“Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils”
(1 Tim 4:1).
Apostasy is the falling away from the Faith. This happens for several treasons, one is that we fail to take God seriously; we treat His word as a smorgasbord, a salad to be picked over, leaving whatever does not appeal to the appetite. We shall consider other reasons later, but for now we turn to Luke 14:27, 33. A distinctive mark of the true disciple is commitment to a Person – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. To be a follower of the Lord, Jesus laid down this condition:
“Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple …”
Any religious activity that does not produce love is not Christianity (John 13:34). Anyone claiming to be a Christian who loves the world – that is the people and activities that are not submitted to the righteous government of God’s appointed ruler, Jesus the Christ – is in rebellion against God.
Love without a relationship is like trying to be a Christian without going to Church. You can’t be a Christian in isolation. I would encourage everyone to attend and support their local church, despite the difficulties you may encounter. There the Word of God can be heard and by listening to it, your faith will grow. Those who apostatise may find themselves on a slippery slope; so they need to ask this question: Am I a disciple of Christ or merely a church member?
To grow in love, Christians have to be discerning and avoid anything that dishonours Jesus, such as being exposed to vile entertainment which appears in the media. If what we are watching on our television (TV) screens makes us passive spectators, it is not Christian. Much of what we see on the TV is permeated by moral and spiritual impurity and has a defiling effect. If that is too radical for you, so be it, Christianity is a radical religion.
Deception is the greatest single danger confronting Christians in these last days; so few people realise this, which indicates that deception is already at work in them. Paul affirms this warning against deception (2 Thess 2:9). Many Christians take the view that because a message from the pulpit is accompanied by supernatural signs, it must be from God. But this is not always true and may open the door to deception. So we do well to guard against that. One of the ways to accomplish this is to ‘receive the love of the truth’, which goes beyond listening to sermons, even reading these words, but calls for discernment and a ‘revealed faith’. The Apostle Paul explains, “before faith (comes), we are kept under the law, until faith be revealed” (Gal. 3:23).
Where will the apostates go?
As Christians we have a message to proclaim, but it also includes pastoral care for our wandering brothers and sisters. Sadly this scenario has been unfolding for many years now. The scripture brings our attention to the seriousness of it. The early disciples voiced a similar view, ‘where shall we go …’ (John 6:67-68).
The word ‘apostasy’ indicates a “falling away.” The Greek word is ‘apostasia’, meaning defection, revolt; it carries with it a hardness of heart, which may be unintentional, but it attracts repercussions. Jesus spoke about it in Matthew 24:10-12. So it is important that we heed His warning and pray for those souls who apostatise.
Why do parishioners leave their spiritual home? Another reason is the subtle influence of the widening crisis developing in Western civilisation between religious attitudes to life, on the one hand and a secular view of life on the other. To the thoughtful Christian observer, life is to be regarded sacramentally, symbolically, proclaiming some hidden truth and spiritual meaning. By contrast the secular mind tends to miss the metaphysical dimensions, the mystery escapes them and they fail to see through the window of the soul on to eternity.
Secularism tends to destroy the environment in which Christianity thrives. There is also a drive to break links with the past, indicating that a sense of history has diminished or at least is not highly regarded in today’s society.
It is shameful that Christians in certain parts of the world cannot practice their faith openly. Furthermore, I sense that the dark side of secularist thinking takes the view, kill the idea and its purpose will be removed; this has been tried before, so Christians can take courage. Christianity has shown from the start, that the ways of God pass through the ‘narrow gate’ (Matthew 7:13) of suffering, humiliation and service and not through domination and power. We also have the Lord’s promise: “Heaven and earth may pass away, but my word will not pass away” (Matt 24:35).
Apostasy indicates a major shift in the spiritual quest taking place today, one which is moving from a less deductive to a more experiential method. Most people are caught up in these postmodern influences; it is not that there is an absence of Christian values, but rather how long will these values survive without the beliefs to sustain them?
