There are many religions; how can you tell which one is true and which is false? Some people say it doesn’t matter, because all religions have truth, but don’t tell that to the former followers of Jim Jones or David Koresh.
In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to the South America to investigate a controversial cult based in San Francisco, named the People’s Temple, that had established a commune in Guyana. There were charges that Jim Jones, the founder of the People’s Temple, had defrauded members and was exerting total control over members by threats of violence. At the airport, Congressman Ryan and four others were shot to death, and then 913 members of the People=s Temple, including Jim Jones, committed mass suicide. (“Jones, Jim.” Encyclopedia Britannica 2005.)
In 1993, David Koresh, leader of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians, stockpiled weapons with his 130 followers at a compound near Waco, Texas. Four federal agents were killed in a shootout with his followers, and for 51 days the government laid siege to the compound. Finally, they attacked the compound and 80 Branch Davidians, including David Koresh, died in a fire. (“Branch Davidians.” Encyclopedia Britannica 2005.)
Many other false religions are not as violent, but equally false. So how can a person tell which one is true and which is false? In the ancient Book of Deuteronomy, we find answers to this question.
I. Beware of False Words (Deuteronomy 18:14-22)
Deuteronomy gives us one of those tests in Deuteronomy 18:21-22.
Verses 21-22 specifically answer the question, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” The answer is, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.” So the first test of false religion is false words. If the religion makes false predictions, the religion is false.
I know of a false religious cult that has predicted the end of the world many times, evening naming the date. They failed this test.
Contrast them with Jesus, who is the true prophet. Deuteronomy 18:17-18 says the Lord will raise up a prophet.
In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and in A.D. 70, it was destroyed exactly as He said. No wonder Acts 3:20-22 says the prophet Moses spoke of is Jesus!
Jesus Himself claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. He speaks the truth; he IS the truth.
II. Beware of False Ways (Deuteronomy 18:9-13)
With the popularity of the Harry Potter novels, witchcraft has almost been sanitized today. And while I realize that the Harry Potter stories are just fantasy, we need to understand that real witchcraft is not taken lightly in the Bible. Beware against thinking that it is okay to delve into magic.
Back up a few verses in Deuteronomy and we find the second test of false religion. Deuteronomy 18:9 warns against the “detestable ways” of the nations in the land the Israelites are entering. Then it proceeds to describe every kind of witchcraft and occult practice you can imagine in verses 10-11.
It gives a specific list here of seven kinds of witchcraft:
1. Human sacrifice. Even today human sacrifice is sometime associated with the occult.
2. Divination and sorcery – using objects to foretell the future, such as psychics, tarot cards, and horoscopes.
3. Interprets omens – interpreting things like cloud or bird movements to reveal the future.
4. Witchcraft – rituals such as charms, spells, and potions
5. Cast spells
6. Medium and spiritist. (Leviticus 20:27 says a medium or spiritist must be put to death)
7. Consults spirits of the dead. Saul did this with the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28) and he was condemned.
Why is this so wrong? Isaiah 8:19 says that when people say let’s consult a spiritist or consult the death, shouldn’t a people consult their God? It is wrong because it is an attempt to get answers to life and foretell the future by consulting dead spirits and earth spirits, rather than depending upon the Holy Spirit of God who indwells the believer in Jesus Christ.
III. Beware of False Worship (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
Remember that we saw in Deuteronomy 18 that false predictions were a warning sign of false religion? But in Deuteronomy 13, scripture informs us that some people might make true predictions and still be false prophets because of false worship. Listen to Deuteronomy 13:1-3: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spokken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.” So add to false words and false ways, a third test: false worship. Even if people in a religion do good deeds and say some good things, it is still false if their worship is false.
Many cult leaders started out well as members of Christian churches, but then they began to exert total control over their members, making themselves the “Messiah.” Many world religions teach good deeds, but they do not believe in the one true God of the Bible. They often worship other gods and have their own books that they claim are inspired by God.
Galatians 1:6-9 says that even if an angel should bring a different message, let him be accursed! 1 Corinthians 12:3 says that no one who is speaking by the spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. The ultimate test is, does this religion exalt Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? If not, the religion practices false worship.
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He IS truth. This is the true religion. Have you trusted in Christ, and Christ alone to save you?
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With the candidacy of Mitt Romney, many people have questions about his religion. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), often called “Mormons.” This is the first in a series of posts I will do on Mormonism.
HISTORY OF MORMONISM
Mormonism began with Joseph Smith, Jr., who was born in upstate New York in 1805. In 1823, while living in Palmyra, New York, he claimed to have visions of an angel named Moroni who told him all churches were false, and to join none of them, and instead to go to a hill and uncover some golden plates. Mormons believe that Smith found the plates, written in ancient Egyptian, and was able to translate them. The Book of Mormon tells stories of Jews fleeing the Babylonian conquest in a ship, settling in the Americas, and becoming the ancestors of the Native American Indians. The more godly Native Americans were killed off by the godless ones, and God cursed the godless Native Americans, changing their white skin to “a skin of blackness” (2 Nephi 5:21, Book of Mormon).
In 1830, Smith published his “translation,” the Book of Mormon, and established his new church. Immediately, many of his neighbors considered him a fraud, although his church grew. In 1831 he relocated his church to Kirtland, Ohio, just north of Cleveland. In the 1830’s and early 1840’s, Mormonism grew rapidly, establishing large settlements in places like Far West, Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois. There was violent conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri and Mormons were greatly persecuted for what their neighbors considered a hoax. During this time, Joseph Smith began to secretly teach polygamy. He recorded in the Mormon scripture, Doctrine & Covenants, chapter 132, how God told his wife Emma to accept the idea of multiple wives, but she was resistant to the idea.
In 1844, a newspaper was published in the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois, publicly exposing Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Smith had the newspaper shut down, and for this, Smith was arrested and put in jail in the nearby town of Carthage, Illinois. An anti-Mormon mob stormed the jail, and Smith was killed. Thus Joseph Smith became a Mormon martyr.
With the death of their leader, Mormons had to decide what to do. Some remained behind and established the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ, which has 250,000 members and headquarters in Independence, Missouri. But the majority followed Brigham Young in a trek west in 1846-1847, settling in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah, and he became the new prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). In Utah, Brigham Young began to openly practice polygamy. He himself was said to have had so many wives he could not remember them all.
In 1857, a wagon train of non-Mormons from Arkansas were passing through Mountain Meadows, Utah on their way to California. Apparently the Mormons felt threatened by the possibility that some of them might be from Missouri, which had a history of violent conflict with Mormons. Thus a group of Mormons and Native Americans massacred 120 men, women and children. Ironically, this attack culminated on September 11.
In 1890, the president of LDS church, Wilford Woodruff, added a new declaration to the Doctrine & Covenants, saying that polygamy was no longer required. Afterwards, Utah was admitted as a state into the Union. While the main group of Mormons no longer teaches polygamy, groups of fundamentalist Mormons have continued the practice, especially in some towns near the Utah-Arizona state line.
In the 1970’s, another revelation from the LDS prophet allowed dark-skinned people to be elders in the church, reversing a policy based on the Book of Mormon’s claim that American Indians were cursed with dark skin. The church also quietly changed a verse in 2 Nephi 30:6, which used to say that upon conversion they would become “white,” replacing the word “white” with “pure.”
The LDS church has grown rapidly through the years, especially by encouraging thousands of young people to go on a two-year mission before or during their college years. Today there are over 6 million Mormons in the United States, 1.2 million in Mexico, and over a million in Brazil.