Several weeks ago, Christian author Josh Harris publically renounced his faith. Harris’ writings were incredibly popular with many in my Christian “bubble” when I was in college at a Southern Baptist College. He spoke of the importance of staying sexually pure in relationships through exchanging a dating culture for a courting one. In short, he suggested that it was far better to pursue marriage rather than pursuing dating. I agreed with him. I still do.
Harris followed up his writing by becoming a megachurch pastor at the ripe age of 30, following noted pastor CJ Mahaney. Even though he had no formal education or training, he was given the charge of leading a highly influential church. Eventually resigning in order to pursue theological training, he had been very quiet until the last year or so. Over the past several months, he has apologized for the teachings in his books, apologized to the LGBTQ community for his teachings on the biblical concept of marriage, stated he and his wife were divorcing, and even rejected the faith.
This came as a surprise to many due to his influence but, unfortunately, things like this happen all the time. Just this week, Marty Sampson, Australian worship leader and songwriter for the highly popular group Hillsong, did the same thing. He said he was “genuinely losing his faith” and “ok” with it and felt like Christianity was just “another religion.” Again, these things happen a lot.
John Cooper, from the Christian band Skillet, even brought more attention to this issue with a passionate Facebook post asking “what is happening to Christianity?” Additionally, he warned against people following public faces and, instead, to “discover the preeminence of the Word.” I find these to be wise words for the right time.
When I see Harris and his falling away from the faith and compare that with Sampson’s, I come to realize a few things that I hope are helpful to us.
1. Legalism doesn’t save.
While I agree with Harris’s writings on pursuing marriage, I have always found his teachings to be a touch legalistic. This is not to say that we should not strive for personal holiness but sometimes when we stress a personal holiness that is specific to a particular way of life (courting), we can end up on the wrong side of legalism. A legalistic culture that has no room for grace will eventually lead to heartache.
2. Entertainment culture doesn’t save.
I understand that many of you like Hillsong’s music but if we build a ministry based on entertainment’s value, we can easily end up with a church that is shallow. Cooper was right: we need to build a ministry on the preeminence of the Word and not of catchy songs played a specific way. There is a reason we sing many old hymns of the faith: they were saturated with the Word.
3. Many nameless Christians are not falling away.
When we give so much credence to Christian “celebrities” and their falling away, we miss an important fact about global Christianity. While many folks may be falling away, there are scores of believers all over the world who are faithfully enduring persecution. These brothers and sisters are losing their money, families, status, and even their lives. And yet, we continue to stress over the Harrises and the Sampsons of the world.
There are many nameless Christians were are staying faithful and are not falling away. Hebrews says “the world was not worthy” of these type of people (Heb. 11:38). When we look at the great “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, I am struck by the fact that there are only a few names listed but, at the end of the chapter, it is the nameless ones who the world was not worthy of. Let this be a lesson to us. Sure, many “celebrity-Christians” are falling away. But that is just not true of the rest of the world.
Adam, a second-generation pastor, is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Leakesville, MS. He is a doctoral candidate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary writing his dissertation on a biblical assessment of patriotism. He can follow him on twitter, @pastor_adam.