...

Rev. Gritters is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.

No, we cannot know the day and the hour that Jesus is coming again to make all things new. We can’t know when He will return to take the church to glory. We may not try to determine the day or even the year. But, you say, if we cannot pinpoint the time the Lord will come, is there any profit in studying about those days, and even asking how close they are? Definitely, yes! It’s not for nothing that the Bible gives us information about the end times, even details. Even though you cannot know the day and the hour, there are many things we know about the times shortly before the return of Christ.

Many young people have probably spoken to those who believe that there will be no warnings as to when the end will be, and that Christ will return without notice to rapture the church from the earth. These people misinterpret the “thief in the night” idea (see last article), and argue that all the “signs of the times” in the Scripture refer to when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, and not to the end of the world. The error of this reasoning is that in Matthew 24:2 the disciples askabout both (the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of Christ’s kingdom); and the Lord givesinstruction about both (even a careful study of the rest of the chapter is not necessary to see this).

So we take a middle road here. Although we cannot predict the day and hour of Jesus’ return, we know that it will not be a complete surprise for believers. We don’t say that there are no signs of His coming and of the end of the world. Jesus wants the church on earth to live with her eyes wide open, with her ear to the ground, listening carefully for the hoofbeat of the coming of Jesus to judge, so that she may be spiritually ready when He comes. And He says, “These are the things I want you to look for and listen for . . . .”

One of the most subtle, devastating, and grievous signs that the Lord says we should anticipate is a massive departure from the faith, a great departure like the world has never seen. “Be not deceived,” Jesus says through His apostle, “for that day shall not come, except there be a falling away first, and that man of sin, the son of perdition be revealed.” In other words, this sign will be present in the entire New Testament, but especially it will accompany the coming of the Antichrist himself.

Apostasy is the word for it. Apostasy is the great evil of putting away the faith. Just as a man puts away his wife, divorcing her, so men and women put away the faith, divorcing it. The Bible even uses a similar word for both. That a man divorces the truth doesn’t mean that he once believed but now doesn’t, or that some elect “divorced” the faith. But it means that some who held the truth of the faith no longer want it. They used to teach the truth about Jesus Christ, about His manhood, about His Godhead, about His creating the world, about His election, about His preservation of us, about His rule in the church through officebearers. But they don’t want it any longer. They never truly believed.

The seriousness is that it is departure from and divorcing of Christ, for Christ is the truth of the Scripture.

Practically, this means that this sign of apostasy takes place in what was the true church. We don’t call Buddhists or Mohammedans apostates. Apostasy happens in the church, where the faith was preached, learned, and loved. Paul says to the elders at Ephesus, “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” That is, “Out of your own people . . . .”

Very practically, young people, that’s why you must be so careful in your learning of catechism lessons. You and your friends will be the elders and elders’ wives some day in the church. In these latter days, especially the elders need to know sound doctrine, so that when the ministers or professors bring in false teaching, they will know it.

A serious-minded young person will ask, “How could this ever happen in a true church? If the people loved the Lord, taught the Lords truth, obeyed the Lord’s commandments, how can that same church now teach and believe the lie?” The answer is that both the leaders and the members in the church sin to bring this about.

The leaders (some of whom may be unbelievers), because of intellectual pride and hatred for what cannot be explained logically, subtly and slowly teach the lie. The professors in the schools raise subtle questions without giving good, conclusive answers, causing gnawing doubts in the minds and hearts of students. The ministers come to the pulpits with the same questioning methods. Instead of saying from the pulpit, “Thus saith the Lord’ they say, “Let me suggest to you . . . .”

And the leaders’ punishment for this apostasy will be great. Just as the great sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat was not so much that he served idols, but especially that he “taught the people to sin,” so the judgment of God will fall most heavily upon these heretics, not only because of their own unbelief, but especially because of all the sheep they led astray.

