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Apostasy Explained

We introduced the very serious subject of apostasy in our last episode.

What is it?  Simply put it is a wilful abandoning of the Christian faith.

Here is what Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible says about it, “Turning against God, as evidenced by abandonment and repudiation of former beliefs. The term generally refers to a deliberate renouncing of the faith by a once sincere believer rather than a state of ignorance or mistaken knowledge. Apostasy is distinguished from heresy (denial of a part of the faith), and from transfer of allegiance from one religious body to another within the same faith. Also, it is possible to deny the faith, as Peter once did, and then at a later time reaffirm it.” (James D. Price and Luder G. Whitlock Jr., “Apostasy,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 130.)

If you have been a Christian for any length of time you likely have witnessed apostasy occur even if you didn’t have a term for it. You watched a person who seemed to be so passionate about Jesus and the gospel, one day, simply discard it all and go away into a life of blasphemy, mocking, and sin.

Having experienced the joy and glory of salvation is not the same thing as being actually regenerated by the Holy Spirit and placed into the Body of Christ.

Experience may feel real but it does not make the experience actually real. And this can be quite troublesome to people whose faith rests so much upon experience rather than biblical truth. 

We cannot ever determine the validity of a person’s faith based upon only their experiences. Nor do we base it merely upon their declarations of hope and faith in biblical truth.  Rather it is a both/and proposition.

 Mk. 4:1-17 "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”

Apostasy happens and it happens all the time. Sometimes it explodes in a person’s life in a very violent way, such as a flagrant sin.  But often it is the slow creep of many seemingly small decisions where a person compromises on this bit of truth and that bit of truth, until there is no truth to be found.

Something that is quite important and yet often really misunderstood by people in the church. One common misunderstanding is that it is the same as church discipline, but it isn’t. 

When a person is taken to the final step in the discipline process they are sent out from the church in the sense that they are treated as an unbeliever, one who never came to faith.  But repentance is possible and that is key.  

With apostasy, repentance is not possible -- something we will explain in the next couple of podcasts. Apostasy is much more severe, and is a wilful act of rejection of the faith by a person.

A person under discipline is called by many to be a back-slidden Christian.  What makes the discipline process so serious is that we cannot tell who is back-slidden and who is actually an apostate.  Only time will tell.

We also noted that apostasy was the sad norm for the nation of Israel and one only needs to read the Old Testament to realize that fact.

In the earthly ministry of Jesus apostasy again happened all the time.  

We looked at passages where people claimed to love and follow Him, only to depart and deny him later on. The most glaring example of this is Judas. It is noteworthy that Jesus spoke much of the reality of apostasy in his earthly teaching.

So why do we not hear much of it today?

- Vagueness in theology for so many.

- A disconnect between life and belief.

- Church membership is played down or misunderstood.

- It is not attractional.

- One’s faith is seen as private and personal, rather than corporate and public.

- A post-modern sense of truth in so many, making absolute truth hard to accept.

In this episode we want to begin to look at the bible passages that speak of the idea of apostasy.  We are going to devote an entire episode to what are often the “scary” passages in Hebrews, but today we will focus on many other passages.

Key passages:

Acts 20:25-32

"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

Here is such an important passage for so many different reasons.

It helps us see the uniqueness of the role of the elders for the care of the church.  Paul doesn’t call the whole church to see him; rather, he summons only the elders. He also uses in this passage, the terms connected to the overseer/bishop and shepherd/pastor.  In doing so we see that they are different terms for the same office.

We also see that the elders are responsible not for church growth, programs, or visitation; rather, their primary responsibility is to guard and feed the people of God.

We see the deity of Jesus Christ because he speaks of the “church of God” and then says which He purchased with his blood, but for our purposes we want to point out what he warns the men to be on guard for.

He says that he knows, not merely suspects or fears, but knows that false teachers shall come into the church.  Not only this, but even from among the elders shall false men arise, which is quite sobering to hear.

What is the method used by these false men of God? Simple, it is false teaching, or as Paul puts it, “perverse things.” Finally, what is the goal that they have?  To draw disciples away to instead follow them.

We have here some helpful things to note regarding apostasy.

The apostate will be one who holds to false, corrupt doctrine.  This means people must hold fast to the faith, that body of truth, one delivered to the Church.

This means also that the leaders are to be exceedingly diligent in watching over the doctrine of the elders and those who become teachers.

It also tells us that disciples in the church are much like the disciples who followed after Jesus.  Some are genuine and some are false. Their claims are important, but the most important quality is that they remain with Christ.  It is noteworthy that those deceived by these false teachers become disciples of them.

Finally, we see that apostates can take on a couple of different appearances.  The first is they are false teachers, leaders in the church. The second is they are followers who desire the false teachings of others. But the end result is the same, apostasy.

Romans 16:17-18

"Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting."

Paul is pleading with this church in Rome to be diligent in a key area of the life of any church.  There are those who will come in and create problems through divisiveness and creating snares or points of living and doctrine that trip up people. 

It is worth pointing out that their words and actions are contrary to the teaching taught to the church there. Again we see the necessity of sound doctrine in the church to help with protecting the health of the people.

