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Monday, December 19th 2011

4:12 PM

"Affirming Apostasy"

by Pastor Bruce Sikes

The word "Apostasy" should be on the forefront of every believer's mind today. Why? Because far too many Christians are affirming Apostasy. Really? How are we affirming Apostasy someone might ask? Actually, I'm sure  over half of the Church would first ask, "What in the world does the word "Apostasy" mean anyway?" Of course, there is no doubt a few of the kinder, gentler, more "progressive" elements would be quick to react by saying, "That sounds like some alarmist crazy talk from those legalistic right wing Christian fundamentalists!" 

I have to smile a little as I write this because it's not unexpected. Throughout the ages two powerful obstacles to considering the truth have always been ignorance and fear. Well over a century ago, Charles Dickens in his story 'A Christmas Carol' very profoundly makes this point to the pragmatic "realist" Mr. Scrooge. During the night, Scrooge is visited by the Spirit of Christmas Present who opens his robes revealing two emaciated children clinging to him. One is a boy named Ignorance and the other a girl named Want. The spirit warns Scrooge, "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."


Well, the truth is, prophecies of scripture cannot be erased, but fear and ignorance can be through the study of God's Word.

If you stay with me for a moment, I'll show you why Apostasy has a direct impact on the way you live your day to day life.  First of all, let's briefly look at  the word "Apostasy" as used in scripture. There are several translated variations of the word apostasy which are used by the prophets and apostles in various situations, some with different emphases, yet conveying the same general meaning of  "a departure from". By far, the most prominent use of the word "Apostasy"  is the Greek word  "apostasia" (ap-os-tas-ee'-ah) as found in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Here are three different translations of that verse;

"Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first.." (NASV)

"Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs..." (NIV)

"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first..." (KJV)

Of the three translations of the word "Apostasy" as used in this verse, I believe the word "Rebellion" defines it very well. Unfortunately, in practice most people tend not to acknowledge that a rebellion has taken place until it's been "officially" declared as such by the "authorities", good or bad. So, determining who, when, and what constitutes a rebellion can get confusing and complicated. 

However, this "Rebellion" has been foretold;  the authority  is God, declared in the Bible, and confirmed by His Holy Spirit.

Rebellions brew for many, many years before they reach the critical breaking point of no return. That's why I like the way the King James version interprets "Apostasy", as a "falling away". It shows apostasy as a process. This apostasy, this rebellion referred to in Thessalonians, is the culmination of the falling away which has already been occurring for many years now.  Its realization is the  catalyst which enables and even ignites the dreadful events of the last days towards final fulfillment.  Take, for example, the falling away of the people before the world was destroyed by the flood. The sin and rebellion of the people had reached a critical breaking point to where the Lord said, "Enough is Enough!"

"Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.  God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth." (Genesis 6:11-13)

Yet God preserved a remnant of faithful believers, Noah and his family, "a preacher of righteousness" as the Apostle Peter calls him in his second letter. We all know the story of Noah and the great flood. Still, it's important for us to remember two things. First, the Lord had warned Noah ahead of time, he listened and believed. He then acted upon what he heard and immediately began preparing for the day of destruction.  Secondly, it's important for us to note when Noah's rescue occurred. Noah and his family were not saved until the rebellion had become fully realized, that is, when the people who were falling away could fall no further. The Lord waited to the last possible moment before rescuing this remnant so they would be a witness to the people. He desired that others would turn to Him and be saved before the coming destruction.   

So,  look again at the Thessalonians verse above and notice that it says, "for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first..."  This should be a stern warning to every believer that a pre tribulation "rapture" does not spare the Church from the great Apostasy. Like Noah, a rapture spares us from God's final judgment of the ungodly on earth, not the falling away preceding it.  There is much debate about when a rapture of the Remnant of God's people will occur with regard to a tribulation period (meaning the last 7 years of the world as we know it, particularly the last half when evil reigns supreme). That's why I like to remind people  that the years preceding the tribulation will be no piece of cake either! They will be some of the worst years on earth to be alive.  As Jesus says,

 "If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened." (Matthew 24:22)

Also, we know that in the time before the world wide destroying flood of Noah, and the fire from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah in  Lot's time, both men had witnessed and endured a overwhelming falling away from God all around them before they were rescued.  Here's what the Apostle Peter has to say about Lot;

"Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men  (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)" (2 Peter 2:7-8)

Graciously, these examples along with the signs, wonders and worldwide events prophesied  to occur during the end times have been provided to us in the Bible as an advanced warning. However,  we must remember that these prophetic events  are just the major highlights of a much longer process involving apostasy. We did not get here overnight.

