The Great Apostasy is not the general apostasy we're experiencing now
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Paul is talking to the Thessalonians about the order of events leading to the revealing of the antichrist, which will happen in the Great Tribulation. He is speaking of a specific event, "the apostasy" which is the antichrist standing in the temple and declaring himself God.
General apostasy has always been in existence and always will be. GotQuestions defines apostasy in two ways,
(1) a falling away from key and true doctrines of the Bible into heretical teachings that proclaim to be “the real” Christian doctrine, and (2) a complete renunciation of the Christian faith, which results in a full abandonment of Christ.
Even while Jesus lived, and while the apostles worked, there were apostates. Judas was apostate. He could be seen as the apostate type #2. His apostasy had been well hidden but he defected in the end and the rebellion hidden in his heart became clear. In another case of mass apostasy, when Jesus began to teach hard things, "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:66).
After Jesus' ascension there were apostates, too. Demas was an apostate. He could be seen as the apostate type #1. In Philemon 1:4 Paul called Demas a 'fellow worker'. By 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul said Demas loved the world and had departed.
So THE apostasy in Thessalonians' Great Tribulation times is not the same as general apostasy now. However, Jesus said the time of the end (ascension to rapture) will be as birth pangs, and birth pangs get worse as time goes on. Paul taught that evil men and seducers will grow from bad to worse. (2 Timothy 3:13). John MacArthur said last week, "Cultural Christianity is dying at warp speed". In 2006 he preached of Americans-
We've rejected God. He gave us revelation, we rejected it. We rationalize it and call ourselves an elite educated advanced culture and we invent religion as if it's an indicator of how high we have ascended when the fact of the matter is we're going down at warp speed. We have abandoned God and God has returned the favor.So as the birth pangs grow and the world succumbs to evil, even general apostasy is getting worse. Jesus warned that even churches could have apostates in them, (Matthew 13:26), and that whole churches would be apostate, as seen in the following Revelation verse.
Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, Behold! I stand at the door and knock. (Revelation 3:20). The verse was an actual warning, to an actual church at Laodicea which had become a cultural, Jesus-less church. The verse is also a warning for us today. There are congregations (local "churches") where Jesus isn't inside it at all. MacArthur on Laodicea
This is an unsaved church. In fact, if there were any believers in this church they aren't even referred to in the letter at all. It is a church that is characterized by lukewarmness which becomes a metaphor for being non-saved people. Laodicea has the grim distinction of being among all seven letters the only one in which Christ has nothing good to say. It is unmitigated, unspared condemnation. There is in this church apparently absolutely no redeeming feature. This is the unsaved, unregenerate false church.How could it be that churches exist where there are no believers at all? This is the point of today's essay. There are. Believe it. More and more churches and whole denominations are showing themselves apostate.
In Charisma News last week, Jennifer LeClaire wrote,
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Apostasy Rising: 4 Denominations In Less Than a Week Defy God's Word
The UCC, [United Church of Christ] which considers itself a mainline Protestant denomination—claiming over 1 million members and about 5,200 congregations in the U.S.—proudly announced it will serve as a major sponsor of the Gay Games. The UCC will now go down in Christian history as the first major denomination to sponsor the homosexual Olympics when the games roll into Cleveland, Ohio, in August.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) last week voted to allow its ministers to perform gay weddings in states where it's legal. On Tuesday, Methodist Pastor Frank Schaefer, who was defrocked for officiating his son's gay wedding, was fully reinstated and the Moravians voted to ordain gay clergy. My research shows there's a long and growing list of gay-affirming denominations, including the Affirming Pentecostal Church International.
There comes a tipping point where the weight of apostasy drowns all those who are in the church. I thought this next article was interesting, reporting on the collapse of the middle class pastor
Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy
Barringer’s story is becoming increasingly typical as Protestant churches nationwide cut back on full-time, salaried positions. Consequently, many new pastors either ask friends and family for donations (a time-honored clerical tradition) or take on other jobs. Working two jobs has become so common for clergy members, in fact, that churches and seminaries have a euphemistic term for it: bi-vocational ministry. Working multiple jobs is nothing new to pastors of small, rural congregations. But many of those pastors never went to seminary and never expected to have a full-time ministerial job in the first place. What’s new is the across-the-board increase in bi-vocational ministry in Protestant denominations both large and small, which has effectively shut down one pathway to a stable—if humble—middle-class career.[Side note: seminary training does help & is important]
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place-- unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)
The removing of the church’s lampstand meant Christ’s Spirit would depart and leave them on their own, which in turn would result in them being as Laodicea (Laodicea means “men’s opinions ruling in place of God”). Loyalty to Christ can and often is replaced by loyalty to an organization, a church, and its leaders, substituting new rules and interpretations for Biblical truths. (Let Us Reason)Let Us Reason continues on the apostasy seen in the Laodicean church:
In modern times this falling away had started in liberal seminaries who sent teachers out to unsuspecting pulpits teaching their liberal ideas-- those who promote homosexuality, who ordain people that deny the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth and the essentials of the faith.
