Standing Against the Advances of Apostasy

March/April 2013
Volume 48, Number 2

“Why do you stay with the Church of the Brethren?” That question arises, often coming from well-meaning persons who just cannot understand why a Bible-believing, Bible-practicing Christian would remain in a church fellowship that has abandoned so much through the years. The casting aside has not only been in terms of the historical practices and distinctive beliefs of the Brethren, but more recently even approaches throwing out essential Christian teaching such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the authority of the Bible, the reality of Heaven and hell, among others. These indeed, are challenging developments.

It would seem that the question should really be, “Why leave the Church of the Brethren?” It is rather surprising that some conservatives and evangelicals want to “jump ship” after a number of positive developments in the denomination have occurred through the last thirty years, including:

–the paper on declining membership (1981);
–the paper on Human Sexuality (1983);
–Church and State statement (1987);
–the Mission Theology and Guidelines paper (1989);
–declaration of Jesus Christ as Head of the Church (1991);
–reaffirmation of the New Testament as Rule of Faith and Practice (1997),
–the statement on licensing/ordination of homosexuals (2002); and
–the reaffirmation of the 1983 Human Sexuality paper (2011).

Some of these actions were taken at the sincere request of Brethren Revival Fellowship. No longer were the liberal arguments automatically accepted. Bible-believing Brethren, sometimes silent and sometimes intimidated by others with advanced education, began to express their long- and deeply-held convictions concerning core issues of theology, morality, and practice. They began to understand that they were not the minority in the denomination. This has been confirmed in numerous votes at Conference, and by Carl Bowman’s book, Portrait of a People, which was a carefully-done survey of Brethren that confirmed that the wider Church of the Brethren is essentially more conservative than the liberal pacesetters in their outlook.

The future of the Church of the Brethren lies with those who carry on the deposit of the faith to new generations and peoples. The proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected for the salvation of people everywhere is the hope for the future. The anticipation of “that blessed hope” (the return of Jesus Christ) is what motivates believers to continue to lift Jesus up as the only Saviour. The hope of the world is not merely in what Jesus taught; the hope is in Jesus Himself, and what He did in dying to save His people from their sins, and rising again for their justification, and coming again for their glorification.

The truths of Jesus Christ and His Word are not determined by the Annual Conference; never have been, are not now, and never will be. Truth is established in Heaven. So BRF is not very concerned by “progressives”; they are headed the way of all movements that wed themselves to the spirit of the age. Votes at conferences are indicators of where the Church of the Brethren lines up with Jesus Christ and His Word. They are “thermometers” of the spiritual temperature of our denomination. It is good to keep an eye on them, and take appropriate action when necessary.

However, the main means of shaping the Church of the Brethren is through the preaching of the Word of God as it is. Most people on the local level do not keep track of Conference votes, but they are counseled, corrected, and instructed through the plain preaching and teaching of the Bible. Through that preaching, they find out what is right, what is wrong, how to get right, and how to stay right. That preaching and teaching is what we are responsible for, as faithful pastors, ministers, deacons, Sunday School teachers, and parents. Rather than retreating to some safe enclave, we are to carry the spiritual battle to the enemy. That is what we should do. As long as local congregations are allowed to promote and practice the New Testament message as historically upheld by the Brethren, we should keep on doing in the Church of the Brethren.

–Craig Alan Myers

Standing Against the Advances of Apostasy

By Harold S. Martin

Some believe that there is only one way to stand firmly for the truth in these days when apostasy abounds. They insist that we must break away from those who have departed from many of the basic teachings of the Scriptures.  “Apostasy” is generally defined as the willful rejection of Christ and His teachings. But, is leaving a denomination that has made many departures from areas of historic Brethren teachings, the best way to stand for the truth in these troubled times.

Brethren Revival Fellowship has repeatedly said that we are not quick to break away from those who are departing from the historic faith as understood by the Brethren. Our goal is to encourage from within the Brotherhood, and to challenge believers to greater loyalty to the New Testament teachings. There are enough different break-away groups already.

