Mal Couch is with Christ, but when on earth he had a deep concern (as did the apostles) for the growth of false doctrine. The fact is that false doctrine will flourish in the future; and will explode during the days of the tribulation.
This article marks four full years of writing a monthly piece for Scofield Ministries. Not long before Dr. Mal Couch went to be with the Lord Jesus, he called me and asked if I would write articles for Scofield. I was glad to be of help to my friend Mal and I am thankful for this opportunity to share the Word of God in this venue.
I mention this because prior to all this, Mal and I would talk fairly regularly about biblical and theological matters. He would often call and want to know what I saw happening in this or that school, or perhaps some trends in the church. He was rightly concerned with the matter of false teaching that was flooding the churches and institutions of Christian higher education. And he was rightly concerned with what would likely take place in the future. We were both observing doctrinal erosion taking place at an alarming rate, and the sacrificing of truth on the altars of bad exegesis, personal kingdom building and religious tolerance. I miss those phone calls and times of discussion. But I miss even more Mal’s devotion to the truth of God and his willingness to point out teachings that were not aligned with a good exegesis of the Scriptures. There are fewer and fewer like Mal Couch in today’s church.
And as Mal and I suspected, the reality of false teaching has not gone away. In fact, as many readers are well aware there is an inglorious future for false teaching as the Bible reveals that there will be deep inroads into God’s truth. The Apostle Paul issued clear warnings about what the church would face in the future.
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in latter times some will fall away from the faith paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1 Tim. 4:1)
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
And so, reflecting on the concerns of our friend Mal, let us remind ourselves of the role that false teaching will have in the future. To try and organize the subject, let me suggest that there are five distinctive moments in the future of apostasy and error.
(1) THE PRESENT GROWTH OF FALSE TEACHING WITHIN THE CHURCH. As we observed in the above verses, there will be a deep decline in the truth as the church age heads towards its end. Error of all kinds, coming from Satan and his forces, will come flooding into the church with approval of those who lead the church. These teachers, according to the Apostle Paul, deceive others but are also deceiving themselves (2 Tim. 3:13). These have been promoting error for so long, they actually believe their own falsehoods. This is an important insight from the Apostle.
Consider the impact of the Emergent Church movement with all its variations. It has, at its very core, a lower view of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not seen as all that clear nor are they the absolute, final authority. Thus, there is hardly any area of doctrine that has not be altered, denied or ignored.
Consider that it is increasing difficult to find a local church with solid, exegetical teaching of the Word. Most of what passes for preaching/teaching in the evangelical church is a superficial glance at the Scriptures followed by lots of stories and supposed application. But this application lacks biblical authority because they do not emerge from a study of the text of Scripture. This preaching is more religious entertainment than thoughtful exposition of what God has said.
Consider the ever-increasing absence in teaching the critical doctrines of biblical prophecy. Very little time is given to these doctrines which call men to live better now because of what lies ahead when Jesus returns.
Consider that seeping into the thinking of evangelical churches are ideas and doctrines that were once the domain of the cults (such as annihilationism) and the operating principles of new age/occult movements (such as contemplative prayer).
(2) THE SUDDEN EXPLOSION OF ERROR AT THE RAPTURE. There are, of course, in this world pastors and teachers who are faithfully teaching God’s Word. But imagine what it will be like when all who teach truth are taken out suddenly and supernaturally at the rapture event. There will be for a brief time none who proclaim the truth of Scripture. Error will dominate as never before (except maybe in Noah’s day). This is what the Apostle Paul was referring to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 when he said that “the apostasy comes first” (before the Day of the Lord begins and the Antichrist revealed).
(3) THE FLOURISHING OF FALSE RELIGIONS IN THE 1ST HALF OF THE TRIBULATION. The Rapture event, which is accompanied by the removal of the Spirit’s ministry of restraining sin, will prepare the soil for the flourishing of much religion, all of which does not see Jesus Christ correctly. Revelation 17 reveals the domination in the west of a false church (the great Harlot). This church will become incredibly wealthy and amazing powerful politically. It will be “drunk” with blood of the martyrs of Jesus. It is totally apostate. Then there will be a revival of the OT Jewish religion with its animal sacrifices and rituals (Dan. 9:27). But it is a religion that is blind to the truth related to Jesus Christ, son of Abraham, son of David. It too is deep in error (though that will eventually change). We must assume that the major religions of the world today will flourish to one degree or another in the first half of the Tribulation period. Satan gladly has people worship something, as long it is not Jesus. Worshiping anything/anyone is not his final goal, of course. But this situation will do until Satan is ready to bring in his one world religion, in which he and the Antichrist are the objects of worship.
(4) THE GREAT ONE WORLD RELIGION OF SATAN AND THE ANTICHRIST IN THE 2ND HALF OF THE TRIBULATION. The absolute climax of apostasy is seen in the 2nd half of the tribulation. It is at that time that the world will worship the Devil and his close associate, the Antichrist. Revelation 13 gives a very clear picture of what lies ahead for the worshipers of this world.
“And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast (Antichrist); and they worshiped the dragon (Satan), because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast saying ‘Who is like the beast and who is able to wage war with him?’…And all who dwell on the earth will worship him….
Paul adds the point that the Antichrist will take his seat in the Temple of God in Jerusalem and by so doing, declare himself to be God. Paul then explains that this comes about because people have rejected God’s truth, preferring the lies that come from Satan. (2 Thess. 2:4-12) All of this error comes to a sudden, dramatic end by the appearance of the Truth. Jesus, who declared Himself to be “the truth” (John 14:6) will terminate all falsehood and will establish God’s truth on the earth.
(5) THE BRIEF APPEARANCE OF REBELLION AND APOSTASY AT THE END OF THE MESSIANIC KINGDOM. We are a little surprised when we learn from Revelation 20 that at the conclusion of the Messianic (Millennial) kingdom, that error will return. We wonder why. Satan, the deceiver/liar and the father of error, will be temporarily released from his imprisonment in the Abyss. He will find some who are ready to rebel against the Lord who is truth. So, it appears, that for a brief, final time, error is back in the realm of mankind. But, once again, why would God bother allowing this to happen? Unfortunately, the text of Revelation 20 does not give an explanation.
It is my best guess that God (who is a great educator) allows for this error filled rebellion to take place to illustrate one final time that man’s problem has never been his environment or circumstance but rather it has been his heart. In the Messianic kingdom, all the excuses that people give for embracing that which is sinful (lack of education, poverty, the influence of culture, Satan’s influence, disease or sickness, flourishing of evil people, etc. etc.) are simply not there. These things do not exist which means that the end time rebels have lived in a perfect environment. But the rebels (who were born in the messianic age but never personally placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ), illustrate that people go to that which is false because they have bad hearts; that is, they are inwardly sinners. The problem is their heart and not the environment. The rebellion is quickly put down by God, but the point is made: men love error because their nature is that of a rebel against God and His truth.
So, we know something of the future of apostasy and error. What are we to do since the Bible is abundantly clear about what lies ahead? Obviously, we are not called upon to stop the end results. But we are to faithfully teach God’s authoritative, inerrant Word whenever and wherever we can. After Paul told Timothy of the false teachers who were coming, he communicated the following guidelines for him and us.
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them…All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearance and His kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.” (2 Tim. 3:14, 16 – 4:2)