Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XIX -19)

By Moonings

The Message to Each Church

Sardis/Reformed Churches

Salutation: Christ has the seven spirits and the seven stars.
Relevance to this church: Sardis has a carnal pride in its superiority to the other churches, thinking that to be Reformed is to be absolutely right. Christ reminds them that He is not so parochial.

Acknowledgment: He notices their works, which are deficient.
Relevance to this church: Their true condition does not match their good reputation. Though once alive, this church is now almost dead. Indeed, little vital Christianity remains in Switzerland, Holland, Scotland, New England, and other former strongholds of the Reformed church. This church has never been outstanding in works, because most of its people have centered their lives on family and business. By the time Christ returns, Sardis will retain little interest in charitable and evangelistic endeavors.

Exhortation/Warning: They must remember their traditions, hold fast, and repent. If they do not watch, He will come upon them as a thief, when they are not expecting Him.
Relevance to this church: This church has stubbornly resisted new insights on prophecy, instead holding to false systems of interpretation congenial to covenant theology. Inconsequence, Sardis is blind to signs of the times, and the coming of Christ will take it by surprise.

Commendation: A few names in Sardis are worthy to walk with Him in white.
Relevance to this church: Still today, some in Reformed circles strive for personal holiness and for personal devotion to Christ.

Promise: He will not reject overcomers. Rather, He will give them white raiment and confess them before the Father.
Relevance to this church: The people of this church have never had much spiritual ambition beyond a desire to be known as good Christians. Christ promises overcomers the public standing they seek.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XVIII- 18)

By Moonings

The Message to Each Church

Thyatira/Episcopal Churches

Salutation: Christ is a glorious Being with eyes of fire and feet of brass.
Relevance to this church: The true picture of Christ is a corrective to the idols that this church has condoned.

Acknowledgment: He notices six instances of works, charity, service, faith, patience, and works again, the last better than the first.
Relevance to this church: This church has produced many people who have devoted their lives to religious and charitable work. This church has also founded countless charitable institutions and has been at the forefront of many crusades against social evils. The works of this church have been more outstanding in modern times than before.

Exhortation/Criticism: They have Jezebel in their midst.
Relevance to this church: Jezebel is the papal church. The papal church has promoted fornication by imposing celibacy on those who pursue a religious vocation. The sin of eating "things sacrificed unto idols" is a reference to the mass.

Warning: Because she has had opportunity to repent, He will bring great trouble upon her and upon her lovers, and He will kill her children.
Relevance to this church: The Tribulation will fall especially hard on Roman Catholic countries as well as on other countries with ecumenical state churches.

Assurance: Upon the rest in Thyatira, He will put no other burden than to hold fast what they have already.
Relevance to this church: So long as the rest in Thyatira stay clear of Rome, Christ in His
mercy will overlook their many faults.

Promise: Overcomers will receive power over the nations. Also, they will receive the morning star.
Relevance to this church: The leaders of Thyatira have sought power and splendor. Christ offers Thyatira true power and true splendor.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XVII -17)

By Moonings

The Message to Each Church

Pergamos/Pentecostal-type Churches

Salutation: Christ bears the sharp two-edged sword.
Relevance to this church: This sword is the Word of God, which they have dishonored
by giving greater authority to experience.

Acknowledgment: He notices their works, and their faithfulness under persecution.
Relevance to this church: This church has never shrunk from persecution. Under
the Communists, for example, the Pentecostals maintained a good testimony for Christ.

Exhortation/Criticism: They tolerate those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, and they tolerate also the Nicolaitanes.
Relevance to this church: No church is more infested with crass profiteering, blatant immorality, and unashamed worldliness than modern Pergamos. Modern Pergamos has also been friendly to ecumenism.

Warning: If they do not repent, He will catch them by surprise and fight against the unruly with the sword of His mouth.
Relevance to this church: When Christ returns, the leaders of this church will face
judgment according to the strict measure of Scripture. The evildoers will be punished severely (Matt. 24:48-51).

Promise: Overcomers will receive the hidden manna and the stone with secret writing.
Relevance to this church: To answer the craving of this church for private revelation, God will share wonderful secrets with every overcomer.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XVI -16)

by Moonings

The Message to Each Church

Smyrna/Persecuted Churches

Salutation: Christ is the ever-living One who rose from the dead.
Relevance to this church: As those facing death, the members of this church need to understand
that Christ has conquered death.

Acknowledgment: He notices their works, tribulation, poverty, and persecution by false believers.
Relevance to this church: The chief persecutor of true religion has always been false religion.

Exhortation/Prediction: They will be cast into prison and will suffer tribulation ten days. Relevance for this church: Although this church will disappear before Christ returns for the
church, it will reappear later during the Tribulation, when intense persecution breaks out anew (Matt. 24:9-10).

Assurance: If they are faithful unto death, they will receive a crown of life.
Relevance for this church: They must understand that death is merely a bridge to an exalted life.

Promise: Overcomers will escape the second death.
Relevance for this church: One motive driving them to accept death as the penalty for faith is
fear of the second death. Christ promises them that the second death will not touch them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XV -15)

By Moonings

The Message to Each Church

Ephesus/New Testament Churches

Salutation: Christ walks in the midst of the seven candlesticks.
Relevance to this church: This church has always tended to think of itself as the only true church. Christ reminds Ephesus that He is Lord of the other churches also.

Acknowledgment: He notices seven instances of work, patience, and discernment.
Relevance to this church:In its achievements, this church is superior to all the others. One excellence peculiar to this church is its ability to distinguish truth from error.

Exhortation/Criticism: They have lost their first love.
Relevance to this church: In the latter twentieth century, the remnant of New Testament churches rapidly lost their zeal for service and their devotion to Christ.

Warning: He may remove their candlestick.
Relevance to this church: Ephesus will not survive until Christ's return.

Commendation: They have rejected the Nicolaitanes.
Relevance to this church: The Nicolaitanes, which means "conquering of the people," probably represent those in the church who seek to master the souls of men. In the modern world, the Nicolaitanes are the ecumenists who wish to put men under the bondage of a single church organization.

Promise: Overcomers will eat the tree of life in the midst of paradise. The members of this church, so dedicated to work and separated living, have a suppressed desire for pleasure. Christ reminds them that the hope of the faithful is to live forever in a place where pleasure abounds.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XIV 14)

By Moonings


The Identity of Each Church

Ephesus is the prototype of all churches that adhere closely to the Pauline model: orthodox in doctrine, separated in practice, independent in polity, and evangelistic in priority. Most churches during the Apostolic era remained within the fold of Ephesus. In modern times, Ephesus takes in all churches that may be properly designated as fundamental and independent. We noted earlier that Christ threatens to remove the candlestick of Ephesus. He is intimating that the church most vigilant in opposing error will disappear in the days when leaven pervades the lump.

Smyrna represents all churches under intense persecution. Such churches tend to develop certain features that set them apart as a distinct type. Denominational lines may become blurred. Organizational structures may weaken or disappear. Ordinary rites and observances may be neglected. Believers may gather in private homes or secluded places out-of-doors rather than in church buildings. Although churches like Smyrna became common early in church history, apparently they will disappear before Christ returns. We infer that as the Last Days draw to a close, all governments will, to some extent, tolerate the private exercise of religion. Yet to be a genuine Christian will not necessarily be easy. Public opinion may be hostile to Christianity. Christians may be targets of hate crimes. Many governments may seek to curtail the right of Christians to conduct evangelism and to rear children apart from state supervision.

Pergamos is the forerunner of all churches that cultivate sensational religious experience, while they downgrade the authority of the Scriptures. The first major proliferation of these churches occurred as a result of the Montanist movement in the early third century. Modern allies of Pergamos include the charismatics and Pentecostals.

Thyatira stands for all churches that possess an episcopalian form of government. These began to flourish after Christianity won the patronage of the Roman Emperor. Modern offshoots of Thyatira include the Anglican Church, the Orthodox churches, the Lutheran churches, and the Methodist churches. The Roman Catholic Church is "that woman Jezebel" (Rev. 2:20). (Please understand that this interpretation does not support hatred of Catholics. We should love Catholics no less than we love others. Christ censures not the people in Catholic churches, but the religious system that enthralls them and keeps them from Biblical truth.)

Sardis is Christ's name for all Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Since these have an excessive respect for human learning and human tradition, they readily become intellectual, cold, and worldly. Also, they are characteristically blind to any new and fuller illumination of prophecy. Some Baptist denominations reside in this group.

