In my last post I talked about whether or not God was lifting His hand of restraint. One thing I learned from studying 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 was that the man of lawlessness (also called the son of perdition) could not come until apostasy began in the church. Now it was pointed out by one of my readers that there has always been apostasy in the church, even from the time of the Apostles (Galatians 1:6-10). So how is our time any different to the early church or the church in general, throughout the years? How do we determine if there has been more apostasy in this generation compared to others? Let's start by looking at the differences between apostasy and false doctrines.
Apostasy is the total departure from one's religion, principles or beliefs. False doctrine as it pertains to Christianity, are teachings that stray from the main message of the gospel - that salvation comes through Christ alone, by faith alone. False doctrines and their false teachers take the emphasis off the cross and add non-scriptural doctrines to what the Bible teaches about salvation, repentance, confession and redemption in Christ. False teachers twist scripture to suit their own agendas. They often take scripture out of context and lie and deceive to achieve a certain goal. In today's churches false doctrines like the prosperity gospel for example, take the focus off of Jesus' atoning sacrifice for us and instead place it on monetary gain and the health and welfare of the believer.
The key to understanding apostasy and false doctrines is that they go hand in hand. Without false teachers and false doctrines, there is no chance for the body of Christ to be deceived and turn from the truth to a lie. Unfortunately, there have ALWAYS been false doctrines and false teachers, that as Jesus warned, would deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).
So what does Paul mean in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 when he says, "For that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first?" Clearly, he is talking about a massive apostasy within the church body. An apostasy so bad that the body of Christ as a whole turns from the truth to a lie. Until that happens, the man of lawlessness will not be revealed. So did that happen in the early church?
We know from Revelation, that false teachers infiltrated the church right from the beginning. In Pergamum for example, they encouraged the teachings of the Nicolaitans. These false teachers put themselves forward as believers in Jesus Christ and, at the same time, practised black magic, offered sacrifices to the numerous idols in Pergamum, were sexually immoral, and were teaching new believers that all this was okay with God. Yet the Pergamum believers allowed them to stay within the church. They turned a blind eye to what the Nicolaitans were doing and settled for a “peaceful” compromise with them rather than call them out on their wrong doctrine and sinful lifestyles and insist on repentance. So we can see that apostasy and false doctrines go hand in hand, because when people accept false doctrines, the danger of totally abandoning their previous beliefs becomes greater. This is why Jesus called the church of Pergamum out in Revelation 2:12-17 and threatened to spit them out of his mouth. (If you are interested in a study on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, my book He Who Has an Ear, Who the Seven Churches of Revelation are Today goes into this further.)
Has apostasy increased in the church?
When you look at the horrific things that were taking place in the church of Pergamum we might confidently say the modern church has never been that bad. We don't worship idols. We are not encouraging sexual immorality. We never turn a blind eye to sin. Or do we? Is there idol worship in the church? Sadly, yes there is and it is shocking. Do we now have churches that say homosexuality is not a sin? Yes we do. Do we have well known believers in Christ encouraging Christians to disregard scripture in order to accept homosexuality? In other words - to turn a blind eye to sin? Yes, we do. In fact, I believe it is the issue of gay rights that will cause many of the faithful to turn away. Why? Because at heart, all Christians want gay people to feel accepted by the church. We want them to know Jesus loves them and that they are welcome in our churches. We want them to feel loved and we want to extend mercy and love in Jesus' name to them in any way we can. For some, that will mean compromising their beliefs that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, in order to be more open and accepting to the gay community. For others however, it will mean loving and accepting the gay community, but standing firm in their beliefs, which unfortunately, comes across as hate.
I didn't want this post to be about homosexuality. I wanted it to be about apostasy in the church. But unfortunately, I think this particular issue will play a part in the downfall of the church, paving the way for a massive apostasy. So how do we stand on the truth of God's Word and let the gay community know they are loved? First, we let them know that salvation is not dependant upon repentance. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). However, repentance is part of the Gospel message, in that once we make the decision to follow God, turning from our sin is a natural aspect of how we honour Him. To continue to sin therefore, would be to crucify Christ over and over again. Even Jesus Himself said, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). And there is the main problem - the gay community doesn't believe they are sinning, while the Bible says they are. And Bible believing Christians won't budge on their belief that the Bible is the Word of God.
