Breaking Free From False Religion
“‘Get out from among them, . . .’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’ . . . , ‘and I will take you in.’”—2 CORINTHIANS 6:17.
1. What transaction did Satan try to make with Jesus, and what two things does his making this offer teach us?
“ALL these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.” Although this offer was made thousands of years after the beginning of false religion, it provides the key to understanding who is behind false worship and what its purpose is. Late in the year 29 C.E., the Devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for an act of worship. This episode tells us two things: that the kingdoms of this world were Satan’s to give and that the ultimate object of false religion is Devil worship.—Matthew 4:8, 9.
2. What do we learn from Jesus’ words at Matthew 4:10?
2 By his reply, not only did Jesus reject false religion but he also showed what true religion involves. He declared: “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’” (Matthew 4:10) The object of true religion is, therefore, the worship of the one true God, Jehovah. It involves faith and obedience, the doing of Jehovah’s will.
Origin of False Religion
3. (a) When and how did false religion begin on earth? (b) What is the first recorded act of religious intolerance, and how has religious persecution continued since then?
3 False religion began on earth when the first humans disobeyed God and accepted the Serpent’s proposal to decide for themselves “good and bad.” (Genesis 3:5) In so doing they rejected Jehovah’s righteous sovereignty and abandoned proper worship, true religion. They were the first humans “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created.” (Romans 1:25) The creature that they unwittingly chose to worship was none other than Satan the Devil, “the original serpent.” (Revelation 12:9) Their eldest son, Cain, refused to follow Jehovah’s kindly counsel and thus rebelled against His sovereignty. Knowingly or not, Cain became “a child of the evil one,” Satan, and a practicer of Devil worship. He killed his younger brother Abel, who practiced true worship, true religion. (1 John 3:12, Revised English Bible; Genesis 4:3-8; Hebrews 11:4) Abel’s blood was the first blood shed because of religious intolerance. Sad to say, false religion has continued shedding innocent blood right up until the present day.—See Matthew 23:29-35; 24:3, 9.
4. In the case of Noah, what scriptures illustrate the nature of true religion?
4 Before the Flood, Satan succeeded in turning the majority of mankind away from the true religion. Noah, however, “found favor in the eyes of Jehovah.” Why? Because he “walked with the true God.” In other words, he practiced true worship. True religion is not ceremony or ritual but a way of life. It involves putting faith in Jehovah and obediently serving him, ‘walking with him.’ Noah did this.—Genesis 6:8, 9, 22; 7:1; Hebrews 11:6, 7.
5. (a) What did the Devil try to establish after the Flood, and how? (b) How did Jehovah thwart the Devil’s plan, and what was the result?
5 Not long after the Flood, the Devil apparently used Nimrod, a man notorious for his “opposition to Jehovah,” in an effort to unite all mankind in a form of worship that would again be opposed to Jehovah. (Genesis 10:8, 9; 11:2-4) It would have been one united false religion, unified Devil worship, centered on the city and the tower that his worshipers built. Jehovah thwarted this scheme by confusing the “one language” then spoken by all mankind. (Genesis 11:5-9) Therefore, the city came to be called Babel, later Babylon, both names meaning “Confusion.” This linguistic confusion brought about the dispersal of humankind over the earth.
6. (a) What religious ideas were instilled in Satan’s worshipers in Babylon before their dispersal? (b) Why do religions around the world have similar beliefs? (c) What satanic purpose did Babylon serve, and of what did that ancient city become the symbol?
6 It would appear, however, on the basis of the history of mythology and religion, that before this dispersal of mankind by Jehovah, Satan had instilled into the minds of his worshipers certain fundamentals of false religion. These included the religious concepts of survival of a soul after death, fear of the dead, and existence of an infernal underworld, together with the worship of innumerable gods and goddesses, some of whom were grouped into triads. Such beliefs were carried to the ends of the earth by the various linguistic groups. With the passage of time, these basic ideas underwent variations. But by and large, they form the fabric of false religion in all parts of the world. Although thwarted in his attempt to create one united false religion with its world capital in Babylon, Satan settled for diverse forms of false worship, which were of Babylonian inspiration and designed to divert worship from Jehovah to himself. Babylon continued for centuries to be an influential center of idolatry, magic, sorcery, and astrology—all essential components of false religion. Not surprisingly, the book of Revelation symbolizes the world empire of false religion as a filthy harlot named Babylon the Great.—Revelation 17:1-5.
7. (a) Why was true religion not affected by the confusion of language? (b) Who came to be known as “the father of all those having faith,” and why?
7 Obviously, true religion remained unaffected by Jehovah’s confusing mankind’s means of expression at Babel. True worship had been practiced before the Flood by faithful men and women such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Noah’s wife, and Noah’s sons and daughters-in-law. After the Flood true worship was preserved in the line of Noah’s son Shem. Abraham, a descendant of Shem, practiced the true religion and became known as “the father of all those having faith.” (Romans 4:11) His faith was backed up by works. (James 2:21-23) His religion was a way of life.
