Author’s Note: This article was completely rewritten on 7 Feb 2020.
Over the last 2 millennia or so since Christ’s resurrection, Christian doctrine has slowly and inexorably been infiltrated by corrupting influences. There is a constant battle between the plans, purposes, and intentions of the Almighty versus our satanically-deceived human tendencies to hinder/interfere with them using our own limited understanding and corrupt value systems.
That’s the bad news.
The Good News is God sits in heaven and laughs at our futile attempts to impose our puny will upon His plans, then goes right on doing whatever He had already purposed from before the foundations of the world, all of it for the good of mankind in general and ourselves in particular.
One such corruption has been people who go around blaming God for killing and/or maiming people, causing disasters, and a bunch of other evil stuff having nothing to do with the One True God, the Creator of the universe, and His Son Jesus. The really depressing part about all of this is Christian ministers and theologians — the very people who should be getting it right! — are the major sources of such doctrinal twaddle.
The blame for all such corruption can be laid at the feet of something called “Christendom.”
Christendom is the organized expression of Christianity. It consists of the multitude of denominations and other church organizations arising from past moves of God in the earth. Each such move has devolved in the intervening years since they occurred into being rigidly traditional, institutionalized, and intolerant of competing doctrinal positions.
Unfortunately, what Christendom teaches and stands for is often far, far removed from the actual teachings of Jesus and what He stands for. Some denominations have become so corrupt doctrinally they can no longer be accurately called “Christian.”
Because of this, pop culture looks at Christendom and makes the perfectly reasonable — but totally mistaken — assumption that Christendom = Christianity, and responds with, “Sorry, we’re not only completely disinterested in what you have to say, but we are totally offended by it and reject it! You are judgmental, bigoted, intolerant, and hateful!” Whenever critics and skeptics speak out against Christianity, they are most often opposing some expression of Christendom.
Which begs the question: how did Christendom get that way?
The short answer is the pervasive encroachment of what I call “Man’s Religion” into the fabric of Christian doctrine.
Jesus took very specific pains — both literally and figuratively — to differentiate Himself from every other religious leader who has ever lived, before or since. Christianity in its purest form is a totally unique departure from every other faith on this planet — and God intended it to be that way from the get-go.
If we are going to win people to Christ, we have to present the real Jesus with an attitude reflecting the real heart of God, using the methods and principles taught us by the real Holy Spirit as He reveals God’s Word to our hearts, rather than preaching the religious concepts, doctrines, and traditions of men.
So let’s take a deeper look into what defines Man’s Religion.
The Origin of Man’s Religion
You want to know who were the very first people to practice Man’s Religion? I can tell you precisely who they were, where they lived, and even their names:
Adam and Eve in Eden immediately after the Fall!
Let’s turn to the Book of Genesis and read what happened:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.
And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” — Genesis 3:1-13 (emphasis mine)
So we can safely conclude Man’s Religion is all about fear, guilt, shame, and “fig leaves.” because we have an inherent racial (human race) fear of angry deities.
Because we are ashamed of ourselves and our behavior, we hide, looking for fig leaves. As we’ve just read, fig leaves were what Adam and Eve vainly attempted to cover themselves with after they sinned, representing the first dead religious works ever recorded.
And mankind has been trying on various forms of fig leaves ever since.
A fascinating sidelight about fig leaves:
- The leaves of the fig tree are covered with fine hairs which easily penetrate the skin thereby causing serious itching, and;
- The sap of the fig tree is a strong skin irritant.
The hysterically humorous aspect to these particular agricultural factoids when associated with Man’s Religion is this: out of all the trees in the garden they could have chosen, Adam and Eve used these leaves to cover their private parts and hide their nakedness!
In a word: Oops!
The stupid “fig leaves” mankind has invented over the millennia since have only gotten worse!
A pastor I know once said,
Of all the sins and evils we can think of, religion is by far the worst. Religion has caused more people to miss salvation than all the other sins and evil combined. Not only that, religion has been the worse persecutor of the Church in the history of mankind.
We human beings have been in open warfare with God ever since the Fall of Man and have been trying to make peace with Him until now. The sticking point in the negotiations is that He steadfastly refuses to accept our terms for His surrender.
What’s a Religion?
Before we can contrast Man’s Religion with Christianity, there is value in defining some terms so we’ll all be singing off the same page of the hymnal. I’ve adapted here some definitions presented by the esteemed sociologist and expert on the sociology of religion, Dr. Rodney Stark of Baylor University, in his excellent book, Discovering God.
- supernatural beings having consciousness and intentions.
