An Open Letter to Orthodox Christians
Peace to you!
This article is addressed to our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ – the Orthodox Christians of all nations, scattered around the world. It is being written with love and sincere respect for each one of you, dear brother or sister, who are reading these lines. I do not intend to offend anyone (even though many will probably take offence at what they will have read herein). Nevertheless, the truth must be spoken up plainly, without beating about the bush.
The Spirit of Jesus moves us to speak up the truth, even when it is sad to say and unpleasant to hear! For the Lord corrects whom He loves.
The Sign of the End Times
Jesus warned that in the last days the evil will so much increase in the world that even the love of most of His followers will grow cold (Mt 24:12). One other, much sadder prediction He gave to His followers, says: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8.) The sadness of these words of Jesus pierces the heart and makes a true believer, firstly, take a closer look at oneself with a question, “am I in the faith?” Secondly, it makes us carefully study and analyze the current state of the Universal Church of Christ as a whole and its separate sectors in particular.
Let’s take a look around. Have we not been witnessing the very processes Jesus predicted? In all Christian churches of all denominations, the following symptoms are obvious: religiousness has been increasing, but the love, faith and faithfulness to Jesus have been growing cold and dying out! Fastidiousness to self, practical righteousness in everyday life, desire to know the Word and the will of God have been replaced by hypocritical demonstrations of religious zeal through keeping rituals and traditions of men. Few are bothered by the fact that these traditions have heathen origin and are abominable in the eyes of God whom they thus worship! (Dt 12:31-32.) At the same time, obvious sins of the worst kind flourish in churches – sexual immorality, addictions, pride, envy, greed, lies, hatred, theft, - every kind of transgression of God’s commandments and of the laws of human society!
Woe to the Shepherds!
To our grievous shame and pity we must admit that ‘shepherds of the flock’ set an example, and are the first to lead believers astray. They are the worst offenders and enemies of God’s will and His truth, which is plainly stated in the unequivocal words of Scripture. Once again, Jeremiah’s prophetic words are being fulfilled, which say:
“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority; and My people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jer 5:30-31.)
The Word of God is full of bitter rebukes and warnings of the Lord addressed to the spiritual leaders of His people. Jesus did not restrain His righteous indignation, nor did he choose nicer expressions speaking about their hypocrisy, pride and wickedness. To give you examples, we list here just a few references, so you can read them for yourselves and ponder over the words of God’s judgment of His unfaithful priests: Ezek 34:2-6, 10; Mt 3:7-10; 5:19а-20; 12:24-34; 15:1-10, 12-14; 23:5-33; Lk 9:22; 11:39-44, 52; 12:1; 14:11; 16:14-15.
The Danger of compromising the Truth
When we try to show from the Bible instances of obvious apostasy in the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church, we often hear the same answer from many. They say: “It does not matter; it’s just a tradition (or a custom)”. Forgive me, but to say that the Truth does not matter is to admit your own unbelief and unfaithfulness to the Lord who has bought you. Please understand that it is not human teachings we are speaking about, but the teaching of Jesus! We are speaking about the Word of God! If keeping the purity of His Truth is of no importance to a person, then that is no faith! Perhaps, it is religion, - but a dead one, and thus useless for our salvation!
In Scripture God vehemently reproaches His people and His priests:
“Hear the word of the LORD, You children of Israel, for the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land” (Hos 4:1).
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge [of truth]. Because you have rejected knowledge [of truth], I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hos 4:6).
The truth is important! Moreover, it is vitally important for our spiritual growth and well-being! Jesus promised to send us His Spirit of Truth (Jn 15:26) to lead us to the knowledge of Truth. When we learn and accept it wholeheartedly, making the needed changes in our life, then it will free us from the power of the evil and of sin (Jn 8:32).
Passive intellectual knowledge of spiritual truths is of no value. Without practical incorporation in our everyday life, it is worthless. In his epistle, James says that faith without works is dead (Js 2:20). Indeed, it can hardly be called ‘faith’, because a true faith is shown and confirmed by what we do. If, however, we practically live in agreement with the principles our lips proclaim, then we remain in faith and in the Word of our Lord. Then and only then, do we have the right to claim that we are disciples of our Lord Jesus:
“ If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples” (Jn 8:31).
We Need Faith, Religion is Worthless!
