Saturday, January 05, 2008

Countering Stealth-Like Apostasy

With each subsequent chapter in John MacArthur's book, "The Truth War," it is my heartfelt opinion that more and more heavenly light is being joyfully revealed to the reader. Chapter three, entitled "Constrained into Conflict: Why We Must Fight for the Faith" sheds a brilliant light upon the absolute, biblical reasons why heresy and apostasy must continually be challenged within the churches of true Christian faith.

Jude 3 -
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort [you] that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

MacArthur presents some wonderful, historical details about Jude and why he called himself, "Bondservant of Christ, Brother of James." The following brief quote only gives a smidgen of this information, but it does show that even a person who was once a skeptic can be forever changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.


As a young man, Jude appears to have been confused by the fierce opposition to Jesus, and at first he himself was swept up in skepticism. John 7:5 says that during Jesus' earthly ministry, "even His brothers did not believe in Him." Later, of course, Jude did believe. But at first, he seems to have followed the crowd in their rejection of Jesus' authority.

MacArthur details the fact that after Jude's conversion, and by the time Jude penned his famous epistle, it was clear that he had become a respected voice of authority among the saints and an effective warrior for the truth.

It's interesting to note that heresy and apostasy not only threatens the church today, but threatened the church from the very beginning!


We sometimes tend to think of the early church as pristine, pure, and untroubled by serious error. The truth is, it wasn't that way at all. From the very beginning, the enemies of truth launched an effort to infiltrate and confuse the people of God by mangling the truth and by blending lies with Christian doctrine. Attacks against the truth regularly came not only from persecutors on the outside but also from false teachers and professing believers within the visible community of the church.

Today's emergent; politically correct; no need to repent; de-emphasize (or, completely eliminate) the preaching of the Cross of Christ; "lets all just get along for the sake of unity," crowd ignores the warnings in Jude and several other epistles. (See 2 Peter 2:1-34; 2 Peter 3:3, 17; and 2 Peter 2:1-2, 3:3.)

Yes. As Christians believers, we are not to get involved in "petty" arguments. One example of a typically "petty" argument might be silly disputes over the type of Christian-artist-music one listens to.

However, when it comes to major issues, like Jude, we need to urge believers to oppose those who spread error rather than embrace them. The life of the church depends on it!

MacArthur calls the various types and methods of false teaching by deceptive spiritual "terrorists" infiltrating the church "stealth apostasy." This sentence is key and most astounding:

Whether they are conscious of it or not, false teachers are satanic missionaries sent to produce more apostates.

Scary...isn't it?

The following is another paragraph in MacArthur's book that is similar to what I wrote about in the post "Types of Judgment."

Satan's design is to lead people who have been exposed to the gospel away from it into damning error. There are always people in and around the church who have heard the truth and understood it but who have not yet embraced it and committed to it savingly. They can be led to reject it, and that is exactly what the evil one hopes to accomplish.
(bold, italics mine)

The phrase, "have not yet embraced it and committed to it savingly" is similar to what The Way of the Master book authors typically label as "false converts."

MacArthur goes on and tells the reader that the apostasy problem was not unique to the congregation Jude was addressing in his epistle. In fact, apostasy is a familiar theme in Scripture. Jesus himself addressed it through the parable of the soils found in Matthew 13 and Luke 8.


It pictures God's Word as seed being sown in four types of soils: hard soil, shallow soil, weedy soil, and good soil. The soils represent human hearts in various stages of receptivity. Jesus explained the symbolism of the parable in Luke 8:11-15:

Luk 8:11 ¶ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

Luk 8:12 Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.

Luk 8:13 They on the rock [are they], which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.

Luk 8:14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of [this] life, and bring no fruit to perfection.

Luk 8:15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep [it], and bring forth fruit with patience.

MacArthur points out that three of the four soils picture people who hear the Word and turn away. Some turn away almost immediately (hard-soil hearers), others may show early signs of life but never bear fruit (weedy-soil hearers). The "weedy-soil" ones allow worldly desires to choke the life out of any spiritual interests these people ever had. They are a threat to the spiritual well-being of the church.

But the greatest threat of all comes from the "shallow-soil hearers."


They "receive the word with joy; [but they] have no root. [They] believe for a while [but] in time of temptation fall away."

[...]they hear the truth, understand the truth, and superficially affirm the truth. But because they have no root, they will never produce authentic fruit..

Jude 12 describes apostates as "autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots." These superficial "saints" are actually rootless, fruitless, and dead. So they inevitably fall away.

Because the final disavowal of the truth occurs with full knowledge and understanding, this is a fatal apostasy from which there is o hope of recovery. It is precisely the sin described in such chilling terms in Hebrews 6:4-6:

Hbr 6:4 For [it is] impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

Hbr 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

Hbr 6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put [him] to an open shame.

Is that absolutely chilling or what???

