As I listened to the evening news, each report seemed almost identical. The questions had begun. Who was Adam Lanza? Did he act alone? The weapon used? How did he get it? Was he on meds? Seeing a shrink? What about his mother? By Monday morning, the questions had changed to analysis, and now the media was seeking someone to blame: If we had better gun control laws … If our schools were more secure … If our mental health system better funded… . The experts gave their opinions — psychiatry, academia, law enforcement, specialists in government studies, it seemed as if no stone was left unturned.
I found myself listening in unbelief. To our experts, gun control was the best solution of the day (BTW, Connecticut has one of the strongest gun control laws in the nation), followed by better school security (some even suggested arming our teachers with guns!), and overhauling our mental heath system (how do you do that? More Ritalin?). To me — the solution was different, totally. The problem was spiritual — and until we address the spiritual problem, the next “Newtown” is just a matter of time. What’s more — our experts are either not allowed to ask such questions or the questions are not even on their radar — in any event, questions that have spiritual answers are rendered irrelevant. The experts would likely get fired if they asked such questions! Our dilemma is sort of like someone dying of pancreatic cancer who goes to their dentist seeking diagnosis and treatment. Not likely to cure the disease by pulling teeth.
“Wrong arena for God-talk,” you say? But suppose God is the only real solution? What then? Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I concur that the public arena is certainly where questions such as gun control, school security, or mental health are addressed; but does that mean the public arena cannot also guide its citizenry to seek spiritual solutions so that both public and spiritual spheres (church and state), operate together?
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In my studies as a pastor, I came across a research study published a number of years ago that is astounding in its conclusions, particularly in light of the tragedy we have just experienced. The research study is entitled, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities, by the Commission on Children at Risk, a panel of leading children’s doctors, research scientists and youth service professionals (not chosen based on religious credentials). The objective of the panel was to identify new strategies to reduce the currently high numbers of U.S. children who are suffering from emotional and behavioral problems such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, and thoughts of suicide. The Commission concluded that:
1. The mechanisms by which we become and stay attached to others have a biological basis and are increasingly discernible in the basic structure of the brain;
2. Nurturing environments, or the lack thereof, influence the development of brain circuitry, and the way genes affect behavior;
3. The old “nature versus nurture” debate … is no longer relevant to serious discussions of child well-being…;
4. Primary nurturing relationships influence early spiritual development, and spiritual development can influence us biologically in the same ways that primary nurturing relationships do…;
5. Religiosity and spirituality significantly influence well-being;
6. The human brain appears to be organized to ask ultimate questions and seek ultimate answers.1
Of course, the part of the recommendations most important to this writer were those recommendations dealing with the importance of spirituality as a determining factor of the well-being of children; and, that these recommendations were made based on scientific research conducted in the public versus religious sphere (rather than what my Sunday School teacher taught me which has no relevance to a secular audience).
As I listened and reflected on the talk of our experts following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wondered why there was absolutely no God-talk. I was just as surprised (although delighted) when the President used God-talk when he announced the tragedy at Sandy Hook. The President quoted Scripture in both his opening announcement about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, and then again in his address at Newtown High School, a few days later. The President began Newtown by quoting 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:2; and, he closed by asking God to bless our nation, as well as those who had lost loved ones in the tragic event. If the “arena” is wrong such that no God-talk is allowed by our experts, then why is it right for the President to use it? Why was the President the only voice that had the “permission” (or courage) to quote Scripture?
During this same period of time, I came across a letter from a public head administrator who made this statement in her letter to families. Notice her closing paragraph particularly as it compares to the President’s remarks:
Parents/guardians can support their children by allowing them to express their feelings about these events and letting them know it is normal to feel upset. Here are a few suggestions for supporting your children through the next several weeks …
We [the organization of which the administrator is head] are keeping the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this tragic event in our thoughts. (Emphasis added)
So what good is that going to do? To keep the families of the victims in “our thoughts”? Can we “think” their grief away? Or the fears away of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary (or our own children)? Why couldn’t this leader (and a host of others) not say “in our prayers” rather than “in our thoughts”? How confusing is that language to a child ( or anyone who doesn’t know that “thoughts” is a code-word in the politically-correct public arena for prayers, thoughts, reflective moments, etc.)? And, here is the related side issue: there is a sense in society that something is woefully wrong; whether in the recurrence of “once in a lifetime” storms, the economic crisis in Europe (and the world), the wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East, eastward to Afghanistan/Pakistan, and southward to Africa, and most of all rooted in, and against, Israel, the covenant people of God whose name cannot be mentioned in the public arena, except in code, and then only in times of grave national crisis by the one leader who cannot be fired — something is wrong.
As I pen these words, it is December 20, 2012. The Mayan calendar predicts the world will come to end on December 21, 2012 (since you are reading this I suppose it tells us something about the reliability of the Mayan Calendar as a source of truth). Go to the movies and your selection will likely be limited to something about the end-times, or a super-hero saving the world, or some new virus destroying the world — it seems the world believes the end is near. Yet, in spite of this, we do not allow ourselves to consider the spiritual implications of the world ending on 5/21/12 (not that I think it is, mind you); nor the fact that a twenty-year old man systematically blows his mother’s brains out, then deliberately kills twenty children below the age of ten. What does it mean when our society no longer talks about God — or when evil seems to be encroaching upon our front porch, regardless of how close Newtown, Connecticut may be?
