The History of Apostasy

Transcript of a message presented by Dr. G. Arthur Woolsey on Apostasy

There is an audio recording of this message. But the files I have are too large to upload to this blog. So I may make them available in the future.

Apostasy is a grave danger, is a threat to our regular Baptist faith. The question, “What shall we do with apostasy?” is the burning issue of the 20th century believers. We live in days of tremendous upheaval. Our century has seen two global wars, the last one terminated in atomic holocaust for two cities. We live in days when we are surrounded by all kinds of change. Never has a generation experienced so much change as ours, and in the midst of all of this change there has been a great upheaval in the realm of religious profession. After WWI, there was a strong reaction of human spirits to the loss of life, deprivations, the sacrifices of war and here in America, we launched out into a period of national celebration, a regular binge, which was terminated only by the great tragedy on Wall Street as the stock market came to a closing.

During these days, there was a spirit of rebellion engendered especially in the hearts of young people. Those who lived through these times will remember the era of the bootlegger, gangland warfare, all kinds of fads, extremes in dress, the day of the flapper, the day of Joe College in a coonskin coat, the days of “guppy gulping,” the days when every kind of marathon that the fertile mind of man could invent was fostered, a day when there was spirit of rebellion against the mores and the standards of a former generation. It was in the midst of these roaring twenties, that a handful of liberal clergymen, who until that time had pretty much stood with hat in hand and pled for toleration, suddenly made a bold, and I’m sorry to say, a successful move to capture the leadership of the great Protestant denominations.

There were voices raised in protest, but the people of God for the most part stood by in abject apathy and let them do it, and suddenly the question of “What should we do with apostasy?” became the most important issue for those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. There were some that said, “Let us, Let it take care of itself. After all we should be broadminded, and a few liberals out not to hurt us.” So they let matters take care of themselves, and believe me they did. As you look around upon the wreckage in the United States of America and on the mission fields of the world and in the civilized nations of the world, as you see the multitude of churches, colleges, foundations, mission boards which once were dedicated to the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and now are numbered among the chief enemies of Christ. You can see how well that situation took care of itself.

There were still others who said, “The thing for us to do is to organize and to stay within the precincts of apostasy and fight them on their own terms and whip them using their own tactics,” and if you look to the great Protestant denominations in the United States today, you can observe the measure of success which this particular answer gave to those who resorted to it.

Still another company of people said, “Let’s form our own fellowship which will be composed of those who are born again and who believe the Word of God, but let every individual and every church make up his own mind as to what position he shall take with respect to apostasy, and again some 30 years of history have commented upon the success of that venture. Wherever the people of God attempted this answer, there has been dissension and disruption and division and bitterness.

There were still others, and we were of that number, who said, “Let us repudiate apostasy. Let us come out of it and stay out of it and let’s build our own movement composed of churches who believe as we do, not only concerning all other issues, but believe as we do concerning the matter of apostasy,” and again I believe that our gathering tonight bears testimony to the fact that the decision we made back in those days was determinative and the character of our movement since proves the wisdom of the decision that was made back there.

In fact, the answer which believers gave to this question, “What shall we do with apostasy?” has been determinative in every case. Groups and individuals have become what they are today as the result of the answer they gave to this one burning question.

Tonight, in just a few moments, I would like to have you think with me concerning the days which are upon us in which this question is being asked of us with fresh meaning and with many additional implications. Back in the old days, people like Dr. Bob Ketchum, Dr. T. T. Shields, Dr. W. B. Riley and the leaders in those days who had been in the Northern Baptist Convention, many of them had different answers. But they were confronted by the question of “What shall we do with a handful of apostates?” I suppose that the casual bystander today would think somewhat presumptuous that we should even ask the question tonight. They would think it would be much more appropriate for us to ask. “What do the apostates propose to do with us?” Because tonight instead of a handful of them trying to gain control of Christian institutions, there are multitudes of them in control of almost everything that is visible that bears the name Protestant.

The young people who are here tonight must answer this question for themselves and their answer will determine the future of our movement. Young people what will you do with the apostasy that now reigns? What will you do now that, due to the ecumenical movement, apostasy is well organized and has made inroads into the offices of government, into the media of communication, into every avenue of human life? What will you do with the apostasy?

Apostasy is not anything new. It is something that is very old. The apostle Paul faced apostasy during his lifetime. With a broken heart, in second Thessalonians he wrote, “This thou knowest that all they that be in Asia be turned away from me.” After a lifetime of starting churches in Asia, after a lifetime of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, after a lifetime of fighting apostasy, as he was ready to go home to glory, he could say, “I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course.” But he also had to say, “All they that be in Asia be turned away from me.”

