The falling away. What is it? 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 3 is speaking of "the day of the Lord---and the man of sin". Basically in the context of the Rapture of the church. Verse 3 includes the words "The falling away comes first". Last week I put a post on one of my FaceBook feeds and was asked by a lady if I had written any articles on "The falling away"? Since I had not for a long time, this seemed like the perfect time to do so.
A very long time ago when I was a young pastor, I thought that the falling away would be in a time near the end of the church era when people (believers) would actually begin denying Christ. Of course in those days I knew very little about end times events and even less about Bible Prophecy.
Now after being a student of Biblical prophecy and a teacher/writer thereof for many years, I have come to realize something entirely different. Of course I am sure along the way there have been a few "believers" who have actually denied Christ for whatever reason. In fact I myself know of a couple of people who did exactly that. Difficult to imagine. We could argue about whether of not these people really were believers to begin with but that would get us no where since only the Holy Spirit knows for certain. For those people who have ever done that despicable act there will be no possibility of returning to the faith according to Hebrews 6:4-6 "For it is IMPOSSIBLE for those once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, IF THEY FALL AWAY (my emphasis added), to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame". Scary!
But to clarify, I do not believe the scripture in Hebrews is referring to believers who make occasional mistakes that require repentance. This is referring to a TOTAL AND COMPLETE falling away as in walking away from and denying Christ.
While I suppose that has happened to some extent over the centuries, I do not believe that 2 Thessalonians is speaking in that context. I would like to add here though that I have always urged great caution for people who somehow cast their anger upon a Holy and Righteous God because somehow mankind has injured them. Some church has let them down, a loved one has died of accident, cancer or some other malady resulting in a person believing that God somehow caused it too happen or even allowed it to happen. Not so. Maybe this is a good time for a small "bunny trail" because I know for certain that very many people do blame God for natural circumstances or mean spirited actions by other humans.
It reminds me of one of the greatest travesties of all time; The Holocaust of WWII in which a despicable tyrant tried to wipe out the Jewish people and in fact killed over 6 million people including 2 million children. A horribly tragic indictment on mankind in general. But God neither caused nor allowed that to happen. So many times I have heard, "God allowed the Holocaust so Israel could become a nation in 1948". No, No, NO! Folks have that all backwards and forget that after the events of the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden (Genesis chapter 3), mankind in general has carried the scars from that terrible mistake ever since. And it was only after the first coming of the Son of God and His substitutionary death on the cross of Calvary that the original sin (and our personal sins ) were atoned for---but ONLY for those who repented for their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
From the Garden of Eden until now all mankind has been born in sin and the ONLY escape is through Jesus Christ. For those who are not believers in Christ terrible things can develop in and through their lives. I am not talking here about the age old saying, "bad things can happen to good people". Which of course can be true. But rather, without the anchor of the Holy Sprit in the lives of any man or woman, terrible proclivities can lead to extreme behavior including a drive for excessive power, extreme wealth through any means, sexual deviations, drug abuse, crime and violence to mention only a few.
God did not cause or even allow the Holocaust. An evil dictator, Adolf Hitler did that all by himself and much more. But God did in fact do something; Romans 8:28 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose". In other words, while God did not cause terrible catastrophe to land upon His chosen people, after the fact He did use those events to once again begin bringing His people home to their beloved land of Israel. Also during WWII it has been documented that God used very many Christians to save and protect countless lives from extinction. And He used some non Christians as well.
Can you see the difference here? I hope so because that brings me back to the point. It is a dangerous and uncalled for thing to blame God for circumstances that either happen by design of mankind or through the natural evolution of the effects of mankind living in a diseased and sin ridden world.
In fact that leads us directly to the thresh hold of "FALLING AWAY". So the question is, falling away from what?
The answer to that is found in scripture. 2 Timothy 4:3 (The Apostle Paul speaking to a young pastor by the name of Timothy). The context is the end times. "For the time will come when they will not endure 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". Earlier in 2 Timothy we find the words (Chapter 3 verse 7---speaking of eventual apostasy) "Always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of truth). But first what are itching ears? It is a matter of mankind, even some within the church looking around for pastors to tell them what they want to hear, irrespective of what the Bible actually says. I have run into this many times when people seeking marriage counseling "shop around" for a pastor or counselor who will tell them what they want to hear.
I need to be really careful here with what I am about to say because I do not want to lead anyone to believe that Bible studies are bad or that Studying the Bible will do anything but make one better in their walk with the Lord. Still I do have a question for you? Do you know people within the church who have attended Bible study after Bible study, year in and year out? But do not seem to be able to put those principles to work in their own lives? Many have been successful but in my experience much fewer of them take that knowledge outside the paint on the inside of the church door. No broad brush strokes here folks so if you do use that information to help people outside the church to come to faith then good for you. And yes once again, of course the study of God's word is in itself very edifying for our personal lives and walk with the Lord.
But many do not take the information they learn to the outside world. In fact for many the learning of great stuff from the Bible has become a way to make themselves better with little thought about an unsaved world. Once again no blanket condemnation there. That is why Paul speaks in terms of "ALWAYS LEARNING AND NEVER ABLE TO COME TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF TRUTH"! And what is the truth? Nearly the last command that Jesus gave to the church before He was drawn up to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. The Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20. We as Christians cannot sit around in our church houses and wait for an unsaved world to come knock on the door. Ain't going to happen. We need to be proactive in our efforts for evangelism. Still there is no problem with either Bible studies or using them to help us become the best we can in Christ Jesus. I hope that is crystal clear so I don't receive any "nasty grams" claiming I am against Bible studies (-:
So, now for the great falling away from faith. What is going on that may indicate a falling away is happening today?
1). People heaping up false teachers. Flocking to "feel good churches" but in many cases not bothering to take their Bibles along with them. One needs only turn on televised Sunday morning church services to see false teaching. Having said that there are also some very good people teaching on the television but without checking what is heard with a reliable Bible, it is easy to begin thinking that good sounding stuff is actually Biblical when in reality it is not. There is an old country saying "If a truth is only 99% truth---IT IS ALL LIE!
2). Example; I have a great friend with a church in heavy decline. This pastor teaches the word exactly as written. Well balanced, works hard and loves his congregation. Just two weeks ago he told me that the word is getting around his town, "Those folks over that at that church are nice people but there is just too much talk about Jesus". Really? Think about that for a moment because it is exactly that issue that is symptomatic within some of our churches today. "Tell me good stuff but for heavens sake not too much about accountability". And friends, Jesus is all about responsibility and accountability!
3). Downright heretics daring to teach the gospel and leading multitudes astray. False doctrines ranging from doubting the Bible as a reliable document, Allegorizing it, doubting or arguing over the rapture, Trying to predict timing of future events, denying the Trinity by claiming that Christ was a created being and therefore not really God. And many, many more false doctrines being taught today. 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of these people. "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction". We are warned about teachers in James 3:1 "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment". As a pastor, that scares me because I know one day I will stand before the Judgement seat of Christ and the books will be opened. I want to be able to tell the Lord that I taught the word of God exactly as written.
4). DRUGS; Just two weeks ago the President of the USA announced that drug abuse (use of Opioids) is now a national epidemic. Not just in America either, This is worldwide. In the Greek language the term SORCERIES is translated as "PHARMAKEIA". The root word for Pharmacies. Galatians 5:17-21 describes the fruits of the flesh and one of those is (verse 20) SORCERIES. But of course in addition to drug abuse, there is also a drift by many in the world today to things within downright witchcraft such as an organization known as the Wiccans or WICCA which is pagan witchcraft at it's worst. Revelation chapter 7:21 and related scripture is speaking about the eventual death of a full 1/3 of all mankind. It concludes in verse 21 by saying "And they did not repent for their murders or their sorceries. Or their sexual immorality or thefts". Lack of sincere repentance before the Lord is a sure fire path to an eternity in a place called hell. Oh, Oh, I nearly forgot, hell is no longer politically correct is it? Well, I for one say down with P.C. and lets get back to the Bible.
5). Pornography; It is now estimated that as many as 60% of adult males WITHIN THE WESTERN CHURCH are addicted to internet porn. Including some pastors and pastors wives. There are now entire ministries springing up to help pull these people out of pornography which is an addiction that insidiously destroys entire families, marriages crumbling, both pre teen boys and girls watching this free crud on their cell phones with zero restrictions (unless imposed by parents---hint!). Of course that's another P.C. thing isn't it? Parents can no longer regulate their own children's activities. Child welfare services says so! Hmmmm?
6). Hollywood; Has anyone noticed how violent and sexual movies are becoming? Movies that are now approved for PG-13 audiences? T.V. series filled with witches and werewolves? Prime time filled with sexually replete shows and pure unfettered violence? Need I say more? Does anyone honestly believe that Christian youth are not also being led astray by that kind of thing since it surrounds them every single day, floating as a magnetic force---free of charge on the internet?
