Georgia megachurch pastor and televangelist Michael Youssef fears that the tendency today among some Christian leaders to water down the Gospel to make it “palatable” for today’s culture could be a sign of the “great apostasy before the return of Christ.”
Youssef, the 71-year-old founder of Leading The Way television ministry and pastor of the 3,000-member Church of The Apostles in Atlanta, issued sharp words of warning in his new book released Tuesday.
Not only does Youssef question what he considers to be heresies spewed by prominent left-leaning Christian thinkers who are trying to make the Bible more relevant in today’s political environment, but he also pulled from his own experiences growing up under the Arab Socialist Union in Egypt to warn about the dangers of socialism as he sees more young people embrace socialist ideals through their support of 2020 Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“I feel and sense in my spirit, as well as experientially, I am seeing more and more evangelical pastors who are turning their back on the faith,” Youssef told The Christian Post in an interview about his new book, Saving Christianity?: The Danger in Undermining our Faith and What You Can Do About It
“And while sometimes when the news comes out and shocks everybody, in reality, those little baby steps have been taken for many years. I want to warn the young pastors and the people in the pews to be aware of these little foxes that can destroy the vine. Be aware of the little things that water down the Gospel, modify the Gospel, and make it palatable to our culture [or else they are] going to end up like our friend, Rob Bell, in Michigan.”
Youssef, who has authored over 40 books and whose programs are broadcast in 26 languages worldwide, explained to CP that he felt inspired to write Saving Christianity? after seeing too many evangelical pastors — such as Bell — renounce their evangelical beliefs and compromise biblical truths related to sinful behavior over the years.
In the last year, headlines were made as other influential figures such as Maryland megachurch pastor and author of the 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Joshua Harris, announced he was falling away from his faith. Harris has also openly embraced LGBT advocacy.
While the debate over the issue of sexual sin has been had in many mainline denominations, Youssef believes that a similar debate is coming for evangelical churches and leaders.
Saving Christianity? highlights a number of former evangelicals who have gained prominence by criticizing conservative evangelical theology. Among many mentioned in the book are the late Rachel Held Evans and Brian McLaren.
Among those who have given up on conservative evangelical beliefs, Youssef said there seems to be a common theme of wanting to be loving and accepting of everybody no matter what their sins might be.
“[Y]ou have to go and change the Bible in order to make that acceptance of sin possible,” Youssef said. “And so they basically bring down on the authenticity and the infallibility of the Word of God.”
Youssef recalled his own time serving as an Episcopal priest in the 1980s. The Episcopal Church had for years debated the affirmation of homosexuality and in 2015 voted to formally approve same-sex marriages in the denomination.
“I fought those battles in the mainline denominations. And so, it's almost like 'Groundhog Day' for me,” Youssef explained, referencing the 1993 Bill Murray movie. “You know, this is deja vu all over again. I'm seeing it now in the evangelical church. And that makes me wonder: Are we really experiencing what the Bible talks about as the Great Apostasy before the return of Christ?”
“In fact, Jesus Himself asks in the Gospel of Luke, ‘When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the Earth?’” Youssef added.
The Great Apostasy is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2, where the Apostle Paul tells the church in Thessalonica that a great apostasy must happen before Jesus Christ returns. Paul wrote, “that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first.”
Youssef stresses that there is going to be “a battle for our generation” as some Christian leaders run the risk of “destroying Christianity” by rejecting age-old truths with “modern-day heresies.”
“Most of these modern-day heresies are basically old ones that are being dressed up and they put lipstick on it,” Youssef said. “You can put lipstick and it is still a pig. And all of these old heresies — from Sabellianism to Arianism, to modernism and all those isms — they are basically all heresies that go back to the second or third century that the Church fought tenaciously.”
"Social justice" has become a popular term among many millennials looking to get behind a cause in hopes of making the world a better place. Youssef criticized what has become of the “social gospel” — a call for Christians to create and promote solutions to society's social injustices.
Youssef decried that many young people today support Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, because they see him as a “social justice” candidate” who will support some of the society’s most vulnerable populations.
“What [Sanders] wants to do, he wants the government to replace the Church,” Youssef asserted.
“And that is always a temptation throughout history. That [temptation] is having a program that's going to replace the call of the Church. The Church takes the Gospel and preaches it. When there is a need, it meets it. But when you say, ‘No, no, no, we got to give you everything, we got to hand you everything,’ you don't need God.”
Youssef contended that under a socialist regime, the state essentially “becomes God.”
“I know some wonderful millennials who are strong [believers],” Youssef said. “But there's some that have been misled into thinking this is compassion. But it is not. It's destroying the very core upon which this nation is built.”
Youssef spent the first 18 years of his life through the 1950s and 1960s living in Egypt before he escaped with nothing but the clothes on his back.
“When socialism in Egypt started, this country used to be the breadbasket of the world. It ended up being a basket case,” Youssef said. “The country really is rearing under 20 years of massive socialism. Same thing with [Hugo] Chavez in [Venezuela]. Chavez took the richest nation in South America, and because he promised he was going to give everybody freebies, they destroyed it to make it the second poorest nation in the world.”
Ultimately, Youssef said, his hope is not in any political party or in any type of governance structure. He places his hope in Jesus Christ alone.
"I tell pastors, ‘Don't be afraid, God will honor you.’ In Samuel, he says, ‘I honor those who honor me, says the Lord,'" Youssef said. "For the layman who's sitting there listening to heresies and false teaching, run, get out, find a Bible-believing church and support it and be part of it and be involved in it."