Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. –James 4:4
In the past 15 years or so of my Christian life, one by one, I have seen my Christian friends fall by the wayside into various dark paths, which have terminated the friendships. Over and over I have experienced this. My first Christian friend, B., was instrumental in getting me to come to a youth ministry. But he also had a lot of worldly influences in the area of hobbies, humor, and entertainment; and it influenced me too, and he just made it hard to pursue sanctification in connection with him. He was also instrumental in getting me into a charismatic church, which is where I felt the presence of God and spoke in tongues during praise and worship, for the first time. Over the years, B. did not apparently sanctify his life. I never heard him talk about some new passage of Scripture that he read and was trying to apply or live out. He stayed in basically the same condition he was in before I gave my life to Jesus. Now he is living in fornication and living in another state.
C. was my best friend during my first 4 years at college; in my 5th year I met my wife. But for the first 4, C. was my good Christian friend. We ate in the cafeteria all the time, along with other friends that attached themselves to him. He was a really funny (and nerdy) guy, and he kind of had a magnetic personality, strangely enough. He was pursuing an education degree with plans of becoming a teacher. We were friends through the Baptist Student Union (BSU) at UNC Pembroke. We attended different churches together; did Bible studies, and we even hung out with some of his friends from high school that came to our college. He was a good friend. But what happened to C.? In 2006, I launched a campus ministry with the help of a pastor of a non-denominational charismatic church; but what I didn’t realize is that this pastor had no plans of allowing me to preach: he was just going to use me to get him a foot on the campus, so only he and his ministry staff could preach. I thought that was pretty insulting. C. joined with me in that endeavor for a while; and he was present when I showed some creationist videos in the university center, which caused quite a stir on the campus. But then I cancelled my relation with that pastor, because of a dream I had where I felt God showed me pride was in his heart. And a couple of days later, an African-American friend of mine, W., had a word of knowledge that this particular pastor had a “spirit of haughtiness,” without me even mentioning the dream. So, C. stopped hanging around me shortly after I cancelled my relation with that pastor, but I don’t think that was the main reason. I think most of it had to do with the fact that C. lost his faith because he started hanging out with an agnostic friend who was funny, liked heavy metal, and even got C. to watch a horror movie with him. At this time, I also remember C. reading Michael Baigent’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which supposedly provided “evidence” for The Da Vinci Code movie that had just come out; and so, C. swirled into a world of skepticism and unbelief; and I never heard from C. again.
Over the summers when I was in college, I made two friends as a camp counselor: M. and M.V.
M. actually introduced me to the idea of visions and spiritual gifts. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have progressed outside of praise and worship, feeling the presence of God, and speaking in tongues. Now I can see from 1 Corinthians 14, that prophecy is the greatest of the spiritual gifts. At the time he was a praise and worship leader for a charismatic campus ministry. The leader of that ministry was his mentor, and was influenced by Derek Prince and Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church. Kris Vallotton’s Basic Training for the Prophetic Ministry had just been self-published for a spiritual gifts workshop; and M. showed me this book. I got so excited as it described open visions and how a Christian could do certain things to grow in this gift! I was so excited about exploring this new dimension with God. M. shared a word of knowledge about me through a closed vision he received while praying for me; and I did the same to him, following his directions. It was phenomenal! I had no idea I could use the Holy Spirit in this way! But sadly, M. drifted away from me socially; and things got worse when a girl started flirting with a bunch of the camp counselor guys, including M. and myself. I turned a blind eye to her other flirtations, and only focused on the fact that she had flirted with me. She had just broken up with a guy, and I think she was unstable, and just flirting with every guy in sight. M. knew that I liked her, but so did he; and he didn’t care about that. There was also a worldly clique of friends that surrounded her; and he was definitely accepted into it; whereas, I was not accepted, because I was viewed as a “square” and a “legalist”. Even with all of this, since I try to be friends with anyone who tries to be friends with me–regardless of their race or personality type–M. called me up a lot during the school year; and we talked about God a lot…or he listened to me talk about God. Either through his talks with me, or his time in the campus ministry, or both–M. decided to give up on the idea of becoming an EMT and chose to pursue ministry, and he acquired an M.Div. at a Southern Baptist seminary. I definitely encouraged him to pursue pastoral ministry. But I had warned him about the cessationism of the Baptists, and for whatever reasons, he became one, and then joined a “Reformed” church. A very weak view of prayer and spiritual gifts seemed to have been present after a talk with him years later; and he cut off communication with me after I went on a rant against one of the pastors in that church watching worldly movies like American Sniper and Harry Potter. I don’t hear from M. anymore.
