The Church of the Apostasy
May 2nd, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
CHURCH OF THE APOSTASY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-2-65 10:50 a.m.
Now the message today: oh, if the Lord will be good to me and help me to present it; in this long series of sermons on the church, and doubtless they will cease today with this one, for next Sunday morning is Mother’s Day. And it would be an unusual thing if I do not prepare and deliver some kind of a message from God’s Book on the Christian mother. Then the following Sunday, in the providence of God, I shall begin preaching the long series of sermons on the gifts, and the power, and the presence, and the work of the Holy Spirit of God. And for that I know many of you have prayed with me for a long, long time.
I had thought to begin that series on the Holy Spirit last October. And it is now May and I have still been in the agony of understanding, of grasping, of seeking. And even now one of the ministers last week in Alabama asked me, "Do you think you’re ready?" I said, "No, but I don’t think I ever will be. So I’m just going to begin." About the time I think I have all of those theological conclusions and corollaries worked out where they’ll fit together, then at that time, I fall into a theological confusion that is inexpressible, and have to start all over again.
For example, we say we are a New Testament church and that sounds great. We are a church of the Book. We are a church of the Bible. We are a New Testament church. Then I open my Book and I read, "and these are the gifts of the Spirit," and nine of them are named in one passage, and three others are named in another passage. Then as I say we are a New Testament church, and these are the endowments and gifts of a New Testament church. Then I lay the Book down and I begin to preach. But my brethren, we must understand that these gifts and these visitations from above belong to another age and another day. And they are not ours to possess in this generation and this time.
I can easily imagine somebody saying to me, "Well pastor, why don’t you go somewhere, and get down on your knees, and make up your mind? If you are a New Testament church, as you avow, then where are the evidences, and the gifts, and the power of that New Testament church?" So God listened and how it shall end I don’t know. And I’ll never start preaching if I don’t begin. So how it shall end lies in the providences and the elective purpose of Almighty God. But we’re going to start. And we’re going to open our hearts, and our minds, and our souls to what God has for us.
Now the message today: The Church of the Apostasy. In the fourth chapter of the letter of Paul to his son Timothy, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons" [1 Timothy 4:1]. The Spirit speaks emphatically and expressly of a falling away in the church. And that prophecy, that warning, recurs again and again like the recurring sound of a fog horn on some buoy marking a shoal or a reef. It is repeated over and ove, and over again. For example, in the next letter to Timothy, the third chapter, "This know, that in the last days perilous times shall come" [2 Timothy 3:1]. Verse 13: "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" [2 Timothy 3:13]. I turn the page, "For the time will come," he writes in chapter 4, verse 3,
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
They shall turn away their ears from truth, and shall be turned unto falsehood.
[2 Timothy 4:3-4]
Paul wrote of that in the second Thessalonian letter, in the second chapter, and the third verse; for he speaks there that in that day that is coming, "there shall also cometh an apostasia, that’s where that word comes from – – apostasia, the Greek word for "a falling away"; apostasy, a falling away [2 Thessalonians 2:3]. And then he follows it through to the consummation of the age [2 Thessalonians 2:4-17].
You find it again and these are just typical passages, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul speaks to the elders at Ephesus:
For I know this –
said the apostle –
that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
And of your own selves also shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away followers, disciples, after them.
Over, and over, and over, and yet again what our Lord prophesied, what Jesus said is here reaffirmed by the Spirit through the holy apostles. Our Lord said the growth of this Christendom shall be like a tree and when it is big and spreading, there shall be every dirty and unclean bird roost in its branches [Matthew 13:31-32]. He said it one time like this, "And like leaven," a type and a symbol of evil, "And like leaven through every department, and through every part, and piece, and program, there will that iniquity find work" [Matthew 13:33]. For example, in the great apocalyptic discourse of our Lord, repeated over and over again, the same sounded warning; in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew,
Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
There shall arise false Christs; they shall show signs and wonders; insomuch if it were possible, they would draw away, they would deceive, they would apostatize the very elect.
