Discipleship test – Can your church produce apostates?

Could apostasy actually be a sign of a healthy church?

Lauren Winner of Duke Divinity School recently considered the situation of writer/director Paul Haggis’ defection from his faith. Haggis bitterly – and publicly – left the Church of Scientology because of his disagreement with them over gay marriage (turns out Scientology is not a fan).  Haggis now counts as an “apostate” from Scientology because he has renounced them and their teachings.  So why does Winner care at all about any of this?  Because it helps her think about her own church (Episcopalian) and the rigor (or lack, thereof) it takes to be a part of it.  She writes,

So while I appreciate that my church makes room for patchwork, for doubt, for moving in and out, some days I think: Would that America’s Protestant mainline could produce an apostate. For one might say that a group that lacks the necessary preconditions for making apostates can’t make disciples either.

Now this is a fascinating angle to get at thinking about discipleship – a group isn’t really much good, or good for you spiritually unless it is demanding enough of you that you might leave (or even be pushed out).  So…is she on to something?  Or is she really romanticizing a certain “rugged” view of Christian community that in fact is coercive and harmful?  What do you think?

Posted on February 18, 2011, in Pastoral Theology, Sanctification, Spiritual Formation and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I do have concerns about the “high bar” view of discipleship. I completely agree that we need to have a high view of the Christian life, but there’s something about that “high bar” approach that does begin to sound legalistic and manipulative at times.

  2. Where the quote resonated with me was the idea that true discipleship can only happen in a context where we’re asking the hard questions and dealing with the difficult realities of life. But, whenever you do that, you create a situation in which some (many?) people won’t like the answers or won’t find them satisfying that. That does seem like an environment necessary for discipleship but also ripe for apostasy. It certainly is an intriguing thought.

  3. I think it depends on what belief you are taking a hard line stance on. For those that are soft on the gospel or the exclusivity of Christ, there needs to be a hard line stance. If people reject this, then I would say the apostasy of the one who leaves is healthy for the church and shows the faithfulness of the church to God and his word. Likewise, the hard line stance that homosexuality is sin (along with pornography, adultery, fornication, and all other manner of sexual impropriety that heterosexuals engage in as well) is being faithful to Scripture. If someone leaves because they do not agree that sexual immorality is sin, then again, that kind of apostasy is good for the church. In this sense I agree with Ms. Winner. The problem I see, however, is that too many Christians make secondary issues the litmus test of discipleship. These include things like a certain eschatological view, form of church polity, or a particular definition of “sign gifts,” etc. The church can’t seem to agree on the non-negotiables (i.e. so many denominations).

  4. I suppose the quote is a bit ironic, since many Christians (at least “Evangelicals” and “Reformed”) would believe that many (if not all) Protestant mainline churches represent the Apostate church in America and abroad.

    I do agree though, the church should be a place that either drives people to Christ or away from Him; no middle lukewarm ground to stand on.

  5. I think that discipleship takes years of implemented grace. In some ways we are like seedlings that spring up and slowly grow…we need caring and gentle training..for us to mature in time.

    I look back at the times which were instrumental in my coming to faith and subsequent growth; that they were times of real grace and mercy.

    In my view we often are guilty of uprooting the new seedlings when we uproot the weeds. It’s not the actual truth that does the uprooting; its the way it is spoken and acted on… and I think most apostates are reactive to the ways the truth has been spoken; which is through a lack of love.

  1. Pingback: February 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival | A Fistful of Farthings

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