The Restoration Principle

2 — Apostasy Began to Arise in the New Testament Period

“Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:30,31).

EARLY IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH, CHRISTIANS BEGAN TO NEED INSTRUCTION REGARDING THE DANGER OF APOSTASY. When Barnabas came to Antioch, for example, he “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:23). If it weren’t for the very real possibility that some of them would depart from Christ, this would have been unnecessary.

In Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders, he foretold that some of them would leave the way of the Lord and take others with them. “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” If there are preachers who think the church will, on its own, be alert to the danger of apostasy without the preacher needing to emphasize it, Paul was not one of them.

In 1 Timothy 4:1, he wrote, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith.” In 2 Timothy 4:3, we hear him say, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” And in Galatians 1:6, the crisis had, tragically, already arrived: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.”

Both Peter and John wanted their readers, when confronted by anyone promoting an “advanced” gospel, to keep going back to the original teaching of the apostles. “I will be careful,” Peter wrote, “to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease” (2 Peter 1:15). And John’s appeal was the same: “Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24).

The entire book of Hebrews is a warning against apostasy, and there are none who need it any more than those who imagine that they don’t. “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (3:14). Even if nothing else was said in the New Testament about apostasy, the passionate appeal of the Hebrew writer should serve to wake us up.

“Nearly everything about the book [of Hebrews] is debated; the one area of general agreement is that the danger addressed in the book is apostasy” (Grant R. Osborne).

Gary Henry — +

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