It is past time for every professing Christian to educate themselves in what God's Word has to say about false teaching and to act upon it. In this way we can preserve ourselves and  help the Remnant Church resist the growing rebellion.

So, who is rebelling? Who is falling away? Who is committing apostasy? With a falling away, there must be something or someone falling. That something or someone  is not the world.  It cannot be. Why, because we already live in a fallen world. Unbelievers are already fallen. Can they get worse, yes, but this is not the Apostasy Paul is talking about for they never believed in the first place. One cannot fall from a height which was never attained. Non church members, non "Christians", cannot become apostates, but Church members can. The Apostle Paul is warning us about the coming fall within the "Church", that is, those who claim to be part of the Church.  The Church has been and will always be the Church. You and I are either part of  the Church or we are not. However, as it has been said many times before, going to church and  saying you are a Christian does not necessarily make you one.  Certainly, the believer has security of his or her salvation, but as Paul tells the congregation in Phllipi such knowledge comes from continuing "to work out your salvation with fear and trembling".  (Philippians 2:12)  Or, as he puts it to the young minister Timothy;

"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:16)

We are not to take our salvation for granted, especially during last days when we are warned by Jesus and the apostles to be on guard against false believers, false prophets, false teachers and false teaching. True, we will know them by their fruits the scriptures say, however when many people within the Church get to the point that they  can't discern between good and bad fruit,  when they don't bother to examine the fruit themselves, or just find it acceptable to eat around the worms, then the Apostasy has become full bloom!

Apostasy is two-fold:

First, Apostasy is about doctrine. Simply put, doctrine is a set of beliefs you accept and follow.  It's what you believe and communicate with others either formally or informally. Apostasy consists of the false church teachings and beliefs about God's Word,  about Salvation and about Jesus, more specifically things such as doctrines of universalism, dominion theologies, emergent church teachings, and of course the ever popular humanistic based self help preaching.  Let's not  neglect to mention the various "church" affirmations of false teaching such as Mormonism and even more bizarrely these days are church affirmations of Islamic teachings. What's even worse are affirmations and acceptance of sin as with the homosexual movement among others. These, along with the practices and activities that result from false teachings,  serve to both entrap those under their influence and to gain more wealth and followers for the Apostate "churches" and their leaders.  This is a real threat as it says in Colossians 2, as there are those who would "deceive us by fine sounding arguments", "take you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy", while "having an appearance of wisdom...and false humility".

The key to survival in an age of Apostasy is to know your Bible. We wash our bodies each day to remove the dirt we have accumulated from the world that surrounds us. It helps to keep us clean and healthy. If we fail to do it, we run the risk of disease and infection. Apostasy is a disease and infection which leads to spiritual death. The way to cleanse ourselves of false teaching is to bathe in the word of God each day.

Secondly,  Apostasy is also about your life.  Not only is it about churches falling away, it's about individuals falling away as well. Those subject to the spirit of Apostasy are not only simply false converts, who were not saved to begin with, and weak Christians, it also includes well taught and seasoned Christians.  This is important to understand, as the Apostasy spoken of in the Bible is a world-wide event. It surround us. It is not sin "as usual". It is a movement which goes hand in hand  with the spirit of the antichrist. This is what the Apostle John states when he writes about "testing the spirits" to discern false teaching.
   
"This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world." (1 john 4:3)

The Apostasy is the culmination of an end time movement of darkness which sweeps the face of the entire planet. It is world where the righteous and unrighteous, the strong and the weak, the true and the false, all live side by side in an environment of ever increasing unrestraint.

