Paul said, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you unto another gospel: which is not another, but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1: 6, 7). In modern centuries three significant steps have been taken that have led people further and further away from God’s true word. These have each first been manifested in denominations and eventually in the Lord’s church.
A failure to study objectively–without prejudice causes many to misinterpret the scripture. Desire for popularity, zeal for numerical growth, eagerness for harmony and the pressure of emotional appeals cause some brethren to make the same mistakes, in principle, that the sectarians have always made. This blindness causes some to think of the church mostly as a social agency instead of the spiritual body that it really is. Some bend the word to suit their preconceived notions. Some twist God’s Word to make conclusions which reflect man made doctrine. Some used lexicons and commentaries to reflect their alternative lifestyles, making it appear God actually condones their sin. They prejudice themselves without any regard to the truth of God.
After much argument about interpretation of scripture, the real spirit of sectarianism began to manifest itself in rebellion against the unlimited authority of God’s word in all spiritual matters. As a result of the disregard that developed for the authority of Christ, names, designations, organizations, rituals, etc. were added. Human judgment often replaced divine injunction. The voice of the people prevailed instead of the precepts of the Lord.
At various times and in subtle ways this departure has come to the people of God also. As a result people have said, “We want mechanical instruments of music, and we will have them.” The Missionary Society seemed like a convenient and fruitful arrangement, so they forgot that it was actually an unauthorized organization. Instead of saying, “We are not interested in what you believe, but what the bible actually says” We are hearing, “If you oppose what we are doing, you are the heretic.” Time was when men said, “Give book, chapter and verse that supports it or it isn’t so.” Today they often say, “If the bible doesn’t specifically forbid it we can do it?” And in view of these changing attitudes toward the authority of the New Testament, the church became involved in recreational, social, economic and even political ventures, all of which are positively outside the realm of divine authority for action of the body of Christ.
Modernism is just one more step for the denominations to deviate from God’s Word. Gradually the destructive theories of doubt and skepticism overwhelmed most of the religious bodies. The few fragments of truth that had survived the other departures, were now almost completely abandoned also in the stampede toward modern theology. To these, it makes no difference whether or not one believes in gospel and doctrine of Christ, for they no longer believe in the inspiration of the Bible and the Divinity of Christ.
Many brethren are being swallowed up by modernism in one form or another. They often begin by trying to separate the letter of the law of Christ from the spirit of that law. Later they often come to deny that Christ really has a law. They speak much of the great invisible body but often deny the existence of any visible, identifiable body of Christ. Truth comes to seem vague and uncertain to them. They get to the place where they avoid almost all negatives and even are unable to be very positive about any certain principle.
This liberal trend finds expression in a loose attitude toward morals, in small concern for the purity of the church, and in a general broad-mindedness that is completely in violation of the will of the Lord. Human wisdom is exalted, materialism flourishes, and the life of confidence characterized by the hope that is an anchor to the soul is a forgotten and lost achievement.
Conclusion: If we truly want to avoid apostasy, we will allow the bible to have the final authority in our spiritual lives. We will rightly divide the word of truth by studying the bible and avoid the words and wisdom of men (2 Tim 2:15 f; Col 2:8). We will not attempt to change God’s word knowing: “For ever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). We will not alter God’s Word by going beyond that which was written (1 Cor 4:6). We will forbid speaking the doctrine and commandments of men which turn one from the truth and adhere to the words of the apostle Peter: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4: 11). Apostasy doesn’t come immediately, it comes gradually. Therefore, let us be diligent to be approved of God, a workman which never needs to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth!