What Is Your Religious Custom?
1, 2. What two days each year result in large church attendances, and what provocative questions arise?
ALL religions have their “holy days” and special functions in their religious temples. On these special days usually their places of worship are filled. During the time of Christendom’s Christmas festival they put on colorful pageants about Joseph and Mary, the babe Jesus and the shepherds coming to see him. Joyful music is arranged and nearly the entire congregation will attend this service. Even strangers not belonging to the religious group flock in to hear the special music and see the show. Easter Sunday is another one of Christendom’s “holy days,” and it brings the people out for its big spring fashion show of new hats and other finery. Of course, some, who go to the church of their denomination, think seriously of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. But why do so many people of Christendom need big attractions like these two “holy days” to get them to their places of worship, just two times out of fifty-two weeks? What real meaning do these two celebrations have for the people who are twice-a-year Christians? Do they really believe that Jesus Christ died to save them? Save them for what? Do you think that after the whole affair is over they feel they are better Christians, or do they feel like hypocrites? What is your own religious custom?
2 It is common knowledge that most of the churches of Christendom are crowded out during the Christmas and Easter holidays. But do you, if a churchgoer, ever ask yourself: “Why did I go? Was it my community interest? Was it social interest? Could it be a good business policy?” Maybe you think you will meet some of your political friends there. Did you go because you had nothing more important to do? Stop! Think! Do you really go to your religious meeting place to learn the truth about God and your salvation?
3. What should be one’s real reason for going to the house of God, and what effect should it have on a person?
3 The real reason for going into the house of God should be to gain knowledge of your Creator, Jehovah, and to learn more about his Son, Christ Jesus, who made provision for all of us to gain everlasting life. You should want to learn about the salvation that God brings to all mankind through his Son by the establishment of God’s kingdom, for which Christians have been taught to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10, AV) Your regularly going to the house of God should improve your thinking ability, and you should come to appreciate that life is a gift from God and you should want to know why mankind is here on the earth. Learning the truth in the house of God should make you want to tell other people what you have learned regarding Jehovah’s provisions for mankind. If your place of worship does not move you to action and make you want to tell others what you learned there, then you had better find the right place to learn the truth and the proper way to worship God.
4. (a) Why did Jesus have the custom of regularly going to the synagogue? (b) What message did he have for the people?
4 When persons heard Jesus speak they were astounded with his way of teaching, and followed him. They learned more truth as each day passed by and they put into practice the things that Jesus taught them. Does your religion do that for you? It was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue every sabbath because he knew he would hear the Word of God read from some portion of the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew there would be discussion and an explanation of it too. One sabbath day in Nazareth Jesus was invited to read the Scriptures, and he applied them to himself. He knew he was anointed to declare good news to the poor. This meant for him a lot of traveling from place to place and talking to many people. He told the oppressed Jews that there would be a release of the captives and that freedom would be theirs in due time. How would the promised recovering of sight for the blind come about? Jesus actually made people see with their eyes, but seeing the truth and having an understanding of the Word of God in their heart and mind was far more important. (Luke 4:16-20) His hearers could have all this if they accepted “the kingdom of the heavens,” which was at hand. What preaching and teaching this required! It was a big assignment, but he could fulfill it with Jehovah’s blessing. He was the chief minister to all mankind, announcing God’s kingdom come. Would the people accept him as God’s minister? Jesus said: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matt. 20:28) Jesus surely would ransom many in God’s due time, and, through His kingdom, we will see God’s will done on earth as in heaven. Does your religion help you to ‘exercise faith in him’ so as to gain everlasting life? (John 3:16) Do you then tell other people what you learn and do you minister to others?
5. Besides ministering himself, what else did Jesus do?
5 While Jesus came to be a minister himself, he also prepared his disciples to be ministers. He saw to it that his disciples were properly trained in the study of the Word of God and then that they preached that Word regularly. The Christians of our century must do likewise. They must be ministers preaching and teaching the good news of God’s kingdom to everyone.—Matt. 24:14.
6. (a) How did Jesus’ disciples apply the things they learned? (b) How were they viewed by the religious leaders and rulers?
