Apostasy is not new or shocking to me; years ago, my younger brother Aaron gave up faith in Yeshua and converted to Orthodox Judaism. My cousin Anthony went from Christianity to Messianic Judaism to atheism. A family friend, Alice, got involved in Karaite Judaism and lost faith in Messiah. There was a time in my own life where I considered agnosticism.
I grok doubt and sympathize with people going through it.
And in my 10 years writing this blog, I’ve seen several other Messianic bloggers lose faith…
-Judah Gabriel Himango
“The 3 signs of apostasy, and how to deal with doubt in your life”
And despite this, Evangelicalism has thrown open its arms and welcomed this Trojan Horse, allowing an idol in the city of God. This idol has fast taken over.
MacArthur then contrasted Reformed theology with the charismatic movement and said that Reformed theology is not a haven for false teachers. It is not where false teachers reside or where greedy deceivers and liars end up.
-Pastor John MacArthur
as quoted by Tim Challies
I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to enter into this conversation. I see some good points made by these men, but I wonder if it’s really worth the cost.
Let me explain.
As you probably know, I’ve already expressed some criticism of Pastor John MacArthur and his recent Strange Fire conference, which strongly addressed problems with the Pentecostal church and the Charismatic movement in Christianity. I’m planning on using the record of the conference presentations on the blog of Pastor and well-known Christian blogger Tim Challies to do a more detailed (and hopefully fair) examination of MacArthur, his information, and most importantly his intentions, in holding his conference and publicly “calling out” the Charismatic movement and its followers.
However, well-known Messianic/Hebrew Roots blogger Judah Himango seemed to mirror MacArthur in drawing attention to another six ton elephant in the room, apostasy from Christianity (or in this case, the Messianic Jewish and/or Hebrew Roots movement, which could be considered a form of Christianity).
Pentecostalism and Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Roots are different in that the Pentecostal church has hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, while Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots are (so far) rather minimally attended (I don’t have any specific figures on the population of either group). Other than that though, from a traditional, fundamentalist Christian viewpoint, both movements can be considered the same “strange fire,” that is, both are outside of what might be considered acceptable and “normative” Christianity relative to how Reformed theologians such as MacArthur might see them.
I’m not going to address the actual content presented by MacArthur and Himango. Both have a good deal to say about their relative subjects and in sampling both, they also have a great deal of good information to present, information that should be considered, information that is very likely useful and beneficial.
But at what cost?
In order for both of these gentlemen to do what they’ve done, make public significant difficulties among specific movements and specific individuals, they have to objectify those movements and particularly the individuals involved. To one degree or another, they have to set aside any concern for how the subjects of their criticism will be impacted by what they are saying and publishing.
After the Strange Fire conference (or actually even before it), there was a power surge of criticism against MacArthur for being insensitive, for being hurtful, for being damaging to millions upon millions of fellow Christian brothers of sisters. Being right was more important than how MacArthur’s being right would injure all these people, many, perhaps most of whom, sincerely believe they are serving God and following Christ.
To read Himango’s blog post on apostasy, as well as another Messianic blogger’s kudos to Himango, you’d think that this young man wrote the most beneficial religious commentary in the past century.
I won’t deny that Himango had a number of good points and I don’t doubt his intensions are sincere, but in order to make them, he had to…no, let me change that, he chose to name names. He started with his family and moved on to others, some that I am familiar with and at least one who I’ve known quite well.
Did Himango or anyone else ask them if they wanted to be “outed” like this?
When you have been a member of the Christian faith and you leave, that usually provokes a lot of strong feelings in those believers you’ve left behind. Those strong feelings are almost never pleasant, and it’s never pleasant to be on the receiving end when they are expressed.
I recently had to create a comments policy on my blog in order to contain some otherwise negative statements being made. As part of my policy, I issued the following statement:
In Jewish religious tradition, Leviticus 25:17 which states “You will not wrong one another,” is interpreted as wronging someone in speech. This includes any statement that will embarrass, insult, or deceive a person or cause that person emotional pain and distress. Even statements believed to be true and factual but that cause another harm are considered wrongful speech.
Of course, there’s a problem. Sometimes it really is the right thing to discuss problems in the faith, difficult issues, and even “difficult people,” so how to you balance that against the principle of harmful speech, and avoid damaging any other human being by what you say, even if what you’re saying is factual and truthful?
I wish I knew. I only know that in order for good people to hurt other good people, you have to do something to your “target” in your head. You have to objectify them. You have to make them, in some way, less than human. Otherwise, if you have even the tiniest bit of compassion and pity in your soul, you couldn’t bear to put someone you love or once loved through pain and torture by putting them in the spotlight and pointing a harsh finger at them, even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons.
So how do you do it?
I’m going to present a couple of really extreme examples.
Look at how we convinced American military personal to kill Nazis and Japanese during World War II. Look at how we convinced the American public to support a World War, condone the bombing of millions, endure severe shortages of goods and services so they could be diverted to the war effort. How did we do it? By making Germans and Japanese less than human. That’s also how we herded masses of Japanese living in America into prison camps, men, women, and children, even as the Nazis were herding millions of Jews and other “undesirables” into prison camps, men, women, and children.
How have we aborted untold millions of unborn children in our nation since 1973? How have we made abortion a wildly successful financial effort? How have we sold abortion as “women’s reproductive services” to an entire nation, and completely ignored the fact that the only difference between a fetus being aborted and an unborn baby who is already loved by mother and father is that one is unwanted and the other is wanted?
