Apostasy and the Laodicean Dilemma

by Ben Rast

Imagine sitting in church on a bright, sunny Sunday morning.  The invocation was nice, the singing was particularly uplifting, and you managed to stick an extra couple of dollars into the collection plate.  Your pastor steps to the pulpit, arranges his notes carefully, and takes a sip of water.  He smiles warmly at the congregation, holds up his Bible, and announces, “Before we begin, I should let you know that I’ve found the Bible to be far too depressing and outdated.  We shall no longer be using it in our services!”  Your lower jaw is still in mid-drop when your pastor banks his former Bible off the wall and into the wastebasket.  Frightening thought, no?  Yet this event is happening in more and more churches around the world today; perhaps not with as much suddenness or casual flair, but the effect is the same.

According to Bible prophecy, there will be a great apostasy from Christ’s church.  This apostasy – the apostasy – will occur before the rapture, the tribulation, and the rise of Antichrist, and will involve a departing from the faith by those who call themselves Christians.  Regarding the second coming of Christ, Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”  The Greek word apostasia is used here for the “falling away.”  It is from this word that we derive the English word “apostasy.”  Apostasy is defined as “a defection from the truth,” or “a departing from that which was given at first.”   

In spite of its phenomenal growth, Christianity has had apostate tendencies throughout history.  But Paul speaks of a particularly significant departure from sound doctrine.  This apostasy will be the climax of all previous apostate tendencies, and will be worldwide in scope.  Paul continues his description of this apostasy in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall 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.”   

As the consciences of men become seared, and their hearts hardened to the truth, they will clamor towards doctrines that sound nice, but do not have the ring of truth.  These doctrines are “doctrines of devils,” that entice the human nature with teachings that deny the true gospel of Christ Jesus.  In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul says, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (NIV)

Are we in such an apostasy now?  Sadly, it seems evident that we are.  Sound biblical teaching is slowly being usurped by doctrines that place inclusiveness above truth.  Mainline protestant denominations are not only denying that homosexuality is a sexual sin, many also ordain gay clergy and perform homosexual marriages.  The Anglican Church in Canada is on the verge of a split over such an issue, as are the Methodists and Episcopalians in the United States.  In a recent conference in England, Anglican bishops voted to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ.  I find it disturbing not only that such a vote is even necessary, but also because a significant percentage of bishops voted no!

The new and heretical doctrines are based on a social gospel rather than a theological one.  Episcopal Bishop William Swing founded the United Religions Initiative in the mid-1990’s.  Under the banner of uniting the world’s faiths in a spirit of cooperation, the URI places the gospel of Jesus Christ on the same level as every other religious belief.  Apparently assuming the belief that “all roads lead to Rome,” the URI seems poised to play a significant role in ushering in a single, global religion such as was prophesied in the book of Revelation.

Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong is another clergy of note that is leading an apostate movement away from the true gospel.  Spong believes that scientific advances in the last two thousand years place the Bible in the category of a book of fables.  In his address to the 124th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, on January 30, 1998, Spong said, “So the mythical religious language of a finished creation, the fall, original sin and the need for a rescuing God becomes language out of touch with our present perception of reality. The loss of this mythical framework has also rendered meaningless the normative portrait of Jesus as the divine rescuer, and the story of the cross as the sacrifice designed to pay the price of sin. Those concepts are rapidly becoming all but nonsensical.” 

As if that weren’t enough, Spong goes further.  In his article “A Call for a New Reformation”, Bishop Spong submits twelve theses. Tnhey are:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history
  8. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  9. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  10. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  11. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

As prophesied, false prophets and false christs are appearing in rapidly increasing numbers.  They pervert the gospel of Christ, and substitute for it one that replaces the longstanding truths of sin and redemption with inclusiveness, universal salvation, and a complete release from accountability.  This is the message that many “itching ears” have wanted to hear.  Instead of man being inherently sinful, he is inherently good.  There is no condemnation, therefore no divine salvation.  Man is killing God, and replacing grace with self-reliance.

The church today is ripe for such an apostasy.  Many of the mainline denominations have lost their zeal and faith, and are relying more and more upon the wisdom of man.  Church is less about faith and fellowship, and more about religion – a tepid, cream colored, non-intrusive, undemanding religion.   

In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, John is instructed to write to seven churches.  While these churches existed in the literal, physical sense at the time, many dispensationalists also equate these churches with periods of time during the church age (the time between the crucifixion of Christ and His second coming).  If this interpretation is true, I believe the church of today is represented by the last of the seven churches – the church in Laodicea.  John records the words of Jesus to the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-22:

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

In the passage above, Jesus could be speaking to many churches today.  Their faith has become stale, and their creature comforts are of higher importance than doing the work of the Lord.  Archeologists have revealed much about ancient Laodicea and the surrounding areas.  In Ephesus, they have found numerous writings of scripture and other evidence of evangelical outreach.  Not so in Laodicea.  This area was a center of commerce, and its churches were very wealthy.  Unlike the church in Ephesus, no evidence has been uncovered to indicate any active role of the Laodicean churches.  The church existed there, but it did little more than simply exist.  Many of today’s churches share the same disease.  Of the seven churches Jesus addressed in Revelation, the only church that received no commendations was the one in Laodicea.  The Laodicean Syndrome that plagues churches today has made them susceptible to the siren song of false gospels.  It has made them ripe for apostasy.  The enemy of our living Lord is clever.  He attacks Christ’s church from within, as well as without.  He has “sown tares among the wheat” (Matthew 13:25).  Bishop Spong calls it a “new reformation”. I call it apostasy.

Do you notice the Laodicean Syndrome in your church?  Have you spoken out to your pastor or your congregation?  We cannot afford to idly stand by and allow a social gospel to replace the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ”  We cannot let this happen, and we are instructed not to.  Jude 3-4 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.  For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”  We are ordered to contend for our faith – to defend it against those who would pervert the gospel.  Paul’s instructions to Timothy are just as applicable to all Christians today, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

Are you prepared to contend for your faith?  To do so carries risks. You risk being labeled a “fundamentalist,” “intolerant,” or “divisive.”  We must accept the risk, and be soldiers for Christ.  The alternative is to face Him and hear Him say, “I never knew you.”