The Changing Face of “Christianity”—Acceptable to God?
SUPPOSE you commission an artist to do a portrait of you. When he is finished, you are thrilled; the likeness is perfect. You think of your children, grandchildren, and their grandchildren looking at the portrait with great pride.
Some generations later, however, one of your descendants feels that the receded hairline in the portrait is unflattering, so he has hair added. Another dislikes the shape of the nose, so he has that changed. Other “improvements” follow with succeeding generations, so that eventually the portrait bears little resemblance to you. If you knew this were to happen, how would you feel? No doubt indignant.
Sadly, the story of this portrait is, in essence, the story of the nominal Christian church. History shows that soon after the death of Christ’s apostles, the official face of “Christianity” began to change, just as the Bible foretold.—Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43; Acts 20:30.*
Of course, it is quite proper to apply Bible principles to various cultures and ages. It is an entirely different matter to change Bible teachings to suit popular thinking. Yet, that is precisely what has happened. Consider, for example, the changes that have been made in a number of important areas.
The Church Embraces the State
Jesus taught that his rulership, or Kingdom, is a heavenly one that would, in due time, destroy all human rulerships and rule over the entire earth. (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 6:9, 10) It would not rule through human political systems. “My kingdom is no part of this world,” Jesus said. (John 17:16; 18:36) Thus, Jesus’ disciples, while law-abiding, stayed out of politics.
However, by the time of Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, many professed Christians had become impatient waiting for Christ’s return and for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Gradually, their attitude toward politics changed. “Prior to Constantine,” says the book Europe—A History, “Christians had not sought to assume [political] power as a means of furthering their cause. After Constantine, Christianity and high politics went hand in hand.” The refashioned Christianity became the official “universal,” or “catholic,” religion of the Roman Empire.
The encyclopedia Great Ages of Man states that because of this Church-State marriage, “by A.D. 385, only 80 years after the last great wave of persecution of Christians, the Church itself was beginning to execute heretics, and its clerics were wielding power almost equivalent to that of the emperors.” Thus began an era wherein the sword eclipsed persuasion as the means of conversion, and the titled, power-grasping clergy replaced the humble preachers of the first century. (Matthew 23:9, 10; 28:19, 20) Historian H. G. Wells wrote of “the profound differences between” fourth-century Christianity “and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.” These “profound differences” even affected fundamental teachings about God and Christ.
Christ and his disciples taught that there is only “one God the Father,” distinguished by his personal name, Jehovah, which appears some 7,000 times in early Bible manuscripts. (1 Corinthians 8:6; Psalm 83:18) Jesus was created by God; he is “the firstborn of every creature,” says the Catholic Douay Version of the Bible at Colossians 1:15. Thus, as a created being, Jesus frankly stated: “The Father is greater than I am.”—John 14:28.
But by the third century, certain influential clerics, enamored of the trinitarian teaching of pagan Greek philosopher Plato, began recasting God to fit the Trinitarian formula. In the following centuries, this doctrine unscripturally elevated Jesus to equality with Jehovah and made God’s holy spirit, or active force, into a person.
Concerning the church’s adoption of the pagan concept of the Trinity, the New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title the Trinitarian dogma. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective.”
Similarly, The Encyclopedia Americana says: “Fourth century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God; it was, on the contrary, a deviation from this teaching.” The Oxford Companion to the Bible calls the Trinity one of a number of “later creedal formulations.” Yet, the Trinity was not the only pagan concept assimilated into the church.
Refashioning the Soul
It is commonly believed today that humans have an immortal soul that survives the death of the body. But did you know that this church teaching was also a later addition? Jesus affirmed the Biblical truth that the dead “are conscious of nothing at all,” that they are asleep, as it were. (Ecclesiastes 9:5; John 11:11-13) Life would be restored by means of a resurrection—‘a standing up again’ from the sleep of death. (John 5:28, 29) An immortal soul, if it existed, would need no resurrection, since immortality precludes death.
Jesus even demonstrated the Biblical teaching of the resurrection by raising people from the dead. Take the example of Lazarus, who was dead for four days. When Jesus resurrected him, Lazarus came out from the tomb a living, breathing human. No immortal soul slipped back from heavenly bliss into his body when Lazarus awoke from the dead. If that were the case, Jesus would hardly have done him a favor by resurrecting him!—John 11:39, 43, 44.
