Sunday, August 04, 2019

Musings on the circumstances of Harris' apostasy (Part 3)

Harris' circumstances

The two major events in Harris' life in recent times are issues with the church he was a pastor of, and his seminary education. Now, it is of course not possible to read Harris' heart, but I hope through looking at the circumstances in life, it will help us understand perhaps the struggles he might have had to face in his life prior to his apostasy.

With regards to church issues, it is very likely that the church issues faced by Harris, including the loss of his mentor C.J. Mahaney, was traumatic to him. I guess, I hope, that we all should know that it is Christ alone who is the head of the church, and that all pastors and theologians are but just men, fallible and sinful too. We are not Roman Catholics who believe in a special chrism (anointing) that separates the priest apart from the common folk as a class of "holy people." But it is natural to honor and respect your leaders, and to some extent you treat them with reverence. These are the people who bring to us the Word of God and who care for us, who visit us and pray for us, who comfort us, who marry us and bury us. If or when they fall, it will affect us. I wonder just how much Harris has been affected by what happened during that time, and perhaps things might have changed if there was someone whom he could seek biblical counsel who would have aided him at that time. The amount of spiritual and emotional devastation caused by church issues and conflicts cannot be under-estimated, and especially if it happens to someone who has been in that church for almost his entire life!

In this time of instability, Harris made a decision to go to seminary. While I am a firm believer in seminary training for the ministry, it seems to me that Harris probably wasn't in the best place when he made that decision to go to Regent College. Regent College in Vancouver, BC, is a broadly evangelical seminary. On top of the danger of seminary studies, Harris will have to contend with a broad evangelical teaching whereby a plethora of views held by professing evangelicals would be presented. In broad evangelicalism, the type of strong convictions seen in Calvinistic circles is extremely frowned upon. This ties in with the cultural clash that Harris would have encountered. First, he transitioned from a Calvinistic circle with strong convictions to a broad Evangelical circles with much weaker convictions. Second, he transitioned from a rather closely-knit conservative circle to a much more liberal circle. Third, he transitions into a very left-liberal city in Vancouver. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Harris met supposed "committed" LGBT couples, as people he has actual interactions with! With such instability and change, and no solid grounding in the Scriptures to fall back on, how would one go about dealing with the issues?

I am not putting this out there to "explain away" Harris' apostasy. And most certainly it is the Lord Jesus who will always preserve His own (c.f. Jn. 6:39). But even though it is ultimately God who decides His own, and God who preserves His own, God works through means. And these means are real means, instrumental in bringing about what God in His secret counsel has declared to pass. The circumstances surrounding Harris might probably have contributed to Harris' apostasy, and thus it is helpful for us to understand them.

Apostasy from the Christian faith of course is not a rare occurrence. Harris is not the first, and he will not be the last. Our attitude towards those who left the faith should always be grief and sorrow, especially so if the person had once strongly proclaimed his faith in Jesus and the Gospel of free grace. We do not know if Harris' apostasy is a real, final apostasy (c.f. 1 Jn 2:19), because that knowledge is of the secret counsel of God, not given to us. We cannot, we must not, treat Harris as definitively damned. As long as it is today, salvation is still at hand (Heb. 4:1). We are to pray to God for the repentance of all who had fallen away, with the desire that they return to the faith they had professed and then rejected.

And finally, as a response to some arguments, while it is true that apostasy does in some sense bring about some distinction between the sheep and the goats, we should not be applying this to Harris. The blessing of apostasy is primarily a blessing as false teachers will stop pretending to be believers and will leave the faith. The blessing of apostasy however is not the right category to think about someone who once taught and proclaimed the true Gospel, but who left the faith during times of instability. Remember, we cannot fully know, even if the person visibly runs from the faith, whether a person truly is or is not of Christ's sheep! What is lacking in such applications is compassion. It is the same virtue lacking in Trueman's response to Harris' apostasy. Let us consider and weep over the fall of one who was from our own.


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