Category: World Religions

There have always been those who balk at the idea of God’s salvation being offered freely to those who believe. They reason that such a grand gift as forgiveness from such a holy God must require some kind of payment from us. We thank God for His grace, but we understand that He expects us to somehow earn that grace—in other words, there must be something that we can do to pay off the debt we owe to God.

In the early church, those who taught a combination of God’s grace and human effort were called “Judaizers.” The word Judaizer comes from a Greek verb meaning “to live according to Jewish customs.” The word appears in Galatians 2:14 where Paul describes how he confronted Peter for forcing Gentile Christians to “Judaize.”

A Judaizer taught that, in order for a Christian to truly be right with God, he must conform to the Mosaic Law. Circumcision, especially, was promoted as necessary for salvation. Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes first, and then they could come to Christ. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a mixture of grace (through Christ) and works (through the keeping of the Law). This false doctrine was dealt with in Acts 15 and strongly condemned in the book of Galatians.

At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, a group of Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas. Some men who belonged to the party of the Pharisees insisted that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were first circumcised and obeyed the Law of Moses. Paul made the case that, in Christ, there was no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, for God had purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith (Acts 15:8–9). He said it plainly in Galatians 2:16: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

To add anything to the work that Christ did for salvation is to negate God’s grace. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, not by returning to the Law. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21).

There are many groups today with beliefs/practices very similar to the Judaizers of the New Testament. The two most prominent would be the Hebrew Roots Movement and the Roman Catholic Church. The teachings of the Hebrew Roots Movement are virtually identical to those of the Judaizers whom Paul rebuked in Galatians. A primary focus of the Hebrew Roots Movement is to put followers of Christ back under the bondage of the Old Testament Law.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches a doctrine similar to that of the Judaizers of the New Testament in this way: its doctrine is a mixture of law and grace. At the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the Catholic Church explicitly denied the idea of salvation by faith alone. Catholics have always held that certain sacraments are necessary for salvation. The issues for the 1st-century Judaizers were circumcision and Sabbath-keeping. The issues for modern-day Catholics are baptism, confession, etc. The works considered necessary may have changed, but both Judaizers and Catholics attempt to merit God’s grace through the performance of ritualistic acts.

First Timothy 4:3 says that, in later times, false teachers will “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” This sounds suspiciously close to some of the teachings of Roman Catholicism, which requires priests to be celibate (“forbidding to marry”) and proclaims some food to be off-limits during Lent (“abstaining from certain foods”).The Judaizers upheld the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation; Catholics uphold man-made tradition as necessary; both view Christ’s death as being insufficient without the active and continued cooperation of the one being saved.

The Bible is clear that the attempt to add human works to God’s grace overlooks the very meaning of grace, which is “undeserved blessing.” As Paul says, “If by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Praise the Lord, “Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

The premise of the Hebrew Roots movement is the belief that the Church has veered far from the true teachings and Hebrew concepts of the Bible. The movement maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity, taught in churches today, has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.

Those of the Hebrew Roots belief hold to the teaching that Christ’s death on the cross did not end the Mosaic Covenant, but instead renewed it, expanded its message, and wrote it on the hearts of His true followers. They teach that the understanding of the New Testament can only come from a Hebrew perspective and that the teachings of the Apostle Paul are not understood clearly or taught correctly by Christian pastors today. Many affirm the existence of an original Hebrew-language New Testament and, in some cases, denigrate the existing New Testament text written in Greek. This becomes a subtle attack on the reliability of the text of our Bible. If the Greek text is unreliable and has been corrupted, as is charged by some, the Church no longer has a standard of truth.

Although there are many different and diverse Hebrew Roots assemblies with variations in their teachings, they all adhere to a common emphasis on recovering the “original” Jewishness of Christianity. Their assumption is that the Church has lost its Jewish roots and is unaware that Jesus and His disciples were Jews living in obedience to the Torah. For the most part, those involved advocate the need for every believer to walk a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must be a central focus in the lifestyle of believers today as it was with the Old Testament Jews of Israel. Keeping the Torah includes keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals, keeping the dietary laws, avoiding the “paganism” of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset. They teach that Gentile Christians have been grafted into Israel, and this is one reason every born-again believer in Jesus the Messiah is to participate in these observances. It is expressed that doing this is not required out of legalistic bondage, but out of a heart of love and obedience. However, they teach that to live a life that pleases God, this Torah-observant walk must be part of that life.