Currently there is a movement among some pockets of conservative Brethren, to reject the authority of Church of the Brethren district leaders, especially as it relates to ordaining ministers. Plans are being made to begin the process of training and ordaining ministers apart from district authority. The proposal is to establish a Council of Brethren Elders who would oversee the licensing, training, and ordination of ministers, and then have them offer to serve in the Church of the Brethren if they are accepted by the larger church as viable Church of the Brethren ministers.

In New Testament times, Jesus kept on teaching in the Temple at Jerusalem in spite of the corruption and bad influences of the Pharisees. And in the early church, at Corinth, there were all kinds of problems. There were personality clashes, and there was sexual looseness. Christian freedom was confused with license, and there was turmoil at the lovefeast services. In addition, there was a group who taught that there is no resurrection of the dead. It would have been easy for Paul to separate from the crowd of false believers, but instead, Paul rebuked the people, prayed for them, visited their churches, and wrote letters to them. Paul did not part from the early church leaders who had tolerated these things.

1. Be Encouraged by Paul’s Example (2 Timothy 3:10-13)

In 2 Timothy 3:10-11, Paul encouraged the younger preacher Timothy to follow his example of faithfulness to the message of salvation through faith in the crucified Christ. He was blessed by the fact that Timothy had carefully observed his doctrine and manner of life, and also his purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, and many afflictions. At Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, he had endured persecutions, but out of all of them, the Lord had delivered him.

Not all church leaders are seducers and apostates and false teachers. Many of God’s servants today, like the Apostle Paul in New Testament times, are valiant contenders for the faith. Timothy had traveled extensively with Paul, and he knew that Paul was a true man of God. There are nine aspects of Paul’s life that every one of us should be willing to follow.

In doctrine, Paul’s teaching was Scripturally true and Christ-centered.

In manner of life, Paul’s daily walk was above reproach.

In purpose, Paul aimed to do God’s will.

In faith, Paul was confident about the promises of God.

In longsuffering, Paul was forbearing with sinners and held a positive attitude toward persecutors.

In love, Paul had a consuming passion for souls.

In perseverance, Paul kept a gentle spirit which was manifested over and over again.

In persecutions, Paul was patient toward those who mistreated him.

In afflictions, which happened in the Galatian cities of Iconium and Lystra, Paul (even though bombarded with stones and left for dead)—was delivered by the good hand of God.

Paul mentioned all these things to encourage Timothy, and to challenge every one of us to face our duties with the same devoted spirit.

In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul says that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution—which is often the result of devout Christian living. It is unavoidable for those who desire to live in an upright manner.

The reason for the persecution of upright persons is simple. Your godly life exposes the wickedness of others. People don’t like to be exposed, and so instead of repenting of their sins and turning to Christ, they seek to destroy the one whose wholesome life reminds them of their wrong behavior.

There are a number of forms of persecution. Some persecution is mild—for example, being passed over for a job promotion or becoming the victim of derogatory remarks. At other times persecution has been more severe. The first serious persecution of the church came because Stephen spoke out about the inadequacy of the Jewish religion for salvation (Acts 6:6-7:60).

Roman opposition to Christianity began when Emperor Claudius banned Jews and Christians from Rome in A.D. 49. In the 1500s, the Anabaptists (1) were hunted down by mounted soldiers who were ordered to kill the rebaptizers on the spot without any fair trial. The most common punishments used on the Anabaptists were the acts of beheading, drowning, and burning at the stake.

Persecution involves inflicting some kind of injury—sometimes to one’s feelings, or family, or reputation, or property—and sometimes to one’s body. The more severe methods of persecution include torture, imprisonment, banishment, and even death.

There is an easy way to avoid persecution. All we have to do is yield our convictions to the ways of the world. Our text says that godly people “will suffer persecution.” We might conclude that if our Christian life is too easy, perhaps it has not been too godly.

Readers are reminded in 2 Timothy 3:13 that evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. As we move toward the end of the age, things will go from bad to worse. And so we are to be encouraged by Paul’s example (as seen in verses 10-11). Persecution is bound to come; we will not escape it; but like Paul (at the end of verse 11)—when summarizing his difficulties, he declares: “And out of them all the Lord delivered me.”

