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THE GREAT APOSTASY

By Dr. Richard B. W. Ing

September 2, 1999

 

A SIGN OF THE TIMES

The apostle Paul warns us in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day (Jesus’ return) shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” (Parentheses added)  So, at the end of the age there will be a falling away from the faith or truth.  The Amplified Bible says there will be an “apostasy.”  Apostasy means - “an abandoning of what one has believed in, as a faith, cause, principle, etc.”  (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)  It speaks of a turning away from the doctrines espoused by the early apostles and the Bible.

The Body of Christ is already in apostasy.   It has allowed many false doctrines, beliefs and movements to permeate the Church and destroy the purity of our faith.  Both Jesus and the apostles constantly and vociferously warned us of the spirit of Antichrist and false doctrines. “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.”  I Ti. 4:1.  It wasn’t just Paul speaking; it came directly from the Holy Spirit.  The deception has been so subtle and cunning that “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”  Mt. 24:24.  

NO ONE EXEMPT

Paul feared that if someone came preaching a different gospel, the saints would accept him.  “But I fear . . . if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”  2 Co. 11:3, 4.  In other words, do not accept another Jesus, spirit or gospel and do not tolerate those who preach such false doctrines or beliefs.  Guard against doctrines and beliefs not taught by the early Church or clearly supported by Scripture.  Today, the “Jesus” of one denomination or group is different from the One in the Bible.  Roman Catholics have a wrathful Jesus; Mormons have a Jesus who has a brother named Lucifer; Jehovah Witnesses have a Jesus who is only a man; one cult has a Jesus who is both a man and a woman; and so forth.

The danger of deception and contamination through false doctrines is so great that Paul says, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”  Gal. 1:-9.  Even if one of the early apostles changed the original doctrine, we are not to accept it.  Paul did not say “any” angel, but an angel from heaven!  Even God’s angels are not exempt.  Why then would any Christian be excused?  No matter how smart, popular or godly a person appears to be, do not tolerate it if he teaches false doctrines or beliefs and doctrines not taught by the original apostles. Turn away from such; do not “bear with him.”  Paul thought it so dangerous that he stated the warning twice!  

These appear to be harsh words, but Jesus warns us to “Take heed and beware of the leaven....”  Mt. 16:6.  “Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”  Mt. 16:12.  Any wrong doctrine is leaven.  “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?  Purge out therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened . . . Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” I Co. 5:6-8.

In the end times, false prophets and false Christs will abound.  Mt. 24:11, 24.  They will be able to deceive because they are respected, famous and well-accepted in the Church.  Otherwise, who would listen to them?  Therefore, even if a prophet is seemingly anointed, do not accept a strange doctrine from him.  There have been many “anointed prophets” who ended up in error.  You may have met a few of them.  In the Old Testament, Balaam, an anointed and gifted prophet of God, fell from favor in the end.  So did King Solomon.  The prophets of Ahab (I Ki. 22:12-29) and those in Jeremiah’s days were most likely “anointed” and highly respected among the religious.  Yet, they spoke lies.  I’m not saying that all prophets lie and I am not against prophets (I believe in prophecies); I’m saying that we have the duty and responsibility to test every prophecy and word.  I Co. 14:29, 32.

Even miracles are not to influence us.  False prophets and Christs will do miracles through which they will deceive many.  Mt. 24:24.  They will heal the sick, cast out devils, raise the dead, but if their doctrine is not clearly supportable or is rejected by scripture, do not accept it.  In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus says, “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.”   Signs and wonders have little to do with truth.  Even Satan can appear as an angel of light.  2 Co. 11:14.

Many unwittingly allow the truth to be adulterated because they interpret “touch not mine anointed” mistakenly and therefore, refuse to correct and censure.  God clearly warns us against such “anointing” and signs and wonders.

EARNESTLY CONTEND FOR THE FAITH

Paul says,

         I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, . . . preach the word;  be instant in season, 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 teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from truth, and shall be turned into fables.” 2 Ti. 4:1.

