Several weeks ago, a couple of Christian pastors announced that they no longer believed Christianity was the only way to God. The first was Joshua Harris, who became popular with his I Kissed Dating Good Bye, book. The other was a Hillsong Church music writer and worship leader named Marty Sampson.
Since we were in our Joshua series, and only one or two of you spoke to me about the issue, I didn’t sense that I needed to address it at that time. But through the last few weeks, I have felt God leading in the direction of talking about this topic.
More specifically, of Marty Sampson’s public announcement that he made about his faith. The reason I sense that we need to talk specifically about Sampson’s announcement and not the general idea about losing one’s faith, is because Sampson brings up several things that have contributed to him losing faith.
So for the next several weeks, we’re going to tackle each of these reasons that Sampson puts forth for why he is losing faith, and we’re going to answer these from a biblical perceptive. Because the reality is, I have had many conversations that deal with each of these topics, and they’re are answers for them. Now, what we’re not trying to do is tear down someone who is struggling with faith, but instead trying to answer the objections as clear as we can with as much love as we can.
So let’s begin by reading through Sampson’s announcement and then move to tackle each of these topics.
Sampson writes, “Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.
“This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
“I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.
“All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.” - Marty Sampson (ex-worship leader of Hillsong
There’s a lot to unpack from these words, and I don’t want to get into to is getting bogged down with peripheral discussions like Hillsong as a church, or any of that, but rather what Samson hammers throughout the core of his announcement. Sampson says the phrase, “No one talks about it”. In fact, he brings it up four times, in a repetitive almost musical form of writing. Which makes sense, he is a musician.
But this idea that the topics he brings up here are not talked about is ridiculous. These topics have been wrestled with for hundreds of years, and just doing a simple Google search online will direct you to papers, videos, and discussion about every topic that Sampson brings up.
So the idea that these topic are not being talked about isn’t the reality, but for some reason it is reality for him. This is why we need to talk about what Sampson is bringing up. If Sampson isn’t encountering discussions on this topic, then that means that he and the Christians around him have failed to think through their faith.
In our final week of the Joshua series, we talked about how Joshua called the people to follow God fully knowing what they were getting themselves into. We then talked about how Jesus calls those who would be his disciples into counting the cost of that discipleship. And how the belief that Jesus calls us into, is an entrusting belief; where we entrust our lives, thoughts, actions, desires, relationships and much more to God.
What I see in Sampson’s announcement is that he lives in a world where Christians are not counting the cost of their faith. He lives in a world where they do no tackle the objections to the Christians faith, with accuracy and diligence.
And so, in the next few weeks, we are going to tackle these topics he brings up, responding to them biblically, so we can avoid falling into the trap that Sampson has.
So let’s begin with his first, “No one talks about it.”
Sampson says, “How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it.”
First off, our culture loves to talk about when a big name pastor falls. Ever hear of some of these names: Ted Haggard? He was a pastor of a huge church and former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was accused of homosexual sex and using meth. Jim Bakker, a popular televangelist in the 1980s, was accused of rape and then charge and convicted of accounting fraud. Then there’s probably the most well known preacher, Jimmy Swaggart, another popular televangelist from the ‘70s and ‘80s, he was said to be having an affair and consuming pornography.
All of these names and more were talked about in the media, again and again and again. And when a big name pastor falls publicly, USA Today, the New York Times, CNN and other large media outlets spend weeks talking about it. People talk about the fall of pastor’s all the time, and the bigger the pastor’s name, the large the scope of the talk.
I was an intern at a church in Redding, California. The pastor there was retired and leading the church because they couldn’t afford anyone else. A few months after we moved away, that pastor ran off with the music leader and left his wife. But he wasn’t the pastor of a big church by any means with a congregation of about fifteen, so it didn’t even get press in the local paper. But the congregation sure talked about it.
Pastors, preachers, evangelist, ministers fall all the time, and we talk about it. If it’s a big name, the media will definitely bring it up.
