Apostasy

Have you ever heard someone complain about “those fundamentalists” who were too strident, militant,and radical, when it came to fighting for the fundamentals of the faith? I have. Early in my ministry preparation it made me wonder, “What was it that made men fight the way they did?”

As I studied the movement called fundamentalism, I learned that the zeal of these individuals, churches, and Christian organizations was due to their belief in and commitment to the truth of the Word of God. They were willing to sacrifice all they had, often losing friends, pulpits, and pensions, because of their strident belief in the Bible.

But what caused the fracas that demanded so much of Bible-believing Christians? In a word, apostasy. We must know and understand what apostasy is, where it comes from, and how to successfully defend against it in order to faithfully serve the Lord today.

What is Apostasy?
Apostasy is the deliberate repudiation and abandonment of biblical truth by those who formerly professed allegiance to Jesus Christ and the Word of God. To repudiate biblical truth is to reject or deny the truthfulness of what the Bible says about something. To abandon biblical truth involves the ideas of discarding, dumping, or throwing away. The words and appearances of Christianity are kept, but the genuine meaning is thrown out and replaced.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “apostasy” is used only in Acts 21:21 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3. In these passages apostasy refers to rebelling and abandoning something. Though this word is only used twice, the idea of apostasy occurs throughout the Bible. Jesus taught that in the end times “many will be offended,” or fall or turn away (Matt 24:10). This turning away will be accompanied by false prophets (24:11) who promote the apostasy and an increase in wickedness (24:12), which is the moral consequence of such apostasy.

Paul informed the Thessalonian believers that the Day of the Lord would not come “except there come a falling away first” (2 Thess 2:3). He warned Timothy of those who would wander from the faith, the truth of the Word of God (1 Tim 1:6; 6:21; 2 Tim 2:18) and specifically identified such individuals by name (1 Tim 1:20). Paul warned that “in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” (1 Tim 4:1). The author of Hebrews warned his readers that they should not have “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (3:12).

Where Does Apostasy Come From?
Apostasy ultimately comes from Satan and his demons. Satan is described in Scripture as (1) the father of lies, as he does not hold to the truth “because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44); (2) a cunning serpent who seeks to lead minds astray “from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor 11:3); (3) masquerading as an angel of light, seeking to counterfeit God’s system of truth (2 Cor 11:14). Those who abandon the faith turn to “seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim 4:1). John instructs believers to “try the spirits whether they are of God,” as there are spirits who deny the full Person of Christ and seek to promote their apostasy (1 John 4:1-6).

Apostasy does not have its beginning or source in the pure truth of God’s Word. It is an invasion from the outside that seeks to inject deceit and perversion into that which is true and right.

How is Apostasy Promoted?
Satan composes false teaching, so that behind departures from the faith are “seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim 4:1). He can energize men with amazing “powers and signs and lying wonders” to deceive men to find pleasure in unrighteousness, bringing God’s swift judgment upon them (2 Thess 2:9-12). Satan promotes his counterfeit system through false teachers from outside the church (Acts 20:29; 2 Cor 11:13-15; 2 Pet 2:1-3) and from self-interested leaders in the church (Acts 20:30; 1 John 2:18-19; 3 John 9-10). These apostate teachers reject God’s truth (2 Tim 3:5), are motivated by demons (1 Tim 4:1), are deceptive (2 Pet 2:13), spiritually dead (Jude 12), and have a form of religion without its power (2 Tim 3:5). Apostates depart from the faith while continuing to profess to be Christians, diluting, dividing, and ultimately destroying churches.

The Bible does not mince words in describing those who promote unbelief: they are portrayed as an accursed brood, blots and blemishes, brute beasts, deluded deceivers who delight in wickedness, experts in greed, eyes full of adultery, false prophets/teachers, ignorant and unstable, lawless men, men without the Spirit, men who have a form of godliness but not its substance, scoffers of truth, shepherds who feed themselves, slaves of depravity, sons of Balaam, springs without water, storm-driven waves, twice dead autumn leaves, windblown clouds without rain, wandering stars, and ungodly men. Such individuals do not merely hold to “different religious opinions.”

Apostasy works in combination with “an evil heart of unbelief” (Heb 3:12), the depravity of the human heart which keeps the unbeliever from desiring and seeking after God (Rom 8:5-8), resulting in his unwillingness to “endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3). Teaching that rejects and abandons biblical truth suits unbelievers’ tastes and desires and gives what their “itching ears” want to hear (4:3). The result is that “they shall turn their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (4:4).

Apostasy is characterized by a repudiation, abandonment, and twisting of God’s truth, all the while attempting to maintain the appearance of godliness. It is easy to see its destructive and insidious influence on “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Once it infects a church it will “eat as doth a canker” (2 Tim 2:17). Canker refers to gangrene, a condition when bacteria enter a wound or injury and causes the destruction of the flesh. When corrupting apostasy enters a church or Christian organization, it will spread among the unspiritual and unsuspecting and eventually destroy it.

