By RC Burris
As I assess world events and the current state of our churches, I believe that we are quickly approaching the End Times. In the course of events to come, the Apostasy must first come to the church.
This is followed by the Antichrist and the Tribulation. The writer of Revelation 3:14-22 addresses the Laodicea church:
The word “apostasy” comes from the Greek word apostasia, which means to forsake or desert the faith that one previously held. This passage applies to the church today. As smug as today’s churches may feel with their successful programs of growth, God says: “I will spit you out of My mouth.” I cannot think of anything more abhorrent than being spit on, let alone being spit out of the mouth of a Holy God. The church in America, like its counterpart in Europe, has forsaken and deserted the fundamentals of their faith – indeed, we have become a post‑Christian people. In all my years as a believer, I have witnessed significant changes in the evangelical church – changes that have undermined our beliefs and our need for dependence upon God’s word. Satan, as the deceiver of mankind, continually plants seeds of doubt in the minds of individuals. Using false teachers and poorly equipped bad teachers, Satan distorts, twists and outright lies to corrupt our understanding of the Word of God. Few churches today teach verse-by-verse to give a faithful interpretation of God’s Word. Most mainline and the new mega churches have abandoned the sound doctrinal teaching, replacing it with subjective and experiential content (feelings-oriented beliefs). This drift has been a major contributor to the demise of biblical discernment. Churches, pastors, and believer’s all bear partial responsibility. The following are major movements within the church that have led to the displacement of Biblical discernment.
The Displacement of Biblical Discernment
During the late 1970s to early 1980s, the Church Growth Movement took shape. This movement was and remains an attempt to increase church membership through self-oriented programs designed to meet the “felt needs” of its membership. In opposition to God’s way, the church has embraced “the way that seems right unto man”. Rather than a place of worship, the church has become a business. Its “church-marketing” efforts have been a major factor in ushering man’s so-called wisdom into the church and distancing it from the Scriptures.
Aiding and abetting these self-oriented felt-needs programs, enter Christian Psychology or Counseling. Many formerly conservative Bible teaching churches and seminaries have allowed humanistic doctrines of self-love and self-esteem to infect their churches. After all, how can one possibly love God or one another, unless we first learn to love ourselves. This is psychoheresy! The self-oriented integration of worldly psychology alongside the Bible has destroyed the Biblical doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Man is now dependent upon self, rather than humbly seeking to be God-dependent.
For the last several decades, many conservative Charismatic and Pentecostal believers have also drifted away from the objective, written Word of God. They have embraced “subjective experience” over the “objective truth” of the Word. Many churches have fallen under false teaching that says: God speaks to believers today with the same or greater authority than is found in the Bible. Self-appointed modern apostles thus declare their teachings to be above the Word of God. The result is that churches embrace a false gospel of health and wealth, name and claim it, man-centered spiritual warfare, and some even literally roar like lions.
Apostasy is further revealed in the non-believer oriented Seeker Sensitive Movement, which has at its core the belief that the church should avoid at all costs to offend the one who is “seeking” (i.e., a non-believer). Preaching of sound doctrine is to be dumbed-down, to a level that the unbelieving world can understand. However, an unbeliever does not seek, but is drawn by the Spirit to faith. The work of the believer is to evangelize. The work of the church, using gifted believers, becomes one of rooting, building-up, and establishing its sheep in the faith (Col 2:7). Entertaining is not a work. The church is to convict its sheep of sin, not to overlook their sins and desensitize its sheep to the world’s system of sin.
Moving down another level of apostasy, the youth-oriented Emerging Church Movement is an attempt to reach the youth culture for Christ by emulating an ungodly and worldly culture. According to emerging church leaders, “the church must be re‑imagined” in order to accommodate man’s debased thinking. They regard the Bible itself as the chief obstacle to reinventing Christianity. But that’s no problem, through Satanic deception, they simply distort the Word of God. Is it any wonder that God says: “He will spit them out of His mouth!”
When today’s Laodicean churches dumb-down the Word of God and substitute entertainment in order to increase their church growth, one must ask these two questions: Is that church being led by false teachers? And, how many of its members are truly saved? A truly Spirit led church must 1) preach the true gospel of salvation through Christ, 2) must root, build-up, and equip its believers to walk in godliness (Col 2:7), and 3) equip them to lead and disciple others (2 Tim 2:2).
