Biblical Answers to the World Mission Society Church of God

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.--1 John 4:1

Are you or a loved one struggling with this group? Do you need Biblical answers about the World Mission Society Church of God (WMSCoG or CoGWMS), their founder Ahnsahnghong (Ahn Sahng/Sang-Hong) or their current leader "Mother Jerusalem" (a.k.a. "Heavenly Mother God," Zang/Zahng Gil-Jah, or Chung Gil Cha)? Thank you for coming here. I hope my blog helps you. Questions and comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is 666 the Pope? - Part 5 - The 1260 Days

So far in this series, we've seen in Part 3 that the prophecy of the 10 kingdoms does not match with the historical record of the fall of Rome and the rise of the Papacy, like the World Mission Society Church of God claims.  And in Part 4 we saw that the Papacy was not a good fit for the prophecy of the fatal wound.

The results of my investigation are showing that the Pope is NOT the Antichrist according to these prophecies.  But I want to be thorough, so I won't quit yet.  For your reference, here again is where you can find the "Pope-is-Antichrist" teaching.

Continuing to examine the beast of the sea in Revelation 13...
Today, the 1260 days:

Rev. 13:5-7
And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them...

This is similar to Daniel's prophecy:
Dan. 7:25
He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
      Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,
      And shall intend to change times and law.
      Then
the saints shall be given into his hand
      For a time and times and half a time.


A time (1 year) and times (2 years) and half a time (half a year) equals 3 1/2 years, which equals 42 months, which equals 1260 days (figuring with the Hebrew calendar of 30 days per month).  This length of time is mentioned 8 times in the Bible regarding the end days (Daniel 7:25, 9:27, and 12:7; Revelation 11:2-3, 13:5, and 12:6,14), which might cause you to wonder if all 8 verses are referring to the same era.   Right now, we'll focus on Rev. 13:5 which tells us the beast was given authority to rule for 1260 days.

In prophecy, a day could refer to a year (Eze. 4:6; Num. 14:34), but it doesn't have to.  In Daniel 4:16, the seven prophetic years were seven actual years, not 2520 years (7x12x30=2520).  Therefore, the 1260 days (3 1/2 years) could prophesy 1260 days or 1260 years.

Remember in Part 4 we saw the many different years that could have been considered fatal wounds to the Papacy?  The question was, why choose the one in 1798?  The answer lies in this prophecy of the 1260 days.

Backing up 1260 years from 1798 gives us the year 538.  This is the year the WMSCOG claims the last of the 3 opposing kingdoms was destroyed by the Papacy (See Part 1), which cemented the Pope's rule.  Therefore, they say, the Pope had a rule of 1260 years, fulfilling this prophecy.

Now the question is, did the Pope's rule begin in 538 with the destruction of the Ostrogoths (as the WMSCOG claims)?

To find the answer, I've been researching the history of the Church and the history of the Gothic War of 535-554.  These are years that could be considered as the mark of the beginning of the reign of the Catholic Church (not counting Matt. 16:18 or Acts 2):

313--Edict of Milan, issued by Constantine, ending the persecution of Christians
325--Council of Nicaea, which the WMSCOG says ended the Passover for the world
551--The Gothic War, Rome finally liberated from the Ostrogoths and place under Byzantine control
553--Last remnants of the Gothic army defeated
800--Charlemagne, the first emperor crowned by a Pope

Where is the year 538, which the Pope-is-Antichrist teaching clings to?  Maybe we'll find it if we look closer at the Gothic War?  Here's a summary of the war as it relates to Rome...

536--Byzantine (Roman) army enters Rome
537 to 538--First siege of Rome, ends with the Romans maintaining control
546--Second siege of Rome, ends with the Goths in control of Rome
547--Romans regain control of Rome
549--Third siege of Rome, Rome regained by the Goths
551--Goths lose Rome, and the Romans (Byzantines) are able to maintain control until 751

Reading about the Gothic War tells us that the Ostrogoths were definitely NOT destroyed in 538.  In fact, looking at these dates, there is no good reason to choose the year 538!