The Hebrew Roots assemblies are often made up of a majority of Gentiles, including Gentile rabbis. Usually they prefer to be identified as “Messianic Christians.” Many have come to the conclusion that God has “called” them to be Jewish and have accepted the theological position that the Torah (Old Testament law) is equally binding on Gentiles and Jews alike. They often wear articles of traditional Jewish clothing, practice Davidic dancing, and incorporate Hebrew names and phrases into their writing and conversations. Most reject the use of the name “Jesus” in favor of Yeshua or YHWH, claiming that these are the “true” names that God desires for Himself. In most cases, they elevate the Torah as the foundational teaching for the Church, which brings about the demotion of the New Testament, causing it to become secondary in importance and only to be understood in light of the Old Testament. The idea that the New Testament is faulty and relevant only in light of the Old Testament has also brought the doctrine of the Trinity under attack by many advocates of the Hebrew Roots beliefs.

As opposed to what the Hebrew Roots movement claims, the New Testament teachings of the Apostle Paul are perfectly clear and self-explanatory. Colossians 2:16,17 says, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Romans 14:5 states, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” Scripture clearly indicates that these issues are a matter of personal choice. These verses and many others give clear evidence that the Mosaic Covenant laws and ordinances have ended. Continuing to teach that the Old Covenant is still in effect in spite of what the New Testament teaches, or twisting the New Testament to agree with the Hebrew Roots beliefs, is false teaching.

There are aspects of the Hebrew Roots teachings that certainly can be beneficial. Seeking to explore the Jewish culture and perspective, within which most of the Bible was written, opens and enriches our understanding of the Scriptures, adding insight and depth to many of the passages, parables and idioms. There is nothing wrong with Gentiles and Jews joining together in celebrating the feasts and enjoying a Messianic style of worship. Taking part in these events and learning the way in which the Jews understood the teachings of our Lord can be a tool, giving us greater effectiveness in reaching the unbelieving Jew with the gospel. It is good for Gentiles, in the body of the Messiah, to identify in our fellowship with Israel. However, to identify with Israel is different from identifying “as” Israel.

Gentile believers are not grafted into the Judaism of the Mosaic Covenant; they are grafted into the seed and faith of Abraham, which preceded the Law and Jewish customs. They are fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), but they are not Jews. Paul explains this clearly when he tells those who were circumcised (the Jews) “not to seek to be uncircumcised” and those who were uncircumcised (the Gentiles) “not to become circumcised” (1 Corinthians 7:18). There is no need for either group to feel they must become what they are not. Instead, God has made Jews and Gentiles into “one new man” in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:15). This “new man” is referring to the Church, the body of Christ, which is made up of neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:27-29). It’s important for Jews and Gentiles to remain authentic in their own identity. In this way a clear picture of the unity of the body of Christ can be seen as Jews and Gentiles are united by one Lord, one faith, one baptism. If Gentiles are grafted into Israel, becoming Jews, the purpose and picture of both Jew and Gentile, coming together as one new man, is lost. God never intended Gentiles to become one in Israel, but one in Christ.

The influence of this movement is working its way into our churches and seminaries. It’s dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a “higher path” and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs; in fact, the opposite is taught. Romans 7:6 says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Christ, in keeping perfectly every ordinance of the Mosaic Law, completely fulfilled it. Just as making the final payment on a home fulfills that contract and ends one’s obligation to it, so also Christ has made the final payment and has fulfilled the law, bringing it to an end for us all.

It is God Himself who has created a world of people with different cultures, languages and traditions. God is glorified when we accept one another in love and come together in unity as “one” in Christ Jesus. It’s important to understand that there is no superiority in being born Jewish or Gentile. We who are followers of Christ, comprised of many different cultures and lifestyles, are all of value and greatly loved because we’ve entered into the family of God.

To understand why Christianity is a “bloody religion,” we must go back to God’s declarations regarding blood in the Old Testament: “the life of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11, 14). Here God tells us that life and blood are essentially one and the same. The blood carries life-sustaining nutrients to all parts of the body. It represents the essence of life. In contrast, the shedding of blood represents the shedding of life, i.e. death.

Blood is also used in the Bible to represent spiritual life. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden by disobeying God and eating fruit of the forbidden tree, they experienced spiritual death immediately, and physical death years later. God’s warning, “You shall not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17) was fulfilled. Their blood—their lives—were now tainted by sin. In His gracious plan, however, God provided a “way out” of their dilemma by declaring that sacrifices of blood, first the blood of animals and finally the blood of the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ), would be sufficient to cover the sin of fallen mankind and restore us to spiritual life. He instituted the sacrificial system, beginning with the animals. He himself killed to provide the first garments, thereby “covering” the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). All the Old Testament sacrifices which followed from then on were temporary ones, needing to be repeated over and over. These continual sacrifices were a foreshadowing of the one true and final sacrifice, Christ, whose blood shed on the cross would pay the penalty of sin forever. His death made any further bloodshed unnecessary (Hebrews 10:1-10).