The apostle Paul exhorted all of us believers to test ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. For without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Why, you ask? Because it is through faith that we receive God’s gift of mercy (grace) and are saved. And this faith is not of ourselves either, for it too is a priceless gift of God (Eph 2:8). That is why no believer in Christ can boast before others. For everything we have (in terms of spiritual things) has been given to us by God undeservedly (1Cor 4:7).
Anyone who exchanges his/her God-given faith for a religion with its rituals and traditions (not founded in the Word of God), has despised God’s gift, rejecting it in favor of things made by man. This is idolatry!
By faith, we receive the Spirit of God and become His children. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:14, NKJV).
Unfortunately, today many are led by religious spirits instead of the Holy Spirit. But how can we know if a person has the Holy Spirit or a religious one? Jesus taught us to ‘judge a tree by its fruit’. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”(Gal 5:22-23, NIV). Religiousness is not one of them!
Let us remember that it was the most religious caste of the Jewish society that Jesus castigated for their hypocrisy. He accused them of showing contempt for God’s commandments in order to hold to human traditions (Mk 7:6-9, 13). Repeating the words of Isaiah the prophet, Jesus said of such people:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Mk 7:6 –7, NIV).
When Jesus said that such worship is ‘in vain’, He meant (among other things) that it is being insincere. Therefore, it is unacceptable to God and thus worthless! Do you understand the implication it carries for us, as worshipers and followers of the Lord? It means that we must not worship God the way we want to do it – according to the rules, made by man. Scripture states that what seems good to man is abominable to God! It also says that true worshipers must worship Him in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24).
Orthodoxy – Faith or Religion?
Many Orthodox Christians in all sincerity believe that the Orthodox Church is the only true church, founded by Jesus Christ Himself. For this reason, they refuse to question or test the teachings and practices of their church.
I do not doubt that there are some true believers of profound faith among the Orthodox Christians. However, how can we test the veracity of such a conviction in general? We have only one flawless yardstick of truth – the Word of God (the Holy Scripture). So let us apply it.
Let us use the witness of Scripture and carefully examine the major differences between a living, saving faith in Jesus Christ on one hand, and a dead religion on the other hand. Ponder on these differences, and make you choice wisely. May God help you!
If it is a living faith, then:
If it is a religion, then:
1. Church is the body of Christ -
a spiritual organism; and all true believers, who are led by the indwelling Holy Spirit, are its parts and members:
“…even though we are many people [in whom the Spirit of God lives], we are one body in Christ and individual parts connected to each other” (Rom 12:5).
This truth is also confirmed by the following texts in the New Testament: 1Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12-14, 27; Ephesians 3:6, 4:11-13; Colossians 1:24, 3:15.
“The word ‘church’ in the Greek is ekklesia meaning ‘that which is called out’, i.e. those individuals God has called out of the world (2Cor 6:17,18). In John 15:19, Christ explained that the Church is not of the world but chosen out of the world. He promised to be with His Church to the very end (Matt 28:20). Jesus assured us that He would never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5). In the book of Revelation He is pictured as being in the midst of the Church, symbolically represented by seven lampstands (Rev 1:13).
Also in prophecy, the Church at the very end is depicted keeping the commandments of God and ‘having’ the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev 12:17). In other words, the Church is comprised of those people who are responding to God’s call to come out of the disobedience of this world; they aim to be obedient to God’s commands (Matt 28:20) and listen to the testimony of Jesus. (Print in bold – M.T.)
What does this last phrase mean? John recorded the angel’s words to him about the ‘testimony of Jesus’. He wrote: The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev 19:10).”
(Quoted from: Malcolm B. Heap, “God’s Church Whose Authority?” , 2002, p.6.)
True believers can be found in most Christian churches and in all denominations. However, not one Christian church (organization) can make a claim of being The True Church of God. Moreover, there is not a single church in the world today, where all members would be true believers! (Lk 18:8).
1. Church is a religious organization,
a structure built, governed and controlled by man (any such organization, including the Orthodox Church).
The Lord has founded His Church on a flawless foundation – Himself (1Cor 3:11). However, Satan had his evil seed planted even in the early Apostolic Church – the seed of his illicit, poisoning influence. The apostle John warned about the antichrists, which were to come, and had already (at the time) come, pretending to belong to Christ:
“…and, as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come… They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1Jn 2:18-19).
The apostle Peter also warned about false teachers, who would introduce destructive heresies in the doctrines of the Church, even denying the sovereign Lord who had bought them. According to that prophecy, many were to accept those shameful teachings, bringing the way of truth into disrepute (2Pt 2:1-3). And they did just that!
