a word my denomination uses much, probably because we don’t believe in it. Many evangelicals hold to the fifth tenet of John Calvin’s TULIP acronym (perseverance) and insist that a genuinely converted person won’t lose salvation. But it’s true we witness people who walk away from Christian commitment for a season, or forever.
I saw this for the first time as a teenager. Bobby and his wife were leaders in another church, but their ministry touched young people in surrounding churches. Bobby worked with a relative who put me in contact with him as a youth speaker, so I was in his church several times for events. On one visit the pastor said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with Bobby. We’ve not seen him in weeks and he won’t tell me what’s wrong.”
A friend and I went to Bobby’s house and, indeed, he wouldn’t talk about it. His wife sat there in tears. We assured him of our love and prayers, but I don’t know how this experience worked out since I moved away to college shortly thereafter and didn’t see Bobby again.
I’ve seen similar situations in the ensuing years, and each one has been heartbreaking.
I’m convinced there can be a spiritual component to walk-aways. Some believe this is what the disciples did in John 21 when they returned to fishing; in effect, they resigned. Jesus came to the seashore and gently prodded them and their leader, Simon Peter, into rededication.
My experience is that most often interpersonal relationships are a major factor when people leave unhappily.
Sometimes couples experience conflict that affects their church life. Wise spouses realize the value of their investment in each other.
A pastor shocked a couple when he suggested their issues were beyond his expertise and they needed a professional who would charge a fee. They said they couldn’t afford a counselor.
“If you had cancer, could you afford treatment?” he asked.
He meant that a sick marriage, like a sick body, might need professional help for proper healing.
Sometimes walk-aways are in conflict with other church members. We’d like to think that congregational life is a slice of heaven, and it is in many ways. But just as in basketball, elbows are thrown, intentionally or not, and people get hurt. The old church covenant has wise counsel: “to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Savior to secure it without delay.”
I’ve always believed that sincere believers with a genuine love for God can find a path to reconciliation. The church is in the redemption business, and sometimes this means restoring to useful service those who’ve dropped out. -30-
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.