As far as Christianity being a bloody religion, it is. But it is uniquely a bloody religion. Contrary to bloodless religions, it takes sin seriously, indicating that God takes sin seriously and gives a death penalty for it. Sin is not a small matter. It is the simple sin of pride that turned Lucifer into a demon. It was the simple sin of jealousy that caused Cain to slay Abel, etc. And in Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, they believed the deceiver over a good and loving God, choosing to rebel against His love and denying the goodness of His character. Christianity is a bloody religion because it views sin as a holy God views it—seriously.

Also, because God is just, sin requires a penalty. God cannot merely forgive in mercy until the demands of justice have been met. Thus the need for a sacrifice before forgiveness is possible. The shedding of the blood of animals, as Hebrews points out, could only “cover” sin for a time (Hebrews 10:4) until the intended and sufficient sacrifice was made in Christ’s atoning death. Thus, Christianity is different from other bloody religions in that it alone provides a sufficient sacrifice to take care of the sin problem.

Last, although Christianity presents a bloody sacrifice in these regards, it is the only religion that is bloodless in the end. The opposite of death is life. In Jesus’ death, He brought life as is shown in so many verses. And in trusting Christ and His atoning sacrifice for one’s sins, one is saved from death and has passed into life (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14). In Him is life. All other paths lead to death (Acts 4:16; John 14:6).

“Name it  –  Claim it;” Is it Biblical?

Over these past  years I have had the pleasure of  visiting many on word press blog sites and; more recently, Christian groups on Face Book. Very few sites and/or groups advocate the “name it claim it” cultic view. I  do, however, notice a growing number of members/visitors commenting  approval and belief in the movement. It reflects the growing apostasy within Christianity.

The “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” is not biblical and is in many ways antithetical to the true gospel message and the clear teaching of Scripture. While there are many different versions of the name it and claim it philosophy preached today, they all have similar characteristics. At its best, this teaching comes from the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of some Scriptures, and, at its worst, it is a completely heretical teaching that has the characteristics of cultic doctrine.

The roots of the Word of Faith movement and the name it and claim it message have more in common with new age metaphysics than with biblical Christianity. However, instead of us creating our reality with our thoughts, as new age proponents advise, name it and claim it teachers tell us that we can use the “power of faith” to create our own reality or get what we want. In essence, faith is redefined from “a trust in a holy and sovereign God despite our circumstances” to “a way of controlling God to give us what we want.” Faith becomes a force whereby we can get what we want rather than an abiding trust in God even during times of trials and suffering.

There are many areas where name it and claim it departs from biblical Christianity. The teaching really exalts man and his “faith” above God. In fact, many of the more extreme Word of Faith teachers teach that man was created on terms of equality with God and that man is the same class of being that He is Himself. This dangerous and heretical teaching denies the very basic tenets of biblical Christianity, which is why the extreme proponents of the name it and claim it teaching must be considered to be cultic and not truly Christian.

Both the metaphysical cults and the name it and claim it teaching distort the truth and embrace the false teaching that our thoughts control reality. Whether it is the power of positive thinking or the prosperity gospel, the premise is the same—what you think or believe will happen is ultimately what controls what will happen. If you think negative thoughts or are lacking in faith, you will suffer or not get what you want. But on the other hand if you think positive thoughts or just have “enough faith,” then you can have health, wealth, and happiness now. This false teaching appeals to one of man’s most basic instincts, which is one reason why it is hugely popular.

While the prosperity gospel and the idea of controlling one’s future with his thoughts or faith is appealing to sinful man, it is insulting to a sovereign God who has revealed Himself in Scripture. Instead of recognizing the absolute sovereign power of God as revealed in the Bible, the name it and claim it adherents embrace a false god who cannot operate apart from their faith. They present a false view of God by teaching that He wants to bless you with health, wealth, and happiness but cannot do so unless YOU have enough faith. Thereby God is no longer in control but man is. Of course, this is completely antithetical to what Scripture teaches. God does not depend upon man’s “faith” to act. Throughout Scripture we see God blessing whom He chooses to bless and healing whom He chooses to heal.

Another problem with the name it and claim it teaching is that it fails to recognize that Jesus Himself is the ultimate treasure worth sacrificing everything for (Matthew 13:44) and instead sees Jesus as little more than a way of getting what we want right now. Jesus’ message is that a Christian is called to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24–26). Contrast that to the message of the prosperity gospel. Rather than being a message of self-denial, the prosperity gospel is one of self-satisfaction. Its goal is not becoming more Christlike through sacrifice but having what we want here and now, clearly contradicting the words of our Savior.