M.V. was friends with both me and M. my first summer as a camp counselor. We were sort of like a trio for a while; and we even used to pray together as a group. When M. started absorbing himself into the clique, me and M.V. got closer, because they rejected him as a “legalist” too. I bonded with M.V. to a degree, mainly because he was holiness-Pentecostal, and because he had the same stupid sense of humor as me. M. was charismatic, but M.V. was more Pentecostal and holiness-oriented; and he introduced me to sermonindex.net, and the sermons of Leonard Ravenhill and David Wilkerson. He also brought to my attention the difference between conservative and liberal theology; and because of him, I came to identify myself as a conservative, Bible-believing Christian. These labels and concepts were actually very helpful for my spiritual formation. M.V. had just graduated from a Pentecostal Bible college. But later on, I came to discover that M.V. had sexual vices with pornography and his relationships with women. Around the time I got married, M.V. emailed me that he had just gotten a divorce: the short story is that he was not treating his wife right, and that he only married her for her beauty, but not for her spirituality. Years later, M.V. got a crippling disease that the doctors could not diagnose, and he went for years living with his mother, and unemployed, and “engaged” to a girl across the world he never saw in person, flirting with local girls, and refusing to give up on porn. I had some very heated talks with him on the phone, but in the end I broke fellowship with him, because he was so stubborn and impenitent.
In a way, its kind of a relief to be able to write all this down. It gives my mind a type of closure to know that certain friendships just can’t be renewed, no matter how bad you want them to. In all these cases, B., C., M., and M.V., I truly believed at the time that all four of these friends of mine were true Christians; or, at least they appeared to be. Especially in the case of C. and M.V.:–I would have definitely pegged them as lordship salvationists. B. and M. sort of always leaned in the direction of cheap grace (or antinomianism), were easily influenced by worldly friends, entertainment-focused, going along with off-color, impure jokes, movies, and the like (Eph. 5:4). (C. and M.V. also had problems with off-color jokes, but a stronger sense of righteousness.)
M. got closer to the kingdom of God than B. ever did, but he pulled away. A Calvinist would say that B. and M. were never saved in the first place: that they were false converts. Perhaps this was the case with B., but not with M: I definitely witnessed a deterioration or backsliding of moral standards with him. M. is still a Christian, but I don’t think he’s all that fanatical about holiness.
In the cases of C. and M.V.–nobody can convince me that they were never saved, never knew the Gospel, with the implication of obedience to Jesus. But they were dramatic backsliders! Apostasy definitely ran its full course with both of them. In my personal experience, by using these friends as case studies, the Arminian doctrine of conditional security is sometimes only tragically discovered, when we see people fall away from the Lord like that. 2 Peter 2:21: “For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
What have I learned from my friendships with backsliders? 1. Arminianism is the gospel truth. 2. Wickedness and righteousness have nothing in common (2 Cor. 6:14). 3. As a real Christian, I must choose my friends wisely, righteously, carefully, and sparingly. 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
When I was in middle school, high school, and college, I didn’t really care who I was friends with, so long as somebody liked me. But as I began to grow in my commitment to Jesus, and to personal sanctification, I found more and more that a liberal attitude about friendships is actually anti-Christian; and is quite naturally a vehicle of backsliding. With all the immoral movies, profane songs, and off-color jokes that are prevalent among the evil communications of worldly friends, how can true Christians do anything else but shun the friendship of most of them? I am like Lot living in Sodom, having my righteous soul vexed by friends, neighbors, and citizens (2 Peter 2:8). Is that antisocial? No, its Biblical separation from the world: its being selectively social. On the other hand, I am willing to be hated by all men when I preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, and find myself rejected, like when a young zealot finds himself accidentally throwing pearls to swine, and they turn again and rend him (Matt. 7:6).