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What is an Apostate?

Updated on December 26, 2016

Apostasy is rejection of faith, usually of the Christian religion. An apostate is one who, having accepted the faith, consciously abandons it. An individual who has been baptized but who has not been brought up in the church cannot be called an apostate if he does not adhere to the church. Another essential element in apostasy is total rejection of faith. But neither laxity in practice of religion nor heresy is apostasy. Heresy often means questioning or rejecting some part of religious doctrine but not abandoning all the beliefs of the church.

In earlier times apostasy could be punished by the church and by the civil government. For example, English laws of the time of King William III provided that a person who rejected the Christian religion should be barred from holding office and be liable to imprisonment.

Apostasy is no longer treated as a civil crime but remains a concern of the church. In the Roman Catholic Church the term is used to mean the abandonment of Christianity. It is also applied when a monk or nun unlawfully leaves the religious life.

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