Christians are in the news quite a bit these days. In this particular case, the evangelical world is drawing attention from a number of onlookers by virtue of the release of a new video game. According to Yahoo News, "Left Behind: Eternal Forces casts the player as a director of God's Earthly militia, left behind in the Rapture to roam the streets of New York, battling Satan's minions and shooting unbelievers." Jack Thompson noted: 'It's absurd. You can be the Christians blowing away the infidels, and if that doesn't hit your hot button, you can be the Antichrist blowing away the Christians.'"
"Greg Bauman of Left Behind Games explains: 'Left Behind: Eternal Forces will help readers get a sense of the conflict and chaos of the time period portrayed in Left Behind and live out how they would defend themselves and their faith from the Antichrist and his Global Peace Keeping Forces...Goat-footed demons reportedly emerge from UN peacekeeping humvees. One reviewer noted: 'The only way to accomplish anything positive in the game is to 'convert' nonbelievers into faithful believers, and the only alternative to this is outright killing them.'"
Sadly, this or something similar is the prevailing view in church today concerning the last days, antichrist, and related events. However, the notion that such a game will give participants a sense of what it will be like after a pre-tribulation rapture falls into the category of false teaching. Further, sometimes actual heresy is taught and embraced in the church which leads to a question that has been put to me many times. Simply speaking, if Christianity is true, why are there so many false teachers and churches within Christianity? Let us offer four suggestions in response to that question.
First, the existence of false teachers and churches within the larger context of Christianity is a characteristic of the last days. Few would argue that we are in the last days now. Yet, we have been in the last days for two-thousand years. In 1 Jn. 2:18, we read, "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." John was writing to his contemporaries and noted that they were in the last days already.
People tend to look at the situation in the Middle East or the moral decline in America and conclude that we are in the last days. John says that many antichrists are in the world and that is how we know we are in the last days. Our Lord Jesus Himself said, "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you are not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in different places. All these are the beginning of sorrows (Matt. 24:5-8)." Those things have been going on for two-thousand years. The Lord Jesus could return tonight, or, He could delay another two-thousand years, and yet, we are still in the last days.
The point is that some conceive of the last days as the final days or final few years just prior to the rapture. In so doing, they tend to develop an escape or fortress mentality and simply wait for Christ's coming. The problem is that we have been given a commission to take the gospel to the nations until Jesus comes again, not until we think He's coming again.
We should actually think of the last days as the final stage of God's redemptive history. God has progressively revealed Himself to us over time through the creation of the universe, the promise to Abraham, the Old Covenant with Isreal, the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom , the coming of Messiah, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the establishment of the church. Throughout that history, He has been calling out a people for Himself. We are in that stage of His redemptive history between the first and second advents of Christ. When Christ comes again, eternity will be ushered in. There are antichrists, that is, false teachers and false churches to be sure. According to the Scriptures, that is as it should be now.
Second, the existence of false teachers and churches within the larger context of Christianity is a manifestation of the antichrist. Again, John noted that the recipients of his letter had heard that antichrist was coming and indeed many antichrists had already come.
It is interesting that the Pope, Mohammed, Martin Luther, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev, and Saddam Hussein, though from vastly different backgrounds, have all been thought to be the antichrist. Of course, the problem here is in a misunderstanding of Scripture and in an undue focus on current events. Indeed Spurgeon noted that the preacher must have the Scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other, but, his presupposition was that the preacher knows the Scriptures and how to apply them to our times. Too often we let the headlines control our interpretation of Scripture rather than the opposite.
John indicates that there is an individual called antichrist but his focus is quite different from that dynamic. While the popular view in our day is that the antichrist is an individual, now living, and will soon rise to world dominance through the political process, John mentions no such thing. In fact, the term "antichrist" is found in only four verses in the New Testament and only in John's letters (1 Jn. 2:18; 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 7). John's concept of antichrist is a spirit of unbelief realized most notably in those who say that Christ has not come in the flesh.
He says plainly that antichrist is already here in the form of false teachers. We could point to the docetism he was combating specifically, or to the Gnosticism of the second century, to the Aryanism of the 3rd and 4th centuries, to the papacy, to Mormons, to Jehovah's Witnesses, to contemporary modalists, or to the PC USA's alteration of the Trinity by allowing the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" to be referred to as "Mother, Child Womb," or "Lover, Beloved, Love." False teaching is deadly serious: it is the spirit of antichrist and is already in the world.
Third, the existence of false teachers and churches within the larger context of Christianity is an expression of real apostasy. John goes on to say, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us (v. 19)." He is simply making application to his readers and refers to what has happened in their local assembly.
John's point is quite simple and two-fold. In the first place, apostates walk away from the faith. The writer to the Hebrews makes the same point (Hebrews 6). In the second place, apostates were not in the faith. John is quite clear on the point that apostates do not lose their salvation. Rather, they were never saved.
People often ask me whether or not there are those who walk away from the faith in this regard. One could site a few men who were orthodox evangelicals who have now embraced open theism, annihilationism, and a wider hope that denies the exclusivity of Christ in salvation. Apostasy is real. Some false teachers are proof of that sad fact.
Fourth, the existence of false teachers and churches within the larger context of Christianity is a revelation of true believers. In v. 19, alluded to above, John uses the word "us" five times. His focus is on the believers to whom he is writing. In other words, false teachers are not really part of "us." Paul makes the same point in 1 Cor. 11:19: "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." His point is plain: false teachers are contrasted with true believers and thus true believers are revealed in the face of false teachers and those who follow them. True believers don’t follow the false teachers: they stay.
So, the real question is simply this: what or who are you? Will you stay and follow Christ, or will you follow the latest theological twist? Will you abide in Christ, remain in the faith, or walk away? Are you grounded in the truth or do you embrace every wind of doctrine? Are you content with orthodox Christianity or do you crave the latest, exciting teaching? Are you committed to Christ or to religion? Are you committed to the biblical Christ or to a false Christ? Who are you? Are you of Christ or antichrist?
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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