Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
2 Thessalonians 2:3 (KJV)
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other
Apostasy, from the Greek word apostasia, means “a defiance of an established system or authority; a rebellion; an abandonment or breach of faith.
In John Dickerson’s book, “The Great Evangelical Recession”, startling research from four independent institutions and scholars regarding the number of Christians in America is presented. According to this research, the American Evangelical Christian population is shrinking. Dickerson states that less than 40 percent of Americans self-identify as “born again”, and finds that the actual percentage of Americans identifying as “born again” Christians in the United States is actually between 7 and 9 percent. Dickerson’s research suggests this trend of leaving the church will continue, leaving only 4 percent of Americans identifying as believers 30 years from now.
Dickerson states there are four reasons for this decline, and these reasons are gaining momentum in our culture and influencing the evangelical worldview:
1. Discriminatory policies from information technology companies who seek to block or prevent Christian messages from communication channels.
2. A rise in hostile attitudes toward Christianity in academic circles, college campuses, and public schools.
3. The acceleration of anti-evangelical policies and attitudes as the oldest generations pass away.
4. These changes will eventually affect how churches operate, dramatically altering the church and life as a Christian as we know it today.
While some may find these statistics shocking and downright depressing, we shouldn’t be so surprised. Jesus’ Word warns us that these things will happen in the last days. If the “last days” started at the resurrection of Christ, then surely we should understand that we are in the “last” of the “last days”, two thousand and seventeen years later.
The Apostle John (who was dubbed “The Revelator”) penned the supernatural and prophetic book of Revelation.
Throughout Revelation’s prophecies, none is more widely talked about than the mark of the beast.
Revelation 13:18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.
While reading scripture recently, I came across a verse, also from the Apostle John, which stood out to me. I took note of it and filed it away to later ponder:
John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
I believe this is a supernatural clue that God is giving us. If 666 is the mark of the beast, the number of the Antichrist, surely in John 6:66 we see a prophetic warning with a foreshadowing of an early apostasy of Jesus’ church, and a tie-in to the warnings and prophecies of the book of Revelation. Spiritually, we need to view people leaving the church and the decline of born again Christians in such dramatic numbers as a clue that we are witnessing the apostasy and the world is preparing to embrace the Antichrist.
Think of it this way: if as Christians we are the light of the world, we ought to understand that as the Christian population decreases, the light dims. Little or no light leads to darkness, and we are headed for dark times.
In addition to the statistical observations on what is physically causing the decline in American Christians, my personal observations of church culture convinced me that in addition to cultural shifts outside the church, there are many issues within the church itself causing a decline in attendance (namely a lack of genuine godly love for one another, which I will talk about later.)
As more people reject the church and Christ’s teachings, I am seeing a jaw-dropping increase in false doctrine, false teaching, wickedness, and cold-heartedness, not only within the world, but within the church.
Matthew 24:10-13 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold
In Revelation, the book begins with letters to the angels of the seven churches – a futuristic job performance review delivered by Jesus himself to the end-times churches. I believe these churches in Revelation are the remnant of the true Christian churches still in existence today.
Although there are still many “mega churches” throughout the USA that boast thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of congregants, large crowds do not equal right teaching.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
And right teaching does not equal brotherly love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
While right teaching is very important, we need to understand that the absence of genuine affection for one another inside any institutional church, even if the church has sound doctrine, is ineffective. Without godly love, the works of these churches quite literally amount to nothing.
As someone who has suffered in an abusive church that was void of love, God continued to encourage and strengthen me. His Word showed me the importance of standing for what is right.
Standing for what is right benefits us (with blessings and rewards), and because we receive blessings and rewards we can know that standing firm in truth is also important to God. God does not reward you for something that is not important to Him. God also sees a cowardly inability to stand for what is right as sin.
Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”
Galatians 6:9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Although the statistics regarding the decline of Christianity are disheartening, we need to remember that biblically, when a nation and its rulers were wicked (either by outlawing the worship of the true God, deifying themselves as gods, and/or forcing the worship of false gods) God always kept a remnant—a small group of people who were true to him and his Word.
Romans 11:5 ESV I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
“In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God” (Isaiah 10: 20, 21).
The remnant of the body of Christ is blessed. We are chosen out of billions of people throughout history. Jesus told us that the remnant would be small:
Matthew 7:13-14 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior can rest and be at peace, knowing that we belong to the “remnant.”
As the remnant of the dwindling church, the small percentage of those walking with Jesus and with the indwelling of the holy spirit, we must use our time to fulfill the great commission and seek to stand in the gaps that the church is not filling. We must be fearless in spreading the truth and pointing out error.
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
Titus 1:9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
And while doing this, we must pray that God uses us in His way and in His timing. We shouldn’t let our insecurities and weaknesses prevent or hinder us.
1 Corinthians 1:27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And we must remember that while we may be seemingly insignificant, God can use anybody, or anything, for his purposes
2 Peter 2:16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.