But Sampson is seemingly blind to this. He doesn’t recognize that it is talked about. Now maybe in his ministry setting they sweep it under the rug. That does happen. Twice in this church pastors have fallen, and people tried to sweep it away. The pastor before Jeff, and the youth pastor before me, both fell in different ways, and there were people at the time, who would rather sweep what they did under the rug, than to lose a good speaker. But that doesn’t stop us from talking about.
No one talks about it? No we do, unless it will negatively effect us. But what is amazing to me, is that Sampson has fallen too. He might not have fallen to sexual sin, or to financial sin, but he has fallen into a distorted view of God. A view which we will discuss later on in this series. But for now, we can see that he has fallen to rejecting the clear teachings of Scripture.
But the reality is pastor’s fall to temptation, and the impact that brings can be immense. Sweeping it under the rug isn’t going to fix anything. Not talking about it, isn’t going to fix anything. We need to live in the reality that anyone can fall. And this isn’t some new trend in Christianity. It happen with the first disciples, Pete and Judas both fell in similar ways; Mark the writer of the Gospels fell as well. And it didn’t stop in the First Century Church either; it happened again and again throughout the centuries. There’s a story of a Bishop in northern Africa in the early 300s that succumbed to torture and renounced Christ, leaving behind many disillusioned Christians. See we need to recognize that Christian leaders falling is not a new thing. But what we need to realize even more, is that there is no distinction between those who are called to the pastorate and those who are not when in comes to the temptation to sin.
Open with me to 1st Corinthians chapter 10. Here Paul is writing to the Church at Corinth to give them a warning from Israelite history. 1st Corinthians 10:1 reads,
10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Paul tells the Church of the history of the Israelite people and how they fell into sin again and again. And because of that they were judged again and again. And Paul says that their sin was written down to give us an example and warning of what happens when we indulge a temptation. But did you catch what Paul said in verse 13?
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.
The Israelites didn’t face some strange temptation that caused them to sin, it was everyday sins that we’re all tempted to. Sex, greed, idolatry, jealousy, theft, anger. We’re all tempted with common temptations, none of us faces sin that hasn’t been seen before. And in Sampson’s rebuke of people not talking about others who fall to temptation, he commits the sin of idolatry, because his truth is greater than God’s. Therefore he has fallen just like those preachers he says we’re not talking about, but it’s something that each of us could fall to as well.
The reality is, it’s easy to look at another person’s fall, and either sweep it under the rug, or to think that it can’t happen to me. But the reality is, it can. I am flawed, I am weak, I am nothing apart from from Jesus. I can fall, just like anyone else, just like the preachers we’ve mentioned today fell. And it’s the moment that we start to think that we’re strong enough and wise enough to fight against sin on our own, that we tend to fall into the temptation that surrounds us.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told his disciples to pray while he went away for a while, and when he returned to them in Matthew 26:40, this is what he found.
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
We might not want to fall, but without a full focus on Jesus we will. We need to do as Jesus says and watch for the temptations that could lead to our falling to sin, and we need to pray for strength through the Holy Spirit.
Sampson’s announcement of falling away from the Christian faith, is a call to us to refocus our lives back to Jesus. To awaken in prayer and our trust of God. To rely more heavily on the Holy Spirit to direct our lives. To be watchful and ready recognize the temptations as they come. Let us never utter the words, “I am strong enough on my own”, because without Jesus, we’re not.
This week my challenge to you is to write down the sins that you have seen bring down others. Use them go before God and evaluate your struggles and seek strength that you wouldn’t fall. Then pray for me, pray for Jeff, pray for your fellow believers that we too wouldn’t fall into temptation. So that together we will be able to honor God, and follow where he leads.
One final note, we will all fall to temptation in our lives, so we need to extend grace, love and forgiveness when someone else does. God has forgave us when we fall, we need to extend that same forgives.
Let us be people who are honest before God with our struggles and temptations that we would grow deep in our faith and stand strong in Christ against anything this world would send against us. Amen.