The Bible teaches that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12), but the name and claim it message is that any suffering we undergo is simply the result of a lack of faith. The prosperity gospel is completely focused on us getting the things the world has to offer, but 1 John 2:15 tells us we should not “love the world or the things in the world” and, in fact, those with a fondness for the things of the world become enemies of God (James 4:4). The message of the prosperity gospel simply cannot be any more opposite of what the Bible really teaches.

In his book Your Best Life Now, prosperity teacher Joel Osteen says that the key to a more rewarding life, a better home, a stronger marriage, and a better job is found in a “simple yet profound process to change the way you think about your life and help you accomplish what is truly important.” How different that is from the biblical truth that this life now is nothing compared to the life to come. The message of the prosperity gospel is focused around the “treasures” or good things we want and can have now, while Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

Jesus did not come to give us health, wealth and happiness now. He came to save us from our sins so that we can have an eternity of bliss with Him. Following Christ is not a ticket to all the material things men desire in this life but a ticket to eternal life. Our desire should not be to have our best life now but to have the attitude of the apostle Paul, who had learned to be content “in whatever state I am” (Philippians 4:11).

Folk religion is basically made up of certain ethnic or regional religious traditions that practice under the guise of an established religion, but is outside the boundaries of official doctrine and practices. Folk religion’s indigenous or native beliefs are held all over the world, particularly in parts of South America, Africa, China, and Southeast Asia.

The largest folk religion in the world is the Chinese folk religion which has an estimated 400 million followers worldwide or about 6.6 percent of the world’s population. All folk religions combined have more followers than Buddhism or Judaism, claiming about 10 percent of the world population in total. Only Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism have more followers.

Despite being separated by many thousands of miles, several aspects of folk religion have certain features in common. Folk religion is heavily infused with magic and superstition, in particular what is called “sympathetic” magic—the belief that like forces influence like forces. This holds true even if they are not causally linked in any way directly or even obviously. An example of sympathetic magic is the idea that the movements of the stars and planets somehow influence or portend events or tendencies in the human experience. The popularity of astrology and psychics demonstrates that folk religion still exists, even in the Western world.

Interestingly, many components of folk religion have found their way into modern mega-religions including Christianity and Islam. For example, some of our Christmas traditions can be traced back to pagan origins, including a pagan feast preceding the advent of the birth of Jesus. At that time it was called the winter solstice. Further, the symbolic consumption of Jesus’ body and blood during the Catholic mass is considered by some as an example of sympathetic magic, whereby he who consumes the magical substance is imbued with some of the sanctity that comes from the divine persona.

Folk religion is employed also by combining some of its practices with those of mega religions. And in so doing, these practices are labeled as “folk Christianity” among Christian countries and “folk Islam” in those of Islamic nations. Without question, folk religion is considered a distorted, if not meaningless, practice of religion by lay people outside of the control of clergy or the supervision of theologians. As one would imagine, there is a certain amount of acrimony between the two.

Folk religion attempts in its own way to answer human needs for reassurance in times of trouble, and many of its rituals are aimed at mundane goals like seeking healing or averting misfortune. Several aspects or practices of folk religion are born from certain animistic or fetishistic rituals or ceremonies. This is inevitable simply because of folk religion’s ritualistic nature. Actually, the line is often blurry between the practice of folk religion and the practice of magic.

Remarkably, those who hold to the practices of folk religion are not even aware that their beliefs are distinctive from those of major official religions. Here are some examples that can be considered aspects of folk religion doctrine:

• belief in the Evil Eye
• rituals to ward off evil, curses, demons, witchcraft
• blessing of animals, crops, beer, wine, cheese
• fertility rites
• belief in traditional magic systems
• thanksgiving prayers, grace before meals and other domestic rituals
• veneration of ancestors and deceased family members, esp. in Christian, Jewish, or Islamic households
• some aspects of the veneration of various saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy; Marian apparitions
• hoodoo, voodoo, pow-wow and Santería
• snake handling
• hex signs
• religious jewelry
• religious art in the home
• use of Bible, crucifix, other objects as talismans
• systems of interpretation of prophecy as it relates to the end times

Some of these practices are consistent with biblical Christianity, such as prayers of thanksgiving and systematic interpretation of biblical prophecy. Where folk religion departs from the Bible as the revealed Word of God, it should be rejected, and that would seem to be the vast majority of its doctrine and practices.

