In this day many are speculating on the “signs of the time.” They question, “are the events being witnessed around the world signaling the end of this age and the imminent return of Christ?” Cited is the apparent increase in intensity and frequency of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods (including tsunamis), tornadoes, hurricanes, and droughts; and pandemic diseases, pestilence, wars, nuclear armament by certain countries, the rise in the fury of fundamental Islam, political upheavals, and the moral decay of society, as clear evidences that we are in the “last days.”
There is a measure of validity to these speculations. Christ Himself described the time immediate to His return as, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars…” Matt. 24:6-7
As one who has studied in the field of the earth sciences many years, I must offer a word of caution regarding these speculations. Modern technology has enabled the detecting, recording, and measurement of these phenomena like never before in human history. Modern media receives and spreads the word of these cataclysms to a viewing world, from all parts of the world, with speed and vividness.
Currently there seems to be little or no concern from the scientific community about such increases in these events – other than concern for the lives affected. Rather, studies seem either to be focused on long-term trends, such as the possibility of global warming, or relegating these observations to “cycles of nature and/or society” in which global warming or cooling, widespread droughts or rain activity, economic behavior of the stock market, the rise and fall of empires, even societal causes for wars, follow a cyclic pattern spanning a few tens of years to hundreds and thousands of years depending upon the particular phenomena. A simple example is the cyclic nature of sunspot activity. These “solar storms” occur on an 11- year cycle. This variability in solar output is believed to relate to earth’s climatic cycles in temperature and drought.
There is, however, a further sign of the time, more sure than those mentioned above. And this sign is linked directly to the Church. The apostle Paul describes it as following, ”Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, … Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.” 2 Thess. 2:3
This verse is not addressing the breakdown of society as seen in the rise of all kinds of moral perversions and ungodly behavior. Nor is it dealing with the world’s rejection of Christ and its fall into materialism, self-indulgences, greed, and even idol worship. Neither is this verse addressing the increase in secularization of world governments (Europe and the U.S. for example). Sadly, this “falling away,” or apostasy, speaks directly of the Church!
The sign signaling His return is seen more clearly in the failure of His Church. Yes, this once mighty expression of Christ in the earth, that which rose out of the dust on the Day of Pentecost with a handful of believers, to the capturing of the minds and hearts of the Western world in particular, is seen as falling into discord and perversion. Can this be? How can this happen?
About twenty years ago, a missionary speaking from a pulpit startled me by saying, “the age of Christianity is over!” He witnessed the demise of the Church in Europe and the rise of Islam in many parts of the world, especially Africa. What this missionary was saying is that not only has the rapid spread of Christianity been checked, but also decadence within has begun. Missionary and evangelistic missions continue, and will continue, and pockets of humanity will come to know Christ and grow to maturity.
But something has happened to the Church. It has weakened and its outward glory has dimmed. Some perceive the rise of the mega-churches with tens of thousands of members as a sign of the opposite, that the Church is growing. Having examined the nature of these mega-churches, and their mimicked lesser counterparts, I think not. Overall church attendance in the USA remains at a historic 30% low.
If this is true, that the glory that the Church of Christ once had has diminished and is diminishing, then what can be the cause? Why would this happen? If the Lord Himself gave a direct warning only once, all should certainly sit up and take note. In Mathew 24:4,5,11, and 24 Jesus repeats four times the caution to guard against deception.
Four times the Lord cautions to guard against being “misled” or being “led astray!” Even as the first woman, Eve, was deceived, so now deception has come to this Woman, the Church, from both within and without leading many, many into err or wrong judgment.
Like a many-headed monster, deception comes in many different forms.1 Some forms of deception are so blatant that one has to wonder how any can fall into its snare. But they do. And oftentimes it is not just a handful of believers. More common is that deception is so subtle that it is disguised as “good” and creeps in unaware, capturing the attention, efforts, and hearts of a believing church.2
I write this not from a whim, or only personal experience. What has happened has done so many times in the past. It seems that when the Lord is pressing a message upon my heart, confirmation of this message arises from multiple sources. Articles appear in Christian publications and web sites, and discussion with other ministries all confirm the same message. The Woman, the Church, has been and is being further seduced by false prophets and teachers, misguided ministries, and a sleeping or unlearned people.
The central core of the Gospel of Christ has been perverted.3 It is unpopular and “heavy” to hear the work of the cross in one’s life to deliver from sin, self, and an independent and proud spirit4. Messages of continued repentance5, of pressing into Christ-likeness6, of being a holy dwelling place of God7, of a bride being prepared for the coming marriage of the Lamb (Christ and the Church)8 do not “tickle the ears”9 and appear lofty and out of touch with reality10. To a natural church this is true, but not so to the spiritual church.11
The natural church seems to be satisfied to camp with the salvation experience (the new birth) or with the Pentecostal experience (infilling of the Holy Spirit). As such, the goal is to get people saved and/or filled with the Spirit with signs following. Little emphasis is given to becoming part of a people pressing on toward God’s highest.12
The natural church is quite content and consumed with symbolism and ritualism, which are just shadows of spiritual realities. Much value is placed on special days, icons, dress, programmed services, traditions, and ceremonies.13
The natural Church seeks demonstrations of power, of the unusual, of prosperity, of self-fulfillment and reaching personal potential, but the “I have been crucified with Christ …”14 message is not realistic to it.
