By Elizabeth Prata
If you listen to old time radio pastors from the 1930s through 1950s and later, each one at some point, has said that this generation of church-going Christians or this era of Christianity is going downhill. Charles Spurgeon famously published an anonymous article actually written by his friend Robert Shindler (with input from Spurgeon himself) addressing a visible downgrade in an 1887 issue of his magazine, Sword and Trowel. That article, and its follow up, famously brought the “Down-grade controversy” to the public’s attention.
A hundred and fifty years before Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards wrote about the devil’s triumph in squelching a religious revival in New England and a lack of religious affections that had become evident in the people.
We can trace the genealogy of apostasy back to Genesis 6, or to Genesis 3. So is it anything new to say that this generation of church-going Christians are weak or falling away, that visible Christianity itself is downgrading itself in a compounding manner, faster and faster as we go? No.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1)
However, it’s evident that at certain points a watershed is reached. The dam is breached and error, heresy, and apostasy floods in. What was inconceivable to see in churches a generation ago is now occurring with regularity, to the horror of the shrinking number of true saints huddled together in the pews. The Old Testament is a story of how a whole nation apostatized again and again. Even whole churches wander away from the truth, with no sign of the Holy Spirit dwelling within. (Revelation 3:20).
I’ve been saved for less than 20 years, nearly the whole of which has been spent in the Bible Belt (Georgia) and even I’ve noticed a definitive and rapid shrinking away from the truth. Pastors who have been discovered plagiarizing every Sunday sermon for at least five years? And who immediately gets another job at a bigger church … and the hiring committee knew? A Southern Baptist Pastor whose favorite book of the year is Bill Hybels’ “Power of a Whisper”? Beth Moore’s influence grown so wide and entrenched that Southern Baptist ladies feel they are not doing something right if they are not hearing directly from God? Pastors who deride all Calvinists from the pulpit, when out of a staff of three, the other two are Calvinist? All happening. All that and more.
And not recently either, but the things I mention occurred in neighborhoods around me four and five years ago, when discernment people like myself saw what was happening and raised the alarm…and were shocked as writer and radio broadcaster Amy Spreeman would say, to receive the left foot of fellowship for our trouble. Not only is a downgrade happening, not only do the lay-saints display no discerning knowledge of it all around them, but our leaders are even protective of it.
We are told in scripture that it will happen and are given example after example of individuals in the Bible who wander away from the truth and even whole churches collapsing under the weight of it. So I know it is happening and it will happen and this is not surprising because I believe the Word of God completely.
However, that’s not to say it doesn’t hurt when it happens. The head knows, but the heart hurts.
LGBT or GLBT is an initialism that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. When the movement began it was just “gay.” Then that was widened to make distinctions for gender, so we had L for lesbian, women who practice unnatural relations with a woman, and gay, which describes men who have abominable relations with a man. (Romans 1:26-27). LG was born. The acronym was further widened to include bi-sexual, which are people who will have sex with either gender, and T, which is transgender people. LGBT. The umbrella widened further to include Q, I, P, A where the acronyms now constitute an alphabet soup, LGBTQIPA, which stands for “this nation is under judgment”. (Romans 1:18-32).
If one cares to, you can track the apostasy’s rise with the addition of each letter/abbreviation. And now the culture mirrors the worst of what Paul said would happen. He write in the latter part of Romans 1 of when a society abandons God and is in turn abandoned by God. Apostasy rose further with church’s acceptance of openly practicing homosexuals in its congregation and its leadership. So it has flooded into the church. Because the end has not come yet we know that the full measure of apostasy has not come close to ending but will only rise more.
We know all this. I’m not offering any new insights here. Apostasy in all forms, spiritual physical, and emotional is predicted and it’s happening.
How can apostasy be encouraging? How can perversity marching pridefully as piety be encouraging? Now don’t get me wrong. I abhor apostasy. I wish “everybody was ready.” I wish every person operating on this earth who claims the name of Jesus as Savior was actually worshiping in spirit and in truth. I wish I didn’t have to see what is done in His name. I hate to see people leave the faith because I know it will be worse for them in hell. (2 Peter 2:21). I am not happy with apostasy.
I am a believer in the 100% sufficiency of scripture and 100% comfortable with the sovereignty of God. In His wisdom, He decreed apostasy shall be so. This means apostasy is here, it’s near, get used to it. As much as I long for purity, I will have to wait patiently until we are all gathered like chicks under the glorious wings of Christ (Matthew 23:37) in heaven’s New Jerusalem for the pure church to worship perfectly.
Meanwhile, since I fully know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose as Romans 8:28 assures us, that means apostasy is working to the good of those who love Him. It has a purpose.
I have a puny brain and I certainly cannot comprehend all the nuances of God’s plan in using apostasy for His glory and our good, but I have a few ideas I’d like to share to perhaps encourage you, and me. Yes, weird things are happening in the visible church. And yet, it’s all good. Somehow.
I cannot imagine how Jesus feels. We get glimpses of his anger kindled toward sin done in His name and in His temple. We read of the various biblical accounts, and we get glimpses through Revelation of His coming wrath for iniquity. But I can never know the anger and grief our Triune God feels when such abominable things happen in His name. Therefore, I see His LONG-SUFFERING. God is patient, oh how He is patient. I love Him all the more when I see His patience expressed through longsuffering.
But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. (Psalm 86:15).
2a. I’m grateful for apostasy because I feel shame. When I see apostasy rise in churches around me and even in my own former churches, I feel shame. Did I contribute to it? Did I play a part in it? Did I fail to pray? Did I pray enough? Did I squander opportunities to pray and act in a way that would have caused a stumbling block to someone? Was I a light? Or a dark? Apostasy is an opportunity for introspection.
Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! (Psalm 141:4).
2b. Seeing apostasy, it spurs me to prayer. I renew my vigor to pray for my own pastor, that he should be kept in truth and walking wisely amid scorpions. I pray for the deluded people who operate in Jesus’ name and don’t know it’s satan’s name they claim. I pray for family who are lost in this world of evil, and I pray for friends who are saved in this world of evil.
Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: you have enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)
3. Apostasy shines a light on the church triumphant. It makes me more proud of it because Jesus bought it, protects it, intercedes for it, and builds it. Dawn light is all the more beautiful for having gone through the darkness. The true church is beautiful.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5).
There are many other things I could say, but lengthening this essay would only water down the point I seek to make: Apostasy has a purpose within God’s sovereign will. Be wise and know it exists and will even happen to your church. Grieve because we love our Savior and we love our neighbor. His Spirit mourns when He is grieved.
The mystifying thing is, we grieve joyfully. We grieve hopefully. It’s an oxymoron that works. All things mean ALL THINGS, even apostasy. And so, we are grateful for the opportunities apostasy affords us to shine God’s glory onto His Son by worshiping His purity, loving the Light, repenting of our part in the darkness, and praying for the church.