When we contemplate what feels like an avalanche of Christians declaring—whether through their actions or words or both—their loss of faith in Jesus and God’s Word, we should realize that for every leader who loudly denies Christ there are thousands of less well-known Christians who are doing the same. (Note: this will be a longer blog than usual because I don’t want to interrupt the flow.)
If I could share just one message in light of the high-profile Christians who have recently made public announcements renouncing their faith, it would be this: you should lose your faith…if it is in anyone other than Jesus. And you should forsake and reject any worldview, no matter how attractive and seductive and popular and affirming, that is not in concert with the worldview of God’s Word.
Read Ephesians 1:3-13. As you do, ask yourself, “Do I have any grounds for placing my absolute faith in anyone or anything other than the person and work of Jesus Christ, as predestined by the Father and accomplished by the Holy Spirit?” Seriously, read this passage now. If you never make it back to this blog post, that’s fine. Because God never promises my words won’t return empty, but He does promise that about His words (Isaiah 55:11).
Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” What does this passage say about Christian writers, preachers, musicians, athletes, and celebrities? Absolutely nothing. Only God is worthy of our trust, faith, and hope.
Every time another Christian leader falls morally or declares he no longer believes in Jesus, it causes a crisis of faith for many believers. I’ve had people say, “I don’t know what to think anymore. That man led me to Jesus. He baptized me!” But God has always used people with wayward hearts and motives to proclaim the Gospel, and the Gospel is still the Gospel and Jesus is still Jesus.
Paul says, “The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:17-18).
Surprise, sadness, disappointment, and grief are natural and appropriate responses when someone we admire falls morally or otherwise abandons their faith in Jesus. However, if our faith is shaken when this happens, it reveals something wrong about our faith in the first place. Both Scripture and church history clearly state that many will turn away from Christ, even many who because of their gifts and oratorical or musical skills find themselves on platforms where people associate their name with that of Jesus.
First Timothy 4:1-2 is one of many such passages: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” So if people were NOT turning from Jesus it would suggest the Bible isn’t true. However, it is true, and they are turning away from Jesus. But there is only one Jesus, only one ultimately worthy object of our faith.
Forty-two years ago, Nanci and I were part of starting a brand-new church, which we are still part of today. When I was a pastor at Good Shepherd Community Church, we often said, “There is only one Good Shepherd, and He is not on our staff.” We recognized Jesus was above and around and in us and worked through us, but anyone who thought their pastors were Jesus were preparing for nothing but disappointment.
We emphasized the importance of plural ministry in which no one man is elevated in such a way as to make the church rise and fall with that man. We believed that if one man becomes too prominent, his weaknesses will go unchecked and the church will become weak where he is weak. No single leader’s weaknesses can destroy a church when there is a true team of pastors and leaders, and a number of people have an equal voice and rely on unanimity or at least consensus.
In the early years of our church we preached from I Peter 5, where it says pastors/elders are to “Shepherd God’s flock that is under your care,” with the reminders that pastors are only under-shepherds, the flock is not ours but God’s, and we should not be “lording it over those entrusted to you.” Then it calls Jesus “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), who is Lord of the under-shepherds and will reward them for faithful service in caring for His flock. “Chief” means head or lead or senior, and shepherd means pastor. So we would say “Jesus is our head pastor, our senior pastor. This church belongs to no man but the God-man.”
None of us were at the top of the chain of command—Jesus was! Leaders are first and foremost sheep and only secondarily shepherds. Any church governing board that is listening to, elevating, or glorifying one human voice is setting up both the pastor and the church to fail and fall. Many pastors in America and around the world need true accountability in their spiritual, moral, financial, and inter-personal relationships not only with laypeople in the church, but also with other pastors and staff members.
Is your faith dependent on Randy Alcorn, Josh Harris, Marty Sampson (of Hillsong), or anyone else—including John Piper, John MacArthur, Francis Chan, Joni Tada, Beth Moore, Max Lucado, Greg Laurie, David Platt or _______ (fill in the blank, including any of your pastors or family members)? If so, then you should lose your faith before it’s too late. Having cleared away the rubble of human idols, we should embrace the only worthy object of our faith, King Jesus. That’s building our lives on the rock of divine strength, not the sand of human weakness. Only Jesus Christ can bear the weight of our absolute trust. (We like to both worship and crucify Christian leaders. But often the former leads to the latter.)
Those who thought Bill Hybels and James MacDonald, and hundreds of leaders who preceded them, were worthy objects of faith have been shown to be misguided. And they were just as misguided before those leaders fell than after they did. If our faith is grounded in anyone other than the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—let’s repent of the sin of idolatry and turn back to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Then and only then can we put in perspective the tide of Christian leaders who are turning away from Him and the truth of His Word.
