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Monday, August 17, 2009

The Apostle John’s Fight Against Apostate Elements

NOT long after the Christian congregation came into existence on the day of Pentecost in the year 33 it had to contend with false teachers. The apostles, however, served as a restraining force, keeping in check any revolt against sound Christian doctrine and practice. Nevertheless, as early as about 51, apostate elements were manifesting themselves. The Christian apostle Paul then wrote to fellow believers at Thessalonica: “The mystery of this lawlessness is already at work.”—2 Thess. 2:7.

Toward the close of the first century, the last surviving apostle, John, witnessed apostate elements in far greater number within the congregation than existed back in 51. In his inspired letter, written about 98, he said: “It is the last hour, and, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there have come to be many antichrists; from which fact we gain the knowledge that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) The apostolic period was about to end. The apostasy against true Christianity would spring into the open.

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Just what did the aged apostle John face in that “last hour”? One of the errors that he had to expose related to the manner in which Jesus Christ had come. There was, for example, a Jew named Cerinthus who taught the following: ‘Jesus was not born of a virgin but was the natural son of Joseph by Mary. Yet he was wiser, more righteous and more discerning than other men. At the time of his baptism, the Christ, in the form of a dove, came down on him from the Supreme One. Then, when the Christ left him, Jesus suffered death and was raised to life. But the Christ, being spiritual, suffered no harm.’ In this way, Cerinthus denied that Christ had come from heaven and had become flesh to redeem mankind.

It is noteworthy, therefore, that in his Gospel and also in his first inspired letter, the apostle John emphasized that the Word, the Son of God, the Christ, did indeed become flesh. We read: “The Word [who had been with God in heaven] became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father.” (John 1:14) “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have viewed attentively and our hands felt, concerning the word of life, (yes, the life was made manifest, and we have seen and are bearing witness and reporting to you the everlasting life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us,) that which we have seen and heard we are reporting also to you.”—1 John 1:1-3.

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Any Christian reading these words or hearing them read to him could see that they exposed false doctrines advocated by apostates like Cerinthus. The man Jesus was indeed the Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. In the beginning, before the creation of the universe, he was with the Father in the unseen spirit realm. The aged apostle was writing from personal experience. John knew that the Christ was not someone whose presence could not be ascertained by the senses. The apostle had personally been with the “word of life,” the one whom the Father had granted to have life-giving power and through whom eternal life is possible.

The apostle John had heard Jesus Christ’s voice and had observed him day after day. John had walked with him, eaten meals with him and had seen him at rest. Hearing and seeing can, of course, be involuntary, without deliberate choice on the part of the person whose senses are stimulated. This may be why John took the matter of seeing a step farther, indicating that he had viewed the “word of life” attentively. Yes, the apostle chose to look upon the Son of God, doing so earnestly, attentively, and saw him with pleasure. What John had heard and seen was no apparition. He had with his own hands felt the Son of God.—Compare Luke 24:39; John 20:25, 27.

What was the apostle John’s objective in fighting apostasy by setting forth the truth about Jesus Christ? Here is his answer: “That you too may be having a sharing with us. Furthermore, this sharing of ours is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And so we are writing these things that our joy may be in full measure.”—1 John 1:3, 4.

According to these words, the apostle John wanted his fellow believers to be just as fully convinced about Jesus Christ as were he and the other apostles who had seen, heard and touched the Son of God. John wanted them to share with the apostles in the joy that had resulted from their close association with Jesus Christ. So the whole object of what John wrote was to help fellow believers to continue experiencing the happiness resulting from an approved standing before Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.

Apostate elements, on the other hand, would have robbed Christians of that joy. Rightly, then, the apostle John exposed them by setting forth undeniable evidence that the Christ had come in the flesh.

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This forcefully illustrates that purity in Christian doctrine should never be minimized. A distorted view of Jesus Christ and of his Father makes it impossible to experience the joy that comes from having a close relationship with them. And persons lacking an approved standing before God and Christ come under condemnatory judgment. (2 Thess. 1:6-10) This should impress on all professing Christians the importance of examining their beliefs and activity in the light of the Scriptures to make sure that they have not been influenced by apostate teachers such as those who began to flourish after the apostles died. Then, in imitation of the apostle John, genuine believers must continue to defend the truth and expose religious error. Their lives and the lives of those who listen to them depend on this.—1 Tim. 4:16.

- Published by the WTB&TS, 1978

Apostasy (IPA: /əˈpɒstəsi/) is the formal religious disaffiliation or abandonment or renunciation of one's religion, especially if the motive is deemed unworthy. In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, one's former religion. One who commits apostasy is an apostate, or one who apostatizes. The word derives from Greek αποστασία (apostasia), meaning a defection or revolt, from απο, apo, "away, apart", στασις, stasis, "stand", "standing". Bryan R. Wilson, who was a professor of Sociology at Oxford University, writes that apostates of new religious movements are generally in need of self-justification, and seek to reconstruct their past and to excuse their former affiliations, while blaming those who were formerly their closest associates. Wilson utilizes the term atrocity story, [a story] that is in his view rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion or deceit, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns. Wilson also challenges the reliability of the apostate's testimony by saying that "the apostate [is] always seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to his previous religious commitment and affiliations, the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation, to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim, but subsequently a redeemed crusader."

Lonnie D. Kliever, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University writes “There is no denying that these dedicated and diehard opponents of the new religions present a distorted view of the new religions to the public, the academy, and the courts by virtue of their ready availability and eagerness to testify against their former religious associations and activities. Such apostates always act out of a scenario that vindicates themselves by shifting responsibility for their actions to the religious group. Indeed, the various brainwashing scenarios so often invoked against the new religious movements have been overwhelmingly repudiated by social scientists and religion scholars as nothing more than calculated efforts to discredit the beliefs and practices of unconventional religions in the eyes of governmental agencies and public opinion. Such apostates can hardly be regarded as reliable informants by responsible journalists, scholars, or jurists. Even the accounts of voluntary defectors with no grudges to bear must be used with caution since they interpret their past religious experience in the light of present efforts to re-establish their own self-identity and self-esteem. In short, on the face of things, apostates from new religions do not meet the standards of personal objectivity, professional competence, and informed understanding required of expert witnesses.”

Religious scholars have routinely found the testimony and public statements of apostates to be unreliable. In his book "The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movement", Professor David Bromley, Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Virginia Commonwealth University, explained how individuals who elect to leave a chosen faith must then become critical of their religion in order to justify their departure. This then opens the door to being recruited and used by organizations which seek to use their testimony as a weapon against a minority religion. "Others may ask, if the group is as transparently evil as he now contends, why did he espouse its cause in the first place? In the process of trying to explain his own seduction and to confirm the worst fears about the group, the apostate is likely to paint a caricature of the group that is shaped more by his current role as apostate than by his actual experience in the group."

John Gordon Melton is an American religious scholar who was the founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and is currently a research specialist in religion and New Religious Movements with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. While testifying as an expert witness in a lawsuit, said that when investigating groups one should not rely solely upon the unverified testimony of ex-members, and that hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents. Melton also follows the argumentation of Lewis Carter and David Bromley and claims that as a result of this study, the [psychological] treatment (coerced or voluntary) of former members largely ceased, and that a (perceived) lack of widespread need for psychological help by former members of new religions would in itself be the strongest evidence refuting early sweeping condemnations of new religions as causes of psychological trauma.