I think there is one passage particularly relevant to our time:
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 (NASB) 1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
The key part of the passage is verse 3, “… for [the return of Christ] will not come unless the apostasy comes first,…” What is “the apostasy” that must come first — even before the Antichrist?
The word “apostasy” translates from the Greek word, apostasia (ἀποστασία) meaning,
apostasia is a rare noun denoting “apostasy,” or rebellion against God, and found only twice. Acts 21:21 contains the accusation against Paul, charging him with inciting Jewish people literally to “teach rebellion” against Moses, dissuading them from having their children circumcised. 2 Thess. 2:3 refers to the anticipated “apostasy” or “rebellion” of the last days when many would abandon the faith.2
The Acts 21:21 passage cited above refers to accusations made against the Apostle Paul accusing him of “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” Applying the word to the modern-day requires us to look for a general forsaking or falling away from God, the Church, and the teachings of Scripture, that appears to be voluntary rather than forced.
Pew Research Center recently published (October 9, 2012) research that was shocking to many in the Christian community, particularly those in mainline denominations. The executive summary states,
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
Particularly disconcerting in the Report is this statement:
The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.
In other words, only 1/3 of the younger generation (of which Adam Lanza was a part) considers themselves affiliated with any religious denomination at all. That is almost 3x times higher than those of the 65+ generation; and, with the passing of each year the percentage will increase as the older generation perishes and the younger generation replaces them. By shere mathematics, the “light” of God will become less “lighting,” and the darkness of the world will fill the void left by the absence of light.
Americans recently survived the 2012 elections which included three states that approved by popular vote some aspect of same-sex unions. These three victories for the gay movement are particularly relevant when one considers that prior to the November, 2012 elections, gay marriage opponents enjoyed a 14-year, 32-state winning streak with state voters.
Pope Benedict XVI in his annual Christmas address to the Vatican bureaucracy made the following statements opposing the gay movement (12/21/12):
The Vatican’s opposition to gay marriage has been falling largely on deaf ears. Under then-Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the largely Roman Catholic Spain legalized gay marriage. Three U.S. states approved same-sex marriage by popular vote in November elections. Earlier this month, the British government announced it will introduce a bill next year legalizing gay marriage, though it would ban the Church of England from conducting same-sex ceremonies. … In France, President Francois Hollande has said he would enact his “marriage for everyone” plan within a year of taking office last May. … [The Pope stated], “When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God,” … .
My point is specific: when world-wide society at all levels (other than Muslims) chooses to redefine as right what Scripture clearly defines as wrong, the world that we live in is forsaking God and His teachings — that is what apostasy is.
I am not so naive to define “the apostasy” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 by one belief — same-sex unions. I could offer you many examples the sum of which point us to the same conclusion. One of the more shocking, however, was discussed in a research report entitled “Pastors Who Are Not Believers,” by the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, under the direction of Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola (both atheists). Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, makes this statement about the research report:
“Preachers Who Are Not Believers” is a stunning and revealing report that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy, and hypocrisy that staggers the mind. In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, “On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. “These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.”
If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them. If they will not “out” themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to “out” them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?
Another important aspect of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is that apostasy has the definite article “the.” It is not “an apostasy” but “the apostasy.” Apostasies have occurred since the time of Christ in varying degrees. One of the most significant occurred in the 4th century AD under the persecution of Roman Emperors, the most significant of which was Emperor Diocletian. Many Christians became apostates because of spiritual weakness in the face of torture at the hands of the Romans. These individuals did not forsake their Christian faith out of disinterest; rather, “they simply had not the courage to confess the Faith steadfastly when threatened with temporal losses and severe punishments (banishments, forced labor … death), and their sole desire was to preserve themselves from persecution by an external act of apostasy, and to save their property, freedom, and life.”3 The Catholic Church, in fact, labeled them “lapsis.” There were even sub-categories of lapsis depending upon the extent of the lapse in faith; yet, “it was a well-established principle in the Church of the second and beginning of the third century that an apostate, even if he did penance, was not again taken into the Christian community, or admitted to the Holy Eucharist.4
The lapse in faith in the 4th century was not because of a general falling away and forsaking of one’s faith, but rather, a falling away because of the horror of persecution, and the threat of death and/or loss of property. In the view of this writer, the apostasy under Emperor Diocletian is not “the apostasy” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, if for no other reason, the Greek word used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is used in only one other place, Acts 21:21; and there the meaning is the forsaking of one’s faith, not under threat of persecution but because one voluntarily chooses to leave the faith in favor of another faith or no faith at all.
In the 21st century, people are falling away from God, the Church, and from the teaching of Scripture. Witness: the absence of God-talk in the conversation of our leaders following the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School. What does this have to do with the “Adam Lanza’s”? The “Lanza’s” are those whom the darkness has so encroached upon that they have been lost unto the wolf, satan:
John 10:11-12 (NASB) “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
Apostasy is what leaves society defenseless against satan. Christ puts it:
“Matthew 5:13 (NASB) 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
Apostasy is another way to say the “salt has become tasteless.” When the salt looses its saltiness, it ceases to preserve, protect. The result is the wolf is more free to roam and destroy because the salt (and light) is not as present to restrain him (2 Thessalonians 2:7) for when the people of the light cease to shine their light, when the salt looses its saltiness, the darkness will fill the void. The “Adam Lanza’s” become the wolf’s next victim. and when the wolf claims a victim there are always the innocents who perish.
Jesus — come quickly. The apostasy is upon us (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
- Hardwired to Connect:The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities, Press Release, September 9, 2003. [↩]
- Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts. [↩]
- http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09001b.htm [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]