When I read that verse, and thought about the heresy and apostasy of the current, various "movements" that preach a "different gospel" than the TRUE GOSPEL - the one that has been "forever delivered unto the saints,"- I realized that those who often chastise me for bringing up such heresies aren't the least bit concerned (or aware of) the fact that such apostasy presents the greatest internal danger the church faces!

Those who do not savingly believe, can be caught up in corruption, avarice, moral failures, false prophecies, phony "miracles" and erroneous doctrine that all boils down to what MacArthur calls: "a reproach to Christianity and a stumbling block to the undiscerning."

Who will warn them if genuine believers do not?

I remember doing a Bible study on the book of Acts. MacArthur helped me recall a classic biblical example of how apostasy can occur. The story of Simon, a magician, who, (according to Luke) had a reputation of astonishing the people of Samaria with "sorcery." If you read the account in Acts 8:9-25, as the story unfolds we learn that Simon's faith appeared, at first, to be like Philip and the other true Christians. However, we learn in verse 20 that Simon wanted to purchase a gift of God with money!


Peter clearly regarded Simon's request as evidence that the magician was not a real believer at all. "You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God" (v. 21).

For those who claim that Christians "are not to judge," this account flies in the face of their errant philosophy. Peter was certainly direct in confronting this apostate!


Notice that in Peter's subsequent call for Simon's repentance, the apostle speaks of forgiveness in almost hypothetical terms, suggesting that Simon's sin was so serious that it might not even be forgivable: "Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" (vv. 22-23)

Simon pleaded for Philip to pray for him, "that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me" (v. 24). He was obviously shaken and terrified by Philip's rebuke - for the moment, at least.

Unfortunately, we learn that Simon's dread didn't last very long. It appears that he fell away from Christ forever that very day. He is never mentioned again in the biblical record.

MacArthur shares that an early apologist named Justin Martyr did research and found that Simon ended up being an early founder of a gnostic sect.


Those who have seen the truth of the Gospel, professed to believe it, and then turned away from the faith have no hope of redemption. Both Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-30 condemn that kind of apostasy with a tone of utter finality, suggesting that those who fall away willfully never do come back to the faith.

Bone chilling...isn't it?

Look at 2 Peter 2:20-21

2Pe 2:20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.

2Pe 2:21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.

It's as though such apostates have "sealed themselves" in their own disbelief. Their arrogant attitudes are very evident when such people say things like, "I've been there; done that - and it doesn't work." Or, they say, "I used to believe that, but it's not true." Or, "I'm enlightened now. Let me enlighten you too."

Such apostate attitudes were very apparent in the Nightline debate between two self-professed atheists (who claim they were once Christians) and two Christian evangelists (Ray Comfort and former actor, Kirk Cameron). I wrote about that debate here.

Apostates may not always be clear and apparent atheists. Some are more subtle in their unbelief; purposely disguising themselves in a "wolf in sheeps' clothing" way in order to turn others awry in order to deceive them, too!


Jesus' teaching made the truth starkly clear. These people, who evidently saw the truth plainly and understood Jesus' teaching perfectly well, turned away anyway. In fact, the utter clarity of the truth was the very thing that drove them away. When they saw the truth for what it was, they simply hated it. It was too demanding, too unpopular, too inconvenient, too much of a threat to their own agenda, and too much of a rebuke to their sin. Remember, "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).

We see that apostasy, as appalling and dismal as it is, has been with us throughout all of redemptive history. In fact, Scripture teaches that apostasy will be widespread at the end of the age. It is prophesied and known as "The Falling Away."

As I mentioned before, we are not to argue over insignificant matters. However, Scripture is clear that in order to remain faithful to the truth, it may require us to wage "civil war" within the church - especially when enemies of truth posing as brethren and believers are bringing in heresies that lead to apostasy through stealth-like deceptions.


Tim Brown said...

Great article and very true. I can sympathize with you about taking flack for reporting the bad stuff. I've been blogging since August of 2006 and it seems like the attacks get worse.

But as MacArthur states, we must stand and fight for the truth, even if we are called hateful, narrow or whatever.

Stand firm and know you are appreciated...


Matt W. said...

Thank you for taking a stand for the Truth of God. It is so encouraging just to know that there is someone who is out there telling the truth, and not afraid to stand up and say it.

Christinewjc said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks so much for your encouraging comment! It is certainly nice to read that someone out there appreciates what I share!

Yes. The attacks do get worse. However, the longer I blog (since April, 2005) the more Christian friends I am finding who also do quite well in fending off the "hateful" rhetoric being leveled at them!

We owe it all to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His Word, the Bible, stands alone in absolute Truth! Utilizing His Word gives us the ability to counter all of the attacks!

God bless,

Christinewjc said...

Thank you Matt!

Be sure to check out the members of my Christian blogroll. There are many excellent writers sharing God's Truth via the blogsphere! That is why I find myself linking to their essays so often!

In Christ,