The Believer’s Responsibility
Tragically, my heart despairs when I see too many immature and untrained Christians trapped inside apostate churches. Whether one faces bad or even false teaching, a believer, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, must assume responsibility to develop personal godliness and Biblical discernment.
Many end times apostate churches defend their lack of teaching by arguing that believers will be bored or unable to comprehend Biblical teaching. If an apostate pastor never instructs a believer from the Word, then this statement is probably true. As a new baby believer, I attended a church that solidly taught the Word of God verse-by-verse. For the first few months, 99% of what I heard did indeed go over my head. But, by the time the pastor finished the book, I had obtained a sound understanding of that Bible book. However, in order for a new or young believer to obtain a sound understanding, a believer needs to find a local church that will faithfully teach the Word. If one is unable to find a church, seek out websites like Grace Bible Chapel, www.gbcsa.org, Verse-by-verse Ministry www.vbvmsa.org, or the Christian Jew Foundation, www.cjfm.org. Also search for the websites of men like John MacAurthur, RC Sproul, or James Boice.
In 2 Tim 2:15, the Apostle Paul commands believers “to be diligent to present yourself as a workman … accurately handling the word of truth.” In other words – “study to show thyself approved.” If you do not study the Word of God, then you can’t know God’s will. If you don’t know God’s will, your walk will not glorify God and you will bear little fruit. From my earliest days with the para-church organization the Navigators, it was drilled into my head that one needs to discipline oneself to read and study the Word of God daily, to meditate upon His Word, and to pray. The emphasis was on developing a habit. The studying of the Bible and learning what it teaches, becomes the basis for walking in godliness. This leads to spiritual maturity.
In the end time apostasy, the believer will face worldly deception and immorality. In 2 Tim 3:1, Paul says: “realize this that in the last days difficult times will come.” Verses 2-5 continue by describing the character of those who hold a form of godliness, but deny its power.
In the end time apostasy, when apostate pastors refuse to instruct their sheep about sin, just letting sin slide, the result is that the believer’s heart becomes insensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin. Substituting the world’s standards for God’s principles of living, the believer slowly drifts away from God. Apostate churches are full of both believers and unbelievers who are self-centered, lovers of money, party-goers, unmarried yet living with their partner, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. They hypocritically fake a form of godliness, while denying its power. Paul says: “Avoid such people (2 Tim 3:1-5).” In verse 6 & 7, Paul continues to say that weak believers (weighed down by their sin and acting upon their carnal impulses) will allow those who embrace the world’s standards to enter their households and take them captive. They will be at the mercy of demonic wolves ready devour their testimony and destroy their walk – unless they make the effort to seek out a church that faithfully instructs them how to walk and put to death the flesh.
In the end time apostasy, both strong and weak believers will face trials and temptations. However, their trials will be no greater than any other generation. Trials come in the form of inward moral tests that give rise to the temptation to sin. Others come as outward difficulties such as persecution, leading some to fall away. Yet God promises: “that no temptation will overcome you … but He is faithful and will provide the way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).” Trials are also a test of one’s love of God. “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).” As a believer, you need to study to understand what the Word of God says so that you can discern right from wrong. James 1:2 says: “consider it all joy when you encounter trials, knowing that the testing of your faith (your trials) produces endurance.” When difficulties come into one’s life, they will test your faith. If your faith (your walk) is genuine, then you will persevere. Perseverance is the ability to stand against Satan when he brings the storms to your life. In this way you will demonstrate your love for God.
McMahon, writing for The Berean Call (Feb 2013), says:
“Spiritual beliefs of today’s believers tend to be a collection of things they’ve heard (bad sermons, false radio & TV preachers, their moneymaker books, secular movies, etc.) mixed with what they may or may not have gotten from the Bible. They have been spoon-fed rather than getting their spiritual meals directly from God’s Word.” Yet today, they tragically miss the truth of the Word. They reason and accept: “Wouldn’t it be of value to get input from various self-proclaimed Christian sources (like the History channel, their own seeker-sensitive pastors, false TV teachers, etc.) regarding the teachings of our Lord? Hasn’t our Lord already gifted teachers to help believers better understand His Word? Yes God has. But if false teaching is our primary feeding of God’s Word, it leads to a spiritual anemia at best and makes us defenseless against spiritual deception at worst. How can a believer tell the difference between a good teacher and a false teacher? Although Scripture tells us that God gave some to be teachers (Ephesians 4:11), His Word also tells us, “There shall be false teachers among you, who shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). So how can we know what’s what and who’s who?”
