The basis for the reality of the hope that Christians have is found in the Word of God, and that hope is derived from the understanding that the Bible relays a true story, with true theology that is authoritative. But the Bible is quite clear that in the last days (before the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ) there would be growing rejection of this truth (apostasy). It is made clear in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica that Apostasy will come first: Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day (the Lord’s return) will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:3 CSB)
Perhaps the most notable verse in this regard comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
This is not only a prophetic verse, but a very descriptive one; Paul describes the behaviors that will result from the Growing Apostasy. He continues the characterization this way: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) So the Holy Spirit revealed in the Bible that apostasy would come and what it would look like; but what exactly, one might ask, is apostasy?
Dictionary.com describes it this way: a total desertion of, or departure from, one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc. This is a good general definition; but specific to Christianity, I think we can do a little better. There are basic core beliefs that define the true Christian faith, you can find a bit more detail on these in our statement of faith, but for our purposes here I will focus on just three of them:
- All people are sinners and need God’s forgiveness.
- Jesus Christ is Lord and the only way to forgiveness, and thus salvation, is through him. There is no other way. This means all other religions are false.
- The Bible is the very Word of God and is inerrant in the original manuscripts and, as such, is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
Apostasy in the Christian sense, then, is abandonment of these cores beliefs. The next question that needs to be addressed is do we have growing apostasy in the present time that might signify the last days are coming? I think the answer is decidedly yes. Why do I believe that? Well, I see a real trend in society today that, in the words of Jan Markell, “emphasizes experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, and feelings over truth.” There is growing intolerance towards those who declare absolutes or who purport there is but one way to salvation. At least here in America, acceptance of the Christian message is on the decline.
This is quite visible even in some our churches. There are churches that do not teach from the Bible; others deny that hell is a real place where some people will spend eternity. There are churches ordaining people who are not Biblically qualified to be pastors and even some seminaries that have professors who do not even believe the Gospel. Bible translations are being brought forth with gender neutral language (instead of relying on accurate translation). And there are churches that refuse to acknowledge the Genesis creation account and subsequent fall of man.
A recent article in the Christian Post states that Americans are increasingly departing from core truths of the Christian worldview. The survey reports that a majority of Americans now believe that being a good person is sufficient to get them to heaven and that having some kind of faith is more important than the particular faith with which you align. A majority also responded that the Bible is not the authoritative Word of God. So in this survey alone, we see departure from the three core beliefs I identified above. Sadly, a sizable number of respondents in this survey identified themselves as evangelical Christians.
Apostasy, simply put, is rebellion against God. And it is a very real and dangerous threat that, as we see, is growing in today’s world at a very fast pace. Referring again to my short list above, please know that any teaching that advances a works-based message proposing that we can achieve salvation by our own good works, or a church that over-emphasizes social justice, is apostasy. Likewise, any teaching that all roads lead to heaven, or all religions are pathways to God, or that there is salvation in anyone other than Jesus, is most certainly apostate. Finally, anyone who dilutes the Word of God, denies all or a portion of Scripture, who gives equal weight to texts other than the Bible, or takes Scripture out of context is guilty of apostasy. There is no sugar coating it.
There are many, many other topics where apostasy may be evident, and many other aspects to understanding apostasy, space simply does not allow me to go into great detail here. If you do desire to learn more, this piece by Matt Slick at the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) is a great starting point: Apostasy in the Christian Church.
My purpose in writing this is to help people begin to recognize apostasy. And to encourage you to know that if you are grounded in the truth, then apostasy cannot take away the hope that you have (even though the world may seem to be crumbling before your very eyes). Quite the opposite, this growing apostasy is not a sign that things are falling apart, it is a sign that things are falling in place. Remember that those verses above are prophetic, and today we are seeing those prophecies fulfilled. So, then, these are signs of the times and they are signaling that the coming of our Lord is getting closer (though we cannot know exactly when).
Of most importance is assuring the integrity of our own personal faith such that we don’t succumb to those who would steal our hope with their apostate teaching. We can protect ourselves through regular and careful study of the Bible. The Bible says that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16). We also do well to seek out a strong, Bible-believing church that has sound eschatology; which is the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, the final destiny of the soul, and the final events in history.
And if you have not yet placed your faith in Jesus Christ, please know that the Bible is absolutely true. The evidence supporting it is overwhelming; so close your ears to those who teach otherwise and accept the free gift of salvation today. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
For further understanding of eschatology and the growing apostasy, I recommend these resources:
Educating Our World
Olive Tree Ministries
Lamb & Lion Ministries
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