We all fall on tough times. Nanci and I have had a number of them and are facing another one right now. A lot of bad theology often surfaces when we face suffering, and I don’t doubt this may be a factor for the recent leaders who’ve rejected the Christian faith. When people lose their faith because of suffering, it suggests a weak or nominal faith that didn’t account for or prepare them for evil and suffering. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Imagining that God should always make our paths smooth sets us up to resent God and even lose our faith when our lives don’t go as we want. That’s another faith we should lose—to be replaced with faith in the God of sovereign grace and truth who doesn’t keep us from all difficulties but promises to be with us in all difficulties.
Any faith not based on the truth needs to be lost—the sooner, the better. I’ve noticed many who grew up in privilege end up citing the sufferings of people elsewhere in the world as their basis for rejecting Christ. Yet when I’ve interviewed people who have endured what to most of us would be unimaginable suffering, they embrace the Christian faith more passionately than we who live in relative comfort and ease. Many people who have endured deep hardship turn toward God in their suffering, not away from Him. They’ve found that no one else but Jesus can bear the weight of their trust, just as He bore the weight of their suffering on the cross.
For those who lose their faith, whether expressed publicly or gradually and privately, there is normally suffering and disillusionment in their background. Suffering and evil exert a force that either pushes us away from God or pulls us toward Him. But if personal suffering gives sufficient evidence that God doesn’t exist, then surely I shouldn’t wait until I suffer to conclude He’s a myth. If my suffering would one day justify denying God, then I should deny Him now in light of other people’s suffering.
Believing that God exists is not the same as trusting the God who exists. A nominal Christian often discovers in suffering that his faith has been in himself, his church, family, career, or social network, but not in Christ. As he faces evil and suffering, he may find his beliefs shaken or even destroyed. But genuine faith—trusting God even when we don’t understand—will be made stronger and purer. I have seen this in my own life and Nanci’s, and that of many family and friends.
Be forewarned. If your faith is based on lack of affliction, it’s on the brink of extinction and is only a frightening diagnosis or a shattering phone call away from collapse. Token faith will not survive suffering. Nor should it.
In every case someone moves away from faith in Jesus, I think it’s accurate to conclude they’ve been listening to the wrong voices—voices which have served the purposes of the one Jesus called the Father of lies. Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
The devil’s lies are convincing. They roll off his tongue as he speaks them through so many cool people, so many popular slogans, so many trendy causes. His lies are hypnotically credible because they soak into us, and we fail to counter them with heavy doses of the truth of God’s Word.
Jesus told us in that same John 8 passage the only thing that can defeat the devil’s lies: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). When we stop holding to God’s truth, that’s when we start falling away from Jesus and sound doctrine. As Satan’s lies roll down the hillsides of our mind they become a landslide that produces an ultimate avalanche of apostacy. And this isn’t helped by all the professing Christians who applaud the “honesty” and “transparency” and “courage” of those denying Christ, as though they are doing something virtuous by rejecting the Son of God who came down to rescue us from the bondage of sin.
I would encourage you to think in terms of your life trajectory and the major influences you’re letting speak into your life. First Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (NIV).
I don’t know John Cooper, lead singer of the Christian rock band Skillet. But I thoroughly agree with what he recently said about believers needing to stop looking to “worship and thought leaders” as if they/we have an inside track to biblical truth or as if people should have faith in us:
Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith. I’ll state my conclusion, then I’ll state some rebuttals to statements I’ve read by some of them. Firstly, I never judge people outside of my faith. Even if they hate religion or Christianity. That is not my place and I have many friends who disagree with my religion and that is 100% fine with me. However, when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God.
My conclusion for the church (all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years (and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?
I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers...first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it…therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?
Let me close with some other verses from God’s Word for us to ponder:
“Now this is what the parable means. The seed is God’s word. The ones on the path are the people who listen, but then the Devil comes and takes the word away from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the stony ground are the people who joyfully welcome the word when they hear it. But since they don’t have any roots, they believe for a while, but in a time of testing they fall away. The ones that fell among the thorn bushes are the people who listen, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries, wealth, and pleasures of life, and their fruit doesn’t mature. But the ones on the good soil are the people who hear the word but also hold on to it with good and honest hearts, producing a crop through endurance” (Luke 8:11-15).
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).
“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:11-14).
For more related perspectives from Randy, see his books Truth, If God Is Good, and Face to Face with Jesus.
Photo credit: Ben White via Christianpics.co