By turning an unborn human being into a “fetus,” a “thing.” Yes, the term “fetus” is technically accurate, but shifting the emotional context from baby to thing is what’s required to eliminate a thing. Then it’s not killing a baby. Then we can live with ourselves and get to sleep at night…most of us.
That’s also how to kill an enemy in war. To one degree or another, it’s how you attack another human being in speech, a person who was created just as much in the image of God as you were. By “objectifying” them.
I told you these were extreme examples. Imagine though, that we can still do others some measure of harm, even when we’re not being “extreme.”
If we remember that someone who worships God in a Pentecostal church is a person, just like we are, someone who is a parent, a child, someone who goes to work, who goes to the movies, someone who loves, cries, becomes afraid, is capable of compassion, just like we are, then it’s not quite as easy to say that everything they experience in their worship of God is really a product of the Adversary and grieves the heart of God.
Maybe all that is true, but it’s how we say it and with what intent that makes the difference.
We can also “out” and disdain people, human beings just like us, if we don’t think of them as people just like us but rather as “apostates.” An apostate is a special class of being who has done the unthinkable, he has, in the context of my message as well as Himango’s blog post, rejected Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Or in more Judaic terms, rejected Yeshua HaHashiach, the Son of David, King of Yisra’el.
Regardless of how apostasy within the Church affects you, can you say that because a person leaves the faith, all bets are off and you can treat them anyway you want?
Maybe. After all, the Master said this:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
–Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)
If someone continually refuses to repent of their sin, Jesus says they are to be treated as a Gentile and a tax collector,” not really desirable companions in that place and time. But notice that Jesus began by saying “show him his fault in private” and continues with “if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”
Talk to him in private avoids embarrassing him unnecessarily. Your goal is to win your brother, and in this context, the converse must be true. It must be possible to “lose” your brother, with the understanding that on some level, this person is still your brother, though you may have to ask him to be removed from the community of faith until he repents.
When MacArthur accused Charismatic people of offering “strange fire” to God, he was massively criticized on the web. There was and is a lot of debate about whether MacArthur was right in his message and right in his method. I don’t really need to speak of MacArthur or defend Charismatics, since that’s already been done in abundance. But in our little corner of the Messianic and Hebrew Roots blogosphere, who takes a hard look at the methods by which some writers are addressing those who have left our ranks, either to become atheists or to pursue more traditional (non-believing) Judaism as converts or people who are halachically Jewish?
I’m not defending leaving the faith, but is the only response to that act to revile and assault those who have? I have very personal reasons for not dragging Jewish non-believers through the mud, but I won’t “name names” or specifics on my blog so I can avoid creating “targets.” Can’t we instead respond to this tragedy with compassion, mercy, and even pity? Can’t we leave the door to friendship open? Is there no room for Christians and Jews to associate and even be friends, or does that constitute a “yoking” problem?
What is God’s point of view on all this? I can only infer it from the Bible. Certainly, God has been capable of more than a little wrath. MacArthur’s invocation of “strange fire” is a prime example of that, relative to Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu and their horrible, fiery end.
But God is also a God of compassion, mercy, pity, and love.
The thirteen attributes of God are captured for us in the following:
Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and Who cleanses.
The Master’s own compassion for an unrepentant Jerusalem is the echo of Moshe’s encounter with Hashem:
Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How many times I have desired to gather your sons like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Listen: your house will be abandoned for you, desolate. For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Hashem!”
–Matthew 23:37-39 (DHE Gospels)
Compassion, even in the face of a very hard truth.
In his blog post, Himango says that Heresy hunting is a problem. What about Apostate hunting? We don’t burn “witches” anymore, we just embarrass them on the Internet. I must say that Himango was rather measured and even considerate in his write up, in spite of the fact that he listed names and biographies for those on his “apostate list,” but the person who started the ball rolling, so to speak, was much less merciful, and all the more harsh, and in fact, betrayed a personal trust based on friendship in “exposing” another person’s very difficult choice to leave the body of Yeshua.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Jesus showed pity and regret to Jerusalem and even asked the Father to forgive his executioners (Luke 23:34). Paul quotes the Torah in imploring the Romans (and us) to not respond to hurt with revenge, but to only show compassion, charity, and mercy.
Are we to answer someone else’s “strange fire” by incinerating them in speech or in writing, or can we emulate, Jesus, Paul, and God, by being “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness?”
Is the fault in any problem always in someone else? Is it never in who we are and what we do, even in the name of Christ?
A final note. I’m less than pond scum algae to men like John MacArthur, so I doubt he’ll ever be aware of my existence, let alone my blog, but Judah Himango and I have exchanged a number of comments over the past few years, so I don’t doubt that when he finds out I wrote this (and to be fair, I’ll let him know before I click the “Publish” button), he’ll have something to say about it, probably something not very complementary. Unfortunately, you can’t write something like this without becoming a target.
Again, I don’t doubt that Judah had good intensions in writing his blog post and he did make many good points. I believe he sincerely wants to support and encourage people, especially those associated with the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, in staying the course and continuing in the faith.
But there’s a price to be paid, a cost to be exacted from those people we put under our microscope. Is it worth it?
I didn’t want to write this. But I had to write it.