In the epistle to the Galatians, we have a very moving example of Paul’s contact with a growing apostasy, apostasy in the Galatian church. Quite quickly tonight, I want to think with you concerning three items which are presented to us in Galatians, which represent first of all the motivation which leads to apostasy, secondly the methodology employed by apostasy, and thirdly the characteristics which mark apostasy.

I believe that if you young people in particular will think these things through, at least you will be forearmed. I believe that if you will read carefully the book of Galatians, realizing that it is a treatise on apostasy and if you will receive the full implication of the words that Paul poured out of a burning heart, then you will have learned a great deal concerning this matter. First of all, the motivation that leads to apostasy.

Now I suppose that I’m going to do what some people call meddling tonight. I’m going to try to lay things on the line as God gives it to me to do this, and as you study the book of Galatians, you find that the reason apostasy gained a foothold there, and as you study the annals of history, you find that apostasy has gained a foothold in every case on record is that there was in the hearts of men, some of them professed believers, a desire to receive the approbation of the world.

You will recall that the Galatian epistle wades into this issue at the very outset. Let us read the first several verses. “Paul an apostle, not of men,” this is so significant. We’ll come back to this a little later. “…neither by men, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead,” and he goes onto say, “…and all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia, and in verse four, “…who gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil world.” There is the cause for the apostasy.

When you get into the concluding chapter of Galatians and you come down to verse twelve, you read this, “As many desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law but desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that they should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom or by which the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.” Right there is where apostasy gets a foothold, every single time.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, it produces certain tensions. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached in the first century and men were told that they could not be justified by the deeds of the law, that Salvation was to be had by faith in Jesus Christ alone, the people in Judaism bitterly resented this and out of their resentment there grew persecution, antagonism towards Christianity, and there were certain of those who aligned themselves, Paul describes them as those who crept in unawares in chapter two, with the Christian community who came in for the purpose of spying out the liberty that they had in the Gospel and they began to agitate on this issue, and there were people that were concerned and by and by believers way up in Galatia who had received some of this agitation began to be concerned and said now we’re going to be persecuted.

These Jewish people are being offended at our strong stand. We must do something to mollify them, to placate them, some adjustment of some kind must be made and that is the very place where apostasy entered. Now the reason I’m mentioning this is that this is precisely the reason for the philosophy that we label neo-evangelicalism today. Neo-evangelicalism represents a bunch of saved people trying to get the world to pat them on the back. Trying to win the world’s approval, and this has always been the avenue through which apostasy has entered. Had we more time, we would expand this point, but we are going to keep our commitment to you, if the Lord enables us to do so.

Moving onto the methodology of apostasy. Apostasy enters in when, instead of having their ears tuned to the Word of God, those who profess to be Christians begin to listen to what men have to say and especially what religious leaders have to say. You know it’s interesting to note, in the language structure here when we get down to verse six, Paul says, “I marvel that ye are so rapidly removing yourselves from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” When apostasy moves, it moves quickly. Paul in II Timothy 4 spoke of the end of the age, and he said they are going to move very quickly, and they are going to remove themselves at a very rapid pace from the faith once delivered to the saints. They will literally heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears who shall turn away their hearts from the Truth.

Now the Satanic instrument, the apostate leader, is merely the devil’s tool. The real cause for apostasy is that there are many believers that are not willing to let a little tension exist and a few unresolved issues exist between the believing world and the unbelieving world, but somehow they want to bridge the gap, and they want to win the approval, and they want to do something to lessen the tension between those who are saved and those who are not.

Now coming to the methodology of apostasy, we find something else that is very revealing. I trust you young people will think of this. Apostasy moves along certain well-defined paths. The method of apostasy can be summed up in one word, syncretism. Now syncretism is a high-sounding word but is a very simple term. It means an attempt to reconcile opposed religious viewpoints.

Now let us think of the apostasies that have come upon the professing church of Jesus Christ during the centuries. The first one I think was this one, and the apostasy in this case was a compromise with Judaism. Those who resort to apostasy are all the time trying to bridge gaps, to span chasms. There was a chasm between the doctrines of grace and Judaism representing the doctrines of the law and so the apostates of that day said well, let’s have a little bit of syncretism. Now let’s just take a little bit of Judaism and mix it in with Christianity. Let’s have everyone who professes Jesus Christ observe the Jewish feast days and let the males be circumcised after the pattern of the Jews. Let’s just relieve the tension and reconcile the opposition and bridge the gap by having a little bit of each.

A little bit later in that century, John tells us about another apostasy. That time they tried to bridge the gap between philosophy and the Christian faith and the particular philosophy that came into question was the philosophy of Gnosticism, one branch of which says that matter is evil and so there were those that tried to bridge the gap. They tried to give Christianity an aura of intellectual respectability, and they said let’s have a little Gnosticism and mix it in with Christianity, and so they said now that matter is evil, we will conclude that Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh because that would make him partake of evil matter and John thunders out in his epistle and he said if there comes anyone to you with this kind of apostate doctrine don’t receive him into your house, don’t bid him Godspeed.