Philadelphia, which signifies "community of brotherly love," is embodied in the various Moravian and Brethren churches, especially in the assemblies of the Plymouth Brethren. These churches are characterized by a leveling of leaders and laity. Since Philadelphia is now reduced to an anemic remnant that hardly merits the praise we find in Revelation 3:7-13, we infer that there will be a great revival in Philadelphia.

Laodicea embraces all churches in which power is concentrated in a single pastor. This form of government, allowing the pastor to pursue his own vision with virtually no internal review or external oversight, is conducive to the building of prosperous churches. The many large, independent, evangelical (or neoevangelical, or neofundamentalist) churches we see about us today fit the pattern of Laodicea.

Christ's message to each church deals with certain strengths and weaknesses that have been typical down through history. Yet His concern is less for each church as it existed in the past than for each church as it will exist on the eve of His return. The seven letters are His counsel to the seven churches in the forms they will assume in the Last Days.

Each letter has four parts: a salutation designed to remedy some deficiency in the Christology of that church, an acknowledgment of the service which that church has performed, an exhortation pointing out good things that should be shored up and bad things that should be eliminated, and a promise designed to satisfy the particular aspirations of that church. The exhortation has one or more of the following elements: criticism, warning, prediction, commendation, and assurance. When examined in detail, the contents of each letter demonstrate that we have correctly identified the intended recipient.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XIII - 13)

By Moonings

Secularization of Society

A superficial look at statistics would lead to the conclusion that the church in America is thriving. As recently as 1991, almost half of the adults reached by telephone reported that they had attended a religious service within the last week (1). In surveys done between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, about 95% of adult Americans stated that they believe in God, about 90% claimed that they pray, about 80% agreed that Jesus was God or the Son of God, and about 70% accepted the Bible as the word of God (2). It would appear that Christianity still has a strong hold on American society. But the appearance is misleading. A deeper look at statistics reveals that the influence of Christianity is rapidly declining and in danger of disappearing altogether.

Fading influence of the Bible.
Although Americans retain a token respect for the Bible, a diminishing minority regard it as a guidebook for life.

The finding in the late 70s that about 70% endorsed the Bible as the word of God may seem like a sign of healthy fundamentalism. But the comparable measure after World War II was 86% (3).

In 1963, an amazing 65% still believed that the Bible is literally true. Ten years later, the same measure had dropped to less than 40%, and has remained low ever since (4).

In 1990, less than 40% defined sin as "going against God's will," going against the Bible," or "violating the Ten Commandments" (5).

In the same survey, only 13% stated that they believe in all Ten Commandments. (The unpopularity of the Sabbath law is the main reason for the surprisingly low figure.) Only 40% stated that they believe in at least five (6).
The many reasons for the Bible slipping to the margins of American consiousness include these:

Bible ownership has drastically declined.

The language is changing, making the traditional versions inaccessible to today's reader.

Literacy is declining, with the result that people read less and what they read is less challenging. For many, the Bible has become hard reading.

The Bible has been banished from public schools, and is ignored or mocked in the mass media. Even to post the Ten Commandments in a public place has been forbidden.

The Bible receives little attention in the home. As long ago as the late 70s, only 17% of American parents stated that they had read the Bible with their children during the last week (7). If false affirmatives could have been sifted out, the true percentage would have been much lower. The percentage today would be lower still.

Fading influence of the church.
Despite the rosy statistic cited earlier—that half of the Americans interviewed in 1991 reported that they had gone to a religious service in the last week—a full picture of the evidence shows that church attendance is falling catastrophically.

By 1996, the same kind of telephone survey found that only 37% of adults reported going to a service in the last week (8).

Researchers have determined that about half of those who say they went to a service are lying (9). Actual church attendance is about half the figure gleaned by telephone surveys.

With few exceptions, almost all denominations are losing members. Practically the only religious assemblies registering growth in recent years have been megachurches (10).

In confidential interviews, 27% say that they go to church regularly, but 58% say that they went regularly as a child (11). The drop is greatest among Jews (12% and 31%) and virtually the same for Catholics (41% and 78%) and Protestants (34% and 67%) (12).

The proportion of the population saying that religion is important in their lives declined from 75% in 1952 to 70% in 1965 and then even more to 53% in 1978 (13). No doubt the percentage has fallen further in the last twenty years.

Perhaps the most dramatic proof that America is forsaking its Christian heritage emerges from the history of how the law views Christianity. In 1892, the Supreme Court ruled that "our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian" (14). Today, the Supreme Court has gone so far in enforcing separation of church and state that, in the opinion of its Chief Justice, it has become antireligious. In a recent dissenting opinion, he said that "the tone of the Court's opinion . . . bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life" (15).

Fading influence of the Christian world view.
The weakening allegiance to a Christian world view is evident in many ways.
As we have already shown, many bodies of organized Christianity have repudiated orthodox theology.

Some statistics suggest that popular religious opinions are still fairly orthodox. But these statistics belie the truth.

Although 90-95% of Americans say they believe in God, most of them have a faith that can only be described as extremely shallow.

After World War II, 87% of those questioned said that they were absolutely certain of God's existence (16). By 1964, the portion with no doubts had fallen to 77% of the population, and by 1981, to 62% (17).

In 1990, six out of seven said that it is okay not to believe in God (18).
The consensus that Jesus is God is also misleading. Fewer now believe that is necessary to accept Jesus in order to be saved. In 1964, a bare majority, 51%, still believed that Jesus is the only way. But the same measure slumped to 38% by 1981 (19). Since then, the measure must have slumped further.

Twenty years ago, 70% identified the Bible as the word of God, but about three sevenths of these also said that it contains mistakes (20).

Belief in an afterlife remains prevalent. In 1990, 82% agreed that there is an afterlife including heaven and hell (21). But only 4% expected to go to hell, and 45% also believed in ghosts (22).
Almost a fourth of the populace accepts the occult to some degree. A full 31% believe that some people have magical powers, 28% believe in witchcraft, 24% in black magic, 20% in voodoo (23).

A survey in 1990 looked at opinions on leading public issues. On no issue did a majority feel that they needed religious guidance to the right answer. On almost all issues, a majority did not even know what position their religion took (24).

Ignorance of Impending Judgment
Before God brings total destruction upon a wayward society, He generally gives many warnings. These may include a series of lesser calamities, continuing with increasing severity until men recognize their peril before God and turn to Him in repentance. If they fail to repent, destruction will, after their hardness has exhausted God's patience, finally come.
Consider all the calamities that have fallen upon the world in recent years.

According to Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurers, there were three times as many severe natural disasters in the 1990s than in the 1960s. The cost to world governments, after adjustment for inflation, was eight times as much, and the cost to insurers was sixteen times as much. The worst year on record was 1995, when damages due to the Kobe earthquake in Japan and other catastrophes amounted to $180 billion. Damages in the second worst year, 1999, amounted to $100 billion, and in the third worst year, 1998, to $90 billion (25).

Since the 1980s, more than sixteen million people have died of AIDS. The rate of infection in some sub-Saharan African countries now exceeds 25%. By the end of 2000, the number of HIV-infected people in Russia will surpass one million. The epidemic has become so severe that the United States government has declared it a threat to national security (26).

The media have concealed every hint that the ultimate reason for these calamities is God's displeasure with modern civilization. If any public figure suggested that the spate of disasters and diseases is a divine call to repentance, he would be laughed out of the limelight. The average person who hears about the suffering of others feels little concern and goes on with his own affairs. If he himself meets disaster, he reconstructs his life the best he can, but he does not repent.

The role of God as overseer of human events hardly enters anyone's thoughts. No one heeds the warnings that are becoming ever louder and more frequent.

All this agrees with prophecy. The Bible says that in the Last Days, men will be ignorant of impending judgment.

3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
2 Peter 3:3-10

Why will they be ignorant?
 It will be a long time since Christ's first coming (v. 4).
 People will no longer believe that God judged the world once before, in Noah's day (v. 5).
 They will be in bondage to lusts (v. 3).

The ruling preoccupation in the lives of most people today is TV. What is the purpose of life, according to TV? Is it to please God and escape His judgment? No, it is to have a good time. TV teaches that life is a situation comedy punctuated by compulsive laughter. Life is a game of cops and robbers. Life is an exciting quest by Mrs. Peabody from Peoria to win a refrigerator. Life is the one thousand and first test of the momentous question, who is better? The Chicago Holey Socks or the Detroit Paper Tigers, the Washington Redfaces or the Dallas Cowbirds?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XII -12)

By Moonings


At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the church of Jesus Christ is sick with apostasy, debilitating every missionary work, every Christian school, every witness through the media, and every local assembly of believers. The apostasy that now fills the whole church germinated in about 1800. Since then, it has steadily grown and spread, with corrupting effects that can be clearly seen in three ways.

