Ever Increasing Apostasy

The greatest threat that Christianity faces today is that which comes from within its ranks. We are living in what I believe is an age of ever increasing apostasy, brought about by so called religious freedom, excused by so-called religious tolerance, fostered by an ever increasing number of false teachers, and engulfed by seeker-sensitive and bible-ignorant Christians who happily gather around them teachers to tell them ‘what their itching ears want to hear!’

The noun apostasy comes from the late Greek apostasia (aposta = withdraw) and means among other things, the abandonment of religious faith and principles. Anyone who falls into this category is an apostate. Sadly, an increasing number of religious leaders, even from within the ranks of mainline Christianity, are emerging from the woodwork as true apostates. They should be named for what they are by character - wolves in sheep’s clothing! Their presence in the church and their rapidly increasing numbers should not surprise us because we have ample warning from scripture in this regard.

The apostles’ teachings were severely undermined and distorted even during their time. We know of their concerns and exhortations to believers from their letters to the early congregations. For example, the apostle Peter shows his concern at the increasing number of false teachers who were infiltrating the churches in Asia Minor. They had already caused a lot of trouble, but Peter was concerned that their heretical doctrines and their licentious and immoral lifestyles would cause more damage in time to come. This was particularly so in the context of what Peter identifies as ‘private interpretations’; that is, pronouncements that are not of the Spirit, but issue from the will of man. “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Pe.2:1 NIV, emphasis mine). [Note the words ‘secretly’, ‘heresies’, ‘destructive’ and ‘denying’].

Jude, the brother of the apostle James, addressed a similar situation. “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude3,4, NIV, emphasis mine). [Note the words ‘crept in unnoticed’, ‘turn’ and ’deny’].

The apostle Paul took a more practical approach to false teachers. He did not just alert his readers to false teachings generally, but isolated and refuted those false teachings.

- In his first letter the Corinthians Paul corrects false teaching concerning the resurrection (chapter 15).

- In his letter to the Philippians Paul found it necessary to issue warnings against Judaizers (that is, legalists) and antinomians (that is, libertines). (See chapter 3).

- In his letter to the Colossians Paul refutes various heretical teachings concerning ceremonialism, asceticism, evaluation of Christ, secret knowledge, human wisdom and tradition. He does this by demonstrating the complete adequacy of Christ. (see the first two chapters.)

- In his first letter to Timothy Paul expressly warns against false teachers. “Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrine any longer....” (1Tim1:3). He identifies these false teachings as being inclusive of Jewish myths, teaching of OT Jewish law, meaningless talk and obscure genealogical points, to name a few.

- In his letter to Titus, Paul emphasizes that an elder must be one who holds firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, “so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Why? Because, says Paul “there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially of the circumcision group. They must be silenced because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach....” etc (Tit.1:10).

From all of these examples we must conclude that False Teachers and their Doctrines must be exposed so that they may be refuted. The simplest and surest way to refute error is to boldly proclaim the truth. The light must be made to shine if darkness is to be dispelled.

Now, there are some important qualifications for the proclamation of the word. (‘the word’ is synonymous with ‘the truth’). It must not be watered down. The dispenser of God’s word must never seek to make it more palatable for the listener. He must use no apology when its proclamation exposes sin. He may offer no compromise (modification or settlement by mutual concession) on essential doctrines. Such a device belongs in the toolbox of those who would please men rather than God. He must not embellish the word (that is, attempt to heighten by use of fanciful and fictitious additions). Neither must he rely on rhetoric for it results (that is, expression focused on being persuasive or impressive).

Why is this so? Because, God’s word is absolute truth. It is capable of standing on its own. It only needs to be faithfully delivered.

Without doubt, the watering down of God’s truth has been progressively advancing in the pulpits of many leaders parading as ‘shepherds of the flock’. Not surprisingly, the chief aim of these ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ is to mollify the weak and untaught Christian with the subtle teaching that God’s truth is not absolute but relative. In other words, it is comparative in relation to something else, or is to be given weight or importance or conditioned by some extra-biblical truth, reasoning, scientific finding or worldview.

The original strategy ‘did god really say?’ has resounded through the centuries from the time of its original pronouncement to Eve by that great deceiver and ‘liar from the beginning’. It comes concealed in many forms, and is always wrapped appealingly. But despite its disguise, its objective is still the same - to undermine the truth of God’s word. Neither has the method changed - a ‘softening up’ by distorting the truth or creating doubt as to its ‘reasonableness’, followed by a supplanting of the truth with an untruth. Satan’s agents are able to do this with great dexterity. Remember the words I asked you to take note of earlier? Let’s have a look at them again: ‘crept in unnoticed’, ‘turn’, ‘deny’ ‘secretly’, ‘heresies’, ‘destructive’.

