You are here

7. Apostasy and the Antichrist

– Chapter 7 –

Apostasy and the Antichrist

Damned Through the church?

Yesterday I visited a Christian bookstore, and there I saw a book with a title that rather surprised me. What was the title? It was Damned Through The Church. The word “damned” doesn’t sound polite, and you don’t expect to find it on the cover of a book, much less the cover of a Christian book. I took another look to see if I had read it correctly. Sure enough it was Damned Through The Church. I gulped and said to myself, “That’s really some­thing! I thought this is a Christian bookstore!” I picked up the book to see what crank wrote the book, and got another surprise: the writer is Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a well-known North American theolo­gian, lawyer, and writer. I imme­diately bought this inexpensive book and read through it last night.

This book is a small collection of messages that Dr. Montgomery gave at a Christian conference. The title of the book, Damned Through the Church, is taken directly from the conference theme. In his preface Montgomery says that he originally proposed a much stronger theme than “Damned Through the Church”. Origi­nally it was going to be “Going To Hell Through the Church”! But when the conference organizer heard about it, he went into such a fright that he phoned Montgomery and pleaded, “Dr. Montgomery, will you please tone down the theme? We are abso­lutely terrified of Going To Hell Through the Church!” Montgomery agreed to tone down the theme, so he changed it from “Going to Hell Through the Church” to “Damned Through the Church.” But in his preface Montgomery says, “I don’t mean in substance to weaken the original idea of the title. The word damned in its biblical meaning means just that — condemned to hell.” Although Montgomery changed the title, he retained the force and substance of the original title.

What strikes me most about this book is that there are still some people today who, out of their love for the church, dare to point out the faults and errors of the church. It is a rare man today who has the courage to speak out so boldly against the church. I am talking about writers who love the church, not those who hate the church. I know from first-hand experience that this is done at great risk to one’s own popularity in the church, especially among church leaders.

What is Montgomery saying? He is saying that the church, for the most part, has lost its fundamental character in the western world. It is a world in which Christianity has been an old tradition — a tradition in which people and their forefathers have been going to church for many generations. Over the centuries, the church has changed so drastically that Christians in the west don’t even know what they are doing in church. Montgomery says that many Christians go to church simply out of habit. They regard church-going as a hallowed tradition, and if they should miss the Sunday service, they will soothe their troubled conscience by attending church the following Sunday.

Montgomery then raises a question concerning the western churches: What exactly do people go to church for? (For that matter, this question applies equally to churches in East Asia.) Montgomery says that many people go to church mainly to join social activities. He talks about spaghetti suppers. He talks about sewing bees where women get together to sew things for relief and charitable causes. All these social activities are good, he says, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the church as far as the New Testament is concerned. And if these are your reasons for going to church, then not only will the church not save you, it will even become the means of your condemnation! It takes a bold man to make a statement like that.

The great apostasy

Having said all this by way of introduction, I will, in this seventh message on the Antichrist, deal with the subject of apostasy and the Antichrist. Let us read Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4:

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come [the day of Jesus’ return will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (2Thess.2:3–4, NASB)

The Bible is prophetic and reveals to us many things that we would not know from any other source. Here the Bible mentions two significant things that must take place before Jesus comes again in glory. One is the great apostasy. The other is the appearing of the “man of lawlessness” or, in some manuscripts, the “man of sin”. In verse 8 of the same chapter, he is called the “lawless one”. Apostasy is therefore insepa­rably linked with this frightening figure known as the man of sin, or the man of lawlessness, who functions by the power of Satan.

I am preaching on the Antichrist because we are getting closer to the great apostasy than we may realize. The apostasy is not some­thing that will only emerge in the distant future or the near future. Right now we are already living in the time of the apostasy!

Why do I say so? It is because the church has already aposta­tized. The church today has become a social center where people, in their boredom or loneliness, get together to enjoy a little bit of religion or morality or social life. Here is where Dr. Montgomery, in Damned Through the Church, is right on target. He is one of the few church leaders who are warning us that the church can become an instrument not of salvation but of sending people to hell!

