Apostate -- An Abusive Word?
NCW 30, February 1996:
Answering the Third Rebellion
Q. I was disappointed to see you use the word "apostate" in one of your recent publications when discussing your Church's schism. Isn't that rather abusive?
In most references to those who have left the Church we have politely referred to them as "schismatics", i.e. those who "break away". However, the word "apostate" is not used abusively but as an accurate term to describe the schismatics' position vis-à-vis our Church, viz. "one who abjures or forsakes his religious faith, or abandons his moral allegiance" or "a member of a religious order who renounces the same without legal dispensation" or "a rebel" (The Compact Edition of the Oxford Dictionary, OUP, 1971, p.98). Compared with the abusive language we have received from the schismatics I think we have been extraordinarily generous in our use of words.
It was common, until the advent of political correctness, to refer to those of contrary doctrinal positions as "heretics". Certainly the Roman Catholic Church, which has enthusiastically adopted the word in reference to Protestant schismatics in the past, prefers today to call them "separated brethren" as part of their attempts to woo them back into their fold. The use of the word "heretic" is still to be found amongst fundamentalist Protestants in their description of other Christians. "Apostate" is favoured by the Mormons in description of all others, but especially those leaving their own church for other ones. When wanting to either describe a radical separation or simply be more abusive, churches tend to call separatists "sects" or "cults".
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