In honor of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation…
October 31, 1517 – October 31, 2017
I am excited about having this documentary. If you live in the Virginia Beach area, let me know if you are interested in seeing it. I will purchase the public license.
There is a lot of talk these days about Mormonism, with Romney being of that faith. People tend to think it is just another denomination or sect of Christianity, but a deeper look into their theology proves otherwise. I’m not bashing the Latter-Day Saints, but I want to emphasize how cults differ from mainstream Christianity. I remember years ago hearing a lesson on “Patterns in the Cults” by Watchman Fellowship and “My Life Without God” by William Murray, son of the famous activist Atheist, Madelyn Murray O’Hare.
How do cults vary from orthodox Christianity?
Every cult VARIES in its teachings from one or more of six fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith (from June Hunt).
- Virgin Birth: Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18, 23).
- Atonement: Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can pay the penalty for personal sin (Romans 5:8–9).
- Resurrection: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead in bodily form and was seen on earth by many (1 Corinthians 15:3–6).
- Incarnation: Jesus Christ, who is God, took on human form and was fully God and fully man (John 1:1–3, 14).
- Eschatology: After Jesus Christ visibly returns to earth during the end times, a final judgment is a certainty, sending the unrighteous to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life (Hebrews 9:27–28; Matthew 25:46).
- Scripture: The Bible is wholly inspired by God, is truthful and accurate, is God’s revelation of himself to mankind, and is the only authority and source for faith and practice (righteous living) (Proverbs 30:5–6; 2 Timothy 3:16).
When someone you know gets involved in a cult, is it harmless enthusiasm toward a godly group or escalating enslavement to a deviant cult? To determine the answer, get some of their printed material or any other information from the group, and apply the MATHEMATICAL FORMULA. Does it:
- ADD to God’s Word?
Mormons add three other books of Scripture, including the Book of Mormon, “the most correct book on earth.” Rosicrucians include, along with the Bible, the Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Lost Books of Jesus as their holy books. (Proverbs 30:5–6)
- SUBTRACT from the Person of Jesus Christ?
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was actually Michael the Archangel, not God in the flesh. The Unification Church (“Moonies”) teaches that Jesus failed in His mission on earth and that Reverend Moon is the second coming of the Messiah. (Colossians 1:15–16)
- MULTIPLY Salvation Requirements?
The New Age Movement denies Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for salvation and substitutes reincarnation as the means of perfecting the soul. Scientology teaches that “engrams’ (subconscious negative impressions) have developed for 74 trillion years, causing health and psychological problems. Only through countless therapeutic sessions at costly fees can people achieve the ultimate state to become “theta clear.” The goal of an “operating thetan” is to be clear from the necessity of having a body and to live with “supernatural power” outside the body. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
- DIVIDE the Follower’s Loyalty?
Heaven’s Gate taught that one must renounce family ties and all sexual relations in order to enter the Level Beyond Human (heaven). Branch Davidians taught that one cannot be loyal to God without being loyal to David Koresh. (Exodus 20:3)
Cult Leaders: Characteristic of all cult leaders is the belief that they alone have the one true message from God.
- They present themselves as infallible authorities, requiring absolute loyalty.
- They persuade through their strong, charismatic personalities.
- They prohibit individual freedom, expecting unquestioned obedience.
- They promote themselves as divine or as God’s sole agent on earth.
- They possess “new truth” from God, while perverting biblical truth.
- They provide simplistic answers for complex problems.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Corinthians 11:13–15).
Cult Followers: Cults thrive on people who know little or nothing of the Bible and who readily replace logical reasoning with emotional decisions. They willingly pledge allegiance to charismatic leaders who claim to have the key to deeper truths and the answers to all the details of daily living.
- They follow the cult leader blindly.
- They forfeit individual freedom.
- They forsake friends and family to have a new “family.”
- They fear punishment for not conforming to legalistic rules and regulations.
- They feel misunderstood and persecuted by the outside world.
- They forego reason for emotion.
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
The history of Christianity is really the history of Western civilization. Christianity has had an influence on society through art, language, politics, law, family life, calendar dates, music, and even the way we think have been colored by Christian influence for nearly two thousand years.
The Beginning of the Church
The church began 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus promised that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18), and with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), the church officially began. Three thousand people responded to Peter’s sermon that day and chose to follow Christ (Acts 2:41).
The initial converts to Christianity were Jews or proselytes to Judaism, and the church was centered in Jerusalem. Because of this, Christianity was seen at first as a Jewish sect (similar to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Essenes). But what the apostles preached was radically different from what other Jewish groups were teaching. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah (the promised deliverer) who had come to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) and institute a new covenant based on His death (Mark 14:24). This message, with its charge that they had killed their own Messiah (Acts 2:36), infuriated many Jewish leaders, and some, like Saul of Tarsus, took action to stamp out “the Way” (Acts 9:1-2).
