About the time he opened a church in Dana Point in 1975, Smith Jr. began reading widely, making friends with Christians of different backgrounds. He began to consider that when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven, he was referring to the rewards of a selfless life, here and now -- that the Gospels' core message was real-world compassion, not preparation for the afterlife.
For years, Smith Jr. said, he had preached about hell uncomfortably, half-apologetically, because he couldn't understand why a loving God would consign his children to eternal flames. It felt like blackmail for a pastor to threaten people with hell-scapes from the Middle Ages to induce piety.
Now, he came to believe that the biblical images used to depict hell's torments -- such as the "lake of fire" and the "worm that does not die" -- were intended to evoke a feeling rather than a literal place.
He also grew disillusioned with the Rapture, the notion that believers in Jesus will be whisked to God's side during Armageddon. His father had predicted the end of the world would arrive in the 1980s, based on his reading of the Book of Revelation. He has continued, year after year, to announce its imminence with absolute confidence....
The father on homosexuality: "It is the final affront against God."
The son: "I met homosexuals who were trying to live celibate lives or be heterosexual, and I heard all about their struggles, and I never wanted to exacerbate that. My heart went out to them. Listening convinced me that homosexual orientation is not something people chose."
One by one they fell away, the doctrinal pillars of the house his father built. Yet Smith Jr. remained under the Calvary Chapel roof, not wanting to embarrass dad by leaving.
Smith Jr. weeps before his congregation, making no secret of his ongoing battle with depression that took him to the brink of suicide after his 1993 divorce. At the time, he stood before his congregation explaining that his wife of 18 years, the mother of his five children, was leaving him despite his effort to save the marriage.
A friend got him a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist got him antidepressants. A local pastor called for his resignation, but his congregation sent hundreds of letters of support.
"My vulnerability allowed them to love me in need," he said.
Still, his condition alienated him further from his father's church, where depression is widely viewed as a spiritual problem bespeaking flawed faith....
He stresses how much he loves his son, regrets that he didn't spend more time with him as he grew up: "Surely he's not a clone, and I respect and admire him for that. There's nothing shoddy about his ministry at all."
Reminded of the memo he issued cracking down on his son's views, the father replies, calmly and amiably, that he and his son are just aiming for different audiences, and he doesn't want to alienate the one he has. He says their relationship is stronger than ever, even deepened by the controversy.
"I don't feel that he's an apostate at all. If he would begin to question that Jesus is the son of God, then I would be concerned...."
In just a few minutes, his conversation can veer energetically from Russian religious painters, to his upcoming visit to African orphanages, to his belief that Christianity and evolution are compatible...."It's sad to me that a man passionate about God's creation should have his education stunted at some level by a narrow vision of creationism," Smith Jr. said. "Because the universe is no less fascinating for being 15 billion years old than being 10,000 years old."
His relationship with his father, he agrees, is tighter than ever. He will even write his dad's biography some day. His challenge, he says, is extricating himself from his dad's fundamentalist evangelical community without traumatizing his parents.
Of course, Smith Jr. has revealed himself to be an apostate, but look at the downgrade. It started slowly, reading books, and making friends with people who are outside the Once Delivered Faith. This IS what Jude was talking about.
Consider the talk about emotions, feelings, relationships. It is these that dictate what he believes, and therefore disbelieve God's Word. Compromising truth for relationships. It is a relationship too, that of his son, that Smith Sr. refuses to see his son who is a pastor, as an apostate and call him to repentance. By his own admission, he'd rather see Truth as optional than be severed from his son. What does Scripture say?
Mat 10:34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.
1Ti 5:19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
Gal 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
2Jo 1:9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
1Jn 2:18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.