The Counter-Reformation was Roman Catholicism’s response to the Protestant Reformation. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Christians began to openly criticize the Roman Catholic Church for teaching things contrary to the Bible. The Reformers objected to the veneration (worship) of Mary, the selling of indulgences, the insistence that rituals and sacraments were necessary for salvation, and so forth. As the Reformation took hold culturally and theologically, Catholicism responded with its own efforts. Some of these were intended to change the Catholic Church itself, but most were designed to resist the claims of the Reformers. Collectively, these Catholic efforts became known as the Counter-Reformation.

In truth, the Counter-Reformation wasn’t really much of a “reformation” of Catholicism, at least not from a theological perspective. It was truly a “counter to the Reformation”; that is, it was primarily concerned with refuting and silencing Protestant disagreements. Much of the Counter-Reformation was driven by politics. In Spain, for example, kings and queens were more than happy to apply Catholic resources toward stamping out dissenters—in their case, mostly Protestants. Deportation, excommunication, and execution were common tools used in the Counter-Reformation.

Two lasting effects came out of the Counter-Reformation: the Jesuit Order (the Society of Jesus) and the Council of Trent.

The Jesuits are a religious order formed specifically to counter Protestantism. Their tactics during the Counter-Reformation involved intellectual and theological arguments, although they also used less spiritual methods of accomplishing their goals. The Inquisition was a product of Jesuit influence. The Jesuits also produced an Index of Prohibited Books: texts Catholics were officially forbidden to read. The Jesuits’ influence on Catholic philosophy and theology was significant.

The Council of Trent was, in theory, an attempt to change those aspects of Catholicism that Protestants were justified in complaining about. Unfortunately, the council itself came far too late. By the time the council convened, the Reformation had been in full swing for nearly a quarter-century. By that time, the church was well and truly split.

The Council of Trent did positively address some complaints of the Reformers. The sale of indulgences was stopped, the roles of priests were more carefully defined, and the use of sacred artifacts—relics—was greatly reduced. Certain aspects of music and liturgy and other practical issues were discussed as well.

However, on the most critical issues, the Council of Trent, like the rest of the Counter-Reformation, was mostly a doubling-down on entrenched Catholic theology. This council, and the other Counter-Reformers, doggedly defended transubstantiation, upheld the necessity of sacraments for salvation, rejected sola fide, and claimed outright that Catholic tradition was as equally authoritative as the Bible. In addition, the council members determined that the Latin Vulgate was the one and only acceptable Bible for church use. And they insisted that, since politics was instituted by God, all political leaders were subject to papal authority.

Even though some aspects of the Counter-Reformation were aimed at repairing broken parts of Catholicism, the primary effect was to stabilize and reinforce Catholic errors. It would be fair to say that the Counter-Reformation, especially the founding of the Jesuits and the results of the Council of Trent, slammed the door shut on any possible reconciliation with Protestantism or the Reformers.

The Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits, is a society within the Roman Catholic Church that was founded by Ignatius of Loyola and instituted by Pope Paul III. The Jesuit society demands four vows of its members: poverty, chastity, obedience to Christ, and obedience to the Pope. The purpose of the Jesuits is the propagation of the Catholic faith by any means possible.

Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish nobleman and intended to have a career as a professional soldier. A cannonball shattered his leg in 1521, and his career was shattered with it. During his long recovery at the castle of Loyola, he spent much time reading religious books, fasting and praying. As a result of these studies, Ignatius decided to become a soldier of Christ, and hung up his sword at the altar of Mary in Montserrat. From 1522 to 1534, Loyola traveled to monasteries and schools, studying and praying in preparation for a life consecrated to Christ. Toward the end of his graduate studies at the University of Paris, he and six friends who had been meeting for times of extended prayer and meditation vowed to continue their companionship after graduation by living in evangelical poverty and traveling as missionaries to Jerusalem. When war between the Turks and Venice prevented their passage to Jerusalem, they determined to work in the cities of northern Italy. Loyola presented his plan for service to the Vatican and received a papal commission from Pope Paul III in 1540, with Loyola receiving a lifetime appointment as General.

With the threat of Islam spreading across the Mediterranean region, the Jesuits’ first focus was the conversion of Muslims. Shortly after the founding of the order, their focus shifted to counteracting the spread of Protestantism. The Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries was largely due to the Jesuits. With their vows of total obedience to the Pope and their strict, military-style training, the Jesuits became feared across Europe as the “storm troopers” of the Catholic Church, and they led armies which recaptured large areas for the Roman Catholic Church. Along with the military actions, their work centered on education and missionary expansion, and by the end of Loyola’s life in 1556, there were Jesuits in Japan, Brazil, Ethiopia, and most parts of Europe. Many of the explorers of that period were accompanied by Jesuit priests, eager to bring Catholicism to new lands.

