If Jesus of Nazareth were to return to the earth today, would He recognize the religion(s) that are using His name? Not at all! Mankind has twisted Jesus Christ’s teachings so that the religion bearing His name has practically no relationship to what He and the Apostles actually lived and believed.
Gasp! Did I actually mean what is written above? Yes, and read on…and open God’s Word.
Would He be shocked to find the people claiming to be His followers have been waging war against each other almost continually for the last 1,900 years? That His professed followers believe doctrines totally contrary to what He taught, observing different days of worship, different customs and most importantly – having a totally different concept of God and of His purpose than Jesus and the original Apostles did?
Yet, most genuine religious scholars recognize that vast changes have overtaken professing Christianity – rendering it totally different from the Christianity of Jesus and the Apostles. As respected mainline Protestant scholar Jesse Lyman Hurlbut acknowledges:
“For fifty years after St. Paul’s life, a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. With the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul.” 1
If the leaders, during this time which Hurlbut elsewhere called an “age of shadows,” were filled with and led by God’s Spirit, then would the Church suddenly be “very different”? The Bible tells us that Christ is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). Yet the professing Christian church today is not even remotely the same as the one Jesus founded.
Describing the time period after all the original Apostles and their successors had died out, Hurlbut writes:
“The services of worship increased in spendor, but were less spiritual and hearty than those of former times. The forms and ceremonies of paganism gradually crept into the worship. Some of the old heathen feasts became church festivals with chnge of name and of worship. About 405 AD images of saints and martyrs began to appear in the churches, at first as memorials, then in succession revered, adored, and worshiped. The adoration of the virgin Mary was substituted for the worship of Venus and Diana; the Lord’s supper became a sacrifice in place of a memorial; and the elder evolved from a preacher into a priest.” 2
Notice Hurlbut’s statement that “some of the old heathen feasts became church festivals.” They “became” that way because God Himself had predicted that evil men and false leaders would take over most of the church. Paul told the Ephesians as well as us, “For I know this, that after my departures savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone day and night with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31). Now, was Paul just addressing the Ephesians, or was he also speaking of our time – and the things that have happened prior to the “Reformation” and afterward? Let us keep scripture in context. Paul was speaking to all of these times and these “believers” and the “church.”
When Paul realized the depth of the apostasy that would overtake most of the church, it hit him emotionally. He then “did not cease to warn everyone day and night with tears! Very few people today seem to be concerned enough about this massive apostasy to even begin to shed tears over this awesome and terrible change.
How did this happen? This occurred because men and women back then, just like today, did not zealously prove to themselves where God’s Truth was being taught. That is why the living Christ corrected those near the end of the Apostalic Era: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5)
Remember, God is not the author of confusion. What about today? How can we account for the more than 400 different denominations and sects – all calling themselves “Christian”? And all of them having some type of different ideas, traditions, and approaches and yet claiming to follow the same Jesus Christ? Don’t mistake this point. In no way is this pointing to the “eumenical movement” that “all paths lead to God,” “God is love,” or “there are many “gods.” There ARE many “gods” to be sure, but there is ONLY ONE God of Abraham, Jacob and Israel. The path is narrow and FEW will find it – said Jesus Christ! So, who is the author of confusion? The god of this world – satan! Could this “confusion” be caused by satan? Yes!
Part of the answer to these questions is the fact that few professing Christians really study their Bibles. So, they do not “prove” virtually anything they believe by carefully researching it in the Bible. Oh, they may enthusiastically study books and articles on health, on self-improvement or on investing and making more money. But somehow it does not occur to them to thoroughly study the most vital subjects of all: Is there a real God? If so, what is His purpose in creating human belings? And how can we fulfill that purpose? Yet, the Bible commands: “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” (I Thessalonians 5:21).
Most people have just “accepted” the religion passed down through their families. Most have just “gone along” with the beliefs and with the traditions taught to them as children. Noting the public’s lack of attention to their religion, Los Angeles Times religion writer Teresa Watanabe reported:
“According to one religious research firm, two-thirds of Americans don’t regularly read the Bible or know the names of the Four Gospels. More than half of Americans surveyed can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. And the majority say they find the Good Book irrelevant….’We still hold the Bible in high regard, but in terms of actually spending the time reading it, studying it and applying it—that is a thing of the past,’ said George Barna. The reasons cited range from changes in American culture to the intrinsic difficulty of the text itself.
Now religious organizations are making a major effort to jazz up ancient Scripture’s doddering image. Bible publishers are producing a dizzying array of products, with translations and editions pitched to every conceivable niche market, to convince people that the book is neither archane nor irrelevant.” 3
Of course, the real underlying cause of this massive religious apostasy is that this is satan’s world and that he has totally deceived the vast majority of humanity. In the comfortable surroundings of western civilization, most Americans, Canadians and others fail to realize that the overwhelming majority of human beings have never believed in any form of “Christianity” – let alone the real Christianity of Christ. The vast majority of humans are — and always have been — Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, atheists or agnostics.
The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God, should shine upon them.” (II Corinthians 4:3-4).
Most importantly of all, satan has injected into “mainstream Christianity” a whole series of totally false ideas about the origin and destiny of man, of what God is like, of what God is like, of what God’s awesome purpose is, and how we are to achieve that great purpose. Additionally, satan has confused people about prophecy so much that most professing Christians and even most professing Christian ministers simply throw up their hands and almost totally neglect biblical prophecy. Yet, God devoted almost one-third of His entire Word (the Bible) to the “sure word of prophecy.” (II Peter 1:19).
Instead, mankind has made its own religion that is almost completely different from what Jesus Christ preached and practiced. And, they call that religion “Christianity” as if it were connected with Jesus Christ!
As the philosopher and theologian Soren Kirkegaard put it:
“The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist…what has to be done is to throw light upon a criminal offense against Christianity prolonged through the centuries, perpetrated by millions (more or less guiltily), whereby they have cunningly, under the guise of perfecting Christianity, sought little by little to cheat God out of Christianity and have succeeded in making Christianity exactly the opposite of what it is in The New Testament.” 4
Those are strong words, but are hardly unique. Professor Rufus M. Jones concurs, noting how Christ’s true teachings were quickly detached from the religion bearing His name:
“If by chance, Christ Himself had been taken by His later followers as the model and pattern of a new way, and a serious attempt had been made to set up His life and teaching as the standard and norm for the church. Christianity would have been something vastly different from what it became. Then ‘heresy’ would have been as it is not now, deviation from His ways, His teachings, His kingdom…What we may properly call ‘Galilean Christianity’ had a short life, though there have been notable attempts to revive it and make it live again, and here and there spiritual prophets have insisted that anything else other than this simple Galilean religion is ‘heresy’; but the main line of historic development has taken a different course and has marked the emphasis very differently.” 5
We should not be surprised that mankind tried to remake Christianity its own way. Mankind has tried for thousands of years to find its own way. Humanism, materialism, socialism, communism, or capitalism-human society has invented so many philosophies in the vain hope of giving meaning to life without God, and creating through human effort a happy and prosperous society on earth.
Some might say, “so what?” But this is no small matter we are talking about. Frankly, we are talking about the way to eternal life on the one hand, or eternal death on the other (Romans 6:23). For if you do not have the Christianity of Christ, you have no Christianity whatsoever!
Jesus warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord,’ have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “ (Matthew 7:21-23). It is important to realize that Christ will say to those failing to do the “will” of the Father: “I never knew you.” In plain language, these deceived churchgoers will be told that they were, in fact, never acquainted with the Christ they claim to serve. They were never really converted. They were never “Christian”!