Our title is one, I am afraid, that escapes many because they do not have any idea or concept of "false religion" and its terrible consequences. To them, all religion is acceptable to God. They do not take the time to really see what the Bible says about false religion. In our consideration of false religion, I want to go a step beyond the burden of our title and share with you what I believe to be the most destructive and deceptive of all false religion. I might just surprise you as to what I believe is the most prolific false religion.
As a matter of preliminary establishment, allow me to make several observations. First, the simplest way to study what the Bible says about false religion is to examine how the Bible uses the descriptive word "false" (see addendum 1). We shall primarily employ this approach, with some exceptions (addendum 2). Another matter is that "false" always implies the opposing matter of "true" (addendum 3). One other matter is that we need to appreciate that there is truth, truth in the absolute sense and that all that is contrary to this truth is false (John 8: 31ff., Rom. 6: 17, 18). By this truth, God’s word, we shall all be judged (John 12: 48, cp. 2 John 9-11). God does not accept "ignorant worship," but demands worship "in spirit" and "in truth" (Acts 17: 22-30, 31, John 4: 24).
The Bible clearly speaks of "every false way" (notice how God’s precepts enlighten one as to the "right way" (Ps. 119: 104). Please consider how as a result of the illumination of the word, we are to "…hate every false way" (Ibid.). The Bible even mentions "a way which seemeth right," but speaks of "the end" as being "…the ways of death" (Prov. 14: 12). All of these ways are opposed to "…the way," the course that God has authorized (cp. Acts 19: 9).
The Jews of Jesus’ day were accustomed to false religion. In fact, the Jewish religion had seriously been corrupted and perverted. They were obsessed with their traditions and made them the essence of their religion and without compunction lied in religion (Mark 7: 6-13). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was largely a refutation and exposé of much of the extant false religion that he encountered. Notice how Jesus quotes the Jew’s teaching ("ye have heard") and then presents the true teaching of the Law (Matt. 5: 21-48). They, the Pharisees, had perverted Leviticus 19: 18 even to the point of totally reversing its meaning (Matt. 5: 43, 44). It was of these false teachers that Jesus said:
"20: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5).
The false religion of the First Century had become so common that swearing falsely was common place and even used by the Jewish leaders. As a result, Jesus frequently condemned bearing "false witness" and "falsely accusing" (Matt. 15: 19, 19: 18, 5: 11). It was such false witnessing (in a judicial setting) that led to Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 26: 59). There appear to have been many "false prophets" in Jesus’ life. Jesus said:
"15: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7).
Jesus even warned that there would be those so brazen as to themselves claim to be the promised Messiah (Matt. 24: 24). Hence, the term "false Christs." In view of the falsity of religion extant during the early church, there are frequent warnings regarding false prophets and what the early Christians were to do:
"1: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4, see also 2 Pet. 2: 1, 2).
Even among the actual Christians and churches, there were those who were false and advocated false religion (Tit. 1: 9-16). Paul cautioned Timothy: "20: O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called" (I Tim. 6: 20). Some had become so far out and false in their religious teaching that Paul called it, "vain jangling" (I Tim. 1: 6-9, KJV). The stern warning was issued that if any "…bring not the doctrine of Christ, do not receive him…" (2 John 9-11). Alas, we read of "false brethren" (Gal. 2: 4). In fact, such false brethren were a great hindrance to Paul and the early Christians (Ibid.). There were even "false apostles" in the churches (2 Cor. 11: 13-15). Some of these false purveyors of religion were characterized by false or "lying wonders" to further deceive the people (2 Thes. 2:9).
The church at Corinth had those who falsely presented the subject of the resurrection (I Cor. 15: 12, cp. 2 Tim. 2: 16-18). In the Galatian churches, there are those observed who perverted the Law of Moses (Gal. 4, 5, cp. 1: 6-10). Some at Thessalonica had falsely applied Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ Second Advent (2 Thes. 3: 6ff.). In fact, just about every epistle in the New Testament and every mentioned local church had false doctrine being offered to them and it is regrettable that some were led astray (cp. Rev. 2: 12-17). Notwithstanding the rampant status of false doctrine, such was to never be tolerated (cp. Rom. 16: 16, 17).
