Dealing With Apostasy: Don’t Be Intimidated

By Dr Paul M Elliott

Part six of a series. Read part five.

Some people in the church will try to prevent you from doing your duty when apostasy appears. Don’t let them.

Thus far in this series, we have discussed three of the five keys to a Biblical response to apostasy. Key number one is that you need to be able to define and identify apostasy. You must do that on the basis of Scripture alone. Key number two is that you need to be absolutely clear about the Biblical basis for the proper response to apostasy. The basis of that response is to exercise the proper motivation – genuine Christian love – and to employ the proper standard – Biblical truth alone. Key number three is that you need to understand why any other response to apostasy is a wrong response. Many people refuse to deal with apostasy because they say it is not the loving thing to do. But we saw that what those people call Christian love is really a counterfeit. It is not agape love at all.

Key Number Four: Dealing With Objections

That brings us to key number four, which is this: You need to be able to deal with the objections that people will raise, when you try to sound the alarm concerning apostasy. Some people in the church will try to avoid doing their duty against apostasy themselves, and some people will try to keep you from doing your duty. What you will often find is that people will twist Scripture to try to avoid responsibility, or to paint you as the disruptive villain rather than a faithful watchman. We’re going to look at several passages of Scripture that people commonly try to use, as an excuse for not doing the right thing when there is apostasy in the church.

“Scripture Sound Bites”

Let me explain to you why key number four is so important. If you make the effort to expose and confront apostasy within the church, before very long you will probably hear people saying things like this to you. They will quote “Scripture sound bites” to you, such as these:

  • “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7)
  • “Why do you judge your brother?” (Romans 14)
  • “Judge nothing before the time” (1 Corinthians 4)
  • “Love bears all things…[love] endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13)
  • “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4)
  • “Come now and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1)

I have heard these and similar partial verses, taken out of context, many, many times. Perhaps you have too. Evangelical and Reformed church leaders and church members often try to use passages like these to defend their own inaction in the face of apostasy, and to discourage or even prevent others from acting.

But dear friend, you need to understand something. Just because someone quotes Scripture, it does not make him right. Just because someone quotes Scripture, it does not mean he is telling the truth. Just because someone quotes Scripture, it does not mean he is paying attention to context. Just because someone quotes Scripture, it does not mean he is properly motivated. The cults quote Scripture. Apostates quote Scripture. Even Satan quotes Scripture.

When Is It Not Wrong to Judge Someone’s Motive?

You need to ask this question: What are these people doing when they quote Scripture to try to prevent you from doing your duty and taking a stand against apostasy? The fact is they are usually twisting Scripture to avoid obeying God’s clear commands.

Why do people do this? As I have already said, often they try to use Scripture to justify what is, in fact, an un-loving, un-Biblical, Christ-displeasing response to apostasy. They will misuse Scripture to justify their own unwillingness to take a stand. They will quote Scripture to you, to try to discourage or prevent you from taking a stand. I have seen even pastors use Scripture to justify themselves in not taking a stand, or to try to discourage people in their churches from taking a stand.

Now some folks who are reading this article may be saying this: “Wait a minute. Hold on. You’re getting into judgments of motive. The Bible says that we aren’t supposed to judge other people’s motives.” Let me respond by saying this: You are not making an assumption about someone else’s motive if that person makes his own motive clear. And quite often people are very ready to tell you what their motive is, when they refuse to take a stand against apostasy. Let me mention just three of the many motives I have encountered over the years.

The Motive of Tradition

I’ve seen people use Scripture to try to keep people from confronting apostasy, with a line of argument that goes like this: “My family has been in this church for three generations. My grandfather helped build this building. My parents and grandparents are buried in the cemetery next to this church. I’ve given thousands of dollars to this church over the years. I’ve invested a lot of my time here. We have a wonderful tradition here, a wonderful legacy. I want my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to continue that tradition. That is the most important thing. I’m willing to overlook doctrinal problems in order to keep the peace and maintain the tradition.” And so the stated motive for not confronting apostasy, in this kind of case, is an allegiance to tradition.

The Motive of Misplaced Loyalty

I know of a pastor who was unwilling to confront a well-known seminary professor who was a member of his church. It came to light that this professor was teaching a false gospel of justification by faith plus works. He was teaching this false gospel not only in the seminary classroom but also in home Bible studies and in the Sunday school. This false teaching was spreading in the church.

Some people in the church did the right thing. They first confronted the seminary professor, but he was unwilling to repent. Then they went to the pastor and the elders about the problem, as they should have. But the pastor of the church told these people that he wasn’t going to do anything about it, because he didn’t want to hurt the seminary professor’s feelings. He didn’t want to damage his reputation. This pastor quoted Scripture to excuse his unwillingness to protect the flock that God had placed under his care. His motive was misplaced loyalty to a man who had gone wrong in his theology and was preaching a false gospel. This pastor chose personal loyalty over loyalty to Christ and His Word.

The Motive of Being “Missional”

The word “missional” has become a very popular term in the Evangelical world today. Now, the word “missional” didn’t even exist ten years ago. But today, if you do an Internet search on the word “missional”, you will find over half a million entries. Today, more and more pastors and church leaders are obsessed with the idea that the church has to be “missional”. They say that we can’t spend our time confronting apostasy because the really important thing is for the church to be “missional.” This is one of the most popular motives that you will hear today, especially when church leaders are the ones making excuses for not dealing with apostasy in the church.

Now, what do they mean by this word “missional”? What they usually mean is this: We need to reinvent the church to fit in with the postmodern culture. I know of many churches that are sending their people out into the community, not to do door-to-door evangelism, but to take a door-to-door survey where they ask unsaved people this question: “What do we need to change about our church in order to get you to come?” Being “missional” is, more often than not, just a code word for reinventing the church to fit in with the unsaved, postmodern culture. This kind of being “missional” is the very essence of apostasy. It is not our job to reinvent the church to look like the unregenerated world. God’s Word says that friendship with the world is enmity against God (James 4:4).

Sometimes these pastors and church leaders will say that being “missional” means that the church needs to get on with the work of evangelism. But you can’t get on with the work of evangelism unless there is agreement on the definition of the Evangel. You can’t get on with the work of evangelism unless there is agreement on what the Bible says the Gospel is – and also what it is not. But what we find in so many churches that have adopted the “missional” mantra, is that the church and its leaders aren’t really sure what the Gospel is anymore. They’ve lost their grip on it. And so the motive of being “missional” becomes another excuse for not confronting apostasy in the church, and discouraging people from confronting apostasy. More and more pastors and church leaders who are caught up in this mindset make you out to be the bad guy, if you do not want to jump on the “missional” bandwagon, because you recognize that their brand of being “missional” is facilitating apostasy.

Don’t Be Intimidated

So these are some of the more common motives in our time. The people who try to push you into a corner because you recognize apostasy for what it is, will often quote Scripture: “judge not” – “judge nothing before the time” – “judge not your brother” – “let us love one another” – and so on. And sometimes their response is also very, very emotional.

Now, many people are intimidated when this happens. Many are frightened into silence. Many people just go back to their pews, and keep quiet, and let Satan have his way with the church. Or, they simply leave the church without saying a word.

Dear friend, God does not want you to be that kind of person. God wants you to take a stand and leave the outcome to Him. He wants you to take that stand on the basis of love for Christ, love for Christ’s people, and love for Christ’s truth. As we shall see in upcoming articles, God honors those who stand for His truth.

Next: Dealing With Scripture-Twisters

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