Throughout the 2000 year history of the Church, we have seen a continual departure of people and churches from the faith of the apostles. As incredibly tragic as this has been, it should not surprise us because Paul warned: "The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons"     (1 Tim. 4:1). Shortly after our Lord began building His Church, the apostle John records one of the first occurrences of apostasy. "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). Since then, many other professing Christians, churches, denominations, and seminaries, who once upheld the truth and authority of God's Word, have drifted into apostasy. One of the interesting characteristics of apostasy is that it does not happen overnight. It actually develops over a period of time through a process that can be categorized into four steps. 

First Step into Apostasy
God's word is neglected as the supreme authority for faith and practice. Man's words and wisdom become as important as God's Word. Traditions and movements of men cause confusion and divided loyalties. People start following "Christian" personalities instead of the Word of God. Pastors discard the Lord's blue print for building His church and create their own strategy. Pastors win the approval of men for the size of their church, rather than their faithfulness and fidelity to God's Word. The power of the Gospel is weakened by compromise and made more inclusive to gain a larger following. Biblical evangelism is replaced by man's methods of conversion. Churches give people what they want instead of what they need. The pursuit of sanctification is neglected. Biblical warnings to expose false teachers are ignored. A little leaven in the form of heresy is allowed to circulate. Contenders for the faith are labeled as divisive and intolerant. Women are allowed to teach men. 

Second Step into Apostasy
Scripture is twisted and distorted for self-serving agendas. Truth becomes subjective and relative. Doctrinal error and sin are tolerated by pastors who neglect their responsibility to protect the sheep. Satan sows his tares with little resistance. Pastors become more determined to build their own church rather than the Lord's church. The Gospel becomes more inclusive to attract more people. Expository preaching is replaced by topical messages. Biblical ignorance in the pew provides fertile ground for false teachers to prosper. Trials and persecution expose dead and spurious faith. The exhortation to contend earnestly for the faith is ignored. People honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. "Infallible" men claim to be successors of the apostles and are embraced as brothers-in-Christ. Ungodly men creep in and turn the grace of our God into licentiousness. Contenders for the faith are asked to leave. 

Third Step into Apostasy
Entertainment, idolatry, liturgy and rituals have replaced the Lord Jesus from the central focus of worship. Pastors are more interested in entertaining the goats than feeding the sheep. Ear-tickling messages give people what they want instead of what they need. Sound doctrine and truth is suppressed for the sake of ecumenical unity. Hearts become hardened and love for God grows cold. Doctrinal error flourishes and is embraced with stubborn pride. There is no love for the truth and no discernment. People stand for nothing and fall for everything. A form of godliness exists, but it's void of power. Idolatry is practiced and encouraged. Sin and immoral lifestyles are tolerated. Women are ordained as pastors. 

Fourth Step into Apostasy
Teaching is heavily influenced by doctrines of demons. Jesus has been removed from the church. Deception is full-blown. Lying signs and wonders, including apparitions, are embraced as messages from God or Mary. Idolatry and prayers to the dead are encouraged. Those who proclaim the Gospel truth are condemned with anathema or put to death. Grace is turned into a license to sin. There is no longer any evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. God's grace and forgiveness are sold for a price. The church's lamp stand has been removed, and a certain terrifying judgment is now unavoidable.

Perhaps you are in a church or denomination that is drifting into apostasy. Will Jesus Christ use you to contend earnestly for the faith and protect the sanctity of His Church? In these last days of growing apostasy and deception, we all need to heed the warning of Peter and encourage others to do the same: "Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position" (2 Peter 3:17). Will you defend the glory and honor of our great God and Savor and protect the purity of His Gospel? May God's Word exhort and encourage us to fight the good fight of faith!