The Apostle Paul describes this Godlessness in the Last Days by saying;

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—  having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

By the way, did you notice that again? How can we "have nothing to do with them" if we have been raptured away? That's because no rapture of believers will take place during these "terrible times", until the apostasy has been fully realized. Jesus Himself confirms this as we read His sobering words concerning the Apostasy. He very clearly says,

"At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people." (Matthew 24:10)

He goes even further to show the depth of the Apostasy and its effect on even mature Believers.

"For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible.  So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time." (Mark 13:22-23)

Such is the environment we are exposed to during the time of the great Rebellion.  We cannot help but be affected by what we see happening all around us.

For those of you who have read some of my previous articles I know I may sound like a broken record, nevertheless, I want to remind us again about Jesus' warning of an "increase in wickedness". (Mathew 24) This is so important for us to remember because it can certainly have an effect on the way we live our lives.

Jesus follows this warning with another warning, "Because of this, the love of most will grow cold." He says so much in those few words. We must guard our hearts from becoming discouraged, cynical, self righteous and fearful. Instead, as Jesus says,

"When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” (Luke 21:28)

An increase in wickedness also means an increase in temptations. These temptations are compounded by the growing apostasy which surround us. There will be a temptation to ignore or deny what is unfolding at this time; a temptation to run or hide from what is happening, although there is nowhere to go; a temptation to accept or compromise with  apostate teachings and practices; a temptation  to harden our hearts;  and even a temptation to sin. 

 "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

Paul challenges us with this serious statement, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (v12)

So how's your Christianity these days? Doing Ok? Fair? Not bad? Better than most?

Hmmm, those don't exactly sound like definitions of standing firm, do they? If, as Paul says, those who are standing firm must be careful, what about everyone else?

That's why it's good to regularly check ourselves and examine our own position in a Church which is being increasingly assaulted with apostasy. Indeed, the Apostle Paul urges us to do this and even adds a little tweak for us on the end.

"Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5-8 )

Time for our own little Apostasy Check!  Are you falling away? Are you affirming the Apostasy? Are your words and actions contributing the growing end time Apostasy?  

Someone's first reaction to these provocative questions might be, "Who me? I'm not involved in any of that Apostasy stuff !"  That would be a good response by them---unless, of course, their church is teaching that "stuff"  and they are just sitting there taking it! I want to remind us again that there are two major parts to apostasy; doctrine (the beliefs you subscribe to), and your life. If it is question of false doctrine in your church, then you must overcome the temptation to merely ignore or tolerate them. The Bible tells us that we must either fight and/ or flee false teaching and teachers. The Lord will provide for you accordingly in each situation as you follow the Holy Spirit's lead.

However, for the purposes of this article we'll narrow the focus to something much more personal; the way you live your life for Christ by what you do and say on a daily basis. In an environment  increasingly influenced by the spirit of apostasy, we must constantly be on our guard against gradual erosions of our faith. It can sneak in on us unawares, especially when we get caught up in all the busyness and daily activities of the world. That's when we can forget we do not belong to this world and so sometimes fail to honor Christ all we do and say, even the small ordinary things.  In reality, the stronger the believer, the more subtle the temptation. The Enemy becomes sneakier, more deceptive,  and disguises sin even more so as normal and acceptable for us to do. The truth is, in an apostate environment, many sins are no longer considered sins, or at the very least they are thought of as no big deal, easily overlooked and forgiven by God, minor infractions that "all" Christians do! These "little sins" stand as giant boulders before us, blocking our path to further spiritual growth and hampering our ability to communicate the Gospel to others. We must remind ourselves, that for these same "little sins", Jesus was nailed on the cross so that you and I might be forgiven.

Let me give you a simple example one such "little sin". One which, sadly, is being accepted, and even practiced more and more by Christians.