The people of any church ought to be weighing what they hear from people on the scales of good teaching.

This is one of the main problems we have with the type of light-weight teaching and preaching that happens in churches today. They are slick in production. They are cleverly preached.  They are easily understood. But they do not equip nor protect the people. 

The teachers and shepherds should create an unwelcome environment for false teachers and problem people. Those who wish to whisper lies and create false standards and redirect good thinking to broken thinking should find themselves corrected more times than not.

Though these are people claiming to be slaves of Jesus Christ, and yet, they are not.  In reality they are slaves of their own appetites and desires.

Notice finally that they are people who deceive those who are unsuspecting. And the way they do it is by smooth and flattering speech.

These are false believers, but they also will draw away false believers.

We’ve seen this in action time and time again.  People come in. They talk big about how much they love the church.  How happy they are to be there.

Slowly they gather people around them and then they begin to speak against some certain teaching that is given by us. They do it carefully and slyly. But what they are doing is trying to create a suspicion in the minds of those people.

This is why we are not willing to let people come into the church and have any sort of influence through leadership until they have been there for quite awhile.  It is why we are so slow in bringing on elders as well. It is simply protection for once the wolf is loose among the sheep the damage is immense.

The command given in verse 17 is very simple---avoid them.  They are not your friend. They don’t need a listening ear. They don’t need patience.  Once you see what they are doing you avoid them.

That command is given to the church as a whole for that is usually one of the only things the average member can do.  But for the leaders in the church, the commands of Acts 20 come into play. Guard the people from these sort of folks.

Galatians 1:6-9

"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;  which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!"

The apostate will always stumble over the gospel.  It may not show itself right away, but in the end, that is what will be the final proof of their apostasy.

Usually the beginnings of apostasy are found in disagreements with other points of doctrine. In our experience there is often an unusual interest in alternative views on doctrine that were raised throughout church history.  Not false, but not sound doctrine.

For some, that is where they will stop, and because they are truly in Christ.  So they will carry with them these unique ideas, but they will not deny the gospel.

For the apostate though, these unique doctrines merely get the downward slide moving.

The problem in the Galatian church is two-fold.  The first is that there are those who are preaching a false gospel.  The second, is that the church is allowing them to do so.

So we again come back to the need for a love of sound doctrine within the entire church, but also the need for faithful shepherds who guard the access to the pulpit.

Not everyone who desires a voice in the church should have one.

1 Timothy 1:6-7

"For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,

 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions."

The apostate is again seen in becoming enthralled with foolish and useless doctrines.  Often then they want to become teachers within the church.

Nothing new is seen in this passage so it is sufficient to again reflect on the need to examine the content of anyone who teaches.  And when things are not proper, the leaders of the church need to act.

1 John 2:17-20

"The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know."

John makes a blatant frontal attack on those who are teaching false things in the church here.  Up to now he has contrasted between truth and error, now he openly calls these people antichrists.

Notice in vs 17 this age/world is passing away.  But now, in vs 18, the last hour has come. And he introduces someone called “antichrist.”  It helps to understand there are two different sets of antichrists in view.

What stands out about the Antichrist?

One has not come, seems to make him unique. In fact the whole way it is written seems to point to a specific person who is this one called “antichrist.”

Also, this antichrist is one of whom they have “heard.”  It was part of the Christian message taught to them. There seems to be a decent amount of anticipation in this person/being. Revelation 13 deals with this person.

What about antichrists (plural)?

Many have appeared already.  Because of that fact the reality that they are in the last hour is made true. Whoever these persons are, they are similar, but distinct and subordinate from the antichrist just mentioned.

As a side note, the Apostle John is the only one who uses this term. (2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7)

The term literally means those who are opposed to Christ. This fits for anyone who comes with a false Christology and it underscores why we must have sound theology.

A right understanding of Christ must be taught, and there can be no tolerance of anything less.

Vs 19

Who is the primary focus here? [antichrists]

What application about them can we make?

They went out from the midst of the church either through discipline or by open apostasy. Note also the obvious purpose at the end of the verse:

While they were “of us” they looked like they really were, but only when they went out and remained out did they prove that they never really were of us.

What possible other applications?

A mark of a true Christian is that they remain “in the Church.” One cannot separate being “in” the Church and being “in” Christ. Belonging, truly belonging, to a local church is critical to one’s spiritual health and claim of faith.

This also gives weight to the idea of church membership, why? Because there assumes to be a way to know that a person is “of us.”

Also assumes that there is a way to know that they are now not “of us.”

And finally, it assumes that if you are not “of us” in one place you are not “of us” in any place.

2 Peter 2:1,ff

1:4-11 is the context.  This flows from true prophetic word in vss 12ff.

“But” in 2:1.  Note the harsh, building language that occurs to the end of the chapter.

 The whole of Jude.

Again note the language—no pity.

The antidote in vss 20-21. Command is “keep yourself in the love of God.”

The how is in the participles of vs 20 and 21. Notice it is to keep yourself in sound doctrine.

To pray in the Holy Spirit is not some silly ecstatic babbling, it is a prayer that is in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, meaning, in keeping with the will of the Holy Spirit rather than your own agenda, and live a life anticipating the return of Christ.


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