“Most Christians are not asking such questions - nor do they seem to be concerned about the consequences related to a lack of biblical discernment. The second chapter of Hebrews begins with a warning that we could “drift away” from the Scriptures and find ourselves drifting along with some thought or teaching that seems biblical, but is not. More and more frequently these days, I hear confessing and professing Christians excusing themselves for their unbiblical beliefs and practices by declaring that they all nevertheless “love Jesus.” What Jesus might that be? Is it the biblical Jesus - the One who declares that He is “the way, the truth, and the life”? Is it the Word incarnate, who challenges everyone who professes to be a believer in Him by asking: “And why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Would our reply be, “Sorry, Lord, I didn’t study Your Word, I wasn’t aware of most of the things that you said”? If that’s the case, having “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) is a wishful delusion.”
In summary, Scripture warns all believers that in the end times a great apostasy will overtake the church. Pastors and individuals will desert the faith that they previously held. Today, apostasy has infected many hearts and has penetrated the soul of the church. Churches and their members have already turned away from God and His instructions, eagerly embracing Satan’s world system. Paul understood the devastating destruction that would come from this apostasy. To the leaders of these churches, Paul gives this warning:
In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul instructs Timothy how to conduct himself as a pastor.
First and foremost, Timothy is commanded to “preach the Word!” Preaching the Word is not always easy. The message we are required to proclaim is often difficult and offensive. Christ Himself was a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. The message of the cross is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others. The natural man does not understand the things of God. They are foolishness to him. Furthermore, Timothy is to preach the Word in faith, (the conviction that God’s word is true and living) and with love, (a kindness and compassion towards the believer). Based on the Scriptures, one thing is certain – a pastor is not commanded to entertain his flock. Nor is he to amuse them with humorous stories, to impress them with his great oratory skills, or to dazzle them with worldly illustrations. He must not water down the Word, turning it into a motivational message, but boldly and unashamedly preach. He is not to be a man pleaser, but a God pleaser.
Secondly, Timothy is to “be ready in season or out of season” to preach. In other words, a pastor must be ready to preach the Gospel and the Word, whether it is popular or irrelevant. Today’s market-driven church tells us that the day of expository preaching and theology is over. Preaching is not what the culture-driven believer wants to hear. They want a church experience that will satisfy them on their own terms. Paul also instructs Timothy to be ready, meaning that a pastor must study to be prepared and that he must be eager to preach. Today, many apostate pastors despise the Word. They are often reluctant and refuse to preach the Word of God.
Thirdly, Paul instructs Timothy that as he preaches, he must “reprove, rebuke and exhort.” The word “reprove” conveys the meaning of correcting a believer’s behavior or a false understanding of doctrine through the use of Biblical instruction. The word “rebuke” implies confrontation. A pastor needs to confront his congregation concerning their inward sinful motives. The goal is to bring about repentance. Following reproof and rebuke, exhortation involves comfort and encouragement that exhorts one to live godly. However, Apostate preaching emphasizes positive preaching. This kind of preaching is intended to meet one’s “felt needs” – to feel good, not to confront and convict one of their “real need” – repentance of their sin. Scripture also tells us that all teachers will be held to a higher standard of judgment. While it is yet today, apostate pastors need to evaluate what they are teaching and how they are teaching. They need to change course and begin again to teach sound doctrine to their flock.
Paul also speaks to end time believers. To them this apostasy will have following devastating effect:
Not enduring sound doctrine opens one up to spiritual deception. Paul writes to Timothy with a certainty that a time will come when “they will not endure sound doctrine.” Paul says that nominal believers willfully choose to “not endure.” The word “endure,” anexontai in Greek, implies that they will not 1) put up with sound doctrine, 2) listen to the truth, 3) tolerate the Word, or 4) take it to heart in order to live according to God’s instructions. Instead, these professing believers will follow their own lusts, seeking to satisfy their sinful desires. “Wanting to have their ears tickled” means that they want Christianity on their terms. To that end, they will only listen to pastors who preach what they want to hear – that which satisfies their carnal self-willed heart. They come to be entertained. They participate in church approved work projects so they can feel good about themselves. Their good works become a false security for their salvation. And when they walk out the church doors, they resume their normal pattern of sinful behavior. Most remain unchanged by the message and too many remain unjustified.
“Study to show thyself approved to God.”