Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum
“The old apostasy was marked by verbal ‘destructive denials.’”
The following is excerpted from The Footsteps of the Messiah – A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events by Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum. (Used by Permission.) In Chapter 3 of his book, “The Eschatology of the Visible Church: the Things Which Are – the Seven Churches,” Dr. Fruchtenbaum examines characteristics found in the seven churches of Revelation. As we consider apostasy in our times, let’s take a look at the church of Laodicea:
The Church of the Apostasy (A.D. 1900-present day)—Revelation 3:14–22
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth. Because you say, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel you to buy of me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. He that overcomes, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The destination of the letter, in verse 14a, is Laodicea, which means “people ruling.” This is set in contrast to God’s ruling in the church. It is a church entirely ruled by men, for the Holy Spirit is not present and doing His ministry of guiding. In the historical-prophetic interpretation, this becomes an avid description of the Church of the Apostasy which began in the early 1900s and continues to the present day.
The description of Jesus is in verse 14b, and is taken from Revelation 1:4, 6, and 7. He is described as the faithful and true witness, whereas this church is neither faithful nor true to the Word.
All six of the previous churches had at least one word of commendation, but this church has none. There is nothing commendable in this church, as it is entirely an unsaved church.
Hence, the text continues to the condemnation, in verses 15–17. In verses 15–16, they are characterized by lukewarmness. The distinctions between hot, cold, and lukewarm can be determined by the overall context. The hot are the truly saved believers. The cold are those who are not believers and do not claim to be believers. The lukewarm are those who do claim to believe in Jesus, but are not truly regenerate believers. In verse 17, they are characterized by richness in worldly goods, but also self-deception, for they are spiritually poor, blind, and naked. This is a very good description of the Apostate Church. For all these traits, they are condemned.
Apostasy can be defined as the departure from the truth that one professed to have. It does not mean that they actually possessed the truth. Seldom do apostates actually possess the truth. Rather, it is a departure from a truth they professed to have because of an affiliation with a particular church. For example, a minister of a Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist Church is professing by virtue of his very position to believe the doctrines of the Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist Churches respectively. But actually the apostate denies these doctrines and has departed from the truth that he professes to have. This has indeed been the characteristic of the visible church of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
That there would be an apostasy of the church in the latter days was clearly predicted in two New Testament passages. First, in II Thessalonians 2:1–3, Paul wrote:
Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.
This text will be dealt with in Appendix II. For now it is only necessary to show its connection with the problem of apostasy. As will be shown in Chapter 8, the term Day of the Lord is always a reference to the Tribulation period. In this passage two things are to occur before the Tribulation can begin, one of which is the falling away. The Greek word here is apostosia, which can be translated as “the apostasy.” Before the Tribulation is to begin, the apostasy must come first. Thus, it was inevitable that the church would become apostate in the closing days of its history. The second thing to occur before the Tribulation is the revelation of the man of sin, the son of perdition.
The second passage is I Timothy 4:1:
But the Spirit says expressingly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.
Again, the prophetic word declares that there would be a falling away or an apostasy from the faith. The Laodicean Church is a description of the apostasy of the last days.
In three New Testament passages there is a description of the character of the apostasy. The first is found in I Timothy 4:1–3:
But the Spirit says expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.
This passage declares that the source of apostasy is demons, for apostates have essentially given in to seducing spirits and are preaching a system of doctrine which is a doctrine of demons. Furthermore, they speak lies through hypocrisy, and their conscience has become insensitive. Part of this demonic doctrine involves an attack on the believer’s liberty characterized by the forbidding to marry and the instructing to refrain from eating meats. Such legalistic apostasy will increase as church history unfolds throughout the last days. These elements will become more prevalent in the visible church.
The second passage relating to the character of the apostasy is found in II Timothy 3:5:
Holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away.
In verses 1–4, there is a description of the general character of the world during the last days, and it can hardly be denied that these elements are true in this present day. Verse five centers on the religious front, where the last days will be characterized by men having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Apostate ministers, retaining the clerical garb and church titles, have a form of godliness. But they have denied the power thereof, for they have denied the true power of godliness.
The third passage is found in II Peter 2:1–22:
But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privately bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of. And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingers not, and their destruction slumbers not. For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, having made them an example unto those that should live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, sore distressed by the lascivious life of the wicked (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds): the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment; but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of defilement, and despise dominion. Daring, selfwilled, they tremble not to rail at dignities: whereas angels, though greater in might and power, bring not a railing judgment against them before the Lord. But these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed, suffering wrong as the hire of wrong-doing; men that count it pleasure to revel in the day-time, spots and blemishes, revelling in their deceivings while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; enticing unstedfast souls; having a heart exercised in covetousness; children of cursing; forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the hire of wrongdoing; but he was rebuked for his own transgression: a dumb ass spoke with man’s voice and stayed the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm: for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved. For, uttering great swelling words of vanity, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by lasciviousness, those who are just escaping from them that live in error; promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for whom a man is overcome, of the same is he also brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them. It has happened unto them according to the true proverb. The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire.
Reading through the passage, one does not see Peter displaying any attitude of love or tolerance toward the apostates. The Bible is not tolerant toward apostasy and it castigates it very severely, as these verses clearly show.
Having described the character of apostasy, another question involves their teachings. What, after all, is the mark of the apostate? In II Peter 2:1, their teachings are portrayed as destructive denials:
But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privately bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
The teachings of the apostates are called destructive heresies. The content entails denying even the Master that bought them. In other words, the content of apostate teaching involves the denial of the Person (the Master) and work (bought them) of the Messiah. Other New Testament passages provide more specific aspects of this denial. First, a denial of the Trinity is dealt with in I John 2:22–23:
Who is the liar but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denies the Father and the Son. Whosoever denies the Son, the same has not the Father: he that confesses the Son has the Father also.
Second, I John 4:2–3 comments on a denial of the Incarnation:
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesses not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it comes; and now it is in the world already.
The same is true in II John 7:
For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ comes in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Third, the denial of the Second Coming of the Messiah is the concern of II Peter 3:3–4:
Knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
Thus, the teachings of apostasy involve the destructive denials of the Person and work of the Messiah, especially with regard to His place in the Trinity, His deity, His incarnation as the God-Man by means of the Virgin Birth, and the fact that He is coming back physically. Basic to all these denials, of course, is the denial of the inspiration of the Scriptures themselves. Once a person moves away from the acceptance of the authority of Scripture, there is no longer any safeguard for other crucial doctrines.
In Jude 17–19, the deeds or types of actions preferred by apostates is given:
But ye, beloved, remember ye the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; that they said to you, In the last time there shall be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts. These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit.
One type of deed that will be performed by apostates is mockery (vv. 17–18). They will mock the fundamentals of the faith such as the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary death of the Messiah, and His physical resurrection from the dead. Second Peter 3:3–4 states that they will also mock the doctrine of the Second Coming. A second deed is that of creating schisms or separations (v. 19). Because they begin denying some of the fundamentals of the faith, they convince some but not others. In the course of time, the two factions develop into a split within the church. The process begun by mockery results in a division of the church. Throughout this age of apostasy there has been schism after schism. Church after church and denomination after denomination have split over the destructive denials of the Trinity, the incarnation, and the Second Coming.
These characteristics, heretical teachings, and deeds of separations have become more prevalent as church history has progressed from about 1900 to the present day. This is the age of the Church of the Apostasy.
The roots of the present Age of Apostasy began in Europe, particularly with German rationalism, where the inerrency of the Scriptures was denied with the development of biblical criticism and the documentary hypothesis. If the present Age of the Apostasy had a definite beginning (and this is impossible to determine), for the United States, it might well have been January 20, 1891. On that day, a man named Charles Augustus Briggs gave his inaugural address at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. At that time, Union was a Presbyterian seminary training ministers for Presbyterian pulpits. In his inaugural address, Briggs made six points, some of which involved destructive heresies: First, there are three great fountains of truth: the Bible, the church, and reason, thus, reason and the church became equal in authority with the Scriptures; second, not only were some of the Old Testament prophecies not fulfilled, but they were also reversed; third, he questioned the Mosaic authorship of the five books of Moses; fourth, he questioned the unity of Isaiah; fifth, he stated that those who died unsaved would have a second chance; and sixth, sanctification is not complete at death.
Briggs was not the first Modernist, but this address was the first public affirmation of Modernism in a theological seminary in the United States. Charges were brought against Briggs by the New York Presbytery on two occasions (1891 and 1893), but the charges were dropped, mainly to preserve the unity of the church rather than to deal with what was actually said. When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church put Briggs on trial in 1893, he was suspended from the Presbyterian Church. As a result, Briggs became an Episcopalian, and the Union Theological Seminary withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and became independent. However, although the Union Theological Seminary became independent, they still continued to train ministers for the Presbyterian Church and for their pulpits. This set the stage for the way the apostasy would develop in the course of the twentieth century. Apostasy would first begin in a denominational school and thus affect the training of ministers who were to fill the pulpits of the churches for those denominations. Eventually, more and more liberals took over the pulpits, and more and more churches became liberal themselves.
So throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century, apostasy took over the schools and trained ministers for the denominational churches. In an effort to stem the tide, in 1910 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church issued the Five Fundamentals of the Faith, which included: first, the inspiration of Scriptures; second, the Virgin Birth; third, the substitutionary atonement; fourth, the resurrection of Jesus; and fifth, the miracles of Jesus. Those who subscribed to these five points were labeled “Fundamentalists,” and so a new word was coined. Those who denied these fundamentals were called Modernists or Liberals. The General Assembly issued these in 1910 and reaffirmed them in 1916 and 1923.
The decade of the 1920s was characterized by the great Modernist-Fundamentalist battles. There were many attempts to fight Modernism from within the church. But toward the end of the decade, it became apparent that the Modernists were firmly in control of both the denominational church positions (this included all the major denominations except the Southern Baptist Convention) and their schools.
This led to the separatist movements of the 1930s as the Fundamentalists pulled out of denominations either by starting new denominations or by forming independent churches. Emerging from the United Presbyterian Church of the United States of America was a group led by J. Greshem Machen, which unfortunately split into three separate denominations (Orthodox Presbyterians, Bible Presbyterians, and the Evangelical Presbyterians) due to internal struggles. Out of the American Baptist Convention came the General Association of Regular Baptists (GARB). Out of the United Methodist Church came the Evangelical Methodists. The schisms that the Bible predicted would occur as a result of the apostasy began to occur in the separatist movements of the 1930s.
The 1940s to the present day have been characterized by ecumenical movements. In 1948, the World Council of Churches was organized on two principles: First, the unity of all churches on the basis of liberal tenets; and second, the unity of all religions. In 1950, the old Federal Council of Churches was reorganized into the National Council of Churches, again attempting to unify all the churches in the United States along liberal tenets. Consequently, the visible church is primarily apostate today. Even among conservative denominations, some can already see the threat of apostasy in the taking over of the schools and the supplying of liberal ministers for the pulpits. Even the once strong Southern Baptist Convention has not escaped this trend. However, to their credit, there was a reversal of this trend in the decade of the nineties.