6 When Jesus had selected his twelve disciples they traveled with him continually, learning and preaching as they went. It was their custom, too, to go to the synagogue and temple and listen to Jesus’ teaching. They were anxious to hear what he had to say. They asked many questions because they desired to learn the things Jesus knew. In public places it was possible for them to engage in interesting discussions. On an occasion they were sent out by twos to preach in Israel. This improved their thinking ability. They had different dispositions and came from various walks of life, and this, too, would add interest to their conversation. For example, Simon and Andrew were fishermen. Jesus had said to them: “Come after me, and I shall cause you to become fishers of men.” They at once abandoned their nets and followed him. He also called John and James at the same time. The five of them went into Capernaum, and “no sooner was it the sabbath than he entered into the synagogue and began to teach. And they became astounded at his way of teaching.” (Mark 1:16-22) It was not the powerful and noble men who followed Jesus, but, rather, men whom this world might view as ordinary. However, their being with Jesus and learning from him had a lasting effect on them. We know this because, when the apostles were arrested and appeared before the religious leaders and rulers, they “beheld the outspokenness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were men unlettered and ordinary . . . And they began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) The disciples profited by listening to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue. It matured them and made them more able ministers.
THE APOSTLE PAUL’S CUSTOM
7. What interesting point is made about Saul at Acts 9:15-20?
7 The early Christians, like Jesus, knew the value of assembly and used the synagogue in which to preach. After Saul’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity “he got to be for some days with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately in the synagogues he began to preach Jesus, that this One is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:15-20) After he learned the truth it did not take him long to express his belief. Saul, later called Paul, knew that the best place to begin his preaching work was where people were.
8. What interesting message did Paul have for the people in Antioch, and where did he preach that message?
8 The disciples of Christ did a lot of traveling. They had to in order to reach all nations. By their going from city to city, from province to province, the good news of God’s kingdom got preached and the Christian congregations grew. When Paul and other Jewish Christians came into a city they always went to the synagogue and preached on the sabbath. They followed the custom of Jesus. Here is a sample of what would happen: “They . . . went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia and, going into the synagogue on the sabbath day, they took a seat. After the public reading of the Law and of the Prophets the presiding officers of the synagogue sent out to them, saying: ‘Brothers, if there is any word of encouragement for the people that you have, tell it.’ So Paul rose, and motioning with his hand, he said: ‘You Israelites and you others that fear God, hear.’” (Acts 13:14-16) Paul was anxious to stand up and declare his faith, and he gave a masterful discourse, as recorded in the thirteenth chapter of Acts. He set out the history of the Jewish people from the time that they were alien residents in Egypt down to the period of the judges and kings. Quickly covering centuries of time, he went on to quote John the Baptist, the prophet announcing Jesus’ coming. Then, to the surprise of all the people, he told of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and declared: “But God raised him up from the dead; and for many days he became visible to those who had gone up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.”—Acts 13:30, 31.
9. What was the effect of his message on the people?
9 This sermon by the apostle Paul in the synagogue on the sabbath day certainly caused a stir. “So after the synagogue assembly was dissolved, many of the Jews and of the proselytes who worshiped God followed Paul and Barnabas, who in speaking to them began urging them to continue in the undeserved kindness of God. The next sabbath nearly all the city gathered together to hear the word of Jehovah. When the Jews got sight of the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began blasphemously contradicting the things being spoken by Paul.” (Acts 13:43-45) It took boldness for Paul and Barnabas, being in the synagogue, to speak out and say to the people: “In fact, Jehovah has laid commandment upon us in these words, ‘I have appointed you as a light of nations, for you to be a salvation to the extremity of the earth.’ When those of the nations heard this, they began to rejoice and to glorify the word of Jehovah, and all those who were rightly disposed for everlasting life became believers.” (Acts 13:47, 48) Right there in the house of God these early believers learned the truth. The reason why they did was that Paul and Barnabas were prepared to give a sermon on God’s Word. They went to the synagogue to tell their faith to others the same as they did when going from house to house or when they were in some other public place. It was urgent upon them to preach the good news any time, any place. It was their custom to talk about the true religion they now embraced. Does your faith in Christ Jesus make it your custom to preach and talk like those early Christians did? It should!
10. (a) Where could Paul be found while in Athens? (b) Where did his preaching lead him?
