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(From Forerunner Commentary)
In this first message to mankind, Satan sows seeds of doubt as to whether God can be trusted. Satan's very first words were, "Has God indeed said. . . ?" Spoken or not, this sentiment that God is untrustworthy, and that His Word is suspect, has been a regular feature in mankind's relationship with God ever since.
The Gnostics were no exception—in fact, they are a prime example. In its most basic sense, Gnosticism is knowing, but its knowledge, while sometimes including the Word of God, does not have it as its foundation. Instead, more than what was contained in Scripture, Gnostics valued what they experienced, what elders told them, or what they learned from "angels," astrology, or chemistry (alchemy). Thus, we see elements of Gnosticism in Galatians: a mixture of "lucky days," to which they ascribed spiritual significance (part of their worship prior to conversion) and a belief, brought in by Judaizers or perhaps even an "angel" (Galatians 1:8), that justification could come by works of the law.
Judaism, though it has its roots in the Old Testament, sees God's Word through the lens of Hellenism (Greek thought) and the traditions of Jewish scholars and teachers through the centuries. The Galatian Christians gave God's Word lip service, but did not depend on it as the source of their beliefs and practices. If they had, they would not have returned to pagan "days, months, seasons, and years," nor believed that justification could ever result from good works—a concept that is read into the Old Testament, but not actually found there.
Similarly, the Colossian Christians were affected by an ascetic form of Gnosticism that included "ordinances" (KJV) or "regulations" (NKJV) that are not found in God's Word but were the commandments and doctrines of men (Colossians 2:20-23), as well as demons, the "basic principles of the world" (Colossians 2:8).
This same distrust of God's Word is readily seen in today's Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic Church holds that Scripture is only one of three sources from which its dogma is derived—the other two being divine revelation and the writings and traditions of previous Catholic saints. The Bible, while generally utilized as the source of doctrine, can be easily overridden by the words of a Pope or other theologian, living or dead. Once again, human words and traditions are considered more trustworthy than God's.
In some respects, Protestantism has a higher regard for Scripture. However, it, too, accepts the traditions of men in such beliefs as the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, going to heaven, observing Christmas and Easter, and venerating the first day of the week (which the Catholic Church rightly points out makes sense only if one accepts Rome's authority, for there is no scriptural authority for keeping any day holy but the Sabbaths).
Modern Gnostics who believe in "progressive revelation" have also succumbed to this first of Satan's ploys. While God does reveal things to us, the critical point is that what is revealed—if it truly comes from Him—will never contradict what He has already revealed in His Word. "God is not a man, that He should lie" (Numbers 23:19). Yet progressive revelation advocates believe that their revelations are more authoritative than the Bible, rather than complementing and harmonizing with it, making them ripe for satanic influence under the guise of God revealing something new to them. They may sincerely believe that God speaks to them, yet they simultaneously mistrust what He has already said in inspired Scripture. They tend to shy away from Bible study, concluding that they do not need it since God speaks directly to them, and if there is anything important, God will let them know.
Romans 10:17 tells us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." But Satan knows this too and believes that, if he can undermine the trustworthiness of God and the validity of His Word, he can destroy the faith necessary for salvation. Currently, the Bible's legitimacy is undergoing an intense assault. Due to popular Gnostic writings like the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas, as well as The Da Vinci Code book and movie, many people are questioning why we have the Bible that we do and wondering if something in the ancient apocryphal writings, if it were known, would change Christianity as we know it. Rather than quibbling about this or that point of doctrine, Satan seems to be gunning for the whole package by asserting that the Word of God is subject to the whims of men and thus cannot be trusted. At every turn, faith founded in God's Word is being undermined.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
The idea of inferiority seems to pass to the succeeding empires as well. But in what way was Medo-Persia inferior?
Medo-Persia controlled a larger territory than did Babylon, so it was certainly not inferior in political or military might. Even before the fall of Babylon, Cyrus had defeated the wealthy Croesus, king of Lydia in Asia Minor (546 BC). After victories in central Iran and in Phoenicia, he conquered Babylon in 539 BC, and his son Cambyses overthrew Egypt and Libya in 525 BC. At its height the Persian Empire was nearly double the size of Babylon.
It did, however, have a problem with internal unity. Cyrus, a Persian, initiated the growth of the empire by usurping the Median throne with the help of the Median nobility. The empire, from this point on, was dominated by Persians, or as the Bible says, the "bear . . . was raised up on one side" (Daniel 7:5). The two arms of the image symbolize this division.
Also, each time an emperor died, severe struggles erupted over succession to the throne. Fortunately, mostly strong and capable rulers won these struggles, especially during its first century, and kept the empire whole for over two hundred years. Only the superior might of Alexander's Macedonian army spelled its downfall.
