Occurring only twice in the New Testament documents is the infamous greek word ἀποστασία. Linguistically the word simply means “falling away” yet the charge of “apostasy” has ignited some of the most evil physical and verbal witch hunts in Church history.
Interestingly the apostle Paul was himself accused of ἀποστασία. Acts 21:21 records how James confronted Paul explaining how Jewish converts to Jesus Christ were accusing Paul of falling away (ἀποστασία) from the Law of Moses in his Gentile ministry.
Act 21:20-21 “And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake (ἀποστασία) Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.”
The second occurrence is in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 wherein Paul explains that the ἀποστασία variously translated; rebellion, falling away, apostasy, etc. will not occur before the appearing of the “man of lawlessness”.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction”
Whom the “man of lawlessness / Son of destruction” might be has been a matter of conjecture throughout church History. Yet charges of apostasy have been common place leading to incomprehensible punishments for those found “guilty”. In the 16th century groups associated with the radical reformation accused Roman Catholicism of such an apostasy and vice versa and so it goes on. That is not to say apostasy is a myth, but under what circumstances and how Christians apply the word to individuals and groups must be beyond question.
During the 19th century restorationist movements tended to view Christendom as a composite whole arguing that all traditional denominations had “fallen away” or apostatised from primitive christian faith and practice. Thus the need for restoration.
Founder of the The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Charles Taze Russell adopted this restorationist view which in turn has become part of the organisations doctrinal position. Consequently in Jehovah’s Witness eschatology the apostate of 1 Thessalonians 2:3 encompasses all religious belief/groups outside of there own. The Watchtower Society has labelled this all encompassing religious edifice as Babylon the Great the world empire of false religion of which Christendom is viewed as the foremost offender.
Obviously such an extreme position creates exclusivity within the group and hatred towards those holding different views. Hate may sound too strong a word in our more accepting culture, however a terse reading of Watchtower material uncovers an insipid hate towards Christianity in-particular. For example the Watchtower magazine 1962 4/15 p. 231 remarks:
“Why would God the Creator want Christendom to be destroyed? Why would Jesus Christ, the Leader in Christianity, let Christendom be destroyed? …Because Christendom has failed God”
The 1988 publication “Revelation – its Grand Climax at hand” is likewise strewn with anti-christian rhetoric. Heralding the release of this book the Watchtower 1989 4/15 pp. 18-19 relates:
“The speaker told his listeners: “Use this new book well in your personal and congregational studies. Use it, too, in announcing to the world that Babylon the Great is doomed, that the nations now face Armageddon”
The same magazine goes on to list seven reasons why Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor Christendom
Obviously such indoctrination creates a sense of suspicion towards those on the outside, especially religious persons. However the word “apostasy” is applied well beyond the confines of religion. Any person leaving the organisation or questioning the group could be labelled an apostate. Within the Jehovah’s witness community to be identified as an apostate has devastating long lasting effects.
You see there is no quiet, easy way to exist this religious group. Whether one becomes inactive, sends a letter of disassociation or is excommunicated, all three are acts of apostasy to one degree or another. Additionally to protect active members from alternative views the Watchtower enforces a rigorous shunning policy whereby all former associates (including family members) are completely ignored and essentially cut off from the group. When loved ones are accused of apostasy, parents stop speaking to children and vice versa resulting in incredible trauma to all involved.
The film “Apostasy” written and directed by Daniel Kokotajlo, a former Jehovah’s Witness, is described on Amazon as “a remarkable and authentic debut film, providing rare insight into the complex nature of faith, family, duty and love” – not only is this film authentic it provides the wider viewing public insights into this religious movement and the affects of its apostasy doctrine and shunning policy. With ongoing practice of these archaic policies it is incredible to think that the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society retains the status of charity under united kingdom law (or indeed anywhere).
This insightful film is a must watch for anyone interested in the religious, psychological, and sociological worldview of Jehovah’s witnesses and the devastating affects of the movements policy concerning apostasy.
Former Jehovah’s witnesses may or may not want to watch this film depending on where they are psychologically. This film will invariably drag up past trauma thus for some to reengage this former worldview will be a bridge too far. However I hope for many other ex-JW’s this film will act as way forward, a healing balm to mind, body and soul.