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“Faithful” Backsliders

We all know some: friends who used to be in church. We saw them in church as children, heard them testify, or play in the band, or attend Sunday School. But something happened. Maybe there was a crisis: a pastor who died, or problems in the family, and they left church. Or maybe they just gradually drifted away as they entered adulthood. But they are gone. We say they’ve “backslid.” (We refer to those who almost never attend any church; not those who have left the body to join in with “Babylon.”)

We still see them occasionally; we still love them; we pray for them; we’d like to see them back in church with us. But they are gone. It is dangerous to over-generalize, but there are two basic types of backsliders.

First, there are those who go to the world. They turn their backs on God, and get involved in sin. They drink, they party, they completely abandon holiness, they never pray, they never read their Bible. Those in this category have abandoned all pretense of living a biblical, Christian life.

But there is another group of those who’ve left church. They still pray over meals, they read their Bible regularly, they feel God’s Spirit in their walks in the woods, they volunteer for community service. These backsliders don’t get drunk, or engage in immorality. They love God, but feel no obligation to attend church services. They’ve left the church, but don’t feel they’ve lost their faith in God. 

These “faithful” backsliders live good moral lives, and feel they are saved. They believe they know enough doctrine to open the pathway to heaven. At times, they feel that comforting Holy Spirit that they received as a gift at an altar when they were a child.

Surveys have shown that approximately 38% of evangelical Christians who’ve left church still believe that the Bible is the inerrant, true Word of God. Over half of the people who’ve left church still believe in salvation through Jesus Christ. They believe they’ve retained their faith; but simply lost their connection to the church.

Which of the two categories are in the worst spiritual shape? Worldly sinners know they are sinners. But those who think they are fine spiritually, really don’t see why they should come back to church. (Some do – we all know people who were out of church for years, who one day decided to come back. Their reasons are complicated – to raise children in church, some crisis in life, or just the wooing of the Spirit – but too many simply don’t feel any need to attend church.)

Because the “faithful” backsliders are our friends; because we love them; we have an obligation to point out that they are not “fine.” If they believe the Bible; then they should live the Bible – and “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” Hebrews 10:25. Jesus didn’t die to have a disconnected body. The body of Christ is to be “compacted” together. Ephesians 4:16. Jesus didn’t die to give us a private, individual relationship with the Lord; He died to build His church. Matthew 16:18. We need “faithful” backsliders to revert to “faithful members.”

Many of these “faithful” backsliders plan to come back to church someday, or at least are willing to consider it. A lot of them miss “worshipping God.” Some miss inspired teaching and preaching. Maybe all they need is a sincere invitation from one of their friends – maybe from you.