 Christianity has fragmented into ideological camps, all of which to some degree reject Biblical faith and practice.
 Western society as a whole, once composed of nations that prided themselves on their allegiance to the Christian religion, has become thoroughly secularized.
 Today, as in the days of Noah, men are ignorant that they live on the threshold of divine judgment.

Apostasy in the Church
Liberalism. Before the eighteenth century, no one who considered himself a Christian doubted that the Bible is true, and in European society there were few who were willing to say that they were not Christians. But in the eighteenth century, the educated elite began to drift away from Christianity toward alternative world views conceived by speculative philosophy. The most popular of these was deism. Its core belief was that God created the universe as a self-perpetuating machine, operating according to natural laws discoverable by science. This new world view denied the supernatural, as well as God's continuing involvement in human affairs.

In the early nineteenth century, doubt in the supernatural and in Biblical history began to infect organized Christianity. The Unitarians, prominent in New England, went so far as to reject the full deity of Christ. Under the influence of romanticism, many of them believed that God is a mystic oversoul transcending nature yet intimately in union with it.

After the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species in the 1860s, important segments of the church accepted his ideas and abandoned belief in the literal truth of the Scriptures. Then emerged a new form of theology known as liberalism. Its basic tenets were these:

 Although the Bible offers spiritual and ethical insights, it is only a collection of human writings. Many of them must be classified as folk tales or legends with no historical value.
 Jesus may have been divine in the sense that we are all divine, but He was not uniquely God. Nor did He exist before His birth. Nor was He born of a virgin. Nor did He rise bodily from the grave.
 The purpose of life is not personal salvation from sin, but salvation of society from the evils of poverty, ignorance, and injustice.

In some of its manifestations, liberalism came close to denying God completely, except as a human thought.

By the early 1900s, liberalism had gained control of all the Protestant seminaries and had won over many pastors, missionaries, denominational overseers, and college officials. Although the average churchgoer was still fairly conservative, his leaders were working feverishly to bring his views up to date.

But liberalism had an unexpected effect. The average churchgoer had enough sense to recognize that if liberalism is right, why go to church? By midcentury it became obvious that the mainline churches where liberalism was dominant were losing people. So, liberals in religious professions began looking for a more appealing theology that would still accommodate their unbelief. The new theology that they created is known as neo-orthodoxy.

Since World War II, neo-orthodoxy has supplanted liberalism as the dominant outlook of mainline churches, although out-and-out liberalism retains many adherents, both Protestant and Catholic. The fathers of neo-orthodoxy include Karl Barth (called by Billy Graham one of the two greatest theologians of our time, the other being Pope John the 23rd), Rudolph Bultmann, Emil Brunner, and Reinhold Niebuhr. The essence of neo-orthodoxy is its claim that the Bible contains existential rather than factual truth. That is, the Bible affords the religious man a valuable, time-honored framework for conceptualizing and describing his own personal encounters with God (however he conceives of Him).

Neo-orthodoxy permits a worshiper to mouth hymns and creeds that he does not really believe. Thus today, if you visit a typical Methodist or Lutheran church, you hear liturgies that seem to exalt Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet when you meet the ministers privately, they will (if they are honest) confess their unbelief that the historical Jesus was anything more than a man. How do they justify their public affirmations of orthodox faith? They regard the language of orthodoxy as simply a vehicle for attaining a satisfying religious experience. Subjective experience rather than objective truth is, in their view, the foundation of religion.
Evangelicalism and neoevangelicalism.

At the turn of the century, the advances of liberalism alarmed true Christians and stirred them to action. They began to cooperate with each other in efforts to keep existing church organizations from going liberal. Around the time of World War I, a series of books called The Fundamentals appeared, defending at length the essential doctrines of Christianity. These books were so influential that the new movement which had arisen to protest liberalism took its name from them, calling itself fundamentalism.

In the 1920s and 30s, fundamentalists failed to oust liberals from control of the mainline denominations. In consequence, fundamentalism itself divided into two camps. One warmly embraced the principle of ecclesiastical separation—the principle that a local assembly of believers must separate itself from apostate Christian organizations. The other took a less enthusiastic stance in favor of this principle.

 The first camp left mainline denominations and began forming their own institutions, including schools, mission boards, and parachurch associations. From them came the GARB, the Bible Baptists, the Bible Presbyterians, the IFCA, as well as many strictly independent churches.
 The second camp included many who continued the battle of trying to purify the mainline denominations, many (especially among the Southern Baptists) who did not feel that liberalism threatened their own denomination, and many who formed new churches but who maintained dialogue and cooperation with more liberal elements in the church.
In time, largely as a result of patronizing the same religious media, the second camp coalesced into a distinct movement known as evangelicalism. This movement has retained its cohesion even as it has forsaken its original identity and evolved into something more modern, tainted with apostasy.

Its chief error today is an emphasis on positives to the neglect of negatives. Although an evangelical church may faithfully teach the basic doctrines of Christianity—the Trinity, the authority of the Bible, salvation by faith, and so on—it gives everything a wrong slant. It says much about the love of God, but very little about the judgment of God or God's hatred of sin. It speaks often of heaven, but seldom of hell. Its members hear much about getting to heaven through a commitment to Christ or through being born again, but very little about repentance. They listen often to promises that the Christian life will make them happy, but seldom to warnings about the difficulties and demands of the Christian life. Rather than burden them with negative rules and standards, their pastor tells them that they have liberty to live as they please, so long as they do not break an explicit command of Scripture. As a result, they never escape a worldly lifestyle, because many modern vices were unknown in Bible times and the Bible says nothing against them.

In the 1950s a small group of Christian intellectuals spearheaded a new movement that became known as neoevangelicalism. At the outset, the chief distinctive of this movement was its desire to engage learned unbelievers in dialogue, seeking not only witness, but also an adjustment of Christian language, traditions, and tenets to bring them into agreement with the established results of scientific and academic inquiry. Neoevangelicalism quickly gained the upper hand at institutions like Fuller Theological Seminary and Wheaton College. By now, its influence has been felt everywhere in evangelicalism, yet some clear differences between the older movement and its spinoff remain.

 Most evangelicals are politically conservative, whereas many neoevangelicals follow trendy liberal causes. They tend to be pacifistic, to favor strong governmental action against social problems, and to support advances in minority rights, including the rights of women and homosexuals.
 Evangelicals hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, whereas neoevangelicals reject inerrancy or else deny that the Creation accounts and other portions are meant to be taken literally.
 Evangelicals still oppose practices like drinking and smoking, and perhaps even rock dancing. Neoevangelicals have no such scruples, although they look on smoking as unhealthy and inadvisable, and they endorse moderation in drinking.
 Evangelicals avoid fellowship with people in the liberal or neo-orthodox realm, whereas neoevangelicals willingly interact and fellowship with anyone except a fundamentalist.

Neofundamentalism and cultic fundamentalism.
The segment of the church left behind as evangelicals drifted toward more liberal positions kept the name "fundamentalist." But purity and unity within fundamentalism did not long survive all the divisive currents in the modern church. As late as the 1960s, all fundamentalists could still assemble and feel that they shared a common identity. But then the fracturing process began.

By the 1980s, two new movements had appeared, both weighed down by apostate tendencies. One of these has been called neofundamentalism. The other I will call cultic fundamentalism.
"Neofundamentalism" was originally a label that fundamentalist opponents of Jerry Falwell pinned on his political action movement, known as the Moral Majority. The label is useful to signify churches and groups that have emerged from fundamentalism and acquired the following characteristics, now evident in many with no connection to Jerry Falwell:

 They prefer modern translations of the Bible.
 They may not quarrel with the traditional do-not rules of fundamentalism (do not drink, do not smoke, do not dance, do not go to movies, and so on), but they increasingly feel that promoting or enforcing these rules is legalistic.
 They have adopted popular styles in sacred music.
 They tend to be involved in politics, and in politics they do not hesitate to make alliances with religious groups that are nonfundamentalist or even unorthodox, like the Mormons.
Evangelical churches display the same characteristics. So, it appears that except for their history, neofundamentalist churches are becoming indistinguishable from evangelical churches.
The mark of cultic fundamentalism is its exaltation of one leader to spiritual supremacy. At least two fairly large cults have emerged in the last twenty years, and more seem to be in the making. The first is the cult associated with Jack Hyles and Peter Ruckman. The second is the Bill Gothard cult.
The evolving distinctives of the first have clearly heretical tendencies.
 Hyles and Ruckman teach that the King James translation of the Bible was given by inspiration.
 Both men curry the adoration and total submission of their followers.
 Both men promote ideas that verge on the bizarre (see the articles cited below).

