Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 17, 1952

The Falling Away

Thomas B. Warren, Galena Park, Texas

In 2 Thess. 2:3 Paul says that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ will not be except the falling away come first. The expression "falling away," as here used, means a religious apostasy, a standing from a position once held, the forsaking of a pattern once used. No Bible or church history student could now deny that the apostasy here referred to has occurred. This fact is suggestive of some searching questions. It is the purpose of this article to touch briefly on some of these questions.

What Is The Present Condition Of Apostasy?

Since this apostasy has happened, and it has not been eradicated, professing Christianity is even now in a state of apostasy. It seems natural then to inquire: "What conditions prevail in that state of apostasy"?

There are a multiplicity of churches which claim to be followers of Christ. The existence of such religious bodies as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Catholic, Episcopal, etc., is an apostate condition.

The existence of many doctrines is a state of apostasy. The doctrines of salvation by faith only, impossibility of apostasy as taught by Baptists are doctrines of apostasy. The baptizing of babies as taught and practiced by Methodists and Lutherans is a doctrine of apostasy, The recognition of a Pope by the Roman Catholic Church would also fall into this category. There are so many such doctrines being espoused in the world today that lack of space forbids their being mentioned.

There is the ever present tendency of the true church of Christ to cease walking "in the old paths" and to stand from the pattern of the church as given in the New Testament.

From What Are They Standing?

Since these religious bodies are not standing where they ought to stand, from what are they standing? They are standing from the pattern of the church as revealed in the New Testament. This does not mean that these organizations such as Baptist churches, Methodist churches etc. once occupied New Testament ground and then abandoned it. But it does mean that their occupying such ground has come about as a result of gradual developments which came out of the true church leaving New Testament ground.

These religious bodies are standing from the New Testament pattern in the matter of church organization. Elaborate systems of church organizations have been devised. A Pope, whose word is gospel to millions, sits in Rome as the head of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. But Paul, in speaking of Christ, said: "And he is the head of the body, the church." The Bible recognizes no other head, either in heaven or on earth.

These bodies, which falsely call themselves followers of Christ, have a "pastor" over local congregations. No such practice can be found in the New Testament. Churches in New Testament times had a plurality of elders, or pastors. There is no instance where any congregation had only one elder. The duties of elders are to take the over sight of the local congregation (Acts 20:28) and to watch in behalf of souls. (Heb. 13:17)

Each congregation was autonomous. No congregation, no matter how large, had any power at all over any other congregation, no matter how small.

These sectarian bodies are also standing from the New Testament pattern in the matter of the plan of salvation or the terms of entrance into the church. To be saved is to enter the kingdom or church. Preachers' of these bodies do not tell men the same things the' apostles told men to do to be saved. If an unbeliever asks, "What must I do to be saved"? they answer, "Believe Only"! But inspired men told unbelievers to believe on the Lord Jesus and then preached to him "the word of the Lord." The preaching of this "word of the Lord" caused the hearer to realize that he was not saved short of obedience in being baptized into Christ. (Acts 16:30-34) If a believer asks the preachers of these false churches what he must do to be saved, they answer, "Nothing, if you are a believer, you are already saved"! But the apostles told believers, who asked what they must do, to "Repent ye and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins." Thus showing that inspired men did not believe that believers were saved without being baptized. (Acts 2:38, 38) If a penitent believes inquires of the path of salvation, these wolves in sheep's clothing assure him that there is nothing at all for him to do, that Christ has already forgiven his sins. But Ananias, who had been sent by Christ to Saul, in spite of the fact that Saul was a penitent believer, did not believe that Saul was saved. Rather he told him, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name." No Baptist preacher would tell a penitent believer to do that. Thus it can by easily seen that Baptists "stand from" New Testament-ground. If a Christian asks, "What must I do to go to heaven"? Baptist preachers answer, "Nothing. You cannot be lost no matter how many sins you commit." (The writer has a signed statement by a Baptist preacher to that very proposition.) But New Testament writers taught Christians to live faithfully to the word of God so that they might go to heaven. (2 Pet. 1:5-11; Rev. 2:10)

These denominational churches also stand from the New Testament pattern in the matter of worship: They seem to feel that God is so happy to have them worship that He will allow them to devise anything as worship that may best suit their particular fancy. The Catholics count beads and burn incense, the Baptists, Methodists, Holiness, et al use instrumental music, having borrowed it from the Catholics, all without one word of authority from the word of God.

In the matter of carrying out what they feel to be the work of the Lord, some of these bodies use gambling devises, such as bingo parties. Others have pie supper and ice cream parties to raise money. The New Testament shows that such means are insulting to the Lord. Giving should be from the heart without such trifling means of coercion. (2 Cor. 9:6, 7) Can anyone by the wildest stretch of his imagination picture Paul selling chances on a turkey to raise money to do needed work, or having ping pong tables and ice cream parties in the church to entice people to come hear him preach the gospel. Paul used no means but Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2)

Does It Matter?

