An Introduction to Apostasy

The next six-weeks at my church I will be teaching a sunday-school series over my Th.M. thesis on apostasy. I will be posting each lecture/lesson that I give the day after I have taught it. Enjoy!

You can read the full-paper that influenced this lecture here.

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 6:1-12. “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” This is the Word of God.

Let me start by asking a few questions. I will ask you a question about a doctrine, or a theological belief, and then you can answer in your head yes or no if the one who believes such doctrine is an apostate.

Is one an apostate is he denies…

  • Jesus is both God and man (John 1:1,14;8:24; Col. 2:9; 1 John 4:1-4).
  • Jesus rose from the dead physically (John 2:19-21).
  • Salvation is by grace through faith (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 5:1-5).
  • The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
  • There is only one God (Exodus 20:1-3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8)
  • God exists as a Trinity of persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (See Trinity)
  • Virgin Birth of Jesus – relates to incarnation of Christ as God and man.
  • Male eldership and pastorate
  • Fidelity in marriage in heterosexual relationships
  • The condemnation of homosexuality
  • Inerrancy of Scripture
  • Baptism for adults or infants
  • Predestination, election, and free will
  • Communion every week, monthly, or quarterly, etc.
  • Saturday or Sunday Worship
  • Worship with or without instruments, traditional or contemporary.
  • Pretribulation rapture, midtribulation rapture, posttribulation rapture.
  • Premillennialism, amillennialism, and post millennialism.
  • Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts

This morning will serve as the first of a five-week study of apostasy. Like that of any first lesson, it will serve as an introduction to our study of apostasy. This Sunday school lesson/lecture may not get into the depth that the introduction of my Th.M. thesis does, nor will today’s lesson be as in depth as the next four weeks. Yet that is the point of an introduction right? – The bringing of a concept into use or operation for the first time. So is it this morning, I plan to briefly explain how the study of apostasy came about in my own life, why the study of apostasy, the questions that need to be addressed dealing with apostasy, what it is I plan to do over the next month, and then end with defining what apostasy exactly is. Like any good introduction, apostasy needs to be define before we start our study, and define Biblically being that our study will be a Biblical Theology of Apostasy.

People today live in the present and yet often look back at the history of anything. They see what is happening during their time, in their church, and within their culture. Yet they often take a look back at what has actually happen in the Biblical history of their Christian faith. What most Christians do not realize is that history helps the church understand people and society, how a society became, the importance in our own lives, moral understanding, provides identity, what skills a Student needs for history development, its use in the world of work, and what kind of history the church should study.[1] For those that are Christians – it is important to understand God’s plan for history because it plays such a large role in what the Lord has planned and predestined to occur for His people.

I started studying apostasy about two-years prior to my actual Th.M. degree. It all started when a seminarian professor of mine stretched my view during a class saying that Cain was an apostate. At the time I did not understand how Cain was an apostate because I had never known that Cain had professed to be a believer in the text verbally. However farther looking into the Scriptures and understanding the Covenant of Grace, I had realized that Cain had totally left that which His parents where apart of – better yet Cain’s offering claimed to know and believe in God, but without having faith in God. This only lead me to further studying exactly what apostasy was, the definition of it, and how God allowed it time and time again throughout history.  One of the largest questions that came to my mind, is why would a God allow those that know him like Cain, fall away from Him?

Why Apostasy?

After studying the issue alone in my free time, during the last year of my M.A.R. I knew that I needed to look further into the issue and that others in the church could use some work on how apostasy was traced throughout the history of God’s plan for the redemption of His people. Better yet the theme of apostasy need to be used within several topics like Natural Law, the Old Dispensation, Romans 11, the New Dispensation and specific text within the New Testament that dealt with apostasy, like Paul’s writings, the letter to the Hebrews and Jude. Recently within 2010 Dr. Robert Peterson’s work called “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy” has done a wonderful work dealing mainly with the warning passage in the New Testament. However what I was most looking forward to was if Dr. Peterson was going to deal with the theme of apostasy its self, tracing its history throughout the biblical covenants. He did not, and therefore I knew I needed to do so. Questions started going through my head back and forth constantly.

My Questions

I decided to make a list of questions that would help with my defining of apostasy, and what it was I planned to answer in my thesis. After reading and studying I decided to make a list of questions I still had not seen addressed with apostasy and defining it. Some of the major questions underlying a proper definition of apostasy are the following:

  • Is apostasy falling away from what once was an orthodox confession?
  • Is apostasy individual or corporately done?
  • Is apostasy breaking the covenants that God made with man?
  • Is apostasy in the Old Testament different from that in the New Testament?
  • Can one be an apostate even though he or she had never claimed to be a believer?
  • Can one be an apostate even though he never wanted to be a believer?
  • Can one be an apostate yet still believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
  • Did God allow Israel to apostatize from Him?
  • Does God plan or allow apostasy?
  • What has God said about the theme of apostasy?

These are just some of the important questions that theologians may ask when interacting with the theological theme of apostasy throughout the Bible. It is these very questions that are answered over the nine chapters in my thesis, and I will only have the next 4 weeks to answer some of them.

My Method

I believe it is best in dealing with apostasy in a chronological way. This I decided to study the subject of apostasy in a chronological order of apostasy throughout the Scriptures. What Dr. Peterson’s book did not deal with was how God allowed apostasy, how God has used apostasy, and apostasy relationship with man in a theological sense. I decided that tracing the theme of apostasy throughout the history of mankind would then allow the reader to see how apostasy has always taken place during the covenant of grace, and its relationship with man and God throughout history. After seeing apostasy this way throughout history, one in the church today can understand the relevant issues in why the church needs to look closer at such a theme and how it ever was and is still yet important issue within the Church.

