learning the words: backslidden


Today’s guest post is from LungFish, who writes about what it was like for him to go from a Baptist, Calvinist, Pentacostal, Evangelical, YEC– to a pagan– and now, to an atheist at Ask an Ex-Christian. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

Among the followers of Christianity there is a common misconception that once a person is a Christian, that person will always be a Christian. And any Christian who ceases to practice their faith has not done so based on a thorough examination of Christian doctrine, but, instead, is simply “back sliding.” The definition that many in Christianity have given the term “back slide” (sometimes also called “falling away”) is basically “to fall into sin by giving in to the evil desires of the flesh or the lies of the Devil.” The term is meant to imply a sense of temporary regression in faith, and not a permanent loss of faith.

The existence of this term makes complete sense in many Christian environments. After all, how can someone who sincerely desires to live for truth reject what is believed to be the only undeniable truth in this world (that God is real) unless that person is deceived by some form of evil? This belief is biblically justified by verses such as Jeremiah 8:5, “Why then has this people, turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return.” However, among Christian denominations (and sometimes individuals) there are conflicting views on back sliding Christians – most of which, despite their contradictions, are rooted in various biblical interpretations.

Many adhere to the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32 and believe that back sliding Christians are still Christians and will always return to the faith given enough time. Many Christians believe that these back sliders will be taken up to heaven upon death or rapture since that person would have eventually returned to the faith if the necessary amount of time was allowed to pass– many call this the doctrine of “eternal security.” However, that person’s reward in heaven will not be as great as it would have been if the person had never back slidden.

Another common Christian view on backsliding is that a person can enter and exit salvation repetitively based on the current state of the individual’s personal relationship with Jesus. These people tend to combine unrelated Bible passages, such as Revelation 3:16, “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth,” and 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” to justify their belief.

A third view on back sliding exists that is rarely held to or even mentioned among believers:  that there are no back sliders, only apostates. The word apostate implies a state of permanence and is rarely mention in most churches. In fact, I had never heard the word myself until well over a year after my own de-conversion. An apostate is defined as “one who forsakes his or her religion.”

Most Christians consider the act of complete apostasy an impossibility usually due to the refusal to believe that any friends or family that have back slid will ever see hellfire. Instead, most Christians believe that, with enough collective prayer from the faithful, that a back slider will always return to the faith. But the possibility of this belief can be easily argued against using verses such as Hebrews 6:4-6,”For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”

Lastly, many Christians believe that a back sliding Christian was never really a true Christian to begin with. These Christians quote verses such as II Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

As an apostate of Christianity, myself, and an atheist, what does the term “back slide” mean to me now? Well . . . as someone who spent six years in a de-conversion process during which my intense study of the Bible, and other holy books, resulted in the rejection of the existence of any god, the term seems completely ridiculous. I now know too much about science and the scholarly study of biblical history to ever be able to return to a religion that I see as demonstrably and verifiably untrue. There is no temporary state of back sliding for me. There is only a permanent apostasy. And if I want to live for what I sincerely believe to be truth based on hundreds of years of collective observations of the great scientific and scholarly minds of this world, as well as my own observations, I simply cannot believe there exists a god in this universe.

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  • I thoroughly respect your right to believe as you do, and I respect that your beliefs did not spring from anything less than study and deep consideration. I do take exception your neglect of one Christian point of view. There are those of us who believe that all of us, “believers,” “apostates,” “back-sliders,” and “atheists,” are children of God and all fall short of His glory. Our own deeds, actions, or beliefs will never earn us salvation of any kind. Only through Jesus resurrection can we be saved. I don’t say any of this in an attempt to convince you of it, only to be sure that belief is represented. Though I am a Christian, I do not see you as a “back-slider” of any flavor, as it was never up to you to earn your salvation in the first place. I could elaborate on what I believe a Christian or believers’ responsibilities are, but I think I made the point I set out to make.

  • I appreciate what the writer’s doing here by showing the potential range of belief within Christianity on the subject of people who lose their faith (I think it’s a more honest phrase to describe the group the writer’s discussing than ‘apostate’ or ‘backslider’), but I notice that these perspectives revolve primarily around either Calvinist or Arminian theological frameworks (at least as I understand them) and don’t seem to take into account a universalist view. I’ve been exploring this framework for myself recently, and I find the concept of eventual universal reconciliation with God through Christ very comforting. I find it most liberating in terms of how it provides room for grace in interacting with others who’ve had significantly different spiritual walks from my own. I hold out the hope that the writer may recover his faith someday while alive, but it’s not something to weep over if he doesn’t. His journey may never take him in that direction in this world, and that’s alright. If I’m ever fortunate enough to meet him face to face, I’ll feel free to love him as he is without worrying about the state of his soul.

    I’m sorry if this seems a little self-absorbed or if it’s insensitive to discuss these things on this forum; I have no intention to offend. I just thought it was worth pointing out that outside the fundamental branch of the Church there are other perspectives on this issue that the writer didn’t discuss (and obviously that may not be important since this blog is about healing the hurts that fundamentalism has caused in people’s lives).

  • Hmm. Well, God is a Spirit so if anyone who seeks for God…..only…..with fleshly eyes declares that God does not exist I would understand such a person.

    On my part I see God in all of His Creation , both seen and unseen.

    Can someone explain to me why the people in Australia do not realize that they may be walking with their heads hanging down ?

  • I like your thoughts on point of view for interpretation. Fundamentalists have a literal POV, I have an egalitarian POV, some have expressed theirs in the comments..
    What a church should allow is a free discussion on the different interpretations based on these points of view so that all my learn.
    Southern Baptists thrived with open discussions during Sunday School or Bible Study, then the Calvinist, Rapture theology Nazi’s took over. There are many of us who have been displaced and grieve for out denomination. This did not affect my faith or point of view in interpretation.
    Christianity thrived in the first century with its theology of equality before God. The theology of Priesthood of the Believer made our Declaration of Independence and Constitution possible as well as the concept of Freedom of Religion. Fundamentalism with its theology of lock step conformity destroys the human soul by stifling free will.
    To me many of the people I’ve met and discussed why they left the church did so mainly because the priests, preachers and church stifled their free will. And good for them. They are what God created them to be, human beings with minds of their own capable of working for their own salvation.
    I appreciate reading thoughts of those who have been theologically raped by thugs acting in the name of God. But someone doesn’t commit these sins and crimes except by being their own god.