Apostasy Creeping into the Church
Believers must courageously believe the Word of God in these last days and reject what is false.
HYMN: CHRISTIAN, SEEK NOT YET REPOSE
2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 20-25
“We live in dangerous times”. “The world has become a lot more complex”. These are common sayings. Of course, the Scriptures declare that perilous times will come. The world in its operations has indeed witnessed changes that were considered unthinkable centuries ago but the operators have remained the same: the human heart is still as it was in the days of Noah or the days when Jesus of Nazareth walked upon the earth. Feats hitherto unimagined have been accomplished by man. Space exploration has since progressed to space tourism. With the growing sophistication is an increased need for resources to cope with the attending economic pressure and distress. It is therefore not surprising to find that even believers in Christ are tempted to believe just about any teaching that helps them to acquire these resources. In a bid to enjoy “good success”, usually as defined by the world, believers have turned to teachings that are powered more by psychological principles than the pure word of God. If there was ever a courageous step that needs to be taken today by the believer in Christ Jesus, it is to painstakingly search the Word of God, “rightly dividing the truth of the Word”, and applying same to his life. This is because the church today is in a very sad state: apostasy is setting in as predicted in the Scriptures. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1). It is instructive that the Lord Jesus never predicted extraordinary success for His church. What did He say? “…when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8.
The objectives of this study are:
1. To understand the meaning of apostasy as revealed in the Scriptures.
2. To study the features of apostasy in the light of Scriptural examples.
3. To discuss the consequences of apostasy.
4. To discuss how believers can avoid becoming apostate.
Q1. WHAT IS APOSTASY?
Apostasy is the act of rebelling against, forsaking, abandoning, or falling away from what one has believed. When Paul wrote to Timothy saying that “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1), he is referring to the latter days of the Church, that is, those days immediately preceding the Rapture. In other words, the Spirit of God was emphasizing to believers that in the latter days some shall depart from the faith. Webster dictionary also defines apostasy as the “abandonment of what one has voluntarily professed; total desertion of the principles of faith”. Apostasy is a sign of the last days, is warned against repeatedly in the New Testament, impacts every major doctrine, is from within the church, knows no bounds in terms of who becomes involved in it, can happen quickly, is satanically energized, is destructive, makes life difficult for the people of God, and yet can be guarded against. An apostate is one who has not only heard the gospel, but who has professed to believe it, and then departs from it. That is apostasy.
Q2. WHAT DO THE WRITERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE COMING APOSTASY IN THE CHURCH?
The apostle Paul, as he bade farewell to the elders at Ephesus warned: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28,29) and in verse 30, added: “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them”.
He went on to warn the Thessalonians, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there comes a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition”. By this Paul says before the day of Christ comes, there will be a falling away and that man of sin is going to be revealed.
Again, he writes in 1 Timothy 4:1 “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils”. And 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy …” etc.
Thus, he admonished 2 Timothy in Chapter 4:2-4: “Preach the word; be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables”. 2 Tim. 4:2-4.
Paul was however not alone in New Testament Scriptures to talk about the sordid state of the church in the now present age. James wrote “Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down the fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. “James 5:4. Does this not describe even the situation in the average church ministry today as some ministers store up for themselves so much, and defraud the poor flock? Peter warned: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that brought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction”. 2 Peter 2:1. And John: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1
John 2:18). Even one of the New Testament writers who was not an apostle but a servant of Jesus Christ: “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core” Jude 1:11.
Finally, in the book of Revelation, we find the Lord Jesus Christ predicting that the last of His professing church on earth will be Laodicea characterized by Lukewarmness, a church that has the revealed truth of God. The forecast of the New Testament clearly defines the apostate condition of the church in the last days.
Q3. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF APOSTASY IN THE CHURCH?
Some New Testament passages provide for us a description of the characteristics of the apostasy. The first is found in 1 Tim. 4:1- 3 “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth”.
This passage declares that the source of apostasy is demons, for apostates have essentially given in to seducing spirits and are preaching a system of doctrine which is a doctrine of demons. Furthermore, they speak lies through hypocrisy, and their conscience has become insensitive. Part of this demonic doctrine involves an attack on the believers’ liberty characterized by the forbidding to marry and the instructing to refrain from eating meats. Such legalistic apostasy has shown itself in denominational teachings that set one denomination above and apart from the others rather than adherence to the revealed word of God.