- explanations of existence (or ultimate meaning) based on supernatural assumptions and including statements about the nature of the supernatural, which may specify methods or procedures for exchanging with the supernatural.
A fundamental aspect of religion is an exchange relationship between humans and deity. Since gods are the only plausible source of many benefits humans greatly desire, the most basic religious questions are:
- What do the god(s) want?
- How can one gain his/her/their favor?
Not surprisingly, humans answer those questions based on how they view their god(s). When people conceive of God as a Being of infinite power and scope, their answers tend to emphasize morality, good works, and faith. But when gods are conceived of as “humans” possessing superpowers, those answers tend to focus on basic human needs and desires — food, drink, wealth, sex, and deference.
- somewhat mysterious forces or entities above, beyond, or outside nature and which can control, suspend, alter, or ignore the natural order.
- how deity(ies) has/have communicated with mankind, specifying his/her/their nature, attributes, will, desires, as well as the rites/rituals required to earn/deserve his/her/their favor and blessings. These revelations are codified into one or more books.
- one or more human beings to whom have been given revelations by one or more deities. Founders evangelized those revelations to others and through them to yet others, and so on, thus building the critical momentum required for the religion to sustain itself over time after the founder’s death
- those who serve in a relatively formal role as intermediaries between humans and deity. They usually preside over the rites and rituals of their religion. As Plato explained, priests “understand how to offer our gifts to the gods in sacrifices in a manner pleasing to them, and they know, too, the right forms of prayer for petitioning the gods to bestow blessings on their worshippers.”
- Measures and procedures for exchanging with the supernatural, including various prayers, sacrifices, feasts/festivals, dietary restrictions, modes of dress, pilgrimages, and methods of worship. They can also include a system of ethics and morality.
- verbal communication with diety made by priests or lay persons
- things given up or foregone so they may be offered to diety.
- traveling to various holy places as a ritual defined in a religion’s revelations
- accounts which may happen in this world or in “another” world, but include active supernatural participants.
- church/state separation
- In ancient civilizations the concept of a “state church” didn’t really exist because people did not distinguish them as separate institutions. Sometimes the high priest ruled the state. Often the ruler was head of the religion, in fact as well as in name. And sometimes the ruler also was regarded as a god.
Each of the expressions of man’s religion in the earth has one or more books containing their “revelations” and mythology as well as describing the behaviors, festivals, rituals, offerings, and rules of conduct demanded by their specific deity(ies) in return for his/her/their blessing(s) upon the lives of the “faithful.” Such blessings usually include:
- Sufficient rain at the appropriate time during a crop cycle thus producing financial/dietary abundance,
- The health/fertility of livestock as well as families,
- Protection from catastrophe/evil/demons/ghosts/etc.,
- Victory in war,
- A host of others too many to list here.
In polytheistic religions such as Hinduism, specialized deities exist for each of their areas of “expertise.” Patron saints serve a similar purpose within Roman Catholicism. In a monotheistic religion such as Islam, Allah is the sole dispenser of blessings and curses.
Further using Islam as an example:
- Revelation — the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sunnah
- Myths — descriptions of Muhammed’s encounter with an angel in a cave who ostensibly dictated the Qu’ran to him, the myth that Muhammed ascended into heaven from Jerusalem (point of fact: he actually never got within a 100 miles of that city), etc.
- Priests — Their priests are called imams
- Dietary restrictions — no pork; all meats must be prepared by halal butchers
- Pilgrimages — making the hajj to Mecca at least once during their lifetimes
- Offerings — money given for the poor
- Ritualized prayers — 5 times daily facing Mecca, prayer beads to count the 99 repetitions of the dhkir; specific physical motions and postures are required when kneeling for prayer
- Fasting — the entire the month of Ramadan
- Shrines/mosques/holy places — e.g., the Ka’aba in Mecca
- Festivals — Ramadan, Mawlid-Al-Nabi, among others
- Expected behaviors — the Shahadah (declaration of faith) the advancement of Islam by any/all means available/necessary, including violent conflict (jihad )
- Modes of adornment/attire — hijab, burka, etc. for women, takiyah (knitted skullcaps) for men, especially during prayer
- Church/State Separation — non-existent because, by its own definition, Islam is a theocracy. This theocracy is best exemplified in the current government of Iran, but is pervasive throughout all regions controlled by Moslems
Man’s Religion Summarized
A quick summary of man’s religion sounds something along the lines of:
- A deity (whether one or many, he/she/indifferent) is on some cosmic balcony looking down on us. Depending upon what flavor of man’s religion one adheres to, he/she/they is/are either completely hands-off and doesn’t care what we do, or is standing there with a bolt of lightning in hand.
