The truth is main-line protestant denominations have long been liberal with many positions. In the Biblical vernacular, they have long since been apostate. What is an apostate church, how does one define and identify an apostate church? How far from the Bible can a church move before it can be declared apostate? When is it time to leave a church that has moved across the line to apostasy?
This set of articles will examine these questions and provide some guidelines. First, some definitions are in order so that a proper limitation is placed upon the fundamentals of the faith that cannot be compromised.
The word apostasy comes from the Greek ‘apostasia’ meaning “a falling away, to forsake,” and is derived from the root meaning of, “divorce, repudiation.” This is the word used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to describe the global end-times falling away of the Church. Paul writes:
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you,  not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.  Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away [Gr. apostasia, “falling away”] comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,  who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thes. 2:1-4)
The “falling away” is used of a divorcement, a defection of something, an abandonment, or breach of faith. Some translate “the rebellion” or “revolt.” The word is used only twice in the New Testament. It is used in Acts 21:21 of the accusation that Paul was teaching the abandonment of the law of Moses concerning circumcision for Jews. The great Greek scholar Dr. Robertson says, “Plutarch uses it of political revolt and it occurs in 1 Maccabees 2:15 about Antiochus Epiphanes who was enforcing the apostasy from Judaism to Hellenism.” The term no doubt expresses a complete movement away from one defined system to another, whether political or religious.
There are other words used to describe the same thing. One such word is the Greek word ‘aphistemi’ meaning, “to depart, stand away from, fall away, to remove,” and is used by Paul in Timothy 4:1:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart [Gr. ‘aphistemi’ “stand away, fall away”] from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,  speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,  forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
Indeed, church history provides us an example of one who has departed from the faith. His name was Julian the Apostate (A.D. 361-363), the Roman Emperor who professed Christianity and later renounced it and attempted to reestablish paganism in the Roman Empire. Though, Julian the Apostate was a product of his day in that he grew up within a Christian governmental system where he was a Christian because he lived in a Christian nation, i.e., by the will of man, not by the will of God (John 1:12-13). Nevertheless, Julian serves as an example of one we would call apostate since he “stood away” from what was true in favor of a substitute religion.
Apostasy as a perpetual problem
The apostles Paul, Peter, and John all warn of apostate individuals and churches existing in their day and continuing up to the “great apostasy,” that time in the future where the church will move away from the truth on a global scale. There will always be a spiritual battle against the things of God and the people of God, so it stands to reason that there will always be a falling away from the truth. Therefore, the New Testament writers warned us to watch for it and act against it.
Israel and the Apostasy
The books of Exodus and Numbers serve the New Testament Church as examples we are to study (1 Cor. 10). Israel is our example of apostasy of a chosen people. The chosen people of God were given the Word of God, saw the miracles of God, even followed the pillar of fire in the wilderness forty years and still did not want to hear and obey. Indeed one might breakdown Israel’s apostasy into different stages with each stage predicted by God, punishment prescribed, and a promise of restoration assured. Israel’s stages of apostasy can clearly be defined around the Abrahamic Covenant’s three stipulations of land, seed, and God:
- Rejection of the land promise. Israel traveled to Egypt during the great drought, saw the land of Goshen was rich and did not return to the land of promise. They rejected God’s Word of promise as they lived by sight not by faith. As a result they were taken into bondage in Egypt for 400 years as prophesied to Abraham in the covenant (Gen. 15:13), but restored to the land.
- Rejection of the worship promise. With Israel back in the land, they sought self-interests over national interests, personal glory instead of glorified worship. As a result of over taxation of the people in order to continue the Solomonic dynasty’s love for opulence, war and separation of the tribes of Israel, abuses of religious rites, and pagan worship become rampant. Prophets were sent to them in order urge repentance, revival, and a right standing with their God. The result was God prophesied that the tribes to the north would be destroyed by Assyria, and the tribes to the south would go into captivity for 70 years. After the 70 years, they would be restored to the land of promise (Jer. 25:10-11).
