Last week, I was thrown into a debate of sorts with a man named Bruce after a friend of mine asked me to comment on one of his blog posts. Not realizing the volatile nature of the author, I went ahead and read his article and commented on it. This is when the debate started. Bruce has an interesting story. He graduated from an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) college here in Michigan and claims to have pastored churches in several states for 25 years. He claims that during that time, he began a journey that led him to become first an Agnostic and now an Atheist. My debate with him was a complete waste of time, and in fact, I didn’t even want it to become a debate. As happens with so many debates, Bruce attacked me personally because he couldn’t address the questions I asked him. It finally came down to his refusal to allow me to comment on his blog any longer. So be it.
I wanted to share this on my blog because it reminded me of so many people that I know. Bruce is single representation of what I have seen happen to so many people who have been part of IFB churches. Even as I write this, my heart is grieved as I think back to those I know and with whom I grew up, that today have denied the faith and turned their back on the Savior. What is to be said of this and how does this happen?
There are two important truths that I want to answer in this post:
First, I believe that Scripture is very clear regarding those who deny the faith and turn from the Savior. They clearly walked the walk and even talked the talk, but the reality is that they never knew Christ and were never really a Christian. Note a few key passages that teach this:
Scripture teaches that not everyone who ministers and does good works is really a true Christian:
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying,‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you seeAbraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30, ESV)
Scripture teaches that when the seed of the gospel is sown, it falls on all sorts of hearts, but really only produces fruit when it enters the good ground which is prepared by the Holy Spirit of God. This is the danger with easy believe-ism and teachings that salvation happens with a prayer. It just isn’t the case!
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:1-9, ESV)
Finally, Scripture teaches that it is impossible to win back those who have actually tasted of the gospel and its working, but who never really responded (though they think they did).
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8, ESV)
These are scary realizations. Christ made it clear in the gospel that there is such a thing as wheat and tares and they are both present in our churches today. While it grieves my heart as a pastor to see the tares revealed, I am also thankful when they are. it is Satan’s goal to infiltrate the church and to hurt the cause of Christ in any way he can. I don’t believe it is the raging atheist like Bruce that is going to hurt the church and Christians. I believe it is the unbeliever sitting in the pew who can and will do the most damage. But when the gospel is preached and where God’s Word is faithfully taught, I believe it is impossible for an unbeliever to be comfortable and remain.
What a challenge to pastors to faithfully preach God’s Word and have a genuine ministry of discipleship. The IFB’s constant focus on standards or opinions has been the source of much hurt! I can understand the hurt and heart-ache that some of these individuals experienced as a result of their attending a church like that. The reality is that these churches aren’t perfect, but no church is! I think it is possible that some of these individuals have been deeply hurt by churches and pastors in this IFB movement. I am thankful that my generation of pastors has seen this and has been willing to reverse course in many respects so that those hurting individuals can once again find hope and help.
What a challenge to every individual who attends church! The need for self-examination is so important and every believer must do it! We must examine ourselves to make certain that we are in the faith. Our heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Self-examination reveals those times when our heart deceives us, even when it comes to salvation. If a believer claims salvation and yet is living a life that is completely contrary to what Scripture teaches, there is a good chance that they are deceived. Obedience to Christ and fruits of repentance are what reveals whether or not we are indeed a Christian.
I will close for now. In the next post, we will discuss the second truth and that deals with the atheist himself.