Antichrists: When pagans wanna see Christianity gone.

Sometimes they’re against all religion. Sometimes just us.

Antichrist /'æn.tɪ.kraɪst/ adj. Against Christ: Those who object to him or his authority, refuse to recognize him, and counter others who do.
2. Rejects the orthodox Christian view of Jesus of Nazareth: Insists Jesus isn’t Christ, isn’t divine, isn’t human, isn’t historical.
3. Claims they, not Jesus of Nazareth, are Christ. (See #4; the beast is presumed to be such a person.)
4. [uppercase] The beast Rv 13.7 or man of lawlessness; 2Ti 2.3 an End Times figure who attempts to deceive and rule the world, whom Christ Jesus defeats at his return.
[Antichristian /æn.tɪ'krɪs.tʃən/, antichristlike /æn.tɪ'kraɪst.lɪk/ adj.]

You noticed four definitions of antichrist up there. The most common usage in our culture—both popular culture and Christian culture—is the fourth, the uppercase-A Antichrist, the beast of Revelation 13.

It might surprise you to know the beast is never called an antichrist in the scriptures. Seriously. Christians just got into the habit of referring to the beast as Antichrist in the middle ages. It stuck. But in the bible it’s just “the beast.” The apostles reserved the word antíhristos/“antichrist” for what I’m writing about today: Various pagans who happen to be anti-Christ.

You know the type. They’re not just your ordinary unbeliever. Two-thirds of the people on this planet don’t figure Jesus is Lord. Doesn’t automatically make ’em antichrists. To become an antichrist, you gotta actually be anti-Christ: They’re against him. They’re not passive nonbelievers; they wanna fight him. Sometimes the idea of him. Sometimes literally him. (Although they’ll never admit this, ’cause they insist they don’t believe in him. But if he were standing right in front of them, they’d totally wanna knock him out.)

In recent decades Christians—with a certain level of worry—have pointed to what they fear is an upsurge of “New Atheism”: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, Michael Newdow, and various vocal antichrists. Nontheists who bash religion in general, but really go after Christianity with hammer and tongs. These Christians fear the militant nontheists may convince more people to reject and fight Christianity, and maybe even try to get it banned in our homelands. First in the public square, then in private.

I have a longer memory. There have always been militant nontheists. Back during the Cold War, when the God-fearing United States was battling the godless Communists, nontheists were looked on with suspicion—they were considered radicals, possibly treasonous, ’cause they were undermining good ol’ fashioned American values and society. The more outspoken an nontheist got, the more backlash they got. But they were definitely around. Noam Chomsky, H.L. Mencken, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Linus Pauling, Ayn Rand, Gene Roddenberry, Gore Vidal, and others were outspoken against religion and Christianity. Ask any nontheist nowadays about their forebears, and they’ll kindly point ’em out to you.

Now that the Red Menace is no longer so menacing, militant nontheism has gone mainstream. These “New Atheists” feel free to be openly critical of Christianity—and they get away with it partly ’cause it’s easier to be an nontheist nowadays. Nobody doubts your patriotism anymore, even though nontheists still rarely get elected to public office. Plus God hasn’t struck any of these guys down with lightning. True, that’s mixing up the vast differences between the infinitely gracious Jehovah and the knee-jerk reactions of Zeus; but of course nontheists don’t care, ’cause all gods are the same to them.

I should point out nontheists tend to be the most obvious antichrists, but they’re far from the only ones. Don’t forget other religions. Judaism doesn’t recognize Jesus as Messiah, and sometimes its practitioners attack him lest anyone get the idea Jews can become Christians (which they totally can). Certain Hindus are outraged at the way Christianity tends to level their caste system, so they fight it vigorously. Certain Muslims are offended that Christians consider Jesus way more than a prophet, and likewise fight our beliefs and get downright antichristian. But there remains a big difference between religious and irreligious antichrists: The religious ones remember to behave with some degree of goodness. The irreligious ones don’t feel any such restriction whatsoever.