What is your reason for going to church? Are you numbered among the multitudes of Christians who go to church with wrong mo­tives? The church, sad to say, is encouraging wrong motives by giving people a wrong idea of what the church is about. Let’s not talk about churches in North America or England or anywhere in the west. Right here, in Hong Kong, many churches are social centers. The other day I was talking with a Bible study leader from another church, and he confessed to me that his so-called Bible study group is nothing more than a social gathering. There is nothing wrong with social gatherings as such, but that is not the essence of the New Testament church.

The church has lost its credibility

In these last days we must speak first to the church before we have the right to speak to the non-Christian world. The church today is totally discredited in the eyes of the world. TIME magazine has been reporting again and again, week after week, on the shameful things (including adultery and the swindling of church funds) committed by some prominent church leaders. In the past few weeks, millions of non-Christians all over the world have read in TIME magazine the unsavory accounts of the sins of a well-known church leader. According to the latest report, he had paid a woman over a quarter million U.S. dollars to cover up his adultery. And when his sins were finally exposed, what action did his church take? They only removed him from church leadership. Let me tell you something: the New Testament church would have dealt with him much more severely. In the days of the early church, at a time when holiness was still important, this church leader would have met a terrifying fate. But today he is kicked out of leadership because he is an embar­rassment to his church.

To make things worse, in the Christian organization led by him, ninety million U.S. dollars were found missing and could not be accounted for. The church officials tried to hush this up, but it’s all reported in TIME magazine.

Something is dreadfully wrong with the church. Before the church can again be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we Christians had better start dealing with ourselves first. In saying these things, we are not condemning other people but con­demn­ing ours­elves. We are the church, and when we speak against the church — for its sins, its wickedness, its deceptions — it is only because we love the church. We must never take a don’t-care attitude towards the church. We must never be indifferent when a non-Christian taunts us: “All along we knew you were a bunch of hypocrites! You’re no different from us after all!” He says this with a happy smirk on his face, but to us it is a knife that cuts deep into our hearts because we are the church. It is our own credibility that is being destroyed by these Christian leaders.

Apostasy and the church

The church has apostatized. To apostatize means to turn away from God. Apostasy, according to this definition, can only apply to the church and to Christians because no one can turn away from God who had not first turned to God. A non-Christian cannot commit apostasy because he has never believed in God or com­mitted himself to God in the first place. Therefore, whenever Paul speaks of apostasy, it is always in connection with the church.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4 quoted above, Paul connects the great apostasy with the man of sin. This man is the central figure of apostasy. He is the product of apostasy as well as the promoter of apostasy. 1 John 2:19 gives us the frightening revelation that the man of sin, or the Antichrist, will come from the church! This state­ment, though shocking and offensive, accords with the fact that only Christians can apostatize. The Bible speaks with a forthright­ness that is far more devastating than any title Montgomery could ever come up with, even a title such as Going To Hell Through The Church. Two thousand years before Montgo­mery, the Bible had already foretold that the church, except for a faithful remnant, will apostatize. This is happening right before our eyes.

Antichrist, world dictator?

In my last message I pointed out that the very teaching or exegesis on the Antichrist has gone off the track. I introduced you to four books on the Antichrist, all of which contradict the apostle John when they say that the Antichrist will come from outside the church. In fact one book expressly says that the Antichrist will not be a Christian of any description, not even a nominal Christian, but will be a total non-Christian who comes from outside the church.

Furthermore, these four books say that the Antichrist will be a world dictator who is going to oppress the church. One book is even titled The Coming World Dictator. These four writers hold several university and seminary degrees among themselves, including two doctorates, so they are not ignorant. Yet with one voice and with the authority of their so-called academic know­ledge, they are telling us that the Antichrist will be a world dictator.

Their exegesis is wrong because, as we saw last time, the New Testament never portrays the Antichrist as a political figure, but only as a false teacher within the church. Even now the church is ravaged by many false teachers, and the confusion that they create is making it difficult for people to tell who is speaking the truth and who is speaking falsehood.

On this issue of the Antichrist, you don’t have to be a theologian or Bible scholar to tell who is speaking the truth. You need only look at the first and second letters of the apostle John, these being the only places in the New Testament where the word “antichrist” is used. No matter how you study “antichrist” in the Bible, you would see that the Bible never portrays the Antichrist as a world dictator. The term “world dictator” does not even occur in John’s letters. John tells us that, on the contrary, the Antichrist will come from within the church! The Antichrist — the most dangerous teacher and leader in church history — will be a deceiver first and foremost; yet most Bible teachers say that the Antichrist will be a world dictator. I am ready to debate any theologian on this issue because the Bible’s position is clear and incontrovertible.