But we live in an age where people are putting down their Bibles and ignoring them in favour of man's opinion. Eighty-two percent of Christians do not read their Bibles at all and these will be the people the apostasy begins with. They will be easily deceived and if possible, will deceive others. Just as Jesus warned (Matthew 24:24). If we continue on the course of favouring man's opinion over God's Word, the great "falling away" will continue to grow and the church, because she has not stood firm on the Word of God, will be the reason why the man of lawlessness will appear.
I don't know why, but my study of Jeremiah seems to be having a theme that centers around false teachers and bad politicians, and yet this is not the theme of the study I'm following. I believe I already mentioned I'm following Kay Arthur's study on Jeremiah, titled Listening to God in Difficult Times. And I am once again amazed as to what God is showing me. True, the people in Jeremiah's time were not listening to God at all, but it was their complete and utter disregard for God and His ways that made it impossible for them to hear Him. This is why He sent Jeremiah. To warn them of their wickedness.
I am currently looking at Jeremiah 8 and today while reading, I paused and reflected on several different verses that got me thinking about Joel Osteen and his power of positive thinking and the false prosperity gospel he preaches. I also kept hearing in my head that song from the Lego Movie called "Everything is Awesome". I have talked about false doctrines and false teachers before, and in my book He Who Has an Ear I even have a chapter on who the wolves in sheep's clothing are today. But today, a series of verses seemed to strike a chord with me about these types of preachers who preach that everything is awesome, and the Christians who listen to them and accept what they are saying without checking their bibles first to find out if it's truth, are doing themselves no favours.
You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.
In the verses above, God is lamenting that the people of Jerusalem fall or backslide and never return to Him. They refused to hold onto His laws and obey Him and instead they worshipped other idols. The false beliefs and practices they clung to made them feel good, but they did not honour God and were not believing or practising their faith as God intended. But because they were so entrenched in their new beliefs and believed that it was okay to practice idol worship and worship God at the same time, they refused to repent and return to God and His ways.
I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’
Today's false teachers have not spoken rightly. They have not relented of their evil but have encouraged others to follow them in their false beliefs. They have discarded God's Word which calls sin, sin and have instead opened their arms to the approval of immorality and man's opinion. They have encouraged the people they lead to treat God like a genie in a bottle, who is there at our disposal, ready to grant our every wish. The mantra of Osteen is to think positively if you want good things to happen. In other words, if you believe it enough, God will make good things happen for you. And just like Jeremiah's people, Christians who do not know the Word of God are blindly following these wolves in sheep's clothing and are plunging headlong towards a spiritual battle where they will have to make a choice - believe what feels good, or accept that the only way to God is through repentance and confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.
Even the stork in the heavens knows her appointed times; And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow
This holds true for the church today. Many Christians have a misinformed belief that revival is coming to the church and a "new wave" of God's Spirit is about to move over the land that will revitalize the church in general. But the Bible predicts that the end-time church will be wracked with apostasy. This is coming true before our eyes as we see one prominent church leader after another rejecting God's Word in favour of man's opinion and a "feel good" Gospel that tickles the ears. God's people do not know or realize that judgement is about to come upon them!
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord,
The "wise men" of Jeremiah's day were the scribes and priests. They believed that it was okay to worship God and idols and they spread these lies by manipulating God's laws. They told the people they would go unpunished, and as these verses indicate, they probably wrote down these lies and added them to God's laws. But what does God say about them? He says, they have rejected the word of the Lord and there is no wisdom in them.
Again, this holds true for false teachers and preachers today who have rejected God's laws for their own wisdom. Worse, they write books about their false doctrines that sell thousands of copies and deceive everyone who reads them into believing their words come from God.
From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly
And here we come to the crux of the matter. Preachers and Christians in general who proclaim peace when there is no peace. Who shout from the rooftops about the power of positive thinking - of believing and claiming. One of Joel Osteen's lies is, "If you want a shift to occur, you've got to think positive." In his newest book, The Power of I Am, he encourages his readers to use God's name - I AM - (Exodus 3:14) in a blasphemous way. He couches his words with life-affirming thoughts that are always focused on the positive. Negative things in life are, according to Joel, not from God. He rejects sickness, suffering and in a recent Sunday morning telecast he even rejected growing old and putting on weight as something that could simply be changed by saying, "I am not old. I am not overweight. I am young and I am thin." This is not biblical! If it were then the Apostle Paul would be, according to Joel, the worst sort of Christian because he says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God's "strength is made perfect in weakness." And he continues in 2 Corinthians 12:10-11 by saying; "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What Joel is preaching and writing about is a lie from the devil. The Bible does not teach that if we believe it enough or say it in a certain way something good will happen. God is not Santa Claus! That's like Dorothy clicking her heels together three times and wishing she were back in Kansas. So what does God say about people like Joel and the people who "trust in Joel" rather than in God? He says He is going to judge the church.
1 Peter 4:17 warns us: "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" His words were prophetic, because it would not be too many years after he wrote them that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed in A.D. 70. But this verse still applies to the church today, because if you as a Christian are mixing false doctrines with the Word of God then you are doing exactly as the people in Jeremiah's day.
The foundation of your faith should not be based on false promises, good feelings and positive thinking. Your faith should be built on the Rock of Jesus Christ and the Word of God.
If it isn't, you are on shaky ground my friend. If you have turned your ear from listening to the true Gospel and instead have forsaken it for the teachings of false prophets and liars then you are no better than the people of Jeremiah's day. They wanted to believe that everything was awesome and God would never allow them to suffer because they belonged to Him and all He wanted was the best for them. Well guess what? This is what false prophets are teaching today. They don't want to believe that when God comes again it will be in wrathful anger and judgement. And they don't want to believe or preach that the church will be the first one judgement is going to be executed upon. Instead they want to cry out, "Peace! Peace! Revival is coming. Get ready for a fresh outpouring of God's Holy Spirit to move over the land."
If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and have trusted in his atoning sacrifice, then rest assured you are saved from God's condemnation. However, if you have added to your foundation with false beliefs, you will not escape God's correction, which, as Jeremiah's people discovered, feels a lot like punishment.
Joel Osteen and those in the Word of Faith movement want you to believe that sickness, tragedy, bad finances, etc. are all of the devil. They want you to rebuke all these bad things. O Christian, that is Satan talking. When bad things happen to us, it is God saying, "You need a course correction in your life. Now listen up!" Sometimes that tragedy can be too much to bear. It might mean the loss of someone you love. I understand that pain. It's hard to fight through the grief to see if God is trying to tell you something. But more often than not, even the death of a loved one can lead us closer to God. We may even have something tragic happen to us physically, but again whatever happens in this life does not happen without God's knowledge. He always has a plan and a reason. Joni Eareckson Tada knows that first hand after a diving accident in 1967 left her a quadriplegic. But God used her in a mighty way despite her disability.
Have you forsaken God's Word? Are you putting more trust in celebrity preachers? To listen to preachers who expound on all things positive, is a dangerous thing. It's time to come away from these people now. Stop giving them the glory (and your money) and return to God. If you have been deceived by the likes of Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and anyone else in the Word of Faith movement, then repent and return to the Lord before it is too late.
I've been studying the book of Jeremiah and landed on chapter five today, and it struck me how similar the times of today are to what Jeremiah and his people went through. For example, in the opening of this chapter God tells him to go throughout the streets of Jerusalem to look for an honest man, someone who speaks the truth and executes justice. If Jeremiah finds such a man, God will pardon the people. Like Sodom and Gomorrah during Abraham’s time, the people had once again descended into immorality. Their worship of God was forsaken in exchange for the lusts of the flesh. God was openly mocked and even those in charge of the spiritual well-being of the people had fallen away. They now worshipped false gods and in this chapter the Lord reveals to Jeremiah his plans for Israel. It would be their defining moment in history, because God's plans for Israel included destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. He was sending King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who would keep them captive in his land for seventy years.