The apostle Paul, in his farewell speech to the elders of the church of Ephesus, by the Holy Spirit forewarned them about the grievous changes that were to take place in the Church:
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
2. The Lord rules, through the Holy Spirit.
“…Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Eph 5:23, NIV).
In chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians and Ephesians 4:11-16, the apostle Paul gives a detailed explanation of how practically the rule of God works in His Church.
It works, firstly, through active use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each believer receives spiritual gifts according to the wisdom and will of the Lord, for the edification of all in the Body (1Cor 12:4-26).
All believers have the right and an obligation before the Lord to use their spiritual gifts in the meetings for the benefit of others. Meetings of the Early Church were quite different from the services that take place in the Orthodox Church today! As we read Paul’s letter to Corinthians, we understand that he reproaches them for excessive enthusiasm and the wrong motivation (pride and boasting) in practicing the gifts of the Spirit in their meetings. It led to disorder, diminishing the benefits the believers were meant to receive. Paul exhorted to desire and use the gifts, but to do it in love and respect of others, giving each individual a chance to speak in turn, so that everyone could receive a maximum benefit.
Meetings of the Early Church were not once-for- all set procedures; nor were they unchangeable rituals, as they are in the Orthodox Church today. Try to imagine for a moment that you are at a worship service in your church, and the Holy Spirit has just given you a word of prophecy. Would you be allowed to interrupt the strict order of the service, to let the brethren receive the blessing of God’s prophetic message? Such a thing cannot be imagined even in your wildest thoughts! To say nothing about practicing some other spiritual gifts Paul lists, which are anathema to even mention in the Orthodox Church.
Secondly, the Lord exercises His government in His Church through the offices (ministries), for which He (not higher ranking church officials) appoints those whom He chooses:
“It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13, NIV).
In the quoted passage above, the apostle Paul lists these functions of Church government in the order of their significance for the Church. This does not elevate the performer of the function above other believers, nor does it give him authority to dominate over others. Of course, when such a person does his divinely appointed work, other believers must respect it and obey the will of God, made known to them through this person.
A similar listing of the offices in the Church is found in another Paul’s letter (1Cor 12:28). Having compared the two passages, we notice that the functions of a pastor and an administrator are not among those of first importance for the Church (from the Lord’s point of view, expressed by Paul).
God’s appointment of a believer to serve in a certain function for the benefit of the Church is always confirmed by the Lord through prophetic messages and other signs, given to this person and to other believers. A man (or woman) can properly do such a work only in the power of the Spirit, having completely submitted his/her will to the guidance of the Spirit. For it is said:
“Not by [human] might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zec 4:6).
Unfortunately, man is vain and self-willed. That is why many ministers, who once started as true servants of Christ, eventually became conceited; and through pride, they turned false.
2. Man illicitly takes the place of the Lord and rules over the flock.
At the inception, the founding of churches (almost always) is inspired by the Work of the Holy Spirit. However, after they have been established, their leaders subtly misappropriate the authority to rule in the church and begin to dominate over the flock. Such position and authority belong exclusively to the Lord. For this reason, God’s Spirit is being pushed out of churches, and they turn into spiritually dead religious organizations.
Nowhere has Jesus left us instructions as to any strict organizational structure of His Church. The only instructions found in NT in that regard state that we must:
a) follow His guidance, obeying His commands (teaching) given us in the Holy Writ (Jn 14:21,23-24) and by the Wonderful Counselor – the Spirit of Truth (ibid. v.15-17,26);
b) love and serve each other in meekness and humility;
c) what we must never do! We must not seek power and elevation over other believers. We must not bow down to or worship any man!
During the last evening before His passion, Jesus gave His disciples some most important commands. But first, He gave all of us a personal example of humbly serving others. Our teacher and Lord took off His outer clothes, wrapped Himself with a towel and, like a humble servant, began washing His disciples’ feet, including the feet of His future traitor, Judas! (Jn 13.) Having done that He said:
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (Jn 13:14-17).
Lord Jesus taught us:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25-28).
Another time, pronouncing God’s judgment over the religious elite of the Jews because of their hypocrisy, arrogance and betrayal of God’s decrees, He taught:
“They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:6-12).
It is too sad that in the majority of Christian churches, ministers in the function of ‘pastors’ and ‘administrators’ have misappro-priated the authority over the flock and rule in place of the Lord. They have forgotten that they were put there to serve, take care, and spiritually ‘feed His sheep’ with the good food of the pure Word!
