Growing up the son of a deacon in the 13th and Main congregation in Blytheville, Arkansas, I heard many a sermon about “the great apostasy” prophesied by the Holy Spirit. The gist of the lessons was this:
- The church was built the way God, through Jesus, desired it.
- The Holy Spirit gave perfect instruction.
- The church of the first century was teaching, worshipping, and working according to the pattern given in the New Testament
- But the Spirit of God prophesied of a great apostasy that was soon to come.
- That falling away has already occurred (I Timothy 4:1-5).
- Good news! We can read the Bible, seek the Old Paths, and restore the church to manufacturer’s standards!
The word “apostasy” only occurs one time in the New Testament and in just one of the major English translations. The New American Standard Bible uses the word in II Thessalonians chapter two to tell us, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”-v1 will not occur until, “the apostasy comes first,”-v3. The NASB also uses the term in the heading for the fourth chapter of I Timothy1. The underlying Greek word apostasia is translated as “falling away” or “rebellion.” in II Thessalonians 2:3. The King James Version uses “depart from the faith” in I Timothy 4:1 and that is where most sermons on the subject land.
It is truly a marvelous mark of inspiration that this section of Scripture so accurately describes the Roman Catholicism of the Middle Ages which Martin Luther attempted to reform and we strive to overcome by a return to the pure word of God. Paul tells us it is not he but the Spirit of God who says the church will rebel and fall away from truth. Consider what the Spirit calls, “teachings of demons”-v1. Look at this list: “forbid marriage” (priests not allowed wives), “abstinence from foods” (No red meat on Fridays, Lent), or “liars whose consciences are seared” (selling of indulgences to gullible, illiterate people).
It is a fact beyond challenge, the church of the New Testament rebelled and fell away from the teaching of the Bible. Christianity has departed from the faith until it hardly resembled the church, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”-Ephesians 2:20. How could such a prophecy come true? Slowly.
Pilots are taught the one-in-60 rule. A plane off course by just one degree, will miss its intended destination by a mile after just one hour at 60-mph. Traveling at 120-mph (still slow by air travel standards) a plane will be off course by ten miles after a five-hour tour. Small variances from the truth of the Bible can result in churches which find they are not at their intended destination.
It is important for every generation to know the polar truths of the Bible, to practice and teach them, and accept no substitutes. Churches are made of people and both can become apostate. To paraphrase Joshua (Joshua 24:15) and Peter (I Peter 2:2), “As for me and my house, we will…long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.”
Never depart from the truth. Never rebel. Never fall away. Seek to know God’s will and to do it, in your life, and with the congregation with which you work.