7). Legalism within the church; This one subject runs more people off from the church than anything else. It hurts people to the point that they run away and never want to enter a church again. Not a valid point because there are a lot of well balanced pastors and churches but still it happens far too often. Someone told me a story years ago that I have never forgotten. A much older and wiser man than I was speaking about what the two most destructive enemies are to the church. And no, one of them was not satan. He said, they are the two thieves on the crosses beside Jesus cross at Calvary; Obviously a metaphor but none the less accurate.
They are 1). legalism because that is religion run amok. This is becoming more prevalent by the day. Denominations and some churches and pastors trying to "make" their congregation holy through extra Biblical rules and regulations. Holiness can only flow from a heart that is sold out and in love with the Lord. True pastors lead their flocks through positive example. They do not drive their flocks through implied threat or intimidation.
2). License; Defined in this instance as religion that turns a blind eye to sin within a congregation. Respectfully and privately helping a person with a sin issue in their life is good and called for. Ignoring issues of that nature is literally the rotten apple that spoils the entire barrel. Because of that, large portions of any church can be led astray. An example is denominations who now approve of homosexuality and in fact ordain people who are involved in that lifestyle. The word of God is very clear about that issue and in Galatians chapter 5, rank that issue right up there with Adultery, fornication, murder and drunkenness. So for those denominations, does that mean it's also ok to ordain a serial murderer?
Other sins listed In Galatians are also not always dealt with. Turn the blind eye, after all that guy sleeping with his secretary is an elder. No rocking the boat for goodness sake! Which brings up another subject; Have you ever noticed that when a killer or rapist is finally released from prison and has had a conversion experience to Christianity, they are often guest speakers on some Christian television? But how often have you ever seen a woman or even a man who has been cheated on and suffered a divorce because of it, interviewed on T.V.? Never or very seldom. Reformed violent abusers are celebrated but people suffering a divorce within Christianity are "dirty forever" and often treated like pariahs. Not by everyone of course but I can tell you about a case I recently handled in which a pastor was caught dirty having an affair with a 20 year old girl. Lot's of effort went into his restoration (which praise God eventually did happen). On the other hand, his innocent wife of many years lost most of her support for a continuing very worth while ministry---because she was headed for divorce that was not her fault. This stuff happens all the time and then we wonder why people get as far away from the organized church as they can.
The divorce rate within some parts of the western church is almost as high as in the secular world. "Maintenance drugs" are winked at, abortion has become a social issue many denominations do not want to deal with. And it goes on and on with an inexhaustible list, all of which water down true Christianity and a Biblical message. Do we wonder why so many people disengage from churches today? However I am quick to say there are thousands and thousands of great pastors and churches still out there. If you have been injured by other believers or church rules and regulations, please do not give up. In searching you will find some great congregations who will gather around and love you unconditionally and without prejudice.
I will conclude this section with a question from Colossians chapter 2 verse 20-22. "Therefore if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, WHY, do you subject yourselves to regulations---do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using--ACCORDING TO THE COMMANDMENTS AND DOCTRINES OF MEN"? Find yourself a church which uses the Bible and only the Bible. You will be a happy camper when you do.
8). Folks, the Bible is replete with warnings about all these things destined to happen in the end times. And all those things are happening in our world today in ever increasing amounts. NO one who reads the Bible should miss these warnings. Matthew chapter 7 verses 21-23 is speaking of end times people who obviously believe they are followers of Christ---but who are not! (Jesus speaking) "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name? And then I will declare to them. I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness".
Did you notice that Jesus said MANY? Not a few but many will be cast aside by the Lord because they practice lawlessness. These people are inside many of our churches today. Some in leadership roles. This is not the occasional sin repented for. These people are openly PRACTICING evil. And yet obviously they have been duped---perhaps by all those false teachers into believing they were actually sincere followers of Christ. Did they once upon a time make an altar call? Did they say the little prayer of repentance but walked away with zero intent to conform their lives to a Biblical standard? I sincerely wish I knew.
I just read an article this morning about a young believer in England who was attending the University of Sheffield as a graduate student. He made a statement on his private FaceBook account that got him summarily expelled from college. He said "Same sex marriage is a sin whether we like it or not. It is God's word and men's sentiment do not change His word". He was expelled from college because "he may have caused offense to some individual". An English court of law upheld the college ruling. Folks this stuff is happening worldwide and P.C. (political correctness) is for many people far more powerful than the Bible. Including for many Christians today.
This is a world gone mad in which even many believers no longer endure sound doctrine. And that is what I believe the falling away of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 3 is speaking about. Falling away from sound doctrine.
May the Lord of glory reveal to all of us ways in which we can lead these kinds of people to a stable relationship with the Lord before it is too late.
God bless you all,