Apostasy is rampant within the evangelical church today. At least that's my perspective as one who has observed religious trends and developments for three decades. Before I present my specific concerns, let me define some terms. The use of the word “evangelical” in this article simply refers to those who would say that the Bible is their authority in all matters of faith and practice. “Apostasy” consists of those teachings and practices that are contrary to the Word of God yet seduce and deceive both professing Christians and true believers. “Biblical apostasy” is a falling away that will result in a false Christianity under the control of the Antichrist: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away...”( 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ). Although the culmination of the Apostasy takes place after the Rapture of the church, various aspects of this apostate religion have and will continue to ensnare many believers throughout its development.
At a certain point in the future, there will be a total rejection of biblical Christianity, succeeded by the religion of the Antichrist; it will maintain a veneer of Christianity that will prove acceptable to all religions. This perversion of Christianity doesn't just suddenly happen once the Antichrist appears. The deception process began long ago in the Garden of Eden with Satan's seduction of Eve, and it is becoming more and more of a corrupting influence within Christianity as the time of the appearing of the false messiah, whom the entire world will worship ( Revelation 13 ), draws near.Satan began his dialogue with Eve by planting seeds of doubt regarding what God had commanded: “Yea, hath God said...?” ( Genesis 3:1 ). This opening line of the Adversary has been the basis ever since for his principal strategy in inducing rebellion against God. Its implications impugning the character of God and sanctioning the rationalizations of man seem endless: Why would God keep something good from you?; Is He really in charge?; Does He make the rules?; You misunderstood His commands; There are no absolutes; You need to consider what He says from your own perspective, and so forth. Eve, although reiterating God's command for the most part, adds her own erroneous thought to what God actually said: “...neither shall ye touch it” (3:3).
This is what happens when dialogues take place regarding absolutes: the truth is either added to or subtracted from. Tragically, many Christians see nothing wrong with rewriting God's Word. They are perfectly content with Bible versions that have done exactly that.
In response to Eve, Satan blatantly rejects God's warning that death would result from sin: “You will not surely die.” Making God out to be a liar or dismissing Him altogether has always been Satan's game. The Serpent then convinces Eve that obeying God's command would rob her of enlightenment, godhood, and knowledge—and thus severely limit her potential: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (3:5).
Variations of these basic lies from the one who was a liar from the beginning ( John 8:44 ) have successfully deceived humanity throughout history. “Yea, hath God said...?” (Satan's direct attack upon God's Word) has even led both professing and true Christians into the Apostasy.
Questioning or rejecting what God has said in the Scriptures is at the heart of instigating religious rebellion. The reasons should be obvious: 1) If the Bible cannot be trusted as God's specific communication to mankind, then we are left with nothing more than man's opinions and guesses about God and what He desires; 2) Finite humanity's speculations about its infinite Creator are not only terribly erroneous—they are evil, because they are generated by man's sinful, self-serving nature; 3) Even a true believer could be led into darkness without the light and lamp of God's Word ( Psalm 119:105 ).
Although the Bible has been under various attacks for centuries, the latest “Yea, hath God said...?” strategy may be the Serpent of Old's most deadly. The process involves weaning evangelical Christians away from the knowledge of, an understanding of, and a dependence upon the Word of God. The objective is to produce biblically shallow Christians who are functionally illiterate regarding what the Bible teaches, and who therefore have no accurate basis for, or interest in, discerning biblical truth from error. By “functionally illiterate” I mean that such evangelicals know how to read, and they have Bibles (of some sort), but they rarely read them, preferring to get their biblical content from some other source.
Conditioned by a subversive weaning process, these biblically shallow Christians have little or no concern about doctrine. They major in the experiential, with their feelings almost exclusively determining what they believe. The Apostle Paul, speaking prophetically of the Last Days, seemed to have these specifically in mind: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” ( 2 Timothy 4:3,4 ). Sensual “lusts” of the flesh and imagination are implied here.
