Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
-2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Moreover king Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people, and every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king. Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the sabbath.
-1 Maccabees 1:41-43
People leave Christianity for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they come back. The Bible tells us that Christ goes looking for the lost and that no-one can separate us from the love of God. How, then, do we understand the case of a person who, so far as we know, never came back? Some argue that the person was never a true Christian in the first place. Others say that it is possible, through a free choice, to renounce one’s salvation.
In any event, the Bible teaches that there is such a thing as apostasy. Those who formerly were identified as Christians, whatever that means metaphysically and epistemologically, have ceased to be Christians. Spiritual death is the final result of apostasy: those who do not belong to the Lord will be cast into the fire at the final resurrection, like weeds gathered in the harvest of a farmer’s field.
Ministering and holding one’s own faith in the midst of apostasy are challenges. Life has a way of testing people. The Bible tells us that God does not permit testing beyond what we are able to bear, but this does not entail that everyone passes the test.
Although each one is ultimately responsible for his own choices, humans live in societies. As John Donne once observed, “No man is an island”. The Bible teaches that Christians are part of God’s family; we are brothers and sisters to one another. This means we have a duty of care towards each other, qualified by our awareness and ability to help.
The problem of evil is something that ostensibly has caused apostasy in the Church. The subjective nature of our experience makes it difficult to be certain in this matter, as apostates may give this answer for why they left as a cover to hide deeper feelings and choices.
Nevertheless, it may play a part. This is why it is important for Christians to have an answer to this problem, both intellectually and practically. We must understand that our suffering takes place in a bigger context of free will and love. We must be willing to share in one another’s suffering. We must stoke the fires of faith, admonishing one another to hold on to Christ, to the hope of the Age to Come.
Lastly, we must not set up stumbling blocks: we must not indulge in false teachings that promise comfort of a worldly kind in this life. Such is not guaranteed. Indeed, some of the holiest of God’s people have suffered the most horrifying of experiences. Christ Himself, the Son of God, suffered the Passion.
Apostasy, of course, has other causes and effects, which the reader is welcome to write in the comments below. It is a phenomenon that is happening now and is expected to worsen as the end of the age approaches.