The Gothard cult appeals to a different class of people, but is no less cultic in its suppression of individual soul liberty. The leader has drawn his followers into a way of life that restricts their contact with people outside his control and binds them to his leadership for every decision they make. What they believe, how they eat, how they manage their practical affairs, how they relate to each other, and what they teach their children—all require attention to his teachings, some of which are clearly unbiblical. For example, he opposes (or at least many of his followers believe that he opposes) adoption, giving as his reason that a child of immoral parents will inherit their moral weakness.

Excellent critiques of these cults from an orthodox perspective are available on the Web. By following the links, you will see informative articles on Bill Gothard, Peter Ruckman and Jack Hyles. I do not agree with every position taken, but the articles do well in exposing how far these men have strayed from a sound Christianity.

Each wind of apostasy that has swept across Christendom has blown people away from moorings in sound faith and practice. Few churches remain that approximate what they should be, according to God's design laid out in the New Testament. Those that still hold fast to their fundamentalist heritage find themselves under tremendous pressure to move either toward evangelical compromise or cultic authoritarianism, rigidity, and superstition. Will any survive as living churches? God is testing His people, to see whether any will love Him rather than the world, though it offers them an easy religion, without sacrifice or self-denial.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sign of Times (Part XI -11)

By Moonings


To show that the Last Days will bring apostasy, the Bible uses analogy as well as direct teaching. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns,

37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Matthew 24:37-41

Jesus implies that His coming will coincide with judgment and calamity on a scale comparable to the Flood, which destroyed almost all life on the earth. He says that the days of Noah resembled His coming not only in their apocalyptic climax, but also in the condition of human society just beforehand. In other words, men in the Last Days will descend to the same deplorable wickedness that God saw in the world before the Flood.

Jesus highlights three principal characteristics of Noah's age: 1) eating and drinking; 2) marriage and giving in marriage; and 3) ignorance of impending judgment. We will discuss the first two characteristics in later lessons. The failure of the antediluvians to expect divine wrath in return for their sin revealed another vice prevalent among them—apostasy. The Book of Genesis leaves no doubt that apostasy had, by Noah's time, overtaken and infected the whole body of mankind.
Adam had many sons and daughters, including Abel, the godly son who was slain by his brother Cain, but the Bible has nothing good to say about any of the surviving children except Seth. In the days of Seth's son Enos, men began "to call upon the name of the LORD" (Gen. 4:26).

Reading between the lines, we surmise that Enos helped to stir up spiritual revival among the Sethites and perhaps among others as well. It was in the line of Seth rather than in the line of Cain that Enoch appeared, the man who obtained such favor with God that God took him alive into heaven. Yet a few centuries later, about 1500 years after man was created, righteousness had nearly disappeared from the face of the earth. Only one man, Noah, remained who was "just" and perfect" and who "walked with God" (Gen. 6:9). Noah "found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (v. 8), but the rest of mankind earned only the Lord's regret that He had made them.

5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
Genesis 6:5-7

The sinful ways of Cain and his descendants had spread to all the descendants of Adam. Corruption had even swallowed up the descendants of Seth, creating a nearly universal departure from truth and righteousness. Apostasy had usurped godly religion.
The analogy that Jesus drew between the days of Noah and the Last Days implies that the latter will be as apostate as the former.

In recent years, an approach to prophecy has become popular which denies that the Olivet Discourse has anything to say about the Last Days preceding the rapture of the church. The passage generating the most radically different interpretations is Matthew 24:37-41, already quoted. Luke 17 offers a parallel passage.

26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
31 In that day, he which shall be upon the house top, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
32 Remember Lot's wife.
33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.
Luke 17:26-37

Words in italics, such as "women" in Matthew 24:41 and Luke 17:35 and "men" in Luke 17:34 and Luke 17:36, are not in the original. The original speaks only of two in a bed, two grinding together, and two in the field.

The interpretation of these passages has taken a new turn. At one time most Bible students believed that "the one . . . taken" will be the fortunate one—that he will be taken to heaven while the other will be left behind to suffer the wrath of God. They inferred that Jesus was describing the days before the rapture of the church. Now, however, most conservative Bible students take another view. They believe that the one taken will go to judgment, while the one left behind will be made a citizen of Christ's Kingdom.

The recent shift of opinion reflects the growing popularity of ultra-dispensationalism. According to this system of interpretation, the teachings of Jesus are addressed primarily to the Jews rather than to the church, and in His prophetic discourses, He is laying out the future experience not of the church during the Church Age, but of the Jews during the Tribulation, after the church has been removed from the world.

Ultra-dispensationalists theorize, "The very end of the Tribulation will bring a separation between the godly and the ungodly. God will send His angels to carry away all the ungodly to judgment and eternal damnation. The ungodly will suddenly disappear from the face of the earth, and the godly will remain to pay homage to Christ."

So, ultra-dispensationalists deny that the passages quoted above are talking about a future rapture of the church. To read any rapture into these passages is, they say, a fundamental mistake. In their view, these passages are predicting not a rapture, but a judgment. They conclude that there is no connection between the days of Noah and the Last Days of the Church Age.

Five reasons demand that we reject the ultra-dispensational interpretation of Matthew 24:37-41 and Luke 17:26-37.

1. Look at the state of the world at the time previewed in these passages. We see two men in the field. Presumably they are doing some sort of agricultural work. We also see two women grinding at the mill. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. And we see two people in bed asleep. What do these snapshots suggest about life on the earth at this time? They suggest life as usual. We see only the normal activities of people, activities of a kind that flourish in a time of peace and tranquillity.

But it will not be life as usual at the end of the Tribulation. Just consider some of the last plagues. When the First Vial is poured upon the earth, "a noisome and grievous sore" will fall upon all men who wear the mark of the Beast (Rev. 16:2). What type of sore it will be, we cannot imagine. But evidently it will be very painful, and it will afflict most inhabitants of the earth. Then the second angel will pour out his vial upon the sea, which will become "as the blood of a dead man" (Rev. 16:3). In consequence, every living thing in the sea will die. When the third angel pours out his vial, all the fountains of water—that is, all the underground sources of water—will become as blood also. The next angel, the fourth, will pour out his vial upon the sun. John's alarming observation that "power was given unto him to scorch men with fire" (Rev. 16:8) suggests a sudden catastrophic rise in the temperature of the earth.

The sensible question is this. When the people of the earth are suffering from grievous sores, shortages of good water, and burning heat, will they persist in their regular work? Will men still go out to the field and tend crops? Will women still go out to the yard and mill grain? Of course not. Few crops will survive the terrible plagues. Those not killed by poisoned water or heat may succumb to the fifth plague, the darkness that falls upon the kingdom of the Beast. Moreover, few people will feel like working. Sick from sores, thirst, and heat, most people will lie in misery upon their beds. The few robust enough to stay active will huddle indoors during the day rather than face the relentless sun. Jesus said,

And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.
Matthew 24:22

It is obvious that under the conditions prevailing at the end of the Tribulation, normal activities will be suspended.

We conclude that the scenes of two in the field and two at the mill—these being scenes of life as usual—must belong to another period of history. The attempt by ultradispensationalists to make them fit the end of the Tribulation is unreasonable.

2. The notion that only the wicked will be taken for judgment at the end of the Tribulation does not agree with the plain teaching of Scripture. Scripture says that in the transitional period between the Tribulation and the Millennium, both the wicked and the righteous will be taken for judgment. The judgment they will face is described in Matthew 25.

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
Matthew 25:31-41

The people brought to this judgment will be "all nations" (v. 32). We should not, however, imagine that each nation will be judged as a unit. In judging the United States, for instance (assuming the United States still exists), Christ will not relegate all its people to the same destiny. Look at what He approves and what He condemns. He approves acts of personal kindness, and He condemns acts of personal unkindness. So, obviously, as justice would indeed require, He is judging the nations one person at a time. No doubt some in every nation will be placed among the sheep, some among the goats.

Where will the nations be gathered? The place will be the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:2), probably an ancient name for the valley directly east of Jerusalem. Gathered by whom? By the angels. Who will be gathered? All nations. So, at the end of the Tribulation, both the wicked and the righteous will be taken for judgment. The idea that only the wicked will be taken, while the righteous will be excused from judgment and left at their homes, is utterly false. Yet the angels will no doubt restore the righteous to their homes after they have heard Christ's invitation to live in His kingdom.

3. People who favor the ultradispensational interpretation of these two Gospel passages say, "Look at the verses preceding Matthew 24:40-41."

