Apostasy is defined by the New American Webster Dictionary as “total desertion of one’s professed principles, faith, or party.” So the question is: what causes apostasy? Specifically, what causes an individual to desert his faith or more specifically “the Faith”?
In life how does one desert a marriage after years of sharing the joy, troubles, the blessings of children and especially the security and love of a family? How does this happen? Or, how does a Christian who has obeyed the gospel of Christ and enjoyed the purity and simplicity of New Testament worship leave such purity for manmade worship and its vain practices which “perish with the using” (Col. 2:22)? Moreover, how does a gospel preacher, who trains for years to preach the Word of God, sacrificing time and money to be the best preacher he can be, then desert the Lord and His precious gospel? How does an elder who has prayed with the sick, suffering and dying, and who has enjoyed the great blessing of leading a soul to Christ with the thrill of baptizing an individual into Christ to wash his sins away (Acts 22:16), then leave the Lord and all that He has given along with all that He has promised? How can such desertions happen? That is what is under consideration.
Well, king David in the long ago recorded the progression of sin in Psalm 1:1 when he wrote, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Notice (1) man shouldn’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly, (2) man should not find himself stopped and standing in the pathway of sinners, because the result of listening to bad counsel and seeking company with sinners is (3) sitting in the seat of the scornful. So, falling away or apostasy is a slow step-by-step process.
The Bible is replete with those who left God. Paul said that the Old Testament is for our learning (Rom. 15:4). Israel fell away from God and murmured just a few days after God had worked the great wonders of deliverance from Egyptian bondage. By Numbers chapter 13 they had drifted so far away that they were viewing themselves as “grasshoppers” and cried all night long wanting to return to Egypt (Num. 14:1). They had to wander in the wilderness paying a year for every day that the spies were in the land of Canaan which equaled 40 years. The people were stiffnecked (obstinate, stubborn) having their heads set on their own way and not regarding the counsel or the will of God (Ex. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13; 10:16; II Chron. 30:8). So, we may learn from the Scripture that refusing to submit our will (Matt. 5:3) to the will of God will cause apostasy.
In I Samuel 8 the children of Israel refused to allow God to be their king (I Sam. 12:12), but wanted a king “that we may be like all the nations” (I Sam. 8:20). Such an idea progressed over a period of 700 years until the people said “we will be like the heathen” (Eze. 20:32). The idea of being like the nations around us has permeated the thinking of many in the Lord’s church today. When Israel followed through with the thinking of being like the world, no standard of right and wrong was in use and they did what was right in their own sight (Judg. 21:25). A study of the prophets reveals that idol worship was common and sexual immorality was common. Murder, drunkenness and lying all were a part of the society when Israel fell and later when Judah fell. Why? Because they had become exactly like the nations about them and no longer honored God. So, apostasy comes when individuals seek to please man rather than God, and when individuals pattern their lives after mankind rather than patterning their lives after instructions of God (Heb. 8:5-10).
The people of God were “destroyed for a lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6) in the long ago, and the same is true in the Christian age (II Tim. 2:15). Staying approved by God is a daily process (Acts 17:11), and everyone must stay alert to his/her own standing with almighty God (I Cor. 9:27). If all Christians would dedicate themselves to remaining in the love of God (Jude 21), then apostasy would not be as prevalent as it is today. The challenge is ever before us.
-David Hill