The End-Time Apostasy

Dr. Thomas Ice

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But the Spirit explicitly says thatin later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention todeceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,

1Timothy 4:1

The free-fall ofAmerican evangelical Christianity into various kinds of apostasy in the lastcouple of decades has been breathtaking. The last twenty-five years have witnessed the greatest change in theAmerican Church in her entire history. Where are things headed? What does this mean in light of the Bible's prophesied plan for thechurch age?

What Is Apostasy?

TheEnglish meaning of apostasy means "the abandonment orrenunciation of a religious belief"[1]or simply to depart from one's faith. Wikipedia says that apostasy "isthe formal abandonment or renunciation of one's religion, especially if themotive is deemed unworthy."[2] Thus, an apostate is one who moves awayfrom something that he formerly held. There are two words used in the Greek New Testament forapostasy. First is apostasia, from which we get our English word apostasy. The noun, apostasia is a compound of the two Greek words apo "from" and istmi which means "to stand," hence "to stand away from,"or more smoothly put, "to depart from." Next, is the verb piptwhich simply means "to fall," or "fall away from."[3] When used abstractly of "falling awayfrom the faith," for example, it fits into the category of apostasy.

Whensurveying the New Testament teaching on apostasy, it becomes apparent that itis one of the most frequently mentioned subjects. Yet, rarely do evangelicals preach, teach, or talk aboutthis frequently mentioned biblical topic. There are a large volume ofScripture passages in the Epistles alone that are devoted to the issue ofapostasy: Romans 1:18-32; 10;16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15; 13:5; Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-12; Philippians3:2, 18-19; Colossians 2:4-23; I Timothy 1:3-7; 4:1-3; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy2:11-26; 3:1-9; 4:15; Titus 1:10-16; Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:12-6:12;10:26-31; 12:14-17; 1 Peter 3:19-20; 2 Peter 2:1-22; 3:3-10; I John 2:18-23;3:4-12; 4:1-6; 2 John 9; Jude 3-23. Apostasy and its evil effects provide the main message of such books asGalatians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, and Revelation. Further, Paul warned the Ephesians elders of apostasy duringhis final meeting with them after spending three years teaching them (Acts20:17–38).

Insummarizing New Testament descriptions of apostasy, they fall in two broadcategories. First, apostasy relatesto the area of doctrine. Specifically, an apostate is one who moves away from the sound doctrineof the New Testament to a false or unhealthy teaching that does not line upwith the Bible. Second, apostasyrelates to behavior. Anyone whoprofesses to be a believer and does not follow the New Testament ethic isviewed as an apostate. Simply put,apostasy has to do with word and deed.

The ChurchAge

Apartfrom a few exceptions, the church age is not a time of propheticfulfillment. Instead, prophecywill be fulfilled after the rapture, in relation to God's dealing with thenation of Israel in the seven-year tribulation. The current church age in which believers live today doesnot have a specific prophetic countdown or timetable, as does Israel and her 70weeks of years prophecy (Daniel 9:14-27). The New Testament does, however, provide general traits thatcharacterize the church age.

Evenspecific prophecy that is fulfilled during the church age relates to God'sprophetic plan for Israel and not directly to the church. For example, the prophesied destructionof Jerusalem and her Temple in a.d.70 relates to Israel (Matthew 23:38; Luke 19:43-44; 21:20-24). Thus it is not inconsistent thatprophetic preparations relating to Israel are already underway with thereestablishment of Israel as a nation in 1948 even though we still are livingin the church age.

Thechurch age is not characterized by historically verifiable prophetic events,except her ending with the rapture. But the general course of this age has been prophesied and can provide ageneral overview of what can be expected during this age.

The LastDays

SometimesChristians read in the Bible about the "last days," "end times," etc., and tendto think that all of these phrases all of the time refer to the samething. This is not the case. Just as in our own lives, there aremany endings. There is the end ofthe work day, the end of the day according to the clock, the end of the week,the end of the month, and the end of the year. Just because the word "end" is used does not mean that italways refers to the same time. "End" is restricted and precisely defined when it is modified by "day,""week," etc.

TheBible teaches that this present age will end with the rapture, followed by thetribulation which will end with the second coming of Messiah to the earth. Thus, we must distinguish between the"last days" of the church age and the "last days" of Israel's tribulation. The following passages refer to the endof the church age: 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 1Peter 1:5, 20; 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 18.

