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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Am I in the "Right Religion?"

I will never forget one Summer afternoon in 1973 when two young Jehovah' Witnesses called at our door. Only just been in the faith for a few months, I was still physically young, a spiritual babe, very naive, and wanted to learn what others said about the Bible. It was a time I was not affiliated with any church. To add to all this, I had already been taught that all churches were wrong, and God had withdrew his presence from them, to put it in a nice way. It was more of God had never been with them in the first place. That was what I was taught by the group I identified myself at the time, the Children of God, spawned by the American cult leader David "Moses" Berg, who founded his movement after a bitter dispute with an American Pentecostal pastor. (For the full story, see my two blogs on this site, 1973 And All That, and Signs Of The Times? both posted May 2013.)
I had quickly discovered that the Witnesses agreed with me of their beliefs that all the churches were wrong - forming a common ground with them. One of them took me to his home address, which was just round the corner, and serious discussions began. I quickly learned that they did not believe in the Trinity, and Jesus Christ was not equal to God but inferior to him, using John 14:28: You heard me say, 'I'm going away and I'm coming back to you.' If you love me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.'

With a statement like that coming straight out of the mouth of Jesus himself, it would be very difficult for a Trinitarian to put forth his case, especially when the whole of the New Testament appears to back it up. The method they used, and still do to this day, was that Jesus is the Son of God, not God the Son. With such an argument, it would have been easy to convince an unsuspecting listener, especially by asking how Jesus could be one of the Godhead if for example, that God has given to Jesus the scroll which he was to pass to John (Revelation 1:1.) The two Witnesses then asked me whether these were two different entities rather than one God "talking to himself" and "giving the manuscript to himself" - as they make out as what we Trinitarians believe. Then came the issue which placed the final nail in the coffin of all orthodox churches that they, and they alone were the people of God's Name. That is, the name "Jehovah" which appears in Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, and Isaiah 12:2, 26:4 in the King James Version of the Old Testament, a name by which they identify themselves.

But I was not an "unsuspecting listener". Instead I had a gut feeling that something was seriously wrong with their theology, but at the time I could not counteract, as not only was I without learning and experience, but I received no help or back-up from the Children of God movement, as theology was not their strong point, but rather rebellion against the churches instead. And looking at the psychological consequence of this viewpoint, if the Jesus Christ of the Watchtower Society was an individual created by God the Father, then he could not qualify as Saviour - no matter if he was the first to be created before everything else, before all other angels and before the entire Universe, or how high in status he was after his death - if Jesus was not God himself, how could he save?

And yet despite these doubts in my mind, the Watchtower theology appeared logical and solid, and impossible to contradict, for even verses that hint on the Triune being of God, such as John 8:58, they insist that he said, "Before Abraham was born, I have been" instead of "I am." Or John 5:30, where they say that his declaration that the Father and he were one in agreement, and not one in essence. Then the classic John 1:1 when they insist that the proper translation from the Greek is "...and the Word was a god", instead of "... and the Word was God." To the unsuspecting, these were fed into the mind, converting the "goat" into a "sheep" - that is to say, a Jehovah's Witness who is in line to be saved if he remains faithful to the organisation, never dissent, and certainly never question or have doubts about what is fed from "the Lord's Table" up there in Heaven, through the Society headquarters in New York, and through all their printed literature. The convert is then convinced that he has the truth, while everyone else is living a lie and will die eternally.

It was during those days that I began to ponder: How do I know that my faith is the right one? I began to imagine what the Last Judgement will be like. I have pictured in my mind the Great White Throne with Almighty God sitting on it. In front of him are all the religious believers - Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Roman Catholic, Lutherian, Pentecostals, Baptists, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Children of God, Pagans, Anglicans, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses - all arrayed in their groups - some large, others small, all waiting to find out from God which group had done his will and obeyed him. Then the Almighty would single out Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Watchtower Society, and all his followers, and grant them eternal life. They then are allowed into Heaven, much to the shocking horror of all the others with their founders and leaders, who are thrown out of his presence to be cast into Hell, and that despite the Watchtower Society repudiating Hell, and only 144,000 Witnesses will enter Heaven, the rest are to enjoy eternity on the new Earth, restored to the state of the original Garden of Eden, but even then, on the principle that they remain faithful.

Watchtower Society Headquarters, New York City

Throughout my confusion I stood by the truth of the Trinity, even if I couldn't face up to a mature Witness (the young man's father), as I was still blind to the obvious - that any weakening of the Atonement achieved by Christ on the Cross renders their gospel as false. With Jesus Christ relegated to a created being, inferior to the Father, impaled on an upright pole (without the crossbar) and risen only as a spirit, and not physically, their religion is on the par with very other religion on the planet. For example, Muslims deny that it was Christ who died on the cross. Muhammad believed that it might have been Judas Iscariot instead, an idea upheld throught Islam. Both in Hinduism and Buddhism believe that Jesus was one of many good teachers who helped reform mankind, but certainly not atoned for their sin.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth of what one could be called the plumbline to determine whether a gospel proclaimed is true or false. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, we read:

For what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Paul also emphasises that belief in the Resurrection is vital for salvation. Romans 10:9 reads:

