Are You Being Exploited with Counterfeit Words?
WHEN word gets out that there is counterfeit money being circulated in a community, you immediately check the money you have on hand because you know it may mean considerable loss to you if you happen to have some of the counterfeit, and, worse, may involve you in a great deal of trouble if you should try to pass some of it. It may be such a skillful counterfeit that you have to go to your banker to identify it. Counterfeit words can be even more deceptive and damaging. You would have to go to a reliable source of true words and facts to detect the fraud.
The apostle Peter, one of the most intimate apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, a short time before his own death wrote an inspired warning to the Christian congregation, telling them to keep on the watch, for, he said, there would be some from right among the Christian congregations who, with covetousness, “will exploit you with counterfeit words.” (2 Pet. 2:3) We can be sure, then, that not all that holds itself out to be Christianity is truly Christian and that the counterfeit is no weak and insignificant attempt but a deeply laid plot with strong power to deceive. Happily, due to God’s care for us we are able, by looking into the Bible, a source of true words, and by tracing the inception and development of this counterfeit Christianity, to unmask the counterfeit. How? These reliable authorities clear up many questions for us, among them being: Why are there so many different sects and divisions in the lands known as Christendom, when Christianity really sprang from one person, Jesus Christ?
In previous issues we have been watching the contest between Babylon and Zion, or Jerusalem. We have seen how the ancient city swallowed up Jerusalem but later was forced to release its captives. Babylon gradually went into decay but its religion remained and came to be very strongly represented in the religion of pagan Rome. After the fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Persian, the god of the Babylonish religion, Satan the Devil, had to adopt different tactics to fight against God. By playing on the selfishness and greed of the leaders of the Jewish nation, he infiltrated that religion and brought about an apostate condition. So far was it from the true worship of God that it caused these leaders to put to death the Messiah, whom the Hebrew Scriptures had foretold. As a result, God cast them off. No more could Israel be used by God as his holy nation. Nevertheless, there was a faithful Jewish remnant who would not follow their leaders but stuck to the true worship of God and accepted the Messiah. It was these who formed the nucleus of Christianity. The Devil recognized that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was the Seed who was foretold to crush his head in due time and that the preaching of Christ’s kingdom was a powerful force against him. Therefore, he must employ Babylonish religion again to oppose this new arrangement of God. He must, if possible, destroy Christianity.
In setting out to fight Christianity, however, the religion of Babylon was coming up against something new and different. Christianity was far more vigorous; besides, it was a missionary religion—it was preached to all nations. The early Christian congregation grew amazingly fast and, under the leadership of the twelve apostles, flourished while maintaining its original purity against Jewish and official persecution. Babylon must employ more effective tactics. How Babylonish religion set about to fight Christianity by a devilish strategy and how far it succeeded makes most interesting reading and at the same time is something we must know. It means the unraveling of a mystery.
JESUS FORETELLS THE COUNTERFEIT
Jesus Christ, the leader of Christianity, foresaw the fight and its conclusion. He forewarned his disciples by giving them the following parable:
“The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man that sowed fine seed in his field. While men were sleeping, his enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat, and left. When the blade sprouted and produced fruit, then the weeds appeared also. So the slaves of the householder came up and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow fine seed in your field? How, then, does it come to have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy, a man, did this.’ They said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go out and collect them?’ He said, ‘No; that by no chance, while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the harvest season I will tell the reapers, First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up, then go to gathering the wheat into my storehouse.’”—Matt. 13:24-30.
When asked about the meaning of the illustration Jesus explained that he himself was the sower; the field was the world; the fine seed were the true Christians as sons of the Kingdom; and the weeds were the sons of the wicked one sowed by the Devil—hypocritical Christians. The harvest would be a conclusion of a system of things and the reapers were angels.
The Devil’s sowing of the imitation sons of the Kingdom within the Christian congregation was not to wait until a long time after Jesus’ death, no, it was to be while men were sleeping, referring to the sleeping in death of the twelve apostles of Christ, or to the sleeping mentally or failure on the part of the appointed overseers of the Christian congregation to keep on the watch spiritually.
WHERE THE COUNTERFEIT ORIGINATED
So the Devil would perpetrate a counterfeit. This would be a much more effective way to hinder the spread of true Christianity than an open fight against it. Supporting Jesus’ words and showing just where the deceptive counterfeit Christians would come from, Peter said: “However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. Also, with covetousness they will exploit you with counterfeit words. But as for them, the judgment of ancient times is not moving slowly, and the destruction of them is not slumbering.”—2 Pet. 2:1-3.
In Peter’s words the mystery about the method of Satan’s fight through Babylonish religion is cleared up. The imitation Christians would be strong professors of Christianity, Christians who would turn from the truth. They would be leaders who would even form sects claiming to be Christian but being actually destructive of true Christianity. They would disown the owner who bought them, not openly in so many words, but by their hypocritical course of action. The apostle Paul described them to Titus in this way: “They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.” (Titus 1:16) The result among professing Christians would be loose conduct and would cause the way of truth to be spoken of abusively.