Apostasyand The Last Days

TheNew Testament teaches us to expect that apostasy will arise within the churchthroughout the church age, but especially during the last days of thechurch. In fact, guarding againstapostasy is one of the top priorities that the New Testament assigns for apastor and the spiritual leadership of a local church to be engaged. Yet, I have found over the years thatabout the only ones who take these passages seriously are those who also take aliteral interpretation of prophecy seriously. Generally, there are some exceptions, one has to believestrongly in the biblical teaching of premillennialism to be engaged inpracticing the New Testament warnings concerning various kinds ofapostasy. Most withinevangelicalism want to be positive, which is an apostate mentality, instead ofbiblically truthful about issues.

Thereare seven major passages that warn of the dangers latent during the church'slast days (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 4:3-4; James 5:1-8; 2 Pet. 2:1-22;3:3-6; Jude 1-25). Interestingly,virtually all of these comments come from the epistles written shortly beforethe death of each Apostle writing (i.e., during the last days of the variousApostles), as if to highlight their warnings about apostasy in the last days ofthe current church age. Every oneof these passages emphasizes over and over again that the great characteristicof the final time of the church will be that of apostasy.

Laodiceais the seventh church of Revelation 2—3 and likely represents thecondition of the final stage of the church. Laodicea is clearly the most apostate of the seven churches. In fact, our Lord threatens to spewthis self-sufficient church out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16) and he is pictured asoutside of His own church knocking (Rev. 3:20). Individual believers within this church are not threatened,but it is clear that this church is primarily made up of apostates, who are nottrue believers. The apostasy ofthe church in our day is preparing Christendom for her role during thetribulation as the Great Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17:1-7) that will be usedby the Antichrist to gain world power. Dr. Pentecost notes: "This condition at the close of the age is seen tocoincide with the state within the Laodicean Church, before which Christ muststand to seek admission. In viewof its close it is not surprising that the age is called an "evil age" inScripture."[4]

TheNew Testament pictures the condition within the professing church at the end ofthe age by a system of denials.

• Denial of God—Luke17:26; 2 Timothy 3:4-5

• Denial of Christ—1John 2:18; 4:3; 2 Peter 2:6

• Denial of Christ'sreturn—2 Peter 3:3-4

• Denial of the faith—1Timothy 4:1-2; Jude 3

• Denial of sounddoctrine—2 Timothy 4:3-4

• Denial of theseparated life—2 Timothy 3:1-7

• Denial of Christianliberty—1 Timothy 4:3-4

• Denial of morals—2Timothy 3:1-8,13; Jude 18

• Denial of authority—2Timothy 3:4[5]

Dr.Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, characterizes thelast days apostasy for the church in the following way:

A very extensive body of Scripture bears on the last days forthe Church. Reference is to arestricted time at the very end of, and yet wholly within, the presentage. Though this brief periodimmediately precedes the great tribulation and in some measure is a preparationfor it, these two times of apostasy and confusion—though incomparable inhistory—are wholly separate the one from the other. Those Scriptures which set forth thelast days for the Church give no consideration to political or world conditionsbut are confined to the Church itself. These Scriptures picture men as departing from the faith (1 Tim.4:1-2). There will be amanifestation of characteristics which belong to unregenerate men, though it isunder the profession of "a form of godliness" (cf. 2 Tim.3:1-5). The indication is that,having denied the power of the blood of Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 3:5 with Rom. 1:16;1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2 Tim. 4:2-4), the leaders in these forms of righteousness willbe unregenerate men from whom nothing more spiritual than this could proceed(cf. 1 Cor. 2 :14).[6]

Conclusion

Theclear course of the last days for the church consists of constant warnings tothe believer to be on guard against doctrinal defection, known asapostasy. Scripture indicates thatapostasy will characterize Christendom during the time when the rapture willtake place. Thus we need to besober and alert to the many ways in which the current evangelical church inAmerica is sinking into apostasy, lest we too become caught up in things thatare not pleasing to our Lord. Maranatha!

ENDNOTES



[1] According tomy Apple Macintosh computer, Dictionary,2.0.1.

[2] Wikipedia, accessed on April 21, 2008.

[3] WalterBauer, Frederick William Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, AGreek-English Lexicon of the New Testament,3rd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), electronic edition.

[4] J. Dwight Pentecost,Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), p. 155.

[5] Pentecost, Thingsto Come, p. 155.

[6] Lewis SperryChafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols.(Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1952), vol. IV, p. 375.