Two thousand years ago, Christianity was a relationship with the Living God, Jesus Christ. It required neither creed nor human organization because it relied on the vitality of Jesus Christ—its source and head. In the centuries that followed many have looked back mournfully and wondered how this divine phenomenon devolved into a mere human movement, institution, and lifestyle. The change was swift.
The apostle Paul witnessed its beginning and wept at the thought of what would take place: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:29–31). The thorough infiltration and perversion of the truth has not merely resulted in a cacophony of confessions but also a condition where empty professions of faith outnumber true conversions. The transformation this has effected is stunning. Outwardly, the church has gone from defying convention to upholding and sanctifying it. Inwardly it has rejected the repentant sinner in favor of the well-varnished Pharisee.
Apostasy is the natural destination of a merely outward faith. When a person declares Christ as Lord for the sake of personal gain instead of genuine conviction then only the circumstances need to change to provoke a wholesale rejection of His name. Therefore, it is not surprising that apostasy would be on the rise at a time when the name of Christ means so little to the Church. Many of us could add names of close friends and family to the group now represented by popular figures such as Miley Cyrus, Dr. Bart Ehrman, and Joshua Harris who have walked away from the faith. In fact, Joshua Harris’s defiance of the Lord Jesus is only a recent and well-publicized example of an ongoing exodus of young people from the Christian confession. What should our response be to this?
The Book of Daniel was written to guide the devout through times like these. Idolatry had been accepted and acclaimed in Israel centuries before Daniel was born. In Daniel’s day apostasy had grown to such a degree that it was a common denominator of every social class and role in the kingdom of Judah (Jer. 5:30–31, 8:4–6, 42:1–44:19). How many still sought God once they were carried away to Babylon? Daniel’s example and the visions given to him had tremendous value to those Jews who still clung to God and His promises. They offer the same insight and encouragement for believers in our time.