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.
We looked for peace, but no good came
Today as I finished up my study of Jeremiah 8, I was struck by several things that made me feel the grief and agony Jeremiah felt when God warned him judgment was coming upon his people. He had been warning the people that God was going to deal with them harshly, and soon, if they didn't repent. However, the priests and false prophets were telling the people the exact opposite. They kept assuring them that everything was fine. God would not judge them or harm them in any way because He loved them too much. This is the refrain of many modern day preachers in the Emergent Church movement like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, who say that God is a loving God and no one on earth is going to hell. They reject all verses in the Bible that say otherwise because they simply cannot accept that God is capable of divine wrath. By teaching this "no one goes to hell" or "there is no hell" theory, they are taking Jesus off the cross and making His death insignificant. Why? Because it was due to God's wrath over disobedience and sin that Jesus came in the first place. If there is no hell or no punishment to come in the hereafter for those who refuse to repent, then why did Jesus come? So now these modern preachers say, Jesus saved us from all that. We no longer have to fear God because everyone is saved and everyone wins. By doing that however, no one feels the need to repent and turn back to God. Life just got easier - eat, drink and be merry - because it really doesn't matter what we do - God is a loving God who would never harm anyone.
The dangers of this type of modern day preaching is what Jeremiah was dealing with from the priests and prophets of his day, who kept insisting the same things. They were probably even telling the people not to listen to Jeremiah as he stood at the gates of the temple every day, warning of impending destruction. To them, Jeremiah was just a crazy man preaching about the end of the world. And what does the world do with people like that? They tune them out and continue on their way - much to their detriment.
But what does the Bible say about people like that?
If we are "out of our mind," as some say,
So here we have Jeremiah warning the people of their destruction and no one is listening to him. Why? They are listening to the priests and prophets who have authority. To them Jeremiah had no authority, so they thought he's crazy. Don't we have the same thing going on in the world today? People think Christians are crazy because we warn others that they could go to hell for all eternity if they don't repent of their sins. They call us fools because we believe Jesus is returning soon. They call us intolerant because we believe, like God, that sin is sin. And they call us self-righteous because we believe anyone who doesn't come to faith in Christ will not be saved.
What they fail to realize (and this was the same for Jeremiah's people) is that we warn of these things not out of self-righteousness, but out of a deep concern for the lives of those who do not know God. Jeremiah expresses his concern for his fellow man this way:
For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt.
And isn't that what every Christian feels when trying to get the message of salvation across to others? We feel the heart of God, who does not want anyone to suffer or perish in their sin. We hurt for those who are lost. But it is not self-righteousness. We feel this concern for the lost because we have the Holy Spirit within us. This is why we cannot be silent, for it is the Lord's Holy Spirit who urges us to speak!
Jeremiah would find out that the people would only listen to those in positions of authority. To them he was just a street-corner preacher holding up a sign of impending doom. A crazy person. And today we find the same attitude in our world. People will only listen to those in positions of authority and unfortunately, some of those people are like the false priests and prophets of Jeremiahs' day. Jeremiah lamented this by saying something that is so prophetic for today:
The harvest is past,
In the future, this will be the sad refrain of many. God will have reaped His harvest and those left behind will realize they are not saved - it will be too late by then. Jeremiah realized that for his people that time was upon them and he cried:
Is there no balm in Gilead,
Gilead was a region east of the Jordan River. It was known for its spices and medicinal herbs (Genesis 37:25). Jeremiah wished that someone would come and heal his people of their sin. Now, let's take this a little further and compare it to our great physician - Jesus Christ. He is the balm in Gilead! He is the solution for the spiritual health of all people today. And Satan knows that, which is why there is so much apostasy in the church today - he's been working overtime because he knows this world is winding down. The harvest is about to finish and the summer (this golden age of God staying His hand against the world) is about to end. Jesus is coming soon and He will be coming as a righteous judge. The time for repentance therefore, is now - not when you see Him coming in the clouds. By then it will be too late.