Is it possible that Christianity may have been radically transformed in previous centuries? Surprising as it may seem, both Jesus Christ and the apostles warned of changes that would come in the Church. Were these empty warnings, or did Christ foretell a subtle yet deadly threat to the religion that bears His name?
Notice the ominous tone of His warnings to His followers: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15). He explained: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' " (verses 21-23).
Jesus knew that some would feign obedience to His teachings, but their actions would reveal their motives. "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" He asked them (Luke 6:46, emphasis added throughout).
How would this be possible? Shortly before His death, Jesus described to His disciples the trends that would begin in the near future and culminate before His yet-future return to earth. He warned of false teachers who would "rise up and deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). Many of these would claim to come in His name and represent Him (verse 5), yet they would teach a different message. Many would fall prey to their deceptive teachings, Christ warned.
Notice that the deception would center on His person. They would rightly say Jesus was the Christ, yet deceive many. The issue turns on obedience to Christ (Luke 6:46). Worshiping Jesus Christ should always be accompanied by keeping the commandments of God. These deceptive trends would include "false christs and false prophets [who] will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24). So great will be their beguiling powers and teachings, said Jesus, that even those firmly grounded in biblical truth would be in danger of being led astray.
Did this great work of deception begin in the Church as Jesus prophesied? Yes, it did. The apostle Paul issued this sad prediction to the congregation in Ephesus: "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:29-30).
Echoing Jesus' words about those who would distort His words to teach lawlessness-disobedience to the instructions in God's law-Paul observed that "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work" (2 Thessalonians 2:7) and will continue until Christ puts an end to it at His return (verse 8).
The apostle Peter also warned of this deceitful influence at work in the early Church. "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1).
In the same way the apostle John cautioned the brethren in the Church, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
Considering these warnings and statements, we would do well to examine the roots of Christianity and see whether these trends did, in fact, influence the Church and possibly what you believe! GN