It is an interesting phenomenon which has been observed over the years, that many of those who have been considered Church members leave the Church of God in a rather sudden manner, and that they immediately turn to the wrong things and behavior patterns which they rejected, while “in” the Church. This abrupt rejection of the Truth can be stunning and confusing if we don’t understand why this is happening.
There are certainly numerous reasons which we could address. In this Q&A, we want to focus on the more obvious ones. But first, we want to show from the Bible that such conduct is indeed prophesied. It happened already in the days of the apostle Paul and before, and it has continued to happen ever since, while it will be finding its climax in the days just ahead of us.
After Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong’s death in 1986, a new administration came to power which began, slowly but surely, to water down and finally change outright the core doctrines of the Church. When they finally ended up doing away with the observance of the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days, the teaching of clean and unclean meat and tithing, vast groups of Church members quickly followed their wrong teaching. The very same day when Mr. Tkach, the “successor” to Mr. Armstrong, gave his infamous sermon on these above-mentioned topics, many members went out that same evening to eat pork. Again, the question is, why and how could something like this happen that quickly?
Over the years, when members disassociated themselves from the Church, they immediately began to eat pork, celebrate Christmas and Easter, and reject the observance of the weekly and annual Sabbaths. We ask again, how could it happen?
The apostle Paul wondered about the same phenomenon. He phrases his puzzling observations in these terms in Galatians 1:6-7: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Christ warned in the parable of the sower that some would hear and immediately receive the word with joy, but because they have no root in themselves, they only endure for a while and when problems come, they immediately stumble and leave (Matthew 13:20-21). Others may hear the word but don’t really understand it (even though they may think that they do), and so Satan comes and immediately snatches away what was sown in their hearts (Matthew 13:19; Mark 4:15). In all these cases, their departure from the Truth comes quickly and suddenly.
When someone detaches himself and cuts himself off from Christ as the vine, he will wither away (John 15:1-6). This process occurs quickly. Christ showed us how quickly this can happen when He cursed the unfruitful fig tree. We read that “immediately the fig tree withered away” (Matthew 21:19), so that the disciples asked, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” (verse 20).
God warned the entire nation of Israel that if they were not to obey Him but rather do evil in His sight to provoke Him to anger, they would “soon utterly perish” and be “utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26). At the time of Moses, Israel “turned aside quickly out of the way” which God commanded them, by building a golden calf (Exodus 32:8).
When God opens our minds to His Truth, He wants us to change for the better. It is not enough to hear the word and even accept it, but we must carry out what we know. If we refuse to do so, we cut ourselves off from the vine and we will wither away… and it will happen quickly and suddenly. James 1:22-25 tells us: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
God is patient with us, but there comes a time when His patience runs out. When we refuse to repent and just attend the church for “show,” perhaps for improper ulterior motives or because it looks good and is expected, then He will take away what we had or thought we had. The parable of the talents is quite revealing in this regard. The lazy servant who refused to use the talent which had been given to him, but buried it in the ground, found himself deprived of it (Matthew 25:24-29). God took away from him whatever knowledge He had given him. Being without spiritual knowledge, a person withers away and returns soon to the pollution of this world which he had left behind for a while.
2 Peter 2:20-22 explains very succinctly:
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”
The key to proper understanding in this context is: It will happen quickly because God will have decided to withdraw from them by taking away His knowledge from them (which might have motivated them not to sin) and becoming “a swift witness” against them (Malachi 3:5).
When we really commit to God and His Church, we do so after having proven to ourselves what the Truth is and where it is being taught (Romans 12:2). We convinced ourselves that the Truth of God is most important to us, which we would never forsake… under no circumstances. We counted the costs before becoming baptized (Luke 14:28) with the commitment never to forsake this Way of Life (compare Luke 9:62). We did not act hastily, on the spur of a moment. Isaiah 28:16 reads: “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; WHOEVER BELIEVES WILL NOT ACT HASTILY.”
In our Q&A on this passage, we stated: “Many, who are not really called by God to salvation, act very ‘hastily’ or ‘with excitement’ when they hear God’s Word proclaimed to them… As the recent history in the Church of God has shown, many who supposedly had ‘started’ did not continue. They just gave up, embracing the pleasures and philosophies of this world, which they supposedly left behind when they ‘embraced’ God’s Way of life… Many once seemingly understood those teachings… How much time had they spent PROVING the Truth to themselves? Were they EVER converted?…
“A true Christian who believes in God the Father and Jesus Christ, and who is willing to OBEY them, will not act ‘hastily.’ He understands that his decision to follow God, and to be baptized as a consequence, is a life-long commitment…”
Many of those who attended the Church and subsequently left it were never truly converted, as John explains in 1 John 2:15-19:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
John is saying that the love of the Father (which is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us at the time of baptism, cp. Romans 5:5) was not in them; that is, they never received God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit might have been working with them, giving them some spiritual knowledge (John 14:17), but their love for the world never died, until it finally conquered them once again.
When that happened, all godly knowledge disappeared, and the person departed quickly and suddenly, deprived of spiritual understanding and being enslaved again and held captive (2 Timothy 2:26) by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Pride can be an important factor in motivating a person to forsake the Truth. Pride was King Saul’s downfall… he was once little in his own sight, but then pride overtook him, and he became rebellious against God’s Law.
When we don’t prove the Truth to ourselves and LOVE it, we will walk away when the opportunity arises, and we will do so quickly and suddenly. Paul prophesies this and warns us at the same time, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12:
“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one 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 strong delusion [as they will be deprived of spiritual knowledge], that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
As mentioned, this will occur quickly at that future time, but the principle of sudden departure from the Truth has been in operation all along. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 gives us this timeless warning: “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.”
However, we read in 2 Thessalonians 3:5: “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.” This would also apply to those who have left God’s Church. God wants them to accept His gift of repentance (Romans 2:4) and return to Him, even if this means becoming baptized (again) to receive for the first time God’s Spirit and with it the love of God (which is the keeping of God’s commandments, 1 John 5:3). Even though they departed quickly, God is quick to forgive upon genuine and sincere godly repentance. The choice is theirs.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link