by Mike Ratliff
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 1 Timothy 4:1 (NASB)
Being Reformed in my theology, I adhere to the Sovereignty of God in all things. He keeps remnants of believers even in the most apostate of times. He always has pockets of genuine believers who know their Lord by His grace through the faith He gives no matter what darkness is attacking the Church. According the the passage I placed at the top of this post (1 Timothy 4:1), we see what the source is of the false doctrines propagated by apostate “Christian” leaders. That source, of course, is that they have been seduced by evil spirits and now they are following and teaching the doctrines of demons or devils. In this post we will look at the different epochs or eras that have not only come to attack the Church down through the ages, but have remained and are still with us now. They have accumulated now so that there is much overlap between them and this complicates the task of explaining these things to you my brethren. However, it is vital at this time that we take the covers off of what is hidden behind religiosity in order to direct our devotion to the Lord alone, not a local church or a pastor or a denomination or a certain set of religious rules or any other thing that are in actuality only distractions sent from the enemy to muddy the waters and draw believers into a from of Christianity that neither edifies us or glorifies God.
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the source of the rough outline for what is to follow. I got it from John MacArthur’s ministry. This outline has 10 main points and gives us a general breakdown of 10 definable eras or epochs or seasons that have attacked the church since the end of the Apostolic and Church Father eras. It is based on the following passage.
1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 Timothy 3:1 (NASB)
1 Τοῦτο δὲ γίνωσκε, ὅτι ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις ἐνστήσονται καιροὶ χαλεποί· 2 Timothy 3:1 (NA28)
This passage begins with a command, “But realize (γίνωσκε) this (τοῦτο).” This command is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice. This means that Paul is commanding us to understand or know the truth he is sharing experientially as a way of perceiving what is going on around us all the time. This is not just a sharing of facts, but a command to engage one’s perception to look at what is going on and grasp the significance of it. Why? It is vital. He tells that in “the last” (ἐσχάταις) “days” (ἡμέραις) there “will come” ( ἐνστήσονται) “times” (καιροὶ) of “difficulty” (χαλεποί).
The word Paul used that is translated as “the last,” ἐσχάταις, is the source of our English word “eschatology.” This word is similar in meaning to ὑστέροις, which is translated as “latter” in 1 Timothy 4:1, which I placed at the top of this post. However, the “latter times” in that passage refers to the entire age between Christ’s first and second coming, while ἐσχάταις appears to be used to focus more on an approaching end time or period that is, in a sense, an accumulation of what has come before. We see this in the verb structure of “will come,” ἐνστήσονται, which is in future tense, middle voice. This verb’s meaning is a bit difficult to wrap our minds around in this structure. It is reflexive in that the subject acts on self to be on hand or present. This reflexive connotation in future tense, middle voice is describing a series of “times” (καιροὶ) which will come and remain and accumulate to the end. This Greek word for “times” refers not to clock time or calendar time, but to eras or epochs or seasons. Therefore, as we go through this very short and over simplistic overview of Church history, keep this is in mind. Why? Paul calls these difficult or dangerous (χαλεποι) times. This word carries the idea of something that reduces the strength of something to the extent of causing it to encounter danger or peril. In other words, this is an attack. However, as we saw above, Paul is describing a series of these attacks that remain and accumulate over time, all attacking or sapping the strength of the Church together.
The Church was persecuted from the beginning and this has continued in all parts of the world into our own time, however, persecution of the Church actually strengthens it. It cleanses it in the sense that false believers flee while God grows the faith of those who go through it. This does not sap the strength of the Church, it actually makes it deeper and stronger. On the other hand, our enemy continually attacks the Church from within using false prophets and the doctrines of demons to cause the dry rot of apostasy to do its evil work. In this we have 10 general eras that would be ages of apostasy that have stayed, accumulated and are each still attacking the Church.
The first era began when the Roman Empire ceased persecuting the Church and made it the state religion of the Holy Roman Empire. This ended the persecution, which actually took away the one thing that God was using to strengthen it. This was replaced with an era of Sacramentalism. This period is also called the Dark Ages. In this time, the Word of God was taken away from the people. Sermons were in Latin. Only the Church itself was allowed to hold and interpret Scripture. The people were taught that to be a Christian they must perform external things like lighting candles, genuflecting, bowing, praying according to some beads, and even enduring self-inflicted pain. This is externalism and those who are part of this are walled off from knowing or even hearing about the Gospel itself. If one is simply in good standing with the “Church” through sacramentalism then they are considered good Christians. Is this still with us today?