2. Teach the Scriptures to Your Children (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

The best way to confront false teaching and to deal with confusing issues—is to know and believe and seek to practice the teachings of the Word of God. Paul says to Timothy, in essence, “Keep your feet planted upon the truths that you have been taught by your mother and your grandmother.”

Timothy learned the Scriptures from his mother’s lips; he was assured of their relevance from his mother’s life. One of the reasons Timothy turned out to be a man of God was related to the fact that he learned the Scriptures early in life.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-15, we are instructed to sense the power and strength of the Word of God. The text says, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

The nature of Timothy’s training as a young child is pointed out in this passage. His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice used the Bible to train Timothy from the time of early childhood. The word translated “childhood” designates very young children. Many believe that there is something like “pre-natal influence,” and that mothers do well to focus on memorizing Scriptures aloud during the time of pregnancy. Parents who are negligent about the discipline of teaching the Scriptures to their children, will some day have deep regrets.

Verse 15 says that the message of the Bible is the vehicle which God uses to make a child “wise for salvation.” Paul did not see the Scriptures as a mere compilation of ancient myths, records, laws, and prophecies—but viewed them as a revelation of God’s saving purpose for the human family.

The phrase, “knowing from whom you have learned them” (verse 14), is a reference to Timothy’s mother and his grandmother. Timothy is to “continue in” those truths which he had been taught by his mother and his grandmother.

3. Embrace the Bible as a Road Map for Life (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul reassures Timothy that all the Scriptures were produced by God and have been transmitted under His supervision. The early Brethren had no doubt about the authority of the Scriptures.(2)

(3:16-17) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Verse 16 declares that the Bible originated in the mind of God. The Holy Spirit guarded the whole process of producing the Scriptures so that the writers were preserved from error, and they put into writing the words which God intended to have recorded.

The word inspiration means literally “God breathed.” The Scriptures are the result of the breath of God. The word all means that inspiration extends to all parts of Scripture. And the word Scripture is “graphe” (the writings)—meaning that the words and phrases and sentences—not just ideas—have been given under the oversight of the God who reveals himself in the Scriptures.

The latter part of verse 16, and all of verse 17, tells about the Bible’s purpose. The Bible is a handbook on salvation and on Christian living. The Scriptures are useful for doctrine—they set forth the mind of God with regard to the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, the church, and future events. They are useful for reproof—they show us where we are wrong. The Scriptures are useful for correction—they tell us how to get right. And the Scriptures are profitable for instruction in righteousness—they give us rules for good Christian conduct.

The Bible should be our road map for life. The Bible is part of the armor which God provides to help us stand firmly against the inroads of false teaching (Ephesians 6:17). Christians choose not to take lightly the message of the Bible.

4. The Message to Bring in Times of Apostasy (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

God knows that the best way to be insulated from error—is to be saturated with the truth—and so sound preaching of the Word is encouraged.

(4:1-2) “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ—who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom—Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and careful instruction.”

The seriousness of the task is seen in verse 1. The preacher is to be conscious of the fact that the eye of God is always looking on. He will judge the “living” and the “dead.” His judgment is universal; it will include the preacher. Thus those who proclaim God’s message need to do it honestly and fearlessly and faithfully.

The charge is to “Preach the word!” The word “preach” here literally means “herald”—one who steps out in front of an army to make an official pronouncement for the commander-in-chief. To preach “the word” refers to the Scriptures as the inspired word from God, which should form the basis for the message. The sincere preacher seeks to “open the Scriptures” in such a way that audiences will wonder why they had not seen it that way before!

The preacher’s message is to convince—that is, the truth should be presented in such a way that it brings conviction. The message is also to rebuke—that is, the message should reprimand sharply (but within the context of love). The message is to exhort—that is, it is to bring encouragement and challenge to action.