Another factor of its inferiority was, oddly, its rulers. Cyrus, regaled in the Bible as God's "shepherd" and "His anointed" (Isaiah 44:28-45:13), was not the same caliber of man as Nebuchadnezzar. Though he was a humane and conciliatory ruler for his time, he neither lived long enough to stamp his character on his realm (d. 529 BC), nor did he acknowledge God's sovereignty as did his predecessor (Daniel 4:28-37).
In relation to this, the word inferior itself ('ara') means "earth, world, ground." Persia was literally more "earthly" or "worldly" than Babylon in God's eyes. The aims and drives of its kings were, as a whole, of a lower nature than Babylon's, though the latter's were certainly misguided as well. However, the trajectory of this factor in all these kingdoms is, according to the prophecy, downward, and it sinks further with each new empire.
On the other hand, it must be injected here that Cyrus was the instrument that God used to reestablish the Temple in Jerusalem (II Chronicles 36:22-23). The Persians had a general policy to honor the gods of all their defeated enemies by repairing or rebuilding temples and giving offerings to them. This was mainly done to appease the gods "just in case" they had been offended by the subjugation of their peoples, as well as to smooth relations between the Persians and their vassals. Scholars are still divided over whether Cyrus actually meant that the God of Israel was indeed the true God and thus his sovereign Lord. Most think he did not because decrees to other nations have been found in which similar language is used.
Unlike the Babylonians, the Persian Empire centered squarely on its military and political bases rather than its religious, cultural, or economic life. Historians consider the Persian imperial political structure and administrative forms to be the finest example of government before the Roman period. In fact, they think that the Romans borrowed Persian ideas in forming their own. This meant that the real basis of power in the empire was the army, even above that of the king, although the king supposedly controlled the army.
The religion of the Persians was Zoroastrianism, a dualistic belief in good and evil and man's struggle between them. Although it was less bloody, warlike, idolatrous, and superstitious than other polytheistic religions of the region, it retained vestiges of ancient beliefs that eventually supplanted it. The cults of Mithra, the sun god, and Anaita, the goddess of fertility—similar to Nimrod/Tammuz and Semiramis, the old Babylonian Mystery Religion—grew in popularity until Zoroastrianism faded into obscurity. But its principle of dualism lived on in Gnosticism and the mystery religions of the Roman Empire. Some of these beliefs and practices (such as Mithra's birthday, December 25; Sunday as a holy day; All Soul's Day; and heaven, hell and purgatory) were later embraced by Catholicism to counter the popularity of these cults.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Two): Chest and Arms of Silver
2 Thessalonians 2:15
How frequently the servants of God have had to say this! John uses almost the same words at the beginning of I John 1: "Look, our hands have handled Him. We have looked at Him with our eyes and heard Him with our ears." Who is the we? He speaks of the apostles, intimating, "Get back to what we taught you." Jude and Peter say the same thing.
These men were not confronting the same people, but they probably were confronting elements of the same philosophical system that affected the church so strongly even as early as the AD 50s and 60s. Human nature always has a strong drive to make the way of God more attractive to the senses by blending it with traditions that are not part of God's Word.
This is what is found in Exodus 32, which God included in His Word so that we would see it etched vividly. The Israelites tried to introduce the Egyptian religion they had just left into the way of God. They used the bull to represent the nature of God. No wonder God was so upset! They were trying to syncretize paganism with the truth of God, just a few chapters after He gave them the terms of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was signed, sealed, and delivered in Exodus 24, which was a very short time chronologically - and they were already trying to twist the nature of God into something radically different.
We see elements of this in the book of Colossians. The theological term for this is, as has been already mentioned, syncretism. It means "a joining, a meshing, or a blending together," "an alloying." Is anything purer than the Word of God? How could a person think to improve it by adding something foreign?
The outstanding historical example of syncretism (at least in terms of what we call "the Christian religion") is Catholicism. It is a universal religion precisely because it has absorbed traditions of worship from cultures all over the world. Its Protestant daughters, having come from the same system, have not rid themselves of most of the sycretic beliefs, having thrown off only the governance of the Pope and several of the more blatant pagan practices.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 22)
One of the greatest end-time deceptions that Satan has perpetrated has been to convince people that the Israelitish countries are Christian. A direct result of this has been the impulse in Israelites to colonize partly in order to spread, and thus share, its gospel with those who are considered by them as heathen. In so doing, she has spread the wine of her idolatrous religious influence worldwide. But all it has succeeded in doing is to give Christianity a bad name, and at the same time, to spread lies about the true God and the purpose that He is working out.
The Dutch were the first of the modern Israelitish nations to carry the Babylonish/Roman brand of Christianity to other nations that they colonized, seeking raw materials and markets for their manufactured goods. They in turn were followed on the world stage by the French and then the British. In our day, it is Americans who are doing the bulk of the influencing. They have all prepared the way for the end-time revival of the Great Whore.