It is proper to say that Christianity has its roots in Judaism, because the Old Testament laid the groundwork for the New Testament. It is impossible to fully understand Christianity without a working knowledge of the Old Testament (see the books of Matthew and Hebrews). The Old Testament explains the necessity of a Messiah, contains the history of the Messiah’s people, and predicts the Messiah’s coming. The New Testament is all about the coming of Messiah and His work to save us from sin. In His life, Jesus fulfilled over 300 specific prophecies, proving that He was the One the Old Testament had anticipated.
The Growth of the Early Church
Not long after Pentecost, the doors to the church were opened to non-Jews. The evangelist Philip preached to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5), and many of them believed in Christ. The apostle Peter preached to the Gentile household of Cornelius (Acts 10), and they, too, received the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul (the former persecutor of the church) spread the gospel all over the Greco-Roman world, reaching as far as Rome itself (Acts 28:16) and possibly all the way to Spain.
By A.D. 70, the year Jerusalem was destroyed, most of the books of the New Testament had been completed and were circulating among the churches. For the next 240 years, Christians were persecuted by Rome (sometimes at random, sometimes by government orders).
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the church leadership became more and more hierarchical as numbers increased. Several heresies were exposed and refuted during this time, and the New Testament canon was agreed upon. Persecution continued to intensify.
The Rise of the Roman Church
In A.D. 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine claimed to have had a conversion experience. About 70 years later, during the reign of Theodosius, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Bishops were given places of honor in the government, and by A.D. 400, the terms “Roman” and “Christian” were virtually synonymous.
After Constantine, Christians were no longer persecuted. In time, it was the pagans who came under persecution unless they “converted” to Christianity. These forced conversions led to many people entering the church without a true change of heart. The pagans brought with them their idols and their familiar practices, and the church changed. Icons, elaborate architecture, pilgrimages, and the veneration of saints were added to the simplicity of early church worship. About this same time, some Christians retreated from Rome, choosing to live in isolation as monks, and infant baptism was introduced as a means of washing away original sin.
Through the next centuries, various church councils were held in an attempt to determine the church’s official doctrine and to make peace between warring factions. As the Roman Empire grew weaker, the church became more powerful, and many disagreements broke out between the churches in the West and those in the East. The Western (Latin) church was based in Rome and claimed apostolic authority over all other churches. The bishop of Rome had even begun calling himself the “Pope” (the Father). This did not sit well with the Eastern (Greek) church, based in Constantinople. Theological, political, procedural, and linguistic divides all contributed to the Great Schism in 1054, in which the Roman Catholic (“Universal”) Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church excommunicated each other and broke all ties.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church continued to hold power, with the popes claiming authority over all levels of life and living as kings. Corruption and greed in the church leadership was commonplace. From 1095 to 1204 the popes endorsed a series of bloody and expensive crusades in an effort to repel Muslim advances and liberate Jerusalem.
Through the years, several individuals had tried to call attention to the theological, political, and human rights abuses of the Roman Church. All had been silenced in one way or another. But in 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther took a stand against the church, and everyone heard. With Luther came the Protestant Reformation, and the Middle Ages were brought to a close.
The Reformers, including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, differed in many finer points of theology, but they were consistent in their emphasis on the Bible’s supreme authority over church tradition and the fact that sinners are saved by grace through faith alone apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Although Catholicism made a comeback in Europe, and there were a series of wars between Protestants and Catholics, the Reformation had successfully dismantled the power of the Roman Catholic Church and helped open the door to the modern age.
The Age of Missions
From 1790 to 1900, the church showed an unprecedented interest in missionary work. Colonization had opened eyes to the need for missions, and industrialization had provided people with the financial ability to fund the missionaries. Missionaries went around the world preaching the gospel, and churches were established throughout the world.
The Modern Church
Today, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have taken steps to mend their broken relationship, as have Catholics and Lutherans. The evangelical church is strongly independent and rooted firmly in biblical theology. The church has also seen the rise of Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement, ecumenicalism, and various cults.
What We Learn from Our History
If we learn nothing else from church history, we should at least recognize the importance of letting “the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16). Each of us is responsible to know what the Scripture says and to live by it. When the church forgets what the Bible teaches and ignores what Jesus taught, chaos reigns.
There are many churches today, but only one gospel. It is “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3). May we be careful to preserve that faith and pass it on accurately, and the Lord will continue to fulfill His promise to build His church.
[Thanks to GotQuestions.org for this summary]
This is a poem written by Jefferson Bethke to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the Bible, Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification.
Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights his journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God.
With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you; you don’t represent yourself. His sacrifice is perfect, putting us in perfect standing with God!
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