–Summer of 2007
When is the last time you heard some honest soul talk about his spiritual condition and use the term backslidden? It’s a word that seems to have been dropped from the Church’s vocabulary, even among those within the Wesleyan Armenian tradition. One could get the idea that it’s simply not a problem anymore. But is that really the case?
A generation ago you heard the subject preached or written about with some degree of frequency and always with intensity. It was not generally done from the standpoint of how one may backslide and steps to prevent it, but with the idea that many were already backslidden, or at least well on their way, and needed to be reclaimed. The intent of this kind of preaching was to awaken those who were spiritually asleep and call to repentance those who had sinned, but more often than not the results were less than positive. It helped create a “one sin your out” mindset and fed an unhealthy environment of constant self-introspection. Many young people were left in a state of confusion and spiritual instability. It also turned overly conscientious souls into perpetual seekers who could never find any sense of assurance or security in their salvation.
To address this imbalance, a new generation of preachers and spiritual counselors took a different approach. The preachers simply stopped talking about backsliding and focused primarily on prevention. Spiritual counselors, who had already shifted from the experiential paradigm of salvation to a relational model, stressed how difficult it actually was to backslide and how rarely it happened. Before you knew it, backsliding had practically disappeared. On the beneficial side, the focus on discipleship and the nurturing of the weak was a very positive alternative to re-converting the saints at every revival. On the downside, with no warnings against backsliding or proclamation of its spiritual consequences, many began to feel that they could live in clear disobedience to God’s word and suffer only minimal spiritual damage. If we believe the consequences of sinning fail to impact our standing with God, then sin itself is minimized, and when sin is minimized, sinning is trivialized. The members of this new culture of “saints without sanctity” have become very adept at describing their spiritual condition in highly generalized terms. They fail to speak about “walking in all the light” or “living in total victory.” They talk about “not doing very well spiritually” or say, “I am a little down right now because I haven’t been having my devotions lately”.
Now I know that just occasionally preaching on backsliding will not solve the entire situation I described above, but people will be helped by a clear biblical statement that tolerating failure and practicing disobedience has clear and unmistakable consequences, including spiritual self-deception and ultimately the loss of saving faith. Our people, both young and old, need to hear that when people refuse to heed the checks of the Holy Spirit and repent of their sin, they have “turned away” from saving grace and have “departed from the faith.” Whether you want to call it backsliding or not, the end result is the same and the spiritual consequences are dire.