[Matthew 24:12, 24]
In the same discourse, "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man" [Matthew 24:37; Luke 17:26]. And again, "As it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be in the days of the consummation" [Luke 17:28].
Now when Paul speaks of that apostasy, that falling away, he speaks of it as having begun in his own day. Here in the second chapter of second Thessalonians, having spoken of that apostasia, then he adds, "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work" [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. And were it not for the Holy Spirit of God that lets, that prevents, the whole thing would be in deception, and in blasphemy, and in apostasy. And Paul describes that mystery of iniquity that began in his day and continuing finally until the interdiction and the intervention of God [2 Thessalonians 2:7-8].
And the Lord Jesus in speaking of that beginning which was in the day of the apostles, He spake of it like this, addressing Himself to the church at Ephesus, to the apostolic church; He said, after He commended them for their faith, and their devotion, and their witness, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, I have this against thee, because thou has left thy first love" [Revelation 2:4]. When love grows cold, faith dies. Romans 10:10: "For with the heart one believeth unto righteousness." And when the heart grows cold, faith dies. When love dies, obedience dies. John 14:15: "If you love Me, keep My commandments." When love dies, the expectancy and the desire for the return of our Lord dies. Isn’t that a strange thing?
When Paul wrote his final valediction, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" [2 Timothy 4:6-7], and then finally, "And that reward shall be given not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" [2 Timothy 4:8]. Isn’t that a – – look how, "who love," who love, who anticipate, who lift up their faces in eager expectancy and anxious desire, "who love His appearing."
But in the beginning, in the beginning, in the apostolic age itself, men began to say to one another, "The Lord delayeth His coming" [2 Peter 3:3-9]. And then somebody else added, "The apostles were mistaken." And finally somebody else added, "And the Lord Himself was mistaken, and He deceived the apostles who in turn led the church into error." And finally the church settled down in the world, and finally grew to love the caresses and the tributes of the world. And finally and ultimately, accommodated itself in its theology, and in its preaching, and in its lie to the world in which it lived. Consequently we have come to this day and our generation, when we have a new religion and a new accommodating Christianity, it is a new religion based upon the scientific interpretation of God. It is a new church based upon the new and scientific interpretation of Christ. And it is a new theology based upon the new and scientific interpretation of the universe. Now may I describe it?
This is the religion of the church of the apostasy. First, it is a church based upon natural law, natural law. Nothing revealed, nothing supernatural but the whole gospel scheme is based upon observable phenomena. There is no personal God, only an inexorable and impersonal first cause, or prime mover, or energy, or great principle, of which everything that exists is a part. And in a world like that, of course, there could be no miracles and there could be no prayer – – nothing but the supremacy of dying, and impersonal, and inexorable law.
Second, the church is based upon natural law. It has no authoritative Bible. These Holy Scriptures are like any other antique. They are the result of the writings of a crude and an ancient race. But there are other bibles and there are other revelations as men in natural endowments came to see inner and spiritual truths. And regarding this Bible, its metaphysics is a false philosophy. Its physics is a false science, and its historical record is built with inexactitude and error. How the world has changed toward the Word of God is an astonishing thing that has culminated in my lifetime and in this generation.
To my amazement the nation of Israel, that of all people in the world ought to be a people who love God and name the name of Jehovah, as the Scriptures themselves have prophesied, Israel has turned back to their country in unbelief [Ezekiel 36:24-28]. And my impression of the average Israeli is that he is an atheist, the most astonishing thing that I’ve ever seen in this world. And on the big field of the great and far-famed Hebrew University, on the great seal are written these words around, "And the earth shall be filled with knowledge." Curious, but the verse is, "And the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" [Habakkuk 2:14]. Lopped it off – – the reference to God Jehovah, the Lord.
And our great Christendom is no different. My impression of the Christendom of today is one of materialism and secularism. Glasgow, what we would call their city hall, the great city in Scotland, Glasgow, above their city hall for generations, for generations, was written this, carved this inscription: "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word." And after World War II the building was remade and renovated. And when it was remade, renovated, they lopped off the last part of it and put above the great portico, "Let Glasgow flourish," period – – the new attitude toward the Word of God.
