Speaking of His personal commission from the Father, Jesus Christ stated emphatically, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). By making this statement, Jesus Christ gave both warning and hope. He revealed that those popular religious leaders opposing Him were thieves promoting a false religion that produced misery and death. By comparison, Jesus Christ promised those willing to follow His true doctrines and teachings a life of peace, happiness, joy and abundant well-being.
As we approach the year 2000, we must ask, has our modern Christianity lived up to the ideals of its founder? Is our Western world full of peace, happiness, joy and abundant well-being? When we look at the facts fairly, with an open mind, the answer is a sad and disappointing no. As our world’s crises grow more intense we must come to the conclusion that religion has failed to make this world a better place.
Our World’s Sick Religion
Today, some claim that Christianity is alive and doing well. But the facts speak otherwise. As it enters the 21st century, traditional Christianity finds itself in a life-threatening crisis. Christianity is suffering from both internal distress and threats from without. As a whole, it is divided and in confusion. Many have come to understand that today’s organized Christianity has not answered the vital questions surrounding the purpose for human life. For the masses, life’s mysteries remain mysteries. The clergy simply cannot answer: Who am I? Why am I? Why am I here? This means that even though this century has had unparalleled success in the areas of science and technology—a virtual knowledge explosion—humanity is no closer to understanding the spiritual knowledge it needs to solve its pressing problems.
Recent polls show that church attendance is in sharp decline. Some long-lived churches are virtually empty on Sunday mornings. This is a direct reflection of how many traditional Christians feel—empty. There is a cause for this effect. Although advances in technology—printing, radio and television—have laid a powerful means to proclaim Christ’s message at Christianity’s feet, there has been a plethora of differing voices claiming their brand of Christianity is right. Disillusioned by the clamor, many ask, which message is right?
Add to this confusion the fact that internal doctrinal disagreements have caused numerous church splits and painstaking reorganizations. The end result is most have given up on religion altogether. Others are seeking fulfillment in alternative religions and cults. Traditional Christianity’s greatest threat now lies with the rising neo-pagan movement. Many Americans, Britons and Western Europeans are flocking to Buddhism, Hinduism, shamanism and witchcraft.
Unfortunately, those who maintain a religious fervor are often at literal war with others of differing beliefs or different faiths. For example, Irish Catholics and Protestants claim to love Christ on Sunday and then kill each other throughout the rest of the week. Militant white-supremacist groups that claim a Christian heritage are sponsoring a new wave of violent attacks on Black churches and Jewish synagogues. In Eastern Europe, the Roman Catholic Croats, the Eastern Orthodox Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims have all sponsored pogroms on each other.
Let’s examine some of the sad history of religion this century.
City on a Hill
America’s singularity has been attributed to its strong religious roots. It was founded upon the principles of the Ten Commandments. Our forefathers planned America to be the final experiment proving to all nations that Protestant, Judeo-Christian righteousness could guide a people into unparalleled greatness. America was to accomplish what ancient Israel failed to do—be the light of God to the nations.
The U.S. Constitution is replete with religious overtones. Because of this incredibly rich religious history, Paul Johnson, a noted British historian, often refers to America as “a city on a hill,” quoting the Pilgrim father John Winthorp’s famous speech based upon Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:14). America was to become the bastion of Christian truth.
America’s earliest immigrants established settlements on our teeming shores to escape religious tyranny in England. There was a conscious effort by America’s founders to ensure that secular life remained in harmony with the religious values taught from pulpits. But one was not to dominate the other. Diaries from early colonists reveal an active spiritual life. It was clear people understood that their protection, health and material blessings came from the hand of God, not the effort of man.
History shows that the intense American religious experience of the 1600s waned for brief periods in the next two centuries. Yet, there was always a strongly religious undertone to American life. When we come to the 1900s, however, we begin to see a radical shift away from things religious. Instead of leading the world to God, America began leading it away from God.
The Industrial Revolution that began in Britain in the 18th century also took firm hold in the United States. By 1900 there was a giddy optimism that nothing could stop America’s and Britain’s growth. Many believed that the 20th century would bring about the birth of an incredibly wealthy New World order. It was the desire of a powerful elite to have man build the New World of the 20th century—not God.
