Presented at the Pre-Trib Study Group Conference, December 2005
THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT that we are today in the midst of widespread apostasy. By that term we mean: departure from the faith once for all delivered to the saints, for which we are to earnestly contend.1 I believe that apostates include two types of people:
1) Those who have knowingly turned completely from Christ and no longer even pretend to be Christians; and
2) Those who still claim to be Christians but have departed from
The latter would likewise be divided into two groups:
a) Those who deliberately twist the Scriptures, perverting the gospel "to draw away disciples after them"2 or who endorse false teachers (though they know better) because they want to share their fame and power3 --or who simply want to be "positive" so as to "offend" no one; and,
b) The naïve, who are genuinely deceived by false prophets/teachers.
Apostasy, of course, in some measure, has existed as long as the church. Most of the epistles involve, to some extent, correction of false doctrine and practice that was already in the early church in the days of the apostles. It is the mushrooming, widespread incidence of the apostasy described under number 2 above, however, among those who claim to be Christians, that I believe Scripture points to as a specific sign of the last days just prior to the Rapture.
The question, of course, must be faced whether today's apostasy has anything to do with prophecies concerning the last days. If so, it would seem that this "sign of the last days" has been largely overlooked by many if not most prophecy teachers. They usually cite as "last-days signs" only "wars and rumors of wars...nation shall rise against nation...kingdom against kingdom...famines...pestilences...earthquakes,"4 unusual weather, the move to a cashless society, the revival of the Roman Empire, etc.
I have been criticized for years by those who complain, "Deal with prophecy, if you wish, but stick to your subject--don't mix in apostasy!" In fact, one cannot adequately deal with the former while ignoring the latter. When asked by His disciples, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?"5 the first words from Christ identified apostasy as the foremost sign of the last days. In His response, He emphasized religious deception three times-and He specified what it would involve:
Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.6 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.7 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.8
Christ's warning made several things clear:
1) The major sign of the nearness of His coming would be religious deception by professing Christian leaders;
2) A central feature of the deception would be false prophets showing "great signs and wonders," which, though convincing, would also be false;
3) The repetition of the word, "many," indicated that this religious deception would be widespread, apparently worldwide, and,
4) The words "Christs," "prophets," "signs and wonders," and "elect" indicated that the deception would be among professing Christians, i.e., those inside the church.
This warning was echoed by Jude. The first reason he gave as to why we must "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints" was the fact that "there are certain men crept in [inside the church] unawares...ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."9
"False Christs"! There have been many in our day (from Jim Jones to David Koresh), who gathered followers by claiming to be Christ. There are numerous gurus in India who claim to be the latest reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The false "Christs" presented by novels, videos, and movies have multiplied since Jesus Christ Superstar beyond reciting. None is even close to the true Jesus Christ of Scripture. The "Jesus" of The DaVinci Code is a complete fraud dreamed up by atheists. The "Jesus" of the ABC-TV presentation of Judas confessed to Judas that he "blew it" in chasing the moneychangers out of the Temple: "I lost my temper."
That Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ received almost universal praise as "biblically accurate" from solid evangelical leaders is another indication of apostasy that has crept into the best pulpits unawares. In fact, it was almost all unbiblical....Much of it was drawn from the visions of a mystic nun and incorporated devices from the imagination of the director to arouse emotions. Nor did anyone seem disturbed that a sinful man was pretending to be the One who declared, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,"10 and whom Paul described as "God manifest in the flesh."11
The most prominent false Christ today is Sun Myung Moon, who openly declares that he is the Messiah come to earth to complete the mission that Jesus failed to accomplish: the establishment of the "perfect family." Yet some prominent evangelicals have spoken at conferences convened by Moon, sharing the platform that featured the man who says he is perfecting the work "left unaccomplished by Jesus."12
But what is the faith, a departure from which marks one as an apostate? Some might say that as long as a person believes that Christ died for his sins, was buried, and rose the third day, he is saved. But that declaration does not express the true gospel. As defined by Paul, the gospel declares the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ according to the Scriptures.13 Surely that involves who the biblical God is, who the biblical Christ is, what the biblical problem between God and man is, the biblical and only means of man's forgiveness by God, and the eternal consequences, as taught in the Bible, for those who reject the biblical gospel. None of these is a peripheral point of doctrine to be ignored or compromised. To do so would be a departure from the faith into apostasy to proclaim a false gospel.
