What to Do About Apostasy?

Sometime the abundance of false teaching discourages me. On one side are professing Christians claiming freedom in Christ (or dismissing the authority of Scripture) in order to live immoral lives. These individuals claim knowledge of God based on their own intuition—God who is good must be like A because I think A is good. Using this argument, they condone premarital sex, homosexuality, greed, selfishness, pride, and any number of other vices the Bible teaches against.

Of course there is another camp that preaches the importance of holding God to his word. If he said it and you claim it, God has to come through. It’s a formula. Put in your faith, push God’s promise button, and out will come what you want. (When Satan tried this tactic with Jesus, God’s Son answered him by a principle laid out in the Bible: “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST'” [Luke 4:12].)

Apostasy—falling away from the faith—doesn’t stop there. Some fall away because of ignorance—they haven’t learned what the Bible says. As a result they are crushed when trouble comes, perhaps because they expected Christianity to make life easier only to discover it doesn’t.

Jesus spelled this out when he explained the parable of the sower and seed:

The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
– Matthew 13:20-21 (emphasis mine)

Apostasy exists today and seems to be growing. More TV “evangelists” and authors and emergent thinkers spring up every day it seems.

But this past Sunday I heard a sermon that reminded me God told us apostasy would grow.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits
– I Timothy 4:1a

Which takes us to the question under consideration: what to do about apostasy? God through the Apostle Paul, to Timothy again, had the answer:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
– 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Pretty clear: Preach the word. Reprove, rebuke, exhort. And when people turn away, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In other words, people’s response should not dictate what a Christian does or does not do. Some ridicule missionary work. Some mock evangelism. Some denigrate the teaching of the Word of God from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday as passe or irrelevant. Some tear down “preachy Christian messages” in fiction (not because they are poorly executed—that’s another issue—but because they are Christian).

None of those criticisms should keep pastors from preaching, evangelists from evangelizing, missionaries from spreading the gospel, or writers from writing stories with themes consistent with God’s Word.

The believer’s mandate is to make disciples. Apostasy might make it tougher but shouldn’t change the goal.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 11:33 am  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. Hi Rebecca

    If I may be so bold, I think that there is a profound difference between apostasy through ignorance and apostasy through wilful disobedience. The latter is rebellion against God and the former usually rights itself as you journey on in the Christian life and begin to God better (and become horrified by what you used to believe!)

    We are brought up in a culture of relativism but also of fragmentation – we have separation of church and state while believing that truth no longer exists, but only some vaguely defined “real” does. I think we need to be very careful about how much glass we have in our houses and how many stones we have in our hands because I don’t think we have any idea how deeply relativism and separatism infects the church.

    I’m doing some research in physics for the sequel to my new fantasy book, Many-Coloured Land (launched next month in Australia). Because I happen to write in numerical literary form, I also need to make a thematic connection between the mathematical design of my text,the physics I’m using and the symbolism I’m exploring. This is an excellent excuse to spend a great deal of time exploring Hebrew thought. I have a smattering of Hebrew but almost no knowledge of Greek – still I haven’t let that stop me.

    My point is this: I have realised during this research that because our Bible college trained ministers and pastors specialise in Hebrew or Greek but not both, then we have a relativistic, separist culture of our own.

    When was the last time you heard that ‘armor’ and ‘kiss’ are the same word in Hebrew? Or that Paul was thinking just as much one as the other when he wrote about the Armor of God because the pieces of armor he mentions correspond to the kiss of heaven and earth in Psalm 85:10? (I’ve never encountered this before and I only found it because I was following the faint spoor left by the number 111111 – the defining number of Many-Coloured Land – through the New Testament, looking for what was described in medieval times as “the kiss of heaven and earth”. As I have realised the impact of this on the interpretation of Ephesians, I keep getting shivers of awe. The word for ‘submission’ in Hebrew is related to the word for ‘armor’ (and for ‘marriage’) but it has exactly the opposite meaning in Hebrew to the Greek word for submission. (One means ‘lift up’, the other means ‘put down’.)