The exhorting is to be done “with great patience” (longsuffering/KJV), and “with careful instruction” (doctrine/KJV). To preach with a harsh and censorious attitude, and to ramble aimlessly from one thought to another, can be harmful to the cause of Christ. Spokesmen for God should be ready to clearly proclaim God’s truth under all circumstances—when coming upon an accident along the highway; when preaching on Easter Sunday morning; or when visiting a sick room.

(4:3-4) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

The time will come “when they will not endure sound doctrine” (verse 3a). The NIV renders the rest of 2 Timothy 4:3 by saying, “Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Those who take a clear stand for New Testament truth will sometimes be mocked.

The Old Testament prophets faced the same attitudes. The Israelites said to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10). And God reprimanded Israel through Jeremiah by saying, “The prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:31).

(4:4) and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

These words make it clear that those who reject the truth let themselves open to satanic influences. Those who turn aside from the Word of God soon fall for fables. The word “fables” refers to fiction as opposed to fact. Modern theology with its teachings about the divinity of mankind, and the relativity of truth, along with its rejection of the doctrine of the original sin—is really a form of fiction rather than truth as it is found in the Word of God.

Many people today are offended by truth, including the words of Jesus, when He said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6)—and so some preachers present the lie which says that there are many ways to God. Sometimes those who profess faith in Christ are caught up in fornication and adultery and a variety of other sexual perversions—and so they look for a teacher who says that some standards of the Bible are not really binding today.

(4:5) “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

In light of the apathy that will characterize the last days, Timothy was told to do three things: 1) He was to be “watchful in all things”—that is, to be on guard lest he and his people might go astray. 2) Timothy was told to “endure afflictions”—that is, he was not to fear opposition and ridicule. 3) Timothy was to “do the work of an evangelist”—that is, he was to continue to proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. There were many who had not yet heard, or at least had not yet been won. And so it is today. Many people around us are living for this life only, and are destined for Hell. Christians are to be busy sharing the gospel by word of mouth, by means of the printed page, and by other channels available to us—in order to bring others to faith in Christ.

The aging Apostle Paul, in prison in Rome, foresaw the time when people would reject God’s truth and substitute their own ideas in place of it. The evidence is clear (and keeps mounting every day) that this present age is drawing to a close and history is approaching its climax. The literal, personal, and visible return of Jesus Christ is one of the most certain things taught in the Scriptures. Job foresaw it (Job 19:25). The prophets foretold it. Jesus Himself predicted it (John 14:3). The angels declared it (Acts 1:11). The Lord Jesus Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout. He’s not going to send someone else; He is coming Himself.

People will be busy with the routines of life—making plans for the future and taking care of business.

How should we then live? What should be our attitude? We are not to be terrified by the present upheavals (Matthew 24:6). We are to hold steady and not easily “shaken in mind” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). We are to purify ourselves (1 John 3:3) so that we might be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless (2 Peter 3:14).

The message we pass along is this: make a commitment to stand firmly for Bible truth in the setting where you are planted. There may be times when separation from those who continuously adhere to false and unscriptural teachings becomes a Christian duty, but as long as the Church of the Brethren officially holds the New Testament as its creed, and declares Jesus Christ as the Saviour of those who repent, we believe that it is wise not to divide into break-away independent groups or congregations.

(1) See page 185, The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, Guy Hershberger, editor, Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1957. In the same volume, it is stated that “Anabaptism spread with such speed that there was reason to fear that the majority of the common people would unite with this sect…. The dreadful severity of the persecution of the Anabaptist movement in the years 1527-1560…testifies to the power of the movement and the desperate haste with which…(the) authorities strove to throttle it before should be too late.” One decree ordered that “every Anabaptist and rebaptized person of either sex should be put to death by fire, sword, or some other way” (page 32).

(2) Dale Stoffer aptly says, “Not only does [Alexander] Mack [first preacher among the Brethren] note the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture on several occasions, but he underscores the final authority of God’s Word again and again through such expressions as “the Scriptures say,” “as Scripture has said,” and “as expressed in Holy Scripture” (page 71, Background and Development of Brethren Doctrines, 1650-1987).