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This is a physical resurrection, that of the body, and not just a spiritual one as the Witnesses insist. The death by crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are a combined fact - they have ocurred before now, and are just as solid historically as the sun poured its light and heat on to our planet the day before yesterday. The facts cannot be changed. They are true regardless whether one believes or not. But by believing in the heart that Jesus rose physically from the dead result in complete acquittal from all sins commited - past, present, and future. No other religious founder or leader had ever enjoyed a physically resurrected body as Jesus. This goes to show that he is Lord indeed. But not Lord in a sense of an employer or an aristocrat, but Lord in the sense that he is truly God and truly man. No other religion can confess this. And even among Christian believers, the question of eternal acquittal can be so hard to swallow! That is why "Once Saved Always Saved" does not go down well with everyone who regularly attend church. Simply put, Eternal Security is just an acknowledgement that salvation as a whole is totally dependent on whether the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is historically true. If true, you as a believer is saved eternally and can never be lost again. If not historically true, then you are as equally lost as that poor soul yonder who is serving life in prison for theft and multiple murder.

Believing that salvation can be lost by a sinning or faithless believer weakens the truth of the Gospel by adding human merit or even works to the Gospel, diluting it. In other words, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ did not fully atone for one's sins, unless the sinner gives "a helping hand." All labels which claim to be Christian but believes that salvation can be lost insist that only one's past sins were forgiven at conversion, leaving "a clean slate" afterwards. The snag with that idea is that the moment a sin is committed, the slate is no longer clean, and the believer is subject to eternal judgement. As James wrote, that whoever keeps the whole Law but stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking the entire Law (James 2:10-11). Without eternal acquittal, it is impossible to keep the slate clean and then go to Heaven after death. Once saved always saved is essential for salvation.

That was the whole object of Paul's letter to the Galatians. In 1:6-10, Paul was so emphatic to drive his point home that not only did he repeat what he had already stated, but involved angels too - that if anyone preached a gospel contrary to the one he preached, let him be accursed! - Angels included. And what was this false gospel which infuriated the Apostle so severely? It was making physical circumcision mandatory for all believers, laying on them a heavy burden, as so well narrated in Galatians 5:1-6. Paul insisted that whoever advocates circumcision, or for that matter, observance of Jewish holidays, is compelled to observe the entire Law. If breached, then the advocate is subject to eternal judgement.

I can understand how those believers in Galatia fell for such ideas. In Genesis chapter 16, God himself  institiuted circumcision to Abraham and all male members of his family, to be passed down to his decendants forever. According to verse 14, if anyone fails to be circumcised, he will be cut off from his people, that is eternally separated from God and his people by death. According to the Judaists who influenced the Galatian churches, this covenant is eternal and therefore cannot be broken. The logic of all this was that the power of the Atonement made by Christ would be nullified. Hence the curse. There seems to be little difference between circumcision needed in order to be saved, and "staying faithful and abstaining from sin" to stay saved, as both puts the believer under the slavery of the Law, according to the Apostle, as both require the need of works and human merit.

But the idea of eternal acquittal from the curse of sin is virtually unknown by all religions. No matter how committed a Muslim, or Buddhist, Hindu, Roman Catholic or Jehovah's Witness may be, none would believe in Once Saved Always Saved. And if Eternal Security is untrue, the power of the cross and resurrection of Christ is weakened, a tantamount of denying the Lord.

The Church of St. Peter, Vatican City.

Yet a huge majority of religious people are devoted to their faith, giving all out commitment to their rituals and duties, with a hope that these will reconcile them to God or enter Nirvana. And each one thinks that he is in the right, and each one has a good case to argue. So how can someone like myself be so sure that I'm saved only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?  How can I be so sure that Muhammad does not have a case in point, or Buddha, for that matter? Or supposing the Roman Catholic Church with its Papal system had been right all along? Does the Pope really stand as mediator between mankind and God? And does the Virgin Mary really have the same role in interceding for the sin of her followers? And there are many who were, and still are, devoted to her.

There is no love lost between the Vatican and the Watchtower Society, but each believe that they are true to the Bible, both believe that they are serving God, and both deny the truthfulness of Eternal Security of the Believer. So I can I be so sure in what I believe is from God himself?

That will be for the blog for next week.


  1. Dear Frank,
    As our pastor likes to say and repeated this morning, "Religion is deceptive and can send you straight to hell. Each religion has sincere followers who believe they are doing "the right thing" to get to Heaven. Even Saul of Tarsus believed he was serving God by persecuting Christians, until he met Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. Only the Bible teaches that we don't have to do anything to be saved, but only to believe in Christ's finished work on the cross and in His resurrection to eternal life, proving Himself to be God the Son.
    Thanks as always for the great post. God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    we have to 'live' by 'every word' that comes from the mouth of God, so it is what the Spirit enlightens to us individually from that word daily, and whether we both 'hear and act' on that word, that determines our growth and maturity in the Lord, not different doctrines of man.
    God bless you and Alex.

  3. Great post, Frank. It is so wonderful to know that as Romans 8:16 says, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:" It is not just our own determination or conviction, but his Spirit. He also guides us into the truth, just as you described, making you aware something was not right about what you being taught. Praise God for his assurance.