The Jesuits are still active in the world today, though the military actions of those early years have been left behind. The goal of spreading the Catholic faith is still their primary objective, and they do it through missionary work and education. As for their beliefs, they hold to the historic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The practice of “Ignatian spirituality” follows the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola and forms the foundation of their daily lives. The goal of these practices is to conquer and regulate the inner personal life so as to be submissive to God. One of the key practices is separation from all friends and acquaintances, in order to attend Mass and Vespers daily without interference. Another practice is deep and constant meditation on the sins that have been committed, so as to rouse intense sorrow for sins. To address all of their exercises would take far more space than this article allows.

As is the case with the Catholic Church in general, there is certainly an appearance of godliness and spirituality that is readily seen in the Jesuits. When we compare their beliefs and practices with the Bible, however, it would appear that they have “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5, KJV). The difference between Roman Catholic belief and the biblical presentation of the gospel has been well phrased in a question “do or done?” What must I do to get to heaven (Catholicism), or what has Christ done to get me to heaven (biblical Christianity)?

The Inquisitions were judicial institutions or tribunals that were established by the Roman Catholic Church in order to seek out, try, and sentence people that the Roman Catholic Church believed to be guilty of heresy. The purpose of the inquisitions was to secure and maintain religious and doctrinal unity in the Roman Catholic Church and throughout the Holy Roman Empire, through either the conversion or persecution of alleged heretics. Historians generally distinguish the Inquisitions based on four different time frames and areas that they took place in. These are the Medieval or Episcopal Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Portuguese Inquisition, and the Roman Inquisition.

Prior to the founding of the Roman Catholic Church and the establishment of their version of Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, the punishment for heresy among Christians was usually excommunication from the church. However, with the marriage of church and state that arose in the 4th century, people that the Roman Catholic Church considered to be heretics also came to be considered as enemies of the state and were subject to many forms of extreme punishment, including death. It wasn’t until the 12th century that official Inquisitions were organized and sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church to officially deal with what they saw as a rise in organized heretical groups within the Holy Roman Empire.

The first of the Inquisitions is known as the Medieval or Episcopal Inquisition and refers to the various tribunals that started around 1184. It includes the Episcopal Inquisition (1184-1230) and the Papal Inquisition (1230), which arose in response to large popular movements in Europe that were considered to be heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. It was during this time (1231) that Pope Gregory IX shifted the power to punish heretics away from the local bishops and put the inquisitors under the special jurisdiction and authority of the papacy. He also established severe penalties for those found guilty of committing heresy, and his decree set forth new guidelines for investigating and punishing heresy in the Holy Roman Empire. Generally, when an Inquisition was set up to investigate heresy in a particular area of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope would appoint two inquisitors, each of which had equal authority in the Inquisition or tribunal. Because these inquisitors had the power to investigate and excommunicate even princes, they wielded enormous power and influence in the Holy Roman Empire.

While some of the inquisitors had reputations as being men of justice and mercy, others were known to subject people to cruel and unusual punishment, including many different kinds of torture, which is what the Inquisitions are generally remembered for. Because they could imprison suspects that they thought were lying, some inquisitors used torture as an attempt to get them to admit what the inquisitor wanted to hear. In 1252 Pope Innocent IV officially sanctioned torture as a way of extracting the “truth” from suspects. Prior to that time, this type of extreme punishment was foreign to church tradition and practice. During the Spanish Inquisition alone, as many as 2,000 people were burned at the stake within one decade after the Inquisition began.

The next major Inquisition period is known as the Spanish Inquisition. It was set up by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain in 1478 with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV. Unlike the previous Inquisition, it was completely under royal authority and was staffed by secular clergy. It mainly focused on Jews who had professed to be converts to Roman Catholicism but who were suspected of having continued to practice Judaism. Later on, with the spread of Protestantism into Spain, the Inquisition would also begin to persecute Protestants who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. However, after the decline in religious disputes in the 17th century, the Spanish Inquisition essentially became more like a secret police that would investigate and retaliate against internal threats to the Spanish authorities. The Spanish Inquisition is probably the most infamous for its torture and the number of people executed as a result of it. One historian estimated that over the course of its history the Spanish Inquisition tried a total of 341,021 people, of whom at least 10 percent (31,912) were executed.

Another important period is known as the Portuguese Inquisition and was established in Portugal in 1536 by the king of Portugal, João III, and operated much like the more famous Spanish Inquisition. Later, in 1560, in India and other parts of the Portuguese Empire in Asia, the Goa Inquisition was set up in the Indian city of Goa to deal with converts from Hinduism who were suspected of continuing to practice or hold to some Hindu beliefs.