The second era began in response to the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation recovered the Gospel and put the Word of God into the hands of the people. This was a time of light and a move of the Church back into the truth. The attack to counter this came soon after this through things like the Renaissance and the Age of Reason. This second era is called Rationalism. It is actually a worship of the Human mind. This is most certainly still with us in the form of liberal, dead churches and denominations that were neutralized by the encroachment of liberal theology that has taken over Europe’s and America’s seminaries and Churches to the point that these people do not believe the Bible is the Word of God nor do they believe in the Deity of Christ. It is all about what men can do.
After this attack of rationalism, there was another push back by men such as Charles Spurgeon. During this time, Bibles became even more plentiful. However, the third era of attack on the Church began. It is the era of Shallow Spirituality and Dead Orthodoxy. It is from this that we have the Fundamentalist movement that began with the right motives, but soon succumbed to this shallow spirituality as the focus of their being together was simply to express anger over the attack by Rationalism. They lost their focus and became a self-focused religiosity that was all about having the right Bible version, the right clothes, the right building, the right rules…et cetera. I have ministered to many people who have escaped from these churches and from that I learned that pharisees are still with us. This dead orthodoxy only puts people into the bondage of religiosity.
The fourth dangerous era for the Church is Politicism. This started in the 20th Century. This is the era of the state Church. These have political and social agendas. From this we have inherited things like the Social Gospel, Liberation Theology, et cetera. This era is most definitely still with us because it and the era of Shallow Spirituality are combined with the later eras in ways that makes untangling them very difficult.
The fifth dangerous era for the Church is Ecumenicalism which began in the 1950’s. Have you noticed how the time span between the eras has shortened? The Ecumenicalism era was all about God being love and so we just need to follow the parts of the Bible that speak of His love. Then we can work with other religions and simply get along because all we will do is just love, love, love one another. This is the era in which sentimentalism and tolerance became the byword of the Church. Doctrines were viewed as unnecessary and actually the cause of divisiveness in the Church. Now, is this still with us today?
The sixth dangerous era for the Church is Experientialism. This started in the 1960’s. This is the era in which the Church went after knowing God through experience. This is the era from which we get the emphasis on speaking in tongues and having ecstatic experiences and this defined the validity of ones profession of faith. To these people truth is in the experience. We are still dealing with this in the Health, Wealth and Prosperity “gospel” as well.
The seventh dangerous era for the Church is Subjectivism. This started in the 1970’s. This is the era when Psychologists became major players in the Church teaching us all about how vital our self-esteem was. This was a subtle move away from the Word just as the other movements have been. Do you see how subtle much of this is and how the move into the apostasy we are seeing in our own time is the product of all these ages or eras? We aren’t done yet.
In the 1990’s came the eighth dangerous era for the Church, which is Mysticism. In this we have a combination of nearly all of the previous eras. In this the focus is on the intuition and religiosity through sacramentalism, experimentalism, ecumenicalism, et cetera. This was closely followed by, and in some cases includes, the ninth dangerous era for the Church, which is Pragmatism. From this we get the Seeker-Sensitive movement. This movement has a mantra and that is to simply pursue what is popular in culture and emulate it in order to make the Church popular with the masses. It dumbs down the Gospel and de-emphasizes the preaching of the Word.
The 10th dangerous era for the Church is Syncretism. This is the doctrines of demons which tell us to include all religions together as a whole. As I stated earlier, now that we have arrived at this last stage of apostasy can’t we look back and see how each one that came before has weakened a part of the Church and how many of these eras have combined into deadly forms of apostasy?
My brethren, what we must do is examine ourselves. Are we sitting under the teaching and preaching of one who preaches the Word and has no use for any of these forms of apostasy? If not, then we must repent of this and pray for God to lead us to the right church. The number one criteria for attending a certain church must be the commitment of the pastor(s) to preach the Word. If that is missing then leave. If the focus of a church is on anything resembling what I shared above in these dangerous eras of the Church then we should be concerned about it. We are in the last days my brethren. We have not seen the Great Apostasy yet, but with the arrival and rapid rise of this Syncretism, can it be far behind?
Soli Deo Gloria!