Leaders of the Orthodox Church are much guiltier of this sin than most of the others! Of course, they claim to have received this authority from God Himself. If that is true, why then don’t they teach people the pure Truth of God’s Word? Why do they continue to teach as doctrines ‘but rules taught by men’? (Mk 7:7.)
3. God’s Law of love and mercy
becomes our rule-book and practical guide to everyday living in this world, because the Holy Spirit engraves His Commandments on our hearts and in our minds (Jer 31:33; Ezek 11:19).
“The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7:12).
So important were ALL the Ten Commandments to God, that He thundered them to the congregation of all the people of Israel out of a dark cloud, which descended on the Mount Sinai (Ex 20:18-19). After that, God burned these commandments out on two stone tablets with His own fiery finger – as a symbol of their eternal immutability! Who are we - insignificant mortals, to change or abrogate the immutable decrees of God?!
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Mt 5:17-18).
We become God’s true children, in His spiritual image and likeness, when we practice His Law of love and mercy (ALL His Commandments!)
When we live by faith, in harmony with the pure teaching of the Holy Scripture, the Spirit reveals to us the truth about God’s holy days and festivals, established by God Himself forever. Then we begin to understand the importance of obedience to God as an expression of our faith and love for Him.
From this perspective, we can see the blessing of the true Lord’s Sabbath (the Fourth Commandment). Sanctified by God and granted to man from the time of Creation of the world (Gen 2:3), the Sabbath was reinstated in the Ten Commandments, given to the people of Israel after their deliverance from the cruel Egyptian slavery (Ex 20).
Besides, let us not forget that Jesus called Himself the Lord of the Sabbath! (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5.)
Next, we should consider the whole complex of the true holy festivals, which were also established by God and recorded in Scripture. Full information about them can be found, repeated, in the books of Exodus (chapters 12,13,23), Leviticus (16,23), Numbers (28,29), and Deuteronomy (16). If anybody tells you that they have been abolished by the New Covenant, do not believe them! They deceive you! (Read carefully Jesus’ words, recorded for us in Mt 5:17-20 again. Prayerfully ponder on them.)
Jesus celebrated the holy days, given in the Law of Moses. His followers celebrated these days. In the evening (at the beginning) of the Passover day, Jesus had the last supper with His disciple and gave them the new symbols of Passover of the New Covenant, sealed in His blood. Jesus is our Passover Lamb! (1Cor 5:7.)
The Early Apostolic Church celebrated the same holy days. Any unbiassed reader can see it while reading the book of Acts, which was written by Luke - a doctor and follower of Jesus, converted from heathens. From the first chapter of the book to the last one, Luke uses these holy days as time pointers.
The apostle Paul mentions Passover in his letter to the church in Corinth, which predominantly consisted of Gentile believers (1Cor 5:7-8, 11:17-34). At the end of this letter, he also mentions another holy day – Pentecost (1Cor 16:8).
Just as everything else in the Holy Writ, these days too contain a very important spiritual lesson for us. They are memorials and signs for believers, symbolizing the major stages of God’s Plan of Salvation for humanity. When we observe them with acts of spiritual worship of our God, He blesses us for it.
(You will find a list of MM publications that give a deep and detailed study of all the issues we tackle in this article in the appendix.)
3. Tradition and a set of strict regulations, established by man, rule instead of God’s Law of love.
As has been earlier stated, with references to Scripture, such substitution is abominable in the eyes of God. Those who teach to follow rules that contradict the will of God expressed in His clear commandments, make believers commit the sin of disobedience. However, as is evident from Jeremiah 5:31, it is not done without believers’ consent, and God is not going to leave it unpunished. Fear the righteous wrath of God!
Speaking of the rules and traditions established by man, we mean the customs, which were adopted from heathens and idol worshipers:
Many believers are sincerely deceived to think that they honor their Savior by celebrating such festivals, borrowed by the Romish Church from the heathen nations of the Great Roman Empire.
It happened in the third century AD, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, who had made Christianity the state religion of his empire. The largest churches of organized Christianity – Roman-Catholic and Orthodox, - are the daughters of the Romish Church of the times of Constantine.
To make their transfer to Christianity easier and more attractive for the pagans of the Empire, Constantine ordered to ‘christianize’ a number of most important heathen rituals of worship. One of them was a weekly day of worship of the Sun-god. (In English, its very name confirms its origin!)
Besides, two other great heathen festivals were adopted: Saturnalia (the festival of Sol Invictus – ‘the Invincible Sun’), which was celebrated in winter; and Easter (the festival of Fertility goddess; Ishtar was one of her many names), which was held in spring.
