The Falling Away
After the Lord was resurrected from the dead, he spent forty days on earth revealing himself (Jn 21:1-2) and revealing the gospel mission to his disciples (Matt 28:18-20, Mk 16:15-16). In Luke’s account of these events Jesus tells his disciples that they are supposed to remain in the city until they are “clothed with power from on high” (24:49). I can only imagine the thrill of anticipation that those apostles must have had as they awaited “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). It was like lining up for the greatest race that would ever be run and waiting for that gunshot.
That gunshot, the “promise of the Father”, was realized after the Lord ascended into heaven on the day of Pentecost. It began with a great sound, accompanied by the apostles being able to speak in languages that they had never learned (Acts 2:2-6). Peter would be the first to preach the Gospel. He began by quoting from the prophet Joel, who prophesied of “the last days”. Peter was letting everyone know that this is what Jesus had been preparing them for. "Clothed with power from on high" and having entered into "the last days", it was now time to ring out the Gospel message.
Upon preaching the facts about Jesus and convicting them of their sins, we find the crowd “pricked in their heart” and asking Peter, “what shall we do?” (37). Peter responded to them “repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of sins” (38). Then we see that there were a number who were baptized, and as they were baptized, they were “added” to the body of Christ (41). This is the birth of the Church of Christ.
Besides the death burial and resurrection of Jesus, the establishment of the Lord’s Church should be the most significant day to every one of us. This is the establishment of the church that Jesus will save (Eph 1:22-23, 5:23). This is the fulfillment of the eternal purpose that God had in saving man (Eph 3:10-11). It is not wonder that these first members of the Lord’s church were “steadfast” in learning everything they could about the doctrine of the church (Acts 2:42).
The Lord’s Church is precious in every way. It is unfortunate that mankind will often times forget what they have. In 1799 a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Conrad Reed was playing in a creek when he spotted a shiny rock. He took it home and showed his dad but they didn’t really know what it was. So, they used it as a door stop for the next few years. It turned out that the shiny rock was actually a 17lb piece of gold. That is a 500,000-dollar door stop!
Eventually people forgot what they had with the Church. They began to use it as a door stop instead of treating it like “pillar and ground of truth” that it is supposed to be (1 Tim 3:15). This happened quickly after the establishment of the Church.
Around thirty years after the day of Pentecost, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. He begins by addressing a big problem in that congregation. There were little denominations that were forming. Paul said that some were claiming to be of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Peter, and some of Christ (1:10-13). His remedy for the problem is two-fold.
First, they must to come to the same “mind and judgement” concerning the authority of the Church. Christ is the head and members must be subject to his authority (Eph 5:23-24, Col 3:17).
Second, they needed to be taught the same doctrine. In 4:17 Paul tells them that he is going to send Timothy to teach them the doctrine of the Church of Christ. He says that it is the same doctrine that he teaches everywhere. Jude, the half brother of Jesus, echoed these same words as he said the teaching of Jesus was “once and for all delivered” (Jude 1:3).
In 2 Thessalonians Paul tells the Christians that there would be a great falling away. He said this falling away would include a figure “setting himself in the temple of God setting himself forth as God” (2:3-4). Many people view this to mean the Papal system of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is referred to as the “Vicar or Christ”. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, that title is “implying his supreme and universal primacy, both of honor and of jurisdiction, over the Church of Christ”. What this means, is that the Pope has authority to create, alter, or overlook what the bible says. If they papal system is not the great falling away that Paul warns of, they sure have done their best job to try to be.
There is also a way in which the prophecy of Paul is being fulfilled every day. Every time a new church is formed that operates differently than the church of the New Testament you have someone, somewhere, setting themselves in the temple of God. Do you know why people get away with this? Do you know why there was a great falling away? It is because people allow it. It is much easier to trust a person who appears pious and religious, than it is to study on your own. We are witnessing today how the “falling away” occurred in the first century. People are heaping up teachers according to their own lusts and desires (2 Tim 4:3-4). If Jesus wanted his church to be fractured into a bunch of different groups that bend to every whim, desire, and trend of the world he could have built those churches. But he didn’t. He built one Church, with one King, and one teaching.
The people of Acts 2 desired to be a part of the Church that Jesus wanted. Shouldn’t that be what you desire too?