The Apostate Church
Sometimes it is only when we take some time to reflect on the past that we can see the vastness of the change that has occurred. Take our own kids, for example. We live with them day by day, hour by hour, but we never specifically notice their legs growing longer or their brain maturing. It’s not until they’ve grown up that we think through all the various changes and stages and recognize the enormity of the change. Or take a struggling marriage. Little by little, couples grow apart and possibly turn to others for comfort rather than to each other. It is not until it becomes painfully obvious that the couple stops and wonders how they got to where they are.
All change is like that and enormous change is no exception.
A few years ago, I was talking with my oldest daughter about the many changes that are taking place in the church. She told me that Uncle Dean’s (Pastor Dean Good) series on Jude was so helpful in regards to this subject. Preached in 2009, it gives a great picture of what the church of the last days will look like and gave her much insight.
So I listened. And then I listened another time. And this past week, I’ve listened one more time.
(If you’d like to listen, you will find the series here. Scroll down to the bottom for the first sermon of the series, titled Living in the Midst of the Worldly Church, and then work your way up.)
You see, God doesn’t just leave us wondering what the last days will look like. He actually gives us a picture. And He tells us that as we approach the end of this age, the church will become, by and large, apostate.
So you may be wondering: What does apostate mean, anyway?
Apostate, in this context, means to abandon true, biblical faith.
So, think with me if you will of how this has happened (this is not from the sermon series but from my own reflection of history.). This change has occurred –not over the last five years, not over the last twenty years, but over the last century or more. The change has been so gradual that most of us never took much notice. At first, it was just certain denominations that abandoned biblical faith. Others would soon follow suit. But there was still a core hanging on. For most of the 1900s, there was this core of evangelical, fundamental churches that hung on to sound biblical doctrine.
I was born in the 1960s. By the time I reached high school that core was starting to be carefully and intentionally corroded. But I, along with millions of other believers, had no idea. Now, I can look back and see. The worship battles that took place in churches all over the country were part of that change. As was the “purpose-driven” (or can you say BUSINESS) model for operating a church. The push to move the church’s focus from the Bible to personal experience was not an accident. Neither was the insistence that we must be “relevant” if we were going to reach the lost (a lie from the pit of hell.)
We can probably all look back and see signs of change. Now. We couldn’t see it then. Because we didn’t know.
I remember my youth pastor showing us worldly movies as a “youth activity” in the 80s. And I remember a pastor bringing in the Purpose-Driven church book to the board my husband was serving on. I can see now that many of the “Christian” books I read and the “Christian” music I listened to were filled with mysticism and all other kinds of false (but oh, so subtle) doctrine.
But, as with any change, I couldn’t see it then. It is only in looking back that I can see these signs (and so many others) of a church that was falling into apostasy.
And this is where Pastor Dean’s sermon series was so helpful. Because God gives us a description of this church of the last days. And it matches perfectly to what we have been seeing take place, not only in America but across the world. This simply serves as one more reminder that the time is short. Eschatologically, the mainstream “church” is just where we are told she will be at the end of the age. Remember, this is not the true Church, which is the bride of Christ that contains the remnant of those following the true, biblical faith. This is, rather, an apostate version that uses all the right terms and phrases but is godless.
Titus describes these types of people in chapter 1, verse 16–
They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being [d]abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
Lots of “professions” of salvation but no turning from sin or from the world. This is an indication that a true life transformation has not occurred. When these “professors” gather together in groups and call themselves a church, they make each other comfortable in their worldliness and acceptance of sin. They gladly grab on to the pleasant promises of God’s Word (if they pay attention to the Word at all) but ignore or rationalize away any of the unpleasant parts.
The church of today (almost without exception) is a church focused on self instead of God. It is a church focused on experiences instead of the Bible. It is a church that views discernment and negative words as evil and instead warmly accepts any and all new fodder that has a the label of “Christian”. And it is a church focused on embracing the world instead of separating from the world.
There are few churches left –even the ones we have counted on to be solid– that have stood firm against the tsunami of change that has washed over evangelicalism.
I was struck when I was studying Titus last week. Chapter 1 gives this qualification for church elders: holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
If church elders would have obeyed this scripture, many churches would have been saved. Instead, they were caught up in other trivial matters as the serpent stole his way into the hearts of the churches.
Because of the lateness of the hour, there is no saving the church as a whole. But, with God’s help, you pastors and elders can save your own churches and you moms and dads can save your own families.
So what to do? Jude helps us! Let’s take a look at verses 20-23–
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
22 And on some have compassion, [j]making a distinction; 23 but others save [k]with fear, pulling them out of the [l]fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
First, we must build ourselves up in the faith through prayer. We cannot withstand this Tsunami of apostasy without Bible study and prayer. It is truly our only anchor in this unprecedented and giant wave of change. And we must persevere, keeping ourselves in the love of God through our submission and obedience, as we look for Christ’s return that will take us to our eternal home.
And then we act. We take whatever opportunities God gives us to help. Sometimes that will mean showing compassion on doubters as we take them to the Word and other times it will mean snatching individuals from the serious danger of apostasy. The wisdom of what is needed for each opportunity will only come through walking closely with God through prayer and Bible Study.
So this is what God has told us to do as we navigate these last days. But Jude doesn’t end there. He goes on to give these marvelous words to conclude (verses 24-25)–
24 Now to Him who is able to keep [m]you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
25 To [n]God our Savior,
[o]Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and [p]power,
Both now and forever.
What an amazing reminder that it is God who works in and through us for His glory. And we cannot stumble if He is our guide. And, while our path may be difficult during earth’s final days, the day will come when we will be presented faultless before the throne–only because of Christ’s sacrifice. And then there is this wonderful reminder that the God we serve has all wisdom, glory, majesty, dominion, and power. We are loved and protected by the one and only God of the Universe. It’s an awesome thought.
And so we are not left without counsel and wisdom for where we find ourselves in these days–even if we feel lost and lonely in our own church. As Pastor Dean has said–expect to be persecuted by those who call themselves Christians. True, biblical faith is not and will never be popular (John 15:18-19). True biblical faith stands clearly separated from the world (James 4:4). True, biblical faith grows in holiness (I Peter 1:15-16). And true biblical faith avoids false doctrine (Romans 16:17).
As we compare these things above to the church of today, we can see the tragic departure from true biblical faith. May we unapologetically and courageously follow God’s Word as we strive to walk with God in this unique time of history. Only by God’s grace and mercy will we survive what is ahead. But God is able to keep us from stumbling! He will not forsake us.