Both festivals were celebrated with orgies and debauchery, characteristic of idol worship. Revelry continued for days, and at times even for weeks. During the days of Saturnalia, people used to decorate their houses and streets with symbols of the Sun (glittering balls and spheres), as well as evergreen garlands and wreaths, which symbolized male and female sexual organs. They also exchanged gifts with similar symbolism. During the days of Easter, the symbolism was even more licentious, as was the behavior of the exultant crowds.
These two exceedingly ugly festivals are at the root of the holidays, which many sincere Christian believers celebrate each year as Christmas and Easter (Orthodox ‘Resurrection of Christ’)! Do you really think that this does not matter to God? If you do, then think about the meaning of these words:
“… and after they [these peoples] have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates… See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.” (Dt 12:30-32).
4. Worship in spirit and truth
“… Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23-24).
Worship ‘in spirit’:
- Requires guidance of the Holy Spirit in public and personal worship, - the way it was done in the times of the Early Apostolic Church. This guidance of the Spirit rules out any strict pre-planning of meetings by man, allowing only for minimal use of rituals.
- Calls for the use of the gifts of the Spirit in worship for edification of all believers.
- Implies active but orderly participation of all believers present in a worship meeting (as the Spirit moves them, not as a human leader has ordered or pre-planned).
It is the aspects of worshiping in spirit that 1 Corin-thians 12-14 discusses.
To worship ‘in truth’ means:
- in sincerity of one’s heart;
- willing to learn the truth and keep Jesus’ teaching pure - not compromised by heresies and false teachings.
4. Magnificent rites and rituals
Both the Orthodox and the Roman-Catholic churches are known for the splendor of priestly garments and decoration of their churches, and for the grandeur of their rites and rituals. What a pity this entire splendor does not evidence the presence of the Holy Spirit! Moreover, the rule of priests, who have usurped the place of the Lord in His Church, has pushed out the Spirit of God.
God is not in rituals; nor is He found in buildings, erected by men. Scripture says:
“But who is able to build a temple for Him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain Him?” (2Ch 2:6.)
That is why, as magnificent as all those things may look, from the point of view of our salvation they are but worthless tinsel.
There is a good reason why the Lord allowed the only Temple of His Name on earth to be destroyed. That temple had been built in accordance with His explicit layout and detailed directions revealed through His prophets! To this day, of all its magnificent structure, there remains only the so-called ‘wall of weeping’ in Jerusalem. A mosque rises boastfully, dominating the Temple Mount.
Scripture makes it quite clear that Jerusalem remains the chosen city of God, that both Judah and Israel will be forgiven and saved in the end. However, through the destruction of the physical Temple of His Name, the Lord wants to teach us a very important lesson. He shows us that we should not place our hopes in man or man-made structures and things. When we do, we commit an act of spiritual adultery, transferring our worship from the Creator to created things, which can be destroyed.
5. A living faith seeks to develop a close, personal relationship with the Living God in Jesus Christ.
Jesus promised all His followers (that includes you and me) that He would be always with them (through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) - to the very end! (Mt 28:20, Jn 14:15-19). Of course, for that to be possible, we must remain in Him, by keeping His commands (Jn 14:21, 23; 15:1-8).
No one can accuse God of unfaithfulness, of not holding to His word! Today, He continues to be with us and to speak to us. He desires to lead us to holiness and fullness of knowledge of His Truth, preparing the Bride for His imminent coming.
One of the biblical names of God is Logos, which, when translated from Greek means ‘Word’ (Jn 1:1 – 18). A God with such a name will not keep silent! He wants us to learn and understand His will and His perfect plan for us.
Today, Jesus continues to speak with us in different ways. They are all recorded in the Bible and thus do not contradict, but uphold the Word of God. From the many testimonies of our brothers and sisters around the globe, as well as from our own personal experience, I can confirm that the Lord does indeed speak with His disciples by ‘words of wisdom’ and ‘words of knowledge’, as well as through visions and prophetic dreams.
His ‘small voice’ answers you from within when you address Him about important issues, asking Him for guidance, clarification, comfort or confirmation. That is why it is so vital for us to devote time daily to communing with the Lord in prayer, as well as in reading and meditation over His Word.
When man truly believes, his communication with God, having begun, knows no end. Prayer becomes a joyous necessity (not an obligation) to meet and talk his heart out with a wise and faithful Friend (Jn 15:12-15).