When the apostles of Jesus Christ were alive, they worked hard to build up the Christian congregation as a bulwark against such apostasy, which they knew would occur, and their efforts were not in vain, for true Christianity did survive. A case in point is the congregation at Corinth, where some were trying to divide the congregation, but Paul quickly “nipped in the bud” the disunifying menace. (1 Cor. 1:17-19) In the year 56 C.E., twenty-three years after Jesus Christ had died and been resurrected, the apostle Paul had a meeting with the overseers from the congregation of Ephesus and gave them this warning: “I know that all of you among whom I went preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. . . . Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore keep awake.”—Acts 20:16, 17, 25-31.
Paul died about ten years later, or about 65 C.E. In Paul’s letters to Timothy, the last being written just before his death, he repeatedly warned Timothy of the apostasy and gave him strong admonition to exert himself vigorously in building up the Christian congregation as a bulwark against apostasy.—1 Tim. 4:1-3; 3:15; 6:3-5, 20; 2 Tim. 2:1, 2; 3:1-7; 4:1-5.
To see how the hideous counterfeit was no ordinary enemy, but kept persistently trying to rear its head, we can look at a point near the very close of the first century. About 98 C.E. the apostle John wrote: “Young children, it is the last hour, and, just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there have come to be many antichrists; from which fact we gain the knowledge that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us. But they went out that it might be shown up that not all are of our sort.”—1 John 2:17-19.
In the Revelation given to John about 96 C.E. the Lord Jesus Christ told him to write the congregation in Ephesus, which Paul had warned long before both by word of mouth and by writing to Timothy in Ephesus. Jesus said this, through John: “Remember from what you have fallen, and repent and do the former deeds. If you do not, I am coming to you, and I will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Still, you do have this, that you hate the deeds of the sect of Nicolaus, which I also hate.” In a warning to the congregation in Pergamum, John was told to write this: “I have a few things against you, that you have there those holding fast the teaching of Balaam, who went teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. So you, also, have those holding fast the teaching of the sect of Nicolaus likewise. Therefore repent. If you do not, I am coming to you quickly, and I will war with them with the long sword of my mouth.”—Rev. 2:1, 5, 6, 12, 14-16.
Suggestive of Babylonian influence in the congregation of Pergamum was the existence of the “teaching of Balaam,” inasmuch as the original Balaam was from Mesopotamia, the region of ancient religious Babylon. Pergamum or Pergamos was the city to which the Babylonian priesthood, on fleeing from the fall of Babylon to Cyrus, went to set up their central religious college. There they put into the place that Belshazzar and his predecessors had occupied, the kings of Pergamos, thereby filling the seat of Belshazzar and his successors, who had been the heads of the Babylonish religion.—Deut. 23:4, 5; Num. 22:5; 31:8, 16.
WHERE WE FIND THE COUNTERFEIT TODAY
Perhaps in reading this you are already thinking about the things that you have heard from the many sects that claim to be Christian and from their representatives. You have discerned some counterfeit words from these sources. Correspondingly, this description from the Bible clearly points out that the great counterfeit is represented in the religious sects of Christendom, and that the religious leaders thereof, the clergy of Christendom, are the ones warned against by the apostles Peter and Paul. The apostle Paul gives us, probably, the most detailed description of the work of this class of religious counterfeiters and speaks of it as a ‘mystery of lawlessness.’ Just as Jesus Christ did in the illustration of the wheat and the weeds, Paul also shows that in the time of the end, in the time of the second presence of the Lord Jesus, the apostasy, along with those upholding it, will meet its doom. Let us analyze the words of the apostle Paul for description and clear identification of this counterfeit, in order that we may know what course of action to take to avoid being exploited with counterfeit words. Paul with great concern admonishes:
“However, brothers, respecting the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we request of you not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be excited either through an inspired expression or through a verbal message or through a letter as though from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here.
“Let no one seduce you in any manner, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction. He is set in opposition and lifts himself up over everyone who is called ‘god’ or an object of reverence, so that he sits down in the temple of The God, publicly showing himself to be a god. Do you not remember that, while I was yet with you, I used to tell you these things?
“And so now you know the thing that acts as a restraint, with a view to his being revealed in his own due time. True, the mystery of this lawlessness is already at work; but only till he who is right now acting as a restraint gets to be out of the way. Then, indeed, the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence. But the lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved. So that is why God lets an operation of error go to them, that they may get to believing the lie, in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.”—2 Thess. 2:1-12.
We notice that the apostle Paul personifies the counterfeit Christian leaders as the “man of lawlessness.” This could not refer to one individual, for Paul says this man was already doing his work in Paul’s day and would finally be done away with at the time of the presence of the Lord Jesus. One man could not live that long nor could he accomplish the things ascribed by Paul to the “man of lawlessness.”