Now I can agree that it is possible to have a world dictator who will oppress Christians. There is nothing new or unusual about such world dictators, and they have existed all through history. So these four writers are not saying anything of significance when they speak of a world dictator who will persecute Christians. Many centuries ago, the known world was ruled by a succession of Roman emperors, some of whom persecuted Christians brutal­ly. They were absolute world dictators on a scale that we no longer see today. Today we don’t have a power — nor even a superpower — that controls the known world.

Therefore I can agree with these four books when they speak of a world dictator who is going to persecute Christians. I can agree with that element of truth in these books. But they are in grave error when they call this world dictator the Antichrist!

This world dictator whom they equate with the Antichrist is no more an antichrist (in the New Testament sense of the word) than the Roman emperors were antichrists. In fact this world dictator is no more an antichrist than Hitler was an antichrist. And Hitler doesn’t even meet the most basic requirements of being an anti­christ because, according to John, the Antichrist is a church leader who comes out from the church. But Hitler never came out of the church; he re­mained a professing Catholic. So these four books are not saying anything new when they speak of a ruthless world dictator who will oppress the church. I acknowledge the possibility of such a world dictator, but that is not the Antichrist!

False teaching has entered the church

Why am I citing these books and pointing out their errors? It is because we want to examine the origins of apostasy.

Apostasy, according to the New Testament, begins with false teachings, particularly those which twist New Testament words and give them false meanings and emphases. That is the beginning of apostasy, indeed the very root of apostasy. Of this the apostle John warns us when he says that the Antichrist — the ultimate false teacher — will still teach about Jesus, but in a way that deviates from the apostles’ teaching.

Are you committing the same sort of thing? Are you subjecting the word of God to your own intellectual control? Are you prevent­ing it from revealing something to you? False teaching begins when we use the same words, the same terms — and twist their meanings. The word “Antichrist” itself has been twisted to mean some kind of world dictator even though the New Testament never portrays the Antichrist as such. This is a sign that the apostasy has already begun.

The problem of false teaching goes beyond the question of the Antichrist; it relates to fundamental concepts such as Christ, Lord, God, grace, sovereignty, faith, sin, and so on. When you hear these familiar terms being used in a church, do not immediately assume that the church is teaching correct doctrine. I have studied theo­logy long enough to know that theologians are experts in twisting the meanings of words.

That is why Bible study and Bible training are important. Some visitors are surprised at the number of trainings offered by our church. Recently we introduced yet another training called Com­mitment Training. No sooner had we sunk our teeth into one training than a new one comes up. We are offering so much Bible training because, as Montgomery points out in his book, God is never neutral about the church. The church is either a blessing or a condemnation to you, and we certainly don’t want our church to be a condemnation to anybody. Therefore it is vital for you to under­stand the truth as taught in the Scriptures, and to receive Bible training so that you may understand the Bible for yourself. You must never assume that the pastor is always right. The pastor may be wrong; I may be wrong. That is why we are concerned with exegesis (the procedure of expounding the Bible and bringing out its meaning) in order that you may find out for yourself what the Bible is saying. If you are given the chance to receive training but do not take it, that is not our responsibility. The church may then become a condemnation to you even though we have tried hard to make it a blessing to you.

Do you know the meaning of “grace”?

Since apostasy begins with the distortion of biblical words, we had better get our definitions right. Go to any church and ask the pastor or leader to define grace: “You have been preaching so much on grace. Saved by grace. All of grace. That’s wonderful, but can you tell me what grace is?”

The standard answer is that grace is a free gift from God. To be saved by grace is to be saved by a free gift from God. But if that is how you understand grace in the Bible — as a free gift — then you are off the mark. That is not the primary meaning of grace but only a secondary or derivative meaning. For the sake of your eternal salvation, get a Bible dictionary or a theological dictionary, and look up for yourself the definition of grace. At least the scholars are honest enough to tell us what grace really means.