Then the new age movement began to emerge and infiltrate the Church with kingdom dominion theology and placing subjective experience over the authority of the objective Word of God. Then the homosexual movement came through the Episcopal church along with feminists who disdain God as father. Now this apostasy has become something so widespread it encompasses most things that are considered sacred. Affecting almost all denominations to some degree. Doctrines are distorted and abandoned, controlling shepherds are in charge, teaching coveting, wealth and perfect health as God’s will to all. They approve of divorce and accept homosexuality.Warp speed...
The apostasy of professing Christianity has increased with a momentum that is stunning to those watching its growth. It has gone off the Richter scale. In the absence of the lampstand (the presence of Christ), devils have stepped in and taken over in many churches. This falling away has certainly begun and is picking up momentum each year, month, and week. Whole movements have arisen that draw huge crowds by catering to the natural mans desires and prey on his propensity of being deceived by the supernatural. They are being offered the very things Christ refused and warned against in his teachings.THE Apostasy discussed in Thessalonians will be one, stunning and undeniable event. We're not there. General apostasy IS rising however. Many a church member awake one day to look around the pews, and bemoan that they hardly know any people anymore, their church doesn't look like it once did, and it teaches unrecognizable doctrines. The choir disappeared and instead there is an ever growing praise band. Hymns drifted away and we now stand around uncomfortably and look at a screen while a few people sing doctrine-less contemporary songs. The preacher teaches gospel-lite, or worse, prosperity gospel. Sometimes he seems to be preaching rightly but the sermons in fact are all plagiarized. Sometimes he is a she.
Apostasy is an interior thing. It is in the heart and we can't see it right away, most times. Apostasy that looks like this:
How does it happen? Incrementally. Satan takes an inch at a time. (Hebrews 2:1). He is patient, relentless and laser-focused. This means we have to guard each and every move away from the center line of the narrow road. We have to deal with each and every incremental move. And yet we should display the discernment to know which battles to pick and when, and how to raise them. This is not because there are some battles best left alone, no. It's because the Holy Spirit has some people working on some battles and other people working on others.
The bible also says to treat our leaders with respect and double honor, and not to exalt ourselves nor think of ourselves more highly than we ought. It's a delicate balancing act, discernment.
Too often, people say, 'well that's too small, too petty. I'll let it go'. But you have given the camel a nose-hold under the tent. The pew member sitting next to you carrying a Jesus Calling book...the woman in your Sunday School class who watches Joel Osteen, the deacon who doesn't think occasional porn harms anybody, the teenager living with her boyfriend or girlfriend, the brother in the men's group who wants a divorce...all these need to be addressed.
In the classic novel Watership Down, the rabbit motto was "One cloud feels lonely."
Do you think satan will let one apostasy alone when he can have two? Do you think he will let two apostasies alone when he can have four? Before you know it, the sky has been obliterated and there are so many clouds you don't know where one ends and another begins. It gets dark real fast.
So far we have distinguished the prophesied coming event of The Apostasy from the ongoing General Apostasy of the Church Age. We have seen that apostasy in general is rising. We have looked at the general apostasy's increased speed among the global churches here on earth.
But as with all things about Jesus, there is always hope. His church will never fail! The gates of hell will not prevail against it! Mathew 16:18). though there may be more churches that are Laodicean than Philadelphian, there are Philadelphian churches in the world. The church at Philadelphia was one of only two churches in Revelation not to receive one word of condemnation! (Rev 2:8-11, and Rev. 3:7-13).
Jesus has a pure Bride and she will never be spotted. A true believer can never go astray permanently. He has us in His hand. His work on the cross atoned for our sin, and we are washed in His blood and have received His righteousness. He has made us His children!
Though it may seem dim and dark in your corner of the world, Jesus did commend the church at Smyrna for persevering in persecution, tribulation and poverty. There are true believers in the world who are not apostasizing, who keep His word and do not deny His name (Rev 3:10). We look forward to the glorious day when He calls us home, either by rapture or resurrection, and we meet Him in the air, a purified Bride He has made worthy.
Meanwhile, pray for fellow believers that they do not apostasize. Encourage! Edify! Study the word so that you will have a good word to share with a fainting brother. There is nothing like the word of God to revive a failing heart. His peace prevails, always.