Perhaps, all this is new to you. But believe me, a true prayer really is a communication of two, not a one-sided address. I cannot recall a single instance when we needed help, support or clarification in any question we considered important, that Jesus would leave us without His answer or help. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness! We can always rely on Him.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him” (Jer 17:7).
As is the case with any personal relationship, either the relationship between a believer and the Lord grows stronger and deeper, or his love grows cold. When the latter occurs, it greatly saddens Jesus. There is nothing more cruel and mean than the betrayal of a pure and faithful love! Man cannot quite conceive the boundless love of God, poured out on us in Christ. Jesus tried to explain it to us in these words:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
Having said these words, He then fulfilled them. Sinless, He died for me, for you – for all of us! Who has ever loved you more than that? When has anyone in this world shown you greater love? Doesn’t a love, as great as this, deserve to be reciprocated? Do you really think that some traditions and rules, made up by men, should be trusted and respected more than His words?!
When the believers in Corinth began quarrelling about whom they should be following, Paul wrote to them with a bitter reproach:
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” (1 Cor 1:13).
As members of Christ’s body, we must put no one above the Lord. He alone must fully possess our heart, all of our mind, and all of our soul, for it is written:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Мk 12:30; Lk 10:27, Dt 6:5).
Only then we can remain in Him, and He will remain in us! Otherwise, giving the central place in our life to someone else, we push away the Spirit of Jesus. The Lord will never share this central place in your life with another! It rightfully belongs to Him as your Maker and Savior. Either He is everything to you, or you serve another master. Just as He has warned us, no one can serve two masters!
5. Religion inevitably turns into idol worship.
Instead of God, religious people slowly but surely begin to worship:
their pastors or other church leaders,
worse than that – dead people (even their semi-decayed remains)!
All this is abominable to the living God who desires our love and attention.
On the stone tablets received by Moses on the Mount Sinai, God burned out with His own finger:
“I am the Lord you God…
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol [image] in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…” (Ex 20:2-5).
We have already discussed the subtle form of worship given by church members to pastors and leaders, who have illicitly taken the place of the Lord in churches and lord over the flock. Now let us address the issue of worshiping man-made images (icons) and ‘saints’, which are clearly forbidden by God in the above quoted first two Commandments.
If the testimony of the plain and clear Second Commandment of the Almighty God is not enough to persuade you, here is the second witness, given by Him through the apostle Paul, who wrote down these Spirit inspired words:
“Because knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful. But they became vain in their reasonings, and their undiscerning heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became foolish and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into a likeness of an image of corruptible man…
Because of this, God gave them up to impurity in the lusts of their hearts, their bodies to be dishonored among themselves, who changed the truth of God into the lie, and worshiped and served the created thing more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 1:21-25).
Because man stubbornly continued to worship idols: living and dead people, all sorts of creatures, heavenly lights and man-made images, God gave them up to the power of sin (Rom 1:26-32). Read on in the chapter to the end, and you will see for yourself how devastating were the results of this human obstinacy. These results can be traced throughout the history of mankind, and have dramatically increased in these end times.
Even the very first acquaintance with New Testament leaves no doubt that the word ‘saint’ was then, and should be applied today, to all true believers in the Lord Jesus. Here are just a few references (only from two NT books) that prove this truth: Acts: 9:13, 9:32, 9:41; 26:10; Romans: 1:7; 8:27, 12:13, 15:25-26; 15:31; 16:2, 16:15. They do not exhaust the list!
God sanctifies us by the name of Christ and by His Holy Spirit whom He sends to dwell in us (2Cor 1:21-22). Anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit, that person does not belong to Christ! Having accepted His sacrifice, you are no longer the sinful human being you used to be (at least you should not be, if your repentance was genuine). “The old has gone, the new has come” (2Cor 5:17), - as Paul has written by the Spirit.
In another place, Paul states that our body is the temple of God (2Cor 6:16). He asks: “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?”
From all the above it should be clear that worship of ‘the saints’ is nothing but worship of the dead who, though having been faithful servants of God in their life time, still remain just deceased human beings! How much more abominable in the eyes of God should be the worship of their dry bones (relic of a ‘saint’s body), things and images!
Worship of the mother of Jesus, in essence, is no different from the discussed case of worship of the ‘saints’. This is proven by the words of our Lord Jesus Himself. It is for a very good reason that in two separate instances He quite plainly expressed that any believer, who does the will of God, is a mother, brother or sister to Him, and that such a believer is blessed by God no less then the blessed Mary. Do read these accounts for yourself and believe the words of Him whom you worship as your Savior: Mt 12:46-50; Lk 11:27-28.
