The year was 1939, and the Spanish Civil War was almost over. Just outside Madrid, the rebel general Mola was ready to begin his attack. Someone asked which of his four columns of troops would be the first to enter the city. “The fifth,” he responded. His answer became world famous. The general’s most important column was a hand of rebel sympathizers inside the city. They were already behind the Loyalist lines helping him.
Since then, the term fifth column has been used worldwide. It describes traitors who assist the enemy from within.
Betrayal is an ugly business, and yet it is common throughout history. Through the centuries even the church has had its traitors. Some professing the Christian faith have attacked Scriptures, denied Bible doctrine, and sown division
The Bible uses the word apostasy to talk about opposition from within. Apostasy is opposition to the Christian faith from people who once professed the faith and may still call themselves believers, but who have joined hands with the opposition.
Apostasy has left its sorry wake in every generation. The Bible tells us that it will run its course and will ultimately disappear forever under God’s eternal rule.
The Greek term from which we derive apostasy means “falling away.” In New Testament times, to apostatize meant to desert a station or post. By their apostasy, professing Christians say to the church and to the world, “The things the Bible teaches aren't what they seem to be. This truth is not a truth.”
Apostates are the fifth col umn inside the church. The New Testament book of Jude tells us in verse 4 that they have come into the church by deceit.
We might ask, “Were these really true believers?” John says they were not. We find his answer in I John 2. “They went out from us,” he writes in verse 19, “but they were not of us.” And then he adds, “If they had been of us (if they had been bona fide believers), they would have continued with us” (NKJV).
In the church’s early years, apostasy was already rearing its ugly head. In the year A.D. 85, the aged apostle John wrote, “Even now many antichrists have come” (I John 2:18; NKJV). The book of Jude was written because apostasy had already appeared. Other books such as Colossians, were written because of this same need.
In our day, some once great denominations have been weakened by apostasy. Some Christian colleges and seminaries have been weakened by professors who deny or water down the Bible as the Word of God. Thousands of well-intentioned people have graduated from these schools and then been sent out to preach — without confidence in the gospel message.
As a result, some Christians in the pews have been spiritually neglected, misled and blinded by unbelief.
Life a whirlwind, apostasy sweeps on, taking its toll. Yet there are at least four things we can do to combat apostasy.
Recognize it. Many Christians do not see or hear the signs of apostasy. An alarm should sound in our minds and hearts when we hear or read a message that says the Bible is not the Word of God. We should be able to catch the slightest suggestion that there is a way to eternal life other than through Jesus Christ.
Resist wrong teaching. If you find errors, do something. Raise a firm, yet gracious question, and warn others if error does exist. Jude urges us “to contend earnestly forthe faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3; NKJV). We have a responsibility to see that the faith given to us is not altered as we pass it on.
Refuse to assist apostasy. In his second letter, John proclaims this burning warning:“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (vv. 10–11; NKJV).
Renew your love. The Bible challenges us to renew our love for Jesus Christ. Jude closes his letter on apostasy with a call to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (v.21; NKJV). Continual renewal in God’s love is the key to combating apostasy.
Reprinted with permission from the Octoher 98 issue of Moody Magazine.