We have a little Waverunner that stays on its lift, its "perch", at my mama's lake cottage. When we leave at the end of the summer season, we raise it up on the lift as high as it will go. Why? So that when the fall/winter/spring deluges of rain come, it won't drift off its perch and be found who-knows-where across the lake. (This has happened more than once, by the way. Thank goodness for precious and kind neighbors!) When the little boat floats off its lift, it doesn't immediately appear, marooned in some distant location. No...it drifts there slowly, incrementally, but inexorably moving away from "home".
This is the Greek word "apostasia", from which we get our English word, "apostasy". It is defined by dictionary.com as "a standing off". Others have described it as "falling away" from the truth. It is a tragic word because it means that, while a person knew the truth at one time, for a variety of reasons he or she drifted away from truth or rejected it outright.
In Hebrews 2:1, the preacher warns in his sermon of this very tendency.
1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
Recently, an area minister of celebrity status has made headlines by modifying his theological positions (or appearing to) on two key issues. The first bit of significant drift occurred at a pastor's conference a couple of years ago. On this occasion, when he was speaking there, he made comments that lent legitimacy to homosexual feelings and practice, thereby downplaying the potential for such temptations to become sin. More recently, he has made comments from his pulpit calling into question the Bible's inerrancy (that is, whether or not it is free from error), or appearing to do so. The reaction from the Christian public was swift and condemnatory, which is a testament to how committed we are to being on the watch for apostasy. (See the hyperlink under the Sources section below, where that pastor clarifies his position. Apparently, because "the Bible says so" is not enough for most people, anymore.)
On a personal note, I began a ladies Bible study this week. The materials were written by a women's Bible teacher of great renown. Thus far, I have found no "drift" in her Bible study. Some of you are laughing out there...."How dare I", right?
Hold on, now! I am right to "pay close attention", because none of us is immune. Take the original recipients of the Hebrews sermon-letter. They had begun to drift into apostasy about who Jesus was/is. Some were coming to believe that He was/is merely an angel. The "therefore" at the beginning of verse one, here in chapter 2, reminds us to think about that particularly heinous apostasy the sermon-letter was written to counteract.
Listen! If the apostate slip-and-slide can happen to the early Christians, it can happen to any minister of the gospel, to any Christian Bible study icon, to any lowly Christian blogger ... to anyone who names and claims the name of Christ.
Apostasy is quite insidious. Sometimes it does occur in one big event, such as when someone is deeply hurt and, in a reactionary move, shoves faith violently aside. More often, though, it is a gradual process of deception and rationalization. It could go something like this:
1. Daily time in Bible study and prayer are pushed aside for more pressing matters.
2. Regular church attendance drops off.
3. Deception presents itself, usually in the form of an influential "expert" or friend or family member.
4. The reaction is "Oh, it's just this once."
5. Or, the reaction could be, "That's not so wrong."
6. Little sins and/or sinful attitudes occur. Example: "A loving person would not call this sin."
7. Little sins become big sins.
8. Enslavement results because the sin becomes a spiritual stronghold.
9. "I can't break free" becomes the prevailing belief overriding everything else, and the process of enslavement is perpetuated.
This is but one example of apostasy occurring, and where it leads.
The author-pastor will go on to elaborate in subsequent verses how, specifically, we can "pay much closer attention" and what consequences, if we don't, we might endure.
Precious Father, by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, may we remain true to the precepts of Your Holy Word. May we pay attention to our course with diligence so that we do not drift away and miss our intended harbor! In Jesus' name, amen.
Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012. Kindle edition.