Apostasy desires to infiltrate, spread, and destroy. It does not want to leave but will fight tooth and nail to stay in. Apostasy can also be likened to cancer: it is a malignant tumor that will spread as far as it can. It invades a particular spot and spreads by transferring its deathly decay to other parts of the body. When apostasy is successful, from God’s perspective the church dies and ceases to exist as a true church, though its formal organizational structure and member-ship may continue. It cannot accomplish its Godgiven mission because God is no longer recognized as the source, support, and end of all things. The church instead looks to the world for meaning and fulfillment.

Paul told the Ephesian elders that the flock would not be spared by apostates but eaten as by ravenous wolves (Acts 20:29). Believers will be thrown into confusion as the gospel is perverted (Gal 1:7), changed into something entirely different. Paul says that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (5:9), so that the church is infected and will eventually apostatize. False teaching results in “envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, perverse disputings” (1 Tim 6:4-5), moral and social degeneracy (2 Tim 4:1-9) and the destruction of homes (Titus 1:11). Biblical truth will be rejected (2 Tim 4:3-4) and “many shall follow their pernicious ways” with the result that “the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Pet  2:2). Jude lays the fault of divisions in the church at the feet of apostates (Jude 19).

How Apostasy Can Be Prevented?
Apostasy can be successfully guarded against! But how? There must be genuine belief in the true gospel. God’s people must regularly attend and be active in a sound Bible preaching and practicing church. They must maintain a vibrant spiritual life by devouring God’s Word, praying constantly, and witnessing regularly. They must be submissive to the Word, habitual in their attendance to it, accurately handling it, prayerfully obeying it, and eagerly expecting to be learning from it.

Pastors must be specific in pointing out apostasy, and showing biblically why it is wrong. Every believer must be taught fundamental Christian doctrine and living, for wrong doctrine and living go hand in hand. We can’t assume that new members in our churches have the kind of commitment to biblical doctrine and living essential for a Christ-honoring testimony.

There must be a biblical approach to the work of the Lord. Errant ministry philosophies that seek to “give the people what they want” play right into Satan’s hand. Churches that follow this practice are the nurseries of apostasy. Those who focus on filling the pew instead of the pulpit are in real trouble, perhaps eternal trouble. These times call for strong, faithful, and compassionate pastors, teachers, leaders, and missionaries.

Believers need to pray for their pastors and respond to their shepherd’s feeding, leading, and protection (Heb 13:17). As the times will get worse the pastor’s ministry will grow more and more difficult, and he needs the love, prayers, and support of his people.

Our ministries must not shy away from exhorting individuals to come out of apostate and compromising assemblies. Believers in apostate churches need to get out. The local church’s ministry as pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15) is not only to defend but to declare and seek to help get as many as possible out of these dens of Satan.

With more and more churches being infected and eaten by the gangrene and cancer of apostasy, fundamental churches must not only stand faithful to the Word and expose error. They must aggressively work to start and plant new churches. There are multitudes of Christians in churches going toward apostasy who see the problems but don’t know what to do or where to go. Locales that once had several genuine gospel witnesses through Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches are now bereft of gospel light, as most of these churches have departed from the faith. Apostasy is evident even in the small town I minister in as a church planter. There was a time when the Protestant churches had nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. Now they worship, serve, and even have Vacation Bible Schools together!

It is because of the nature and effects of apostasy that godly Christian men, churches, and organizations sacrificed and fought “for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). It is because of apostasy that they searched the Scriptures as to how they should deal with it. Therein they learned that it must be militantly opposed (1 Tim 6:12; Jude 3), and if it was impossible to remove they must separate from it (2 Cor 6:14-7:1). There were men, professing to be fundamental in doctrine, who said that Christians should not fight and separate from such apostates but dialogue and cooperate. The fundamentalists again searched the Scriptures and learned that they must separate from such disobedient brethren (2 Thess 3:6, 14). We too, must militantly stand for the faith and separate from those who deny it or compromise with those who do.

Fights, skirmishes, and battles aren’t fun. Who would want to go hand to hand with savage wolves (Acts 20:29)? What enjoyment is there in dealing with people who feel no twinge of conscience in deceiving and slandering others in order to boost their own ego and stature?

Is the Battle Over?
It has been stated many times that the battle with apostasy has been over for decades. I believe that is exactly what Satan wants us to think. By getting us into a casual mind-set our guards are lowered, our efforts to evangelize slacken, and our preaching is dulled. Satan then has easy prey that he can pick off at will. This is an important topic to consider, as the times are not going to get any easier. In fact they will get worse and worse with even greater levels of deception (2 Tim 3:13).

Times will continue to change. There will be new and challenging issues to face. Through all these changes Satan concocts new ways of twisting the faith to deceive people. Christians who do not see the danger or refuse to acknowledge its presence do so at a terrible price: the purity of the gospel and the Christian church. Christians, in every age, but particularly those of the early 20th century, fought a battle royal for the fundamentals of the Christian faith because they saw the effects of apostasy.

Christians in this century will face even more difficult fights with apostasy due to Satan’s cunning, his willing servants of unrighteous-ness, and unfortunately believers who say there’s nothing to fight about anymore. Believers today can successfully “fight the good fight” as they put on the whole armor of God and believe Christ’s words concerning the church: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).

March 2006

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