It’s amazing to see the patterns that have repeatedly emerged across our history. One of clearest patterns to emerge was the fickle nature of humanity. Regardless of the time or location, there has been a persistent cycling between our worship of false idols and a return to God. The idols of the ancient world were representations of specific pagan gods, but as time progressed mankind began to worship the new gods of nature, reason/enlightenment, power, and wealth. Another pattern that formed, particularly in the United States, was the progressive degeneration of religion. Not only did the interest in religion frequently wane, but those attempting revival did so with political motives. They were no longer representative of true Christianity. Throughout history, each empire eventually collapsed with progressive corruption of their original intentions. You can learn a lot about the direction of a civilization by seeing what they currently value most. I will highlight some of the key turning points in history along with related scripture. I have gone into more in depth with American history to understand how it all applies to our future. I This is just a Cliff’s notes version of history, if you would like to know more in depth refer to my posts on Paganism, Judaism, and Christianity.
- The earliest civilizations were pagan. Then came the Israelites who worshipped a single God. With the passage of time, the Israelites turned away from God to paganism. Israel was destroyed and lived in exile.
The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them,2 Kings 17:35
- Jews return from exile and resume worship of one God. Religious leaders become corrupted and abuse their power. The follow the letter of the law and miss the spirit. Conquered by Romans.
Then the Lord said,Isaiah 29:13
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
- Jesus begins his ministry and condemns religious leaders. Religious leaders partner with Romans who are their political enemy, to have Jesus crucified. Roman empire turns on Jews and destroys the temple.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.John 19:15
- Roman empire is Pagan. After the resurrection of Jesus Christianity spreads. Christian ideals threaten the peace and stability of the Roman Empire. Romans persecute and martyr Christians. Christianity still continues to spread causing further civil instability. Empire is near collapse. Roman Empire adopts Christianity and persecutes pagans. Roman empire still collapses.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:9-10
This is one of the most interesting set of events. The Romans had come to the conclusion that persecuting and martyring Christians was not improving the stability of the empire. Rather than risk collapse, the empire elected to make a dramatic shift in religion. Still the empire collapses but not before the formation of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Roman Catholic Church develops and confirms doctrine in Nicene Creed. Western Roman Catholic Church assumes control in the West after collapse of Roman Empire. Political power grows with crowning emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire. Crusades increase the church’s power and money. Protestant reformation occurs and splits the church.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”Matthew 6:24
- Protestant reformation gets Bibles to commoners and opposes corrupt practices. Protestant Christianity begins to grow and resents being ruled by Holy Roman Empire which is allied with Catholic church. Thirty Year War begins which brings devastation, poverty, disease, and famine to 8 million people. Holy Roman Empire is dissolved and Europe turns away from Christianity.
Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.Mark 3:25
- The Puritans are a Protestant extremist group who came to America in the 1620s. A church-state is formed in New England to govern according to their religion. The Quakers, similar to Catholics, attempted to settle in Massachusetts and were banished or hanged. Salem witch trials accuse and execute over 200 people. Puritans lose power and church-state is ended. People lose interest in church and religion.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
Europe explores non-Christian alternatives like Paganism and Deism during the Age of Enlightenment beginning in early 1700s. The Enlightenment rejects religion and civil rule by monarchy in favor of reason and freedom. These principles led to the French revolution which allowed Napoleon Bonaparte to assume control as a dictator in 1799.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.Colossians 2:8
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.James 3:13-16
Religious Great Awakening starts in 1720s after decline in Christianity after the Salem witch trials and increase in Deism/reason. Preachers returned to message of the Reformation and Calvinism with a return to scripture, faith, and grace. Charismatic evangelical preachers with radical ideas gain popularity. This emotionally charged revival turns into a political movement. Unordained ministers began forming political churches and New England clergy divided forming new denominations- Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.1 Timothy 6:3-5
- The secretive Freemason organization from Europe established the first Lodge in Boston in 1730. Membership crossed “political, religious, and ethnic backgrounds among leading affluent white men.” It also spread among men who wanted to “share values and behavior of the emerging elite.” The ideals of Freemasonry led to the American Revolution and formed the Constitution. Powerful businessmen and politicians were Masons and were later accused of threatening American republicanism by secretly trying to take control of the government. Anti-Masonry Party formed in 1826.
For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.Luke 8:17
- Religious belief in “Manifest Destiny” leads settlers west. Second Evangelical Great Awakening begins in 1820. Evangelical revivals spread Christianity to western frontier. Mormons formed and settled in Utah. Revivals spread east with preachers like Charles Finney preaching that Christian perfection is attainable, necessary, and required by God. Personal and social moral reform were required. North condemns slavery as immoral. Southern preachers claim slavery is sanctioned by God and spreads Christianity to the Africans. Both claim to have to have God’s support. Divided on doctrine, Presbyterian, Baptists, and Methodists split into north and south churches. Country is also split over federal versus states rights. Tensions continue to build. Civil War begins in 1861.
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.Romans 16:17-18
- Major influx of European immigrants in late 1800s. World War I began in 1914 and ended in 1918. Women worked in many different fields, had new birth control options, and gained the right to vote in 1920. Economy prospers and the expansion of credit allows larger purchases like automobiles. People relocate to cities. Fundamentalist Christians felt threatened by the wave of modernization which brought non-protestant immigrants, increasing freedoms of women, and new scientific theories like evolution. The Fundamentalist revival targeted race, gender norms and resistance to science resulting in a “cultural civil war”. between city-dwellers and small-town residents, Protestants and Catholics, Blacks and whites, “New Women” and advocates of old-fashioned family values. Congress passes laws to limit immigration in 1921 and 1924. President Coolidge declared, “America must be kept American.” Rebirth of Ku Klux Klan and surges of white mob violence. Prohibition enacted which increased organized crime. Stock market crashes in 1929 leading to the Great Depression.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.2 Timothy 4:3
The past one hundred years we have continued to recycle these same issues. Within each decade we see recurrent episodes of religious hypocrisy, rejection of religion, and finally civil unrest. We may blame secularism or atheism, but it has been those claiming to be Christians who have done the greatest damage to the Christian faith. Christianity today is often a far cry from the principles instructed by Jesus and taught by the apostles. This should be no surprise considering that even during the time of the apostles people were frequently lured away by charismatic deceivers.
I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?2 Corinthians 11:5-7
Not everyone claiming to be a Christian is a follower of Christ. As Jesus said many times, you will know them by their fruit. True Christians acknowledge their innately sinful nature, which creates humility. True Christians put Jesus’ teaching into practice, taking on the role of servants to reach others. The lives of true Christians are guided by the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:30-31). However, those that use religion as a means to gain recognition, power, money, or political advancement twist the word of God and corrupt it to suit their agenda. Sadly, these evangelical “Christians” have driven many away from God. Our country has been home to religious extremists since the earliest settlers and has been repeatedly shaped to fit a political mold. God should not be judges by man’s representation of him. If you want to find out who God is for yourself, read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
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