The natural church enjoys hearing the message of unity, tolerance, forgiveness, and yes, love at all cost. It shuns the message of judgment15, the literal Word of God16, of mixture in the Church17, of coming out and being separated18, and of purging out the leaven (sin)19. A recent advertisement by a mainline church declares that it is an “open” church. Open to what?
The natural church creates an idol of Christ, speculating and forming a picture of what Christ should be like and therefore what Christians should be like. It fails to emphasize receiving the literal Christ of Scripture whose blood not only cleanses but also purges the heart.20 Scriptures further speak of a Christ, whose actual residence in the heart of the believer21, creates a new and totally different character.22 This believer is quite uncomfortable with what self can accomplish or what the world has to offer.23 He seeks the reality of God’s presence and direction in his life.
The natural church seeks to recognize and utilize the talents and abilities of man in the function of the church. The spiritual church can find no reliance on these strengths.24 It waits and rests in the Lord as He raises up leaders of His choosing and ministries of His anointing.25
The natural church believes it is here to solve society’s problems. It expends much energy and resources on issues of race, freedom, equal rights, governmental policies and practices, multiculturalism, world peace, and care for the world’s disadvantaged and downtrodden. However, the total efforts and resources of the spiritual church are expended toward building the Kingdom of God in Christ26 and bringing the demise of the kingdom of the enemy of our Lord.27
Like a virus, deception mutates into many different forms and strains. Thus, the many ways in which sincere believers may be led astray or into err cannot be adequately described here. But I do believe it is a sign of the times.
This plague of deception has rendered the natural church weak and shallow. Its prayers are all too often formal, superficial and consumed with self. Worship is either programmed off a song-sheet, used to stir emotions, or just plain entertainment.
The natural church has become like a “spiritual” social center, a place where families can participate together in designed programs and activities capable of keeping its members active and happy. The methods used to promote programs and church activities are borrowed from the world – marketing, psychology, entertainment, and management. They have a good pastor, a good choir, good and encouraging sermons, a very nice congregation, good programs, and a very nice building (or are working towards one). What can be wrong?
The only safeguard against deception as described above is for each and every church member to become so intimate with the foundational Biblical truths that deception will stand out as the green-eyed monster that it is. When teaching bank tellers or other money handlers to recognize counterfeit money, they train them to handle the real currency – over and over. They’re trained to become so familiar with the look and feel of the real thing that a buzzer goes off in their sensory system when they come across a counterfeit bill. So it is with believers grounded in the pure Gospel. Grounding in foundational truths sharpens spiritual discernment.28
Let us be old-fashioned when it comes to the sober matters of our faith. How precious is the small gathering of saints whose hearts are filled with Christ and the hunger to grow in intimacy and relationship with the God that dwells within; a gathering where worship and prayer is poured forth from the inward soul, where they stand (or kneel) in humility and brokenness before the cross of Christ; a place and time where there is an inward sense of holiness, sacredness, and being separated to the Lord; a message revealing the reality of the cross, the blood of Christ, the miracle of the indwelling Christ, the inward working of the Holy Spirit and the Living Word; a separation of a holy people unto Himself, and the anticipation of Christ’s return for His people; a place of simplicity and singleness in Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I seek such a gathering. Oh, how I treasure the company of such a few hungry souls, rather than that of a thousand souls content with the outward, superficial, and oft-misguided aspects of religion. There is a spiritual reality of Christ to be gained, as He appears in the midst of two or more. Let us press on!
Endnotes: 1 Rev. 12:3,9 * 2Mt. 24:24; 1Tim 4:1 * 3Gal. 1:6-9; 2Cor. 11:3,4 * 4Gal. 5:24, 6:14,15 * 52Cor. 7:9,10; 1Jn. 5:18 * 6 2Pet. 1:3-13; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:20,21 * 71Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22; 1Pet. 1:15,16 * 82Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7-9 * 92Tim. 4:3,4 * 102Pet. 3:15-18 * 11That which is natural is contrasted with that which is spiritual by Paul (1Cor. 2:14,15; 15:44,46), James (3:15), and Jude (vs. 19) * 12Phil. 3:12-16; Heb. 6:1-2 * 13Col. 2:8, 16-23 * 14Gal. 2:20; Rm. 6:1-14 * 151Cor.5:9-13 * 162Tim 3:16 * 17Jude 4,10-16 * 182Cor. 6:16-7:1 * 191Cor. 5:6-9 * 20Heb. 10:22; * 21Eph. 3:17 * 222Cor. 5:17 * 231Jn. 2:15-17 * 24Phil. 3:3,4 * 25 1Cor. 12:18; Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:28 * 26Mt. 28:19; Col. 1:28,29 * 272Cor. 10:4,5 * 282Tim. 2:15; 2Tim. 3:15-17; 1Pet. 2:2
Daniel P. DeVitis
Shippensburg, PA 17257