Definitions

Before starting a study of anything, a word study, figures of speech study, a theology dealing with a specific topic, or a study like this of a biblical theme throughout the Bible, it is of first importance to define it biblically. Although apostasy is a single term in theology, it translates into a variety of terms in the Scriptures. As a matter of fact, the term can have a number of different definitions and theological interpretations within Christianity itself.  For now, it is the biblical terminology that must be looked at before dealing with such issues as I made mention before. After being able to define the term itself according to what God has given in and throughout His Word, then one can trace the theme knowing the verbal-revelation upon which the theology of apostasy is based.

Let us take a look at several definitions. Princeton defines apostasy “as the state of having rejected your religious beliefs or your political party or a cause (often in favor of opposing beliefs or causes).”[2] The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology published by Inter Varsity Press defines apostasy as a term, “in theological discourse from the open and final repudiation of one’s allegiance to God in Christ.[3] The New Dictionary of Theology (also published by Inter Varsity Press) defines apostasy differently, saying that it is a “general falling away from religion or a denial of the faith by those who once held it.”[4] The late Puritan theologian John Owen defines the essence of apostasy as “a total renunciation (rejection) of all the constitutes principles and doctrines of Christianity.”  While obviously unlikely, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary almost seems to have borrowed John Owen’s language when it defines apostasy as, “renunciation (a rejection) of a religious faith and abandonment of a previous loyalty.”[5]

One of the best explanations I believe I have read is by L.G. Whitlock Jr. defines apostasy as the following,

“[Apostasy is] the deliberate repudiation and abandonment of the faith that one has professed (Heb. 3:12). Apostasy differs in degree from heresy. The heretic denies some aspects of the Christian faith but retains the Christian name. Again, the transfer of membership from one denomination to another of the same faith is not apostasy. It is also possible for a person to deny the faith, as Peter did, then reaffirm it at a later time.”[6]

Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul may give one of the simplest but best definitions (I believe) defining apostasy encompassing that of all it contains by saying,

“Apostasy is not the same as paganism. An apostate is one who, at some point, professed the true God. Apostasy can take place only in the house of God. People become apostates by repudiating the faith they once professed. Whole churches can become apostate. When churches denounce essential truths of the Christian faith, they are apostate churches. Denominations-Protestant denominations-can become apostate.”[7]

Here Dr. Sproul’s definition takes into account a number of theological truths, however there are two points that could be highlighted among the rest. First, he says, “Apostasy can take place only in the house of God.” Secondly, “People become apostates by repudiating the faith they once professed.”  Apostasy therefore, according to Dr. Sproul, is movement away from the Church by those who used to claim fellowship with Christ.  It is different then, than mere unbelief among non-believers, sinful unbelief, or doctrinal imprecision amongst God’s people that does not result in apostasy. Hopefully these definitions help give you an idea of what exactly apostasy is and that you understand how one becomes an apostate.

One thing I did in my thesis (which you can read online) was that before going farther into apostasy and its ramifications, apostasy must be defined in the first chapter and examined in its biblical terminology throughout the Old and New Testament.  How then must the one concept of apostasy be approached in light of the diversity of terms, which are used in reference to it in the Scriptures?

Even a brief perusing of any dictionary will reveal that there is not always just one definition of a word/term or figure of speech. When defining a term or a figure of speech it is appropriate to examine its context, general and theological usage, and examples that are from the text itself. Doing such a study will help not to become biased towards one particular definition of apostasy or any term for that matter. Tracing the doctrine of apostasy throughout the Old and New Testament in its original languages is essential for Christians to understand the gravity and ramifications of apostasy. When apostasy is rightly understood, falling away from the gospel, is, arguably one of the most serious transgression someone can commit. To have claimed God, and then to abandon Him is to condemn oneself to hell. This first chapter will survey the terms used throughout the New Testament and how they were used in both general and theological categories.

This will be available online, at www.gospelcenteredmusings.com under “writings” in the “Th.M.” section. There is the entire 30-35-page chapter (chapter-one) there that deals with both the Hebrew and Greek terms that are used through the entire Bible dealing with breaking the covenant, falling away, and departing from the faith. With hearing the definitions of apostasy that I mentioned before, I ask that you would take some time this week, whatever it is, 10 -15 minutes, an hour, and think of the apostates during the Old Testament. Come back next week with either a list, or the names of those whom you think were apostates in your mind and next week we will trace this biblical theme of apostasy throughout the Old Dispensation of the Covenant of Grace seeing how God used and allowed apostasy. So with that said – one I believe I’ll take any questions that you may have over the introduction. Two if you have any questions that you would like to see addresses over the next 4 weeks on this topic go ahead and ask now.


[1] http://www.historians.org/pubs/free/whystudyhistory.htm access on 05/09/2010.

[2] http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=apostasy, viewed 06/16/2010.

[3] R.C. Ortlund, Jr. “Apostasy,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brain S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy, and Steve Carr. (IVP: Downers Grove, 2000), pp. 386.

[4] I. H. Murray, “Apostasy,” New Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Sinclair Ferguson, David Wright and J.I. Packer. (IVP: Downers Grove, 2000), pp. 39.

[5] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apostasy.  May 10, 2010?

[6] L.G. Whitlock Jr. from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (2nd Ed.)

[7] R.C. Sproul, Romans: The Righteous Shall Live By Faith. (Crossway: Wheaton, 2009),  pp. 369.

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2 Comments on “An Introduction to Apostasy”

  1. Marie says:

    This is good stuff. The class sounds interesting – I will definitely enjoy reading your thesis.

  2. […] The next six-weeks at my church I will be teaching a sunday-school series over my Th.M. thesis on apostasy. I will be posting each lecture/lesson that I give the day after I have taught it. Enjoy! Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 6:1-12. “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about wa … Read More […]


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