- Rejection of the Seed. The final stage of apostasy involves the rejection of their Messiah. When Jesus entered Jerusalem in the appointed time (Dan. 9:24-27) Israel wanted nothing to do with Him. The Jewish leadership saw Jesus as a hindrance to their way of life, a disruption to their man-made traditions which had replaced the purity of the Law of Moses from the Word. Even as the nation struggled under foreign occupation, the prophesied Savior-King had no esteem and was rejected by the stiff-necked people just as the Scriptures predicted (Isa. 53). What was the punishment? Banishment from the land. But here the pattern of prophesy, duration of punishment outside the land, then restoration changes slightly, as the exact time of punishment outside the land is not given. It is here that one finds what in prophecy is called the parenthesis wherein the Church age exists, and indeed that new thing that God is building today that is made up of both Jew and Gentile together in one new body (Eph. 2:15). However, even with the period of expulsion from the land not disclosed in Scripture, the period is described in length as “until the times of the Gentiles is complete” (Luke 21:24). But you might say, Israel is a nation again. Though Israel is a nation again, she does not possess the Temple mount nor Jerusalem – the very thing that defines the Times of the Gentiles. When the church age is complete, when God has saved the last church age believer, the church will be removed from earth and Daniel’s clock will start again with the 70th week (Dan. 9:24-27).
The Church and the Apostasy
Apostates have always been with us. This is clear by the warnings given in the letters to the churches by Paul, by Peter, and John. Dr. Mal Couch writes, “Though a distinct period of apostasy is coming, both Paul and John point out that the spirit of apostasy is always present… He points to apostate leaders in his day who held to a form of godliness but were denying the power: ‘avoid such men as these’ (2 Tim. 3:5). The apostle John concurs and writes that the spirit of Antichrist is present with those who deny the actual physical natures of Christ (1 John 4:2), but he notes that although this spirit is already in the world, ‘you have heard that it is [also] coming.” (Mal Couch, The Hope of Christ’s Return: Premillennial Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, AMG,2001)
What are the characteristics of an apostate and an apostate church? The New Testament links apostasy - a standing away from the truth, to the antichrist and his opposition to the things of God.
- Denying the power of God (2 Tim. 3:1-7). The first aspect of an apostate is denying the power of God. The power of God is the message of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18). That is to say, the message that God came in the flesh to die as a substitute in the place of man for the penalty of sin, and whereby, the acknowledgement of personal sin and acceptance of the substitutionary atonement by Jesus Christ one is saved not only from the penalty of sin, but the new relationship with God enables one to be saved from the power of sin over one’s life. The new life one possess in Christ means one is no longer under the power of this world, but has overcome the world in Christ, being transformed and dependent upon the power of God to live a new life in Christ – not by our own power, but by the power of God.
- Deny the Word of God: Not accept sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The second aspect of an apostate is the denial not only of the sound doctrine that comes from the Word of God, but deny the Bible is the Word of God. The apostate teaches his word, not God’s! As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:2-5: “ Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.  For the time will come when they will not endure[Gr. ‘anechomai,’ “hold up”] sound [Gr. ‘hugiaino,’ “whole, healthy, sound”]” doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2Tim 4:2-5 NKJ)
- Deny God (1 Tim. 3:4-5), deny Christ (2 Peter 2:6; 1 John 2:18; 4:3). See 1 above.
- Deny the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-2; Jude 3). The apostate is characterized by a denial of “the faith.” What is “the faith?” The faith is the fundamental teachings that define Christianity. The early church had to define the fundamentals of the faith in a set of articles that included the virgin birth, the trinity and hence the deity of Christ along with the humanity of Christ. The universal fall of man, his depravity and need for substitutionary atonement by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Death, the second death as separation from God forever in the lake of fire, the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead. As deniers increased so did the length of the articles of the faith since acceptance of the plain Word of God was denied.
- Deny the Lord’s return (2 Peter 3:3-4). see 4 above.
As you can see by this list, it is a denial of God and the things of God. The apostasy has it’s root in a denial of the Word of God – the source of truth. By denying the authority of the source of truth, one can move to whatever one wishes to teach as truth. So it is that in some main-line Churches, the truth of the world is more familiar and acceptable to the congregation than the Word of God. Acceptance of the wisdom of the world is more trustworthy than the Bible which contains the wisdom of God. After all, the Bible is full of error is it not? Is the Bible not written by mere men?
Has your church gone so far as to deny the infallibly of the Bible – the very foundation of your faith? If so, it is time to move on to a church that actually believes its source of truth is true. Which brings us to the next topic of the apostasy – deception. In the next article a short history of doctrinal heresies will be examined which will serve as the foundation to the modern real world churches that have moved so far that they would ordain female and even homosexual ministers.