Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67)
It’s hard to imagine that anyone who walked with Jesus could ever even consider turning and walking away, and yet this is just what many of His disciples did. It was this ‘lesser apostasy’ that prompted Jesus to ask those who remained this question, and it’s one every Christian needs to ask themselves in these troubling times. We will all come to a crossroads, a point of choice – whether to continue on with Him, despite the pressures of the world, or to succumb and become part of the mass ‘falling away’ as Paul describes it 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and which has come to be known as the great apostasy.
The great apostasy is a reality that every Christian will face, and which will demand the ultimate choice
For those who think this is ‘myth’ – and there are, frighteningly, many who do – consider this: Most citizens of most nations in the western world would automatically register their religious affiliation as ‘Christian’ a decade or so ago. Now, a large percentage of this same population claim no religious affiliation at all, and of those that do, a large percentage only attend services on major holidays for for family functions like weddings or funerals. This alone is an indication that the great apostasy is already well on its way and rapidly picking up speed.
While the world at large may still evidence a hunger for things spiritual, they are turning to the esoteric rather than the Bible. Popularity for new age teachings, eastern spiritualism, and what were once obscure or even taboo ‘religious’ sects are rapidly gaining followers. These aside, the number of atheists and agnostics is also on the increase – people who pride themselves on their ‘realism’ and fundamental belief that this life ‘is it,’ that we’re not accountable and can look forward to neither good nor bad once we quite this world. The great apostasy does not manifest only in those turning to false religions. It is alive and well in those who chose simple apathy above any spiritual excercise.
This is the sentiment of the world, a sentiment that is rapidly permeating the church through false teachings. When the church begins to focus on the things that appeal to the world, Christians are left vulnerable and open to the seductions that seem so logical or reasonable when compared to the ‘narrow way.’ We face constant pressure from friends, families, colleagues, and now even governments. While free speech is entrenched in constitutions worldwide, Christians are forbidden this privilege because our teaching are ‘narrow’ or ‘discriminatory.’ The great apostasy is not a myth. It is the concerted attack of the enemy using the world system to promote the agenda of the god of this world.
It’s significant that Jesus, having watched these followers turn and leave, tells those remaining that they did so because ‘they did not believe.’ The turned away because they were offended by spiritual truths that they did not understand. And they did not understand because they did not believe. This, simply put, is the basic definition of the great apostasy – the great falling away of those who lose the faith they believed they had. The reality is that, when pressure comes, those who do not really believe will fall away. The deciding factor is faith and spiritual understanding that comes only from a real commitment and surrender to God.
Jesus talks about separating the sheep from the goats. This is the purpose of God behind the great apostasy. it’s a reminder that not all of those sitting in our churches are fully surrendered, or ‘real sheep.’ That person beside us in the pew on a Sunday morning may be a goat which resembles a sheep. We may be that goat. Until we come to the crossroads, until we have to face that moment of choice, we will not really know the nature of our faith.
The reality is that ‘Christian’ is rapidly becoming something of an upleasant word. It’s frowned upon, mocked, and generally treated with scorn or disdain. The name of Christ has become a swear word, and our ‘religious freedom’ is being systematically eroded day by day through social pressure and government legislation. What was once the foundation of the western world is becoming the embarrassment of the western world. We are somehow made to feel obligated to to ‘worship’ together with other religions – which is essentially allowing the worship of demons in the presence of God. If we don’t, we’re castigated as being arrogant and short sighted, and even bigots. The words of Christ to ‘love others’ are thrown back at us, and Bible is reviled as outdated and something which advocates gender and homosexual bias and discrimination. These are the tools of the great apostasy, and they grow more powerful with each day.
We have come to the place where evangelising our churches is as much a priority as evangelising those outside. We sit in our churchs and hear the preaching of ‘comfortable Christianity’ that focuses on self-gratification, on prosperity and blessing, on ‘seizing our inheritance,’ on how God loves us just the way we are when He really loves us despite the way we are. All of these deny the fundamental teachings of Christ, whose example teaches surrender, obedience, servanthood, and denying ourselves for the good of others. His ‘narrow way’ is rapidly becoming a highway to perdition, and the great apostasy has barely begun.
I write this with a heavy heart and a tremendous burden for those among us who have not yet ‘believed.’ I weep for those who will be swept away on the tide of the great apostasy, who will slide further and further from eternal grace and perish when the joy of salvation was so nearly in their grasp. I mourn for the false teachers and prophets who have seized a vision that is not of God, who believe they have found true revelation but who are, as Paul said, preaching the doctrines of demons.
Those who follow Jesus will reach that point of choice. We will all have to face the reality of the great apostasy and watch some we love fall away, powerless to help them as they are swept along by the pressures and seductions of the world. The cry of my heart is that we should begin to pray in earnest, to fast and cry out to God on their behalf, to pour ourselves out as Jesus did, and to pray for the conviction of faith and sustaining grace to endure. Things will not get better. They will get worse. the pressures will mount, the opposition will become more virulent, and even those close to us will turn away.
We are no different to Peter, whom the devil wished to sift as wheat. Unless we turn our focus and energy to Lord, our rock and our salvation, we will run the risk of denying Him as Peter did. We face the greatest challenge the church of Christ has ever faced. We cannot underestimate this, nor overestimate our ability to endure. Let us ask ourselves this same question now and choose our path. Will we go away too? While we have time, let us use it in the Word, in prayer, in worship, and in constant communion with God. He alone is our refuge, our sure defense against the great apostasy that will surely gain momentum.
It is only together that we can stand. A body is no longer a body if its parts are separate. Now is the time to share the Word, to test the teaching we receive, to listen to the guiding of the Spirit, and to allow God to reveal our weaknesses and work in us to remove them. Now is the time to exhort one another, to share wisdom and comfort, to not compromise, and to take hold of the gift of grace and faith with rejoicing. God has promised that no one will snatch us out of His hand. The great apostasy is a reality none of us can avoid, but in Him we can endure and remain victorious.
We can rejoice that, though we live in this world, we are citizens of heaven. We can rejoice that our names are written in book of life, that we are destined for a glorious eternity, and that no matter what anyone does to us, our future in Him is assured. But we need courage and boldness to speak only His Truth, especially now when the eternity of others depends on it. The days of comfortable Christianity are over. We all need to ‘go and preach the Gospel,’ even to those who share our pews. There will be many we cannot reach and who will, by their own choice, be swept away by the great apostasy. But if we can, by God’s grace, only reach one, then we have fulfilled our purpose. The Bible tells us that there is great rejoicing in heaven when even one soul is snatched from the fires of hell.
This is the call to the church today: to snap out of our complacency and and live the life of Christ – obedience, surrender, and intercession. To reveal His heart to a dying world, even to weep as He did for those who do not believe and who will perish through the great apostasy. Christianity cannot be a passtime. It must be a life. The time is gone for half-measures and halfhearted commitment. It’s all or nothing. The battle lines are drawn, and we must decide where we stand. Are we with Jesus in His purpose to bring salvation, no matter what the cost, or will we too turn and walk away? As always, the choice is ours.
Heavenly Father, help us to make the right choice today. Change our hearts, Lord. Give us new hearts and new spirits as You have promised in Your Word. Draw us closer to You and help us to see with spiritual wisdom and understanding. Grant us grace for boldness and courage, not only to stand but to speak the truth, and to bear the burden of Jesus for a lost and fallen world.