Not only does the New Testament acknowledge the existence of false religion during the time of Christ and the apostles, but it prophesied that there would in the then future come a great falling away from the truth (Acts 20: 28ff; 2 Thes. 2: 1-10; I Tim. 4: 1-6). Paul said to the elders from the church in Ephesus:
"29: For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30: Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20).
The falling away did occur as history documents and from that event, many other false religions came into existence (consider Catholicism and Protestantism). "Babylon the Great" of John’s vision was and is false religion personified and was called "…the abomination of the earth" (Rev. 17, 18). Today there are literally thousands of religions and churches, all teaching and practicing aberrant things compared to the teaching of the New Testament, even including some manifestly extreme false religions as the "Church of Satan" that openly worship the devil himself and war against God.
False religion in the First Century did constitute a problem, but it also served a purpose; it tested and weeded out, if you will, and so it is today (cp. I Cor. 11: 19).
So, what do I think is the most terrible false religion? All false religion is destructive and awful (2 Thes. 2: 10-12). However, in a sense we can measure the comparative terribleness of a particular false religion by its ability to deceive and pass for the truth. This is one reason Jesus was so emphatic in his denunciations of the Jew’s perverted religion (Matt. 23). Jesus said of them:
"15: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. 16: Woe unto you, ye blind guides…" (Matt. 23).
Many knew that God had given his law and made his covenant with Israel (Deut. 5). Hence, they were least likely to realize all of the corruption of the Jewish nation (cp. Rom. 10: 1-3). After a similar fashion, I am convinced that the most terrible of all false religion today is the corrupt Church of Christ, with their hireling preachers and secular goals and ambitions.
Indeed, there are many corrupted Churches of Christ today. They still present what on the surface appears to be the plan of salvation for the lost (Acts 2: 37, 38; 8: 37, KJV). Upon closer examination, though, they even deceptively pervert this. Repentance has been redefined. For instance, many Churches of Christ are now accepting people in false marriages. Hence, they are fellowshipping adulterers (cp. Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). A number of preachers in these churches have actually told me:
"Brother Martin, I know the truth about God’s marriage law and I realize that any departure is sinful, but we cannot grow in numbers if we do not compromise regarding all the unscripturally divorced and remarried people whom we baptize."
Kind one, these people in these marriages are not being told the truth and they are being introduced into local fellowships; hence, these people and churches that receive them are all in sin (cp. I Cor. 5). In my many years of full time preaching work, I left more than one church due to couples in adultery and the elders and church defending and protecting these people.
The immediately foregoing is just one example of corruption in Churches of Christ, the very ones that are supposed to have, offer, and practice the truth (cp. Matt. 23: 1-4). Many Churches of Christ today match the description offered by Paul pertaining to some of the latter days:
"1: This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2: For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy… 5: Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" (2 Tim. 3).
Having "a form of godliness" is precisely what I see in too many cases and such is very deceptive to the uninformed. Regarding false religion, all false religion, we read: "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him…These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev. 19: 20). At the time of the final judgment, then, all false religion will come to an end.
Addendum 1: There are basically four Greek words in the New Testament rendered "false." Two are adjectives, one noun, and one verb. All four words have the meaning of that which is antithetical to truth, lack of genuineness, and deception.
Addendum 2: There are various words in the vocabulary of the New Testament that convey the meaning of "false." "Hypocrisy," "lying," "deceive," "heresies," "feigned," etc. are words or groups of words that describe false conduct and teaching. Even some of these terms are derived from the words mentioned in addendum 1. For instance, "lie" is rendered from the Greek pseudo, the verb from which "false" is also rendered.
Addendum 3: Some have misused this simple logic. As we observed, the Bible speaks and warns of "false prophets" (cp. Rev. 16: 19, I John 4: 1). Some have falsely concluded that the presence of the false indicates the true prophet today. However, texts such as I Corinthians 13: 8-10 show that prophesy was of limited duration and not applicable today. Nevertheless, the false prophet today stands opposed to the true prophet of Bible times. The same is seen in warnings about "false Christs" (cp. Matt. 24: 24). There are false Christs today, but such stands in contrast to the true Messiah who came and not to one on earth today. Again, "pure religion" presupposes impure or false religion (Jas. 1: 27).