But Jeremiah believed that if he went to the right people (the chief priests and rabbis, those who were in charge of the spiritual well-being of the Jewish people), he could convince them to repent and thereby stave off God's judgement. God even said, "Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note. And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her" (Jeremiah 5:1). But Jeremiah could not find anyone (even among the priests) with those requirements. Jeremiah 5:5-6 tells us their "transgressions were many and their apostasies numerous."
While this was written about the Jews thousands of years ago, today we seem to have come full circle once again. The world in general has turned away from God, and those in positions of spiritual leadership are turning a blind eye to sin and apostasy and in some cases are even encouraging it. The tragedy is when these leaders try to appease the world rather than obey God. Many churches today are dangerously close to abandoning God and Scripture for what “feels good” or “seems right.” For example, preachers like Rob Bell, Tony Campolo and others, are disregarding the Scriptures that condemn immorality (in particular homosexuality). They are throwing out the Bible and saying it is no longer relevant. Bell recently declared that, “The church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense." Preachers like Bell and others who seek to please men rather than God, are leading people away from the love of God, not to Him, because they are urging people to believe their words rather than God’s Word. Those preachers who teach a prosperity gospel, or those who claim it is okay to sin because grace covers everything, are also leading people down a slippery slope toward their destruction.
In my book He Who Has an Ear, Who the Seven Churches of Revelation are Today, I talk about the church of Pergamum. Jesus said of this church, "Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth” (Revelation 2:16). He was talking about the Nicolaitans, whom He hated. They put themselves forward as believers in Jesus Christ and, at the same time, practiced black magic, offered sacrifices to the numerous idols in Pergamum, were sexually immoral, and were teaching new believers that all this was okay with God. Jesus warned them to repent or He would deal with them personally. This is also a warning for our time.
The House of Israel and the House of Judah had both dealt treacherously with God. They lied to the people and said God would not harm them. They told them misfortune would never come on them and that they would never see sword or famine. They said these things and believed these things, simply because they were “God’s chosen people”. And so they mocked the prophets God sent to warn them about their impending doom, going so far as to say they would harm the prophets who proclaimed harm was coming to them (Jeremiah 5:13).
The Jewish people believed in their hearts that God would never harm them because they were His “chosen people”. They were unprepared for the destruction that was about to come upon them. Even though God sent them prophet after prophet to warn them. They suffered in captivity for 70 years because of their disobedience. If God is the same today, yesterday and forever, why do Christian leaders (and those they deceive) think He will suddenly change His mind about sin? Why do they think because they "have Jesus" they are safe from God's wrath? They are openly disobeying Him, encouraging sexual immorality, teaching false doctrines and leading others to do the same.
The Jewish people were warned about their impending doom through prophets like Jeremiah. They were urged to repent. It's time for those who are on the "politically correct" and "tolerant" bandwagon to stop seeking the praise of the world and repent before destruction comes on them as well.
After reading Jeremiah 2 today, I was struck with grief over the heartbreak in God's voice as He asked the Israelites, "Why? Why have you forsaken me?" This entire chapter moved me, starting with what God remembered about His people. As we often look back on the "good ole' days" God too looked with fondness at how things used to be. Just listen to Him reminisce:
“I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first of His harvest. All who ate of it became guilty. Evil came upon them,” declares the Lord.
Israel was holy to the Lord, the first of His harvest. This was supposed to be the people in whom God would entrust the privilege of telling the world all about Him. They were to be an example to the nations on how to live holy lives dedicated to the Lord and in turn share with the world all they knew about the God of creation. But that didn't happen. Instead, they made the inheritance God gave them an abomination and they defiled the land (Jeremiah 2:7). The priests of Israel who were supposed to know the Law, didn't even know God. The rulers transgressed against God and Israel's "prophets" prophesied for false gods instead (Jeremiah 2:8). They exchanged the glory God gave them for idol worship. They forsook God and worshipped only what they created with their hands.They were the only nation at that time to throw away one god for another (Jeremiah 2:11). How horribly sad! How could they do that to God? How could they forsake the One who loved them so much He gave them everything?
