We remember receiving a phone call from a young man who was somewhat distraught about a piece of literature of ours he had read. He wanted us to explain what we meant by “apostasy,” for “his church” had never referred to such. It was something quite unknown to him. If one was once saved by the grace of God, then he could not understand how one could be an apostate.
When we use the word “apostasy,” we are referring to both doctrinal matters and spiritual matters. John addressed those who were doctrinal apostates, for they denied that the Son of God had come in the flesh (1 Jn 4:2,3). Paul even prophesied “that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tm 4:1). But in addition to apostasy from sound doctrine, there is the apostasy of lethargy. Some simply grow indifferent to the gospel they obeyed.
When Christians lose their first love, it is an apostasy without emotional pain, if it involves the majority. Lukewarmness often takes place over decades, not years. Once it is in its final stages, there is usually no turning back. The church in Ephesus lost their first love, while they retained their doctrinal purity (Rv 2:2). But they had fallen into the apostasy of losing their first love (Rv 2:4). The angel to the church mandated that John write in reference to the Ephesian Christians, “Remember from you have fallen, and repent” (Rv 2:5).
The church in Laodicea simply cooled. “I know your works,” Jesus said of them from heaven, “that you are neither cold nor hot” (Rv 3:15). The problem with being neither exited about living the gospel, or becoming totally indifferent, is that one feels comfortable in his self-deception. But in such a state of mediocrity, Jesus judged the Laodicean disciples: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rv 3:16).
The majority of the disciples in Ephesus Laodicea had gone after the consensus, and eventually the majority created in their minds a concept of religiosity that was “fallen.” The majority vote kept them on the path that would eventually lead to their candlestick of influence being removed.
It is frightening that in matters of faith, the creation of a new religion often begins as a zealous call for a restoration. Such is a noble plea, one that is surely taken from the prophets of Israel who were called to the old paths. The Lord pled with apostate Israel, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls” (Jr 6:16). But the majority of the people responded, “We will not walk in it” (Jr 6:16).
We have noticed in the history of the prophets of the Old Testament that the prophets always showed up too late. The apostasy of the majority had gone so far that the people as a whole could not turn back. God sent the prophets, therefore, more to judge the people than to turn them from their apostasy. He knew that it was too late. But He also wanted the people to know that where they were headed was their own fault, not His. The pleading prophets, nevertheless, were raised up in times when the majority of Israel was on its way out and into captivity. Their pleas, therefore, were only futile efforts to turn a people from the consequences of their spiritual demise.
We wonder that maybe God sent the prophets to an apostate Israel only for our benefit, “for whatever things were written before were written for our learning” (Rm 15:4). And then we recall what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now these things happened to them as an example” (1 Co 10:11). God wants us to continually rehearse the points of Israel’s apostasy least we finds ourselves going through the same door on our way out from God. If this was the reason for the call of the noble prophets of God in times of old, then we are listening. We are learning. We are into our Old Testament lest we follow Israel’s example into apostasy.
The church throughout history has gone astray on many occasions. We have church history books that are loaded with illustrations of how church went wrong. We are also listening and learning from our past, lest we are doomed to relive the fallen of history as Ephesus and Laodicea.
In view of Israel’s slow demise into apostasy on many occasions, and scores of church history books that have mapped out so many examples of the same, we would be less than naive not to believe that the church again could move into ways of creating a god after our own desires and a religion that pleases our indifferent behavior in living the incarnational gospel of the Son of God. We have reasons for believing this.
Our postulations are not simply speculations conjectured from hypothetical situations. Fifty years of experience must not be ignored because we have lived through so many situations, as well as witnessed trends that do not appear in a vanishing moment. Trends take decades to develop, and thus, only those who have lived through trends in apostasy have been around long enough to know that we have lost our first love and have need “to remember from where we have fallen” (Rv 2:5). The fact that there are few among us who sense the loss of our first love, or the indifference of lukewarmness, is evidence that many of our leaders today realize that we have “lost our first love.”
Since we now live in an era of little focus on the gospel, we know that we are in trouble. Now do not miss our point. All religions that fall under the umbrella of “Christianity” focus on Jesus, the Son of God. It is a matter of priorities and what we believe is the primary function of our faith by which we feel justified before God. When faith becomes either heritage (traditions) based, or emotionally founded, then the truth of the gospel becomes a secondary foundation. If a particular movement is legal based, it too is on its way from the primary foundation of God’s grace. Both heritage and legal religions are based on the self-sanctifying efforts of the adherents. The legalist finds comfort in law, whereas the traditionalist finds comfort in obedience to the heritage of the fathers. The adherents of both systems of religion find contentment in the flow of the majority, and thus, they justify their existence by the behavior of the majority at any one time in history.
And then we must add what many consider the most important restoration of modern times. This movement falls under what is claimed to be a true return to Pentecost. The movement is known primarily as Pentecostalism, but in definition it is a movement to experiential emotionalism. The experiential restorationist finds comfort in his own feelings. It is a self-sanctifying movement that finds its foundation in the emotional experiences of men. But it too would be considered with the legal and traditional religionists. All three “systems” of religion are self-righteous oriented. They focus on the performance of the individual as a foundation for approval in the eyes of God. And thus, all three are self-sanctifying religions that take our minds off the gospel of God’s grace as the primary means by which we are justified before Him of all sin.
Gospel is grace oriented. Gospel produces a faith in the righteousness of God that was revealed at the cross. Gospel promotes faith in the total sanctification of the cross. Gospel says that we are totally sanctified by Jesus’ blood, and thus justified by His blood as opposed to our performance of either law or traditions, and especially our experiential emotionalism. Gospel says we are justified before God on the basis of Jesus’ performance on the cross, not through our efforts to self-justify ourselves through either perfect law-keeping, faithful keeping of our fathers’ traditions, or the emotional outburst of ourselves. The gospel focuses our attention first on God, not ourselves.
Because the gospel takes our minds off ourselves and places our focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, we are motivated “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Ep 3:20). The gospel of God’s grace through Jesus stirs us out of indifference. It lifts us out of the pits of lukewarm religiosity and spurs us on to restore our first love that was lost. We must call for a restoration of the gospel as the total focus of our behavior. When we start walking in gratitude of what He did for Us, we will stop walking alone on the performance of our own energies.
[Next in series: Dec. 19]