In 1987, we founded The Church of The Apostles in Atlanta with fewer than forty adult members. We never dared imagine we would one day become a congregation of more than three thousand members.
We didn’t choose the name of our church. We belonged to a mainline denomination at the time, and the man who had authority over me named our congregation “The Church of The Apostles” as an act of mockery. He said, “Because you and your church members are so big on believing the Bible and preaching the gospel, we will call your congregation The Church of The Apostles.”
Sadly, this man did not believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. He rejected faith in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God, and the only way to God the Father. He rejected belief in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
“We don’t need evangelicals and gospel-preaching churches in our denomination,” he told me. “The only reason we are allowing you to start this church is that we know it will fail. Don’t quit your day job. This church will close its doors in less than six months.”
So we called ourselves The Church of The Apostles. Over time, the name he intended as mockery proved to be a name of blessing. In the midst of this post-Christian, post-truth culture, we continue to bear witness to the biblical, historical gospel of Jesus Christ. We take the Bible at its word, and we do not add anything or subtract anything.
In recent years, a number of church leaders have announced their departure from orthodox, biblical Christianity. They believe that by eliminating certain Bible passages, ignoring certain doctrines, or dispensing with the Old Testament, they can make Christianity more palatable to the twenty-first-century world. They believe they can “save” Christianity by gutting it.
One author suggests that to “save” Christianity, we must shed the theological baggage of the Virgin Birth, the atoning death of Jesus, and the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus (which this author compares to “the Emperor’s invisible clothes”).
In their foolish enthusiasm for “saving” Christianity, such leaders have left us with a Jesus who was born out of wedlock, who suffered from delusions of grandeur, who was crucified for nothing, who is still dead and buried, and who is never coming back. The apostle Paul warned in 2 Timothy 3:5 against so-called “Christian” teachers who have “a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” Paul is describing, with uncanny precision, the kind of teachers who claim to be “saving” Christianity by eliminating the very elements that make Christianity Christian.
Does Christianity need saving?
What an absurd question! Jesus saves. His gospel is the Good News of salvation. It’s not our job as Christians to save Christianity. God did not call us to revise the gospel to make it more palatable to the anti-Christian, post-Christian world. Rather, He calls us to believe the Good News of Jesus Christ and proclaim it to this dying world.
Those who have fallen away from orthodox Christianity in order to “save” Christianity have lost sight of the gospel that sets people free. They are so focused on so-called “social justice” that they never tell the poor and oppressed how to be justified by faith. They spend so much time railing against economic poverty that they haven’t a word to say about spiritual poverty.
Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:15-17). Satan seeks to infiltrate the church with wolves who look like sheep, talk like sheep, act like sheep, and dress like sheep—but once they are inside the fold, they revert to their wolfish ways. Apostasy is always an inside job.
Many churches that claim to be evangelical are led by people who have never internalized the Good News, the evangelium of Jesus Christ. Not every churchgoer, not every pastor, not every author or speaker in the church is an authentic believer. Some are wolves in sheep’s clothing. I can’t judge anyone else’s faith or motives. But Jesus calls us to discern the fruit of their lives, the fruit of their words and deeds. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20).
In the epistle of Jude, we find this word of exhortation: “Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 1:3-4).
Jude doesn’t merely say, “Contend for faith.” He’s not talking about any old faith. He says, “Contend for the faith.” He is speaking of that body of biblical truth that was taught by Jesus, handed down to us by His apostles—the rock-solid foundation of what we believe as Christians. We are custodians and stewards of the faith, and it is a weighty responsibility.
I once served as the trustee of the last will and testament of a wealthy business leader. That responsibility caused me three years of heartburn and sleepless nights, because several family members bitterly contested the will. I told them, “I’m responsible to carry out the last wishes of the one who entrusted this responsibility to me.”
The Lord Jesus has entrusted something infinitely more valuable to us. He has entrusted the faith to us. He has entrusted His gospel to us. Will we prove worthy of that trust? Are we committed to safeguarding His truth and contending for the faith?
In John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” That promise still holds true today, in this post-Christian, post-truth world. The gospel of salvation by grace through faith is an anchor that holds. It’s the truth that sets us free.
Michael Youssef, PhD, is the founder and president of Leading The Way and the founding pastor of The Church of The Apostles in Atlanta. His latest book is Saving Christianity?: The Danger in Undermining Our Faith—and What You Can Do about It.