What then is grace? Grace is God’s loving favor towards us by which we receive power as a gift. Grace is not a gift for the sake of a gift, but a power that saves us. Grace is certainly a gift, but its potency lies not so much in its being a gift as in its being a power. Do you see this important distinction? If not, sooner or later you will deviate from the biblical teaching on grace, and arrive at a wrong definition that may still sound right because it is danger­ously close to what the Bible teaches. A half-truth is always more dangerous than a total lie because a half-truth contains elements of truth and sounds plausible.

As a young Christian I was taught that grace is a free gift. But every time I saw the word “grace” in the Bible, I would run into the same problem. I would be scratching my head wondering what Paul was talking about. This is a common problem with false teach­ing. Many people cannot understand the Bible because they have been misled by a definition that is wrong or partially wrong. Have you ever noticed that most of Paul’s letters begin and end with the word “grace”? In many of his letters, Paul makes opening state­ments such as “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or closing statements such as “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (e.g., Gal.1:3; 6:18). These statements confused me. Why would Paul speak of grace as being with my spirit? I thought that grace is a free gift! Is Paul referring to some free gift that is with my spirit? But hadn’t I already received the free gift of Christ when I became a Christian? So what free gift is Paul talking about? Have I missed out on any free gifts?

Paul is, of course, talking about God’s enabling power that is with our spirit. If only someone had told me that earlier, what confusion could have been avoided. Why is it important for grace, or God’s enabling power, to be with our spirit? Because we cannot live the Christian life except by grace or God’s enabling power. That is the primary meaning of grace (e.g., 1 Cor.15:10; 2 Cor.1:12; 8:1–2; 9:8; 12:9; Acts 14:26; Rom.1:5; 6:14; Titus 2:11–12). Paul’s statement is now beginning to make sense. As you live by God’s enabling power, may God’s good pleasure or favor be with your spirit.

Do you know the meaning of “faith”?

Let us look at the word “faith”. Faith is important because we are saved by grace through faith. But the same has happened to this word as happened to “grace”. It is pitiful that many Christians do not have the vaguest idea of what faith means. Worse yet, many people think they know when they really do not. Again, get yourself a Bible dictionary or a theological dictionary, and read for yourself what faith really means. Whereas faith certainly has the elements of trusting and believing, it means much more than just believing that Jesus died for us.

It is widely taught that we need only believe a few standard items: that Jesus died for us, that he rose again, that he saves us. Some will say, “I believe the church creeds, I believe the Nicene Creed, I believe the Apostles’ Creed; I believe every­thing. Amen!” They can believe in all the church creeds, yet have as much spiritual life as the floor planks of the church building. Søren Kierkegaard con­demned the church in Denmark for having a dead orthodoxy in which one can believe in all the right doctrines yet not experience their power or reality. That kind of faith is purely intellectual and devoid of the power of grace.

Even as a young Christian, I had already sensed that there was something wrong with this shallow definition of faith. But I could not pinpoint the error because I lacked the training and the equipment. I would later spend three years studying the meaning of faith, and take down over 300 pages of notes on this subject.

Faith: An illustration

You can illustrate faith very simply like this. I live on the 12th floor. If somebody should ask me whether I believe the elevator can take me to my apartment, I might say, “Of course I believe. I saw the notice which says that the elevator had been certified by an engineer to be in good working condition. I’ve seen other people use it. When the doors close and then reopen, the person is no longer there. I pre­sume that he was taken up to another floor. Therefore I truly believe in elevators with all my heart!”

But if I stand outside the elevator for five or six hours believing fervently with all my heart, my faith won’t take me to my apart­ment! I may argue that a faith which saves me ought to be able to trans­port me to the 12th floor. Yet my faith accom­plishes no­thing for me when I just stand in the lobby. No, I would have to do something more than just believe in the effective­ness and reliability of elevators. I need to get into the elevator. It’s that simple. That is the meaning of commit­ment. Commitment means to do something with your believing. James says that mere believing does not save us unless we do something with our faith.