And that is found in the attitude toward the one, and revealed, and true religion; in the church of the apostasy, based upon natural law, there is no one, true revealed religion. Christianity is just one out of many like religions. I stood in front of a church in New England, a far-famed church in New England, and the pastor of that church stood in his pulpit and avowed, "This is not a Christian church. This is far above a Christian church. For," he said, "a Christian church as such would be circumscribed and limited by the words of Jesus. But we have no such limitation. We take the best out of Jesus, and the best out of Confucius, and the best out of Mahavira, and the best out of Mohammed, and the best out of Zoroaster. And out of the best of all religions of the world, we solidify an eclectic faith above the limited revelations of Christ." This is the church of the apostasy based upon natural law.
A second characterization of a modern church, the new church, the new theology, the new Christianity, the church of the apostasy is based upon a deified humanity. Christ is dethroned and man is exalted. There is no longer a transcendent, and a sovereign, and a separate, and an exalted, and an all glorious God. But God now is incarnate in all men. And the only difference between us and God is a difference in degree, not in kind. And to speak of a man as having fallen is to speak idly, for all of us are gods. And it remains just for us to fan the spark of the divinity that is in us.
And we are all according to this church of the apostasy – – we are all under the dynamic law of evolution. There is inherent in the human race that inexorable progress and forwardness that is inevitable, and always onward, and upward. As for a divine intervention in human life to save or to lift up there could be no such thing. For inherent goodness in all of us will lead us finally to be like God Himself. It but remains for us to come into the consciousness of our divinity and that is a conception over, and over, and over again that they use. It is just for the child to be taught the consciousness of its divinity – – sin? nay; fallen nature? nay; depravity? nay – – but we are like gods. Just make the image bright and glorious with instruction, and cultivation, and education.
And of our Lord Jesus Christ, the church of the apostasy, it is deification of humanity. Of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no particular perfection in the Lord Jesus that cannot be obtained in an ultimate and higher perfection in some other Christ that will yet come. There will be other Christs. There will be better Christs – – for He lived in the day gone by. But in the progress of life and in the inevitable evolution of life, we shall produce a better Jesus and a nobler paragon. You know what? I’ve always said, whenever you begin with an error, by and by, you’re going to fall into the grossest, grossest, monstrous things. But whenever you begin with the truth, everything that follows after will be true.
Now here’s an example of it. They have to say that there will be an ultimate, better Lord, an ultimate, better Christ, because they are given to that concept of dynamic evolution. And for them to say that back yonder, they were a perfect people, or back yonder there was a perfect Christ, or back yonder there was a superlative man, that denies their evolutionary theory. Or Adam and Eve came from animals – – scum, paramecium, amoebas, tadpoles, marsupials, chimpanzees, anthropoids. And for them to admit that back yonder was perfection would be to deny the very thesis of their evolutionary hypothesis.
So, when you say two thousand years ago there was the perfect man, there was the God-man, well, you have to undo your whole theory of the dynamism of your evolutionary theory. Because according to the theory, give us time. Give us time. We’re going up, and up, and up, and two thousand years ago was but a beginning. But we’re going up. And one of these glorious and triumphant days, we will evolve into gods. You have to say that when you begin with a theory that we were evolved out of the scum of the earth.
The church of the apostasy and what does it therefore have to avow concerning sin? In the church of the apostasy, sin is but the obscuration of the sun, momentary. Sin is nothing but the dirt upon the image of the coin. Sin is nothing but the drag of our animal ancestry. Sin is nothing but the stumbling upward in the inevitable progress of the human race. And the mist would go away from the sun. And you can wash the dirt off of the image of the coin. And the drag of our ancestry will be overcome in our future evolutionary progress. And the inevitable consummation lies, "We came from beasts, but give us time, and we shall be gods." This is the church of the apostasy based upon its deification of humanity.
