The Official Journal of the Ensign Trust, London

Search
sky

THE ENSIGN MESSAGE

THE INCREDIBLE HISTORY OF GOD’S TRUE CHURCH – Chapter Six [part two]

By

 

THE GREAT CONSPIRACY

“And it shall come to pass that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the king, the Lord of hosts and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zech. 14:16).

Immediately following this festival the seventh and final holy day was observed. This is called “the last day, that great day of the feast” (John 7:37). On this day Jesus preached that “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (same verse).

This holy day pictures the event, yet in the future, which is sometimes termed the “White Throne Judgment” (Rev. 20:12) when “the dead, small and great, stand before God.” It is the time when the vast majority of human beings who lived and died without having any understanding of salvation will be resurrected to human life and given their first opportunity to grasp the true gospel and plan of salvation.

It is only those who knowingly reject God’s ways and plan of salvation, probably a tiny minority of the earth’s population, who will be destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). This is the second death from which there is to be no resurrection.

The people who repent of their own ways and accept God’s plan of salvation will all ultimately be changed from human to glorified spirit form, as the very children of God. They shall witness the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4).

The newly born sons of God, no longer restricted by the limitations of the human body, but now sharing the very power of God, will assist God in the development and rulership of the universe for all eternity.

When one considers the awesome magnitude and wonder of God’s plan for human beings, it becomes plain why the early church continued the physical observance of the holy days which picture these events on a year by year basis.

It was only when people began turning away from “the faith once delivered to the saints” to “another Jesus” and another gospel” (II Cor. 11:2-15), that the concept came into being that these holy days had been done away with or “nailed to the cross.”

From the very beginning of human life on earth, Satan, the devil, had opposed God and His plan for human beings. He offered Eve (Gen. 3:4) and all other humans an alternative to God’s plan of salvation, a counterfeit of the real thing.

The one thing that would disqualify people from receiving salvation was sin — disobedience to the laws of God. Satan “sold” the idea to Eve that a person could sin, live in whatever manner he wished, contrary to God’s law, and yet still receive the gift of eternal life.

The city of Babylon became the headquarters of Satan’s counterfeit religion. Nimrod, “a mighty one in the earth” (Gen. 10:8), built the city and exerted an immense influence over the early descendants of Noah.

His great political power was used to turn people’s minds away from God. The phrase “a mighty hunter before the LORD” (Gen. 10:8) could well have been rendered “against the LORD.” It was said that he caused all the people to rebel against God.

He was also a priest in Satan’s counterfeit religious system. This system, called in the Bible “Mystery, Babylon the great” (Rev. 17:5), continued to deceive millions of people long after the actual city of Babylon was destroyed (Isa. 13:19-22; Jer. 51:62).

This system not only instigated the large number of pagan religions of the world but also, amazingly, much of the world’s “Christianity” (II Cor. 11:2-15).

Alexander Hislop’s thoroughly documented work, The Two Babylons, goes into great detail to explain the doctrines of this system, and how it has continued to exert a profound influence upon millions in the Western world of professing Christianity to the present day.

Herodotus, the world traveler and noted historian of antiquity, studied this mystery religion at work in the various countries of the ancient world which he visited. He mentioned that Babylon was the primeval source from which ALL systems based on idolatry flowed.

The Apostle Paul expressed great concern that in his day “the mystery of iniquity” was still at work and that its adherents were attempting to gain a following amongst members of the true Church of God (II Thes. 2:7).

The high priest, or spiritual leader of this system at that time, has been identified by some as Simon Magus or Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24).

Simon was a Samaritan, and the Bible points out that salvation was of the Jews — not the Samaritans (John 4:22). The book of Revelation speaks of a synagogue, or church of Satan, the members of which claimed to be Jews, when they were not (Rev. 2:9). The Samaritans, when it suited their purposes, claimed to be Jews, but in fact they were largely Babylonian by race.

