The Final State of the Church
May 16th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 4:1
5-16-82 10:50 a.m.
To you who are listening on radio and are watching on television, this is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The sermon today is the last in the series on ecclesiology, on the doctrine of the church. And it is entitled The Final State of the Church, or The Church of the Apostasy. Like a recurring sound of a foghorn on a buoy in the ocean marking a shoal or a reef, so are the repeated, reiterated words in the Bible regarding the apostasy of the church. Just as an example of those recurring prophecies, I read these series of passages.
In 1 Timothy 4:1, the apostle writes, “Now the Holy Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times”—the day in which we live—”some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons.” I turn to 2 Timothy chapter 3, verse 1, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” [2 Timothy 3:1]. Look again in chapter 4 of 2 Timothy, 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; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” [2 Timothy 4:3-4].
Let me turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no man deceive you . . . There shall come a falling away.” Let me read the admonition of the apostle Paul to the elders—the pastors of the church at Ephesus. In Acts 20:31, “Watch, and remember… For I know this”—in verse 29—”that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. And of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” [Acts 20:29-30].
These are just some of the passages that reiterate and enforce the prophecy of our Lord Jesus and what He said about the church of our day. Two thousand years ago, prophetically speaking of our day, what the Lord Jesus said is just reiterated and enforced by the Holy Spirit through the voice of the apostles. Our Lord said that the growth of Christendom, of the kingdom, of the church, would be like a tree starting with a small mustard seed, and finally, a big tree in whose branches every dirty and unclean bird would find a roost [Matthew 13:31-32]. He said it is like leaven, which, in the Bible, is a symbol of evil [Matthew 13:33].
Finally, the growth of that seductive evil will permeate all Christianity, all the churches. That’s one of the saddest things that anyone who is sensitively aware of the modern day can observe. There is no denomination, there’s no faith, there’s no communion but has in it that working of evil; the departing from the faith; the renunciation of the great truths of the revelation of God and turning unto man-made metaphysics.
In this Apocalypse, in the Revelation, the Lord spoke to the seven churches of Asia who are representatives of seven great developing stages in the history of Christendom, in the history of the churches [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. And He begins with His address to the church at Ephesus. He says to the first church, to the Ephesians: “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” [Revelation 2:4]. Then, as that departure from the truth and the faith continues, He finally speaks to the church—the seventh one—at Laodicea, and we read His address to that church just now [Revelation 3:14-22]. Did you notice that the Lord Jesus—in Laodicea, in the seventh age of the development of the churches—the Lord Jesus is on the outside; He is knocking at the door, seeking entrance [Revelation 3:20].
The development of the church is more, and more, and more, away, and away, and away, from the great doctrinal foundations that we read in the Bible and in the revelation of the truth of God. “Thou hast left thy first love” [Revelation 2:4]. When love dies, faith dies. “With the heart one believeth unto righteousness” [Romans 10:10]. When love dies, obedience dies. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” [John 14:15]. When love dies, the longing and expectancy of the return of our Lord dies.
Paul wrote in his last letter, “A crown for me, as well as for all those who love His appearing…” [2 Timothy 4:8] The apostle Peter wrote in the third chapter of his second letter, “There shall come in the latter times,” in these times, “scoffers… saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they are” [2 Peter 3:3-4], the sun rises in the morning, and it sets in the evening, and I don’t see any sign of any interposition or intervention from heaven!
Consequently, losing the hope of the return of our Lord, the church finds itself at home—and it makes itself at home—in the world. The church loves the caresses and the tributes of the world; and it doesn’t look for the return of our Lord any longer. It places the marriage supper of the Lamb in a far distant age. And there’s no relevancy in life, or in prayer, or in watchfulness for the coming of our great Lord Christ Jesus. The consequence of that is that there has developed in Christendom a new religion—a new religion with a metaphysical conception of God—a new church with a philosophical conception of Christ—and a new interpretation of the universe with a pseudoscientific conception of matter.
Now with that introduction, we’re going to look at the fulfillment of the prophecy of Christ and of the prophecy of the apostles concerning the church in this day, in our generation—the church of the apostasy. There are several characteristics of it that are very, very prominent. The first one is the church of the apostasy is a church based and founded upon natural law, not upon divine revelation. The supernatural is read out of it, and it is based upon observable phenomena. In the modern church of the apostasy, there is no personal God. He is interpreted as the first cause, or the prime mover, or a great force of energy, but He is not somebody named Jehovah, Jesus. Consequently, there’s no such thing as miracle, and there’s no such thing as prayer. All that obtains is impersonal and inexorable law. And the church of the apostasy is founded upon impersonal, observable, physical law.