Why choose the year 538 from this list, and choose the year 1798 from the list of potential fatal wounds?  So that you can force the Catholic Church to fit into the prophecy of 1260 years.

Do you remember when I checked out the WMSCOG's sources in Part 1 and saw that they were fairly close in their dates of the destruction of three kingdoms?  This is the date that was not quite accurate, and now we see the implications of it.

What kind of church plays with dates like this simply to make a prophecy seem to come to fulfillment?  There are two reasons I can think of: ignorance or malicious intent.  Is this what you'd expect from a church supposedly founded by "Father God" and currently run by "Mother God" in the flesh?

There's more to say about the 1260 days next time.

Click here to go on to Part 6.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is 666 the Pope? - Part 4 - The Deadly Wound

Just as a reminder, we are looking at the first beast in Revelation 13 to see if it matches the Pope (Papacy), and we are examining the claims of the argument about the Pope to see if they are accurate.

Here is the resource, again, where the "Pope-is-Antichrist" teaching has been clearly stated.  Please remember that the WMSCOG is not the only (or the first) group to hold to this teaching.  So even when I write, "the WMSCOG says...," the other Pope-is-Antichrist groups also say something similar (and vice versa).

In Part 3, we saw how the Pope-is-Antichrist teaching of the 10 kingdoms arising out of the fall of Rome is not accurate with the historical record.  Since the Papacy has failed to match up with this prophecy, we already know that the Pope is NOT the Antichrist, as the WMSCOG teaching claims.  But for the sake of completeness (and just in case you are still not convinced), I'll continue with this study.

Continuing in Revelation 13...
Today, the "deadly wound":

Rev. 13:3-4
And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

The WMSCOG says that this "deadly wound" happened in 1798 when Pope Pius VI was taken captive by one of Napoleon's generals.  He died in 1799 while still being held by French troops.  It took almost 7 months for the next Pope (Pius VII) to be elected.  The church recovered, and the office of Pope is still occupied today.  Is this the "deadly wound" to the Papacy that was healed?

Read the verses carefully and see that this deadly-but-healed wound was such that "all the world marveled and followed the beast."  It's the kind of thing that would be all over the news and everyone would be talking about the miraculous recovery.  Does "all the world" stand in awe of the Papacy surviving this incident?  Are they amazed at the miraculous recovery and exclaim, "Who is like the Papacy [the beast]?"

What about these other "wounds" to the Papacy?...

Pope St. Hyginus--traditionally thought martyred about AD 140.
Pope St. Pius I--martyred by sword in 155.
Pope St. Anicetus--traditionally thought martyred in 166.
Pope St. Soter--traditionally thought martyred about 174.
Pope St. Eleuterus--traditionally thought martyred in 189.
Pope St. Callixtus--martyred about 223.
Pope St. Cornelius--"died a martyr, through extreme hardship" in 253.
Pope St. Stephen I--martyred by beheading in 257.
Pope St. Sixtus II--martyred by beheading in 258.
Pope St. Caius--legend says was martyred in 296.
(Wikipedia List of Popes)

Do you think those are too early in history to count?  Maybe they were early enough to be uncorrupted Popes (as the WMSCOG might define "corrupt")?

Think of this... the WMSCOG says the church was already becoming corrupted, even that early.  After all, Anicetus (who is on the list) was the Pope the WMSCOG accuses of taking the "lead in abolishing the Passover" in 155--a statement that is incorrect.  (See Part 1)

How about these later "wounds"?...

Pope Benedict VI--seized by Roman nobles, imprisoned and strangled in 974.
The East-West Schism--the division of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054.
[no Pope for 2 years]--A deadlock in voting resulted in no Pope in office from April 1292 to July 1294.
[no Pope for 2 years, again]--Another deadlock in voting resulting in no Pope in office from April 1314 to August 1316.
[no Pope, yet again for 2 years]--No Pope elected from July 1415 to November 1417.
The Protestant Reformation--the "revolt" in which Protestants broke away from the Roman Catholic Church beginning in 1517.
Pope Pius VI--taken prisoner by Napoleon's general in 1798, and died while still expelled from the Papal States in 1799.  (This is the incident used by the WMSCOG.)
Pope Pius VII--expelled from the Papal States by France from 1809-1814.
Pope Pius IX--During his time as Pope, the Papal States were lost to the Kingdom of Italy (1870).