The lawlessness that this “man” commits is not against the governments of this world, although he has at times been guilty of this. We see, however, that the clergy of Christendom hobnob with the rulers of the world and try to influence them in political affairs. At times, when it does not suit their purposes, they have been guilty of lawlessness against these rulers. But the lawlessness here mentioned is lawlessness against God. It is not a mere falling or drifting away from Christianity that this man commits, but it is an apostasy, a deliberate, planned rebellion against the sovereignty of God. By misleading the people and exploiting them with counterfeit words he is really turning them away from the King Jesus Christ, who rules in God’s name. The clergy follow the pattern of the clergy of the Jewish nation in rejecting the Messiah, the King sent to that nation by Jehovah. The haughtiness of this “man of lawlessness” is so great that “he is set in opposition and lifts himself up over everyone who is called ‘god’ or an object of reverence.” We find an instance in the words of Lucius Ferraris, an eighteenth-century canonist of the Franciscan Order of monks, who says:
“The pope is of such dignity and highness that he is not simply a man but, as it were, God, and the vicar of God. . . . The pope is, as it were, God on earth, the only prince of the faithful of Christ, the greatest king of all kings, possessing the plenitude of power, to whom the government of the earthly and heavenly kingdom is entrusted. . . . The pope is of so great authority and power that he can modify, declare or interpret the divine law. . . . The pope can sometimes counteract the divine law by limiting, explaining,” etcetera.a
Yes, God’s sovereignty is opposed and the words and law of Jehovah God himself are challenged. And it is not the Catholic clergy alone, but the clergy of all Christendom, who adopt the same attitude, teach Babylonish doctrines and commit spiritual fornication with the governments of this world. They set up their traditions and their own opinions ahead of God’s Word and claim to be in charge of all the religious interests of the people. When Jehovah’s witnesses enter a city or neighborhood preaching the Bible truth, they object to them as encroachers upon their pasture. They do not respect the true Christians, the anointed brothers of Jesus Christ who bring the Kingdom message to them, neither do they respect the words of the apostles themselves. They claim to be living stones in the spiritual temple of God, comprising his congregation.
Paul goes on to say that this apostasy was restrained in his day but that this restraint would be taken out of the way, and then the “man of lawlessness” would blossom forth and become prominent. In reading the letters of the apostles we can see that this restraint was removed by the death of the apostles and their immediate associates who outlived them. So it did not have to wait long after the end of the first century.
‘POWERFUL WORKS’ THAT DECEIVE MANY
To be effectually deceptive the “man of lawlessness” was to perform “every powerful work.” This does not necessarily mean miracles of the kind that the Lord Jesus Christ worked, but, for example, he has performed powerful works by converting the people by means of the state, by the conversion of whole populations, by the uniting of church and state, by the crusades. Such powerful works have been performed, not only by the Catholic section of Christendom, but also by the so-called Protestant section, in such things as the reformation, the maneuvering of governments, causing powerful laws to be passed to hold the people tighter in subjection to their organizations. Then there are “signs and portents” that put people in awe of them, for example, their claim of apostolic succession, their many councils, reforms, schools and hospitals operated by religious orders, shrines where they claim cures have been accomplished, Catholic Action, ecumenical councils, the World Council of Churches, encyclicals, appearances before and influences on the United Nations, and many other like things. They even acknowledge spiritism and astrology and have condoned the action of political leaders in going to fortune-tellers and mediums on questions of state. These activities may appear good and may exert powerful influence on people and politicians, but not on Jesus. He says: “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:22, 23.
Consequently, the apostle Paul says that, inasmuch as these high and mighty men have exalted themselves against him and do not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved, God has allowed an operation of error to go to them and they actually believe the lie. They are those “who are perishing,” but they have actually gone along with Satan’s counterfeit way and accepted it to the point that they believe they are holy and that God will let them get by with it.
Thus Satan through the Babylonish “man of lawlessness” accomplished much in his fight against true Christianity, but that he did not succeed in stamping it out is evident by the fact that we can read about and understand and identify the great counterfeit today and also by the fact that more than a million Christians are proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom to the people all over the world. Soon the apostle’s words will be fulfilled that the Lord Jesus, now in power and great glory in the heavens, will do away with him by the spirit of his mouth and bring him to nothing by the manifestation of his presence.
With this consideration of the Bible’s warnings and the facts of first-century history, we identify the counterfeit that Babylon’s religion has used in its fight, and we come nearer to the understanding of what Babylon the Great is. There is more to learn, however, about the historical facts, not only regarding the infiltration of selfish men into leading positions to bring about the apostasy and establish the “man of lawlessness,” but also just how the doctrines of Babylon were brought by these men into apostate Christendom. We must know these things so that we can unmask the counterfeit thoroughly. For to be exploited with the counterfeit words of this “man of lawlessness” and thereby fall into the hands of Babylon the Great would mean for us a destruction like theirs. Let us look to succeeding issues of this magazine for these historical facts.
a The Ecclesiastical Dictionary, a standard Roman Catholic authority, under the word papa.