38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Matthew 24:38-39

These ultradispensationalists reason, "The ones taken by the Flood were destroyed. In a sense, they were taken to judgment. So, the taking mentioned in the next verse, verse 40, where it says, 'the one shall be taken,' must be a taking to judgment also."

The hole in this argument is that although verses 39 and 40 may look similar in an English translation, they do not look similar in the Greek. The word "took" in verse 39 is entirely unrelated to the word "taken" in verse 40. The word in verse 39 is airo, which means "to lift or sweep away." The word in verse 40 is paralambano, which means "to take alongside." It is evident that the words are not close synonyms. Whereas the one is suitable for describing the destructive effects of a flood, the other is suitable for describing a rapture.

Jesus used the word paralambano on another occasion also. At the Last Supper, He promised His disciples,

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive [paralambano] you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
John 14:3

The middle clause could be rendered, "I will come again, and take you alongside myself." When will He bring living saints alongside Himself? He will do so when He raptures them. If paralambano in John 14:3 refers to a rapture, it is reasonable to suppose that the same word in the prophecy, "The one shall be taken," also refers to a rapture.

4. The explanation of Matthew 24:40 and 41 lies not in verse 39, describing the Flood in Noah's day, but in verse 43.

But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
Matthew 24:43

This verse answers the obvious question raised by the prediction that "the one shall be taken." The question, by whom? The answer, by the thief—in other words, by Christ. When Christ returns to catch away His church, He will be a thief intruding on the domain of another. The Bible teaches that Satan is presently the ruler and prince of this world (John 14:30; Eph. 2:2). Thus, in Matthew 24:40-41, the selective taking of one here and there is not a taking to judgment, but a taking to heaven.

5. Three times in Luke 17:26-37, Jesus says that "the one shall be taken, and the other left." The repetition of these solemn words alerted His disciples to their importance. But they could not determine what He meant. It seemed to them that He had omitted some crucial information. So, they asked, "Where, Lord?" (v. 37). They wanted to know where the one will be taken. Jesus obliged them with an answer that must have left them even more perplexed. He said, "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together" (v. 37).

All this is rather mysterious because the meaning is hidden behind symbols. What is the body? The body is the body of Christ. What are the eagles? The eagles are saints in their immortal state. Jesus is predicting the great gathering of saints that will take place "in the air" (1 Thess. 4:17) at the time of Christ's return. Living saints will participate in this gathering as a result of being raptured. Thus, Jesus' answer to the question, "Where will the one be taken?" is not so difficult after all. He says simply that the one will be taken into the air to join all the other saints assembling before Christ at His return—Christ and all His saints together comprising His body.
Notice that the eagle is a fitting symbol of what every saint will become, for in our immortal state we will be able to fly unfettered by gravity. Moreover, like the eagle, we will have a distinctly noble bearing and will dwell in the highest places. And just as the eagle has a remarkable keenness of vision, so we will have access to all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Several texts underscore the resemblance between the eagle and the perfected saint. The psalmist says of God,

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Psalm 103:5

This promise is best understood as a promise of immortality. Just as an eagle retains the vigor of youth, so the saints of God will stay youthful forever. We find a similar promise in the book of Isaiah.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Not only will the saints be able by self-renewal to overcome every manner of weakness; they will "mount up with wings as eagles." In other words, they will be able to ascend the sky, as they will do at the time of the Rapture.

Some Bible students treat Luke 17:37 as parallel in meaning to Matthew 24:28. Before describing His glorious descent at the end of the Tribulation, Jesus says,

For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Matthew 24:28

But the texts in Matthew and Luke are contrastive rather than parallel. In Luke, Jesus says that eagles will be gathered at the "body" (soma, which refers to a living body). In Matthew, Jesus says that eagles will be gathered at the "carcase" (ptoma, which refers to a dead body, a corpse). The latter prediction will be fulfilled when Christ overpowers His enemies at Armageddon. To the army of heaven gazing down upon the battlefield, the slaughtered millions will seem almost like a single carcass.

 A careful examination of the texts referring to the days of Noah brings us to two firm conclusions.
 They are talking about the period before the rapture of the church.
 That period, which we elsewhere call the Last Days, will be a time of apostasy, as the days before the Flood were also a time of apostasy.

Will true religion disappear completely? In the days before the Flood, many who had once walked in the truth turned away from it, setting their own impulses and opinions above the law of God written on their hearts, preferring the approval of men to the approval of God. Yet the tide of evil did not engulf everyone. When God searched the earth for people He could spare from the general destruction, He found one righteous man, Noah. Besides Noah, God also preserved seven members of the patriarch's family, presumably because they had decided to follow Noah on the path of righteousness.

The number found worthy to escape the Flood was exceedingly small—only eight out of the millions then alive on the earth. But some were found worthy. Faith had not vanished altogether from the race of men. So it will be in the years just before Christ's return. After a long period of spiritual zeal and missionary enterprise, the church will go into a steep decline, continuing until the possessors of true faith become alarmingly few. It is this near extinction of true faith that Christ foresees when He asks, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). The question expresses the Bridegroom's tender concern for His Bride.

But, as in Noah's day, a few will resist the pull of an evil world and stand firm in their commitment to righteousness. When many others are deserting the ranks of true Christianity, a few will remain loyal. How large will the remnant be? We do not know. We need not suppose that the remnant will be exactly eight persons, as in the Old Testament type. Perhaps hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands will still espouse true faith.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Signs of Time (Part X)

By Moonings


When Jesus Himself contemplated conditions on the earth at the time of His coming, He asked the question, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). He would not have asked the question if the right answer was, yes. The question is rhetorical. It is designed to lead the hearer to a particular answer. Since the question raises doubt that faith will be found on the earth, the implied answer is, "Maybe not." Jesus is therefore warning us that, in the final stages of church history, the church will sink so low that vital faith will all but disappear.
The Great Falling Away
In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul takes up the subject of final things.

1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.3 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;4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Paul is seeking to counter a false teaching circulating among the Thessalonians that "the day of Christ is at hand." The words "at hand" are better translated "present" or "already present." The effect of this teaching was to arouse anxiety and dread. Why? Because these Thessalonians understood from Old Testament prophecy and from Paul's teaching that the Day of Christ—that is, the Day of the Lord—would bring great tribulation. The prospect of living through the time when divine wrath and judgment would visit the earth caused them to be "shaken in mind."
When a rapture will occur. Paul allays their fears, saying, "We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, . . . , as that the day of Christ is at hand" (vs. 1-2). He means, "You need not worry about living through the time of great tribulation, for when Christ comes at the dawning of His day, the first task on His program will be to gather the church unto Himself." He is reiterating the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 that Christ intends to deliver the church from the wrath to come, and the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that this deliverance will be accomplished through a rapture of the church.

Paul conspicuously does not treat the "gathering together unto him" as one of the developments that must precede the Day of Christ. These developments include the falling away and the revelation of the man of sin (v. 3), but not a rapture. By combining the concepts "the coming of Christ" and the "day of Christ" within the same sentence, Paul encourages us to understand that Christ's coming will bring Christ's day. When He comes, He will gather His saints. The rapture in question must therefore be one of the first events in the day of Christ.

When the Day of Christ will begin. This passage is extremely nettlesome to those who believe that the next event on the prophetic timetable is the Rapture. Yet this passage identifies two developments that must come first, before the day of Christ and hence before the rapture that will take place at the beginning of His day. According to Paul, the day of Christ will not come until there is a falling away and the man of sin is revealed (v. 3). "Falling away" is a rendering of the Greek word apostasia. The man of sin is the Antichrist.

Writers on prophecy have skirted this passage in various ways. We will look at how this passage has fared in popular books on the Rapture by E. Schuyler English and John Walvoord.
English's interpretation. English retains the priority of the Rapture in end-time events by assigning apostasia the meaning "departure." This, he says, is the root meaning of the word, although he concedes that the word often denotes a falling away from the truth; that is, "apostasy." According to English, the departure Paul has in mind is the departure of the church at the Rapture, and the meaning of verse 3 is that both the Rapture and the revelation of the Antichrist will come before the Day of Christ (1).

The chief difficulty in English's interpretation of the verse is that the meaning of a word is determined not by its derivation, but by its usage. Investigation of how apostasia was used in the first century establishes that the word means "apostasy," not "departure." The word means "apostasy" in its only other occurrence in the New Testament. "And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake [literally, 'apostatize from'] Moses" (Acts 21:21) (2). The word means "apostasy" in every one of its many occurrences in the Septuagint (3). Every authoritative lexicon defines apostasia as "apostasy" (4).