Most Americans believe that the Founding Fathers of this Republic were Christian men. They indeed, for the most part, were men of considerable education, wealth, and high moral character who had a wonderful vision of what a nation should be and how it should be governed. Their morality was largely in agreement with biblical morality. Undoubtedly they were religious men, but true Christians they were not, even though they and others would identify them as being Christians.
But neither were they secularists. Secularists are people who believe in no God, or even if they believe there is a God, that God has no direct influence in their lives. Most of these men were what we would call today "deists," who believed that God exists and that He created all things, but they did not truly believe God as a Christian does. They did not believe that He is actively involved, participating in, and governing His creation. They did not believe that this great God is moving history and time toward a pre-determined end. They essentially believed that God created, stepped aside, and is merely watching what is going on. There was to them no real purpose being actively worked out by the Creator, except that He is "saving" men, and thus they were not subject to Him in their understanding and loving cooperation with Him.
America's Constitutional foundation, which places the greatest burden of government on individual responsibility, as good as it is—and I personally believe it is better than any other nation's that has ever existed, with the exception of ancient Israel at Mount Sinai—is still nonetheless flawed by the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation burst from Catholicism, and it was the same Catholic Church that all the reformers thought of as the true church gone corrupt. But the truth of the matter is that the Catholic Church was NEVER the true church, and the Protestant Reformation did not re-establish the true religion. The Catholic Church is exactly what it has always publicly called itself: the Roman Catholic (Universal) Church. It stands identified by its own words! It is not the Christian church, but the Roman Universal Church. It is a syncretistic religion, having its roots in Babylon. It is not the church of God.
The Protestant Reformation simply established more forms of the Roman Catholic Church. It established denominations of false religion masquerading as the true religion. The Reformation simply reformed the Roman Universal Church into many varieties without a Pope. They altered ceremonial requirements and modified many of the more obvious corruptions. The Israelitish people then proceeded to spread these hybrid religions all over the world in their colonization of other areas. They were better than the Roman Universal variety, but they still were not of the truth.
Now consider this: Was God involved in this? Absolutely, He was! He is the sovereign, omnipotent Ruler. He did not raise up these churches, but He permitted them to form. He could have stopped it at any time, but it was within His purpose to allow these things to occur and to build toward the end time. God governs all of His creation, and something of this magnitude could not have happened without His oversight. If He has oversight, and it happened without Him giving permission for it to occur, then He is not sovereign! Somebody put one over on Him! But nobody puts anything over on God.
One good thing that the Protestant Reformation did produce was to release many people from a great deal of religious confusion and political slavery. But today, Protestantism has lost its cutting edge. In many cases, it is nothing more than entertaining paganism. In other cases, it is a Sunday-morning fraternal organization. We are seeing its effects on the streets.
Morality has fallen in the market place, in the business area, and in the streets. America especially is being swept away in a homosexual and pornographic tsunami, as one writer recently proclaimed. All of this in turn has created a problem of massive proportions for the true church, because church members gradually begin accepting as true Satan's lie that Israel is Christian, and thus they feel a spiritual affinity with their countrymen that has no basis in fact.
Israel is not Christian and never has been! What some may feel an affinity with is a lie masquerading as the truth. Herbert Armstrong read this verse so often because he could see it. He could see the danger to God's people to think that what the people are practicing in Israel is part of the true church. It is not! Do not be deceived! It is a corruption of the Roman Universal Church, which syncretistically adapted some aspects of true Christianity into it and became a major counterfeit of the truth. But it never was the true church, not for even one second of its existence. We have got to understand that.
Israel's modern Christianity makes doctrine of little or no importance, leaving everyone free to do what is right in his own eyes. In the true church, it will produce the same tolerant non-judgmental "just do your own thing," politically correct, multicultural way of deism that we so commonly see accepted in Israelitish countries, and faith in trusting the sovereign God to govern His creation vanishes. People in the church find justification for idolatry, for Sabbath-breaking, for murder, lying, stealing, just as the so-called "Christian" nation finds justification for those things.
It was no accident that James writes in James 4:1, "From whence come wars. . . ." God's people making war? They were. Those things can creep into the church and into us individually if we allow them.
Did you ever hear of Jesus using any of those methods—murder, lying, stealing, making war, committing adultery, breaking the Sabbath—to solve His problems? He said, "I always do the will of My Father." He did not resort to those things, because they are not Christian, even though He was surrounded by people (the Jews) who ostensibly were God's people and ostensibly keeping the commandments.
The gospels say that "He trusted no man," and He kept Himself separate from them spiritually even though He was among them constantly, healing, teaching, and receiving abuse and persecution because He was peculiar to them and a threat. How did He threaten them? By making them face up to their justifications, their lies to themselves.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 6)
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