Russell Moore has weighed in on the recent bout of prominent Christian leaders publicly abandoning their faith and revealed why Christians should respond with “compassion and mercy” and not “judgment” in such instances.
In a video posted to his website on Oct. 15, Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said when someone publicly deconverts, the first response is often “shock” “as though Christianity is some sort of a tribe or village or a political party.”
“‘You were supposed to be with ‘with us’ and you’ve walked away,’” Moore explained. “I’ve gotten angry about that, and sometimes shocked. 'How could this happen?'”
“Well, if you think about the way the Bible speaks of this, the Bible gives us example after example of this happening,” he said. “Jesus talks about this repeatedly. The book of Acts shows us this repeatedly. The Apostle Paul talks about this as well. So that sense of shock and anger really isn’t one that’s appropriate for a Christian”
Another problem some Christians have is “showing mercy toward that person,” Moore said, adding that it’s “easier” to show mercy to those who are clearly “lost,” like “tax collectors and prostitutes.”
“But when you’re dealing with someone who maybe used to sing hymns next to me in church, or used to do evangelism with me in campus ministry, or preached a message right before me, something like that, then I tend not to have that same sort of mercy,” he admitted.
But in most cases of deconversion, there is a “great deal of pain,” Moore stressed.
“Maybe it’s somebody who has been through suffering in their life and can’t understand where God is in all of that,” he said. “Maybe it is somebody who just kept drifting further and further away from the Lord until they’re in the middle of this sort of dark night of the soul and they don’t know how to get home. Sometimes it’s people who have had awful situations with Christianity and churches. I’ve seen people shredded by the church.”
“We ought to have a sense of understanding, a sense of compassion there, and not react with a sense of, ‘you have somehow betrayed me,’” he continued.
Moore warned that the Bible doesn’t speak “harshly” against “wandering sheep;” it speaks harshly against “wolves” who come in pretending to be sheep and the false teachers who stay within the church.
Other people have difficulty not being “thrown” when an individual within the church leaves the faith, the theologian said, and think, “If that can happen to him/her, it can happen to me.”
“None of us come before God on the basis of working ourselves up to it,” Moore said. “None of us come before God on the basis of how rigorous our theological propositions are. We come before God by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
“The proper response, I think — and it’s a hard one for me — when I see someone walking away from the faith, is not to sit down and say, ‘Well, here’s all the ways I’m holier than she was; here’s all the ways where my theology was better than his. Here are all the ways I know I will never be in that situation.'”
Rather, we should say: “God, I’m a sinner. Have mercy on me. Left to myself I’m prone to wander.”
“That’s the proper prayer. That’s how God keeps us; not with our sense of arrogance, but with our sense of vulnerability,” he said. “If you’ve got somebody in your life like this, don’t give up on them ... show some mercy, stand firm in the faith, and pray.”
Earlier this year, Joshua Harris, author of the controversial Christian best-seller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, made headlines after he published an Instagram post announcing: “I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”
A short time later, former Hillsong singer and songwriter Marty Sampson posted on Instagram: “Time for some real talk … I’m genuinely losing my faith … and it doesn’t bother me.”
Last month, theologian John Piper urged believers to retain a proper fear that they, too, could “commit apostasy this afternoon and go to Hell” if it weren’t for the grace of God.
“Nothing you do originates the decisive act or impulse that saves you,” he said at the Sing! Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. “Nothing you feel, nothing you think, nothing you will, nothing you do, originates the act of the soul or the act of the body that causes God to elect you, predestine you, call you, keep you, or glorify you. All of it is a free gift. So nobody should have the mindset, ‘I can keep this from happening.’ I can’t. No, you can’t, God can.”
One must replace their sense of “self-stability" with "God-stability,” Piper said, adding: “It requires some Bible knowledge and some prayer and deep soul work.”
The pastor cited Romans 8:30: “And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.”
“Nobody falls out. That’s why I believe in eternal security. Between foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification, nobody will be missing. None. That’s rock-solid security in assurance,” Piper explained.
“You are secure in Christ, but your security is totally in the hands of God," he continued. "If God is faithful to you, you will make it. If you don’t make it, He didn’t cause you to make it. So that’s foundational to what I believe and think.”
Piper said that every day he falls to his knees and prays, “Hold onto me,” adding: “The remaining corruption in every human being’s soul is enough to make money more precious than God at age 74 in the faith. Sin is that powerful if you leave God out of the picture. God keeps John Piper, and if God takes His hand off me this afternoon, I will commit apostasy. It depends on Him, not on me.”