The Samaritans had been settled in the area some seven centuries before the time of Christ, and had been brought from Babylon and the surrounding areas (11 Kings 17:24, Ezra 4:9-10). They took their Babylonian mystery religion with them into Samaria.

Athough Simon was baptized by Philip, his subsequent career proves that he never really repented. He tried to buy the power to confer the Holy Spirit on his followers. There are no indications that he ever intended abandoning his former religion. Simon wanted extra spiritual power to enhance his own reputation and influence over his followers.

Peter, however, correctly perceived his motive and strongly rebuked him, pointing out that his heart was “not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21).

Although Simon did not repent and become a humble and converted member of the true church, he did clearly recognize the immense power of the new religion and saw in it an opportunity of extending his own spiritual influence far beyond the borders of Samaria. The new religion offered possibilities which would appeal to people everywhere — why not a universal church with himself as its leader?

Early writers often referred to Simon as “the father of the Gnostics” and Gnostic writings mention that in order to become “all things to all men” he claimed to be God the Father, in Samaria; God the Son, in Judea; and God the Holy Spirit among the Gentile peoples. Simon, it seemed, really believed in a “holy trinity.”

Perhaps the most damaging and far reaching of Simon’s new “Christian” doctrines was that the grace or free pardon of God gave a person the license to continue in sin.

The epistle of Jude speaks of “certain men” who “crept in unawares” and turned “the grace of our God into lasciviousness…” (Jude 4). Simon had been dead for some time when this was written, but Jude almost certainly had in mind Simon’s followers when he wrote this, who were attempting to introduce this doctrine into the true church.

“At the head of all the sects, which disturbed the peace of the church, stand the Gnostics, who claimed ability to restore to mankind the lost knowledge of the true and supreme God… even in the first century, in various places, men infected with the Gnostic leprosy began to erect societies distinct from the other Christians.”

William Cave gives further details concerning the progress of this insidious attempt to subvert the true Church: “The first ringleader of this heretical crew was Simon Magus, who not being able to attain his ends of the apostles, by getting a power to confer miraculous gifts, whereby he designed to greatly enrich himself, resolved to be revenged of them, scattered the most poisonous tares among the good wheat they had sown, bringing in the most pernicious principles; and as the natural consequence of that patronizing the most debauched villainous practices; and this under a pretense of still being Christians.

“But besides this, Simon and his followers made the gate yet wider, maintaining a universal license to sin; that men were free to do whatever they had a mind to; that to press the observance of good works was a bondage inconsistent with the liberty of the gospel; that so men did but believe in him and his dear Helen.”

Helen was Simon’s mistress, and it was said that his relationship with her was used by his followers as an example, which they followed in their own grossly immoral lifestyles.

Justin Martyr says of her that “A certain Helen, also, is of this class, who had before been a public prostitute in Tyre of Phoenicia, and at that time attached herself to Simon, and was called, the first idea that proceeded from him.”

The second century writer Iranaeus adds that “they lived in all lust and filthiness, as indeed whoever will take the pains to peruse the account that is given of them, will find that they wallowed in the most horrible and unheard of bestialities.”

These obscene orgies of Simon and his followers soon attracted the attention of the Romans, who rarely took the trouble to distinguish between the true Christians and the false. Tacitus and other writers of the period relate that Christians brought to trial were often accused by the authorities of taking part in secret orgies.

Peter seems to have had this in mind when he wrote that “many will follow their impurities; on account of whom the way of truth will be reviled” (II Pet. 2:2).

Towards the end of the second century a work known as “The Clementine Homilies” was produced, which gave a long and detailed account of Simon and his activities. This bizarre record contained a confusing mixture of truth and error and has been described as “ a kind of religious novel.” It speaks of a visit which Simon made to Egypt, at which time he embraced the doctrine of the immortal soul.

