By now you have seen articles about a recent Pew Study report about the decline of Christianity and the rise of atheists, agnostics, and “Nones.” Actually, what we are seeing is a spiritual house cleaning. Nominal Christians – Christians in name only — are becoming consistent with their shallow faith and are departing the church. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
Some biblical perspective is in order. Jesus warned of this type of condition in the Parable of the Sower:
“And [Jesus] spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear’” (Matt. 13:3-9).
Jesus explains the parable in 13:18-33.
There is no doubt that the first-century church had to contend with betrayal and apostasy from within, as Jesus had said it would: “many will fall away and will betray one another” (Matt. 24:10). In fact, one of His own hand-picked apostles betrayed Him (Judas). Those who once proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ went on to do harm to the church they formerly claimed as their own.
Paul stated, “All who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Tim. 1:15). Demas, who was said to have “loved this present world,” deserted Paul (4:10). This apostasy does not seem to have been an isolated event: “At my first defense no one supported me,” Paul wrote, “but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them” (4:16). There were also Judaizers who were constantly distorting the gospel and preaching doctrine that opposed “the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-10). John described them as a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).
Furthermore, Jesus’ warning about the rise of false prophets (Matt. 24:11) soon proved to be true to that generation of believers (24:34). John reported, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). So even during the time of those who had witnessed the work of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4), there was a falling away from the faith.
The Apostle Peter wrote that “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).
Paul also described the Judaizing teachers as “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13). The first-century church was warned that Asavage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
It’s not any different today. Entire denominations have apostatized from the faith. The most recent example is the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA). There have been others.
The true believers of these apostate churches find their way into Bible-believing fellowships. We know that these liberal churches are the ones losing members.
Some false prophets were singled out for condemnation in the early church, such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, who led people into “further ungodliness” and spread their doctrine “like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:16-17). Paul condemned them for “saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some” (2:18).
The Apostle John wrote that “many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7). While many prophecy writers scramble to find a modern-day antichrist as part of some end-time prophetic system, John made it clear that there were many antichrists in his day.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour (1 John 2:18).
John also indicated that these deceivers rose up in the midst of the church: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
All of these Bible passages give us solid scriptural evidence that the words of Jesus were fulfilled in the days of the apostles, and they should serve as a lesson that God often does great things with a committed few even if the few are in the tens of millions.