Before we hasten to judge these people to whom God gave every good thing, let's look at where the church is at today. I fear we aren't much better. As Israel was enticed towards foreign gods and the pleasures they offered, they lost their reverence or fear of God. As the church seeks to make itself more compatible with the world by becoming seeker-friendly, we too are in danger of losing our fear of the Lord.
For example, many well-known Christians and churches have relaxed or changed their stance on gay-marriage. Rather than believing that God's Word never changes and that God also never changes, they have opted to ignore Scripture that condemns homosexuality in favour of man's approval. Their fear of God punishing them for their disobedience is superseded by their fear of man's disapproval. Other preachers have also exchanged God for a god that is more palatable. He is the prosperity god. This god cares so much for his children that he would never let them get sick or be poor. Everything is positive and good with this god and nothing negative ever happens to them. If it does, then these preachers blame the believer, claiming it is probably a hidden sin somewhere in the life of that individual. Prosperity preachers don't believe God uses sickness or calamity to teach valuable lessons. They don't believe being poor is a place God would have them, they simply won't accept that God might work that way. If they did, then their whole belief system would be pointless. Their faith is not in the God of the Bible, but in the god of this world.
Then there is the belief in some churches today that people have to feel comfortable in order to even step through the doors. Seeker friendly churches have removed the pews and replaced them with theatre seating. The pulpit has been replaced by a stage with proper lighting and sound. The foyer might even have a cafe that is welcoming and which provides a less-threatening atmosphere for first timers. I see nothing wrong with doing these things. But this casual approach to making people feel welcome, also brings with it a casual approach to God. You will not find fear of God in modern churches today. The word fear in Hebrew is yirah and has a wide range of meanings, one of which is reverence and awe. Yes, we are to fear God in the sense that if we do wrong it will not go unpunished, but we are also to be filled with reverence and awe. Hebrew4Christians.com says, "Yirah includes the idea of wonder, amazement, mystery, astonishment, gratitude, admiration and even worship (like the feeling you get when gazing from the edge of the Grand Canyon). The "fear of the Lord" therefore includes an overwhelming sense of the glory, worth, and beauty of the one true God."
Is this what we find on Sunday mornings? I have been to churches where the seats have drink holders, because often the congregation will bring back a coffee to sip on while "worshipping" God or listening to the sermon. Is this how we should approach a holy God? Some churches I've visited have limited the worship to two songs only, followed by a skit and the sermon. Why? One minister explained it to me like this, "We are trying to attract new people to the church. So we want them to have a good time so they will come back. But if we bog them down with songs they don't know or have lengthy prayers or sermons, we may never see them again." Once again the focus is not on reverencing God or worshipping Him, but on what "feels good".
We have done the same thing with our worship songs on Sunday morning. Worship teams have replaced the choir. The sound is turned up to excruciating levels, so that the elderly are forced to plug their ears or wait outside until the "worshipping" is done. Choruses have replaced hymns and now the congregation sings feel good tunes that have no depth and are repeated over and over again to create a sense of euphoria in our worship times. It's the same technique rock stars use to get their audiences worked up and involved with their music. Is this how Christians should worship God?
It is because we have relaxed our stance where music is concerned that we end up with blasphemous acts on Sunday morning like the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey from Rick Joyner's Morningstar Ministries. This is not reverencing God, but ridiculing His Holy Spirit.
By trying to appeal to the world around us, Christians are unfortunately becoming more like the world by chasing after false gods or concepts that have crept into the pulpit and pushed God aside. I fear, like the Israelites in Jeremiah, the Lord will say to us, "Why do you go around so much changing your way" (Jeremiah 2:36)?
EDIT: God is never changing and stays the same. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. But the world is changing and I understand why the church wants to adapt to the changing times and attitudes of the day. Music is a great way to reach a lost soul. But when we take on a more "worldly" approach to come before God (i.e. Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey) we lose the reverence and fear of God that is needed in the church today. We need to remember that the building we go to each Sunday is where we go to corporately worship a Holy God. A church that is trying to adapt to the changes in the world and its value system, is a church that is trying to change God and is in danger of apostasy.