The Last Days
A September 5, 2018, article by Jan Markell for Rapture Ready stated that “Many people visit church after church only to walk away disheartened. Others are lifetime members of a church and have seen changes that left it unrecognizable — spiritually speaking.” Later in the same article, she also said, “… the gates of hell are trying like crazy to penetrate the church, change it, change its message, change its purpose, distort the gospel, and wear down the saints — pastors included.” I utterly agree.
The falling away is a mark of the end times. But it does not remove from believers the responsibility to speak truth. But to speak truth, one has first to KNOW the Truth. Yes, capitalized, because the Truth is the person of Jesus Christ.
Christ is clear in his final letters to five of the seven churches of the last days. The letters to these churches of the last days all contained criticisms and warnings. In all five there was a call to repentance for specific sins. They are warnings we need to take seriously. In the last days, judgment will fall on individuals and churches that do not hold on with all their might to Christ as sovereign Lord in both spirit and truth.
Peter declared, “For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
Although Revelation chapters two and three address the church universal, there are many stories out there of painful church splits. I have also experienced one. At the culmination of that experience, I also lost my beloved father. As crazy as it sounds, I was in more pain over the state of what had once been my beloved church than I was over the loss of my father – and the loss of my father hit me harder than any other loss until that point.
When I refer to church splits, I’m not talking here about momentary lapses or even short seasons of misunderstandings. No human and no church are ever perfect. But when the very meaning of salvation is at stake, the enemy has penetrated the church. Unfortunately, too often apostasy comes in through its leadership. That’s why the seven woes to church leaders in Matthew 23 are so vivid. That’s why those seven woes should put terror in the heart of anyone who understands.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23: 27). This is what I call a duality. What is seen and what is unseen to the human eye. The latter is more real than the former.
It’s also not just that clever imposters can sometimes scheme their way into leadership and must be removed. As we approach the latter days, there will likely be more heavenly focus even on genuine believers within the faith who sometimes do not step up to the plate and fully preach the word of the Lord and properly care for their flocks.
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezekiel 34:2).
In the ninth chapter of Ezekiel, heavenly beings are dispatched to put a mark on the foreheads of men who recognize and groan over the evils being committed in the household of God. This is the prophetic view into Revelation 7:3:
“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.”
Unlike the mark of the beast, this is the seal of protection in the latter days. But it is well worth noting that in Ezekiel 9:36, after the heavenly beings place the protective seals on the faithful, they are ordered to smite all of the others without mercy. They are to smite, to not spare, and to not show even one ounce of pity to those who have committed abominations within the church. Most notably, the smiting begins with the elders.
False teaching and tolerance of evil are specifically confronted by Jesus in His letters to the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira in Revelation 2. All believers are called to read the word for themselves and to have discernment about what is true. Although most of us try to avoid conflict, sometimes it is necessary.
“Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1st Thessalonians 5:21).
Bringing conflicts to light can even be pleasing to the Lord. For example, the church at Ephesus is complimented in Revelation 2 for ferreting out false apostles. Even more pointed is Ephesians 5:11. It instructs this:
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” How’s that for making one uncomfortable with keeping the peace at all costs?
The command to “expose” works of darkness can be key, especially when you consider that many believers become incredibly militant about the necessity and value of not disrupting the unity of the church. It is certainly true that unity is a strong Biblical value, and it is also a reality that one of the ways the enemy works is to stir up divisions and hurt feelings. The problem, however, is that the bottom line question is this: Unity about what?
What if, for instance, a pastor or elder council advocated for abortion? What if they said it was a man’s mandate to brutally beat his wife into submission and his way of doing things? What happens when the elders want to call a “male pastor” that was born female but changed their identity? What should one do if, in the name of tolerance, they proclaimed that all religions are of equal value in connecting people to God and their ultimate eternity?
These may seem like extreme examples, but things usually don’t go so far in the wrong direction overnight. There’s usually been a “slippery slope” developing before the final tumbling into the abyss. It’s therefore important to realize we can be under dual attack—the enemy who encourages us to overlook departure from sound doctrine for the sake of “unity” and the same father of lies who evilly gloats over every little erosion on the edge of the slope.
Some Christian behaviors and practices may come wrapped in custom or tradition or the unique culture of a denominational heritage. And when someone says they are Christian, there are usually at least some things that make them appear similar to that description. Plus, since all of us are broken and flawed, we must – probably more often than not – choose to err on the side of love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
At the same time, though, when that “still small voice” calls our attention to things that don’t seem right, we need to look with our spiritual eyes and not just our physical eyes. Otherwise, it’s like looking at two eggs in the shell. How would you know, without touching the eggs, which was one boiled and safe to eat and which one was raw and contaminated with salmonella? Thus, the ultimate question is one of what is going on inside, and what exactly is pouring out. Is the fruit characterized by acts and words of life-giving love? Love that also speaks and honors – but also does not diminish – Truth?
Ultimately, each person will either be in or out of the Kingdom. Yes, it may take time for someone to make the decision to trust the Lord, and those that have already made the decision to trust in Him still will sin and struggle with walking in holiness. None of us ever “get there” until passing into eternity. However, the idea that one can have one foot in the Kingdom but also be willfully determined to keep one foot firmly planted on earth is a snare and a trap. And love alone is not the answer, as love alone and without the Truth can “love” people right into hell.
There is also, no doubt, what the enemy finds a “delicious” irony when things get pushed into the darkness for the sake of unity. When a wound is not properly cleansed, it can fester under a temporary bandage, but eventually the infection will come out. It can also spread into the BLOODstream and cause death by sepsis. This proverbial elephant in the room in a church setting is as harmful to trust relationships among the body as it is in a family which tries to cover up that the father is an alcoholic, with all the associated consequences. In other words, the very unity aspired to is deceptively undermined.
Believers are not supposed to hide stuff in the darkness. In fact, “stuffing it” can distort feelings, foster distrust and bitterness, and mess with our understanding of truth. That is why we are called to bring everything into the light. I believe God wants us to be authentic and real, however messy, as long as we are prayerfully discerning what He is saying when faced with decisions about if and when (and how) to speak. There is “a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
If you were going to a wedding, you would likely shower or take a bath before getting dressed. Almost all religions have some rites or ceremonies of cleansing. I suspect that is probably because, at some deep level, all humans recognize they are sinful. The problem is that cleansing on the outside is never enough to clean the inside of human hearts. As the time nears for the wedding supper of the Lamb, the Bride needs more than a shower or a bath before the wedding. She must be purified, down to the most hidden corners of her heart.
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