- He/she/them often think(s) we are low-down dirty-rotten worms who deserve to die horrible, lonely deaths.
- Because of that, he/she/them is usually terribly annoyed with us and is constantly looking for someone to hurl that lightning bolt at, that taking the form of some horrible calamity or death.
- If we do enough stuff he/she/them considers ‘good’ or ‘right,’ he/she/them just might be appeased enough to not zap us with it. If we work really hard at it, he/she/them might even reward us with the odd blessing or two every so often.
- Occasionally, his/her/their cosmic practical-joke department draws our number and kills us or our family members or our crops or our livestock, destroys our jobs or homes, or smites us and/or our loved ones with various and sundry diseases, or puts us squarely in a war zone.
- Everything occurring in this world, good or evil, happens because he/she/them directly caused it, so we are all helpless victims in his/her/their hands.And so on and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
- Failure to sufficiently atone for “sins” causes you to end up in their concept of “hell”
- Followers never know in this life where they will eventually land in whatever they conceive of an afterlife. It’s always a crapshoot.
So no matter which of these other religions we may select, there is a set of rules stating, “Do this, don’t do that, cut this off, grow that out,” etc., etc. Followers dedicate themselves in varying degrees to these rules with mixed results. When they die, they never know what their afterlife will be like. Like all good human beings who fear the unknown, fear — especially far of death — is their shared predominant characteristic.
Every world religion, philosophy, or cult — other than a Bible-based, New Testament understanding of the nature of God — meets these criteria.
Biblical Christianity Defined
Biblical Christianity proclaims something completely different:
- God has a grand narrative for the universe and mankind and invites us to join Him by taking our places in His story.
- He created the world good and mankind very good. God delegated His authority over this world to mankind.
- Man rebelled against God and turned that authority over to God’s psychopathic enemy, Satan, who has ruled this world ever since. His single-minded desire is to steal, kill, and destroy God’s creation. The world groans in agony under his rule.
- Mankind has rejected God’s story and assumed the authorship of their own stories ever since. The world and everyone in it have suffered the consequences of this: war, famine, sickness, and every other form of evil.
- God is loving, gracious, and full of mercy. He loves each of us as individual human beings. He desires to have an intensely intimate, personal relationship with each of us.
- He recognized we could never join in such intimacy with Him by merely following a set of rules (indeed the rules just make us want to rebel all the more) because we are hopelessly corrupt regarding our intellect, perception, morality, and motivation. No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape our own innate selfishness.
- He sent a His Son Jesus on a rescue mission. Jesus was born of a human mother as simultaneously 100% human and 100% God. He lived a sinless life, then was scourged and died on a cross, thus taking the punishment for the sins of mankind. Three days later, God raised Him from the dead to be alive forevermore. Because He died an unjust death as a sinless Man, He won back Supreme Authority over the earth and everything in it.
- God gives us the result of that incredible act as a free gift. All we have to do is accept His gift is by faith submit to His absolute authority over our daily lives, whereupon we immediately qualify for heaven.
- At that same moment, He also empowers us to live a loving, moral life by showering us with grace and inhabiting our physical bodies through the Holy Spirit.
- He gave us a “manufacturer’s handbook” (aka the Bible) showing us how to maintain healthy relationships with Him and with one another. God’s rules are not standards determining our eternal destiny, but comprise the boundaries inherent to every healthy relationship — God always maintains healthy relationships!
- God guarantees us a place in heaven based solely upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross, not our performance against a set of rules.
- He sends us out to proclaim this Good News (gospel) to everyone. Please note the Gospel is news, not instructions. This is one of the many things differentiating Christianity from other faiths. We are given Good News, not New Rules.
Please take note this list is not all about our performance and behaviors, but is about what He did/does in and for us. As we humbly submit to Him, He renews our minds to think, act, and react more and more like Him, thereby changing our behaviors from the inside out.
Man’s Religion Invades Christianity
The encroachment of Man’s Religion began almost immediately after Jesus ascension as Satan attempted to destroy the legacy of Jesus’ perfect work of redemption. This attack took place on four fronts, three of them heresies in the most definitive sense of the term:
- Persecution (torture, death, imprisonment, social/financial ostracism)
This heresy arose from Jewish converts to Christ taking great offense at the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, especially after Gentiles (non-Jews) started accepting Christ in significant numbers. Those Jewish believers were seriously cheesed at the idea their lifelong efforts to keep the Mosaic Law were now null and void. The idea Gentiles were now permitted complete justification before the throne of God apart from those cherished and closely-held laws simply poured gasoline on that blaze.
