There is an irreconcilable conflict between Jesus and Paul and Peter when it comes to how to view apostates that were once followers of Jesus. So argues former Pastor Bruce Gerencser.
There is quite a bit wrong with this article. It seems like Bruce Gerencser does not seem to know what faith he walked away from. I thought it might be instructive to respond paragraph by paragraph. My comments are in red.
There is an irreconcilable conflict between Jesus and Paul and Peter when it comes to how to view apostates that were once followers of Jesus
Interesting Premise. Let's see if he can substantiate such a bold assertion.
Progressive, liberal, kind-hearted Christians stress the two great laws emphasized by Jesus in Mark 12:28-33:
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.Love God and love your fellow man. All the laws of the Bible are summed up in these two commands, Love God and love your fellow man. If Christians truly embraced these two commands I suspect I would have very little to write about on this blog.
I don't think think that this is a "liberal" position at all. It is the truth of what Jesus taught and sums up not just his teaching but the whole of the Torah. I also agree that many Christians fall short of this ideal. In order for Bruce Gerencser to prove his point, he has to show that "love" does not mean showing error and pointing out falsehood. He has to show that love does not mean holding others to a standard of behavior, attitudes, and belief.
Sadly most CHRISTians live in denial of the teachings of Christ. They are ensconced in the teaching of Paul and Peter, and they most often live lives in total denial of the teachings of the man they claim is their Lord and Savior.
So the crux of his argument is that Paul and Peter taught contradictory theology than Jesus. Again, let's see if he can prove this.
This is clearly shown by their response to people like me. For some reason, an evangelical pastor turned atheist is such a threat to the Christian faith of some that I must be attacked and ridiculed at every opportunity. So sharp are their attacks that I had to implement comment moderation and limit abusive commenters to one comment. (my thinking is they get one chance to tell me what an awful man I am so they better make it count, kind of like an enema)
Peter and Paul attack people for leaving Christianity? I don't think so. Bruce Gerencser at least does provide the relevant scriptures in his article. Peter and Paul were not as concerned about people like Gerencser and Loftus who have left and no longer call themselves Christians. The threat is from people like Harold Camping who claim to be Christians but teach totally contradictions and lies - deceiving themselves and others. Loftus and Gerencser are not false brothers in Christ. They are out in the open.
Where does this need to attack and ridicule come from? Is it just a reflection of their lack of civility, maturity or a lack of character? I am sure this explains some of their behavior but I think they really do believe the Bible gives them warrant to say the things they say.
It is the lack of civility, maturity, and lack of character. Things that all human beings should be working on. There seems to be a double standard. Atheists can be mean. Condescending. Insulting. And it's okay. But if A Christian shouldn't. Why? Instinctively we know the Bible is true and we, even Atheists, expect more from the God-fearing than from the Godless.
What does the Bible say?
Peter writes in 2 Peter 2:1-22:
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.How does Peter describe people like me?
- A false teacher who brings upon himself swift destruction
- A person who, with his words, manipulates people for material gain
- A person who deserves the judgment and damnation of God
- A person who is like the people God killed in the flood, the people God killed with fire and brimstone at Sodom and Gomorrah, and like the rebellious angels God cast out of heaven
- Like a dog who eats its own vomit
- Like a sow wallowing in the mud
- Like Balaam
Looking closely at Gerencser's bullet list summarizing the above 22 verses, I've got to ask: How does this describe the apostate? By definition a person who outright and publicly becomes an atheist or agnostic, cannot be a false prophet. Someone who stays in the church, pretending to be a brother and sister but instead is an enemy - either purposely or unwittingly. An apostate cannot be this kind of sinner because we all know they are no longer in the Church.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:1-10
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as their’s also was.Paul paints a lurid picture of apostates like me. Paul says my “folly” will be made manifest to all men and many Christians feel they have the gift of manifestation.
This passage does not just refer to apostates...it refers to all sinners! Jannes and Jambres were Israelites who went against Moses, they paid for their sins. Again they weren't apostates in the same since that Loftus, Gerencser, and Bart Ehrman are apostates. They didn't come out and say "I don't believe in your God, Moses." Jannes and Jambres challenged Moses leadership and spoke contrary to what God saying that they spoke for the God that delivered Israel up out of Egypt. Loftus, Gerencser, and Ehrman are not doing the same.
Paul writes in Romans 1:16-32:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.People like me are described as those who hold the truth in unrighteousness. We worship the creation rather than the creator. We refuse to acknowledge God and we give him no worship or thanks. Our foolish hearts are darkened and we are vain in our imaginations. Result? God gives us over to a reprobate mind.
According to the Bible I am a reprobate, a person beyond the grace of God., a person who has already secured a berth in hell.
Again, Paul is not just talking about Apostates but all those who deny God by living their own way. The other thing Paul is not saying that all such people are beyond the grace of God. Not all atheists are given over. Some, God still saves them and replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. If one wants salvation, there is still a chance to get right and not be finally turned over to a reprobate mind. I've seen such people, but the majority of cases I see is that God gives multiple opportunities to avoid that state of mind. You just don't know when your last chance is.
In Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 10:26-29 Paul makes it clear that people like me have no hope of God ever extending grace to us again:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.These verses make it clear that apostates like me have no second chance. We have spit in the face of God, we have trampled under our feet the blood of Jesus, and we have spited the spirit of grace. We are enemies of God.