10 When Paul went to Athens he was very much irritated at seeing the city filled with idols and the people worshiping images. “Consequently he began to reason in the synagogue with the Jews and the other people who worshiped God and every day in the market place with those who happened to be on hand.” Paul was in position on this visit to spend all his time preaching “every day in the market place with those who happened to be on hand.” He must have given many sermons “every day” to groups of persons and individuals, because “certain ones of both the Epicurean and the Stoic philosophers took to conversing with him controversially, and some would say: ‘What is it this chatterer would like to tell?’ Others: ‘He seems to be a publisher of foreign deities.’ This was because he was declaring the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:17, 18) This gave the apostle Paul a wonderful opportunity to talk with these learned men of Athens. “So they laid hold of him and led him to the Areopagus, saying: ‘Can we get to know what this new teaching is which is spoken by you?’” (Acts 17:19) Paul used this occasion to give a marvelous witness, trusting in Jesus’ words: “For it is not you who will be speaking: it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.”—Matt. 10:20, NEB.
11. In Corinth and Ephesus, what facts were made know about Paul’s Christian ministry?
11 The Christian life of Paul was a very active and interesting one. Finally, Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth. There he met up with certain Jews, Aquila, who had come from Italy, and Priscilla. Aquila was engaged in the same trade that Paul labored at when he needed funds to keep him in the ministry. Paul stayed at their home and they worked together as tentmakers. “However, he would give a talk in the synagogue every sabbath and would persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4) That was his religious custom, and he made disciples. What is your religious custom? “However, after staying quite some days longer, Paul said good-by to the brothers and proceeded to sail away for Syria . . . So they arrived at Ephesus, and he left them there; but he himself entered into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” (Acts 18:18, 19) Paul never let an opportunity pass by. He was interested in the vindication of Jehovah’s name, proving that “it is impossible for God to lie.”—Heb. 6:18.
12. How did Paul feel about association with fellow believers?
12 No matter where Paul went he always planned to be with people and, whenever possible, in “the house of our God” so there could be an interchange of faith. Paul needed encouragement like anyone else and he was always glad to give encouragement. Here is how he expressed it to Christians in Rome: “I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you in order for you to be made firm; or, rather, that there may be an interchange of encouragement among you, by each one through the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Rom. 1:11, 12) Think of what good you can do for your brothers by expressing yourself in the “house of our God.” Jehovah’s witnesses do this at their weekly meetings in their Kingdom Halls.
DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS CUSTOMS TODAY
13. (a) Is the message of “the kingdom of the heavens” heard today in Christendom’s churches, or what? (b) How does the message and conduct of Jesus Christ differ from that of the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church?
13 The religious custom of Jesus and his disciples was to use the “house of our God” to tell other persons the truth, to express their own faith, to get an accurate knowledge of the Bible and to declare God’s kingdom as man’s only hope. Is it the same today in Christendom’s churches as it was in the early Christians’ meeting places? Do you hear the same Bible message about “the kingdom of the heavens” ring in your ears as it used to ring in the ears of those who lived in the time of Christ? Or do you hear in your church that the United Nations is the “last hope” there is? Do you agree with Pope Paul VI when he spoke to the United Nations, saying: “We might call our message a ratification, a solemn moral ratification of this lofty institution. . . . The peoples of the earth turn to the United Nations as the last hope of concord and peace; we presume to present here, with their tribute of honor and of hope, our own tribute also”?* Nineteen hundred years ago Jesus Christ rejected the kingdoms of this world offered him by Satan the Devil, and he said to Governor Pilate just before he was put on the torture stake: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) Today, when the principal religious leader of Christendom says ‘we ratify the United Nations,’ and he tells the peoples of the earth to turn to the United Nations as the last hope of concord and peace, where is his faith and teaching of God’s kingdom? He has none! Do you in an ecumenical spirit want to go along with those who no longer believe the Sacred Bible? Not only have the leaders of Christendom rejected God’s kingdom but they have tried to shatter the faith of their numbers in almost all of Christ’s teaching.
14. Outline other differing views held by Christendom as compared with the Bible’s teachings and the beliefs of Jesus Christ.