The Apostle Paul tacked this one head-on and quite thoroughly in his letter to the Galatians. The entire book can be summed up in one phrase:
Grace + Works = Works
The incredible tragedy is this particular heresy has pervaded Christendom to the point where it pretty much resembles every other world religion. This includes every so-called Christian denomination basing a believer’s relationship upon following a set of rules, such as Roman Catholicism, the classic Pentecostal “holiness” folks, as well as certain old-time Methodist and Baptist denominations.
Somehow or another this zombie of a heresy keeps rising from the dead, trying to eat the brains of biblically illiterate members of the Messianic Jewish community despite Paul’s valiant attempt to decapitate it. The most recent crop of folks who seem to have forgotten Galatians even exists in the New Testament are called the “One Law” movement.
To disambiguate this term, this is neither referring to teachings of white supremacy (Aryanism) nor one of the opposing philosophies to Calvinism (Arminianism).
It refers to the heresy authored by a man named Arius, who stated:
If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.
The bottom line to his assertion is Jesus was a created being, rather than eternal God pre-existent with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This contradicts the essential Christian doctrine stating the fact Jesus was and is 100% human while simultaneously being 100% God.
Arianism was declared a heresy by the First Council of Nicæa in 325AD and is the basis for the Nicæne Creed.
Emperor Constantine (more on him later!) was baptized by an Arian bishop as an Arian disciple, so his claims of being a Christian convert lack credibility, especially in light of his persecution of those who espoused trinitarian theology, such as Athanasius, who penned the Athanasian Creed.
The most pervasive modern-day expression of the Arian heresy is the cult of Mormonism.
This heresy attacks the other leg of Christ’s incarnation by denying Jesus’ humanity. Their fundamental error was deciding all flesh is inherently evil, therefore Jesus could not possibly be human in the truest sense of the term.
Gnostics are also all about “secret knowledge” being required to know/access God. Many gnostic texts deal not in concepts of sin and repentance, but with illusion and enlightenment. Almost all of the non-canonical “gospels” written in the 2nd century AD (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, Apochryphon of John, et al ) as championed by the likes of Dan Brown and other fantasy authors of his ilk were gnostic philosophically and one of many reasons why they were rejected by the aforementioned First Council of Nicæa.
Gnosticism finds its modern-day expression in the mind-science cults as well as the New Age movement, but not in any denomination proclaiming itself to be Christian (at least that I am aware of as of this writing).
The bottom line is every cult system ever invented proclaiming itself to be “Christian” incorporates one or more of these 3 basic heresies to some degree or another. Admittedly, these 3 summaries oversimplify things a bit, but this is a brief overview of Church history, not a treatise on Christian heresies, so let’s move on.
So How Did All This Happen?
The oldest and most egregious example is Roman Catholicism.
At the time of the Council of Nicæa, the Roman Empire was still the big kid on the block, but rapidly deteriorating as a world power. Two separate plagues had decimated its population, leaving vast areas of territory completely uninhabited and therefore undefended, ripe for invasion by neighboring barbarian tribes. Christianity became the dominant religion of the empire despite three centuries of murderous persecution by a host of Roman emperors because of how Christians handled their own sick folk as well as their afflicted pagan neighbors during those plagues, along with several other factors.
Despite virulent persecution, the Church had grown by leaps and bounds through the preaching of the Word, the signs which followed — miracles of healing and other supernatural works — as well as their demonstration of the love of Christ towards one another and the lost. That being said, by the time the Nicæan Council took place, the church had already begun to lose the supernatural through institutionalization.
Constantine Fixes What Ain’t Broke
Constantine (remember him? I warned you we’d come back to him!) became the emperor through winning a crucial battle, prior to which he dreamt of a cross and heard words to the effect of “By this sign, you shall conquer.”
Upon his ascent to the throne, Constantine had the bright idea of removing the stigma and persecution attendant to being a Christian. Years later, one of his successors, Emperor Theodosius, made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
As I’ve already expressed, in my humble opinion Constantine was not even close to being a believer. I also believe his dream was not from God, but the devil, who decided to change tactics. Persecution had spurred that pesky bunch of Christ-followers to explosive growth rather than extermination, so Satan tried going to the opposite extreme: destroying the Church through social acceptability and internal corruption. All that being said, I’m in no position to speak to the condition of any man’s soul, past or present, so you are under no obligation to agree with my opinion.
Anyone’s opinion — even mine — concerning the state of Constantine’s soul is absolutely irrelevant, however. What is completely relevant is the end result turned out to be precisely what I just described: being a Christian became socially acceptable and politically desirable.
Constantine began to impose Greek-style (aka pagan) religious practices, leadership hierarchies, and meeting places upon the Church. Here is a non-exhaustive list of examples:
- Instead of meeting house to house, basilicas were built or converted from pagan temples where the faithful were to gather for worship. Over the ensuing centuries, these temples became more and more elaborate and expensive.
- An artificial distinction was introduced into the Body of Christ, dividing it into clergy and laypeople. Instead of elders being elected from and by their local congregations, they were replaced with full-time professional priests empowered through a central-church-government-imposed approval process called ordination. The sacerdotal functions (conducting water baptisms, marriages, and funerals) were thereafter reserved to clergy members alone.
- Rather than worship being active in nature and conducted in the languages specific to a church’s geographic location, it became mandatory for it to be conducted in Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire. The major problem was the vast majority of the Empire’s populace could not speak or understand Latin, only Koine Greek (the empire’s universal language of commerce, the same language in which the New Testament was written) as well as their local dialect. As a result, worship became passive as the congregations simply stood there and watched priests worship on their behalf in a language incomprehensible to them.
- Not only did the priests worship on the congregation’s behalf, but they also prayed on their behalf as pagan priests did.
Because Constantine was ostensibly a Christian, everyone wanting to curry favor with him had to appear they worshipped the same God. As a result, rampant corruption immediately began to set in.
Once being a Christian became desirable for those on the path to political power within the empire, power-hungry pagans began confessing false allegiance to Christ. At the same time, they also began infiltrating the Church through the ecclesiastical sin of simony, the buying and selling of priesthoods and bishoprics to anyone who could afford the fee.
From that time forward until well into the Renaissance, rich men could buy themselves or their male relatives positions as priests, bishops, and cardinals without any of them ever having been ordained or even baptized. Church offices became a means for rich patrons to ensure their shiftless progeny would be able to find employment, thereby lending additional prestige to the family name and/or to help line family coffers.
As a result of this influx of unbelievers into church leadership, all forms of sin became rampant within the church leadership. Despite the implementation of the false teaching that priests, bishops, and cardinals must remain celibate, sexual immorality was pervasive — many church leaders had multiple illegitimate children by their mistresses and homosexual relationships were not unheard of.
It has been documented that for centuries, many priests were so illiterate they could not read or recite the Mass in Latin, could not recite any of the creeds, any portion of the Bible, or even the Lord’s Prayer — many of them could not even read and write in their own native tongue!
Because of all this, a bunch of false doctrines — some of them outright heresies — pervaded Roman Catholicism, all of them with us until this day. A non-exhaustive list of examples include:
- The veneration of the pope as being infallible, i.e. incapable of making mistakes or uttering a false statement. Along with this, the exaltation of the pope to be superior to God’s Word (the Bible) as the sole authority over faith and practice. This authority is exercised through the issuance of papal bulls which are treated as holy writ binding upon all Catholics worldwide.
- Salvation by good (remember the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians already mentioned earlier? Grace + Works = Works)
- The exaltation and veneration of various saints (e.g. starting with the original 12 apostles)
- The exaltation and veneration of Mary (a medieval heresy which came into existence when a member of the Cult of Mary was elected pope)
- The veneration of holy objects (e.g., the bones of saints, the Shroud of Turin) which Catholics actually pray to.
- The veneration of holy sites (e.g., the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem) to be used as destinations for pilgrimages.
- The exaltation of communion to be a requirement for salvation. Thus when one was “excommunicated” for heresy or disobedience to the church, just to name 2 potential offenses, one was barred from communion and thus condemned to eternal torment.
- The requirement for last rites to be performed by a priest so one could enter heaven.
- The doctrine of purgatory, a holding place between heaven and hell. According to official church teaching, “all who die in God’s grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified” undergo the process of purification which the Church calls purgatory, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”
- Celibacy for priests, monks, and nuns
- Establishment of the confessional where Catholics must go to confess their sins to a priest. Penitents must complete their penance (another false doctrine found nowhere in the Bible) in order to receive absolution (another word found nowhere in God’s Word). Absolution means a penitent’s sins are forgiven, thus qualifying them to receive communion. Some folks’ sins (mostly royalty) were of such magnitude they were forced to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem or participate in the Crusades.
- And the false doctrines just keep on coming!
