By Dr Paul M Elliott
Part two of a series. Read part one.
According to the Word of God, what is the loving response to apostasy? To answer that question, five things must be absolutely clear in your mind as a believer.
A Disturbing Reality
As we noted in our first article in this series, every Christian needs to face a disturbing reality: In today’s postmodern church environment, there is a high statistical probability that at some point you will need to stand up and expose apostasy within your church. The time may well come when you will need to sound an alarm because the word of man is being substituted for the Word of God in the life and ministry of the church. The time may well come when you will need to wave a red flag because there is false teaching, because the one true Gospel is being watered down, or a false gospel has taken its place.
The Motivation of the Right Response
As we saw in our last article, the reason you will need to do this is the imperative of agape love. You will come to this crisis point because Jesus Christ is precious to you – and I certainly hope that He is. You will face the decision to speak out rather than keep quiet, because those around you in the church, your fellow believers, are precious to you – and I certainly hope they are. Your motivation will be rooted in the fact that those people are precious to God – and I hope you understand that they certainly are precious to God, so precious that His agape love meant the sacrifice of His own Son for their sins.
Based on that motivation, you may well be called upon to demonstrate your agape love by making the self-sacrifice of putting your reputation on the line by pointing out error within the church. If you are called upon to do that, you will need to do it in a way that is respectful and Christ-honoring – but never in a way that compromises the truth of God’s Word.
As the Apostle Paul instructs the Colossian church regarding life in the body of Christ, his over-arching theme is the preeminence of the Lord Jesus. He tells the Colossian believers that Jesus Christ is to have first place in everything. The subject we are discussing right now, the imperative of standing against apostasy, is an area of life in the body of Christ in which a Christian needs to prove that you really believe this. Your personal response to apostasy will prove whether or not you really, truly mean it, when you say that Jesus Christ is to have first place in your own life, and in the life of the church.
In this study we have been focusing on Paul’s words in Colossians 2:1-3 –
I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Notice in particular the phrase that we find in verse two: The church is to be “knit together in love.” The meaning of the original Greek is that Christians are to be united together, everyone holding the same beliefs together, in a manner that is characterized by self-sacrificial love. Such love is one of the pillars of Christian unity. As we have seen, the Greek word for love in that verse is agape love. We have seen that two things are true of agape love, this genuine Christian love. The motivation of agape love is an appreciation for the preciousness of the person who is the object of that love. The demonstration of agape love is self-sacrifice.
Demonstrating agape love in the church may require you to make the self-sacrifice of putting your reputation on the line by sounding the alarm about apostasy.
Today’s Weak Response to Apostasy
This is an extremely critical issue today. It is an issue on which the church of Jesus Christ has become exceedingly weak. If there is one thing that characterizes most Evangelical and Reformed churches today, it is a tremendous degree of tolerance toward apostasy in the church. In our previous article we cited some of the ways in which this is manifesting itself in the church. We saw that there is clear and abundant evidence on every hand.
So many people who are sitting in churches week after week, and so many men who are preaching from the pulpits week after week, simply do not believe what the Bible says. As we said last time, there is abundant evidence based on careful research, that shows us this is true, that much of what is called the Bible-believing church today is actually slipping into apostasy, and the problems are spreading.
The time may come when these things will be true in your own church. Statistically speaking, there is a high probability that these things are already true to some degree, already happening, in your own church.
How did the church get into this sad condition? The main reason is that even when people in the church recognize there is a problem, they do not want to do anything about it. Behind that unwillingness to take action is the widespread influence of postmodernist thinking in our society. The sad fact is that a great many Evangelical church members have adopted the position of the unsaved world – that there is no such thing as objective truth. Practically speaking, most people think that “truth¡± depends on what feels right to them. So you have your truth, and I have my truth. My church has its truth and the church down the road says it has a different truth. But we all just need to tolerate each other and get along. That is the kind of thinking you find today.
When you ask people in the Evangelical church why they think this way, the main reason they will give you is this: “Well, the Bible says we are supposed to love one another. The Bible says that we all just need to get along, even if we differ in what we believe. And that means that it is not my place to stir up trouble in the church.”
Dear friend, let me tell you something – not on my own authority, but on the authority of the Word of God. This kind of attitude is absolutely the wrong response to apostasy. It is an un-loving response to apostasy. This kind of wrong thinking is why the Evangelical church is in such terrible shape today. The Bible says that the true believer’s response to apostasy must be 180 degrees opposite from the typical response – or perhaps I should say lack of response – that we see today. I am going to show you where the Bible says that, and why it says it.
Five Keys to a Biblically Loving Response to Apostasy
According to the Word of God, what is the loving response to apostasy? To answer that question, we are going to look at five things that must be absolutely clear in your mind as a believer. You need to understand these things so that you will be equipped to do what God says you must do, if and when you find apostasy in the church. These are five keys to a Biblically loving response to apostasy.
Number one, you need to be able to define and identify apostasy. What is apostasy, and what is not apostasy, according to the Bible? If you are going to put your reputation on the line by lovingly exposing apostasy in the church, first of all make sure it is really apostasy.
Number two, you need to be absolutely clear about the Biblical basis for the proper response to apostasy. And we are going to find that it is a response that is based upon genuine Christian love – agape love.
Number three, you need to compare other responses (and non-responses) to apostasy with the proper response that you find in the Word of God, the response that God commands. In other words, you need to understand why those other responses are the wrong responses. You need to understand why only one response is the right response. We are going to find that it has to do with the Biblical definition of Christian love. And, we are going to find that what many people call Christian love is really a counterfeit. It is not agape love at all.
Number four, you need to be able to deal with specific objections that people will raise. Usually they will raise these objections in order to justify not doing the right thing themselves. Often they will also raise these objections to try to discourage you, or even prevent you, from doing the right thing. What you will often find is that people twist Scripture to try to avoid responsibility. We are going to deal with six passages of Scripture that people often bring up as an excuse for not doing the right thing when there is apostasy in the church. We shall see that in each case they are twisting Scripture to make excuses for their own sin.
Number five, you need to understand the steps that God’s Word tells you to follow, acting with agape love, when you find apostasy in the church. We shall see that God has not left us in doubt as to what these steps are. The Bible is very clear on these matters.
Next: Understanding What Apostasy Is – And Is Not
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