8. (a) How was the true religion confronted with false religion in the 16th century B.C.E., and what was the result? (b) What new arrangement did Jehovah inaugurate with regard to his pure worship?
8 True worship continued to be practiced in the line of Abraham’s descendants—Isaac, Jacob (or, Israel), and the 12 sons of Jacob, from whom sprang the 12 tribes of Israel. The close of the 16th century B.C.E. found Abraham’s descendants through Isaac struggling to preserve the pure religion in a hostile, pagan environment—Egypt—where they were reduced to slavery. Jehovah used his faithful servant Moses, of the tribe of Levi, to deliver His worshipers from the yoke of Egypt, a land steeped in false religion. Through Moses, Jehovah concluded a covenant with Israel, making them His chosen people. At that time, Jehovah codified his worship, temporarily setting it within the bounds of a system of sacrifices administered by a priesthood and with a material sanctuary, first the transportable tabernacle and later the temple at Jerusalem.
9. (a) How was true worship practiced before the Law covenant? (b) How did Jesus show that the material features of the Law were not permanent?
9 It should be noted, however, that these material features were not meant to become permanent components of the true religion. The Law was “a shadow of the things to come.” (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 9:8-10; 10:1) Before the Mosaic Law, in patriarchal times, family heads apparently represented their households in offering sacrifices on altars they had erected. (Genesis 12:8; 26:25; 35:2, 3; Job 1:5) But there was no organized priesthood or system of sacrifices, with ceremonies and ritual. Furthermore, Jesus himself showed the temporary nature of codified worship centered at Jerusalem when he told a Samaritan woman: “The hour is coming when neither in this mountain [Gerizim, former site of a Samaritan temple] nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. . . . The hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-23) Jesus showed that true religion must be practiced, not with material things, but with spirit and truth.
10. (a) Why did Jehovah allow his people to be carried off captive to Babylon? (b) In what two ways did Jehovah deliver a faithful remnant in 537 B.C.E., and what was the principal purpose of their return to Judah?
10 Since the rebellion in Eden, there has been constant enmity between true religion and false religion. At times true worshipers have been, symbolically speaking, taken captive by false religion, typified since Nimrod’s time by Babylon. Before Jehovah allowed his people to be carried off captive to Babylon in 617 B.C.E. and 607 B.C.E., they had already fallen victim to Babylonish false religion. (Jeremiah 2:13-23; 15:2; 20:6; Ezekiel 12:10, 11) In 537 B.C.E., a faithful remnant returned to Judah. (Isaiah 10:21) They heeded the prophetic call: “Go forth, you people, out of Babylon!” (Isaiah 48:20) This was not to be a mere physical deliverance. It was also a spiritual deliverance from an environment of unclean, idolatrous false religion. This faithful remnant were therefore ordered: “Turn away, turn away, get out of there, touch nothing unclean; get out from the midst of her, keep yourselves clean, you who are carrying the utensils of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 52:11) The primary purpose of their return to Judah was to reestablish pure worship, true religion.
11. In addition to the restoration of pure worship in Judah, what new religious developments occurred in the sixth century B.C.E.?
11 Interestingly, that same sixth century B.C.E. witnessed fresh ramifications of false religion within Babylon the Great. It saw the birth of Buddhism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and Jainism, not to speak of rationalistic Greek philosophy that was later so greatly to influence the churches of Christendom. So while pure worship was being restored in Judah, God’s archenemy was providing a wider choice of alternatives in false religion.
12. What deliverance from Babylonish captivity took place in the first century C.E., and what warning did Paul give?
12 By the time Jesus appeared in Israel, the majority of the Jews were practicing various forms of Judaism, a form of religion that had adopted many Babylonish religious concepts. It had attached itself to Babylon the Great. Christ condemned it and delivered his disciples from Babylonish captivity. (Matthew, chapter 23; Luke 4:18) Since false religion and Greek philosophy were rampant in the areas where he preached, the apostle Paul quoted Isaiah’s prophecy and applied it to Christians, who needed to keep free from the unclean influence of Babylon the Great. He wrote: “What agreement does God’s temple have with [Babylonish] idols? For we are a temple of a living God; just as God said: ‘I shall reside among them and walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘“Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,” says Jehovah, “and quit touching the unclean thing”’; ‘“and I will take you in.”’”—2 Corinthians 6:16, 17.
Breaking Free From False Religion in the Time of the End
13. What is indicated in the messages that Christ sent to the seven congregations in Asia Minor, and what emerged as a result?
13 The messages that Christ sent to the seven congregations in Asia Minor by means of the Revelation given to the apostle John indicate clearly that by the end of the first century C.E., Babylonish religious practices and attitudes were creeping into the Christian congregation. (Revelation, chapters 2 and 3) The apostasy blossomed particularly from the second century to the fifth century C.E., resulting in the emergence of a corrupt imitation of the pure Christian religion. Such Babylonish doctrines as the immortality of the soul, a burning hell, and the Trinity were incorporated into the teachings of apostate Christianity. The Catholic, the Orthodox, and later the Protestant churches all adopted these false dogmas and, therefore, became a part of Babylon the Great, the Devil’s world empire of false religion.