We should not deify Mary, but rather follow the example of her faith and obedience to the word of the Lord!
The apostle John, in finishing a letter, dedicated to the love God has for us and to His love in us (which proves that we belong to Christ), seemingly without any logical connection writes:
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1Jn 5:21).
Shouldn’t we heed?
6. Living faith humbles the heart, teaching us to love:
God – above all (as has already been shown above);
Neighbor – as yourself (Mk 12:31; Lk10:27, Lev 19:18);
Your brothers and sisters in Christ – as He has loved us, i.e. more than yourself (Jn 13:34, 35);
Your enemies – despite all the evil they have done to you (Mt 5:43-48).
When Jesus was giving this command, He concluded His teaching with the following words:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
They who have not learned to forgive and show mercy for their persecutors, praying for God’s forgiveness and salvation for them, should not think they have reached perfection!
6. Dead religion cools off our love for God. It generates:
The Jewish priesthood of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees and Sadducees, teachers of the Law and scribes provided perfect examples of the above listed fruit of a shallow, spiritually emasculated religion. Because of such characteristics, they rejected the Messiah. John the Baptist called them ‘brood of vipers’. Jesus named them ‘blind leaders of the blind’. He also compared them to whitewashed graves – having a semblance of being spiritually righteous and zealous for God, but inwardly filled with all kinds of impurities. Jesus exposed their self-righteousness and ostentatious religiousness as hypocrisy and betrayal of God for the sake of human tradition and teachings.
Ø Prejudice, contempt and hatred for other Christians, who profess a doctrine that differs from ours (those who do not belong to our denomination, church affiliation or religious organization).
Many Orthodox Christians believe that the Orthodox Church is the only true church, founded by Jesus Himself! This gives them a false feeling that they are spiritually superior to others, better and dearer than other Christian believers in the eyes of the Lord. They do not accept other Christians as their spiritual family in Christ. Such an attitude contradicts the main principle of Jesus’ teaching and the new command, given us all by the Lord.
James writes in his letter:
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” (Jas 2:1). “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (v.9).
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his 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, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (Jas 3:13-17).
7. Faith makes one a follower of Jesus who desires to live for and bring salvation to others (guided by Christ, and working in the power of His Spirit).
Jesus taught that His disciples would follow in His footsteps. During His time on earth, Christ brought humanity the good news about the gift of God – Salvation (through His sacrifice), and about the nearness of the coming Kingdom. Before returning to the Father’s Throne, the Lord gave His disciples this command:
“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16).
The Lord fills the hearts of His disciples with His love for mankind. This love makes us concerned about the fate of other people, living on earth. This same love also makes us willing to serve His Church – the body of Christ, - performing in a function, which He appoints to each of us. Such work cannot be done without using His gifts of the Spirit for the benefit of the Church.
In this selfless ministry, done out of the love we all ‘owe one another’, we have a duty to show our brothers and sisters in Christ when the Spirit reveals to us their error, deception or failure (Jas 5:19-20; 1Cor 5:12-13). At the same time, we all must accept humbly and thankfully an exhortation or correction from others in the Church of Christ if we have slipped (regardless of their denominational affiliation).
No matter what sort of ministry we have, our first and foremost obligation always remains the same: seeking to do the will of God; learning to hear and obey His direct guidance through the Spirit; learning to test and discern spiritual influences (1Jn 4:1).
There is no self-interest in God. He is absolutely free of any selfishness. That is why, while transforming us into His spiritual image, He calls us to get rid of these ugly traits of a former fleshly man. He teaches us to live not for gratifying the Self, not for satisfying “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of this life” (1Jn 2:16). Instead, we receive a new sense and a new joy, living and working selflessly for the salvation and the good of others.
7. Oftentimes, a religious person tries to ‘buy’ God’s blessings with words of empty, insincere praise and with monetary gifts to a church.
I will give you just one example from life. I once came across an acquaintance of mine, - a married man of significant social status (an Orthodox Christian, a successful businessman, a District Rada Deputy). He began to proudly ‘report’ his achievements to me, finishing his speech with the following phrases, which are very telling. He said: ‘Every Sunday I go to church. I gave money for the new bell tower. And boy, do I love women!” At this, he smiled with great self-satisfaction.