Another passage relating to the character of the apostasy is found in 2 Tim. 3:5 “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away”. In verses 1-4, there is a description of the general character of the world during the last days, and it can hardly be denied that these elements are true in this present day. Verse 5 center on the religious front, where the last days will be characterized by men having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
Apostate ministers, retaining the clerical costume and church titles, have a form of godliness. But they have denied the power thereof for they have denied the true power of godliness. Today’s ecclesiastical domain is dominated by Pope, “Arch bishops/deacons”, Apostles, Reverends, Senior and Head Pastors, Superior Evangelists, senior Elder etc. titles hitherto considered foreign to the early church.
In Jude 17-19, the deeds or types of actions preferred by apostates is given: “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit”. Apostates mock the fundamentals of the faith such as the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary death of the Messiah, and His physical resurrection from the dead. They create schisms or separations (v. 19). The process begun by mockery, usually results in a division of the congregation. Church after church and denomination after denomination have split over the destructive denials of the Trinity, the incarnation, and the Second Coming and other fundamentals of the Holy Scriptures.
Q4. WHAT IS THE CONTENT OF APOSTATE TEACHINGS?
In our main text for this study (2 Peter 2:1-22), we find Peter castigating in severe terms the coming apostates for bringing damnable heresies to the church. In Peter 2:1, their teachings are portrayed as destructive denials: But there arose false prophets also among you, also there shall be false teachers, who shall privately bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that brought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
The teachings of the apostates are called destructive heresies. The content entails denying even the Master that brought them. In other words, the content of apostate teaching involves the denial of the Person (the Master) and work (bought them) of the Messiah. Other New Testament passages provide more specific aspects of this denial. First, a denial with of the Trinity is dealt with in 1 John 2:22-23. Who is the liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denies the Father and the Son. Whosoever denies the Son, the same has not the Father: he that confesses the Son has the Father also. Second, 1 John 4:2-3 comments on a denial of the Incarnation: Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesses not Jesus is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even already is it in the world. The same is true is 2 John 1:7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
They even go as far as denying the Second Coming of the Messiah: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue beginning of the creation (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Thus, the teachings of apostasy involve the destructive denials of the Person and work of the Messiah, especially with regard to His place in the Trinity, His deity, His incarnation as the God-Man by means of the Virgin Birth, and the fact that He is coming back physically. Basic to all these denials, of course, is the denial of the inspiration of the Scriptures themselves. Once a person moves away from the acceptance of the authority of Scripture, there is no longer any safeguard for other crucial doctrines.
Q5. HOW CAN BELIEVERS AVOID BEING DECEIVED BY FALSE TEACHINGS?
It is impossible to recognize a false teaching unless one knows the truth. Therefore, if believers do not want to be deceived, they must spend time studying the Holy Scriptures and know and understand what is says. Those who are not well grounded in the truth will remain vulnerable to falling for any deception. “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesying. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil 1 Thess. 5:19-22. Christians should not only listen to sermons and teachings from Bible teachers and pastors. They must let the Scriptures speak directly, and the only way to do this is to study for oneself. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” 1 John 4:1. Even after Paul had preached, the Berean Christians went home to search the Scriptures to see if those things were so. And Paul went on to commend them as being “more noble” than those in Thessalonica.
Daily Living Application:
Believers must diligently search the Holy Scriptures. Any teaching that cannot be proven from the Scriptures must be rejected. It does not matter who has brought it to us. New doctrines, new revelations and new gospels are springing up almost daily. The Bible clearly warns us that in the last days strange doctrines will come forth introducing another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel (Matt. 24:4-5). “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” 2 Thess. 2:9-10. False prophets will not come saying they are deceiving us; they will sound good and claim they are telling the truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 – “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Daily Devotional Guide:
Monday: Potential dangers in the church. 1 Timothy 4:1-3
Tuesday: Features of the last days. 2 Timothy 3: 1-5
Wednesday: Reflect on 2 Peter 2:1-3
Thursday: Do not forsake the right way. 2 Peter 2:9-16
Friday: Watch thou in all things. 2 Timothy 4:1-