Walvoord's interpretation.
Walvoord endorses the translation of verse 3 in the NIV. "[That day will not come] until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed." This translation shifts the meaning enough so that Walvoord can claim that these developments will occur not before the Day of Christ, but during the Day of Christ, serving as evidence that the Day of Christ has already begun. In other words, the sense of the verse is that the day of Christ will come only when these other developments come as well (5).

The NIV's subtle reworking of verse 3 distorts the Greek, which clearly says that in relation to the Day of Christ, the apostasy must come "first." It is implied that the revelation of the Antichrist must come first also. "First" is proton, which cannot mean anything else but "first." This word disallows any attempt to make verse 3 say that the apostasy and the revelation of the Antichrist will come during, rather than before, the Day of Christ.

Conclusion. Our study of Scripture must proceed with an unbiased openness to what it is really saying. If we try to make it fit preconceived ideas derived from our teachers or based on our preferences, we will never grasp the whole counsel of God. An honest reading of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 altogether overthrows the popular notion that the Rapture will come unheralded by signs. This notion is the usual grounds for denying that Scripture pictures the church in its final hour as riddled with apostasy. Such apostasy, many argue, would be a sign of the approaching Rapture. Yet, in the text under discussion here, Paul counters by saying that the Rapture cannot come until at least two signs appear first, and one is general apostasy in the church.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sign of the Times (Part IX)

By Moonings

Peter's Description of the Last Days

The passage we have just discussed mentions in passing that the most popular teachers in the church of the Last Days would tell fables rather than the truth. Some of these fables are described in the book of 2 Peter.

1 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in [both] which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:1-7

Here, Peter warns us that in the Last Days, scoffers would arise in the church who would aggressively challenge the doctrine of the Second Coming as well as the Biblical account of origins.

Like Paul, Peter sets the time of apostasy in the future. He says, "There shall come [future tense] scoffers" (v. 3). More precisely, this time would arrive when "the fathers" have long since departed. Who are these fathers? In context, they must be the prophets and apostles who originally announced and disseminated the promise of Christ's coming. It is evident that the scoffers would not appear until a time in the distant future.

Notice that the scoffers regard the founders of the church as their own spiritual fathers. It is evident that in the Last Days a profound disbelief in the teachings of the Bible would be prevalent even among those who consider themselves to be Christians.

A passage similar to Peter's discussion of the future apostasy occurs in the Book of Jude.

17 But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;
18 How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.

Again, verb tense illuminates the author's meaning. By saying, "There should be [literally, 'will be'] mockers in the last time," Jude demonstrates that his understanding of the last time agrees with Peter's. He conceives of it as a time in the future when there would be a plague of false teachers and false believers, serving their own lusts rather than God.

The many warnings in the New Testament that the final state of the church would be inglorious, as it sank ever deeper into corruption, are intended to strengthen the few believers who would remain in the Last Days. An understanding of their disheartening circumstances eases their suffering and loneliness. It assures them that God's program for the Church Age has not collapsed in failure, but has unfolded exactly as He said it would. It helps them to guard their own integrity against the many threats which have overthrown the integrity of others. And, finally, it encourages them to rejoice that the Church Age will soon be over, when Christ comes to assert Himself as King of the world.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sign of Times (Part VIII)

By Moonings


So far, in our attempt to prove that the church must go into spiritual decline before Christ returns, we have mainly discussed two Parables of the Kingdom. But our case rests not only on two somewhat mysterious parables, but also on explicit teaching. Both Paul and Peter state clearly that the church in its final stages would be riddled with corruption.

Consider what Paul says in 2 Timothy.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 Timothy 3:1

The popular interpretation today is that the intended compass of the phrase "last days" takes in the whole Church Age, from Pentecost to the return of Christ. What Paul supposedly means is that the Church Age, which had recently begun, would bring times of great peril for believers. This interpretation is by no means unreasonable. Indeed, because the Church Age is the final period of history before the Second Advent of Christ, the New Testament sometimes uses expressions similar to "last days" to identify the Church Age.

18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
1 John 2:18

26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 9:26

But similar phrases in different contexts need not have the exact same meaning.
Even the meaning of the phrase "last days" shifts according to context. In the following occurrence,
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for ['in'] the last days.
James 5:3

it refers to the present time, understood as falling within the short span of life and the short span of history. But in the next occurrence,

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
Acts 2:17

the same phrase has double meaning. Peter is quoting a prophecy of Joel, which, as most commentators agree, foresees two distinct events. One is Pentecost, the fulfillment that Peter declares. The other is the future outpouring of the Spirit upon Israel when they behold Christ at His coming (Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:26-27). So here, the phrase "last days" simultaneously refers to the time commencing at Pentecost—that is, the Church Age—and to the time of Christ's return.

The Book of Hebrews offers another use of the phrase.

1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.
Hebrews 1:1-2

The wording here is unique. Whereas Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1 says "in last days ['en eschatais emerais']," the comparable phrase in Hebrews 1:2 is "upon these last days ['ep eschaten ton emeron touton']," the "these" indicating that the days in question are the last days recently. The phrase in verse 2 of the above passage stands in contrast to the phrase "in time past" (literally, "of old") in verse 1. The meaning of the passage is that whereas in time past God spoke through the prophets, lately, or, in recent time, He has spoken through His Son.

The question remains, what does Paul mean by the phrase "last days" in 2 Timothy 3:1? Paul himself lived in the Church Age. Yet, in referring to the Last Days, he uses a verb in the future tense. "Perilous times shall come." And he maintains the same tense throughout his discussion of the Last Days. He obviously thought that the Last Days had not yet arrived, but would arrive in the future.

The context leaves no doubt that Paul placed the Last Days at the end of the Church Age. A few verses later, he says,

But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:13

Paul evidently believed that church history would follow a linear trend downward, as more and more people came under the influence of unscrupulous deceivers. Such men, called "evil men and seducers [literally, 'impostors']," would "wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." A more exact translation clarifies the prediction. Paul in fact says that such men would "advance to the worst, deceiving and being deceived." He foresaw a day when the very worst self-deceivers and deceivers of others would control multitudes in the church. Publicly, such men would be convincing replicas of real Bible Christians, but privately, they would wallow in the depths of abomination. Paul gives no hint that better leaders would follow the worst. Thus, the worst must emerge at the very close of church history. We cannot justly dismiss the implication that his "last days" of special peril fall at the same time.

In the next chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul gives an expanded picture of the time when the very worst deceivers would arise.

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
2 Timothy 4:3-4

In this graphic description of the poisonous teaching that would plague the church of the Last Days, Paul places the blame where it belongs. False teachers would succeed in becoming influential only because the church would warmly embrace them. Churchgoers would "heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears."

Those who would be intolerant of sound doctrine are compared to dogs. Like dogs, they would follow anyone, regardless of his character, who stoops to scratch their ears. And like dogs, they would turn their ears to hear whatever is pleasant. The analogy goes a bit further. They would be doglike also in not being fussy about what they eat. They would chew with pleasure on any teaching that gratifies carnal appetites.

After warning of perilous times in the Last Days, Paul provides a list of traits that would then be characteristic of religious people.

2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
2 Timothy 3:2-5

We find no reference here to murder, rape, or any other high felony, because Paul is speaking about people in general. He is describing not the criminal minority, but the respectable majority—not the atypical, but the average. Ordinary people in ordinary churches would be egotistical ("lovers of their own selves," "boasters," "proud," "heady," "highminded"), irreverent ("blasphemers"), materialistic ("covetous" is, literally, "lovers of money"), and hedonistic ("unholy," "incontinent," "lovers of pleasures"). They would enjoy few loving relationships, for they would be "disobedient to parents" and "without natural affection." Yet they would readily make enemies, for they would be "unthankful," "trucebreakers," and "traitors." And they would treat their enemies ruthlessly, for they would be "fierce" and "false accusers." Being "despisers of those that are good," they would persecute the righteous.

Despite this load of wickedness weighing on their souls, they would pretend to be Christians ("having a form of godliness"). But, as Paul observes, they would know nothing of real Christianity. They would be guilty of "denying the power thereof." The true sense of the word translated "denying" is closer to "rejecting." That is, they would reject the power of God to change their lives. Instead of aspiring to holiness through divine grace, they would prefer to remain in their filthiness.