The churches in Europe, whether in Germany or Denmark or some other country, all believe to a great extent. But that is not going to save them. You too can believe in all the church doctrines, but that is not going to save you either. To use another analogy, you can believe with all your heart that airplanes are engineered to fly you to San Francisco. But that faith won’t get you anywhere unless you believe in such a way that you enter into the aircraft. The Bible uses the Greek preposition eis (“into”) which, when combined with the verb “believe,” gives you the important term “believe into”. Saving faith is not “believing that” but “believing into”. We must believe into Jesus Christ as we believe into the aircraft, that is, to have a faith by which we enter the aircraft and entrust it to fly us to San Francisco.

You can believe in the Lord Jesus with all your heart, but unless you believe into him, and take the step of commitment into him, you will not be saved. Has anybody told you that? Nobody told me that when I was a young Christian. I had to spend three years studying every verse on faith in the Old and New Testaments. Then I realized that faith essentially means obedience or commitment, and I won­dered why nobody had told me this earlier.

Zondervan Bible Dictionary gives the following definition of faith: “Faith is not to be confused with a mere intellectual assent to the doc­trinal teachings of Christianity, though that is obviously necessary. It includes a radical and total commitment to Christ as the Lord of one’s life.” Other standard references define faith as total commitment. [1]

Apostasy: The form without the substance

Do you see what is happening? The same biblical words are being used in the church but their meanings have been distorted. Antichrist is used, faith is used, grace is used, church is used, but their meanings have been twisted.

This brings us to the primary definition of apostasy: Apostasy in the New Testament is a situation in which the form is still there, but the substance or power is gone. In 2 Timothy 3:1–5, Paul describes the apostasy of the last days — the very age in which we now live. In verse 5 he says regarding this apostasy that “men will be holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” (NASB) The form is still there but there is no inner substance or power.

This situation is not unique to the modern age; it had already started in the first century. Apostasy has been with the church right from the beginning, but only now is the problem getting bigger and bigger. What used to be an isolated problem has now become epidemic. Of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, one was already dead. The church at Sardis still had the form of a church, but to this church the Lord Jesus says, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Rev.3:1). With one dead church in Sardis, apostasy had already crept into the early church.

I fear that the problem today is not one dead church out of seven, but the other way around. Out of seven churches today, six may be dead. The problem has reached the point where it now becomes a struggle for spiritual survival in the church, paving the way for the Antichrist. With deception so rampant in the church, the Antichrist can just walk in without attracting much notice. When apostasy is everywhere, what is one more apostate church leader?

When I heard the preaching of Jim Bakker, I compared his mes­sage with that of the New Testament, and I knew right away that he was a false teacher who was twisting God’s word shamelessly. But look at how many millions of Christians in North America and around the world had been watching his television shows. Look at how much money had been contributed to support that kind of false teaching — to the tune of 127 million U.S. dollars a year! It was not until his adultery was publicized that the television viewers realized that they had been deceived and cheated.

Even if you try to hide your sins or cover them with hush money as Bakker did, sooner or later your sins will find you out (Num. 32:23). Your sins will eventually come out in the open. What you whisper in secret will be proclaimed on the rooftops (Lk.12:3). The apostle John exhorts us to examine the lives of Bible teachers. But even before their sins are exposed, their preaching will give them away. Listen carefully and with discernment. Unless you have the right equip­ment or training, you would not be able to discern false prea­ching.

Most Bible teachers equate apostasy with violent persecu­tion, but I am sure by now that you have arrived at a truly biblical understand­ing of apostasy. The four aforementioned books on the Antichrist are forced to come up with an unscriptural definition of apostasy because it takes only one false teaching to distort one’s understand­ing of the rest of biblical teaching. If you define the Antichrist as some kind of world dictator, sooner or later you will understand apostasy in terms of violent persecution.

What is the outcome of this? Some people would, as a result, fail to see the relevance of the Antichrist in the present age. When they see no persecution around them, and when there is little prospect of a world dictator in the near future, they may wonder why I am preach­ing my seventh message on the Antichrist. They have been misled because they have been told that persecution is the key characteristic of apostasy.

But the Bible tells us that apostasy had already started in the church even from the first century. Today the church is still flourish­ing; the form is still there; the cross is still a prominent symbol; Bible terms are still being used — but the power is gone.

