Signs in the Religious World

“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” —Matthew 24:4,5

WITH the arrival of the twentieth century it was the earnest hope and expectation of many sincere Christians that its close would see the world converted, at long last, to Christianity, bringing peace and goodwill among nations. If any who entertained those hopes are still alive today, how disappointed they must be! For within a little more than a decade the civilized world was plunged into the most devastating war it had ever experienced. And in the intervening decades until this very day the world has had little surcease from troubles and problems, many of them seemingly insolvable by the wisdom of man.

In recent decades a like concern has beset the religious world. The authority of spiritual leaders is being challenged, and many of the traditional teachings of the church are being brought into question, especially where these affect the conduct of one’s private life. This is even true of some aspects of the well-disciplined Catholic church, where even the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope is no longer universally defended.

As knowledge along all lines increases and spreads to all levels of society, the spiritual barrenness of orthodoxy becomes more manifest. Thus, disillusion with the dogma and ritual of the professing church stirs many to seek some other spiritual haven wherein they may find refuge against the trials of this storm-tossed life. Unfortunately, the new-found refuge is often no better than the old.

Women’s Liberation in the Church?

Many of those who choose to remain within the confines of their own churches are urging changes upon the leadership. One proposed change would permit women a larger role in church leadership. Although many of the Protestant churches have long ordained and recognized women preachers, ministers, and evangelists, the Catholic church has steadfastly resisted a move in this direction. But there are those who would change this situation.

One of these is the well-known Hans Kung, a Jesuit-trained theologian and church reformer, and teacher at the University of Tübingen in Germany. He argues that there are no serious theological reasons opposing the ordination of women to the priesthood, suggesting that the fact that the twelve apostles were exclusively male must be understood in the light of the sociocultural situation of the time. He deplores the fact that only men can elect a pope. He further says that one should never address the “brothers” or the “sons of God” only, but also the “sisters” and “daughters of God.” He does not go so far to suggest, however, that there should be a woman pope (papa, father).

One Francis X. Murphy, a Redemptorist priest and former professor at the Academia Alfonsiana in Rome, points out that in the early 1960’s Vatican Council II swept away the theological obstacles to the ordination of women, but he complains that “the Council could not sweep away the fixed notions of conservative prelates and laity who consider the presence of women at the altar or in the pulpit an abomination.” He himself, however, has no difficulty whatever in sweeping away the Apostle Paul’s injunction, “I suffer not a woman to teach.”—I Tim. 2:12

And Now—Activist Nuns

In view of the trend toward greater liberality for women in the world at large, it can be expected that the agitation for greater authority and higher position for women in the church will continue. Indeed, Professor Murphy tells us that “activist nuns and lay women are working globally for total equality in the church. … Increasingly women are challenging their traditional role with … the church and its authentic, or officially decreed, doctrine. They are making their feelings known on divorce … abortion … birth control … and they are seeking representation where hitherto they have been excluded.”

An interesting situation somewhat along this line is presently emerging in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (not to be confused with the rival Utah Mormons, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Both churches bar women from the priesthood. W. Wallace Smith, 75, now president of the Reorganized Church and a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, founder of both Mormon churches, has announced that he will soon retire, turning the succession over to his son, Dr. Wallace B. Smith. But it seems that Dr. Smith has no sons, only three daughters; and it is reported that a move is now afoot to relax the restriction at a forthcoming world conference to be held in Independence, Missouri, and thus possibly open the way for a woman to become the leader of the church. A changing world, and a changing nominal church!

Papal Politics Persist

When Napoleon I had himself proclaimed emperor of the French and took the crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII and set it firmly and resoundingly on his own head, a stunning blow was dealt to the power of the church to interfere in matters of the state. Nevertheless, in certain Catholic countries of the world the influence of the church in state matters is still considerable; but in nations under the communist banner the church is largely impotent, as it is also in most democratic nations.

But political power is not easily or gracefully surrendered, especially when the life of an ancient institution is under attack. Thus, in Rome, where the Communists have been striving to gain control of the municipal government, the Roman Catholic church openly gave its support to the rival Christian Democratic Party, making the recent election something of a holy war. Newsweek reports (June 21, 1976) that at a meeting of the city’s 5,000 bishops and priests, Ugo Cardinal Polletti, the papal vicar of Rome, echoed the warning of Pope Paul VI and other church leaders that “one cannot be a Christian and Marxist at the same time.” In support of the [Catholic] Christian Democrats, Cardinal Polletti ordered the clergy to “communicate to the religious public, either in church or out of church, the instructions of the pope.”