A third characterization of the church of the apostasy: it is based upon social, political progress. Benevolent humanitarianism is the gospel. And social Christianity takes the place of the kingdom of God. And the fulfillment and the fruition of the preaching of the gospel lies in the reconstruction of the social order and the kingdom of humanity suppressed the kingdom of God.
Consequently there is never an address to the human soul. And the message is never addressed to the salvation of the lost soul. When a man gets through preaching, it would be out of order, it would be out of the apropos, to extend an invitation. For what he’s done is to preach the gospel, that the only message we have and are concerned with now, is a re-fabrication, and the reconstruction of the social order. And how do you stand up and give an invitation to the social order? How would you ever get the social order to come down the aisle and to say "I repent of my sins [Matthew 4:17], and I believe Jesus died for me according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And I believe He was raised for my justification [1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25]. And I believe someday I’ll stand before Him to be judged with all the quick and the dead"? [2 Timothy 4:1]. How would you do that?
Therefore, there is no invitation. It has no pertinency. For the whole energy of the apostatic church is turned toward a social kind of righteousness implemented through civic programs, and ameliorating reforms, and all kinds of political involvement. And their ultimate and golden age lies when the kingdom of righteousness shall come. There’s not any Jesus to look for, there’s not any hope beyond the grave, there’s not any heaven, there’s not any immortality, there’s not any resurrection, just the hope of a reconstituted society.
They name three things in the order of the development of the ages. First, they call the first age a theological age. That was the age when men talked about God and when men believed in God. It was a theological age. The second age was an anthropological age. That is the age in which men studied men; the anthropological age, men studying about men, anthropology. But the final and ultimate age will be the sociological age when men shall remake all of our social life, all of our political life – – a sociological age, the consummating age in which all of our evils will be legislated away, and all of our inequalities will be overcome, and we shall arrive in that golden time when there shall be nothing but peace, and prosperity, and affluence. Those are the three ages of the development of man.
And of the Lord Jesus Christ in that, the church of the apostasy avows that our Lord was a child of His time. And when He died, His work was ended. There’s no present work of our Lord’s redemptive in heaven. And there’s no future work for our Lord in earth. He was a child of His time, and He was under the illusion of the coming of a messianic kingdom. It did not come and He was mistaken. And now the church is rising out of that illusion. We are casting it off like a medieval baggage. We are casting it off like an animal that sheds its skin or a caterpillar that transforms itself into a higher form of life. So the church is casting off those illusions of a messianic kingdom, and of the intervention of God, and of the return of Christ, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of a heaven that is to come. We are outgrowing those medieval misconceptions. And now we are giving ourselves to the persuasion that the kingdom of heaven will be brought down here into the earth by the genius of men who shall legislate it and educate it into being – – the church of the apostasy.
Now if I have time, I have summarized here just the best I could so you could see it, I have summarized here the chief, and main, and primary teachings of the Word of God as they are denied by the modern church. And there are six great propositions that I have written out here. First I read the proposition of the Scripture, what the Scripture says. And then second, I read as succinctly as I could form it, what the modern church of the apostasy replies to the teaching of the Word of God.
All right, first, this is the teaching of the Scriptures. The teaching of the Scripture is; there is a personal God, a Creator of heaven and earth [Genesis 1:1-2]. Now the contra, the teaching of the modern church of the apostasy; there is no personal God but an eternal energy or force. There never has been an act of creation. Matter always was. It was never created. It has been here from eternity.
All right second, what the Scriptures say; besides man, there are other created intelligences; angels, fallen angels, demons, a Satan. There is a kingdom of darkness [Revelation 16:10] under the rule of a fallen angel, Satan, the enemy of God and of man, the prince of this present world [John 14:30, 16:11]. Against that, the church of the apostasy says there are no angels, good or evil. There are no demons. There is no Satan and there is no kingdom of darkness.
All right the third one, this is what the Scripture teaches; man fell from his original perfection, and goodness, and so came under the law of sin, and death, and therefore needs a Redeemer, a Savior [Romans 5:12-15]. All right, the church of the apostasy avows; man has evolved upward and has never fallen. He needs no redemption but is in the process of evolving into a state of highest goodness and wisdom.
