Please comment on the word “apostasy.” I’m confused over what it really is and what we can do about it, if anything.
The word “apostasy”—like words such as “trinity” or “rapture”—does not appear in our language in the Scriptures; yet it is there just the same because the truth of this word is there. The word “apostasy” comes from the Greek word aphistein, which means “to stand away from,” or in a spiritual context, “to deny what you once believed.” This word appears a number of times where we have the words “depart” (see 1 Tim. 4:1) or “fall away” (see Luke 8:13).
The immediate question many people have, then, is over whether or not it means that certain believers have lost their salvation. No, it does not mean that. But it does mean that those who fall into apostasy were or are inside the organic church of Jesus Christ, though not among the redeemed. In other words, within professing Christendom were (and are) those who actually deny the cardinal doctrines of the Scriptures! The apostle John spoke of these mere professors this way: “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1 John 2:19).
So apostasy is different from backsliding. Judas Iscariot was an apostate—he was never saved. Peter, on the other hand, backslid but was restored to fellowship.
Our Fellowship, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, is a reaction to the matter of apostasy in one particular group, the Northern Baptist Convention. This group was a perfect illustration of the working of apostasy in an organization, and I would call your attention to brochure #2 in the GARBC position papers, “The Necessity for the Formation of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches”. In it are contained many examples of a turning from sound doctrine on the part of key people in the Northern Baptist Convention.
These and other key people, by their statements, showed they had forsaken such vital doctrines as the eternal deity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth of Christ, the sinless life of Jesus Christ, the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus Christ, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the verbal inspiration and authority of the Bible as the Word of God. Yes, these individuals were in prominent places in the church, but they no longer held to the literal interpretation of the Word of God.
Church history has shown us repeatedly that once error is tolerated in a given group or single church, there is a slide toward rejection of more and more of the Scriptures. This is why we can never be complacent and say that it could never happen to us. Perhaps this is the first step toward apostasy—complacency. Unbelievers somehow creep into the church, and a body of sleeping believers allows them to take over. One wonders how it could ever happen, but it does, as we have seen over and over again in the mainline denominations.
This reinforces our belief in a “saved only” membership. We must not let down our standards here. Now we are seeing it in neoevangelicalism, and it is so subtle we wonder if we are just imagining things about people who may be our fellow brethren. We do not deny that some believers are in such a system, but these movements tend to collect mixed multitudes.
One of the early signs of apostasy is a compromise in personal and corporate practice, not in what is still on a group’s doctrinal statement. It should certainly concern us when professing Christians go to R-rated, PG, or X-rated movies (to many of us there is no difference—they are all pornographic, as far as we are concerned); we should be exercised over the fact that, according to Josh McDowell, the percentage of “evangelical” young people engaging in premarital sex is not much different from the unchurched; we should be evaluating our effectiveness as salt in an ungodly world when we learn that alcoholism is becoming a problem in our supposedly sound churches. We cannot help but be reminded that there is a difference between “profession” and “possession” when it comes to salvation. Apostasy can germinate and grow when there are mere “professors” of salvation but whose practices and lack of convictions betray them.
Another sign of apostasy is the conscious or unconscious attempt to integrate the world with Biblical Christianity or to try to accommodate Biblical Christianity with worldly mores or standards. It should bother us greatly when we hear, as Dave Hunt pointed out, that a Christian radio station told clients whose programs are aired on that station not to speak badly against cults and false teachers. We should be alert to those who accommodate the Scriptures with secular psychology, including the prevalent theology of self, and the prosperity, popularity, and success “gospel.” We have to face the fact that we are being conditioned to think that things which seemed evil to us before are not so sinful after all. Satan forever tries to get the Church to make a peace treaty with evil. And he too often succeeds. One writer rightly pointed out that there “is a distressing drift toward accepting a Christianity that does not demand a life-changing walk with God.”
The Bible points out that apostasy will take place. First Timothy 4:1 states, “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.” This passage is speaking of the latter days of this dispensation prior to the Rapture, and it is showing the atmosphere in which the Church will end her earthly career.
Notice that it is the Spirit of God Who gives us this warning. It is not the conviction of someone like the apostle Paul only. Therefore, it is a most solemn and definite warning from God. We can count on it to take place. Also, the fact that the Spirit gives this warning shows that those He warns against do not possess Him.
All of the writers of the New Testament allude to the apostasy in one context or another. Here are some of the more prominent passages: Luke 18:8; Philippians 3:17‒19; 2 Thessalonians 2:1‒12 (which shows this apostasy preceding the rapture of the Church and the coming of the Antichrist); 2 Timothy 4:3 and 4; Hebrews 3:12; 2 Peter 2:1‒19; 1 John 4:1‒3; Revelation 3:14‒16.
But the little one-chapter book of Jude is devoted entirely to the great apostasy of the last days of the Church Age. You asked concerning what, if anything, we can do about it, and this’ epistle gives a sort of natural outline on what we should do, beginning with verse 20.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to email@example.com or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.