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Apostasy in the early Church

The purpose of this chapter is to review apostasy in the Christian Church history and it’s thought on the causes and implications of apostasy. The following periods will be reviewed:

  • Apostasy at the inception of the Christian Church.
  • Apostasy during the ministry of Paul to the churches in Galatia.
  • A comparative study of Galatians’ apostasy and today’s church.
  • Apostasy after the apostolic era.
  • Apostasy during the reformers period.

Apostasy at the inception of the Christian church

The Christian Church was established by Jesus Christ, according to the divine principles. It is important to note that the Christian Church is different from that of the Hebrews (Judaism), which is confined to the Jews and to the only temple in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the Christian Church is universal, cutting across all the regions of the earth and racial barriers in keeping with Christ’s directives (Acts 1:8).
The most devastating phenomenon of apostasy during the ministry of Jesus Christ is the apostasy of Judas Iscariot. This man (Iscariot) is one of the luckiest twelve disciples to be with Jesus Christ. The question is how does apostasy affect this man (Iscariot)? If the seeds of apostasy were planted in him before joining Christ’s ministry, does it imply that Iscariot was not converted when he became a disciple of Christ and spent all his days with Him? Did Jesus fail to convert the man? It appears that Iscariot was tempted by his love for money as was revealed on two occasions (John 12:4-6; Luke 22:4-5). If so, what could have attracted him to Christ, since Jesus was not counted among the rich of the day in that region? Undoubtedly, then, the seeds of apostasy were planted at the inception of the Christian Church.
The death of Judas Iscariot seemed to have saved the Christian Church from apostasy and one would think that at the death of Iscariot, apostasy would also have expired and that the Church would remain immune to it, yet apostasy has continued up to our generation. In fact, there seems to be a problem with eliminating apostasy to this day. Despite an increase in knowledge, the highly trained theologians and great scholars writing about the subject, apostasy has not changed or shown signs of lessening in the Christian Church. This study sought to find out where the Church was wrong, what the Church was guilty of neglecting, which contributed to the loss of precious church members, renowned eva— -ngelists and great church leaders through apostasy.
At the end of His (Christ’s) earthly ministry, Jesus commissioned His apostles to lead the Church (Matt. 20:18-20; John 20: 21-22; 17:18-19).The apostles affirmed all the principles left to them by Christ to the last of Christ’s disciple, John (the beloved). We can see how the apostles resisted apostasy, many times to the point of sacrificing their lives: Simon Peter was crucified in Rome; James (the elder) was beheaded by Herod in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:1-2); Andrew was crucified on St. Andrews cross; Matthew and Mathias were martyred in Ethiopia; Saul (Paul) was beheaded in Rome and many others (Thompson 1984:1565). These men stood firm against all forms of apostasy in the Christian Church and yet, in their ministry, evidence abounds that apostasy was not an uncommon phenomenon.
Towards the end of the apostolic era, the apostles foresaw the impending apostasy in the Christian Church and warned against it. Accordingly, Paul warns Timothy, “guard what has been entrusted to your care, turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wondered (apostatised) away from the faith” (1Tim. 6:20-21)., Furthermore, he warns the Ephesian elders that apostasy would arise from within the Church (Acts 20:29-30) and also reminded the Thessalonians of the pending apostasy before the second coming of Christ (2Thess. 2:3-4).

 Apostasy during the Ministry of Paul to the churches in Galatians

The way Paul deals with the Churches in Galatia explains how apostasy, if not recognised and dealt with quickly, can spread throughout the whole Christian Church. Within two or three years of Paul’s mission to Asia Minor, many professed Christians had renounced the gospel (Gal. 1:6-12; 3:1-5). Paul informs Timothy that “everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me” (2 Tim. 1:15). Although one may not find evidence that everyone in Galatia deserted Paul, it is the view of the researcher that the majority of the church members had or were in the process of apostatising. In this regard, six of the seven Churches in Asia were also warned by John against apostasy (Rev. 2-3)


Cause of Apostasy in the Churches in Galatians

The apostasy in the Churches of Galatia was caused by a conflict between Judaism and Christianity.Judaizers wanted all Christians to be circumcised before they are accepted in Church where as Christianity wanted Christians accepted into Church by faith through baptism only. Stagner (1967:136) says conflict is, “a situation in which two or more human beings desire goals which they perceive as being attainable by one or the other but not both.” In this regard, Leas and Kittlaus (1937:28) point out, “Conflicting goals are two purposes or objectives that cannot occupy the same group at the same time.” The Judaists believed that a person can earn salvation by rigorous adherence to various legal requirements either as a Jew or as a proselyte; that for one to be saved one needs to be circumcised, keep the moral laws, civil statutes and ceremonial rituals. Furthermore, these Judaizers claimed to have the support and prestige of the Jerusalem Church behind them and even of the original apostles (Knight 2005:18). Christianity on the other hand, introduced to the Galatians by Paul, was underpinned by the belief that a person is saved by faith alone and not by works (Gal. 2:16). In this context, Leas and Kittlaus (1937:20) explain that the conflict is seen as a type of behaviour that produces a barrier to another person’s attempt to meet his needs.
Leas and Kittlauss (1937:29) have three categories of conflict: the “intrapersonal”, the struggle that a person has within himself; the “interpersonal,” that is related to differences between people but is not related primarily to issues and “substantive conflict” that can occur between two individuals or between an individual and a group, or between groups. This type has to do with conflict over facts, means, ends or values. It is important to note that the problem that affected the Church in Galatia was substantive conflict. In this regard, the Christians in Galatia were caught between the two fighting parties, namely the Judaizers that promoted Judaism and Paul who preached. Christianity In the end, the Christians did not have sufficient knowledge of the scriptures to defend their faith against the Judaizers, resulting in the apostasy of some members. This cause of apostasy (substantive conflict) may be found in many Christian denominations including the West Zimbabwe Conference Churches of the Seventh- day Adventist Church.