A couple of decades ago, the extreme Charismatics and Pentecostals would have been the obvious reference point regarding Paul's warning, given their obsession with healing, prosperity, and a spirituality energized by seeking after signs and wonders. Today, experiential Christianity has extended far beyond the bounds of what was considered a fringe evangelical element. It now pervades the entire church, including those denominations and movements once known for their conservative doctrinal views and biblical adherence. They have vigorously blocked the lying signs and wonders seduction at their front doors while opening wide their side entrances and youth rooms to the purveyors of the experiential in less obvious yet equally disastrous forms.
Before examples of today's antibiblical experiential Christianity are presented, it needs to be understood that true Christianity is both doctrinal and experiential. It includes a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that begins when one has understood the doctrine (i.e., biblical teaching) of salvation—the Gospel of Christ—and has accepted it by faith. When this happens, the Spirit of Christ indwells that person ( Ephesians 1:13 ; 4:30, Romans 8:9 ). As one understands all that He did for us, true love for Jesus follows.
Then, as one grows in his relationship with Jesus through knowing and obeying the Scriptures, one's affection for Him increases. Furthermore, as one matures in the faith, the fruit of the Spirit is increasingly manifested: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. These certainly involve the experiential. So what is the problem, then, with experiential Christianity?
The chief error today in the evangelical church is that experiences (feelings, emotions, passions, intuitions, etc.) have become the guide for entering into and attempting to establish true spirituality. Rather than subjective feelings and emotions being present as a result of one's adherence to sound doctrine, they have become the judge of whether or not something is truly Christian. Instead of testing a teaching or practice or situation by the Word of God, the arbiter becomes “how one feels about it.” This puts the human imagination in the seat of judgment. That thought alone should provoke an emotion in the heart of every Bible-believing Christian: sheer horror! Doctrinally however, it's even more frightening.
Twice in the Book of Proverbs, in almost exactly the same terms, we are told, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” ( Provers 14:12 ; 16:25). In other words, if a man goes by what he thinks or feels, independently of and in opposition to what God has declared, the consequences for him will only generate destruction. Death is separation, the spirit and soul from the body; moreover, the ways of death include separating man from the light of God's truth. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” ( Isaiah 8:20 ).
Experientialism (what feels right to man) is a leaven working its way through the entire church as it undermines biblical truth. Today there are many infectious manifestations, with heavy emphasis upon the following: signs and wonders, faith-healing and prosperity, logos vs. rhema, the new apostles and prophets, kingdom-dominion, redeeming-the-culture missions, strategic spiritual warfare, inner-healing, 12-steps, Christian psychology, evangelical social-activism; ecumenism, church growth, purpose-driven, emerging church, contemplative/mysticism, church entertainment, contemporary worship, culturally accommodating Bible versions, and visually translated Bibles. All of these movements are in opposition to the clear teaching of God's Word, yet multitudes follow them eagerly.
Although these diverse endeavors often overlap in terms of concepts and methods, they share a common trait: while giving lip service to the Scriptures, they all, whether through ignorance, self-delusion, or planned deceit, critically subvert its teachings. The way that seems right to a man—the way that feels right, produces numerical growth, seems more spiritual, moves one emotionally, appears to move God on one's behalf, brings people together, makes people feel closer to God and better about themselves, is more positive, fills more pews, impresses the world, is not judgmental, etc.—that way is systematically eliminating any concern for sound doctrine in the church. This is experientialism in opposition to doctrine among evangelicals, and it has the church helping to usher in the Apostasy.
There is not enough space in this article to explain all the movements listed above. We have been writing about most of them for years. Many of them can be found by searching TBC's website for related articles or the books we offer. Although they are connected at times by individuals, similar methodologies, or goals, the basic glue that essentially holds all of the movements together is the propensity for subjective experience over the written Word. All are working from this same unbiblical premise.
