The Three Major Steps to Apostasy
Paul said, "I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you.... unto another gospel: which is not another, but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1: 6, 7). It is not necessary to suppose that these perversions were deliberate, but at any rate _ they were destructive. In modern centuries three significant steps have been taken that have led people further and further away from God's true word. These have each first been manifested in denominations, and have then each also been seen among God's people.
Throughout the gospel age people have often failed to understand the true meaning of the word of Christ. Much of the time this has been due to bias. Martin Luther, for instance, was so determined to be rid of the Catholic Church that he went to the other extreme of faith only. Some have been so blinded by a desire to emphasize the love of God that they have failed to notice the significance of his justice and vengeance.
A failure to study objectively--without prejudice--still causes many to misinterpret the scripture. Desire for popularity, zeal for numerical growth, eagerness for harmony and the pressure of emotional appeals cause some brethren to make the same mistakes, in principle, that the sectarians have always made. This blindness causes some to think of the church mostly as a social agency instead of the spiritual body that it really is. In order to bend the word to suit their preconceived notions, some will apply a passage that directs individuals, to use for the collective church. Many will use a passage that deals with the reign of Christ now, making it apply to some future kingdom which they suppose is coming. There are many, many other such abuses, based upon misinterpretation of the gospel, which in turn is a result of prejudice.
After much argument about interpretation of scripture, the real spirit of sectarianism began to manifest itself in rebellion against the unlimited authority of God's word in all spiritual matters. As a result of the disregard that developed for the authority of Christ, names, designations, organizations, rituals, etc. were added. Human judgment often replaced divine injunction. The voice of the people prevailed instead of the precept of the Lord.
At various times and in subtle ways this departure has come to the people of God also. As a result people have said, "We want mechanical instruments of music, and we will have them." The Missionary Society seemed like a convenient and fruitful arrangement, so they forgot that it was actually an unauthorized organization. When I began to preach, old men would say, "We are not interested in what you believe, but we want to hear what the Bible says." But those old men have died and too often the younger ones today say, "If you oppose what we are doing, we don't want to hear you." Time was when men said, "Give the verse that supports it --prove that it is right." Today they often say, "what is wrong with it -- where does the Bible forbid it?" And in view of these changing attitudes toward the authority of the New Testament, church become involved in recreational, social, economic and even political ventures, all of which are positively outside the realm of divine authority for action of the body.
After the two elements of departure already mentioned, and partly as a result of them, Modernism was just one more step for the denominations. Gradually the destructive theories of doubt and skepticism overwhelmed most of the religious bodies. The few fragments of truth that had survived the other departures, were now almost completely abandoned also in the stampede toward modern theology. As one young ministerial student said in my hearing, "It makes no difference whether or not one believes in Purgatory, for we no longer believe in the inspiration of the Bible and the Divinity of Christ." After hearing me preach on the radio, a Methodist preacher wrote me that, "The story you told of the fall of Adam and Eve perpetrates an ancient theological theory with a ridiculous conclusion." To those kinds of people, interpretation and authority are matters of little concern. To them Christ was just a very good man and a great teacher, but not indeed God's Son, born without a human father.
A few years ago this modernism was moving out--leaving the centers of higher learning in the cities and reaching into the remotest parts of the denominational world. Today that same modernism is moving in . . . crossing the borders of the denominations and flowing freely into the body of Christ. Many, many brethren are being swallowed up by modernism in one form or another and to greater or lesser extents. They often begin by trying to separate the letter of the law of Christ from the spirit of that law. Later they often come to deny that Christ really has a law. They speak much of the great invisible body but often deny the existence of any visible, identifiable body of Christ. Truth comes to seem vague and uncertain to them. They get to the place where they avoid almost all negatives and even are unable to be very positive about any certain principle.
This liberal trend finds expression in a loose attitude toward morals, in small concern for the purity of the church and in a general broad-mindedness that is completely in violation of the will of the Lord. Human wisdom is exalted, materialism flourishes and the life of confidence characterized by the hope that is an anchor to the soul is a forgotten and lost achievement.
If an honest person will pause to observe the history of religion in the last four centuries he will surely be warned of the amazing significance of the three steps into apostasy described in this article. Being thus warned, let us determine that we shall not be drawn away, either through neglect, indifference, and mix-guided zeal or deliberate action by us or by others. "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Ps. 119:89). "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4: 11 ) .
Truth Magazine IX: 9, pp. 16-17