It is also characterized by a departure from the authority and the infallibility and the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. They look upon this Book as one of many divine efforts on the part of men to define God. This is not a revelation of God reaching down to seek man, but this is a search and an effort of man reaching up to find the invisible forces that lie back of this physical universe.
I see evidences of that departure from the authority of the Word of God everywhere. In Israel, in Jerusalem, I looked at the seal of the Hebrew University. The Bible reads it like this, in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah. “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:9]. That’s the authority of the revelation of the Holy Scriptures. But when you read that on the seal of the Hebrew University, it says: “The earth shall be filled with knowledge.” God is left out of it! And to my amazement, most of the people there are atheists—most surprising development of life.
For generations, for generations, on the front of what we would call the “city hall” of Glasgow, Scotland, there was incised this sentence, “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word.” After World War II, that city hall was rebuilt. And when they replaced that tremendous slogan of Christian preaching and gospel proclamation on the front of the building, it today reads like this: “Let Glasgow flourish.” They leave off, “…by the preaching of the Word.” There is a universal departure from the acceptance of the authority, and infallibility, and inerrancy, and inspiration of this Holy Book.
There is also a definition of Christianity as being just one of many religions. “It is not the one true faith.” I talked to an illustrious pastor and minister of the gospel in New England. And in describing his pulpit message and his church, he said: “We are above Christianity. We take what is true in Christianity and—eclectically—we take what is truth in all the other religions of the world, and we amalgamate all of those truths; and our church, in its message, is above Christianity. It assumes and amalgamates all of the great truths of the great religions of the world.”
This is the church of the apostasy. Not only is it a church built upon natural law, natural phenomenon, observable development, it is also a church—the modern church of the apostasy—it is a church that deifies man. It exalts man, and it dethrones Christ. Its basic doctrine is that God is incarnate in all of us. The only difference between us and Christ is a difference of degree and not kind. We also are incarnate God. All we need to do the doctrine says is for us to fan the flame of deity that is in us. And when we give ourselves to the progressive realization of our deity, we finally arrive at the Godhood to which Jesus was incarnate. Not only that, but the doctrine says that humanity, mankind, is under a dynamic law of evolution—progressively, inexorably, necessarily, the law of the universe is that we evolve upward and upward and upward.
There is no such thing in this doctrine of a perfection in the days past, and a fall, and the need of a Redeemer in present days, but we are progressively reaching upward, and rising upward and upward and upward, and finally we will be angels and maybe archangels.
And that doctrine carries with it a strange interpretation of Christ: it avows that Christ Jesus of Nazareth will not forever stand as the perfect man, but we shall inevitably, by the passing of generations, progress and progress until finally we shall have a better Christ, maybe a great many series of perfected men, better [than] Jesus of Nazareth. That doctrine, of course, would be annihilated, made ridiculous by admission of perfection in the past. Consequently, there is no such thing as Adam and Eve being created—being created perfect. The doctrine demands that we evolve from the marsupial, from the anthropoid ape, from the simian. It would annihilate the doctrine to admit that there was perfection in the past. All we have known in the past is but our bestial, animal ancestry; and we’re rising, and rising, and inevitably rising, evolutionarily rising, until finally we shall have many christs, many perfected men.
Then their doctrine of sin is a corollary, a concomitant. Their doctrine of sin is not that we once were created perfect by the hand of Almighty God, and we fell, and we need to be redeemed—the doctrine is that sin is nothing but a mere momentary, temporary obscuration of the sun. Sin is nothing but dust upon the image of the coin. Sin is nothing but the drag of our animal ancestry. Give us time, and we will evolve out of it. Sin is nothing but our stumbling upward and onward and heavenward toward perfection. This is the apostasy of the modern church. It deifies man and glorifies his evolutionary assent.
As though that were not enough, the church of the apostasy is characterized by, and it is based upon, social salvation. No longer is there any need for the gospel of the redemption of the individual man, the individual soul; but the gospel in the church of the apostasy concerns the perfection, the redemption of society by human effort and human means. Benevolent humanism is the new gospel. We shall achieve it and attain it when we reconstruct society. Christian socialism is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of man is placed instead of the kingdom of heaven. And our purpose—in church, in preaching, in effort, and in all of the goals toward which we reach—the purpose is to remake society the social order.
They would say that there are three great stages in the progress of humanity. The first stage would be called theological, when men talked about and thought about and wrote about God. The second stage would be anthropological: the second stage, when men begin to study man and to write about man. The third and the last stage is the golden stage. It’s the stage of sociological, societal study of the structure of society, of government, of culture, of all the things that pertain to human life. And in this third stage—sociological, when we re-structure society in that age—we’ll have perfection, and the millennium, and all things evil, and dark, and sinful, and wrong will be legislated away.