Power struggle in the Galatians Church

The power struggle between the two parties (the Judaizers and Paul’s theology) still seems to be existing between the liberals and the conservatives in the Church today. Knight (2005:24) declares, “One of the perennial issues is that of authority…believers in every age must decide on the foundation of theological decision making. Who or what determines what must be believed? Is it the Church, tradition, spirituals or some other form of authority?” He recommends that, “every teaching must be tested by the teaching of the apostles of Christ” (:24). Scott (1968:187) advocates, “… [this is] the only kind of apostolic succession we can accept- not a line of bishops stretching back to the apostles and claiming to be their successors.”
The churches in Galatia had been established by Paul following the principle of salvation by faith rather than by works. Subsequently, some Judaizers went to those churches in Galatia and demanded that the new converts comply with all the Jewish conditions for the proselytes. There are four possible reasons why these Christians became Judaizers. Firstly, the long history of God’s chosen nation (Jews) written in the Old Testament (Deut 6:3 -9), had made them believe that adherence to the laws had awarded them God’s protection, miracles and many blessings; therefore, they felt obligated to keep the Jewish conditions even though they had become Christians. Secondly, the Judaizers did not accept Paul as an apostle of Jesus since he was not one of the original twelve apostles. Thirdly, they may have been motivated by a desire to avoid persecution by the Zealot Jews who objected to their fraternising with Gentiles (Gal. 6:12) and lastly, they did not believe in the theology of salvation by faith as preached by Paul.

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The causes of apostasy in Galatia

The Judaizers used a three way approach to persuade the Christians in Galatia to apostatise from the Christian Church: Firstly, they discredited Paul’s apostolic credentials, his authority to preach the gospel; secondly, they disapproved of the conditions for accepting Gentiles into the Church, which were preached by Paul and thirdly, they distorted the theology of salvation by faith. Consequently, they met with great success (Gal. 1:6) in deceiving a large segment of the Christian membership in the Churches in Galatia.
The above statements reveal that apostasy is the Church’s greatest enemy. The “two chief characteristics of the false teachers are that, they were troubling the Church and changing the gospel” (Scott 1968:23).” He (Scott) maintains that the two go together and that to tamper with the gospel always means trouble for the Church. “You cannot touch the gospel and leave the Church untouched, because the Church is created and lives by the gospel.” He observes that many times “troublemakers are not those outside who oppose, ridicule and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel.” It is clear that the impact of the Galatian apostasy was affecting the whole Church. Therefore, Knight (2005:39) alleges that, “the Galatian heresy was dangerous because both the glory of Christ and the salvation of souls were at stake.” The causes of apostasy observed in the Church of Galatia may affect many churches, such as the West Zimbabwe Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today.

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Statement of the problem
1.3 Research objectives
1.4 Scope and limitations
1.5 Research assumptions
1.6 Research methods
1.7 Research authorisation
1.8 Terminology
1.9 Overview of chapters
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Apostasy during the Ministry of Paul to the churches in Galatians
2.3 Galatians, Bereans and today’s church
2.4 Trends of apostasy
2.5 Comparative study of Galatians and today’s Church
2.6 Choice of a church and apostasy
2.7 Apostasy after the apostolic era
2. 8 Apostasy during the period of the reformers
2.9 Luther’s effort to reform the apostate Church
2.10 Implications of apostasy for church members
2.11 Apostasy from Biblical theology or from the church policy
2.12 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 The Church’s stand on apostasy
3.3 Historical background of the Seventh–day Adventist Church
3.4 The historical development of the Millerite movement after 1844
3.5 Doctrines of the Seventh – day Adventist Church
3.6 Reasons derived from the doctrines and beliefs for assessing erring members
3.7 Church discipline
3.8 Problems with the disciplinary assessment tool
3.9 The recruitment and preparation of members before 1998.
3.10 The recruitment and preparation of new converts after 1998
3.12 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Study area
4.3 Population
4.4 Sample and sampling technique
4.5 Purpose of sampling
4.6 Types of sampling
4.7 Sampling techniques
4.8 Research instruments
4.9 Questionnaires
4.10 Interviews
4.11 Oral history interviews
4.12 Identifying interviewees
4.13 Pilot study
4.14 Methods of data collection
4.15 Methods of data analysis
5.1 Introduction.
5.2 Data from the West Zimbabwe Conference office records
5.3 Data from the interviews with the West Zimbabwe Conference leaders and departmental directors
5.4 Data from the interviews with local church leaders
5.5 Interviews with pastors and members of other denominations.
5.6 Data from the interviews with people who apostatised
5.7 Data from the written questionnaire
6. 1 Introduction
6.16 Conclusion
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Causes of apostasy
7.3 Implications of apostasy
7.4 Conclusion
7.5 Recommendations for the Conference
7.6 Recommendations for further studies

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