When John F. Kennedy was nominated to run for the presidency of the United States in 1960, there were many who were worried that a Roman Catholic might carry the influence of the papacy into that high office. Now, the shoe is rather on the other foot. For Jimmy Carter, the Democratic nominee for the presidency is an avowed “born-again” Southern Baptist, and this fact is causing some concern among northern Jews and northern Catholics. And not only is Mr. Carter an avowed Baptist, but his running mate, Senator Walter F. Mondale, is the son of a Protestant minister. To counter this Democratic ticket, it is quite possible that the Republicans will consider selecting a vice-presidential nominee who is Catholic. Thus, while we have seen that the power of the church to influence matters of state has indeed been curtailed, yet religious bias and religious political influence is not dead.

Graham’s Luster Dimmed

An interesting observation was made by evangelist Billy Graham, who for some years had conducted religious services at the White House during the now-discredited Nixon regime. “I don’t think there should be any more White House Sunday services held in the East Room,” he says. “The problem was not so much what went on there on Sunday, but what we found out was going on in the White House the other six days of the week.” His association with Mr. Nixon, some are saying, did not add luster to his ministry.

Those New and Curious Cults

Another area of interest to observers of events in the religious world is to be seen in the rather recent proliferation of numerous new and curious cults. Astrology, of course, is not a new interest, for this system of seeking to forecast events by studying the influence of heavenly bodies on human activities was popular in Greece in the 4th century B.C. What is new about astrology is the rate at which it is presently gaining followers. A recent Gallup poll indicated that some thirty-two million Americans now take astrology seriously, the number having doubled in the last five years. Surprisingly, the appeal of astrology is not limited, as one would expect, to those who are without religious ties, for the survey found that about one-half of those who professed belief in astrology are churchgoers.

U.S. News & World Report stated (May 24, 1976) that a group of 186 eminent U.S. scientists recently published a lengthy statement saying that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims of astrology. When asked, Why, then, is it gaining followers? they replied, “In these uncertain times, many long for the comfort of having guidance in making decisions. They would like to believe in a destiny predetermined by astral forces beyond their control.” In other words, many prefer to shed responsibility for directing and controlling their own lives.

Another of these new religions is one called The Divine Light Mission, established in the U.S. about five years ago by an 18-year-old known by the title of Guru Maharaj Ji. Today it claims some 50,000 followers in the U.S., including 3,000 who tithe 10 per cent of their income. The group reported an income of three million dollars in 1975. Their doctrine consists, largely, of updated versions of Hindu meditation.

Then there is The Church of Scientology, established in 1954, but already claiming 600,000 members. Income is variously estimated at 50 to 300 million dollars a year. Others of these numerous new cults are The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, The Children of God, Zen Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, and literally hundreds more. Speaking of the broad appeal of these movements, U.S. News & World Report magazine says, “Today, the nation’s ‘new believers’ vary widely—from Oriental meditators to bands of youths waiting in the desert for saviors due to arrive in spaceships from ‘the same kingdom that Christ came from.’”


What is it that attracts people to these groups, particularly the young? “It’s a reaction against the unsettled character of our times,” says Robert J. Lifton, professor of psychiatry at Yale. These various cults or systems of belief purport to offer perplexed people something they feel they can cling to, commit themselves to. The discipline to which they are subjected in many of these groups is attractive to confused young people who have been raised and left adrift in the present permissive environment. Swami Prabhupada, leader of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, says he sees himself as the “savior” of American youth.

The attraction of these groups is of course a sad commentary on the barrenness and sterility of the so-called orthodox, or conventional, church systems of religion upon which these cults and the leaders profess to improve.

A cursory study of the teachings of these cults, their leaders, their methods, and their motives leaves little doubt that it was against such as these that the Apostle Paul was warning the true followers of the Lord in the last days of this Gospel Age, when he wrote to Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”—I Tim. 4:1

But perhaps the most pernicious of all these new cults now gaining gullible adherents is the one that calls itself The Unification Church, under the leadership of a 56-year-old Korean called Sun Myung Moon, a millionaire industrialist from Korea. The church now claims to have 30,000 members in the United States, of whom 7,000 to 10,000 are described as fulltime members. Total membership is placed at 2,000,000 active and associate members in 120 countries.