In an alleged conversation with Simon Peter the point was made that “For the soul even of the wicked is immortal, for whom it were better not to have it incorruptible. For, being punished with endless torture under unquenchable fire, and never dying, it can receive no end of its misery.”

This doctrine gained a following at Rome. Mosheim’s history of the early church mentions a sect of Christians who met on Sundays and who sang songs in honour of the sun and moon. They taught that Christ was in both and that the souls of the dead went to these heavenly bodies to be cleansed, after which they flew out to the stars to shine for evermore.

An inscription on the tomb of a martyr found in the Roman catacombs tends to support this view. The victim had died in the Antonine persecution which began about A.D. 160. It reads: “Alexander dead… is not”; but he lives above the stars, and his body rests in this tomb. He ended life under the emperor Antonine, who foreseeing that great benefit would result from his services, returned evil for good, for while on his knees and about to sacrifice to the true God, was led away to execution. Oh, sad times! in which, among sacred rites and prayers, even in caverns, we are not safe. What can be more wretched than such a life? And what than such a death? When they cannot be buried by their friends and relations. At length they sparkle in heaven. He has scarcely lived, who has lived in Christian times.”

Eusebius relates that after visiting Antioch, around A.D. 42, and being resisted by Peter (Gal. 2:11), Simon Magus went to Rome. Satan “seizing upon the imperial city for himself, brought thither Simon, whom we mentioned before. Coming to the aid of his insidious artifices, he attached many of the inhabitants of Rome to himself, in order to deceive them.”

Several New Testament passages state that two of the most prominent practices of this counterfeit system were fornication and idolatry.

A further passage from the work of Eusebius mentions that Simon’s followers “prostrate themselves before pictures and images of Simon himself and of Helena, who was mentioned with him, and undertake to worship them with incense and sacrifices and libations.”

Justin Martyr records that Menander a disciple of Simon “persuaded those who followed him that they would not die.” This man, in common with Satan (Gen. 3:4), deceived people into accepting the idea that a person could live a life of continual sin and yet not suffer the inevitable consequences.

Another of Simon’s followers, Nicholas of Antioch, is said to have founded the sect of the Nicolaitanes (Rev. 2:15) and promoted “the doctrine of promiscuity.”

The doctrine of “antichrist” was also expounded by Simon Magus.

“For it is manifest, from all the accounts which we have of him, that after his defection from the Christians, he ascribed to Christ no honour at all; but set himself in opposition to Christ, and said that he was no other than the supreme power of God.

“They (Simon and his followers) could not, indeed, either call him God, or a real man. True deity was inconsistent with their notion, that he was, although begotten of God, yet every way far inferior to the Father.”

This evil man set himself up as “another Jesus,” and gladly welcomed the actual worship of other human beings.

The religion of this movement represented a bizarre blend of Christianity and pagan, oriental philosophy. Iranaeus records that not all of Simon’s followers followed him openly, but some did so in secret, appearing to the world as true Christians. It was this group who secretly infiltrated the Church of God (Jude 4).

Simon’s movement had a distinct anti-Jewish bias, and rejected almost all of the Old Testament teachings. One of their methods was to allegorize teachings (such as those against idolatry and paganism). Iranaeus states that Simon taught “that the Jewish prophecies were inspired by the creator’s angels; therefore those who had hope in him and Helen need not attend to them, but freely do as they would.”

The law of God, which Paul described as holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12) was, according to Simon’s perverted reasoning, a sinister tyranny which would enslave human beings. Simon honoured the “eighth” day of the week (Sunday) rather than the Sabbath.”

This arch heretic died, according to Eusebius, during the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54), but others say during the time of Nero (A.D. 54-68).

Although Simon was dead his movement did not die with him. Even though the name of his sect (Simonians or Samaritans) was rarely used by his followers after the second century, the doctrines of the group gained an ever widening following. These people now called themselves simply “Christians.”