What that kind of doctrine leads to is that there’s no need for Jesus today. He was just one teacher out of a great succession of teachers, and we’ll have a better teacher in the days to come. He was a child of His times, and limited by His own circumstances and culture. He was filled with messianic illusions, which we today know are false and mistaken. And the modern church—so the church of the apostasy says—is gradually moving away from those messianic illusions. There is no need for the preaching of the redemptive message of Christ. His blood is like the blood of any other animal or any other man. There’s no resurrection of the dead. There is no intercession of Christ in heaven. He has no ministry in the presence of the Father. He was a man like all other men and when He died, things that He fought for died with Him. And we are growing beyond those illusions that He entertained. This is the church of the apostasy.
I have written down here what I’ve tried to call a summary. I have sought to make a summary. It’s in six avowals, six brief sections: the difference between God’s Word, God’s revelation and the modern church. The first one is this: the Bible says there is a personal God, the Creator of heaven and earth [Genesis 1:1]. The church of the apostasy says there is no personal God but an eternal energy, or force, or first cause. There never has been an act of creation, matter has always existed.
Number two; the Scriptures avow that besides man there are other created intelligences, angels, fallen angels, demons, Satan [Genesis 3:24; Job 1:6]. There is a kingdom of darkness under the rule of the fallen angel Satan [Ephesians 6:12], the enemy of God and of man, the prince of this world. The Bible says that [2 Corinthians 4:4]. The church of the apostasy says there are no angels, good or evil—no demons, no Satan, and no kingdom of darkness. I listened to an illustrious professor in one of our own Baptist colleges expounding on the fact that there’s no such a person as Satan, and no created fallen beings called demons.
Number three: the Scriptures say that man fell from his original perfection and goodness; and so came under law of sin and death; and therefore need a Redeemer, somebody to save us from the judgment of our sins [Romans 5:12-21]. That is the Bible [Galatians 3:22]. The modern church of the apostasy says man has evolved upward and has never fallen. Those stories back there in the first eleven chapters of Genesis are mythological, they’re legendary. I would say that practically all of the theological professors in the whole world believe that—that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are legendary. They are tales. They are fables. There is no actuality in them at all. That’s what they say, that man has evolved upward, he’s never fallen, he never lived in any garden of Eden. Therefore he needs no redemption but is in the process of evolving into a state of highest goodness and wisdom. Just give him time, and he’ll evolve up to being God Himself.
Number four: the Scriptures say the only begotten Son of God became man to redeem man from sin and death [Hebrews 2:9-11], and He did that on the cross [Colossians 2:14]. And He is now in heaven, our High Priest, making intercession for us [Hebrews 7:24-26] and preparing for the day of our coming [Acts 2:34-36]. Contrary to that, the church of the apostasy says Jesus is but one of the sons of God, for God is incarnate alike in all of us. He is not now—Jesus is not now our High Priest, for His work as a teacher was completed in giving us a moral ideal. He was an ideal for us, a model for us, and that’s all, a man of His times, and when He died, He died as any other man dies.
Number five:; the Scriptures say there is to be a kingdom of Christ set up at the return of our risen Lord [Matthew 25:31], at which time His church, made like Him in resurrection life, will reign [2 Timothy 2:12]; and all the nations shall dwell in peace together—the millennium [Isaiah 2:4]. Contrary to 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 evil will be done away and the kingdom of man shall come.
And last: the Scriptures say the conflict of good and evil, of Christ and Satan, will continue to its final decision in the personal triumph of Christ over Satan, when Satan shall be cast into the bottomless pit with those who follow him [Revelation 20:15]. Contrary to that, the church of the apostasy teaches there is no bottomless pit, there is no hell, there is no judgment, there is no such contest between Christ and Satan, for all evil is but imperfect good, a stumbling upward, and will disappear as humanity inexorably develops.
There is a difference between night and day, between heaven and hell, between the true church and the church of the apostasy—the modern church. I see examples of that all the time. I read of it all the time. The World Council of Churches is mostly Marxist Communists; and it gives money—God’s money!—to terrorists and guerillas who destroy families and life, raid villages. They support it! And they do so in the name of the coming kingdom of man.
As I read the Bible, it is a Book of prophecy. God knows the morrow, and He describes it just as He described the modern church. As I read the Bible, God has something to say about the destiny of that church—the church of the apostasy. In the seventeenth chapter of the Apocalypse, of the Book of Revelation, she is called the scarlet woman, and she rides the beast [Revelation 17:3], she rides a tiger. And it is an amazing revelation to me, as I read the Holy Scriptures, who destroys the beast—God does! [Revelation 17:14]. Who destroys Babylon, the system of this evil world? God does! [Revelation 18:8] Who destroys the Antichrist? God does! Who destroys the scarlet woman, the church of the apostasy? The beast does! [Revelation 17:16-18]. Weary of her pretensions, he turns and destroys the church of the apostasy. She carries in her own life the seeds, the foundation of her own destruction. She cannot live. The sentence of death is written in her. And wherever in this earth you see a church of apostasy, it will be a dying witness. Its breath is fetid. Its very atmosphere breathes of corruption and dead men’s bones. It has no life and no power, no ableness to save. It has no message but one of inevitable social progress, which the world denies in every headline of every newspaper and every chapter of every book of history in the earth.