    I agree with what you’ve said about apostasy but I also believe we are so far from the truth that we ourselves are already, unknowingly, often apostate. You see, the problem I’ve so briefly outlined above is not a matter of a single line in Ephesians: it affects the whole of the New Testament.

    As a minister friend of mine once said, “There should be a line in the Lord’s Prayer – forgive us our heresies as we forgive the heresies of others.”

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  2. This is a tough issue, and certainly one to be approached humbly. I readily agree with Anne that there are parts of our own faith we do not know enough about, or attempt to learn enough. Many of us are content to do a brief skim of familar bible stories and stay in a state of childhood rather than grow to eat the meat of Scripture as mature Christians.

    That fact alone should encourage us to seek more discipleship, not less. Yet I sometimes read those who seem to encourage the opposite. I do believe there are different calls of the Spirit: look at the paths of Elijah compared to Nehemiah, or Esther compared to Ruth. These people were called into different lines of service and were equipped in different ways. However, the call of following God did not change, nor did His calls for obedience, faithfulness, or service.

    As for the fictional viewpoint, sometimes I think there are authors who would be happier with a secular publisher; that does not mean they are not in Christ or their works can not inspire or encourage. I myself loved Madeline L’Engle as a child, and she’s never been considered a quote “Christian” author, even though she has strong spiritual overtones to her Wrinkle in Time series. But if you’re going to write under the specific banner of Christian fiction, it should be reflected in the writing. That’s as much a matter of course as writing for Tor or Harlequien should reflect those specific niche markets.

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  3. Mz. Hamilton: Who is apostate, and what for that apostasy takes, is entirely irrelevant. The verse makes not distinction between apostate people and ideas, why should we? Apostasy is apostasy and must be correct.

    That said, I agree with the general sentiment of your post. However, I should note that the seminary graduates I know are trained in both Greek and Hebrew. I would also like to point out that American Christians-who seem the most prone to apostasy-have a Strong’s Hebrew and Greek on the Internet, and need to get up off their hind-ends and use them. Much apostasy rises out of lazy, inadequate, or incorrectly done Bible study.

    And, maybe should re-evaluate what qualifies a person to interpret the word during a meeting of believers. Much apostasy rises out of people believe what they are told by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

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  4. I do not believe one has to know Hebrew and Greek in order to know God’s Word. It requires a humble, sincere, seeking heart. A heart that says, “God, I desperately want to know you. You are higher and wiser than me; You are the giver of Truth and Life.”

    When we seek God, he will be found. When we seek what he says, he will show us. I think the real question is where is our heart? Do we really want to know God? Is it in a humble place where it will receive God’s instruction?

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  5. Great comments, all. Lots of good thinking here.

    Anne, I agree with you to a point regarding those who are ignorant. When I was a new Christian, and still a child, I was ignorant of Scripture, but that was not an indication of apostasy. It was an indication of immaturity.

    However, when I grew to be an adult and was still ignorant of Scripture, that became a problem, not an understandable condition to handle with patience.

    Thank God He intervened and put me in places that challenged me to be in the Word regularly.

    It is this challenging that I think we need to do for one another. Some believers may genuinely not know that the Bible holds the key to developing their relationship with God, so we should tell them. Their reaction will show their heart.

    So I think Michelle is right about seeking discipleship. Will we always know the “right answer” to everything when someone less conversant with Scripture asks us a question? Yes and no. We can always point to Scripture, but sometimes Scripture can be confusing.

    This is where Morgan’s point is so helpful. When we ask God for wisdom, when we admit our weakness, when we submit to His will and way, He will feed us spiritually. Sometimes that means understanding stuff that once seemed too hard. Sometimes it means saying, I don’t get it, but I trust that God does.

    One more thing, Anne. The idea that Paul may have been making an intentional play on words using a term that could mean “kiss” or “armor” is cool to think about. But Was Paul writing in Hebrew? Was he even speaking in Hebrew? Since he was writing a letter to a church in Asia, I doubt he was.

