Scrolling through old posts for inspiration, I stumbled across Matt Anderson’s article over at Boundless, “Loving Those Who Leave.” Watching brothers and sisters walk away from the faith is difficult, and our instincts may be more harmful than they are beneficial.
I attended a Christian college that emphasized many great standards (and not just through the Contract), and so I never really expected to face a lot of people simply running away from the faith. As Matt pointed out, this is not just a one day decision, but rather the culmination of experiences. How can the experience of living in community with other Christians, studying the Bible (enough for a minor) and attending regular chapel result in someone leaving the faith?
I guess sometimes it isn’t about the right environment or the right knowledge.
This sheds light on the reaction we should have when we hear that someone has left the faith. We have to recognize that not only is it a process, but that fixing the place and addressing the information simply often does not change a person’s soul. Environments are important, as are true beliefs, but they are far from sufficient for soul-level change.
Our reaction should reflect our understanding that those who take years to turn away from the faith are not likely to change their minds back overnight. Of course, the Spirit may work in a heart in radical, instantaneous changes, but this experience is not normative and we should not count on it. Trust God can, but not that He will act on our whims and desires. I think the answer here is, appropriately enough, grace. We all need grace, and those living in grace should be quick to dispense it at every opportunity. This is especially true when a friend has stepped away from the faith.
What this does not mean, though, is that we put on a show of grace for our unsaved friends, whether they be one who left or one who never was saved. Grace shines through reality, and we do not need to make it a spectacle. Not only does it cheapen the experience of receiving grace, but it makes the grace appear to be insincere.
The temptation, of course, is to freak out. Matt’s instinct to go with the “Apologetics Double Barreled Approach” is a common one, especially among intellectuals. When we face doubts, some of us turn to intellectual arguments about the nature of God or the inspiration of the Scriptures, and perhaps even rightly so. But doubt that lasts for long periods of time (think years) is embedded deeply enough that an intellectual argument will not likely help. For some it might, but as rule these will not be the best responses.
I think Matt’s closing statement says it best. Near the end he says:
But as Christians, we do have a fellowship with the world that can unite us. Inasmuch as they stand in need of redemption, so do we. It is a position that removes all grounds for boasting or judgment. When we recognize that, we can fellowship with them out of the love that Christ has for us.
And that hits the nail on the head.