The Restoration Principle

12 — We Need to Be Warned Against Apostasy (1)

“Who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ And to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits’ ” (Isaiah 30:10).

THE PEOPLE ISAIAH WAS REFERRING TO IN THIS TEXT WOULD PROBABLY HAVE DENIED THEY HAD THE ATTITUDE WHICH HE ATTRIBUTED TO THEM. They would have said they were as willing as anybody else to hear prophetic warnings. The problem was, they rejected the possibility that they themselves were the ones in danger. And to be fair, it is hard for any of us to hear sermons like that. When the preacher gets up to preach, we would rather hear almost anything than a warning against apostasy. Like Israel, we might admit to a general need for such preaching (on rare occasions), but the suggestion that we’ve got a personal need for it, is unwelcome. It is not easy to look in the mirror and honestly say, “Lord, are we the ones? Have we begun taking steps of departure from You?”

In our day, the pressure on preachers is to deliver — almost exclusively — sermons that assure the listeners of their salvation. But one size does not fit all. However much some might need comfort concerning their salvation, that is not the case with individuals and congregations that have either embarked on the path to apostasy or are toying with ideas that would lead them down that path. What they need is warning. And in fact, when it comes to apostasy, all of us need warning. Even to Philadelphia, seemingly in the best shape of all the seven churches of Asia, the Lord exhorted them to “hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11).

Having preached for fifty years, I know how painfully difficult it is to get the balance right. And the larger the audience, the more certain it is that, no matter what is preached, it’s going to be the opposite of what some in the audience need to hear. So yes, those with unwarranted fears about their salvation need to be comforted. But that is not the whole story. We must not fail to warn one another about how apostasy can hurt the Lord’s body — and we should show more appreciation for preachers in the past who saw (more clearly than we do, it seems) the urgent need for such admonitions.

Maybe we should take another look at human history. What do we see there? Any patterns? What has life been like for people who wouldn’t let anybody tell them they were headed the wrong way?

“History is a vast early warning system” (Norman Cousins).

Gary Henry — +

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