All right the fourth one; the Scriptures say the only begotten Son of God became man to redeem man from sin and death on the cross [Philippians 2:5-11]. And He is now our High Priest [Hebrews 4:14], making intercession for us [Hebrews 7:25]. The church of the apostasy says; Jesus is but one of the sons of God. For God is incarnate alike in all men. He is not now our High Priest. For His work as Savior was completed in giving us a moral ideal. All Jesus did was just to show us how a brave, and heroic, and courageous man ought to lay down his life for what he thought was the truth. He is an ideal, a hero and that’s all.
Now the fifth one; the Scriptures say there is to be a kingdom of Christ, set up at the return of the risen Lord in which His church may, like Him, in resurrection life, shall reign with Him and all nations shall dwell in peace [Revelation 11:15, 22:5]. Against that the church of the apostasy says; there will be no return of Christ to the earth and no resurrection of the dead. Through processes of evolution, earth will see a perfected humanity, a new social order in which all evils will be done away and the kingdom of men will come.
Now the last one the sixth one; the Scriptures say the conflict of good and evil, of Christ and Satan, will come to its final decision in the personal triumph of Christ our Savior when Satan shall be cast into the bottomless pit [Revelation 20:1-3] with those who follow him. And against that, the church of the apostasy avows there is no bottomless pit. There is no hell. There is no such contest, for all evil is imperfect good, a stumbling upward, and will disappear as humanity is educated and developed.
The best I could, I have summarized the violent difference between the teaching of the Word of God and the church of the apostasy. Now in the minute that remains, may I say a brief word? Then we must close. What is the destiny of the church of the apostasy of the falling away? It is delineated with great detail. This is the scarlet woman who rides the beast [Revelation 17:3-4]. She is astride a tiger. And wherever she appears, she rides a tiger. She is astride the beast. And the most astonishing thing in the Revelation is this: who destroys the beast? God Almighty. Who destroys Babylon? God Almighty. Who destroys the Antichrist? God Almighty. Who destroys the iniquitous and rains judgment upon the earth? God Almighty. Who destroys the church of the apostasy? Do you remember? The tiger, the beast, the one she rides, the world; they finally become weary of her. Tired of her, satiated with her; her message, her program, her outline, her anemic sterility, weary of her, and destroy her [Revelation 17:15-16]. That is the revelation of the Word of God. Isn’t that a strange thing? God doesn’t do it. God doesn’t destroy the church of the apostasy. The beast does. The world does, the tiger she rides.
What is the destiny of the church of God? What is the destiny of the people of the Lord, the bride of Christ? What is the destiny of His church and His people? My brother, from the beginning God placed that destiny in the very word that He used to name us and to call us. Words used to mean something. Samuel, little Samuel; "asked of God; asked of God" [1 Samuel 1:20]. Jesus, Yeshua, our Savior [Matthew 1:21]; words meant something. And God chose a meaningful word to characterize and to name His people. He called us the "caught away ones," the "raptured ones," the "changed ones," the "chosen ones," the "called-out ones"; in their language, the ekklēsia, the ekklēsia; these that are called out, these that are taken away, these that are raptured, these that are upward bound in heart and mind and soul, an ekklēsia. As the Scriptures will say, "the resurrection from among the dead" from among the dead, the resurrection from among the dead [1 Corinthians 15:20-21]; these called-out ones, these elect ones.
