Early Christians held a monopoly on the No True Scotsman fallacy. Actually, we still hear it on a regular basis. When a Christian does something crazy with which the majority of Christians disagree, people might say, “Yeah, but he’s not a real Christian.” Or when a prominent member of a church defects and speaks out against the church, members might say, “He was never a true Christian.” For some this is a necessary fallacy to make because it provides them with some comfort in a spiritual land being bombarded with cognitive dissonance-inducing stimuli. And unfortunately, these people have guidance in the bible that compels them to make this fallacy.
When we ask the question whether or not Christians can leave the church, we get two different answers, but the contradiction itself is not the only thing that gives us pause.
1 John 2:19 tells us that when people leave the church, they were never real Christians to begin with.
19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.
Here is the No True Scotsman fallacy. The bible attempts to reconcile apostasy by essentially saying, “they were never actual Christians. If they were they’d still be in the church.” I’m not twisting this verse. This verse is a commonly used weapon to attack apostates. I’ve never seen this verse interpreted any other way other than literally.
But if we skip back to Hebrews 6:4-6 we get a different answer (and a different form of bigotry).
4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.
The beginning of these verses tells us that if you leave the church you can never come back. It’s impossible to be restored to being a “true” Christian. So what does the bible say about these people? They are crucifying Jesus again with their apostasy! And they must be held in contempt! (To be fair, I’m going out on a small limb about the ridicule part, but I can imagine Christians would hold apostates in contempt if the apostate holds Jesus in contempt). And I’ve never seen this verse interpreted any other way other than literally either.
In other words “true” Christians — enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the holy spirit, and gotten some other kick ass gifts from god — can leave the church. This is in direct contradiction to 1 John 2:19. There is no other way around it that I’m aware of.
I can think of no alternative than to interpret these verses literally. Chock full of anti-non-Christian bigotry, they also paint two disparate pictures of the “true” Christian who leaves the church. In one verse, the “true” Christian never existed. In the other, he existed and he’s killing baby Jesus.