Vol.XIV No.X Pg.5
December 1977

The Characteristics Of Apostasy

Robert F. Turner

In speaking of the rise and fall of nations, Paul S. McElroy once said, ...the pattern of these civilizations or nations runs something like this: from bondage to spiritual faith, from faith to courage, from such courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency and from dependency back again into bondage." It seems to me that the pattern of apostasy in the Lord's church follows much the same predictable course. It is at the first small and poor; its principles become recognized as true and practical; it grows; it becomes strong, popular and rich; it becomes complacent, indifferent; it again lapses into apostasy.

Several of these deviations are so slow and so slight they are not recognized in their seedling forms. A move toward a thing may not seem so dangerous at the time, but may be forming a bond that later will be almost impossible to break. A good example is the trend among the more liberal churches toward embracing the charismatic movement. Who would have thought that the emotional appeal made by institutional brethren in the 1950's would have resulted in entire congregations being lost to holiness doctrines? But it is my opinion that the emotionalism used to promote the orphan homes and other "brotherhood" projects has lent support to the move toward the emotional doctrines now such a problem in some churches.

Apostasy is a peculiar thing. But it is also to same degree predictable. In Acts 20, we are given a hint of the path followed by apostasy. It has always been the case that "from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, seeking to draw disciples away after them..." Every apostasy follows this same design. From internal sources the doctrines are sown. From inside the camp the evil is more easily planted and more difficult to recognize and deal with, because it is done by men in whom we have confidence. And such internal work, done subtly and "in sheep's clothing" is difficult to deal with on account of the fact that its proponents have usually already polarized several "cell" groups by the time it is discovered. This exact procedure is being utilized presently in some churches.

There seems to me to be some significance to the fact that there is almost always an organizational departure before there is a doctrinal one. I suppose that those who demand a "thus saith the Lord" first then go about doing the work are just naturally less likely to become involved in departures. Once an organizational departure has been made, it is no great difficulty to find ways to make the Scriptures fit, even if it becomes necessary to change them somewhat! It is obvious, and historicity is the best witness to such, that changes in organizational structure (such as surrender of congregational autonomy) have always been the springboard to full blown apostasy. When elderships, who are charged with the feeding of the flock become derelict, then the spiritual body must suffer the consequences of such lack of proper feeding and the church loses its resistance to such unauthorized practices!