    Did God’s Spirit inspire the word choice, so that some today might discover this layered implication? Undoubtedly, but I don’t think that means we Need to understand the implications in order to understand the passage about the armor of God.

    But your point illustrates something important, I think. There is so much in the Bible, that we can spend several lifetimes and still not know and understand it all. Which makes it even more imperative that we don’t waste the time we have.

    At some point, if we’re serious about God, we need to become serious about His Word.

    Becky

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  6. Morgan, I would have agreed with you once. But in searching the Scriptures I realised the necessity of knowing the original languages to get at the meaning. I hope that I did that with a humble sincere heart, although I admit sometimes it was because I “felt” something someone in authority had said was significantly wrong. Feelings are often deceptive but they are also an indication of the core beliefs of the heart. So with the question in mind “If I follow this person’s admonition, will I be led astray? Is he leading others astray?” Apostasy begins with a faint twist on Scripture, rarely with a full-on denial.

    Becky, yes Paul was writing in Greek, not Hebrew. But he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, circumcised on the eighth day and so on. There is no such thing as a “play on words” in Hebrew thought. At least not in our modern understanding of wordplay. This is not to suggest that God doesn’t have humour (He certainly does!) but that the way we understand the meaning of words is based on etymology (and this is part and parcel of the Greek rationalist thinking which dominates our culture.) Hebrew understands words that sound alike as having a prophetic kinship that etymology doesn’t acknowledge (for instance when God asks Jeremiah what he sees, gets the answer “an almond tree” and replies, “Yes, I am watching” – the words for “almond” and “watching” sounding alike in Hebrew.)

    My point is that Hebrew does not correspond point-to-point with Greek. There are some concepts that are untranslatable – and that, for a Hebrew thinker, might have taken several paragraphs to unpack. Should we be using a microscope on the Greek text or a telescope?

    Words after all are a living, active creative fire in Hebrew. But as wordsmiths do we treat them that way? Do we look at our own words in this light?

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  7. Anne, I would agree with you that there is a necessity to understand the original languages. My husband is a pastor and knows both Hebrew and Greek and studies the text in the original language so that he can carefully present God’s Word. But I do not believe that God would only allow those who know those languages to understand what his Word says.

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  8. Anne, you said Apostasy begins with a faint twist on Scripture, rarely with a full-on denial. That is so true, and this is the main thrust of my post. I think there are a lot of false teachers who take Scripture out of context or interpret it based on a favorite doctrine, ignoring or explaining away any other passages that contradict their position.

    There is no such thing as a “play on words” in Hebrew thought. By the phrase “play on words” I simply meant the intentional use of a word that could be understood to mean two different things (I didn’t realize it carried an exclusive humorous connotation). Clearly, even in our English translations, Scripture makes use of double meanings.

    My point is that Hebrew does not correspond point-to-point with Greek. There are some concepts that are untranslatable – and that, for a Hebrew thinker, might have taken several paragraphs to unpack. Should we be using a microscope on the Greek text or a telescope? We should be using prayer.

    I’ve heard these arguments before, Anne, that we today are infected by the Greek mind and cannot think the way the Hebrew writers thought. That line of reasoning (quite Greek, I believe 😉 ), frankly, is immaterial because it does not take God into account. His Spirit, after all, is the true Author of the Bible. He is the One who opens our eyes.

    Jesus Himself said that many of those Hebrews listening to Him as He taught among them would hear and not understand. Because their thinking was too Greek? No, because their thinking was too rebellious.

    That’s why I think Morgan’s point is so important. If we want to understand what God has revealed in His word, all we need to do is ask, in humility and faith, believing that God can shed the light we lack.

    Why else would child-like faith be the most necessary component for a person to come to Christ? If knowing God was a complicated matter, understood only by scholars, why then did Jesus include such unschooled men as Peter among His disciples?

    Becky

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