Mr. Moon travels between his sprawling New York estates in a chauffeured limousine, easily affordable from the organization’s annual income of 12 million dollars last year (his estimate), or 100 million dollars (outsiders’ estimate). The extensive real estate holdings of the church include the recently purchased Hotel New Yorker.

The National Observer recently featured an article on this movement with the headline, “The Rev. Moon: A Messiah—Or a Menace?” According to the article his followers do, indeed, regard Mr. Moon as “the Lord of the Second Advent, … the new Messiah.” His followers regard themselves as “his disciples … and obedient children to the man they call Master. … They all believe that Moon … has been chosen to fulfill Christ’s mission on earth.”

Moon says that Jesus came to him in a vision in 1936 and chose him for the task. “Jesus explained God’s desire to establish his kingdom on earth and presented the need for someone on earth to take up this mission,” a Unification church booklet says of the incident. “He asked Reverend Moon to assume this responsibility.” According to Moon’s book of revelations, “Divine Principle,” God sent Jesus to redeem mankind from sin; but Jesus failed in his mission and died before he could marry and father a new race of perfect children. As Moon puts it, according to the Times article, “The time has now come for a second Christ who will finally fulfill God’s original plan.” That plan will be fulfilled by the second “Messiah’s” marrying and producing a perfect race.

“New Messiah” Needs Military Support!

The Unification church does not directly identify Moon as the new Messiah, but he just happens to have been born in Korea, in the year 1920—as was Moon. But there is little doubt that his numerous followers accept this implication at face value. According to an article in The New York Times Magazine, one young woman who was much troubled by the suffering and violence in the world and searching for a “meaningful life” attended a Unification weekend in Maine. She later called her mother breathlessly to ask if she had heard the “good news.” “What good news?” asked her mother. “That there is a new Messiah on this earth,” said the young woman.

Oddly enough, this new Messiah who has come to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men operates a political affiliate in Washington, called Freedom Leadership Foundation, which, according to the Times article, “lobbies for United States military … support for South Korea.” And two of the new Messiah’s closest aides are former Korean Army colonels.

“False Messiahs and False Prophets”

Among the signs that would mark his second presence, Jesus said there would be “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matt. 24:21) Daniel speaks of it as “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time.” At that time, Daniel informs us, “shall Michael [Jesus] stand up.”—Dan. 12:1

We believe that our Lord is indeed present; that he has stood up, and that we have entered into the foretold time of trouble with which this present evil world will end. As mankind vainly struggles to extricate itself from the results of its own ages-long selfishness and sin, their hearts are “failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” (Luke 21:26) Perplexed by what is happening about them, and not knowing that this present evil world is in the process of being destroyed, many deeply troubled people are grasping at any straw that might offer hope of saving them from sinking into the depths of hopelessness and despair. These become the easy prey of the present-day false prophets and false messiahs.

After pointing to this great time of trouble as being a sign of his presence and of the end of the age, Jesus issued a warning against being misled at that time by false leaders. He said, “If any one should say to you then, ‘Behold! here is the Messiah,’ or ‘there;’ believe it not; because false messiahs and false prophets will arise, who will propose great signs and prodigies; so as to delude, if possible, even the chosen. Remember, I have forewarned you. If, therefore, they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the desert!’ go not forth; or, ‘Behold, he is in secret apartments!’ believe it not.”—Matt. 24:23-26, Diaglott

The Lord of lords, and King of kings

How glad we are to see the signs of our Lord’s second presence, and of the end of the age! How glad we are to know that when this present evil world passes away, then will come that foretold new world “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (II Pet. 3:13) How our hearts rejoice in the knowledge that when Christ’s millennial kingdom is set up for the blessing of all the peoples of the earth, all error and deceit, all superstition and fear shall be swept away by the truth! Then, God will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. (Zeph. 3:9) And then the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the one and only true Lord, as the waters cover the sea.—Hab. 2:14

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, and sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail [of truth] shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters [of truth] shall overflow the hiding place.”—Isa. 28:16,17

Dawn Bible Students Association
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