In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 there is a falling away (“apostasia”) mentioned, which is defined by Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries (G646) as “defection from the truth, falling away, forsake.” This verse is in the section of Scripture (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4), which reads as follows in its entirety:
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”
The context of these verses is interesting. This is talking about a falling away from the truth, and it is the only place in the Bible where the word “apostasia” is used. The apostle Paul is addressing “brethren” (verse 1) about an apostasy especially at the end time, as “the man of sin” is also mentioned who is to reveal himself during the very last days, and who will sit in the temple of God and pretend to be God himself. This strongly indicates that the Jews will build a temple in Jerusalem prior to Christ’s return, where they will bring sacrifices, and that the man of sin or the false prophet will occupy the temple for a while, when the armies of the beast power will occupy the city of Jerusalem and suppress the daily sacrifices. All of this will be fulfilling aspects of Christ’s end time warning that the abomination of desolation will be set up or standing at the holy place, where it should not be (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14).
It is correct, of course, that an apostasy from the true gospel already began during the lifetime of Paul, when he stated that he marvelled that so many in the Church of God had turned to another gospel (Galatians 1:6-7). But Paul’s warning, taken as a whole, is not about others who did not or do not have the truth, but he is addressing those who had learned it and who would nevertheless “fall away” or leave their own beliefs behind and go off in a different direction.
It is therefore clear that any revival of orthodox Christianity, including a revival of the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church or the different Protestant churches (as mentioned in Revelation 13 and 17), is not in any way to be viewed as being an aspect of the end-time apostasy or falling away from true biblical teaching.
How can orthodox Christianity “fall away” from biblical beliefs that they do not accept in the first place, and have never accepted? For instance, the Catholic and Protestant churches have rejected, for nearly two millennia, the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days. The Roman Catholic Church has stated that they had the authority to change the Sabbath day. James Cardinal Gibbons wrote in his book “The Faith of our Fathers”, 88th ed., p. 89: “But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.” Further, The Catholic Mirror stated in 1893: “The Catholic Church, . . . by virtue of her divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday.” There are many other admissions along these lines, and so it is a dogmatic statement which will not change.
The Protestant Church, even though they officially rejected and still reject the authority of the Catholic Church to change the teachings of the Bible, nevertheless followed the lead of the Catholic Church and adopted Sunday worship, while rejecting the Sabbath. Martin Luther himself declared that the Bible teaches the observance of the Sabbath, agreeing with the Waldenses who insisted at the time that the Sabbath must be kept, but he concluded that one should instead continue the observance of Sunday, as to avoid an unnecessary uproar. Other Protestant “reformers” such as Calvin understood that Easter is a pagan holiday, which is not enjoined in Scripture, but which the Catholic Church adopted from pagans who kept this day in honour of pagan gods. The goal was to bring those pagans into the fold of the Catholic Church. However, these same Protestant “reformers” did not feel it necessary to abrogate Easter observance.
The food or dietary laws are ignored and nominal Christians are permitted to eat just about any abomination one can imagine, and the correct way of tithing is something that they have never believed in. At the same time, a false concept of God is being taught, where He is misrepresented as a Trinity—One Person in Three Persons—while the Bible clearly rejects such absurd doctrine. The list could go on and on, but suffice to say that orthodox Christianity could not be part of an end time “apostasia”, because they never had the truth in the first place from which to renege, and they most certainly do not have the truth today.
In Galatians 1:8-9, we are instructed in no uncertain terms to preach only the truth: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
The true Church of God has always been a “little flock”. Jesus said in Luke 12:32: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The history of the Church of God has shown, down through the centuries, that it has always been a little flock, whilst the Roman Catholic Church has grown to a membership of around a billion people. The rest of the professing Christian world is about another one billion people, many of whom are nominal members.
It must be remembered that “a falling away” doesn’t have to be millions of people. It is a falling away from a small flock, which the Church of God has always been, and therefore, numerically, won’t be millions of people. The “falling away” is only in connection with where the truth is and has been preached – and that is in the Church of God. We should also note that the Bible does not use the term, “great” falling away.
Paul’s warning for us today is therefore very sobering: Even though a falling away did undoubtedly take place at the time when a new administration came to power in the Worldwide Church of God, after the death of its human leader, Herbert Armstrong, in 1986, the apostasy from the truth within the Church of God will continue. As many fell away from the truth then, so many will still fall away in the future.
Many of us may remember that in the Worldwide Church of God, many things were changed, but the official explanation was that it was just another way of explanation or a “clarification.” That should be sufficient warning for all of us to be very careful, and check up on what the Bible actually says, rather than following any individual’s personal interpretations.
The reason for the ongoing apostasy, which will culminate just prior to Christ’s return, is clearly explained in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12:
“The coming of the lawless one [the man of sin, mentioned in verse 3] is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the LOVE of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them [allow them to receive] strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
There is also a warning about those who are always wanting to hear something new. In 2 Timothy 4:3 we read the following prophecy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.” Others teach falsely that the Church of God does not need any true ministers.
And so, we have been warned not to be deceived. We must heed the warning, lest we fall away from God’s Church and God’s truth.
Lead Writers: Brian Gale (Great Britain) and Norbert Link