Anyone who looks at the New Testament church would know it is different from the churches today. Anyone who has read the book of Acts, even superficially, would see a vibrant church filled with the joy and spiritual power that are lacking in the churches today. The early church was neither a social club nor a community center but a fellowship of Spirit-filled people among whom God’s power was so mightily demonstrated that many unbelievers stood at a distance from them and held them in high esteem (Acts 5:13).

As there has been persecution all through history, there will be persecution in the future. The future persecution will, in fact, be far worse than any past persecution (Mt.24:21). But persecution is not the primary meaning of apostasy in the New Testament. Apostasy in the New Testament is having the form without the substance.

If any professing Christian is living in sin, he is no better than the church at Sardis even though he may carry a Bible, wear a cross, and go to church. Like the dead church in Sardis which had the name of being alive, this churchgoer has the name of Chris­tian. But he is an apostate as far as the Bible is concerned. There are of course differ­ent degrees of apostasy in the church. So the question is to what extent have you apostatized? To what extent have you twisted the Bible to your liking? Many people buy books on the promises of God, but when they try to claim the promises, nothing happens. So they wonder why God doesn’t keep his word. They don’t realize that attached to every promise are conditions which must be fulfilled before the promise is granted. Yet I don’t see any condi­tions being stated in these books of promises. A big lie is being perpe­trated. Yes, the Bible has many wonderful promises, but if you preach the promises without mentioning the conditions, you are preaching a lie and furthering apostasy in the church.

The Old Testament warns us of apostasy

Apostasy is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Count­less Israelites perished in the wilderness because of apostasy. Do we have eyes to see? The Old Testament was written as a warning to us (1 Cor. 10:11). As I warn myself, so I warn you: apostasy will send more Christians to hell than anything else. Dr. Montgomery is right. You will be damned through the church if you live in apostasy.

How did Israel apostatize? It all started when God saved Israel out of the land of Egypt. The Lord did something so amazing that many Bible scholars are still baffled by it: he parted the Red Sea so that Israel was able to cross the sea on dry land. But when the Egyptians tried to cross the sea in pursuit, the walls of water closed in on them and they drowned. This was a mighty display of God’s grace, power and salvation. The crossing of the Red Sea is even a symbol of baptism (1 Cor.10:1–2).

God then led Israel into the wilderness, where he miracu­lously provided his people with manna from heaven and water from a rock. Again and again they experienced God’s glorious salvation — as have some Christians — but soon apostasy started to creep in. Their hearts turned back to Egypt and they started to grumble against God: “Why has God brought us into the wilderness? It was so much better in Egypt! There we had garlic, leeks and onions. There we had abundant water for a nice bath. There we had shelter from the sun, but now we’re roasting in the wilderness!” They were also angry with Moses: “You brought us out of Egypt to let us die in the wilderness!”

Israel’s apostasy began when the people grumbled about life in the wilderness, and wanted to return to Egypt. Similarly, apostasy for many Christians begins right after their baptism when they discover that life is not so rosy in the wilderness. Then they want to return to the world which they had forsaken at baptism.

What is your attitude towards God?

When God appeared on Mount Sinai and gave Moses the Ten Commandments, fire and billowing smoke engulfed the mountain. The fiery spectacle struck terror in the hearts of the Israelites, but something even more terrifying happened: God spoke! The people cried out to Moses, “Don’t let God speak to us or we will die! He is too holy and demanding! He gives us not one but ten com­mandments! Have some mercy on us! We’re only flesh and blood!”

The Israelites were even afraid of Moses because his face shone with glory after he had spoken with God at Sinai. Moses had to veil his face when he spoke with the people, and they kept a distance from him (Ex. 34:29–35; 2 Cor. 3:7,13).

The Israelites eventually turned away from God and worshipped the heathen gods which they found less terrifying. The history of Israel is a history of idolatry. The Israelites were sacri­ficing to other gods at the heathen altars which in the Old Testament are called “the high places,” yet they were still going to the temple to worship the true God Yahweh. In Jerusalem, just outside the hostel where I stayed, you can still see the remains of a high place dating from the Old Testament period. Interestingly, the sacrificial altar is within close walking distance of the Lord’s temple. How conve­nient! After worship­ping God at the temple, you can walk over to the high place and sacrifice to other gods at the heathen altars!

