I started a Bible study on Jeremiah a while back and got side-tracked. Too many issues in the world needed to be addressed and so for a while my posts centered on them. While I still continued on in my studies I did not share them here. I hope to get back to that on a regular basis, starting with this post.
We will begin with Jeremiah 12. It is a crucial chapter because Jeremiah comes right out and asks God - why do the wicked prosper? I wrote about this some time ago when I was frustrated with corruption in government. God showed me then what He has planned for those who govern us. But in this chapter the "wicked" are not those who rule over us, but those who are charged with the spiritual welfare of God's people - namely the priests and teachers of the Law.
Many rulers have destroyed My vineyard,
In the KJV the word "rulers" is replaced with "pastors" because the Hebrew word that was used in the original context was ra`ah which means "pastor, shepherd or teacher". In fact, Jeremiah's chief complaint in this passage are the religious leaders. He acknowledges that God planted them and that they had taken root, grown, and born fruit. Yet their mouths had all the "religious speak" but their minds were far from God (Jeremiah 12:2). So, he rather bluntly asks God to "take them out" (Jeremiah 12:3).
God's response was one of empathy. He agrees with Jeremiah that those charged with the spiritual well-being of his "inheritance" (Israel) have failed miserably. He likens Jeremiah's estrangement from his family, to His own, in that Israel has forsaken Him. He also agrees that something has to be done about it. He says of these religious rulers that they "have sown wheat, but reaped thorns" and that they should be ashamed of their harvest (Jeremiah 12:13). God also agrees (in part) with Jeremiah's plan to "lead them like sheep to the slaughter" (Jeremiah 12:3), but He includes a promise. First, He will pluck them out from the land for their treachery in encouraging God's people to worship idols. But, when they have suffered enough, God will bring them back to the land of their inheritance, IF they will teach the people to worship Him and learn His ways, rather than the ways of Ba'al. However, if they do not establish the people in worshipping God alone, He will utterly destroy them (Jeremiah 12:14-17).
How Does This Apply to the Church Today?
In the same way that Israel's priests and teachers were charged with the spiritual welfare of their people, so too are those who have been called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those pastors who lead congregations, or teachers who lead in Bible study, are responsible for the words that come out of their mouths and the actions that they take when representing our Heavenly Father. They must not teach falsely, nor act in a manner that would encourage those they lead to do the same. For those who are discerning it is easy for us to spot false teachers and doctrines today, because we have kept the Word of God close to our hearts and fed our souls with it. But for those who forsake Bible study they are in danger of being lead like sheep to the slaughter, because they follow false doctrines and teachings that go against Almighty God. There is however, a solution to not becoming a victim of false teachers and preachers and it is quite simple - read your bible.
I realize I talk a lot about the importance of reading your Bible. I also talk a lot about false prophets and teachers, but if we can learn anything from Jeremiah it is this - God says they should be ashamed of themselves (Jeremiah 12:13). If they don't repent then their fate (and those who follow them) will not be pleasant, for God will deal as harshly with them as He did with Israel's religious leaders (2 Peter 2:1-22).
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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.