Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Edge of Apostasy

One of the greatest mysteries in life is how anyone could come to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and then depart from Him. Judas is the classic example of an apostate - one who abandons the faith he once held. Judas walked and lived with the Son of God for over three years, a royal privilege granted to only 11 others. Yet after witnessing the Messiah's sinless life, seeing His miracles, experiencing His divine power and hearing His profound wisdom, Judas betrayed Him. It was during the celebration of the Passover meal that Judas deliberately defected from the faith of the apostles and sealed his eternal destiny in the lake of fire (Mat. 26:24-25).

Two Streams of Christianity
Many others have departed from the faith since that fateful night. The apostle John wrote about apostates who "went out from us" because "they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us" (1 John 2:18). Most apostates never reject the Christian faith completely, they fall away to a counterfeit form of Christianity. It is for this reason we have seen two streams of Christianity operating side-by-side for 2000 years.

The Apostolic Church
One stream is the apostolic church, founded by the Lord Jesus who is the Master Builder. It includes only the few who have entered through the narrow gate (Mat. 7:13). They have been sanctified by the truth and born of the Spirit. This Spirit of Promise seals and indwells each member, thus guaranteeing their eternal inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). This church will be persecuted, hated and despised, but will continue holding to apostolic faith until Jesus returns to take it to heaven as His bride. The gates of hell shall not prevail against this church (Mat. 16:18).

The Apostate Church
The other stream is an apostate church made up of those who profess Christ but are spiritually dead. They believe a distorted Gospel, follow another spirit and reject the faith of the apostles (1 Tim. 4:1). This church is being built by men who ignore the Master Builder's blueprint and instead follow their own methods and movements. Maligning the way of truth, they seduce many with their sensuality (2 Pet. 2:2). Apostates will increase in number and grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived, until the Day of our Lord (2 Tim. 3:3). These "professing" Christians will not endure sound doctrine. Instead they will turn away from the truth and turn to teachers who tickle their ears with messages of self esteem (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Paul called these teachers "grievous wolves" who enter the church speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30). It is important to note that all apostates are unbelievers but not all unbelievers are apostates.

The Primary Cause of Apostasy
The major cause of apostasy can be traced to various spiritual influences that include demonic deceptions and divine judgments. The "father of lies" has been seducing the visible church into an ecumenical spirituality in an attempt to unite the religions of the world. Driven by his desire to be worshipped as god, he will continue to attack God's Word with an unrestrained determination. Postmodern philosophy is currently his most effective tool. Church leaders who are caught up in this movement are saying we cannot know absolute truth. And since we cannot know absolute truth, we cannot be dogmatic about doctrine or moral standards. They say dogmatic preaching must give way to dialogue between people of all faiths in order to seek unity for common goals. Divine judgment is also a cause for apostasy. Those who refuse to love and believe the truth for salvation will be sent a deluding influence so they might believe what is false and be judged (2 Thes. 2:9-12 ). A divine judgment in the form of moral apostasy is also given to those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. By refusing to acknowledge God any longer, He gives them over to depraved minds and degrading passions for people of the same sex (Rom. 1:18-32).

The Step-by-Step Drift into Apostasy
Step One: God's word is rejected as the supreme authority for faith and practice. This creates uncertainty over whether to follow Jesus and His Word or the traditions and movements of men. Double mindedness causes confusion and divided loyalties. The power of the Gospel is diluted by compromise. Biblical evangelism is replaced by "easy believism" or sacramental salvation. Scripture is cited only for selfish ambition, resulting in little or no discernment. People are given what they want instead of what they need. Their spurious faith is exposed when trials and temptations arise. Biblical warnings about false teachers are ignored.

Step Two: Scripture is twisted and distorted for power, control and riches. Truth is determined by subjective personal experiences rather than the objective Word of God. Biblical ignorance provides fertile ground for false teachers. "Infallible" men claim to be successors of the apostles. Doctrinal error and sin are tolerated. Worldliness and ungodly influences are present. Hearts are unresponsive to the Holy Spirit. God is honored with lips but hearts are far from Him. Love for God grows cold. Those who contend for the faith are asked to leave. Satan sows his tares in the church with little or no resistance.

Step Three: Bible teaching is replaced by stories and myths. Doctrinal error is embraced. Programs and entertainment have forced Jesus out of the church. A form of godliness exists but it is void of power. Deception abounds because there is a failure to love the truth. A stubborn refusal to accept correction is present. Hearts have become hardened. The devil is no longer resisted. Blatantly immoral lifestyles are present and accepted.

Step Four: Jesus Christ and His Gospel are totally rejected. Those who embrace truth are an anathema and asked to leave. Grace is turned into a license to sin. The holy things of God are mocked. Deception is full-blown. Lying signs and wonders are promoted as messages from God. Doctrines of demons are followed. Idolatry and prayers to the dead are encouraged. The church's lampstand has been removed and a certain terrifying judgment is now unavoidable.

Past and Future Apostasy
Biblical history confirms there have always been apostate churches like the one at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) as well as individual apostates (Heb. 10:26-31). However, "the apostasy" will reach its prophetic peak just prior to the Day of our Lord (2 Thes. 2:3). Paul's use of the definite article suggests that the downward spiral into apostasy will be culminated by one identifiable act. It will occur when the "man of lawlessness is revealed." This "son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so called god or object of worship...takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God (2 Thes. 3:3-4). This apostasy will be a blasphemous act of unprecedented magnitude by a demonically influenced world leader. This "second Judas" will desecrate the temple by declaring himself to be God thus committing the abomination of desolation. The "first Judas" desecrated the temple with the money he received by betraying the Son of God (Mat. 27:5). The Lord Jesus warned us the end times would be marked by great deception, such that the world has never known (Mat. 24). The spiritual deception which covers the earth will be so prevalent that Jesus asked the question: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). This fatal deception will cause more churches, denominations, seminaries and individuals to drift into apostasy unless biblical warnings are heeded. Each professing Christian's faith will be constantly tested as more seducing spirits invade the church.

What Are Believers To Do?
1) Pray that we will be strong in the Lord as we put on the full armor of God. Recognize we are in an intense battle for truth against the schemes of the devil and the wicked forces of darkness (Eph. 6:10-12).
2) Earnestly contend for the faith. When anyone in our circle of influence is deceiving or being deceived, we must lovingly confront and correct them using Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16).
3) We must abide in God's word to discern truth from error (John 8:31-32). Do not be swept away by every wind of doctrine. Every few years a new fad hits the church. These movements divert people away from the sure word of God. We must guard against the craftiness and trickery of men (Eph. 4:14).
4) Pray for your church leaders and hold them accountable to the Word of God. We must be like the Bereans who examined the Scriptures daily to test the veracity of the Apostle Paul's teaching (Acts 17:11).
5) Identify and avoid false teachers so others will not be deceived (Rom. 16:17-18).

May our love for Jesus Christ compel us to be His light in an ever darkening world. Be encouraged! Jesus said these things must take place before He comes for His church. Keep looking up, our redemption is near!

HAT TIP: Proclaiming the Gospel