Apostasy in Israel — and apostasy in the church today — started on a small scale, then it grew bigger and bigger. At the height of Israel’s apostasy, God sent his prophets to warn Israel of the punishment awaiting them, but the people hated them all the more for speaking against them. The Israelites rejected the true God and pursued other gods because these gods gave them a sweeter deal: “Believe in me for a good harvest, burn incense to me for more money, offer me a sacrifice for good fortunes.” Unlike the God of Israel, these heathen gods never demanded holi­ness. Idolatry spread even to the priestly class. The great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel condemned the priests who were minister­ing at the temple, and denounced them as false teachers. The con­frontation between the two sides was often between one lone prophet and thousand of priests in Israel.

Compromising with sin will destroy you in the end

I have pointed out that sin and temptation are a far greater danger than persecution. Be forewarned that apostasy comes from com­pro­mi­sing with sin in the life of the church. If we allow a little room for the flesh, a little room for the self, a little room for pride, a little room for worldliness, the dreadful consequences will surely come.

Compromise always seems harmless in the beginning. In the Church of England, whenever a minister steps up to the pulpit, he would wear the traditional black gown and academic hood adorned with purple, red or scarlet. His collar makes him look authoritative, unlike the lowly preacher who wears a shirt and tie. But where, I ask, does this academic hood come from? From the Bible? Certainly not! From secular institu­tions? That’s right! Why then are we wearing these things in the church? You see, we have imported a little bit of the world into the church. It all seems harmless in the beginning, then it gets bigger and bigger. The preacher puts on his academic hood because it is a public attestation to his academic qualifications and therefore his authority to preach. But Peter and the other apos­tles had no academic hood. They preached by one authority: the power of the Holy Spirit and the vindication of a godly life.

Even if you allow a small measure of sin, temptation, and the things of the world to come into your life, in the end you will apos­tatize and face destruction. And your attending church will only add to your condemnation. Let me therefore close with a parable to help you understand this.

The parable of the eagle

If you ever visit Canada or the United States, it would be worth­while to visit the Niagara Falls to catch a breathtaking view of the world’s most famous waterfall, particularly in winter when everything is frozen and covered with glistening ice and snow. Huge icicles form along the edges all the way down to the falls. In summer, millions of tons of water rush down the falls, thunder­ing to the depths below. You can even go on a boat and get close enough to feel the tur­bulent mist whipped up by the falls, an awesome display of God’s creation.

One bitter cold day in early spring, an eagle was hovering above Niagara Falls in search of food. The Canadian winter had been long and harsh, and food was hard to come by. The eagle’s eyes caught sight of a sheep’s carcass floating down the river towards the falls. Much of the frozen carcass was embedded in a block of ice, but a portion of the flesh was exposed. The famished eagle swooped down on the ice block, and began to devour the flesh. Eagles usually prey on live animals, but I suppose that if an eagle is hungry enough, it might go for a well-preserved carcass.

While the eagle was eating the dead sheep, the roaring of the falls grew louder and louder. The eagle took a glance and said to itself, “No problem! There’s still time for a few more bites. Then I’ll soar into the heavens!” After taking a few more bites, the eagle looked again and saw the mist of the falls. But it was not afraid because it had powerful, muscular wings. So it took a few more bites. From afar the people were watching this majestic eagle standing on the ice block, and were wondering what it was going to do next. At the precise moment, when the block reached the edge, the eagle spread its powerful wings. But it couldn’t fly! Its talons were frozen into the ice. The eagle tumbled down the Niagara and perished.

Temptation starts with a legitimate need that gradually leads to greed and gluttony. Then it’s too late. That is the downfall for many Christians. The great apostasy has come into the church because of her failure to resist temptation. May we be victorious by God’s grace and power.

[1] Faith as total commitment is something well known to New Testament scholar­ship. Dictionary of the Bible (John McKenzie, S.J.), article “Faith” (p.268): “The scope of the faith demanded by Isaiah shows that faith was a total commitment to Yahweh, a renunciation of secular and material re­sources, a seek­ing of security in the saving will of God alone.” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary begins the article “Faith” as follows: “Faith — a belief in or con­fident attitude toward God, involving com­mitment to His will for one’s life.” See also The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Faith, Faithfulness,” sub­article “Faith as assent and commitment” (vol.2, pp.416-417).



(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church