The admonition to the sincere believer in the Last Days is, "From such turn away." Comfort, reputation, and every other human consideration might urge him to continue in fellowship with hypocrites, but to maintain fellowship with God, and to defend his family from attacks that would spoil their faith, he must make the break. He must turn away. But where should he go? He must attach himself to a band of genuine believers, however small it may be.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sign of Times (part VII)

By Moonings


The Currently Fashionable Interpretation
In our treatment of the Parables of the Kingdom, we have accepted the leading traditional interpretation, which assumes that they furnish a prophetic overview of the Church Age. But this interpretation is no longer popular. Many modern Bible students believe that these seven parables pertain solely to the Tribulation.

The Tribulation, you remember, is the brief, intensely troubled period on the threshold of Christ's return. In the view of such Bible students, God will transport the church to heaven at some unpredictable moment before the Tribulation, and then He will use the remaining years before Christ returns to raise up a body of believers among the Jews. They believe that the Parables of the Kingdom are written to furnish Jewish believers during this period with needed warnings and exhortations.

Two arguments dispose of the currently fashionable interpretation of the Kingdom Parables.
 This interpretation rests on the assumption that throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus was speaking not to the church, but to the Jews. But this assumption puts a curious slant on everything He said concerning the future. It implies that in all His prophetic teaching (and in much of His practical teaching as well), He was primarily giving instruction to those Jews who would be alive during the Tribulation. If this assumption were correct, the great majority of believers during the last two thousand years have been deceived in supposing that the entire New Testament, including the Gospels, is God's Word to the church. Is it likely that the core writings of the Apostles would address mainly the Jews, or that large portions would address only those Jews living during a brief period thousands of years after Christ? The focus of the Gospels is certainly not so restricted and off-center.

 We must be suspicious of any system of interpretation which decides that part of the Bible does not concern us. The devil will use any ploy he can to keep us from hearing the whole counsel of God.

 The parables themselves do not support this interpretation. We will examine them individually.

Second and Seventh Parables
The second is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.

24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. . . .36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The seventh is the Parable of the Net.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.49 So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,50 And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:47-50

Both parables distinguish between two periods of time. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares speaks of a growing season followed by a harvest. The Parable of the Net glimpses fishermen at work fishing and then at work sorting good fish from the bad. In the former parable, Jesus explicitly states that the harvest represents "the end of the world" (Matt. 13:39) or "the end of this world" (Matt. 13:40). "World" corresponds to a Greek word that means simply "age." Since a harvest is the end of a growing season, we infer that the growing season in the parable must represent the entirety of "this age." The Tribulation will not be age-long. Many Bible students believe that it will last only seven years. The age in question must therefore be the Church Age. The Church Age is likewise the first of the two periods noticed in the Parable of the Net. Only the second period—the time of sorting—is called "the end of the world [age]."

Third and Fourth Parables
We have seen that the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven offer much the same story. Both tell of something growing to great size or extent. If these parables pertain to the Tribulation, they must picture the growth of a false church after the true church has been raptured. Yet it is commonly agreed that before the last 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation, the Antichrist who will then emerge will destroy this false church and take all worship to himself (Rev. 17:16-17). Hence, if these parables pertain to the Tribulation, they are misleading, for they show the false church only in its prosperity.

Fifth and Sixth Parables
The parables that decisively settle when all seven will be fulfilled are the fifth and sixth. The fifth is the Parable of the Treasure in the Field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
Matthew 13:44

The sixth is the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.

45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
Matthew 13:45-46

Many readers have supposed that these two parables speak of the commitment we owe to Christ. Because of the great worth in Christ and in His salvation, we should be willing to give up everything in order to please Him. But in both parables, the seeker obtains the thing of great worth by purchasing it. We cannot purchase Christ. Nor can we purchase our own salvation. What these parables obviously portray is Christ's work of redemption. Just as a man sold all his possessions that he might purchase a field with hidden treasure, and just as another man sold all his possessions that he might obtain a pearl of great price, so Christ sacrificed everything—His heavenly glory, even His life—to redeem the church. Moreover, just as the treasure was hidden in the field, so the church is hidden in the world until that moment when the sons of God will be revealed (Rom. 8:18-19). Thus, the fifth and sixth parables cannot possibly be construed as having special relevance to events during the Tribulation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sign of Times (part VI)

By Moonings


Many Christians in the past misread Biblical prophecy to suit their own dream of a church marching steadily onward to total victory over heathenism and unbelief. They believed that the church would someday raise the flag of Christ over the whole world. Every nation would become a Christian nation, and every citizen of the earth would take Christ as his sovereign. According to the same optimistic scenario, Christ would return only after everyone, everywhere, was joyously waiting to receive Him.

The difficulty in this scenario is that it does not square with the actual teaching of Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a prediction that Christianity will flourish until it conquers the earth. Instead, Scripture predicts that when Jesus returns, He will find the church in a sad state, in a state characterized by weakness and decay rather than by health and progress.
The two Kingdom parables in Matthew 13 that deal particularly with the weakness of the church in its final days are the third and the fourth—the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven.

Parable of the Mustard Seed
Jesus compared the church to a mustard plant beginning as a tiny seed and sprouting upward until it becomes the largest herb in the garden.

31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Matthew 13:31-32

Many expositors have leaped to the conclusion that this parable paints a glorious future for the church—a future of steady progress toward the goal of making all men servants of Christ. But if Jesus meant to portray the church in its last stages as something glorious, He certainly chose strange imagery. A mature mustard plant excites no one's admiration. Its growth is rank, its form ungainly. The foliage is coarse and weedy. The flowers are tiny and undecorative. The seedpods are bereft of the color or lusciousness that commends other kinds of fruit. Even the odor is unpleasant.

Jesus' picture of the church in its final stages leads us to doubt, therefore, that all will be well. Indeed, to underscore that the outward success of the church will be accompanied by spiritual decline, He says that "birds ['peteina'] of the air" will lodge in its branches. To decipher the riddle, we must accept that in His literary inventions, Jesus is a consummate craftsman. For example, when He uses the same symbol in similar contexts, He retains the same meaning. It is therefore significant that in a companion parable, the Parable of the Sower, fowls ('peteina' again) represent, literally, "the wicked" (Matt. 13:19), a term comprehending both the devil and the demonic spirits under his control. We infer that the birds in the Parable of the Mustard Seed represent "the wicked" also. Another proof of Jesus' craftsmanship is that every symbol He chooses is appropriate. The fitness of birds to symbolize spiritual beings who can fly about at great speed thus confirms our interpretation. Jesus' purpose in calling them "birds of the air" may be to connect them with "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2).

The birds that roost in the branches of the mustard plant show something evil infiltrating the latter-day church. No doubt they represent demons working through men of influence to introduce corruptions in doctrine and practice. Paul speaks of the false teachings that will someday creep into the church as "doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1).

We conclude that although the Parable of the Mustard Seed is, on its surface, optimistic, the actual meaning of the parable is that the church in its final stages will lapse into weakness and apostasy.

Parable of the Leaven
Although compressed into a mere twenty-four words, the Parable of the Leaven is full of prophetic teaching.

Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Matthew 13:33

R. C. Trench, author of Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, alleges that the spread of leaven through the lump pictures the spread of the gospel through the world (1). So interpreted, the parable supports the view that the church will eventually convert the whole world to Christ. It is not surprising to find this view in the writings of an Anglican archbishop from the Victorian era. As a loyal member of the British establishment, Trench believed that Britain and the other colonial powers would succeed in bringing all mankind within the bounds of Christian civilization.

Today, when the influence of the church is rapidly dwindling, few Christians retain Trench's optimism about the future of the church.

Yet, to reach a valid interpretation of this parable, we should look not to changeable historical circumstances, but to Scripture, for Scripture explains itself. In the light of Scripture, Trench's treatment of the symbols in this parable is untenable. The woman cannot be the church. The lump cannot be the world. And the leaven cannot be the gospel.

The Leaven
Scripture always associates leaven with evil. Before celebrating Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the people of Israel were required to go through their houses and remove every trace of leaven (Ex. 12:15). This ritual depicted their need to remove sin from their lives before they sought fellowship with God. Paul says,

6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Paul says again,
7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Galatians 5:7-9

Consider what leaven is. The chemical reactions that cause a lump of dough to rise are the work of minute vegetable organisms called yeast, a type of fungus. A distinctive property of all fungi is their lack of chlorophyll. As nongreen plants, they are incapable of making their own food. They must draw nourishment from other organisms, whether living or dead. Parasitic fungi—those that feed on living organisms—may cause death of the host. Saprophytic fungi—those that feed on dead organic matter, such as the wooden timbers of a house—produce decay. Yeast is a saprophytic fungus that converts bread sugars into alcohol (which disappears during baking) and carbon dioxide, a gas. Notice that the leavening effect of the yeast depends on its destruction of a nourishing and flavorful food substance. As an agent of destruction and decay, leaven is a fitting symbol for something evil.