Recently, while I was working out in a public gymnasium, I began speaking to a couple of non-Christian friends  about how the Lord had answered a prayer for me. Both of these men know that I am a Christian and  were open to listening to what I had to say. As I was standing there trying to make the most of this opportunity, another "christian" walked up and joined the conversation. I wanted to encourage further dialogue about the things of God with these lost men, so I asked the man who had joined us, "How are things going at your church?"  He started blurting out curse words, "Things have all gone to H#@&!"  and " People don't give a D%*#!" 

I glanced over to the two lost men. They were both stepping back and lowering  their heads. I quickly ended the conversation and led the two away in an effort avoid any further damage to the witnessing opportunity.

Both of these men, although non-Christians, are very thoughtful, courteous, respectful and I have never heard either of them use curse words.

With that in mind and the witnessing moment having become tainted,  I must admit that in my fleshly nature I wanted to go back and clean out this so-called church members' mouth by cramming a bar of soap in it. I then wanted to drive down to his church and grab  his pastor by the tie and ask him, "What in the world are you preaching or not preaching to your people?!"  You see, not only was this man attending that church, he was teaching Sunday School there!

After I calmed down a bit, I realized that now I needed to witness to  three men at the gymnasium instead of two!

Now, were these the worst curse words I have ever heard? No. I once was a police officer and was involved with the military and I still practice in a secular competitive sport, so hearing curse words is nothing new or shocking to me.  Actually, compared to what I have heard before, these curse words were fairly common and accepted. There's the problem.  They are so common that they have now become a part of the language and many "church people" casually use them .  During the week, "casual profanity" springs forth from the same mouths which sing songs of praise to the Lord on Sunday mornings.

One of the biggest, if not the biggest way to identify a Christian, is by what comes out of his or her mouth. It's not just the words we speak, but the words we write. The words we share with others either in person, though emails or social networking are the words we use to tell others who we are and what we believe. Christians should act, and actually sound different than non-believers. Yet in today's world, like the old sports saying goes, "It's getting hard to tell the players without a card!" Which team are they on anyway?

Let me illustrate further. A few years ago I had a church friend named "Frank".  Frank was a big man with a beautiful singing voice. He did not drink or smoke and was a charitable Christian in all he did. So we were surprised one day when he came into church and repented for being a bad witness for Christ! Frank worked in a heavy construction type business with many gritty hard men. He was one of the very few Christians at his workplace. One day, he walked into the break room and everyone was laughing at him. So he asked them why? They replied, "Well, we all thought you were a good church boy, but we heard you cussing today, so now we know you are just like one of us!"  Those words struck Frank right in his heart.

He had wanted to sound tough, cool, and savvy. What's the harm in that? It's not like he took the Lord's Name in vain. Besides, "everyone" uses a curse word every now and then and it's a pretty funny joke sometimes, or so he thought. His sense of humor got a reality check from God that day, delivered moreover by  non-believers.  The world is watching  not only what we do, but what we say. Frank cleaned up his language in both his spoken and written words and even his thoughts. Being identified as a witness for Christ among unbelievers  was more important to him than being accepted and indentifying as one of them.  He took to heart God's word when it says,

" Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:29-30)

In an environment where more are falling away every day, we must stand even firmer every day.  Like Frank, let us regroup, let us separate ourselves from anything which affirms apostasy and repent of even the smallest of sins. Let us change our selfish and comfortable habits and publicly stand firm for Christ in the face of opposition and Apostasy. We do this even if some initial criticism comes our way from coworkers, friends, and even sometimes, ironically from our own family and church. But that's ok! They are recognizing a change in us - in you. They are seeing God working in you. Let that be a witness to them of the seriousness of these last days. Stay true to what God has placed in your heart and be obedient. Let the spiritual chips fall where they may and remain on target by keeping your eyes on Jesus.

The Lord says, "Be Holy, because I am Holy" (1 Peter 1:16)

Remnant, continue to fully surrender to the Lord in every aspect of your daily life. Do not settle for less. Allow God to correct you and purify you more and more as the day of Judgment rapidly approaches.  You have been called to be a witness for such a time as this! Make holiness your first priority. Your life is not your own. You belong to Christ.

"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."  (Colossians 4:5-6)
 
For Christ and His Remnant,

Pastor Bruce

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