The last period is known as the Roman Inquisition, and it was established in 1542 when Pope Paul III established the Holy Office as the final court of appeals in all trials of heresy. This group was made up of cardinals and other officials whose task was to maintain and defend the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. This group played an important role in the Counter-Reformation, and it was also this body that condemned Galileo for “grave suspicion of heresy” and banned all of his works in 1633 for teaching that the sun was the center of the universe and that the earth revolved around it. In 1965, Pope Paul VI reorganized the Holy Office and renamed it as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it remains in effect today.

Why does the world hate the Jews? Why is anti-Semitism so rampant in so many different nations? What is so bad about the Jews? History has shown that at various times over the last 1,700 years the Jews have been expelled from over 80 different countries. Historians and experts have concluded there are at least six possible reasons:

• Racial Theory – the Jews are hated because they are an inferior race.
• Economic Theory – the Jews are hated because they possess too much wealth and power.
• Outsiders Theory – the Jews are hated because they are different from everyone else.
• Scapegoat Theory – the Jews are hated because they are the cause for all the world’s problems.
• Deicide Theory – the Jews are hated because they killed Jesus Christ.
• Chosen People Theory – the Jews are hated because they arrogantly declare they are the “chosen ones of God.”

Is there any substance to these theories?

• With respect to the racial theory, the truth is that the Jews are not a race. Anyone in the world of any color, creed or race can become a Jew.

• The economic theory citing that the Jews are wealthy doesn’t hold much weight. History has shown that during the 17th through the 20th centuries, especially in Poland and Russia, the Jews were desperately poor and had very little, if any, influence in business or political systems.

• As for the outsiders’ theory, during the 18th century, the Jews desperately tried to assimilate with the rest of Europe. They had hoped that assimilation would cause anti-Semitism to disappear. However, they were hated even more by those who claimed the Jews would infect their race with inferior genes. This was especially true in Germany prior to World War II.

• As for the scapegoat theory, the fact is that the Jews have always been hated, which makes them a very convenient target.

• As for the idea of deicide, the Bible makes it clear that the Romans were the ones who actually killed Jesus, though the Jews acted as accomplices. It wasn’t until a few hundred years later that the Jews were cited as the murderers of Jesus. One wonders why the Romans are not the ones hated. Jesus Himself forgave the Jews (Luke 23:34). Even the Vatican absolved the Jews of Jesus’ death in 1963. Nevertheless, neither statement has diminished anti-Semitism.

• As for their claim to being the “chosen people of God,” the Jews in Germany rejected their “chosen-ness” status during the later part of the 19th century to better assimilate into German culture. Nevertheless, they suffered the Holocaust. Today, some Christians and Muslims claim to be the “chosen people” of God, yet for the most part, the world tolerates them and still hates the Jews.

This brings us to the real reason by the world hates the Jews. The apostle Paul tells us, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!” (Romans 9:3-5). The truth is that the world hates the Jews because the world hates God. The Jews were God’s firstborn, His chosen people (Deuteronomy 14:2). Through the Jewish patriarchs, the prophets, and the temple, God used the Jews to bring forth His Word, the Law, and morality to a world of sin. He sent forth His son, Jesus the Christ, in a Jewish body to redeem the world of sin. Satan, the prince of the earth (John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2), has poisoned the minds of men with his hated of the Jews. See Revelation 12 for an allegorical depiction of Satan’s (the dragon’s) hatred of the Jewish nation (the woman).

Satan has tried to wipe out the Jews through the Babylonians, the Persians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Hittites, and the Nazis. But he’s failed every time. God is not finished with Israel. Romans 11:26 tells us that some day all Israel will be saved, and this cannot come to pass if Israel no longer exists. Therefore, God will preserve the Jews for the future, just as He has preserved their remnant throughout history, until His final plan comes to pass. Nothing can thwart God’s plan for Israel and the Jewish people.

The House of Yahweh (HOY), headquartered on a compound in Eula, Texas, is a cult founded in 1980. In some ways, the movement resembles the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), from which it split. Its main focus is on Old Testament law-keeping as a means of justification. The group’s emphasis on rule-keeping and apocalyptic destruction resembles Jehovah’s Witness’ doctrine. Their belief in polygamy and the superiority of House of Yahweh elders also suggests Mormon influence.