Consider the list.  Any of these instances could easily be viewed as a deadly wound that healed.  Rev. 13:3-4 indicates only one deadly wound--the word for "wound" is singular, and here we have so many to choose from.  Why choose the one in 1798?  I'll examine that next time with Revelation 13:5-7.

In summary:
Yes, the Papacy (Catholic Church) has many "wounds" that could have caused its collapse, and it has survived.  But the prophecy only refers to one, and it is the kind of deadly wound which causes the world to "wonder, marvel, and be amazed" with its healing.  It's not describing a series of difficult struggles.  The Papacy doesn't work well with this prophecy.

Click here to go on to Part 5.

Is 666 the Pope? - Part 3 - The 10 Kingdoms

We established in Part 2 that we are looking at the first beast in Revelation chapter 13 to see if it matches the Pope (Papacy).  We are also examining the claims of the argument about the Pope to see if they are accurate.

Since I haven't yet found the World Mission Society Church of God's full and complete teaching about the Anrichrist online (please send me a link of you know of one), I'm going to refer you to another page (one of many) where the "Pope-is-Antichrist" teaching (as I'll call it) has been clearly stated.  This can be a resource to you as we consider the claims.

Please remember that the WMSCOG is not the only (or the first) group to hold to this teaching.  So even when I write, "the WMSCOG says...," the other Pope-is-Antichrist groups also say something similar (and vice versa).

Let's start at the beginning of Revelation 13 and take it one part at a time.
Today, the "10 Kingdoms":

Rev. 13:1-2
Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name....

This is similar to Daniel's prophecy:
Dan. 7:24
The ten horns are ten kings
      
Who shall arise from this kingdom.
      And another shall rise after them;
      He shall be different from the first
ones,
      And shall subdue three kings. 

"This kingdom" is the Roman Empire, which is well agreed upon by Bible scholars.
The WMSCOG says that when the Roman Empire finally fell, it was divided into ten kingdoms, three of which were put down by the Papacy, leaving seven.  Also, those three were "uprooted" because they did not agree with the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The "little horn" of Daniel 7:8 is the Antichrist (the beast) that comes up in the midst of these 10 kingdoms.  The WMSCOG says that since the Pope (Roman Catholic Church) rose to power out of the fall of the Roman Empire, he fits this prophecy.

This "fact" of the 10 kingdoms is well-circulated by the Pope-is-Antichrist groups, but is it historically true?
In other words, can we find the same fact in academic sources, or has it been contrived to fit the argument (which would make it not a fact at all)?

Here's their list of the 10 kingdoms, the last 3 (in green) being the ones who were "subdued":
Visigoths
Anglo-Saxons
Franks
Alemanni
Burgundians
Lombards
Suevi
Heruli
Ostrogoths
Vandals

You might think, "I'm sure they've done their research, so it must be true."  If that's so, then it shouldn't be hard for me to find it too.

I've been looking all over, including reading the source, Ridpath's History of the World, that the WMSCOG trusts enough to quote from in their video (see Part 1).  Why is it so difficult to track down such a statement among legitimate academic sources?  (If you'd like to refer me to one, I'd be happy to hear from you.)

I will show you what I have found...

Here's a map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in A.D. 117.  You'll see that it covered a very large territory.  However, the 10 kingdoms named in the Pope-is-Antichrist claim are all in western Europe.  The Roman Empire split in the 3rd century, so we'll just look at the Western Roman Empire.

The Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire lasted until 1453, but the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, when Odoacer and the Heruli conquered Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman Emperor.  Here's what was left of the empire then (much smaller!).  Here's a map of Europe circa 476, where I count 8 kingdoms in the right area.

