There have been a number of occasions in the history of the Church of God when members have fallen away from the truth. We know of at least two. In the early centuries of the Church, many fell away, and some of the beginnings of this are recorded in the New Testament (1 John 2:19, 1 Corinthians 11:19, 3 John 9-11). And in our time many members fell away from the truth after the death of Mr. Armstrong.
Besides those two occasions there may have been other occasions we do not know about in the last two thousand years. And there may be future occasions when Church members fall away once more.
We also know that a great worldwide deception with a false prophet showing signs and wonders will come upon the whole world (Revelation 13:11-15).
Some say that the term "falling away" in verse 3 of 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2 refers to one or more occasions when Church members fall away from the truth, and others say it refers to the coming worldwide deception.
Some say that the coming great deception of the world by Satan and the false prophet cannot be called a "falling away", and that is what I will address in this post.
This is the third post in this blog about the falling away issue. The first is
"The Falling Away in 2 Thessalonians 2:3"
The second is "Is the Falling Away Doctrine a Critical Issue?"
Most of us have assumed that the great false prophet will teach all the beliefs, doctrines, and practices of an existing major religion that is not the true religion of the Bible. But the teachings of the false prophet may not be exactly the same as that of any religious body today. The religion of the false prophet may be far worse than any false religion that has ever existed on earth to this time.
When Satan knows that he has but a short time, I think he will go all out to turn mankind against God, more than he has ever done before. And he will make war against God's saints as he has never done before.
The religions of this world have a mixture of truth and error. Not everything they teach is wrong. False religions today are against God, but in a subtle way. Many of them acknowledge God's existence, they teach that God has all power, that He is all good, etc. They have a number of points of truth.
There are many churches in traditional Christianity that have points of doctrine we don't agree with but also have points of truth we share.
Take the Catholic Church as an example. While we do not agree with the Catholic Church on many points of doctrine, and we know they do not correctly understand the Bible, they do have many points of truth. They teach that God exists. They teach that God is all powerful and all wise. They teach that Jesus Christ is God, that He lived a sinless life, and that He suffered and died for us to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven, and that both God the Father and Jesus Christ love mankind. They teach against abortion, homosexuality, pre-marital sex, etc. And unlike some Protestant groups, they do not teach that the ten commandments are done away. I do not say that they understand, believe, and obey them perfectly. They do not understand that the second commandment is separate from the first and prohibits the use of images in worship. They think that the fourth commandment is about resting on Sunday. But they do at least acknowledge that the commandments have authority.
They do teach that Christians should practice forgiveness and kindness to others.
And believe it or not, the Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is true. Where they are in error is in thinking that the Catholic Church and its traditions have the authority to interpret the Bible rather than letting the Bible interpret itself.
So they have a number of points of truth.
Can Catholics "fall away" from that part of the truth, or some of it, that they have? Of course they could, if God allows Satan to deceive them about those points of truth.
Could Satan lead the false prophet to teach heresy worse than anything taught by any so-called "Christian" church in the history of the world? Yes.
Could he lead the false prophet to teach traditional, mainstream Christian churches of this world to "fall away" from one or more points of truth they still have? Yes.
There may be indications in the Bible that the false prophet and beast will teach some things different from any Christian denominations in existence today. It won't necessarily be the Catholic religion as we have known it.
"Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done. He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall exalt himself above them all. But in their place he shall honor a god of fortresses; and a god which his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and pleasant things. Thus he shall act against the strongest fortresses with a foreign god, which he shall acknowledge, and advance its glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and divide the land for gain" (Daniel 11:36-39).
Notice, he shall not regard the "God [or god] of his fathers" (verse 37). That doesn't sound like he follows the mainstream, traditional "Christian" values he was raised in. "He shall honor a god of FORTRESSES" (verse 38). That sounds like some kind of war-god, a worship of and glorification of military force, not mainstream Christianity as we know it today.
We have seen something like this in modern times. In Germany, under the Nazis, there was something like a religion of this sort. It was not the Catholic Church. It was Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. They virtually worshipped military force. They openly glorified war. And the Nazis required the people to virtually worship Hitler.
The Nazi party was very much like a religion in those days. It was much more than a political party. And it was state-enforced. It was complete with ceremony, ritual, symbols, and emotional fervor. They even used the name of God and allowed use of religion, but within the framework of Nazi ideology. But it was very unchristian.
If Satan inspired Nazism, he may have been practicing a kind of dress rehearsal for what he has in mind for the future.
"He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, Shall persecute the saints of the Most High, And shall intend to change times and law" (Daniel 7:25).
We may think of traditional Christianity trying to change "times and law" by substituting Sunday for the seventh day Sabbath. But Daniel 7:25 seems to be talking about a change that will be attempted in the future, not the substitution of Sunday for the Sabbath that happened centuries ago. The substitution of Sunday for the Sabbath that began almost two thousand years ago may be a small foretaste, a type.
At least today we still have the weekly cycle, unbroken since creation. But that could change.
I read an article many years ago about a proposal for calendar "reform". The idea was to change the calendar by making every month start with the first day of the week and every month be exactly four or five weeks. In each quarter there would be two 4-week months and one 5-week month, exactly 13 weeks each quarter. The new calendar would have two "world day" holidays each year that would not be counted as a day of the week. Thus, the weekly cycle would be broken. Imagine what that would mean. Today you tell your boss, "I can't work on Saturdays". Then, in six months, you have to say, "I can't work on Friday". Then, in another six months, you have to say, I can't work on Thursdays".
Perhaps something like this is what Daniel 7:25 is referring to.
What if the false prophet and beast teach, "God and Christ exist, but they are not always good. They can sometimes be evil - they are not perfect. They also make mistakes."
What? You say that can't happen, that mankind would never believe that? I'm not that sure. I don't want to underestimate Satan's power of deception. Mankind may be almost ready, at a subconscious level, to believe God is evil even now.
What could Catholic and Protestants fall away from? They could fall away from any point or points of truth they have. They could fall away from believing that God and Christ are all all-good, all-wise, or all-powerful. They could fall away from believing that the Bible is true even as interpreted by the Catholic Church or any church - they might just come out an openly say, the Bible is false and wrong. Even if they continue to teach that God inspired the Bible, they can teach that God inspired falsehoods to deceive people.
They could fall away from believing that Jesus never sinned. They could fall away from accepting the weekly cycle, continuous from creation.
Pick any point of truth that traditional mainstream Christianity has, and Satan could deceive members of mainstream churches into falling away from that point of truth.
So yes, it is possible that the great deception to come can be a "falling away", a departure from what was previously believed, and a more intensified rebellion against God that will come upon the whole world.
Some may say that most of Europe is non-religious, secular, materialistic, atheist. But there are still millions who consider themselves Christian, and if they fall away from the truth they have it will certainly be a great falling away.
Even the change from quiet atheism to a severely anti-God religion, a religion that worships and glorifies war and violence as a way of life, a religion that openly blasphemes God, can be a falling away in the sense that those who make this change will be more hostile towards God under their new religion than they were before as atheists.