Along with the Industrial Revolution came the rise of science and intellectualism. Intellectualism made science its god. Scientific advancement was to become society’s new messiah. Intellectuals declared war on religion. They used the new sciences of psychology and sociology to replace the role formerly held by the traditional churches and the ministry. We can see clear evidence of this fact in the writings of early 20th-century theorists like Freud and Marx. Nietzsche declared that “God is dead” in 1882, voicing the thinking of many Western intellectuals. This philosophy spread rapidly and was readily accepted by many intellectuals in European and American colleges and universities. It was believed and aggressively taught that science would give us the answers religion could not. It is unbelievable how quickly and willingly society accepted this monumental change.
Scientific theory soon controlled religious thought. A perfect example of this can be seen with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Intellectuals applied Einstein’s advances in physics to religion. Paul Johnson writes, “At the beginning of the 1920s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes; of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism” (Modern Times, p. 4). No one was more upset about this than Einstein. He believed in moral absolutes.
Yet the world did not. In the 1920s many Americans, in fact most all of Western society, believed that every individual could decide what was right or wrong. This same thinking had led to the corruption of the ancient Israelites at the time of the Judges. Samuel recorded, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:25). Soon after the 20th century began, the immoral floodgates were about to burst open in the West and in America. Unfortunately, America’s light to the nations would soon grow dim.
Evolution vs. Creation
Of course, the firstborn child of the intellectual movement was the theory of evolution, which is science’s explanation of a creation without a Creator. With the rapid spread of intellectualism came the growth in American evangelicalism also known as fundamentalism. Rooted in both 18th and 19th century revivalism, the fundamentalist movement sponsored Prohibition and the Sunday Blue Laws and attempted to regain control of Protestant seminaries succumbing to the new intellectual liberalism. Specifically, they also took on the fight against the growing entrenchment of evolution teaching in public education. Fundamentalists supposedly claimed biblical infallibility in the matters of history and science.
The controversy grew most intense when fundamentalists began to urge individual states to pass legislation forbidding evolution to be taught in public schools. Several southern states including Tennessee passed such laws. Tennessee’s laws led to the world-famous Scopes trial in 1925. The trial featuring William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense was a fiasco. Popularly known as the “monkey trial,” it was a media circus. Intellectuals successfully exposed the religious disagreement on creationism within the religious movement. During the Scopes trial, fundamentalism was forever discredited in the eyes of intellectuals and the media. From that time, the word fundamentalism became synonymous with the word uneducated.
The evolution vs. creationism controversy is still raging. Responding to conservative religious pressure, the Kansas Board of Education recently voted to delete even the mention of evolution on state assessment tests. Evolutionists plan to respond with a fight. Who will eventually win? A better question is, what is the real truth? From a truly biblical perspective, both groups are wrong.
The weakness in American fundamentalism has always been the fact that their teachings are based not on the Bible, but on a distorted and twisted interpretation of the Bible. Taken without interpretation, the Bible makes sense. Since God intended the Bible to be the foundation of all knowledge, what is true in science must find support from the revelation in the Bible. A true reading of the Bible shows without question that the earth is millions of years old, but that man is definitely a recent special creation. In fact, all life currently in existence on this planet was made specifically to support man. This means that God has a very high and exalted purpose for mankind. The Apostle Paul states clearly, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The Bible does reveal the answer to the creation vs. evolution controversy. Unfortunately, both sides are unlikely to come to the knowledge of this incredible truth.
It was not long after the Scopes trial that fundamentalism lost its momentum. No matter how sincere its intention, it could not quell the ever-growing liberal tide sweeping the nation. The shocking destruction of World War I opened Pandora’s box. Rather than face and solve the causes that produced the war, Americans and the Western world sought escape through mindless pleasure-seeking.
Ministers and parishioners alike cried out for more-liberal religious doctrine. Moral discipline and character came under attack by being declared outdated. It was just after World War I that publication of sex knowledge, once held as illegal, gained incredible popularity. A new morality was foisted upon a naïve world. This new morality was in reality gross immorality. Often led by the clergy, Americans began experimenting with their two most stable commodities—marriage and the family.
Since World War I, divorce rates have soared. Juvenile delinquency has followed the same course. The world at that time could not see that its growing fund of knowledge was producing appalling evils.
In little over two decades, World War II unleashed on the world even more shocking tragedy. The devastation of life and property became mind numbing.
It is difficult to understand the emotional and mental devastation caused by World War II. For many of the Jews who survived the Holocaust, religion holds no meaning. Remember, it is estimated that 6 million Jews died at the hands of Nazi oppression. Few good answers could be given to the families that lost husbands and sons in the war. Many wondered how Christian societies could unleash such incredible evil. Not able to cope with the problem, society took one more step down. If World War I plunged America into immorality, then World War II dumped it into the cesspool. Immediately after the war, under the shadow of the “bomb,” America soon became a self-indulgent nation in love with itself and with its science-produced toys.
