On Saturday we posted an article on (formerly) Christian writer and pastor Joshua Harris who announced, via Instagram of all things, that he has renounced his faith in Jesus Christ. That article generated an enormous response – all positive – and raised a few more questions that I would like to address briefly.
If you read Harris’s Instagram post (you can read the full post here) announcing his decision, he is celebrating this. It is an in-your-face-take-your-Jesus-and-shove-it post (If there were any doubts, over the weekend Harris marched in a gay pride parade.) This is serious business and it is not to be confused with the actions of atheists like Richard Dawkins who have never professed belief in Christ.
Hebrews 6:4-6 says:
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
Once you’ve rejected the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what’s left? The Godhead is a Trinity, not a quaternity. There isn’t a fourth revelation. Harris knows this. Note in his Instagram post that he uses the term “falling away.” He is citing this passage, and he does so in cavalier fashion.
Harris has characterized the Christian faith as legalistic – that this runs counter to the whole of Jesus’ message needs little commentary from me – and he blames Christ for what he says were his own judgmental attitudes toward others in the past.
Jesus isn’t to blame for that. He modeled grace.
Harris further blames Christianity for the “spiteful” and “hateful” way that some Christians have treated his announcement.
Jesus isn’t to blame for that. He modeled love.
It is true that many Christians will often respond to the revelation of another’s sin with “hateful” and “spiteful” words, gossip, a denial of fellowship, and even glee. I am sorry if Harris has been the recipient of this. The revelation of sin has a way of revealing the sinful inclinations of others and unleashing their self-righteousness. Worse, many Christians often think that assuming a spiritually haughty disposition toward the sinner is the Christian thing to do, forgetting that they, too, are sinners!
But Jesus isn’t to blame for that. He modeled mercy.
Self-righteousness, bitterness, hate, pride, arrogance – these are all characteristics exemplified by the good religious folk who were all too ready to stone the Adulterous Woman in John 8 and to whom Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Speaking at a very personal level, I understand this all too well. Two years after the announcement of my own sin, I still experience this from time to time. (Most shocking of all, so does my wife. She is the only godly person in this whole story and she has been the model of grace and love, not just toward me, but to others.) For some people, there is no greater joy than lording something over someone else. There are still others, I call them Jonahs, who don’t want to see your restoration. On the contrary, they delight in your suffering and humiliation and will gladly pile on. My first reaction was one of deep feelings of hurt and anger. But as I increasingly put my faith and trust in the Lord, I could feel Him gently transforming my heart. Lauri and I jokingly liken this transformation to this scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There were things, people, that I kept reaching for until I finally heard the Lord say, “Let it go.”
What was the transformation? I realized that I could not expect what I myself would not give, namely, grace. In other words, if someone treats me hurtfully or unkindly where I had hoped for grace and understanding, that does not mean I am automatically justified in retaliating in equal measure – and when it is friends or people you have helped through their own messes, you know how to wound because you know where they are vulnerable, don’t you? That’s a merry-go-round you’ll never get off once you get on it. It might feel good for a minute or two, but it is, in effect, a denial of the power of the Gospel to work in your own life and it is a failure to love. Yes, there is a place to defend yourself. I get that. But if we respond to our own sin and that of others as any unbeliever does, what good is our faith? You’re the salt that has lost its savor. (Matthew 5:13)
So if you’re a believer who feels mistreated by your brothers and sisters in Christ, extend grace to them, and fix your eyes on Jesus and move on. Leave it to Him. He is the author and perfecter of your faith – and theirs, too. Perhaps, like you in your own sin, they will come around, and if they know you love them and that you’ve left the bridge between you unburnt, they might amble across it one day and surprise you. Regardless of what they do, you are accountable for what you do.
And no matter how you are treated by Christians when you sin, that is no excuse for rejecting Christ! Jesus promises forgiveness and restoration, and if he is for you, who can be against you? The Christian’s faith is not in his fellow Christians and his salvation does not depend upon them. Salvation is the Lord’s and it is in Him that we place our hope. The “I was mistreated” line, while the sentiment may often be true, has been the justification of traitors from Alcibiades to Aldrich Ames, and it is almost always about feeding ambitions and oversized egos.
Harris is using all of this – his past legalism, the supposed legalism of Christianity, the hateful way Christians have treated him – as an excuse for his defection to the other side and as a means of justifying what I suspect is yet to come (probably via Instagram again). That alone is ample proof that he never understood the central tenet of Christianity: the Cross.
Furthermore, Harris is clearly seeking the approbation of men. It feels like he licked his finger, put it in the air, and decided the winds were blowing to the Left and adjusted his convictions accordingly. It’s a poor bargain. In my previous article I quoted my friend Jwan Zhumbes, the Anglican Bishop of Bukuru, Nigeria (who arrives tonight, incidentally). Speaking to the Harris situation he remarked: “It is better to die accursed by the world and in Christ, than the hero of the world and accursed by Christ.” Amen.
Matthew 18:15-17 states very clearly how Christians are to address the sins of other Christians: if your brother repents of his sin, rejoice, you have reclaimed him; if he does not, cut him off.
At this point, Harris falls into the latter category. As a subscriber to this blog recently pointed out, 1 John 2:19 was written in response to a similar circumstance:
“They went out from us, but they did not belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But their departure made it clear that none of them belonged to us.”
I am reminded of another passage. It is from Proverbs 14:12:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”