Even though the conspirators had been at work almost from the beginning of the New Testament church, the presence and energetic activities of the apostles had, to a large extent, kept them on the outside of the church looking in.

When Peter wrote his second epistle around A.D. 66, he was able to predict — as a future event — that “there will be false teachers among you” (II Pet. 2:1).

Jude, writing a decade or two later, saw the actual fulfillment of this prophecy. Events during this period were moving very rapidly.

By A.D. 68 when Nero died, Peter, Paul and many other leaders and members had been martyred. The following year saw the flight of the headquarters church from Jerusalem to Pella, beyond the river Jordan.

Direct persecution against the church and the upheaval caused by the Jewish wars created a leadership or power vacuum within the church, which ambitious men were ready to exploit. By the closing years of the first century only John remained of the original twelve apostles, and even he was in exile for a time on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9).

The influence of false ministers within some local congregations had by this time become so great that even John was rejected by at least one congregation (II John 9-10) in Asia Minor.

Clement of Rome, writing at about the same time, A.D. 95-96, expressed deep concern over a similar situation which was developing at Corinth. The Corinthian church, less than thirty years after the apostle Paul’s death, was ejecting from the ministry men who had been ordained by the apostles.

Clement, writing as a spokesman for “The Church of God which is at Rome,” urges the Corinthians to “walk by the rule of God’s Commandments.” He laments that “It is a shame… to hear that the most firm and ancient church of the Corinthians should, by one or two persons, be led into a sedition against its priests.

“But we see how you have put out some, who lived reputedly among you, from the ministry, which by their innocence they had adored.

“Your schism has perverted many, has discouraged many: it has caused diffidence in many, and grief in us all. And yet your sedition continues still.”

He calls upon the ringleaders to repent: “Let us with all haste put an end to this sedition.”

It was said that the conspirators had been guilty of attempting to “violate the order of public services,” primarily the Lord’s Supper or Passover.

Clement’s intervention may have checked the conspiracy for a while but by the time that Dionysius visited the Corinthian church in A.D. 170, the church which in Paul’s day had been keeping the Sabbath was now meeting for services “Sunday by Sunday.”

After the generation which had been converted through Paul’s ministry had died, inspired leadership within that local church seems to have quickly faded from the scene. With fewer converted members left with each passing year the false ministers were ultimately able to take over the entire church at Corinth.

Following Clement’s death around A.D. 101 major doctrinal changes began to be introduced at Rome. The abolition of the Sabbath and annual Holy Days seems to have been the first objective of those who, at Rome, had “crept in unawares.”

The introduction of Easter in place of the Passover took place according to one authority in A.D. 109; other sources put the date some ten to twelve years later, during the time of the Roman bishop Sixtus, or Xystus. Easter was observed at a different time compared to the Passover and was based on the unscriptural Good Friday-Easter Sunday tradition. Many of its features were taken directly from paganism.

Easter, according to Alexander Hislop, 15 “bears its Chaldean origin on its forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of Heaven… The introduction of this festival was a gradual process and in its earliest (second century) form still retained the name of Passover.

“The festival, of which we read in church history, under the name of Easter, in the third or fourth centuries, was quite a different festival from that now observed in the Romish Church, and at that time was not known by any such name as Easter. It was called Pascha, or the Passover, and… was very clearly observed by many professing Christians.”

This major doctrinal change had received no approval whatsoever either from any apostle or from any who had been ordained by an apostle.

Polycarp, who had known several of the apostles, and had been ordained by John, strongly resisted the introduction of this new festival. He visited Rome in A.D. 154 to discuss the matter with Anicetus, the Roman bishop.

Iranaeus described the outcome of the meeting: “For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe it (the Passover) because he had always observed it with John, the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associated; and neither did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, who said that he was bound to follow the customs of the presbyters before him.”

The church of Rome by this time was determined to follow its own customs and traditions, even when these were in direct conflict with the teachings and examples set by the apostles of Christ.

[to be continued]

|