He is NOT even ashamed of his sinful lust! Poor man! Does he really believe that God’s righteous judgment can be bribed by weekly church visits, or by monetary contributions?! Yet, many religious people seem to think so!
8. Faith arouses in us hunger and love of His Truth.
Love for God arouses an insatiable hunger and thirst for the Word. Through it, we begin to better know the beauty of the Lord, of His spiritual image, in which He desires to change us - His children. The Word of God for our spiritual life is what mother’s milk is for a baby. In order to comprehend wonderful mysteries of the spiritual world, reading of The Word is just as vital, as the knowledge of the alphabet is for anyone who wants to learn to read.
Faith causes us to thirst for the knowledge of His Truth, desire to follow His righteousness, willingness to live by faith and change according to the new pieces of Truth as He gradually reveals them to us. This gives a believer the feeling of sincere gratitude to the Lord our God.
8. Religion makes one self-satisfied and spiritually lazy.
Complacency and self-assurance will gradually lead anyone to spiritual dormancy. Such a person becomes disinterested in further learning of God’s Truth, much less in making attempts to live by it.
9. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit fills the life of a believer with inexpressible joy and peace, which do not depend on the circumstances of this life.
Our peace is a gift given to us by the Lord Jesus. And His gifts are irrevocable! (Jn14:27; Rom 11:29.) The Lord has never promised us that we would be without trouble and problems in this world. On the contrary, He plainly stated that problems, persecutions, possible poverty and even martyrdom await every true follower of His in this evil world.
However, Jesus has assured us that He will be with us in all our troubles, even to the very end. He will make possible the things which otherwise can never be possible for us to do or to persevere. And all those in whom the Spirit of Jesus dwells will produce His good fruit in their lives:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:14, NKJV). And “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
9. Religion throws man back to his sinful nature, which he denied when he had accepted Christ.
This opens the door for many doubts and unbelief to enter. It gets worse, and strong demonic influences enter. Having grabbed the opportunity, evil spirits begin to oppress the man, afflicting him with many sins, perversions and ailments.
His life becomes devoid of joy and happiness. The devil receives power over him. Now he can steal away from that person the irrevocable gifts of God – joy, peace, hope, even the most important one – his salvation! (1Cor 9:27.)
10. Finally, the most important point: it is through faith that we receive our salvation!
Faith is the mechanism through which God enacts and fulfills His Plan of Salvation in each individual who will be saved:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”! (Eph 2:8.)
10. Religion does not save anyone from spiritual death!
If that were not so, then the religion of the Jews, once founded on the Law given by God, would have guaranteed their salvation. In that case, as pointed out by Paul, Jesus would have suffered and died for nothing! (Gal 2:21.)
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2Cor 13:5.)
Remember that faith is tested and confirmed by deeds (Jas 2:14, 17, 18-19). But without deeds – it is just empty words:
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (Jas 2:26).
No man is perfect and without fault. But the Lord, in His amazing mercy, judges us by the motivations of our heart. If our motivations are pure and good, we will be seeking to know His truth and to keep His commandments – His Law of Love. For, as Jesus said:
“If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching” (Jn 14:23).
Do not boast before others that you belong to the Orthodox Church, but know that there is no favoritism in the Lord. He does not categorize His children into ‘elite’ and ‘second rate’. If you do not show love for everyone in whom the Spirit of God dwells, you commit a sin of prejudice against your family in the Lord.
Seek the Lord, His will and His Truth. Love the Truth, so that it doesn’t happen to you, what Paul warned about:
“But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Rom 2:8).
May the Lord bless all your deeds of love, done in humility. Amen.
Midnight In America
List Of recommended literature For in-depth study of the issues, Addressed in this article
(Some publications of Midnight Ministries, UK):
God’s Church – Whose Authority? (GC)
Our Sabbath Rest (S)
Apostasy in God’s Church! (Apo)
The Controversy Concerning Las & Grace (LG)
Listening To God (Lis)
An Introduction to Spiritual Gifts (ISG)
Prophets and Prophesying (PP)
Testing the Spirits (TTS)
The Timing of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (Tim)
Why Keep Christmas? (X)
The Festivals of God (FoG)
The Mark of a True Christian (Mrk)
The Ten Virgins (10V)
What Every Christian Should Consider (Chr)
The Missing Dimension in Christian Living (Mis)
God’s Calendar Revealed to Man (Cal)
Faith – Raising our Level of Expectation (F)
Faith and Healing (FH)
Meetings With Jesus (MWJ)
Click Here to Order!
Click Here for Complete Literature List