You’re no doubt familiar with many of them, such as the American Unitarian Association (forerunner of Unitarian Universalism), launched in 1825; Mormonism, 1830; Seventh-day Adventism, 1863; Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1870; and Christian Science, 1879. And many more relatively obscure groups also arose in the 19th century.
The common denominators: Each one denied either the divinity of Jesus Christ, and/or the sufficiency of His atoning sacrifice, with those in the latter camp falsely claiming that something more than Jesus is needed to enter heaven. Good works or sacraments, for example. Or both.
But these denials were nothing new. The question that fascinated me was this: Why the sudden surge in false religions in the 19th century?
Here’s my theory.
Satan knows the Bible better than any human being ever will. He has therefore understood for millennia that the rebirth of the nation of Israel would be the beginning of the end for him, that once it happened, he wouldn’t have much more time to lure potential Christians away from his great Enemy, our Creator and King. And perhaps that made him leap into action at the first whiff of Zionism, the movement that would ultimately lead to Israel’s miraculous 1948 restoration.
It seemed like a good theory until I learned that Zionism didn’t really become an organized movement until 1897. And Satan isn’t omniscient; he couldn’t have foreseen the rise of Zionism almost a century before it happened.
I dug deeper. And lo and behold, learned that God’s chosen people had been longing to return to the Promised Land for centuries – and that early in the 1800s, nearly a thousand followers of 18th century Jewish leaders Menachem Mendel and Vilna Gaon had launched the process in earnest, taking their families on the long journey from eastern Europe to their ancestral land.
Satan had surely observed all of this talk and activity. And when these early groups started resettling ancient Israel, perhaps he started creating a false theology for every taste. His goal: preventing every last potential convert from embracing the truth of God’s word.
Maybe that’s how it really happened. And maybe it worked so well that he has continued inspiring twisted versions of the truth ever since.
If my little idea turned out to be correct, then it would be no surprise if there was another spike in false-religion development after Israel’s rebirth in 1948. And what do you know? It wasn’t long before the U.S. began to see a flurry of new cults--Scientology in 1954; the People’s Temple, Branch Davidians and Westboro Baptist Church in 1955; the Noble Order of Moorish Sufis in ’57; and the Universal Life Church in ’59. And most destructive of all: the proliferation of anti-biblical liberalism in the Christian church.
A false teaching for every taste, indeed. And those tastes have become more bizarre with every passing year. Consider, for instance, such gems as the Church of Satan, Heaven’s Gate, The Church of the Creator and A Course in Miracles/Endeavor Academy.
All of which goes to demonstrate, once again, that if you want to understand what’s going on in the world, and what’s on the horizon, you need look no further than the Bible. Hint: pay close attention to what God has said about end times, and the character of people populating the earth in the last days.
And finally, a postscript.
If the Lord has positioned you to influence the adherents of a false religion, rejoice. It may not be easy to persuade them to seek God’s absolute, irrefutable truth and perfect salvation plan. But it is do-able, given enough time, patience and love for the eternal souls for whom Jesus died.
The first step is to study the key tenets of their beliefs, figuring out where they’ve been misled. Then gently help them untwist the lies they’ve been fed. A great place to begin is the late Dr. Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults.