The Final State of the Church
May 16th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
THE FINAL STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 4:1
5-16-82 8:15 a.m.
And no less grateful for the great group of you who listen every Sunday morning to this broadcast on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The message today is the last in the series of doctrinal studies on ecclesiology, on the church. It is entitled The Final State of the Church. And as you will see in the development of the sermon, it is one of the most remarkable of all of the prophecies in the Bible; and we are watching it fulfilled in our day and in our generation.
In the fourth chapter of 1 Timothy, in the first verse, the apostle speaks, and like a resounding, recurring note from a foghorn on a buoy in an ocean marking a reef, marking a shoal, this resounding prophecy is made over and over again. Paul writes of it in 1 Timothy 4:1:
Now the Holy Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times –
and we are seeing that fulfilled, this is that latter time –
that in the latter times there shall come men who depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.
[1 Timothy 4:1-2]
In 2 Timothy 3:14:
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and been assured of;
Now the first verse:
Knowing this, that in the last days, these days in which we live,
perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient, unthankful, unholy.
[2 Timothy 3:1-2]
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."
[2 Timothy 3:5]
Now look again in chapter 4 of 2 Timothy, the third verse:
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 shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
[2 Timothy 4:3-4]
Now in the second Thessalonian letter, Paul wrote of the same thing: chapter 2, verse 3, "Let no man deceive you by any means: there shall come a falling away first" [2 Thessalonians 2:3]. And Paul spoke of that in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 29, "For I know this, that after my departure 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]. I could go on and on. It is a resounding reverberation through all of the New Testament, this prophecy of an apostate church, of the falling away in the latter times.
What we read in the apostolic writings under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit [2 Timothy 3:16], is but a repercussion of what Jesus Himself taught. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven, the growth of Christendom, would be like a mustard seed – which is so tiny – and it grows into a tree; and in its branches every dirty and unclean bird comes to roost [Matthew 13:31-32]. He said it is like leaven that finally leavens the whole lump [Matthew 13:33]; there is apostasy throughout the whole Christian faith. It isn’t just in that communion, or just in that denomination, or just in that cult, but it’s throughout all Christendom, throughout the whole church. And He said, in the little apocalypse, in Matthew 24:11, "Many [false] prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold [Matthew 24:12],For there shall arise," in verse 24, "false Christs, and false prophets,and if it were possible, they would deceive the very elect" [Matthew 24:24]. It’s a continuing reverberation, repetitive prophecy, that in these last days we’re going to see a change, a vast change in the churches and in the communion of our wonderful Lord.
That’s why I had you read the prophecy of our Lord to the church at Laodicea. In His message to the church at Ephesus, our Lord said, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" [Revelation 2:4]. When love grows cold, faith dies, "For with the heart one believeth unto righteousness" [Romans 10:10]. When love grows cold, obedience dies, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" [John 14:15]. When love grows cold, the longing and looking for the second coming of our Lord, the return of Jesus, dies. And the Lord speaks that to the first age of the church, to the church at Ephesus [Revelation 2:4-5]. Then it grows and grows until finally, in His message to the church at Laodicea, He is on the outside; He is not even inside, He is on the outside knocking at the door [Revelation 3:20]. This abandoning of an expectation for our Lord has become almost universal. It’s a rare pulpit, it’s a rare church, it is a rare people who lift up their eyes in expectation for the intervention of God in our history, the coming of Christ.
Simon Peter spoke of that end prophecy, in the third chapter of his second epistle. He says:
The time will come –
it has come –
the time will come when scoffers will arise, saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were; the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, and we do not see any sign of His return.
[2 Peter 3:3-4]
Consequently, the looking for the Lord abates, it ebbs in human expectation. People begin to say, "The apostles were mistaken; they looked for the coming of the Lord Jesus, but they erred." Then finally they say, "The Lord Himself was mistaken. He did not realize that He was promising something that will never come to realization." So the church makes itself at home in the world. They love the caresses and tributes of the world. And being at home in the world, they put off the marriage supper of the Lamb, when the bride and the Lord are together [Matthew 26:26-28; Revelation 19:6-9], and they like being at ease in Zion [Amos 6:1-6]. The consequence of that is there is a new religion, with its philosophical conception of God; there is a new church, with its metaphysical conception of Christ; and there is a new interpretation of the universe, with its pseudoscientific interpretation of matter. Now out of that we’re going to take the new metaphysical conception of Christ and the church. We’re going to look at the religion of the church of the apostasy; the modern church.
First of all: it is a church based upon, founded upon, natural law; not upon revealed religion but upon observable phenomena. In this modern church of the apostasy, there is no personal God, "He is a force, He is a prime mover, He is a first cause, He is an energy, but He is not personal. He doesn’t perform miracles; they’re impossible. And He certainly doesn’t hear prayer; there’s no somebody to listen. And in this world of natural law, things move inexorably and impersonally; there’s nobody that sees or cares." It is a church based upon observable phenomenon, the inexorability of law.