The Lump
The lump of dough in the parable is not the world, but the church. In 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, the passage quoted above to illustrate the meaning of leaven, Paul compares his readers—that is, the church—to a lump purged of leaven by the death of Christ.

But if Scripture is consistent in its use of symbols, how can bread represent the church? For Christ said of Himself, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). We must remember that Christ is joined to His church in a perfect union often described as a marriage. The church is His bride (Rev. 19:7-8). Together they are one flesh (Eph. 5:29-32). Therefore, since Jesus said, "The bread that I will give is my flesh" (John 6:51), it is not at all strange that, in Scripture, the Bride united with His flesh is also symbolized as bread. As Paul says elsewhere,

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?17 For we [being] many are one bread, [and] one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17

The underlying thought is that bread is the staff of life. Jesus is bread because, through His death, He is the life-giver to all who believe. The church is bread because it comprises all those who show Christ to the world and who bring the world to Christ.

The Woman
If she is responsible for the church becoming thoroughly infected with evil, the woman in the Parable of the Leaven cannot be the church. Nor can she be anything good. Jesus Himself identifies the woman.

6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. . . .12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
Matthew 16:6, 12

From this we understand that the woman represents all those Pharisees and Sadducees who introduce or promote false doctrine in the church. Who are the Pharisees and Sadducees? In Jesus' day, they were the leaders of Jewish religion. Although both groups sprang from a godly heritage, each had corrupted the truth and were leading people astray.

The party of the Sadducees had adopted a skepticism toward the supernatural. They accepted only the books of Moses as canonical. They disbelieved in angels, in miracles, and in a bodily resurrection. Their counterparts in the world today are the proponents of theological liberalism, a system of religious thought that casts aside the beliefs of historic Christianity. Liberalism treats the Bible as a collection of folk writings rather than as the inspired, inerrant Word of God. It regards Jesus as a good man with a spark of divinity rather than as the only Son of God. And it denies the existence of anything unrecognized by modern science. As liberal preachers and teachers spread their pernicious doctrines, they are taking the role of the woman who mixes leaven into the lump.

The Pharisees in Jesus' day were the conservative party of Jews. They not only tenaciously adhered to all the regulations in the law of Moses; they also imposed many additional regulations and duties upon themselves and their followers. But they failed to prize those virtues most desired by God: faith, justice, and mercy (Matt. 23:23). Worst of all, they failed to comprehend that a man becomes right with God not by his own works, but by divine grace in answer to his repentance (Luke 18:10-14). Modern Pharisees include all who advocate a theological system that pretends to uphold the Bible, but substitutes human merit for divine merit as the basis of salvation. We find many Pharisees among the Roman Catholics and the cultists. We find them also in the multitudes of nominal Christians who say that they believe the Bible, but also that they plan to reach heaven by observing the Golden Rule. All who teach salvation by works will stand trial as corrupters of the church.

Yet the leaven in the lump is not false doctrine only. Jesus also says,
In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Luke 12:1

Here he omits any reference to the Sadducees, because their religion was at least honest in its unbelief. The Sadducees were vile infidels, but they were not hypocrites. The Pharisees, however, pretended to obey God's Word down to the smallest letter and slightest nuance. But, as Jesus pointed out, while they gave the Lord a tithe from their handfuls of herb pickings (Matt. 23:23), they robbed widows (Matt. 23:14) and slew the righteous (Matt. 23:35). Hypocrisy, then, is another form of the evil that will permeate the church. We see it today particularly in Pentecostal and fundamental circles. Those Christian leaders who wave a Bible before their adoring followers and then go out to commit adultery, or to cut shady financial deals, or to plot the ruin of a godly critic are spreaders of leaven. They too partake in the diabolical work of the woman.

Jesus points to yet another source of danger.
And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.
Mark 8:15

Herod stands in place of all rulers. The leaven of Herod represents any undesirable influence that secular government exerts upon the church. If the will of the state is contrary to the will of God, the church must obey God, or else it will shut souls out of the Kingdom. Herod tried to silence Christ by sending agents to intimidate Him (Luke 13:31-33). Had Christ listened to them, leaven would have crept into His ministry. Today, the church must resist many pressures from the state. The gravest threat is the persistent attempt to bring the rearing of Christian children under state control.

Jesus' use of a woman to depict the various forces arrayed against the purity of the church—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herod—might, to some readers, seem curious. But His choice of imagery is by no means arbitrary. The woman in this parable appears elsewhere in prophecy. Revelation 17 speaks of a harlot called Mystery Babylon (Rev. 17:5) who is the embodiment of false Christianity. She is the counterfeit of the Bride, the embodiment of true Christianity. Because of her faithfulness to Christ, the Bride is chaste and blameless, but the woman called Mystery Babylon, because of her traffic with other lovers, is a harlot. Through her fornication with the kings of the earth (Rev. 17:2), she has given birth to "abominations" (Rev. 17:5). The allusion here is to churchmen who use the secular arm of society, the arm of government or business, to accrue power and wealth for themselves. Their lust for unholy gain drives them to corrupt the church with false doctrine, with hypocrisy, and with concessions to the state. Hence, we see that the mother of abominations is the same as the Pharisees and Sadducees who mix leaven into the lump. For this reason Jesus pictures them as a woman.

Patterns in Church History

Leaveners have troubled the church ever since its inception. The experience of the church follows a cycle. Whenever Pharisees and Sadducees gain control of churches and Christian institutions, they introduce changes that soon cripple the work of the gospel. The innovations in doctrine may be of a superstitious or skeptical nature. The innovations in practice may loosen good standards or impose burdensome obligations. When God's people become aware of the corruptions entering into their midst, they rise up to reform the church. But generally their efforts do not begin soon enough. The reformers find that the Pharisees and Sadducees are entrenched and that the leaven is too intermixed with good dough to be purged away. God's people then have only one option, according to Scripture. They must separate themselves from a polluted Christianity. This they do, and they begin the formidable task of building new churches and institutions. After a period of struggle, God blesses their work, and they gain a large following. Soon, within a generation or two, their enterprise mushrooms into a major movement or denomination embracing many large churches. But now the positions of influence are no longer held by men who have sacrificed career and reputation for the sake of the truth. Instead, because high office in any prosperous organization attracts ambitious self-seekers, the positions of influence again fall into the hands of Pharisees and Sadducees. Leaders of this sort are skillful politicians. In every situation they calculate the safest means to the richest ends. They do not hesitate to tamper with doctrine or practice if changes would bring them greater success. They weave pretty speeches to applaud themselves and their friends as great men of God. They put on masks of piety over faces of greed and lust. Only the silly, the simple, and the naive believe them, however. And so tensions again rise in the church, and yet another struggle for Biblical righteousness and purity begins.

Besides a cyclical pattern in church history, there is also a linear trend—a trend downward toward ever greater corruption. It is this downward trend that the Parable of the Leaven particularly notices. The parable shows a woman who hides leaven in three measures of meal "till the whole was leavened." Her act is called hiding because "there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies" (2 Pet. 2:1). The measures are three in number because the parable conceives of the church in its role of giving nourishment and life, and in this role the church has three kinds of ministry: the prophetic ministry, which preaches and teaches truth; the priestly ministry, which obtains blessing and grace by means of intercessory prayer; and the kingly ministry, which makes all temporal arrangements necessary for the church to serve people. The leaven is described as affecting the whole lump because evil will, in fact, spread throughout the church until at last, in the days before Christ's return, it will reach everywhere. The whole church will be touched by it. It will be pervasive, like the final stages of a terminal cancer.

The unscrupulous leaders who will then dominate the church face an unspeakably gruesome punishment.

45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24:45-51

The resurrection and judgment of most of the wicked will take place at the end of Christ's Millennial reign on the earth (Rev. 20:11-15). But Christ will not wait until the end of the Millennium to deal with men who have misused their leadership over the flock of God. The passage cited here shows that He will mete out their punishment as soon as He returns for the church. What church leader aware of this warning would dare betray his sacred trust? Only that man whose male egotism led him not just to doubt the Bible, but even to feel sure that the Bible could not possibly be true. Such a man never suspects that God has blinded his eyes.

Far from supporting an optimism about the future of Christianity, the Parable of the Leaven supports a frank pessimism. The church will not conquer the world. Rather, the evil world system will conquer the church. Enemies of Christ will lodge corruptions in the church that will progressively diffuse throughout the whole lump. The word "whole" quite pointedly informs us that no part of the church will escape these corruptions.