In 1974, J. G. Hawkins, who later changed his name to the Jewish-sounding Yaaqob, visited Israel and claimed he had found “proof” that Yahweh was God’s only recognized name. His younger brother Bill legally changed his name to Yisrayl and began the House of Yahweh in his home. The brothers claimed that they were the two witnesses prophesied in Revelation 11 to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ, whom they call Yahshua. According to Revelation 11:3–6, the two witnesses “will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. . . . If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. . . . They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” Neither brother has ever produced any miracles, and the 1,260 days has long passed. So has Yaaqob. The elder Hawkins brother died in 1991. That, however, has not deterred Yisrayl or the House of Yahweh.

Yisrayl Hawkins believes himself to be an end-time prophet sent to deliver the world from the coming destruction. Only those who are part of his sect will survive. All Christian churches are heretical and of Satan. He focuses on apocalyptic prophecies and interprets them as he sees fit. The group is cult-like in its strict authoritarianism, insisting that rebellion against House of Yahweh leaders is rebellion against Yahweh Himself. They teach that salvation can be obtained by strict adherence to the Torah, obeying all of “Yahweh’s 613 laws,” and keeping the Jewish feasts and festivals. They keep the Saturday Sabbath and label all traditional Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter “pagan.”

The House of Yahweh is not a Christian group. Some of the critical issues which separate the House of Yahweh from true Christianity are as follows:

1. The Nature of God. They call the Creator “Yahweh” and believe all other names by which He is commonly known (God, Elohim, Lord) are actually names of idols or pagan gods mistakenly applied to Yahweh. They deny God’s triune nature and insist that Yahweh had a wife, Lucifer, who rebelled against Him and became Satan.

In truth, the ancient manuscripts from which all sound translations are derived use numerous Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words to identify God. He Himself gives many of those names such as El-Shaddai (Exodus 6:3), I AM (Exodus 3:14), and Elohim (Ezekiel 34:31). In Psalm 91:1–2, the psalmist uses five different names for the Lord. Moses called Him “the God of gods and the Lord of lords” (Deuteronomy 10:17).

2. Jesus. The House of Yahweh teaches that Jesus (Yahshua Messiah) is not God nor was He pre-incarnate with God before He came to earth. This teaching is in direct conflict with John 1:1 and Philippians 2:6–7. Jesus Himself said, “Before Abraham was, I am!” (John 5:58). He also stated that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father (John 14:9) because “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). First John 2:22–23 says, “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” If this single doctrine was the only way in which the House of Yahweh differed from Christianity, it would be enough to classify it as a false religion.

2. The Bible. The House of Yahweh has produced its own Bible translation, The Book of Yahweh: The Newly Restored Original Bible, which they claim to be the only accurate translation. They state that all other translations have been corrupted by pagans and idol worshipers. However, Yisrayl Hawkins is neither a Hebrew scholar nor a professional translator and has twisted his book to fit his agenda, removing words or adding them as desired.

3. False Prophecies. Yisrayl Hawkins has made numerous “prophecies” projecting the end of the world. Those dates come and go with no fulfillment of his words. He predicted that the Israeli Peace Accord signed on October 13, 1993, began a seven-year tribulation period (Matthew 24:21) that would end on October 14, 2000, with the return of Christ. His most recent failed prediction was that a nuclear war would begin on Thursday, June 12, 2008.

God has harsh words for those who falsely prophesy in His name. Deuteronomy 18:20 says, “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” Jeremiah 29:8–9 says, “‘Do not let the prophets . . . deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.” In Ezekiel 33:33, the Lord says, “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” The reverse is also true. When a so-called prophecy does not come true, the “prophet” who spoke it is not of God.

4. Salvation. The Bible presents salvation as the forgiveness of sin and conciliation with God (Romans 5:1). The goal of the House of Yahweh is peace on earth and the appeasement of Yahweh by strict adherence to the Mosaic Law. It is very clearly a works-based theology.

Yisrayl Hawkins has been under investigation for sexual misconduct, suspected polygamy, and child-labor infractions. According to his former wife, Kay, Hawkins began to preach polygamy after he was caught in an affair with a church secretary. In 2008, according to an ABC News article, “The 73-year-old founder and pastor of the House of Yahweh, was charged by the Callahan County district attorney with having multiple wives . . . charges of sexually abusing a teenager, bigamy and welfare fraud. Questions have also been raised about at least two deaths within the sect.” Authorities suggest that this sect closely resembles the Branch Davidians.

Galatians 5:4 says, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Scripture is clear that nothing we can do will justify us before God. Salvation is a gift of God bought for us by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9). We find peace with God by repenting of our own attempts to justify ourselves and accepting God’s gift by faith (John 3:15–18). The House of Yahweh has failed to heed Scripture. “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20). Acceptance of that truth alone would dismantle the House of Yahweh.