Extreme Charismatics and Pentecostals have a foundational teaching that God's mode of communication today is to speak outside the Bible directly to His people, particularly through a new breed of apostles and prophets. This “new way” is called the rhema of God, a supposed contrast to logos, which is categorized as the old written form. One of it's foremost leaders, C. Peter Wagner, claims that God is instructing the church in new ways of doing things through His modern prophets. Therefore, the Bible is of little or no value for judging what's being promoted. This teaching is not only antibiblical but it has been the catalyst for the most spiritually spurious rituals of the last century, from the proliferation of false prophets to the so-called binding of territorial spirits to taking dominion over cities, countries, and ultimately the world “for the Lord.”
Hearing from and drawing experientially closer to God through techniques (e.g., occult visualization and meditation) is the practice of today's evangelical contemplatives and mystics. Richard Foster and others have derived their so-called spiritual formation approach from Catholic “saints” and mystics. Foster created The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible to biblically support his mystical approach, yet its commentaries libel the Scriptures and demean sound doctrine. Foster introduced Eastern mystical techniques to the church decades ago in Celebration of Discipline (quickly adopted as mandatory reading for Campus Crusade leadership). Now his spiritual formation agenda is foundational to the Emerging Church, a widespread movement of 20-to-30-year-old evangelicals who are attracted to the sensual liturgies (candles, incense, chanting, vestments, rituals, statues, icons, etc.) of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as a supposed means of enhancing their spiritual formation.
Eugene Peterson, a contributor to The Renovaré Bible, has his own extremely popular Bible version (The Message). Experientialism through alleged poetic license is blatantly manifested throughout this humanistic and culturally acceptable perversion of God's Word, which Rick Warren has done much to promote. Consider Matthew 16:25 in The Message: “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.” Try finding any hint of one's “true self” in any other Bible translation of this verse! This is the leaven of psychotherapy (which is wholly experiential and subjective) that has permeated the church.
Although on guard against the biblical abuses of the Charismatics, even the most conservative evangelical churches have been seduced by the self-oriented and feelings-sensitive methodologies of psychology. Nothing in contemporary Christianity has raised the cry of “Yea, hath God said...?” in challenging what the Scriptures clearly teach as has so-called Christian psychology. From psychobabble-ized and Christianized 12-Steps programs (e.g., “Celebrate Recovery,” which Saddleback has spread into thousands of churches) to the occult-ridden inner-healing ministries (e.g., Elijah House of John and Paula Sandford) to the humanistic self-teachings of Focus on the Family, the psycho-spiritual leaven spreads unabated.
The seeker-sensitive church-growth movement has pushed experientialism (and its close kin, pragmatism) into overdrive through the power of marketing. Sound doctrine, necessarily, is left by the wayside while churches meet the “felt needs” of consumers who are targeted as potential Christians.
Conviction of sin doesn't feel good, nor does it sell well. The wishful thinking of a purpose-driven church that would attract the lost by turning to the world's methods has become a Titanic that has ignored warnings and jettisoned its compass of the doctrine of Christ. While the orchestra searches for a contemporary chorus replacement for “Nearer My God To Thee,” the vessel is sinking into the depths of compromise while dispensing temporal lifejackets to save the world from its problems. This is the way that seems right to the world and to an astounding number of those who profess to believe the Bible.
Ironically, our day is seeing more Christian media and entertainment, and more Bibles of every sort. Yet, the result is a corruption of God's truth because there is no heart for sound biblical doctrine, especially since marketing departments are now leading the way! At best, the evangelical church in the U.S. reflects the lukewarmness of the Laodiceans ( Revelation 3:14-17 ): rich and increased with experiential goods that can only yield shallow Christians; at worst, it has become a willing contributor to the end-times delusion.
Yet even in the face of so troubling a situation, we have reason to be both encouraged and fruitful, that is, if we will obey Paul's inspired exhortation: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee [from the growing apostasy]” ( 1 Timothy 4:16 ). Let us pray for one another to that end.