“Reprove” means to refute, admonish, convict, convince, tell a fault, rebuke.  “Rebuke” means to censure, admonish, forbid, charge or accuse.  “Exhort” means to beseech, entreat.  (Strong’s Concordance)  We are to be guardians of the truth and watchmen on the wall.  We are not to smile and say, “I love you brother.  I accept what you say for the sake of unity and I will not judge you.”  In instructing elders, Paul says,

         . . . Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers . . . for there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake . . . Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.  Titus 1:9,10,11,13.  (Underlining added)

We are to challenge for the truth and rebuke, refute, reprove, tell a fault, censure, forbid, charge and accuse, so that others will be saved from deception and destruction.  We speak in love, but earnestly contend for the faith.  Jude says, “. . .  ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”  Jude 3.  We are not to compromise the truth that God entrusted to us, especially the elders.  Titus 2:15 says, “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority.  Let no man despise thee.”  (Underlining added)  Let no person find fault with you for earnestly contending for the faith. 

  A COMMAND TO SPEAK OUT

Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15,

        Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition, which he received of us. . .  And if any may obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. . . Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.  (Underlining added)

We are commanded to note and withdraw from those who preach false doctrines.  To “note” is to identify.  At the same time, we are not to count him as an enemy.  In Titus 3:10, Paul says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”  Harsh words are sometimes necessary to preserve the faith and avoid apostasy.

Elders are instructed as follows: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”  (Underlining added) 1 Ti. 5:20.  The apostle Paul tells us to make public the sins of others.  Certainly, one must use wisdom in avoiding unjustified slander, but the rule still stands.  If a brother is in grave error and is being used to deceive others, is it love to rebuke him? or is it hate?  For the sake of unity and misguided “love,” will you allow him to be accursed?  Ezekiel 3:20-21 says,

        Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.  Nevertheless, if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.

Does an earthly father not have the duty to chasten, point out errors and even take the rod of correction to his children in order to drive sin and unrighteousness out of them and to guide them in paths of righteousness?  (“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”  Pr. 13:24.)  Is a father’s chastening of his sons and daughters wrong?  No, it is love.  In order to correct, there is a need to judge.  More so must an elder in the Body of Christ warn and correct brothers in Christ who stray from righteousness and truth.  Once again, we are commanded to rebuke publicly in 1 Timothy 5:20-22: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.  I charge (command) thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things, without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.”  (Parenthesis and underlining added)  An elder is strongly commanded (“I charge thee before God”) to rebuke, chasten, point out errors and correct publicly.  Love demands correction.  Hatred allows compromise and lies, the end of which is apostasy.  Speak out or disobey God.

Sincerity by the person uttering false doctrines is not the issue.  The issue is - is it truth? Most false prophets do not know they are false.  Balaam did not know; the four hundred prophets of Ahab did not know; the many false prophets and priests in Jeremiah’s day did not know; many modern-day “prophets” do not know.  All were probably highly respected, admired and loved in their day.  How will they know and change unless someone tells them in love?

The refusal to judge and discern has eroded the foundations of the Church and defiled the very essence of the Church - truth.  How else can one explain why many in the Church do not believe there is a Satan or evil spirits? or believe that Jesus was only a man? or that the Bible is not accurate? or that Jesus did not resurrect physically? or that the Holy Spirit is only to explain God’s power and is not a real individual? or that Jesus sinned while on earth? or that Jesus married Mary Magdalene after having an affair with her and had a child from her? or that it was really Judas who died on the cross?  (Survey Results by the Barna Research Group)  What apostasy!

NAMING NAMES

In Acts 20:28-29, Luke named Ananias and Sapphira as liars.  Paul likewise never hesitated to defend the truth, even to the extent of naming names publicly and in his written letters.  In 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul named Demas as one who forsook Paul and went back to the world.  In verse 14, he named and accused Alexander the coppersmith of doing much evil.  In 2 Timothy 2:17-18, Paul named Hymenaeus and Philetus as having erred in preaching false doctrines (“profane and vain babblings”).  Even fellow apostles were not exempt.  In Galatians 2:12-13,  Paul accused and rebuked Peter and Barnabas before all (verse 14).  Did it violate the scripture that says, “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm”?  I Chr. 16:22.  Surely, Peter and Barnabas were anointed of God.  Is questioning a prophecy harming the prophet?  Are we not instructed to judge prophecies (I Co. 14:29), and taught to test (judge) the spirits, even the Holy Spirit?  “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try (judge) the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”  1 Jn. 4:1. We are instructed not to automatically accept any prophecy or word that comes from a prophet.  Test and judge it.  Prophets are to judge what the other prophets say (1 Co. 14:29, 32), to discern if it comes from the Holy Spirit or some other spirit. 1 Jn. 4:1.  It is love, not harm.

A MISINTERPRETATION

There is a movement to squelch all opposition to the introduction of false doctrines and movements by claiming that we should “touch not mine anointed” and “judge not, that ye be not judged.”  Mt. 7:1.  But if you look closely at Matthew 7:1 and the verses that follow immediately thereafter, Jesus was talking about hypocrites and people who unfairly criticize, gossip, condemn and slander people when they themselves are sinning in a bigger way.  (“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Verse 3)  Jesus was talking to hypocrites, not the guardians of truth.  If one wrongfully interprets these passages, claiming that we are not to judge, he will be in direct opposition to scriptures that say that we have the responsibility to judge and discern good and bad and to protect the cherished and precious truths God gave us.  As has been said many times, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  Rebuking, reproving, censuring, forbidding, charging and accusing can be done in love and concern for both the deceived and the deceiver.  We are instructed to name names and instruct the sheep to avoid them and the doctrines they espouse.  Shepherds must protect the sheep against wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Mt. 7:15.

There is a difference between unwarranted criticism, gossip and malicious slander as compared to an impersonal censure, rebuke and accusation for the purpose of correction and guidance.  For example, one can properly point out errors in doctrine by some famous televangelist without calling him a devil, or a creep.  If the intent is to maliciously and falsely slander to build up self at the expense of another, it is unrighteous.  But, if it is to protect the sheep and to point out errors for the purpose of avoiding deception, it is righteous obedience. It depends on the heart’s intent.  Sometimes the person pointing out doctrinal error is himself in error, but his heart is right.  Romans 16:17 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

The Amplified Bible’s interpretation of Matthew 7:1 is, “Do not judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves.”  This rendition is slightly more accurate than what some Christians claim it to mean, in my opinion.  Matthew 7:1-5 applies to undue criticism and slander of others and have nothing to do with protecting the faith from false doctrines and beliefs. God will not give two commandments that are diametrically opposed.  Matthew 7:1 is not contrary to scriptures telling us to guard the faith and note, rebuke, reprove, accuse, correct, refute and withdraw from those who preach a adverse gospel.  It speaks of hypocrites finding fault in others while they have worse faults.

1 Corinthians 5:12, 13 says, “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?  But them that are without God judgeth.  Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”  We are to judge those in the church, and correct where needed, especially those who would pervert the gospel or who are deceived. 

Yes, there are times when the defenders of truth are themselves deceived, but their intentions righteous.  We are all in the same situation.  Our beliefs are subject to scrutiny too.  We all have the responsibility to be as the noble Bereans were and search the Scriptures diligently, to see if those things spoken are true.  Ac. 17:10-11.  Should we accept a doctrine that says that we are already gods on earth?  What about “Once saved, always saved?” or “pre-tribulation rapture,” or the “prosperity” doctrine, or “Christians cannot have demons,” or “tongues is of the Devil”? Were these preached by the early apostles?  Beware the spirit behind many other movements and doctrines that do not line up with the Word of truth.  It is our duty to search and see that everything lines up with what the original apostles taught.

Perhaps we have been too lax in our attitudes towards Bible and Christian truths and too condescending to challenge those we love when they spout false doctrines that bend the truth, or support movements with untruths as their basis.  Maybe we tend to “worship” famous Christians because we admire them and are awed at their “power” and when they do or say something contrary to the Bible, we blithely forget and dismiss it.  This is extremely dangerous.  It is putting people above the truth.  Not only are we allowing Satan to plant his lies in our hearts, we are disobeying God.  Certainly, we need to avoid presenting a “I’m right; you’re wrong!” face and an arrogant, prideful attitude when speaking out for truth.  Truth coming from a critical heart of self-righteousness becomes a lie too.  We need to speak the truth in love.

 

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