Even after recognizing that they are standing from the New Testament pattern in the matters mentioned above, many would shrug off the whole question with "it doesn't matter whether one stands on the New Testament pattern or not." Roman Catholics would say that tradition and the Pope are just as good authorities as the Bible anyway. Protestant denominations would say, "Oh, well, we cannot all see alike."

One cannot find such expressed in the Word of God. The New Testament upholds the idea of only one church (Eph. 4:4; 1:22, 23), and condemns the idea of denominationalism. (1 Cor. 1:10-13) It is sinful to be a member of a denomination, and all who remain in such until death will be lost. (Matt. 15:13)

In fact, any departure from the Word of God is sinful. (2 Jno. 9) Any fellowship with false doctrine is sinful. (2 Jno. 9-11) The curses of God rest upon any who would preach false doctrine (Gal. 1:6-9), and condemnation rests upon those who believe false doctrine. (Mk. 16:16) Now, does it matter that. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Holiness, etc. teach conflicting doctrines? It matters if one is interested in going to heaven.

The church in New Testament times walked by faith (according to the directions of the word of God. Rom. 10:17) and not by sight (according to what seemed best to them). (2 Cor. 5:7) Churches of Christ need to constantly remind themselves of this!

What Caused This "Standing From" The New Testament Pattern?

Possibly the foremost reason was the desire for preeminence. (2 Thess. 2:2-4; .3 Jno. 9) Men came to the point where they did not care what God said, but would defend to their last breath a plan for their own devising. Sectarians will defame the church which Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28) but will defend with defend with every means at hand their own man-originated churches.

Ignorance was another prime force in bringing about the present condition. A lack of knowledge of the word of God will destroy any people. (Hos. 4:6) The Jews were ignorant of the righteousness of God and so set about to establish their own. Today, men are ignorant of the word of God and so are easily led about to become members of man-made groups which are nowhere mentioned in the Word of God. They are led into defaming the church of our blessed Lord and scoffing at the plan of salvation which He gave to the world and which has been recorded in His word.

Indifference was little, if any, behind the other two reasons mentioned as a force in bringing about the present-day condition of many churches and many doctrines. It is also a prime factor in maintaining that condition today. Many times, even after learning the truth, men are indifferent to it. They simply do not care one way or the other. To them error is just as good as truth. The writer was talking once to a lady who believed in baptizing babies. After a thorough discussion from which she was able to see that there was no scriptural authority for the practice, she said, "Oh, but it is such a beautiful little ceremony." To her, beauty was more important than what God said.

What Was The Pattern Of Development?

These conditions did not spring up over night. It was a gradual thing. In fact, it took several hundred years for the Roman Catholic hierarchy to develop. Elders in the local congregation began to look upon one of their number as a "chairman." Soon the "chairman" from various congregations began to meet together to discuss common problems. These men were looked upon as having more power than just "plain elders" and were called "bishops" to distinguish them from other elders, even though the terms are used in the New Testament to refer to the same office. Out of this "innocent" departure grew the Roman Catholic hierarchy and from the Roman Catholic church, as a result of the Protestant Reformation, came the many denominations which can be seen in our land today. But "protestants" have long ceased to protest against anything except the truth.

The church of Christ is not a denomination. It contains every saved person, for none can be saved outside it. It was purchased with the blood of Christ. (Acts 20:28) Reconciliation to God is in it. (Eph. 2:14-16) The same process which puts one into Christ (Gal. 3:26, 27), and saves ones soul (Mk. 16:16), puts one into the church. (Acts 2:41, 47)

What Can Prevent the Re-occurrence of Apostasy By the Church of Christ Today?

Zeal must replace indifference. Issues come before the church and many are indifferent to them. Some Christians are no more concerned about the issues which face the church than the sectarian is about the plan of salvation. Such an attitude can only lead to departure.

Knowledge of the Word of God must replace ignorance. There must be willingness to study diligently and prayerfully the issues which arise. There should be willingness to study as brethren and not as enemies. Impugning of motive or character adds nothing to the truth of any Bible question. Issues must be pressed and pressed hard, but the characters of the disputants is beside the point, at least so far as the truth of God's Word is concerned.

Desire for preeminence must be replaced with humility. This is demonstrated by a proper attitude toward the Word of God. Those who are victims of "standing from" the New Testament pattern, or those who have a tendency to go in that direction, feel that they show piety when they accept the word of prominent. Men must remember that true piety is shown when a thing is done because God said to do it. (Deut. 13:6-11) Men, who are in apostasy or tending toward it, when told that God did not authorize counting beads, burning incense, and using instrumental music in worship, ask, 'Why"? The right attitude is to ask, "What did. God say"? Victims of apostasy say, "I am a believer in Christ, and I know that He said 'he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved' but I believe that one can be saved without being baptized." The right attitude is to say, "I am a believer in Christ and He said to be baptized, therefore I will be baptized."

It is the prayer of the writer that men may learn not to go beyond the things that are written. (1 Cor. 4:6)