By Dr Paul M Elliott
Part five of a series. Read part four.
Christ commended the church at Ephesus for its stand against apostasy, but warned them about the danger of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
We have come now to the third of the five keys to a Biblically loving response to apostasy: You need to understand why other responses to apostasy in the church are wrong responses. Once again, this has to do with the Biblical definition of Christian love. What many people call Christian love is really a counterfeit. It is not agape love at all.
“It’s Not My Job”
It is a wrong response to apostasy to think that it is not your job to deal with it. That is, in fact, an un-loving response. The Apostle Paul writes this to the church at Ephesus, in Ephesians chapter five, beginning at verse six:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:6-17)
Self Preservation Instead of Self-Sacrifice
Saying nothing is an un-loving response to apostasy. Tolerance is an un-loving response to apostasy. Giving in to the myth of neutrality – thinking that you don’t need to take sides – is an un-loving response to apostasy. These are all un-loving responses to apostasy because they are not based on the motivation and demonstration of agape love. They are not motivated by love for Christ and for His people. They are not demonstrations of self-sacrifice.
At the end of the day, the fact is that these responses are rooted in pride. They are rooted in self-protection. They are rooted in a mindset that actually is saying this: “I do not love Christ and His Word and His people enough – Christ and His Word and His people are not precious enough to me – for me to be willing to demonstrate the genuineness of my love for Christ and His Word and His people, by putting my reputation on the line, by risking persecution for His sake, by exposing apostasy in the church, and leaving the results in Christ’s hands.”
This aspect of agape love is one of the most misunderstood elements of the Christian life in church today. It is also one of the most misused and abused things in the church today. In a future article we are going to see that people often twist Scripture to make agape love into something that is entirely different from the true picture of it that we find in the pages of the Bible, in order to shirk their own obligation in this matter and to prevent others from fulfilling theirs.
A Major Theme of Church History
As we look at the history of the church – from the very beginning, from the earliest chapters of the book of Acts – we find that it is very much the history of the battle for sound doctrine and against apostasy. The history of the church is littered with the wreckage of individuals and churches who refused to confront apostasy and deal with it.
But as we look carefully at the history of the church, we also find that it is the history of the spiritually heroic efforts of those who took a stand against error. The pages of the New Testament, and the subsequent 1,900 years of church history, give us the record of men and women who, by the authority of Scripture alone and by the power of the Holy Spirit, did a mighty work for God.
These men and women helped to bring rescue and repentance to churches that were headed toward apostasy. They also helped to rescue God’s remnant from churches that had gone into apostasy and refused to repent of it. They did this by sounding the clarion call that we find in Second Corinthians chapter six – “Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.”
Why did these people do what they did? We find that they were motivated by agape love. They were motivated by an appreciation of the preciousness of Christ their Savior. They were motivated by an appreciation of the preciousness of their fellow believers. And so, because of their love for Christ and His church, they were willing to put their reputations on the line, and even in many cases they put their very lives on the line, even in many cases suffering torture and death, in order to stand against apostasy, to stand for the truth, as Paul puts it in Ephesians chapter six, “having done all, to stand.”
Apostasy – Today As Never Before
Apostasy of every kind and in every form is rampant among us today. As I look at the pages of church history, I do not believe there has ever been another time when apostasy was so widespread, and moving so rapidly, on so many fronts, in so many churches, and in so many countries as we find today.
The Internet and mass-media satellite communication, by radio and especially by television, have made it possible for apostasy to spread literally at the speed of light. A particular brand of apostasy can be born in one church in one country today, and within a week it can spread around the world, as it is watched, and listened to, and embraced by untaught and undiscerning people in churches in a hundred other countries. It is happening constantly in our time. Space does not permit me to go into detail, but if you go to our website and look at the resources you will find there, you will find many, many accounts of such things.
Over the past several years I have found myself spending a considerable portion of my time helping people who are dealing with false teaching and apostasy in their own churches. Some of these dear people are pastors, but many more of them are elders, or deacons, or regular church members. These people are deeply troubled by the real apostasy they are discovering in their churches and their denominations. They are also deeply troubled because when they have pointed out the problem, the reaction of other people quite often has been to criticize them, and even to persecute them. I have known people who suffered actual physical abuse from other church members because they stood for the truth.
Do The Right Thing For the Right Reason
Dear friends, these things are very real. Perhaps you are someone who is in such a situation. I want to encourage you today to do the right thing.
I want you to understand exactly what God’s Word says you need to do, how to do it, and how to deal with those who, to use the modern phrase, want to “shoot the messenger” rather than confront the problem.
In Acts chapter twenty, the Apostle Paul said this to the elders of the church at Ephesus. He said, “I know this” – I am absolutely convinced of it – “that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things” – things that will turn the church away from the truth and toward apostasy. “Therefore watch,” Paul told them. Never let down your guard. “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Demonstrate your agape love for Christ’s church by guarding the flock of God that He purchased with His precious blood.
What Paul said would happen in the church at Ephesus did happen. We read in Revelation chapter two, just one generation later, Christ’s own commendation of their faithful stand: “You cannot bear [endure] those who are evil.” He said that they had “tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Revelation 2:2-3). These are the hallmarks of the right response to apostasy.
However, Christ warned them that doctrinal purity can have motivations other than love for Christ, and the Ephesian church had fallen into this error. They had, he said, “left their first love.” Christ warned them, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (2:5). There is no substitute for love for Christ in dealing with apostasy. We must always remember that.
Dear friend, no doubt there were those in Ephesus who thought, “It can’t happen here.” But clearly, they were wrong. Don’t ever think that apostasy cannot happen in your church. Don’t ever think that it might not be happening right now. Paul told the Ephesians in the book of Ephesians chapter six, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:12-13).
Next: Dealing With Objections
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