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
I wonder if Gerencser knows that a majority of scholars don't think Paul wrote Hebrews. Guess not. Well, it matters not because the question is has an apostate truly experienced enlightenment. The point of the passage is not that it's possible to fall away but why it's impossible to fall away. Jesus died once and for all. There are no take-backsies or oopsies! One passage that I think is missing from this discussion is 1 John 2:18.19
18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
The Bible, if you look at all the passages together, you can't conclude Hebrews is saying that a believer can fall away.
According to the Bible, since I am a unregenerate, unsaved person I have a deceitful, wicked heart. I am incapable of doing good and I am unable to love in the truest sense of the word. (because true love comes from God)
Not just apostates - EVERYONE!!!
I make no bones about my beliefs. I don’t believe there is a god. I don’t believe that Jesus was God nor do I believe he died on the cross for my sins and resurrected from the dead three days later. I totally reject the Christians concept of original sin. I also reject any notion that suggests the Bible is a divine book written by God, a book that every human being is obligated to obey. I am an atheist.
Fair enough. I think that defines an atheist. If Gerencser had ever been born again, he'll come back to God. Or hopefully, if he hadn't been born again, he can truly be set free and know God as he is and not who he thought God is.
At one time I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I believed that there was one God and that Jesus, the son of God, died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead three days later, thus vanquishing sin and death. I believed that Jesus was the way, truth, and life. As Paul said of himself, I at one time said of myself, I KNOW in whom I have believed…At one time, according to the book of 1 John, I had a know-so salvation.
So what happened? Jesus said in John 3 that we must born again. Head knowledge is not enough. Once one is born, can one become unborn? Nope....didn't think so.
Christian people who meet me, interact with me on Facebook, or trade emails with me are often faced with a dilemma. I am a nice guy who is kind and compassionate most of the time. I love my family and I love my neighbors. My “good” works stack up quite favorably with many of the super-saints that come to this blog to tell me what their God thinks of me. Ask the people who know me about my life and character. I have no doubt the report will be favorable. (I am not perfect to be sure but I am a better Christian than many of the Christians I know)
If Gerencser was a Christian then he would know it's not about your "good works" that makes you justified from your sins. None of us is perfect. None of us is worthy.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. - Isaiah 64:6
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.- Ephesians 2:8-10
But, the Bible says……….. I know some Christians want to see me in a good light, but doing so puts them in direct conflict with the Bible. Paul and Peter are not ambiguous on the matter. What’s it going to be?
Paul and Peter were right. And they did not contradict Jesus in the slightest. More on this at the end of this post
I fully understand why some Christians believe that I am a deadly enemy, an enemy they are commanded to wage war against. (Ephesians 6) Thousands of people read this blog and, in the minds of the warring faithful, I am an enemy of their eternal souls. They feel obligated to speak up for God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Christian faith. They feel they will be rewarded by God for standing up for the faith once delivered to the saints. Well done thou good and faith Servant. Enter in……
I don't consider apostates as enemies. Just more people to witness to in hopes that they really catch a hold of God for real and never depart again.Vocal ones like Loftus who have taken it upon themselves to attack that which they once confessed are often used to argue that Christianity is false because if it were true they wouldn't have left it. This doesn't hold up in practice or in the Bible.
Some Christians attempt to navigate a third way when dealing with people like me. They think I was hurt by the Church and that my apostasy is an emotional response to the hateful, nasty, mean-spiritedness that is all too common in Evangelical Christianity. In their minds I am still a Christian, one that has been wounded by the Church.
I think Gerencser is right. People do look at it that way. Of course that isn't what the Bible says. If he thinks the norm and common in Christianity is hateful, nasty, and mean-spiritedness, I'd like to know what churches you have been to, so I don't go there. That hasn't been my experience at all.
I readily admit there is an emotional component to my defection from Christianity. However, it is not the primary reason. The issue is, and remains so, that I do not believe the Bible is truth and I do not have the requisite faith to believe. I am the enemy of God.
So basically, Gerencser agrees with Paul in Romans 8:5-8
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
I am quite happy when a liberal minded, progressive Christian sincerely attempts to love me as their neighbor but I do understand WHY many Christians respond differently. The Bible is on their side. The liberal minded, progressive Christian has love, compassion, civility, and decency on their side. They are good people. But, if life is all about preparing to meet God, if it is allow about preparing for eternity, if it is all about keeping the commandments of God, then the Bible believers who eviscerate me and attempt to sodomize me with the words of the Bible clearly have God on their side.
I'm not happy with the way we sometimes upset God's message so that it can't be heard over how awful we are and how we treat others. I agree that life is "all about preparing to meet God, if it is all about preparing for eternity, if it is all about keeping the commandments of God". The thing is that without love, compassion, civility, and decency you can't prepare to meet God. At the same time you don't need to compromise truth. Yes, sinners are going to hell. The bad news is that we are sinners and worthy of death. The good news is that Jesus has paid your debt and if you accept Him and obey Him, you receive the righteousness he purchased for you with His own blood. 1 Peter 3:14-16 says:
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
I have to say that Gerencser failed to prove a fundamental point he attempted to raise that Jesus taught different than Peter and Paul regarding apostasy. Peter and Paul had strong words against those who twist and subvert scripture for their own selfish and evil ends! So did Jesus. Don't believe it. Look at what He said to the religious leaders of his day!
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. - Matthew 23:26-28
And this is one of the nicest things Jesus said against them. This is one of the reasons why they hated Jesus so much. He told the truth about them and they weren't apostates. They were "wolves in sheep clothing." God does not play about leading others astray while pretending to be following Him
Debunking Christianity: What the Bible Says About Apostates Like Me