A little bit later, it was another gulf to be bridged, the gulf between professing Christianity and Roman paganism. The old Babylonian mysteries had moved around the Mediterranean and had found lodgement in imperial Rome. When Constantine made Christianity the imperial religion, the apostates got busy and said let’s have a little syncretism. Instead of having all of this tension between the temples of Jupiter and the Christian churches, let’s just mix things up here a little bit. Let the Christian church observe some of these pagan Roman holidays. That will not do much of any harm. Now let us venerate Mary and exalt her to a position that is similar to that which Ashtoreth had in the old Babylonian mysteries, [be]cause this will not do very much harm and with pretty much these three steps of apostasy, the Christian church went into the dark Middle Ages in which evangelism came to a standstill and the light of the Gospel in many places, such as in Asia, where they had received the Gospel in the first century, the light of the Gospel completely died out and almost died out on the continent of Europe.

In more modern days here at the end of the age we’ve had another series of apostasies, some more syncretism. Following the Reformation and the age of the revivals there were some who said it’s just a terrible thing that Christianity and philosophy are so far apart. There were some of the philosophers like Hagel who was honest enough when he realized that his philosophy had taken him completely out of the confines of the Christian faith. He openly repudiated Christianity and branded himself for what he was. The others, many of them were not that honest, and the apostates are never that honest.

So they said let us have some syncretism. Let’s mix a little bit of German rationalism in with the Christian faith. This was the beginning of apostasy as we know it today. Then along the line there began to be quite a bit of tension between science and Christianity. A man by the name of Darwin proposed the hypothesis of Evolution, and this became a very popular thing and remains so today and so there were those inside of the confines of Christianity, said let’s have a little syncretism. Let’s just take Evolution, only let’s call it Theistic Evolution and mix it in with the Christian faith.

There were others who said well we don’t like the way in which some groups that call themselves Christian are being discriminated against. Let’s have a little more syncretism here. Let’s take some Unitarianism and mix it in with the Christian faith. In our times, we are seeing another kind of syncretism. There are voices, even in the midst of the people of God today, who say it’s just lamentable that there is such a chasm between the evangelicals and the apostates who defected years and years ago, the apostate great Protestant denominations. We ought to sit down and resort to dialogue. We ought to get together and talk things over. Let’s not emphasize the points on which we differ, let’s be a little bit ecumenical ourselves and try to resolve the tension, and they are proposing a syncretistic formula of dialogue whereby there it will be a reduction of the distance between these two positions.

Now let us move on very quickly to the next point, the characteristics which mark apostasy. You will find that as you read Galatians 1 Paul says, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you or that ye are so rapidly removing yourselves from him that called you by the grace of Christ unto another gospel of a different kind, which is not another gospel of the same kind.”

Many of you know that in the language of the New Testament, there are two words for another. The one is the word from which we get our word heterogeneous, and it is a collection of diverse objects. The other word means another of the same kind. When the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will send you another comforter,” he used the word for another that means another of the same kind.

But when Paul is speaking here to the Galatians, he said, now I marvel, I’m astonished, at the rapidity with which you are removing yourselves from him who called you by the grace of Christ unto another gospel of a different kind, which is not another gospel of the same kind. That’s what the text says, and this is one of the favorite characteristics, that’s a poor use of terminology, one of the favorite stratagems of apostasy always.

Apostasy builds nothing. Apostasy perverts the Gospel. It does not go out and build it’s own churches and do it’s own evangelism and pay it’s own bills. It is a parasite, and it is characterized by several other features. First of all, apostasy always repudiates the doctrines of grace. Paul said, “I marvel that ye are so rapidly removing yourselves from the realm of grace, from him who called you by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Apostasy hates grace. Apostasy always preaches good works.

When I was in North Tonawanda, some of the old timers told me of the days when they would be supplied, in the absence of a pastor, by teachers from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary and on occasion their speaker would be Walter Rauschenbush, the father of the Social Gospel.

It is the favorite trick of apostasy to come along and say, “Now we have just the same gospel you always had. We made just a few accommodations. We made just a few adjustments, just so that we are not going to offend these people that we’ve been offending.” Paul said, “Don’t you believe it for a minute!” They do not have a gospel of the same kind. They have another gospel of a completely different kind, and he said I want to tell you something else. Whether I would do it, whether an angel from heaven would do it, whether anybody would do it, I don’t care what kind of a gospel he preaches, if anyone preaches another gospel of a different kind as these apostates do, let him be accursed. He reinforces that, and he said I’ll repeat it, “So say I now again,” and later in the book he said, “I could wish they were even cut off which trouble you.”

To be continued in the 2nd Post. (Can you guess what year this was presented in yet?)