The entire Word of God, of course, is foundational to the faith. The Bible is one book, and it is all interrelated--each part to every other. Sadly, the church and the world are being robbed of the pure Word of God--and by those who claim to be evangelical Christians! Eugene Peterson's The Message (NavPress, 1993) is one example. Instead of "that the world through him might be saved,"14 The Message says, "He came to help, to put the world right again." That sounds like social and political action, the same old "social gospel," downgrading salvation to earthly improvement, and it is found throughout this entire "version" of Scripture. John:3:31 says, "He that cometh from above is above all." The Message says, "The One who comes from above is head and shoulders over other messengers from God." First Peter 5:10 says that God has "called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus." The Message says that God "will have you put together and on your feet." What Peterson has done to God's Word is blasphemous!
Peterson dares to change the words and meaning of Scripture. Hebrews:11:4 declares, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain," but The Message says, "It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference." Obviously, both belief and action are important and interdependent. Moreover, Peterson has robbed his readers of the major theme of Scripture: the Lamb slain for our redemption.
Men like Peterson have no conscience about changing what God says, replacing His words with their own. Yet The Message is quoted more than 80 times by Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life, which has now sold about 26 million copies [as of 2005], unprecedented in history. No greater promotion of this mass of heresy could be given than Warren's endorsement!
Yet Peterson's Message is also praised by other Christian leaders such as J. I. Packer, Warren Wiersbe, Jack W. Hayford, and Richard Foster. Peterson is "Consulting Editor, New Testament," for the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) edited by Richard J. Foster. A host of "scholars" contributed commentaries, among them Bruce Demarest, Professor of Theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, CO; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, MA; Tremper Longman III, the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA; Earl F. Palmer, on the Board of Trustees of the long-apostate Princeton Theological Seminary and senior pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA, and many others.
The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible was touted as "THE BIBLE AS IT WAS INTENDED TO BE" in a two-thirds-page ad in the July 2005 issue of Christianity Today, next to the masthead declaring that Billy Graham was the founder (of CT) and that J. I. Packer is one of the executive editors. It is odd that Richard Foster and some 50 "biblical scholars" would go to the trouble to create and publish this "Bible," considering the fact that Eugene Peterson, its New Testament editor, has said, "Why do people spend so much time studying the Bible? [Christians] should be studying it less, not more. I'm just not at all pleased with all the emphasis on Bible study as if it's some kind of special thing that Christians do, and the more they do the better."15
Showing the apostate contempt of these men for God's Word, the Renovaré explanatory notes (bringing to evangelicals the old "higher criticism" of 150 years ago and still popular among liberals today) deny the Divine authorship of much of Scripture--even that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Yet the Introduction hypocritically declares, "we read the Bible literally, from cover to cover [and] in context."16 Renovaré cynically declares that Genesis 1-11 is neither historic nor scientific17 and that the entire book of Genesis is merely a collection of myths.
Of Daniel, the Renovaré Bible declares, "We do not know who wrote it or exactly when it was written it was most likely partially written during Antiochus Epiphanes' persecution of the Jews in Babylon, which began with the desecration of the Temple in 167 BC."18 So it is the work of an imposter pretending to be Daniel 400 years too late! Apparently overlooked is the fact that perhaps a century before Antiochus, the Greek Septuagint was translated from even earlier Hebrew manuscripts, and it contains the book of Daniel as we have it today.
The powerful prophetic promise from God in Jeremiah:31:8-14 to bring home the Jews scattered around the world is interpreted as a promise to all homeless people (nothing about Israel) and God's promise that Israel can never be destroyed (31:35-37) is ignored! Israel is treated as having been replaced by the church.
How does this relate to departure from "the faith once delivered to the saints"? The Messiah doesn't step off of a UFO and say, "Voilà! Here I am!" He comes in fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and with a genealogy that proves His authentic identity. Israel takes up most of the Bible, and its history and its prophets' inspired pronouncements are foundational to the Messiah's identity. If the Bible is not 100 percent true in what it says about Israel, then we cannot believe what else it says about Christ and our "redemption through his blood."19
If this "trashing" of the Bible, endorsed by many leading evangelicals and tolerated without opposition from others, is not part of the apostasy, then what is? We are losing the Bible in many ways, raising a generation on the spiritual junk food of religious videos, movies, youth entertainment, and comic book paraphrases of the Bible. The Word of God is being rewritten, dumbed down, and dramatized in order to cater to the tastes of the carnal mind.
The emphasis throughout Scripture is always on the words. The Bible is not a picture book! We are to live by "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,"20 a fact so important that Christ quoted it to Satan in His temptation.21 But the Bible is today being "improved" by script writers, movie directors, and actors who are replacing the actual "incorruptible word of God" by which we are "born again,"22 with dramatic representations (the entire New Testament is now on video) that may soon be the only "Bible" youth know.
(To Be Continued)