But in the late ’40s and ’50s, accommodating the baby boom, the ranks of traditional denominations swelled. It was also at this time that the evangelical movement began an incredible resurgence. With the advancements in television technology, several evangelists became media giants. Oral Roberts in the ’50s and ’60s paved the way for our ’70s, ’80s and ’90s televangelists like Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Robert Schuller and Jimmy Swaggart. Several of these men achieved incredible success and sat on top of rich religious empires like ptl, cbn and tbn. But too often there has been proven fiscal corruption, deceit, doctrinal compromise and sex scandals.
Because of his failed visions, Oral Roberts is considered by many former followers to be a false prophet. Jim Bakker spent time in prison for mail and wire fraud. Jimmy Swaggart fell out of grace for sexual deviance. And recently Jerry Falwell, once maintaining a hardline stance against homosexuality, has met with homosexual church leaders to strike a compromise.
The evangelical movements of the ’80s and ’90s have suffered open shame and have brought upon themselves considerable contempt. Even the Roman Catholic Church is not without its end-of-the-century scandals. Leading clerics have been convicted for pedophile activities. The bottom line is that most if not all of American traditional religion has grown sickly and weak.
The ’60s Counterculture
This inherent sickness in traditional Christianity has given energy and drive to America’s neo-pagan movement. Inspired by the senselessness of the Vietnam War, America’s interest in pagan religions began as part of the counterculture movement of the ’60s and ’70s. America’s counterculture questioned all institutions. Since nothing traditional could be trusted, it had to be pulled down. Even the Catholic Church was affected. Hundreds of nuns and priests left the Church, inspired by the openness of Vatican II.
The Beatles’ association with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi popularized the Hindu religion in America. Eastern philosophies such as Zen Buddhism found fertile ground with hippies, hallucinogenic drug users and offbeat university students. The Hare Krishna movement captured many devotees in the ’70s.
At this same time an interest in witchcraft and shamanism began to flourish. Publicly proclaimed witches such as Sybil Leek and Raymond and Rosemary Buckland did much to promote interest in witchcraft at that time. Since the ’60s, interest in witchcraft has expanded with each passing decade. It is now commonplace to find classes on witchcraft at many colleges and universities.
Why this growing interest in non-Christian religion? Doesn’t the popularity of witchcraft reveal the fatal sickness in our late-century Christianity? As we close this century, we must come to the conclusion that Christianity has lost both its backbone and its teeth. Chas S. Clifton, editor of the book Witchcraft Today, states, “Some Christian clergy, no doubt, are convinced in their own minds that we are going to their hell in a hand basket, but they are courteous enough to keep the thought to themselves and not bother us with it” (p. 152). Desiring the praise of men and wanting to be politically correct, most clergy will not speak out against witchcraft or the other neo-pagan religions. It appears that our 20th century religion has become old and feeble, lacking will and muscle.
Unfortunately, for the near term, our problems in religion will grow worse. There will be more confusion. The Vatican is ready to inaugurate its foremost crusade for Catholicism in over 700 years. On December 25, Pope John Paul II will announce Roman Catholicism’s jubilee year. This global media blitz will call for all nations to work together for peace and reconciliation—the Vatican’s way. This call will most likely breathe some fresh air into some tired Christians. But it is more likely to spawn agitation and rebellion.
Beside the weakness in Christianity, there is also a new tension growing among other religions of the world. Radical Islam is on the rise and has already declared war on the West. The threat of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan is basically a war of religion: India is Hindu and Pakistan is Muslim. Even the conflict in East Timor has serious religious overtones: Indonesia is Muslim and East Timor is Roman Catholic.
Jesus Christ prophesied, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:25). Realize that this verse is to be fulfilled just prior to Christ’s return.
But you do not have to be deceived. How do you protect yourself from religious deceit? You must prove whom Christ’s elect are and then remain with that group of people. With God’s help this can be done! Remember, Christ also said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16).
New World Religion Coming
So what about the 21st century? Will religion get any better? Those of us who write for the Trumpet can safely assure you that new advances in religion are coming. Jesus Christ will return soon and re-establish His Father’s religion worldwide. The prophet Zechariah states, “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). Soon the whole world will be brought together and taught God’s true religion. All who embrace it will experience the fantastic happiness, joy and success Jesus Christ promised. This is a Bible promise you can rely on.