The eminent Dr. Rodney Stark of Baylor University wrote:
Keep in mind that dissolute living was not peculiar to popes or even to the hierarchy in Rome. At all levels of the church, everywhere, notorious clergy prospered. Many priests kept concubines, came to church drunk, or didn’t show up at all, and otherwise discredited their offices. Not all, of course, but many. — The Triumph of Christianity (p. 302)
Monastic movements arose attempting to correct this rampant corruption. As a result, the church became split into the Church of Piety and the Church of Power. Stark continues:
In many ways the Church of Piety was sustained as a reaction against the Church of Power. It pressed for virtue over worldliness, as would be expected given that most of its leaders as well as its rank-and-file were monks and nuns…Naturally, those living an ascetic life felt themselves spiritually superior to others, as was in fact acknowledged by Catholic theology. However, their antagonism toward the regular clergy, and especially the church hierarchy, had a different basis; it was not merely that these men were not leading ascetic lives, but that so many were leading dissolute lives. This was an issue that would not subside. Again and again leaders of the Church of Piety attempted to reform the Church of Power, and during several notable periods they managed to gain control of the papacy and impose major changes. But most of the time, the “church” was the Church of Power. This may not have been entirely due to Constantine. Once it became the dominant religion, Christianity was bound to become more bureaucratic and worldly. But Constantine made this shift occur very rapidly and to a remarkable degree. — The Triumph of Christianity (p. 303)
The Church of Power unfortunately held sway until the Protestant Reformation despite several efforts at reform over the centuries. Most attempts at reform were deflected by the creation of new monastic orders so their religious fervor could be contained through isolation to a monastery. When the Reformation hit, the Catholic Counter-Reformation theoretically brought the Church of Piety back into power from then until modern times, but in fact the Church of Power simply went underground, the Catholic version of the so-called Deep State in American government.
The Origins of Cessation Theology & Other False Doctrines
Cessation theology is a false doctrine which has been around for centuries. Its core tenet is the idea the Holy Spirit stopped doing anything supernatural through rank-and-file believers and church leadership after the deaths of the original 12 apostles. While the Catholic Church always has acknowledged the existence of the miraculous, most such events either have to do with certain locations (e.g., healings at the spring in Lourdes, France) or visitations of the Virgin Mary (e.g., Our Lady of Guadalupe). Indeed, to qualify for sainthood, those eligible for canonization must have performed at least one “miracle,” though that requirement has been fudged of late (e.g., Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II)
The origin of cessation theology is easily explained. When unsaved church leaders could not demonstrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit the first and second century Church considered normative, those leaders began to teach false doctrines to hide their “wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing”-ness. This put the coup-de-grace on the demise of the supernatural within the Church initially started by institutionalization.
Why? Because the Word clearly states signs and miracles are supposed to “follow those who believe” (Mark 16:17-18). These wolves could not perform miracles because they didn’t believe on Jesus to the point of salvation. They only gave lip-service to a weak, powerless Christ whom they served only for outward show, while they in fact served their own selfish ambitions for personal wealth/power, and thus the enemy.
The demonic doctrines arising from this tragic situation included concepts such as “divine healing ceased when the apostles died,” “God wants you to be poor,” “God causes personal and societal disasters for reasons we cannot fathom,” “the Jews should be punished because they killed Christ,” “only priests can have access to the Scriptures,” and “sexual pleasure between a husband and wife is sin,” just to name a few. Quite a few of these errors can be laid squarely at the feet of Augustine.
As a result:
- They couldn’t heal the sick folk who were brought to them.
- They wanted the people to remain ignorant, illiterate and poor to keep them in subjugation to both themselves and the political rulers they controlled through access to the “sacraments.”
- They instituted confessionals to control both the people and their rulers by knowing their secrets.
- They couldn’t explain things like the bubonic plague as attacks by the very person they served (the devil), so they either blamed it on God Who was supposedly judging them for their sins, or upon the Jews. They then justified that latter load of bovine scatology with the “blood libel”, taking Matthew 27:25 out of its context and blaming innocent Jews for the deeds of their own dark master.
- They kept the Bible out of the hands of the rank-and-file believer by refusing to translate it into the languages of the common folk to prevent non-priests from seeing the lies being foisted upon them by their godless leadership.
All this is just a short list of the corruption and abuses perpetrated by these charlatans. A comprehensive list would require an entire book to recount them all.
The Renaissance Through Today
In the early 1500s, the Catholic Church started selling salvation for money in the form of indulgences, thus creating the tipping point for the Protestant Reformation.
Prior to the Reformation, the Catholic Church had been governed for several centuries by lawyers of all people, rather than theologians. These lawyers had determined human reason and church tradition/dogma trumped the Word of God! (thanks for nothing, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas!).
