"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron." 1 Timothy 4:1,2
I think we are beginning to see the firstfruits of the coming apostasy that Jesus promised and Paul predicted would mark the end of days. To be honest I think we are seeing it more within the church than outside it. Here are some reasons I think the Great Day (of Christ's return) may be on it's way and the bad days of apostasy may be closing in on us:
1. A growing emphasis on quasi or full on universalism.
You'd be suprised, maybe even shocked, how many well known "Christian" speakers and authors subscribe to some form of universalism (the belief that all of humanity will ultimately be redeemed whether or not they have put their faith in Jesus). They may cloak it in cool, uber-hip terms and drench it in relevant stories of humanity's spiritual journey, but, underneath all of the philosophic verbage it is there like a festering sore filled with puss and heresy.
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Peter emphasized that "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Paul emphasized, "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:14).
I don't know how anybody who takes the New Testament half way seriously could even consider the possibility that Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Hindus and others who have never put their faith alone in Christ alone will be with us in heaven.
Many of these hiptocons run to the powerful passage in Colossians 1 :20 that Christ will "reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" and use it as a stick to beat their "all for one and one for all" drum. But the verses that immediately follow explain it even more, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant" Colossians 1:21-23.
This passage clearly states how we, as humans, are part of this ultimate reconciliation. It's through faith!
Some would say, "well the passage says 'all things' will be redeemed so it must be everyone." But if it's everyone everywhere who goes to heaven whether or not they believe in Jesus there is a much bigger textual problem. What do you do with the countless passages that deal with the "elect"? What do you do with the abundance of passages that declare the urgent need to avoid God's judgment through faith in Christ? What do you do with the doctrine of hell?
This crazy doctrinal cousin named "Hell" embarrasses us. He looms in chains in the basement, screaming out to be heard by the philophizing theologians blogging upstairs. But they can't hear him screaming because their ipods are cranked up, listening to U2, Coldplay and Kierkegaardian podcasts of cool cat preachers emphasizing experiential spiritual journey…or whatever.
How do I explain this particular passage of all things being redeemed? Let me use the analogy of Noah and the Flood. Noah, in a sense, redeemed all things on the earth. He took two of every unclean kind of animal into the Ark. He brought seven of every clean kind (two for saving and five for for eating!). Although 99.9% of every living thing died on the earth through the great deluge in a sense Noah "redeemed all things" through the ark. He redeemed every kind of animal on the planet. The only qualification is that they came through the Ark door and were sealed in by God himself.
I Peter 3:20 eludes to Christ being the ark for us. Although much, if not most, of humanity will be destroyed in the deluge of God's wrath, those who have put their faith in Jesus are sealed in the Ark of his love from the coming judgment.
The gods may not be angry, but there is an entire book of the Bible that details the wrath of the true and living God being poured out in full measure, bowl after bowl after bowl, on sinful humanity. It's called the book of Revelation. I thank the Lord that I am sealed in the safety of his love through the ark door of Jesus Christ.
To be honest I don't like the doctrine of hell. It is not enjoyable to me. If I were crafting my own religion I'd leave hell out of it, or at the least, leave it for Hitler and the like. But this thing called Christianity is not ours to tinker with. It is God's. He is infinitely bigger than us, wiser than us, holier than us and merciful than us. We must trust him to sort it all out even if our puny minds don't understand.
The first reason I believe that coming apostasy is creeping in is because of the spirit of universalism that is abounding. I'll give you a second reason soon.
2. A tendency to de-emphasize, question or outright attack core theological truths.
To these spiritual journey mentors theology is more of a rubber band than a brick. It's elasticity is proof of it's power. No longer is core orthodox truth viewed as a definite reality but a give-and-take idea that evolves and changes with time.
The problem is that the way that doctrine is presented in the New Testament is always as a brick to build on, not a rubber band that stretches.
I could go on and on but I'm going to deal with some of this stuff in a upcoming Dare 2 Share Uncensored podcast series entitled, "Fighting Words." Look for it on www.dare2share.org starting on February 1st.
Anyway, here's a few other signs that I believe are preparing the way for the coming apostasy:
3. An overemphasis on "the red letters" of the Bible.
As if the black letters are any less inspired by Jesus!
4. An increasing skepticism toward certainty about anything.
According to Hebrews 11:1 the essence of faith is certainty about things not seen. In other words without confident certainty about anything we have a faithless Christianity. The unshakeable faith that old man Abraham demonstrated (see Romans 4:18-22) is the brand of faith that God applauds. Skepticism about what God clearly states is more than dangerous. It is diabolical. It is what the serpent in the garden was all about when he asked Eve, "Did God really say….?"
5. An overwhelming focus on conversations rather than conclusions.
Blah, blah, blah. I think of William Wallace's comments about the nobles of his day, "All they do is talk"…meanwhile there's a battle to fight for the souls of humanity. I think we are living in an age where many in the church who are accusing evangelicals of being arrogant (because they cling to the essentials of the faith) are doing so while spitting on 2,000 years of church orthodoxy in the name of relevance. You tell me which group is really arrogant.
6. A redefining of the gospel without propositions.
If I hear the word "incarnate" one more time (outside the context of the actual Incarnation of Christ) I think I'm going to puke. Sure we are called to live out the message in real and tangible ways but we are commanded to preach it as well. Love it or hate it the gospel is a propositional message (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:3,4) but in this message is packed in the TNT of God's power. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes it's propositions and the person of Jesus who proclamed them to begin with.
February 1st I challenge you to start watching the seven week "Fighting Words" series on www.dare2share.org.
Greg Stier is the President and Founder of Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., where he works with youth leaders and students, equipping them to be effective in sharing the gospel. With experience as a senior teaching pastor and in youth ministry for almost 20 years, Greg has a reputation of knowing and relating to today's teens. He is widely viewed as an authority and expert teen spirituality. He is known for motivating, mobilizing and equipping teens for positive change. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, and the SURVIVE 07/08 conference tour, please visit www.dare2share.org.