Christianity emerged under the influence of contemporary Judaism and a hostile environment; the values of the Kingdom of God as expressed by Jesus and the disciples stood in stark contrast to the secular world. Indeed, at one time Christian purposes and practices were viewed with distrust and suspicion and its followers actively persecuted. However, once the Roman Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity, in the fourth century, a different situation emerged. Christianity became the recognised religion of the Roman Empire. But it was not without its problems. There were those who believed that Christianity was being compromised and salvation threatened, which resulted in breakaway groups, such as those who withdrew to monasteries, to be free of corruption and power and follow a true Christian vision. Others, such as the Anabaptists, rejected the monastic ideals and found different ways of forming alternative Christian communities.
The early Christian Church was strongly opposed to secular authority, but the acceptance by the Roman Empire of Christian values changed all that and brought certain privileges to church leaders of the time, though many abused their position and this resulted in further divisions. But God’s divine plan anticipated the threat of anything dire happening. By taking upon Himself our human nature, Jesus elevated that which was good, to a much higher level; His selfless action affirms the goodness of His person and the future of other humans and leaves room for elevation, making culture in society also capable of transformation. However, in view of the situation in the world, this transformation may have to be seen as a future event, rather than one that is immanent; though no one can be sure. God moves in mysterious ways!
We live in two kingdoms, as it were. The ‘kingdom of the world’ and the ‘kingdom of God’, governed by God and secular authorities, yet both kingdoms overlap and co-exists. This results in tensions as Christians endeavour to live in one and obey the other; but all the time we live in the world the place for Christians is in the valley, with occasional visits to the mountain tops for spiritual refreshment, essential for our health and well being. Tension in such a climate is inevitable; struggle will result and may even be sacrificial in nature. I well remember how it was when I was a street priest; numerous pressures were keenly felt as the dark side of human nature was expressed from time to time by misguided individuals, whose eyes were closed to the truth of the Gospel. I can’t say I was not nervous sometimes, but I put my trust in God and in what I was doing.
The impact of the Christian teachings has been a culture shock to many individuals over the centuries. This is understandable and we should not be in a hurry to judge others for their lack of insight. The disciples close to Jesus often failed to comprehend all that the Lord was doing (Luke 18:31). Like their forebears they had inherited and lived by the old Mosaic laws, that is until John the Baptist arrived on the scene and informed them of the coming Messiah, at which time they would be free, but free in a way they did not understand, because it had not been revealed to them. In other words, the men surrounding Jesus had not yet experienced the Resurrection, but when they did, a whole new world opened up to them; they were able to live as participants in the paschal mystery, i.e. in the death and resurrection of Jesus and when this is our experience, we too shall know the truth of Jesus’ words, which is something to celebrate and be joyful about.
God’s messengers – among them prophets, theologians, mystics, saintly individuals – boldly declare the message of the kingdom of God, without regard for their own safety. We recall the modern seers with affection and gratitude, men and women who have built on the labours of Justin Martyr, Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury, Martin Luther and Calvin, to mention a few outstanding theologians, who guided Christianity through some stormy and uncertain times.
The Church continues to preach the word of God. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit has been given to us as a gift of the last days (Joel 3:1-5) to set us on the spiritual path. Individualism is incompatible with Christianity and the pursuit of spirituality will destroy those tendencies; so keep on pressing on. We possess the Spirit as a member of the community and when He acts it is the church community that is edified (Cor 14:26) so they in turn may pass on to others the fruits of the Spirit and be a witness to the glory of God.
Many individuals are unable to understand the Image of the Invisible God, the Radiance of God’s glory, the Alpha and the Omega, the Incarnation, the Person and work of Christ, His pre-existence, His Godhead, His Sonship, the Person of the Holy Spirit, the power of forgiveness. These and much more have caused shock waves to unsettle the comfort zones of unbelievers and the rigid stance taken by those with more head than heart; as a result we shall experience their objections, so we should not be surprised, but continue to pray for them. Those working closely with the church are well placed to reverse the trends of the fragmented purposes of postmodernism and change its present course. It is time to forget the past historic blunders that Christianity has made; the injustices, violence and bigotry, in the name of religion. This only gives atheism, secularism and other faces of postmodernity an excuse to weave its objections to the Christian way of life.
By The Reverend William Doyle BA (Hons) FRSH
Download Study Here: Apostasy 2
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