14, 15. (a) What did Jesus’ illustration of the wheat and the weeds show? (b) What occurred toward the end of the 19th century, and by 1914, what progress had true Christians made as to doctrine?
14 True religion has never been completely stamped out. There have always been truth-lovers throughout the centuries, some of whom paid with their lives for their faithfulness to Jehovah and his Word, the Bible. But as Jesus’ illustration of the wheat and the weeds shows, the symbolic wheat, or anointed sons of the Kingdom, would only be separated from the weeds, or sons of the wicked one, at “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) As the time of the end—the time for this separation to take place—drew near, sincere Bible students in the late 19th century began breaking free from bondage to false religion.
15 By 1914 these Christians, known today as Jehovah’s Witnesses, had cultivated strong faith in the ransom. They knew that Christ’s presence must be invisible. They understood that 1914 would mark the end of “the times of the Gentiles.” (Luke 21:24, King James Version) And they clearly understood the meaning of the soul and the resurrection. They were also enlightened as to the gross error of the churches’ teachings on hellfire and the Trinity. They learned and began to use the divine name and perceived the wrongness of the evolution theory and the practice of spiritism.
16. What call did anointed Christians respond to in 1919?
16 A good start had been made in throwing off the shackles of false religion. And in 1919, Babylon the Great completely lost its hold over God’s people. Just as a remnant of Jews had been delivered from Babylon in 537 B.C.E., so the faithful remnant of anointed Christians heeded the call to “get out from the midst of her [Babylon the Great].”—Isaiah 52:11.
17. (a) What developed from 1922 onward, and what need made itself felt among God’s people? (b) What extreme position was adopted, and why is this understandable?
17 From 1922 onward, hard-hitting Bible truths were published and publicly circulated, exposing Babylonish false religion, particularly Christendom’s churches. The need was seen to impress upon the minds of God’s cleansed people that the break with all forms of false religion must be total. Thus, for years, even the use of the word “religion” was avoided when speaking of pure worship. Slogans, such as “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket,” were paraded in the streets of big cities. Books such as Government (1928) and “The Truth Shall Make You Free” (1943) made a clear distinction between “Christianity” and “religion.” This extreme position is understandable, since a clean break had to be made with the all-pervading religious systems of Babylon the Great.
True and False Religion
18. What new understanding of “religion” was given in 1951, and how is this explained in the 1975 Yearbook?
18 Then, in 1951, the time was ripe for Jehovah to give his people a crystal-clear understanding of the difference between true religion and false religion. The 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses reports: “In 1951, advocates of true worship learned something significant about the term ‘religion.’ Some of them could well recall 1938 when, at times, they carried the thought-provoking sign ‘Religion Is a Snare and a Racket.’ From their standpoint then, all ‘religion’ was unchristian, from the Devil. But The Watchtower of March 15, 1951, approved of using the adjectives ‘true’ and ‘false’ respecting religion. Furthermore, the absorbing book What Has Religion Done for Mankind? (published in 1951 and released during the ‘Clean Worship’ Assembly at Wembley Stadium, London, England) had this to say: ‘Taken according to the way it is used, “religion” in its simplest definition means a system of worship, a form of worship, without regard to whether it is true or false worship. This agrees with the meaning of the Hebrew word for it, ’a·boh·dáh, which literally means “service”, regardless of to whom it is rendered.’ Thereafter, the expressions ‘false religion’ and ‘true religion’ became common among Jehovah’s witnesses.”—Page 225.
19, 20. (a) Why were true worshipers not to be upset by the use of the word “religion” as applied to pure worship? (b) What did this new understanding enable Jehovah’s people to do?
19 In answer to a reader’s question, the August 15, 1951, issue of The Watchtower stated: “None should feel upset by the use of the term ‘religion’. Because we use it does not put us in the class of the tradition-bound false religions, no more than does the calling of ourselves Christians put us in with the false Christians of Christendom.”
20 Far from being a compromise, this new understanding of the word “religion” enabled Jehovah’s people to widen the gulf between true and false worship, as the following article will show.
To Test Our Understanding
□ When and how did false religion begin on earth?
□ What did Satan try to establish after the Flood, and how was his plan thwarted?
□ Of what did Babylon become the symbol?
□ What deliverances occurred in 537 B.C.E., in the first century C.E., and in 1919?
□ What new understanding of the word “religion” was given in 1951, and why then?
[Box/Picture on page 11]
False doctrines believed all around the world have their origin in Babylon:
□ Trinities, or triads, of gods
□ The human soul survives death
□ Spiritism—talking with the “dead”
□ Use of images in worship
□ Use of spells to placate demons
□ Rule by a powerful clergy