Dover church of Christ logo, the heart Sid Womack

Three Steps to Apostasy

It's true of all churches of Christ: We live only three steps from apostasy. What keeps it from happening is the extent of our knowledge of the Scriptures and our willingness to speak up when something wrong is taught as fact.

In fairness to preachers and Bible class teachers, it has been calculated that in one year of two sermons per Sunday for fifty weeks, a speaker will utter the equivalent of seven feature-length novels. With that kind of exposure, it is a matter of time before something will be said that is not quite on target. Whether a church goes into apostasy or not depends upon what happens next.

1. Step One happens when a preacher or teacher teaches something that is not scripturally correct. Maybe there are a few preachers who accept employment with a covert intent to lead members into sin. But often as not, it was a simple mistake, a moment's inattention, or maybe something taught him incorrectly in his childhood that caused the teacher or preacher to teach something that wasn't right. What he said may not have been his actual belief or his long-term commitment. He may have had no intention of teaching something false when he left his car to go to the auditorium for that service. But once the words are out of his mouth, it becomes difficult to get them back. Still, false teaching is false teaching and must be corrected. It is best corrected by the person who made the mistake.

Key to the scriptural integrity of the congregation is the extent of their Biblical knowledge. It is so important to have people who (1) read their Bibles daily so they are prepared for all doctrinal threats (2) have the courage to challenge the speaker about his remarks. If the congregation is not well-read they may never even know that their preacher just turned them down the road to once-saved-always-saved or salvation-without-baptism or women-in-leadership or some other doctrinal dead end. Whether it was intentional or not is almost a moot point. Key scriptures: Psalms 119: 11; Psalms 119:105; 2 Tim. 2: 15; 1 Peter 3: 15; Romans 16: 17; Ephesians 4: 14, I Timothy 6: 3-5.

2. Step Two is crucial. Key to it is the humility of the speaker who has been confronted. If he won't admit his sin, either the leaders will have to fire him or risk letting the conflict go to Step Three. In Step Two, the elders or leaders confront the preacher with his sin, scriptures in hand. In congregations that do not have elders, it is often much more difficult to find leaders to go to the person who taught the wrong thing and show him his mistake. If the preacher or teacher does not let pride get in his way--if he admits his mistake, asks for forgiveness and tries to make things right--the slide towards apostasy stops. But sometimes the person who taught the error will not admit his mistake. It may not have been his intent to bring error to the church but he somehow did it anyway. Now, instead of correcting his own mistake, he tries to get the congregation to believe his mistake. Key scriptures: Proverbs 27: 6; Galatians 2: 11-14; 2 Thessalonians 3: 14, 15.

3. Step Three. Instead of owning up to his mistake, the false teacher tries to convince the congregation to accept the false teaching as correct. Confusion reigns. Their last defense lies in their understanding of the scriptures which can make them wise (2 Timothy 3: 15). If they are not able to discover and embrace truth as a result of their own Bible study, the congregation will now teach error as fact in its worship services and classes. This has now become an apostate church. Three steps and they are out.

It's like what has been said about how man is able to fly: "Man is born aloft by the strength of his knowledge."

"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"--Jesus in John 8: 32.

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