Another thing about it, it has no Bible of authority. This Book is just one out of many sacred books, all of them written by man in an attempt to explain his existence here in the earth; and as such it has no ultimate authority. I looked at the seal of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Bible says, "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" [Isaiah 11:9]. That’s what the Book says. But when they write it on that Hebrew seal it says, "That the earth be filled with knowledge"; God is taken out of it. To my amazement, most of them are profound, dedicated atheists. For generations in Glasgow, Scotland, what we would call the city hall, there was a great slogan up there, a meaningful one, "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word." After World War II, they rebuilt that – what we would call city hall – and this time when they put that slogan back that had been up there for generations, they wrote it like this: "Let Glasgow flourish." Lop off "the preaching of the Word"; turning aside from the Holy Scriptures.
It’s not only a church based on natural law that makes impersonal God and deprives the Bible of its authority, but Christianity becomes just one out of many religions – no authoritarian ultimate in itself. It’s just one of the attempts of man to know God. I visited with a Unitarian preacher, pastor, in New England. And he said to me, "Our religion is above Christianity. We take what is best out of Christianity, and being eclectic, we take the best of all the other religions of the world. And we are above the Christian faith."
Second: this church of the apostasy is based upon the deification of man, the dethroning of Christ and the exaltation of man. They would teach that God is incarnate in all of us, "The divine spark is in all of us, and the only difference between us and Jesus is a matter of degree, not quality or kind. And what we need to do is just to fan the spark of divinity in us." They would say that all of us, all mankind, all generations live under, move under, the law of dynamic evolution, "There is inevitable progress in human life. Consequently, there’s no such thing as a perfection in the past; we are inexorably moving on and upward to a perfection that lies before us. And give us time, and we’ll have a perfect humanity; we will evolve into it. We’ll become angels someday, or archangels even." They also would teach in that vein that the perfect man is yet to be evolved, "Jesus will not stand forever as the perfect someone who lives in this world, or who lived in this world; but we’ll have other and more perfect men. We’ll have other Christs who are better." It would be impossible in their persuasion that there would have been perfection in the past and that we’d fallen from it; that would ruin their persuasion of evolution. Adam and Eve, therefore, were not created perfect, they evolved from the lower animals, from the anthropoids, from the simians, from the apes, "We evolved upward, and we’re going to keep on evolving upward until we come to new Christs who are far better than the old one we know in Jesus of Nazareth." And the same modern apostasy teaches that sin is nothing but the brief passing obscuration of the sun, "Sin is but the dust upon the image of the coin, sin is but the drag of our animal ancestry, sin is but a stumbling upward. And give us time and we’ll outgrow it; we will evolve beyond it." That’s the church of the apostasy; that’s the modern church.
Not only is it a church built upon natural law, not only is it a church that deifies man – dethrones Christ – but the church of the apostasy is a church that finds salvation in terms of societal, sociological, social progress, social tones. It believes in a beneficent humanism. It substitutes for the kingdom of God the kingdom of human society, and its goal is to restructure society. And when they’re able to reconstruct the social order, then the golden age will come. No longer does the church of the apostasy seek the salvation of souls through the redemptive work of Christ, but it seeks the restructuring of the social order in the city, in the state, in the nation, in the world.
They would say it like this, "In the progress of humanity there was first a theological age in which men talked about and believed in God. Then in progress there was the anthropological age, and in this anthropological age, why, men began to study man. Finally, the ultimate age will come, the societal, the sociological, the social age, which will be the golden age when we have all society perfected." In a scheme like that, Jesus of Nazareth has no part. He is looked upon as a teacher who was the product of His times. He was circumscribed by His own limitations. He was a teacher who lived in that day, and did well in that day; but He has no message for us this day. We have outgrown Him. They would say that Jesus entertained messianic illusions; but today the church has grown beyond it. We are now looking for greater visions and more perfect models.
I have written down here, the best that I could, six things that contrast the teachings of the Word of God and the teachings of the church of the apostasy, the modern church. First one: the Scripture says there is a personal God, a Creator of heaven and earth [Genesis 1:1], a "somebody" who did it, God, Jehovah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament says, "In the beginning was the Word,and by Him all things were made that were made" [John 1:1-3]. That’s what the Bible says. Now this is 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’s eternal.
Second: the Scriptures say besides man there are other created intelligences; there are angels, fallen angels, demons, Satan. There is a kingdom of darkness under the rule of the fallen angel Satan, the enemy of God and of man, the prince of this world [Ephesians 6:11-12]. That’s what the Bible says. The modern church of the apostasy says there are no angels, good or evil, no demons, no Satan, no kingdom of darkness. They scoff at the idea of a personal Satan. I’ve heard men in our own communion; in our own Baptist school say that, scoff at the idea of Satan.
A third: Scriptures say that man fell from his original perfection and goodness and so came under the law of sin and death, and therefore needs a Redeemer [Romans 8:2-4]. Somebody needs to save us. The church of the apostasy says 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.
Fourth: the Scriptures say the only begotten Son of God became man to redeem man from sin and death, and He did that on the cross, and He is now our High Priest making intercession for us in heaven [Philippians 2:6-8]. The church of the apostasy, the modern church, says Jesus is but one of the sons of God; we’re all sons of God. For God is incarnate alike in all men. He is not now our High Priest, for His work as a teacher was completed in giving us a moral ideal.
Number five: the Scriptures say there is a kingdom of Christ set up at the return of our risen Lord, in which His church, made like Him in resurrection life, shall reign with Him, and all nations shall dwell in peace [Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21]. There is going to be a millennium. 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 man shall come.
And last: 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 over Satan, when Satan shall be cast into the bottomless pit with those who follow him [Revelation 20:3]. That’s what the Bible teaches. The modern church says there is no bottomless pit, there is no hell, there is no such contest; for all evil is but imperfect good, a stumbling upward, and will disappear as humanity develops.
Now, that’s what the apostles through the Spirit said would happen. That’s what Jesus said would happen. And we are seeing it in our modern day. You don’t believe the extremities to which they go, but the World Council of Churches supports Marxism, communism, and gives money to the guerillas and the terrorists in the earth to overthrow modern governments, nationally-elected officials. It never stops.
I have to conclude. What does the Bible say about the ultimate end of the church of the apostasy? In the seventeenth chapter of the Apocalypse, in the seventeenth chapter of the Revelation, the church of the apostasy is called "the scarlet woman" [Revelation 17:4], and she rides the beast [Revelation 17:3], she’s on a tiger. And it’s a strange thing about the judgment upon that scarlet woman, the church of the apostasy: God destroys the beast, God destroys Babylon; the world system of evil; God destroys the Antichrist [Revelation 17:14], but who destroys that scarlet woman? The beast: weary of her pretensions, the very governments rise up to annihilate her, to destroy her, that’s the prophecy [Revelation 17:16].
I cannot close without the prophecy of the true church of Jesus. What is her destiny? Bless God! Her destiny is to be caught up with her Lord, to be with Him world without end [1 Thessalonians 4:17], to be seated by His side at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-9], to rule and to reign with Him forever and ever [Revelation 22:3-5]. His church is called an ekklesia, the called-out body of Christ [Ephesians 1:22-23]. It is an election. In a world of evil, and violence, and blood, and sin, and death, and the grave, His church is an ekklesia, a called-out family of God [Romans 8:15]. Adam and Eve were elected above all the sentient creation [Genesis 1:26-28]. Noah was elected, called out, above the antediluvians [Genesis 6:5-8, 7:21-23]. Abraham was elected – he was called out – above all of the idolatrous peoples of the world [Genesis 12:1-3; Joshua 24:2-3]. Israel, Jacob, was elected above Esau [Genesis 27:1-40]. Judah was elected above his brethren [Genesis :8-12]. David was elected above all of the princes of Judah [1 Samuel 16:1-13]. Bethlehem was elected above all the cities of Israel [Micah 5:2]. Mary was elected, chosen, called out, above all of the daughters of Zion [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35]. And the apostle Paul was elected above all the rabbis of the Diaspora to be the preacher to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15]. And that same election reaches down to you. You have been elected, called out, to be a member of the body of our blessed Lord [Romans 8:29]. And why should we not rejoice and praise God, and be glad, and worship Him that His grace has extended even to us? [Romans 9:23-24]. Why am I not a heathen, a pagan? Why am I not a minister in the church of the apostasy? Why are we not numbered among those who are false and deceptive in their reading of the Scriptures, and in their belief in the personal God who made us and in a personal Redeemer who died to save us? It’s just God has been good to you, God has been wonderfully good to us; and we praise His name, and bow in humble thanksgiving that thus the Lord has remembered us.
Now may we stand together?
Wonderful Savior, in a world of deception and false teaching, in a world of apostasy, Lord, thank Thee that we still have the heart and the spirit and the commitment, humbly to believe the Words of the Holy Book, to accept as everlasting truth the teaching of our blessed Savior, that we found forgiveness of sin in Him [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], a promise of eternal life [John 3:16, 10:27-30], and of a place with Thee beyond the grave [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17].
And in this moment that our people quietly stand in the presence of God, a family you, to put your life with us in this dear church; a couple you to come forward; a one somebody you answering God’s call in his heart; make that decision now. And when we sing our appeal, down that stairway or down this aisle, "Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way." And thank Thee Lord, for the sweet harvest You will give us, in Thy saving name, amen. Welcome, while we sing, while we make appeal.