When churches manufacture antichrists. Or not.

Believe it or not, there are such creatures as Christian antichrists: Self-described Christians who nonetheless would really like to see Christianity gone, and Christ’s influence nullified. They want to sin. John described ’em like so.

1 John 2.18-19 KWL
18 Children, it’s the last hour, and just as you heard “Antichrist is coming!”
many antichrists have happened already—so we know it’s the last hour.
19 They came from us. But they weren’t one of us, for if they were, they’d have stayed.
But this should reveal they aren’t from any of us.

Time will come they’ll grow tired of us Christians, leave, and have nothing further to do with us. In the meanwhile they’re going through the motions. Badly.

  • They’re the kids whose parents force ’em go to church, but they think all the Christianity stuff is boring, impractical, and probably phony.
  • They’re the wives whose husbands nag ’em into coming to church with them, or the husbands whose wives bullied ’em into making appearances lest more people at the church think she’s a single mother. They don’t wanna be religious, learn anything, know anyone, do any more than put in their time, then go home. They figure they’re fine with God as-is.
  • They know what the church and pastors teach. But they have their own opinions about Jesus. He’s a nice guy, a good moral teacher, and kinda important. But not God, not Messiah, not authoritative, not alive. Growing relationship with a dead guy? Never gonna happen.

Antichrists are the product of Christianists who grow weary of their façade, leave the church, quit Jesus, turn nontheist, and start mocking their old phony lifestyle. They learned how to fake the fruit of the Spirit, how to fake supernatural acts, how to fake prophecy, how to fake the feelings of God’s presence… and they presume everybody’s faking it just like them.

There’s been a trend among Christians for the past 30 years or so: We claim people turn antichrist (or turn pagan, or stay away from Christianity) because of Christians behaving badly. Just like Father Brennan Manning’s spoken-word intro to the 1995 DC Talk song, “What If I Stumble?”:

”The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today are Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.“

All due respect to Manning, but he was incorrect. That’s what nontheists claim is the problem, the cause, the thing which drives ’em away from Christianity. But that’s rubbish. Misbehaving Christians are nontheists greatest single excuse.

The cause, as usual, is good ol’ human depravity. People wanna do as they will. If they believe in Jesus, they’ll try to invent ways around him, like cheap grace or reinvention. And if they don‘t believe in him, they’ll feel no need to get around him; to them, he’s not even there. But they may feel the need to get around us Christians… and how they do it is to try the guilt card. “If you Christians were just more like Christ, I’d believe.” It’s the very same crap the Judeans tried to pull on Jesus with “Show us a miracle and we’ll believe.” Jn 6.30, Mt 12.38 No they won’t.

Bad Christians are an easy target. Make it simple for antichrists to point at ’em, and claim we’re the rotten fruit of a rotten religion. There, I don’t disagree. True religion is following Jesus, and a lot of self-described Christians aren’t bothering to do that. They’re doing their own thing, slapping a veneer of Jesus over it, and calling it Christianity. It’s false religion. I can’t blame antichrists for wanting to smack it down; I kinda want to join in.

You may have encountered the typical phenomenon of nontheists and ex-Christians who don’t object to Jesus. In fact they kinda like him. They read the gospels; he’s all right. But his followers are doing a rotten job of following. Again, I can’t object much to these folks; they’re right.

So why do antichrists start sniping away at Christ Jesus himself? Couple reasons.