Fast forward to modern times where we have rampant sexual misconduct and pedophilia committed by priests and bishops, all of it covered up for decades by other bishops, cardinals, and popes.
Here is how Catholic doctrines stack up against the criteria we’ve already established for any expression of Man’s Religion:
Ostensibly, it’s the Bible, but their version includes additional books known as the Apocrypha. These books were added after the Council of Nicæa closed the New Testament canon in 325AD. Judaism does not recognize these books as canonical to the Old Testament, either.
However, as I have already recounted earlier, the pope has been declared to be infallible and his bulls have been exalted to be superior to Scripture. These are the true governing documents of Roman Catholicism, all of them contradict the Bible, and are heretical on their face.
- Dietary restrictions — These no longer exist as of Vatican II (1962-1965), but for centuries Catholics were prohibited from eating any meat other than fish on Fridays.
- Pilgrimages to various holy sites — For centuries up through the present day, Catholics make pilgrimages to Israel and Jerusalem, so much so that their term for the area, The Holy Land, has passed into common parlance. Catholics also make pilgrimages to sites such as Vatican City, the spring at Lourdes, France, or Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Italy to see the Shroud of Turin, and scores of others.
- Offerings — Offerings are common to all organizations professing themselves to be Christian, but offerings in the Catholic Church are a “good work” through which one can purchase salvation for oneself or others (indulgences).
- Prayers — Prayers offered to the Virgin Mary, various saints along with the lighting of candles, all definitively idolatrous and heretical. Prayer beads are used help a Catholic keep track of how many times he/she has repeated the Rosary (a series of formalized prayers including the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary’s, and the Apostles’ Creed.
- Fasts — Abstaining from certain foods and luxuries during Lent, the liturgical season leading up to Easter Sunday.
- Expected behaviors — Attendance of Masses (Catholic church services).
- Participation in the confessional where one’s sins are confessed to a human priest, rather than directly to the Almighty.
- Sins are “absolved” once the person confessing has completed “penance,” a series of tasks to be performed before forgiveness can be realized. Such tasks can include repetitious recitations of the Lord’s Prayer, so-called “Hail, Marys,” and the Rosary. For serious sins, such tasks can be financially expensive and/or physically arduous/hazardous, especially during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The Protestant Reformation
Around the turn of the 16th century, several men of God came seemingly out of nowhere to declare the “emperor was naked,” to wit, the Catholic Church had lost its way doctrinally and become totally corrupt. Men like Luther, Knox, Calvin, Huss, Tyndall, Wycliffe, and others “protested” the corruption they saw in Catholicism and tried to “reform” the existing institution. All were rejected (excommunicated) by the corrupt Catholic leadership, some being tortured and killed for their beliefs.
Thus the Protestant Reformation came into existence. What many Protestants don’t realize is there were actually three separate Protestant Reformations:
- Martin Luther’s salvation by grace through faith
- John Calvin’s salvation by divine lottery
- The Anglican Reformation (Henry VIII wanted a divorce)
Unknown to most modern-day believers, the Protestant Reformation is still in progress 500+ years later. The initial corrections came about in reviving the doctrines of:
- Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation by works was history for the Protestants.
- The total efficacy of the Blood of Jesus for the removal of all sins, past, present, and future.
- No more confessionals, penance, indulgences, or purgatory.
- The priesthood of the believer. Believers no longer needed priests to talk to God for them, they could personally “come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
- The restoration of Mary to her proper place in history: the 100%-human virgin mother of Jesus — nothing more.
- The Bible was restored to its rightful place as our sole authority for faith and practice. Sola Scriptura (Scripture only) became one of the rallying cries of the Reformers. Luther, Wycliffe, Tyndale, and others translated God’s Word into the languages of the common folk (German, English, French, etc.). These new translations were mass-produced on then-new-fangled printing presses, and thus made available to the masses. This led to widespread Biblical and secular literacy among the populace.
During the initial stages of the Reformation, tens of thousands of people who protested the pervasive abuses and false doctrines of Roman Catholicism were dispossessed, burned alive as heretics, and put to the sword in open warfare.
The downside of the early Reformation is it didn’t go far enough in expunging Catholic error (aka the Rags of Romanism), so many of the old false doctrines from Catholicism were transferred intact and never even questioned, much less refuted. Cessation theology, the idea that God wants Christians to be poor, and infant baptism were the foremost among these.
Over the centuries between then and now, various moves of God have taken place in the earth, each of them replacing holdover apostate Catholic dogma with Truth. The most recent expressions of this have been:
- The Azuza Street Revival of the early 1900 brought the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and its gifts back to the Body of Christ.