14 Nineteen centuries ago Jesus taught that all in their graves would come forth, that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the hearing of his voice. (John 5:28, 29) How did things get changed so that the clergy of Christendom tell us that man goes to eternal hellfire or purgatory or some few go to heaven? This teaching is strange to a Christian, because the Bible tells him that in Sheol, the grave, where man goes at death, “there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (Eccl. 9:10) Man is asleep in the grave (Sheol), out of existence. “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:19) Faithful Job knew this, but he also believed in God’s kingdom and the resurrection of the dead. Job said: “O that in Sheol you would conceal me, that you would keep me secret until your anger turns back, that you would set a time limit for me and remember me!” (Job 14:13) The Bible teaches that man was created, but science and many of the religious leaders say man has evolved from some lower animal or other form of life. Which one do you believe, man or God? (Gen. 2:7) The Bible says God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to save it, but the clergy say that God came, that Christ is God, and to prove it they teach a pagan trinity doctrine. (John 3:16) Jesus Christ quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, talking about the days of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah. He believed the written Word of God, but today many of the clergy who claim to be Christ’s followers say the Creation story, Noah and the ark, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and even the virgin birth of Jesus are myths, just stories not to be believed as fact or truth. Regardless of what the leaders of Christendom teach, Jehovah’s witnesses agree with the apostle Paul, who said: “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” (Rom. 3:4) Why such an amazing change in Christian teaching over the centuries? The Bible answers that too.—Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, 6-8; Ge 19:1-29; Exodus, chapter 14; Luke 1:26-38.
15. Who is responsible for these differing views, and what practice do Jehovah’s witnesses follow?
15 The god of this world, Satan the Devil, has blinded the eyes of the people and has kept them in darkness. (2 Cor. 4:4) Jesus was right when he said concerning the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day: “Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matt. 15:14) Unfortunately, too many people allow the ministers of the various religious denominations in Christendom to do their thinking for them. It would be far better to study the Bible yourself than to be led astray by false religion. Most people let their clergy do their praying too, and this praying is usually a reading of prayers from some pages of the prayer book. The audience in a religious assembly is not encouraged to express itself. There is no “interchange of encouragement.” How different from Jesus’ day when a scripture was read and then a general discussion ensued! Jehovah’s witnesses still carry on this practice in their Watchtower study. The presiding minister states the subject to be discussed, then the scripture around which the comments will center is read. The Watchtower magazine is used to guide the general conversation of the whole congregation, but the congregation expresses itself.
16. (a) Because of a changing view of the Bible, how do many feel about its laws and commandments? (b) Yet what does God’s Word say about those who violate his commandments? (c) What command does Revelation 18:4, 5 give, and where should those fleeing from Babylon the Great go?
16 About forty or fifty years ago, and before that, there was much more Bible study being done in the private homes of the people than there is today. Many religious organizations used to encourage home Bible reading and study. Today, it seems the Bible is generally looked upon as a book of fine literature with some good thoughts and expressions in it, something to be read when you have nothing else to do. Many persons say, “How could anyone live by its moral code today? The Bible teaching on fornication and adultery is passé.” So they conclude that, if there is nothing wrong in sex relations before marriage why not a little variety after marriage? Such promiscuity is going on in Christendom around the world. But what does she do about it? Nothing! Have the clergy closed their eyes to what Paul wrote: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom”? (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) One might reason, ‘If Pope Paul VI thinks the UN is “the last hope,” then why consider the idea any more of inheriting God’s kingdom?’ And if there is no faith in God’s kingdom, then it is easy to ignore the moral code of that kingdom. It seems that all Christendom has ignored it. In fact, the world empire of false religion, Babylon the Great, has nothing to offer the people spiritually or morally. That is why God’s written Word says: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues. For her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.” (Rev. 18:4, 5) Hundreds of thousands of people have got out of Babylon the Great and are turning to the pure, simple worship of God, and they are becoming real Christians. You will find them today associated with Jehovah’s witnesses because they feel the need of Bible study and association with persons who believe the whole Word of God. These persons have dedicated their lives to the doing of Jehovah’s will, and their religious custom now is to preach the kingdom of God, which is the only hope for mankind. To keep strong in the faith once delivered to the holy ones, Jehovah’s witnesses meet regularly in the “house of our God” because they know ‘that the friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.’ (Jas. 4:4) The purpose of the Christian congregation is to build up one another in their most holy faith and to train God’s people to preach the good news contained in God’s Word, not to compromise and be a ‘friend of the world.’ Be a real Christian. Walk in the footsteps of Christ Jesus. Do what he did. Be a Christian every day of the year, not just on Christendom’s “holy days.” Make it your custom to worship in the house of the true God Jehovah and learn what Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life.”—John 10:27, 28.
New York Herald Tribune, Tuesday, October 5, 1965. Papal visit Commemorative Edition, page B, under headline: “At U.N., ‘Message for Mankind.’”
[Picture on page 11]
“Come after me, and I shall cause you to become fishers of men.”