Here's another showing Europe in the time of Odoacer (476-493).  In this map you can see the Kingdom of Syagrius, which was the "last Roman foothold in the west" and was conquered by the Franks in 486.  Since it would technically be considered Roman, it shouldn't be counted.  That leaves 9 kingdoms, since the Lombards were not in the correct territory yet.

Perhaps the best map to use is this one of the Germanic kingdoms in 486.  It's before the first of the three kingdoms was subdued, according to the claim (the Heruli in 493).  It's still not quite a match.  It shows the Anglo-Saxons and the Britons as two separate kingdoms, and the Lombards are again not in the right territory.

Maybe we need to read the history books to see what's happening behind the maps.  Since the WMSCOG trusts Ridpath's History of the World enough to use it as a source, I'll use that as well as the internet.  Remember, I want to know that the Roman Empire was divided exactly into the 10 kingdoms listed above, and that only the 3 were subdued.  I also want to know whether or not the kingdoms disagreed with the Catholic Church.  Keeping the same order as the list above...

The Visigoths maintained their kingdom until 711, when they were conquered and confined to just Castile, which they sustained until the Middle Ages.  Their transition from Arianism to Catholicism happened between 577 and 584.  (Ridpath, pages 426-427)

The Anglo-Saxons maintained their hold in England until 1066.  Paganism was replaced by Christianity there in the 7th century.  (Wikipedia Anglo-Saxons)

The Franks held their kingdom for centuries, with the western part of the kingdom eventually becoming France.  Clovis I, the king of the Franks, converted to Catholicism in 496.  (Wikipedia Franks)

The Alemanni were conquered by the Franks in 496.  Then they were subject to the Ostrogoths, and then again under the control of the Franks in 539, where they were a "nominal dukedom."   Alemannia became Christian in the 7th century.  (Wikipedia Alamannia)

The Burgundian kingdom was conquered by the Franks in 534, becoming part of the Frankish Empire.  Burgundy was an Arian kingdom, but by the time they were conquered, many had converted to Catholicism, including the last king.  (Wikipedia Burgundians

The Lombards did not cross the Danube into the territory of the Roman Empire until the 540s, invaded Italy in 568 and finally established their kingdom in there in 572.  (Remember that the Western Roman Empire ended in 476, so that's nearly a century later.)  As for religion, the Lombards were mixed--pagan, Arian, and Catholic.  It wasn't until late in the 7th century that most of them were Catholic.  (Wikipedia Lombards)

The kingdom of the Suevi was incorporated into the kingdom of the Visigoths in 585.  The Suevi were mostly Arian until converting to Catholicism in the 560s.  (Wikipedia Suebi)

The Heruli, led by Odoacer, were the ones who brought an end to the Western Roman Empire in 476, and they are shown on the maps as the Kingdom of Odoacer.  They were conquered by the Ostrogoths in 493.  (Ridpath page 408)  Odoacer was an Arian Christian, but had good relations with the Catholic Church.  (Wikipedia Odoacer)

The Vandals were conquered in 534 by Belisarius, a general of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.  The reasoning for their attacking the Vandals was "partly with a view to exterminate the Arian heresy, and partly for the purpose of restoring the supremacy of the Empire throughout the West."  (Ridpath, page 430)

The Ostrogoths were already within the territory of the Roman Empire when their king, Theodoric (who was an Arian Christian), conquered Odoacer in 493 and replaced the Heruli in Italy, thus expanding the Ostrogothic Kingdom.  The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian sent Belisarius to attack the Ostrogoths resulting in the Gothic War from 535 to 554, but their kingdom did not fall easily.  Belisarius captured Rome in 536 and Ravenna (the Ostrogoth capital) in 540.  Control of Rome went back and forth several times. (Wikipedia Ostrogoths and Gothic War)  Finally, the last of the Ostrogothic kings was defeated in 553.  (Ridpath page 354)  It's worth noting that the WMSCOG claims the Ostrogoths were destroyed in 538. (Part 1)

Those are the supposed 10 kingdoms.  BUT one of them, the Kingdom of the Lombards, did not establish their kingdom in the territory of the Western Roman Empire until nearly a century after the end of the Empire, and about 35 years after the last supposed uprooting 3 kingdoms.