But that’s not the only way this happens. For the teachers to bring in damnable heresies, the people must be willing and ready to swallow them. Peter says, “Many shall follow their pernicious ways.” The members of the church, then, must either be just as willing to divorce the truth, or know nothing about what the truth is. If the members of the church would rise in holy horror immediately, and not after two or three generations; if the church members were willing to discipline the preachers and professors who teach heresy; the false doctrines would be kept out of the church.

The problem is that the church members sometimes care more about their own hide than about the truth of the Word of God, put a greater value on “peace in the church” than on Christ’s Word. We need to be men and women and young people who care about the faith of Jesus Christ, the head and ruler and Savior of the church.

But how can this happen in a church that consists of believers and their children? How can Gods elect divorce the truth? God’s elect cannot divorce the truth. But a true church can become apostate. And for that to happen, two things must occur. First, there must be unbelievers in the congregation as well as believers. Bringing in “damnable heresies,” these unbelievers are the wolves among the sheep, who do a good job of pretending to be believers. But this alone isn’t enough. There must be believers who fail in one important aspect of their calling: to teach their children well. For then the children will listen to the lies that are taught and will begin themselves to question the Reformed faith because they were not taught it. And because the lie is always easier to swallow than the truth, they will take it, morsel by poisonous morsel. The parents are saved, but the children perish. The church that once was true, now is false.

This doesn’t happen overnight.

Think of it in this way. When a train comes to a switching yard and transfers to a track that will eventually turn the train around, the change seems innocent enough. But after a short time of uneasiness because of the lurch to the other track, it is not bothersome to find out that it’s going in a slightly different direction. In fact, it probably will seem natural and comfortable enough; and soon the train will be going in the opposite direction and no one will either know or care.

At first, the lies that are being taught sound dangerous. Reformed and biblical sensitivities are touched. The parents feel guilty, perhaps, when they don’t object. But then, after they have argued with and eventually ignored their conscience for a while, it doesn’t bother them anymore. Perhaps they are believers who will be saved, but because of their horrible failure in this one vital area, their children will believe the lie and teach it when they become old. And God will cut off their generations. What an astounding thought!

We need to be warned about this in our own lives.

This, young people, is why you need to be encouraged to study hard in catechism, to learn the doctrines. This is why your pastors are so concerned when you don’t know and understand the questions and answers, when your eyes are a mile away in catechism. And this is why your pastor is so thrilled when you know the lesson, when you show interest during the class—because he sees evidence that God will preserve the church perhaps for another generation. And this is the fervent desire of his heart, for Gods sake!

But don’t think that it’s all so innocent. God’s apostles tell us that when heresy comes into the church it comes as intentional deception (except for those leaders and teachers who have been deceived themselves for a while). Paul tells Timothy that the divorce of the faith will come when men speak “lies in hypocrisy” (I Timothy 4:2). They will put on a false front of orthodoxy to make you think they are not crooked. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Intentionally their doctrine is cloaked in Reformed terminology; intentionally they will claim to have history on their side; but their purpose is to destroy the church.

That’s hard to believe. But the devil himself is behind this deception. They are smooth-talking, kind men; but they are nothing less than demonic. Freshly manicured personalities may be the serpent from the garden of Eden. Eve was not struck by the serpent’s falsity, but by his apparent sincerity. Smooth as silk. Slippery as a snake. “Sincere.”

But their purpose is to destroy the church.

Young people, you must be reminded of these things. A minister is not faithful if he does not teach the congregation about this. “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ . . .” (I Timothy 4:6). The coming again of Jesus Christ will be preceded by this horrible departure from the faith that you hold dear. Beware!

Learn.

Study.

Be not deceived.

Pray.

And when you hear the lie, speak.

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.”

Questions for discussion:

1.In what ways is the Reformed faith being gradually undermined today?

2.What should you do if you believe the teacher in your school (high school or college) is indirectly undermining the truth, or if he subtly mocks the Reformed faith?

3.A church does not become false overnight. What difference is there between a church that is corrupting the truth and a church that is a false church? (for further study, see The Standard Bearer, March 1, 1982).

4.If apostasy must come before Christ returns, what should our attitude and action be when we face it?