- The healing revival of the late 1940s and early 1950s returned divine healing to the Church.
- The Charismatic Renewal of the 1970s brought the charismatic experience to believers transcending all denominational boundaries, surprisingly even extending into the cult of Catholicism to touch true believers still remaining there. The concurrent and inextricably related Jesus Movement blew out the cold, staid, tradition-bound denominational stereotypes for worship, fellowship, modes of dress, and methods of outreach to include those who did not fit previous stereotypes and never would.
- The Word of Faith movement of the 1980s and 90s taught us how to develop our faith in God’s Word, reemphasized the fact God has transformed us at the New Birth to be the righteousness of God in Christ, is always faithful to honor His Word, and He is willing and able to both heal us and bring us out of poverty.
But there are a multitude of believers and ministers who still to this day cling to the old Catholic errors and will defend those errors to the death, predominantly those who professing the tired old errors of Calvinism.
One of the callings I have as a teacher is to continue refuting such false doctrines so long as I draw breath.
But the Roman Catholic cult and traditional Protestant denominations are not the only ostensible Christians allowing Man’s Religion to take hold in their doctrines, not by a long shot.
On the Protestant side, we have untold thousands of believers and believer-wannabes who may have prayed a salvation prayer, but differ little from followers of other faiths in terms of their morality, ethics, politics, and world-view. They may faithfully attend various churches, but have little impact on the unsaved other than to run most of them off by being judgmental and hateful, rather than compassionate and loving. Their grasp of the Scriptures can only be described as abysmally bad. They are called “pietists” and many of them, tragically, are Internet trolls bringing reproach upon the Body of Christ in the public eye.
Let me hasten to clarify the Bible’s definition of loving compassion does not equate to the spineless and unprincipled tolerance espoused by pop culture.
The Apostle Paul summed up the whole issue quite nicely in his letter to the churches in Galatia:
Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. — Galatians 2:17-21 (MSG)
- Man’s religion is all about the rules.
- Biblical Christianity is all about our relationship with God and, flowing from that, with one another.
That’s a completely different kettle of fish, now isn’t it?
Settling the Matter in Your Own Heart
If, while reading this, the Holy Spirit has revealed you are trusting in your own dead religious works rather than Jesus for your salvation, there is a really simple way to remedy that issue once and for all. It’s as simple as A-B-C:
- Admit that you are a sinner, need a Savior, and are unable to save yourself through your own efforts.
- Believe Jesus loves you and He is the only One who can save you from hell. This means you trust Him to the point of surrendering your life to Him, allowing Him to “mess with your business” in every area of life.
- Confess aloud Jesus is now your Lord and you believe God raised Him from the dead.
Welcome to the family of God! You are now accepted in the beloved, a child of the King!
To grow in Christ, there are some things you will want to start doing regularly:
- Feed on God’s Word. Let Him speak to your heart, renew your mind, and teach you what this new life is all about.
- Pray to Him. Have a conversation with God, pouring out your thoughts, hopes, fears, emotions, and dreams. He is safe to do this with because He will never reject you, never betray your confidences, never ridicule you for anything. Use the Bible as well as this book as your manuals on how to do this.
- Congregate with other believers. Find a healthy church where they know how to minister compassion and grace to broken people. You’ll know when you’re in the right place when it feels like home!
- Share your new faith in Christ with others, whether they are other Christians or not.
- Obey whatever God tells you to do. If He tells you to quit something, quit. If He tells you to start doing something, start and then continue to do so. The important thing to remember in this process is to ask Him for His grace to make those decisions stick.
You’re in the Army Now
You’ve just enlisted in the Army of the Lord and you’ve been dropped into combat in a war which has been raging for millennia. That’s the bad news. The Good News is your victory is assured and the enemy is already defeated and on the run — he’s just conducting a fighting retreat!
Don’t give up! There are times when your walk with God will be really easy and fun. There will be other times when it will be really hard. God’s grace is more than sufficient for you to walk through all of it.
The key Scripture passage for what you just did is this:
…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. — Romans 10:9-10
These are the verses you will need to stand upon when the devil comes and tries to talk you out of your salvation. When he does so — and trust me, he will! — please bear this in mind the only people Satan tries to talk out of their salvation are those who indeed have it. He spends no time trying to talk non-Christians out it because he doesn’t want non-believers to know salvation even exists!
The angels in heaven are rejoicing at your salvation and so am I. God bless you as you take your first baby steps as a believer!
Thanks for reading!