The assertion that false teachers could ‘creep in unnoticed’ may seem ludicrous. But it is true. They have infiltrated the church, ‘coming up through the ranks’ as it were. When first ordained into ministry, they gave the impression of being followers of Christ. Only the future would reveal that they were planted by the enemy. Their 'modus -operandi' is to pacify the carnal desires of their hearers with the lie that the truth in God’s word is not absolute, but relative. They now have a flock that are happily (though probably unwittingly) devotees of a false gospel.

These false teachers work at getting the confidence of their followers by ’finding a need and fulfilling it’. They adopt a policy (or set of principle if you like) something along these lines. First they work at making their followers comfortable by watering down the word. For example, “Let’s never preach anything that will offend them; let’s find another word for ‘fornication’- it’s too harsh – what about replacing it with ‘sleeping together’? Homosexuality s condemned, so let’s call it ‘same sex preference’. Once the word is watered down in this way, the next logical step is to begin to challenge its veracity. But this is not done abruptly in case it causes too much of a shock. Rather, there a smooth transition is effected, beginning with the instilling of doubt. For example, “It may be in the bible, but what does science tells us?” or “Can we lay any claim to being enlightened if we still subscribe to primitive concepts in the bible?” Get the drift?

As this process goes on, followers are gradually made complacent, then lazy and finally totally dependent upon their leader for spiritual guidance. At this stage the truth can boldly be supplanted by the lie. The leader is now able to revise, modify, exclude or do whatever he pleases in relation to the accepted beliefs of him and his group. This is the ‘destructive’ stage. It’s the case of the ‘one rotten apple’ in a bin. It takes time, but it works its way in the others. Now all the apples are rotten. No wonder Paul said of such people. “They must be silenced because they are destroying whole households”.

At this stage I must in all honesty, make an important qualification. The blame does not lie entirely with these false teachers! No doubt they have a plan and diligently execute it. But they are simply agents who exploit a weakness. Their followers get what they deserve! If they were like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) they would succumb to false teaching. Sadly, most Christians today prefer to hear someone else’s version of God’s word, rather than read it for themselves, or check out what the preacher presents as truth. By default, they actually set the stage for the false teachers to perform their trickery. In addition they are attracted to the things they prefer to hear. Remember what Paul said to Timothy? “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn aside from truth and turn aside to myths’ (2Tim.4:3, 4). Note what Paul says “they will gather around them”- this hardly describes the actions of unwilling victims!

It is no wonder therefore that the church is in a sorry plight because of false teachers. But the mindset or mentality that prevails in these last days (the ‘spirit of the age’) can only be changed through the preaching of the truth! The church is in dire need of a multitude of men who will teach sound doctrine. As someone rightly said, “If there is mist in the pulpit, there will be fog in the pew”.

False teaching must be countered, as Paul did, by teaching the truth! We must get back to the basics. That’s what was done in the early church and that’s what needs to be done today. As Jude says, we must “earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”. Crucial to contending is the word earnest; that means seriously, zealously, not frivolously!

Throughout the centuries, as revealed in Church history, the truth of God’s word has been undermined. The church-fathers, in refuting false and heretical teachings in the early church found it necessary to consolidate the major tenets (principles, beliefs, dogmas) into Creeds. Two critically important creeds emerged - The Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed, to settle once for all the doctrinal position of the church for all time. The Nicene Creed summed up the Persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and their respective works in the whole scheme of salvation. The Athanasian Creed dealt exclusively with the aspect of the Trinitarian nature of God. This latter one can be hard for some to understand, but every Christian should at least know what it deals with and why, and what it affirms at least in general terms.

The individual statements in the Nicene Creed are an integral part of the total set of beliefs which is imperative for every Christian. To exclude any one of them is to detract from the whole teaching of scripture in relation to the nature and person of God and his plan of redemption for mankind.

The Creeds are as basic to the Christian as ‘times tables’ are to the one who will be good at arithmetic, and the alphabet is to one who would learn a language. They contain the essential truths of Christianity in a nutshell. We neglect them to our peril.

The great majority of professing Christians today are ignorant of the basic tenets of the faith. That’s not a brash statement but a fact! Since these unfortunate souls have never been taught the truth, it makes it all the more easy for false teachers to undermine essential components of sound doctrine. These false teachers claim that certain doctrines are extra doctrinal baggage which are both unnecessary and irrelevant for a Christian. The doctrines of the Resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Birth (or rather, conception) are two of those which have attracted heretical teaching more than others in recent times. I will not expand on them here. They warrant separate treatment because of their doctrinal importance.

In conclusion, it is important to know what a Christian is required to believe according to the Scriptures. Remember, we must believe in the Jesus of the bible if we are to count ourselves saved! If we modify or exclude what scripture declares about him so as to accommodate our own preferences, then we are followers of some other Jesus, not the one of the bible! We do this to our peril.

We must get back to basics! Start with the Creeds!

Preach The word-with Pastor Joseph Rodrigues www.kerysso.org

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