The same Scriptures also reveal to us the destiny of the true church of Christ—the church of the faith, the church of the Book, the church of redemptive love. Her destiny, God says, is to be caught away—to be raptured to meet her Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and to sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and to break bread and to share the cup with our living, present Savior [Revelation 19:6-9]: to be caught away; two shall be in a field; one shall be taken, and the other left. Two will be grinding at a mill; one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be sleeping in a bed; one shall be taken, and the other left [Luke 17:34-36]. The destiny of the true church of Christ is to be caught away to meet God in the air, to find a home with our Lord in heaven, O God! [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
It is called an ekklēsia, a called-out family of the redeemed of God; an ekklēsia, the called-out ones, the separated ones, the saved ones, the redeemed one, the elect ones—the ekklēsia, the church of our Lord [Ephesians 1:23]. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were elected above all the sentient creation of the world [Genesis 1:26-28]. Noah was elected. He was called out above all of the antediluvians [Genesis 6:5-8]. Abraham was elected. He was called out from all the families of idolatry of the world [Genesis 12:1-2; Joshua 24:2-3]. Israel, Jacob was elected above Esau and the Edomites [Genesis 25:23]. Judah was selected, elected above all of his brethren [Genesis 49:1-10]. David was elected above all of the princes of Judah [1 Samuel 16:1-13]. Bethlehem was elected above all of the cities of Israel [Micah 5:2]. Mary was elected above all of the daughters of Zion [Luke 1:26-35]. The apostle Paul was elected above all the rabbis of the Diaspora, chosen to be the ambassador of Christ to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15]. And of the Gentiles you have been elected to be a member of the family of God.
O Lord, bless His name! How could I thank God enough that I am not a heathen growing up in a place where father, and mother, and family, and friend never knew the name of Christ? Why is it God should have chosen me, that I was born in a Christian home, grew up in a faithful church, and now pastor of a Bible believing congregation? I bless His name! I thank God that He wrote my name in the Book of Life, that when time came for the call of the Holy Spirit, I answered: “Here am I Lord! Here am I!”
And I pray that that same election, that calling out that reaches down to you will find repercussion and answer in your life and in your heart. Oh, bless God for the love, and the mercy, and the redemptive grace that reaches down to me! Lord, Lord, I couldn’t praise Thee enough, couldn’t thank Thee enough, couldn’t serve Thee enough. God help me to love Thee, to love Thee more and to follow Thee more dearly and lovingly. That’s a wonderful thing to remember—God has chosen us! May we stand together?
Wonderful, wonderful precious, precious, glorious, glorious Savior, our hope is in Thee. When we turn aside from Thee and look at the natural forces of the earth, Lord, Lord, we are discouraged. Mankind is so depraved! Even the laws of nature are lost with their tornadoes and their hurricanes and their floods. Only in the personal grace and mercy of God do we find pity, and refuge, and hope, and salvation [Acts 4:12; John 14:6].
And while our people pray and stand before God asking His presence and blessings in our hearts, does the Lord speak to you? A family you, “We’re answering with our lives, we’re coming.” A couple you or just one somebody you, “This is God’s day for me, for us. And pastor, we’re on the way.” In the balcony round, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Here I stand, pastor.”
And our Lord, as the Holy Spirit does His office work [John 16:8], as He lends His power to the truth of the message delivered from God’s Book, Lord seal it with a gracious harvest and thank Thee for those who come, in Thy saving and keeping and someday triumphant name, amen. Welcome, while we sing, come.
THE FINAL STATE OF THE CHURCH
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 20:29-31, 2 Thessalonians 2:3)
B. What Jesus taught is affirmed by the Spirit through the apostles(Matthew 13:31-33, 24:11-12, 24, 37, Luke 17:28)
C. 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)
1. Losing the hope of the return of our Lord, the church makes itself at home in the worldII. 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. Benevolent 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 workIII. 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(Revelation 20:10, 14-15)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(Revelation 17:16-18)V. The destiny of the true church
A. To be caught up unto God(Revelation 19:6-10, Matthew 24:40-42)
B. It is an election, an ekklesia, a “called-out group”(Genesis 1:26-28, 6:8, 12:1, 25:23, :9-10, 1 Samuel 16:1, Micah 5:2, Luke 1:26-28, Acts 9:15)