And that election of God, sovereign and almighty, has been from the beginning. Of all of the sentient and the intelligent in the world, He chose mankind. And out of all mankind, He chose Abraham [Genesis 12:1-7]. And out of the tribes of Abraham, of Israel, He chose Judah [Genesis :8-10]. And out of the families of Judah, He chose David [1 Samuel 16:11-13]. And out of the daughters of David, He chose sweet and humble peasant Mary [Luke 1:26-31]. And out of all the cities of Judah, He chose little Bethlehem [Micah 5:2]. And out of all of the rabbis of Israel, He chose Saul, Paul of Tarsus, to bear the gospel to the Gentiles [Acts 9:10-15]. And out of all the Gentiles, oh, think of it man, and out of all the Gentiles, God elected you and God hath chosen me; granted unto us repentance unto eternal life [Acts 11:18]. It is an election, it is a called out, it is a taking away. As two shall be grinding at a meal; one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be sleeping in a bed; one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be working in a field, one shall be taken and the other left [Luke 17:34-36]. It is an election. It is a calling out. It is a caught away heavenward and upward; God’s church, the destiny of Christ’s people [John 14:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
And O Lord, could it be? Is it true Lord, that my name is in that Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], written by the pen of a diamond in the hand of an angel, my name, elect, chosen from before the foundation of the world [Ephesians 1:4], that I should be in the ekklesia, the called out; that you should be?
O how wonderful! O how marvelous!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is God’s love in heaven for me!
[from "I Stand Amazed in the Presence," Charles H. Gabriel]
This is the destiny of the people of God: heaven-bound, glory-bound, Christ-bound, Jesus-bound, caught upward, caught upward [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
While we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church; however God shall say the word and shall press the appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come and stand by me. "Pastor, we are coming by baptism." Or, "Pastor, we are coming by letter. These are our children, all of us today are coming." Or a couple you, or one somebody you; I’ll be standing here to the left of our communion table, and while we sing this hymn of appeal, you come and stand by me. "Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I make it today. I choose now, giving my life to the Lord," or "putting our lives in the circle and fellowship of this wonderful church." While we sing the hymn and while we wait, you come. In the balcony round from side to side, in the aisle, down to the front, "Here I come, preacher, and here I am." While we stand and while we sing.
THE CHURCH OF THE APOSTASY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 4:1-6
A. Recurring warning in Scripture – in the latter times some shall fall away (1 Timothy 4:1, 1 Kings 19:28, 2 Timothy 3:1, 13, 4:3, Acts 20:29-30, 2 Thessalonians 2:3)
B. What Jesus taught is affirmed by the Spirit through the apostles(Matthew 13:32-33, 24:11-12, 24, 37, Luke 17:28)
C. Paul saw its beginning in his day; prophesied it would continue(2 Thessalonians 2:7-12)
D. Jesus described its beginning in his message to Ephesus (Revelation 2:4)
1. When love dies, faith dies (Romans 10:9)
2. When loves dies, obedience dies (John 14:15)
3. When loves dies, desire for Christ’s return dies (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
E. In apostolic age, men began to say the Lord delays His coming; some said the apostles were mistaken, and others said the Lord was mistaken
II. The religion of the church of the apostasy
A. Based on natural (not revealed) religion, law
1. No personal God, only a universal, impersonal energy
2. No authoritative Bible
3. There is no one true religion
B. Based upon a deified humanity
1. God is incarnate in all men
2. Humanity is under the law of dynamic evolution
3. Jesus of Nazareth not to stand forever as example of the perfect man
4. Sin is but the passing obscuration of the sun
C. Based on social, political progress
1. Beneficent humanitarianism is the gospel
2. For the saving of souls they substitute the saving of society
3. Theological age, anthropological age, sociological age
4. Work of Jesus complete – there is no present work or future work
III. Chief teachings of the Scriptures are contradicted by the modern apostate church
A. There is a personal God, Creator of heaven and earth
B. Besides man there are other created intelligences, a kingdom of darkness
C. Man fell from his original perfection and goodness, and so came under the law of sin and death,and therefore needs a Redeemer
D. The only begotten Son of God became man to redeem man from sin and death on the cross; is now our High Priest making intercession for us
E. There is to be a Kingdom of Christ set up at the return of the risen Lord
F. Conflict of good and evil will end in triumph of Christ over Satan
IV. The destiny of the apostate church
A. She is the scarlet woman on the beast in Revelation 17
B. It is the beast who destroys her
V. The destiny of the true church
A. To be caught up unto God
B. It is an election, an ekklesia, a "called-out group"