  • They were raised pagan. Had no beliefs one way or another about Christ. Till they met militant nontheists who insisted religion is stupid, religious people are fools, and religious leaders (who’d include Jesus, I suppose) are con artists. They fell in, and now proclaim the same thing. But they’re not speaking from any experience. Just regurgitating stuff they’ve heard. Makes ’em feel good to imagine they haven’t been brainwashed by overzealous hypocrites who unquestioningly follow the teachings of a few charismatic preachers… hey, waitaminnit.
  • They were raised or influenced by bad Christians who seriously botched their representation of Jesus. The bad Christians were jerks, who claimed Jesus authorized their awful, control-freak behavior, and was kind of a jerk too. The antichrists feel they’re quite right to object to a bad founder of a bad religion. Like the jerklike Christians, they found a few verses they could quote out of context which make Jesus sound overzealous, crazy, or violent, and that’s how they choose to reinterpret him. Or they adopted some of the weirder ideas about Historical Jesus, and are attacking that guy.
  • They knew Christians who made really outlandish claims about Jesus. Made him sound like a genie who’d grant every wish. Turns out he’s not that way at all, and once he told them no, they felt betrayed, blamed him… and figured they’d get him back by quitting him. Thanks to popular fiction, many Christians naïvely think every antichrist is bitterly trying to take revenge on Jesus for their disappointments. Nope. It’s a percentage, but ’tain’t that big.
  • Actually they don’t think Christ is awful. But they’ve found when they bash him a little, it really freaks out the Christians. That’s the goal. Besides, they figure Jesus is long dead, so who’s it hurting?… other than the Christians.
  • They joined a religion who sees Christ as competition. I already mentioned a few. They wanna neutralize Jesus’s influence. So they reinterpret him, or even slander him, through that religion’s lenses.

Basically comes down to ignorance, willful or not; or intellectual dishonesty.

Dishonesty’s a pretty common behavior we find among antichrists. Like I said, misbehaving Christians aren’t the real problem. Our misbehavior is their smokescreen.

They’ll claim they were raised Christian, but hypocrisy made ’em quit. The dishonest part is whose hypocrisy made ’em quit: Their hypocrisy. They never wanted to know Christ, so they never did. I grant they might’ve held some beliefs, or even had personal experiences. But like the Hebrews in the Exodus, none of ’em really sunk in. If they really knew God, they’d be fine with leaving his bad followers, but they’d find some way to stick with God, at least. Nontheism wouldn’t be an option. Neither would going antichrist.

Identifying antichrists.

Antichrists outside our churches are really easy to identify. They’re quite bold about the Jesus-bashing.

But what about the potential antichrists within our churches? The antichrists in training? Well, I already pointed out a few of the signs they’re going in that direction. But in general, watch out for their fruit of the Spirit—or more precisely, their lack of it. They’ll stand out quite clearly.

We need to identify these folks for two reasons: First they’re evading Christ, so we’ve gotta see what we can do to get ’em to really, authentically encounter Christ. Kill off any future excuse they may have that they never really found God in their churches, never really saw anything. Make sure that yes, they did indeed. Sometimes it’ll stop their apostasy dead in its tracks. Hate to tell you, though: Sometimes they’ll leave anyway, and ruin themselves all the more by denying what they truly saw. Either way, we did our job of actually introducing them to Jesus.

Second, we need to make really sure they never slip into leadership positions. ’Cause they can. And do. All the time. A nice guy becomes the music pastor, or youth pastor, or small group leader, or Sunday school teacher… and he has doubts, or she has heretic ideas, or he’s fruitless and graceless and backbiting and unkind (but talented!), or she’s checking out which boys in the youth group she could get away with nailing (but she’s the pastor’s daughter!). It’s every church’s worst-case scenario, but it’s way too common. These folks get found out, kicked out, and spend the rest of their lives bitterly denouncing Christianity and Christ. How’d they slip past us? Because we were looking at their façade, not their fruit.

Watch out, John reminded us. Don’t fall for any good-looking, impressive-sounding Christian. Test ’em. 1Jn 4.1-6 Check for humility. Make sure they actually do know Jesus. Look for fruit. When in doubt, nudge ’em towards God-encounters. Make it impossible for them to stagger in any antichrist direction, ’cause they know Christ. Make sure of that for yourself, while you’re at it.