What, then, is the source of the immortal-soul theory? The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology says that the concept “owes more to Greek philosophy than to biblical revelation.” The Jewish Encyclopedia explains: “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.”
Often, one falsehood leads to another, and that is true of the immortal-soul teaching. It opened the way for the pagan notion of eternal torment in a fiery hell.* Yet, the Bible plainly states that “the wages sin pays is death”—not eternal torment. (Romans 6:23) Thus, describing the resurrection, the King James Version states: “The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them.” Likewise, the Douay Bible says that “the sea . . . and death and hell gave up their dead.” Yes, simply put, those in hell are dead, ‘asleep,’ as Jesus said.—Revelation 20:13.
Do you sincerely believe that the teaching of eternal damnation in hell draws people to God? Hardly. In the minds of just and loving people, it is a repelling thought! The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that “God is love” and that cruelty, even to animals, is abhorrent to him.—1 John 4:8; Proverbs 12:10; Jeremiah 7:31; Jonah 4:11.
Disfiguring the “Portrait” in Modern Times
The disfiguring of God and Christianity continues today. A professor of religion recently described the struggle in his Protestant church as one “over the authority of Scripture and creed versus the authority of alien and humanistic ideologies, between the church’s faithfulness to the lordship of Christ versus an accommodation and reformulation of Christianity to the spirit of the age. The issue at stake is this: Who sets the agenda for the church . . . Holy Scripture or the dominant ideology of the day?”
Sadly, “the dominant ideology of the day” still tends to win out. It is no secret, for instance, that many churches have changed their stand on various issues so as to appear progressive and open-minded. Especially in moral matters, the churches have become quite liberal, as mentioned in the opening article. Yet, the Bible leaves no doubt that fornication, adultery, and homosexuality are gross sins in the eyes of God and that those practicing such sins “will not inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Matthew 5:27-32; Romans 1:26, 27.
When the apostle Paul wrote the above-quoted words, the Greco-Roman world around him was rife with all forms of wickedness. Paul could have reasoned: ‘Yes, God reduced Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes for gross sexual sins, but that was 2,000 years ago! Surely it does not apply in this enlightened age.’ However, he did not rationalize; he refused to corrupt Bible truth.—Galatians 5:19-23.
Look to the Original “Portrait”
Speaking to the Jewish religious leaders of his day, Jesus said that their worship was ‘in vain because they taught commands of men as doctrines.’ (Matthew 15:9) Those clerics did the very same thing to Jehovah’s Law through Moses that the clergy of Christendom did, and still do, to Christ’s teaching—they splashed the “paint” of tradition over divine truth. But Jesus stripped away all falsehoods for the benefit of honesthearted people. (Mark 7:7-13) Jesus spoke the truth, whether it was popular or not. God’s Word was always his authority.—John 17:17.
What a contrast Jesus presents to most professed Christians! Indeed, the Bible predicted: “People will be avid for the latest novelty and collect . . . teachers according to their own tastes; and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4, The Jerusalem Bible) These “myths,” of which we have considered a few, are spiritually destructive, whereas the truth of God’s Word builds up, and it leads to everlasting life. This is the truth that Jehovah’s Witnesses encourage you to examine.—John 4:24; 8:32; 17:3.
As Jesus revealed in the parable of the wheat and the weeds and in his illustration of the broad and the cramped roads (Matthew 7:13, 14), true Christianity would continue to be practiced by a few down through the ages. However, they would be overshadowed by a weedlike majority, who would promote themselves and their teachings as the true face of Christianity. This is the face to which our article refers.
“Hell” is a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades, both of which simply mean “the grave.” Thus, while the English translators of the King James Version translated Sheol 31 times as “hell,” they also rendered it 31 times as “grave” and 3 times as “pit,” thereby showing that these terms mean basically the same thing.
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The Origin of the Name Christian
For at least ten years after Jesus’ death, his followers were known as belonging to “The Way.” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4) Why? Because their way of life was centered around faith in Jesus Christ, who is “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Then, sometime after 44 C.E., in Syrian Antioch, disciples of Jesus “were by divine providence called Christians.” (Acts 11:26) This name quickly gained currency, even among public officials. (Acts 26:28) The new name did not alter the Christian way of life, which continued to be modeled on that of Christ.—1 Peter 2:21.
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By their public ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses direct people to God’s Word, the Bible
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Third from left: United Nations/Photo by Saw Lwin