Then there are these kingdoms in the territory of the Western Roman Empire which aren't even on the list of the 10:
The Britons were distinct from the Anglo-Saxons.  You can see it on this map. (Wikipedia Britons historical)
The Bavarians "were governed by their own kings both before and after the downfall of the West." (Ridpath page 396)

Also, five of the kingdoms were conquered, not three, when the Ostrogoths were finally defeated (Alemanni, Burgundians, Heruli, Vandals, and Ostrogoths--six if you also count the Suevi which met its end later in 585).

Plus the Pope-is-Antichrist teaching says the 3 kingdoms were subdued because of their conflict with Catholic doctrine, and the Ostrogothic kingdom was the last of those 3.  However...
Only one of the kingdoms at that time was Catholic (the Franks).
Two of the kingdoms were conquered even though they were Catholic (the Burgundians and the Suevi).

In summary...
The fall of the Western Roman Empire does NOT fit this prophecy of the 10 kingdoms arising with 3 being uprooted to leave 7 kingdoms.  Therefore, the Papacy (or Roman Catholic Church) does NOT fit this prophecy either.

Next time I'll examine Revelation 13:3-4...

Click here to go on to Part 4.

P.S.--Here's a chart to help you organize all this information...

Kingdom Conquered Catholic? Notes
Visigoths 711 Converted about 580 Arian, yet not "destroyed by the Papacy"
Anglo-Saxons 1066 Converted in 600s Pagan, yet not "destroyed by the Papacy"
Franks became France King converted in 496
Alemanni 496 Converted in 600s Controlled by the Franks, Ostrogoths, and then Franks again, should be counted with the other conquered kingdoms
Burgundians 534 Converted prior to 534 Conquered even though they were Catholic, should be counted with the other conquered kingdoms
Lombards Kingdom not established until 572 Converted in 600s Too late to be considered one of the 10, not even in Roman territory when Ostrogoths were supposedly conquered
Suevi 585 Converted in 560s Not "destroyed by the Papacy" when they were Arian, yet conquered when they were Catholic
Heruli 493 Arian king Conquered by the Ostrogoths
Vandals 534 Arian
Ostrogoths 553 Arian king Not destroyed in 538 as claimed
Britons

Not mentioned in the Pope-is-Antichrist claim
Bavarians

Not mentioned in the Pope-is-Antichrist claim

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Is 666 the Pope? - Part 2 - Which Antichrist

My quest with this series is to investigate the World Mission Society Church of God claim that the Pope is the Antichrist whose number is 666, referred to in Revelation 13:18.  In Part 1 we saw that the WMSCOG still has a problem with their information sources, like they had in trying to prove the cross is an idol.  But let's try to move beyond that and see what the Bible has to say about this claim.

To start with, we should know that this idea of the Pope's being the Antichrist is not new, and it did not originate with the WMSCOG.  It was a view held by major Protestant reformers, and the idea actually dates back several centuries before the Reformation, though the reasoning for it seems to have grown over time.  There are many websites discussing reasons why the Pope (or Papacy) might satisfy the Biblical descriptions of the Antichrist, so I don't plan on going into detail here.  Wikipedia has a good summary you can read.

We also should know that the Pope is not the only candidate in the running as the identity of the one whose number is 666.  You can read about a few others here, like Nero and Muhammad.  Here is an even longer list of possible Antichrists, and even Prince Charles is a possibility.  The European Union is a popular candidate.  But a search on the Internet shows that the Pope (or Papacy) is one of the lead choices among those who think they can identify the Antichrist.  Since that's also the WMSCOG's choice, I'm only going to focus on the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

There's one more thing we need to do in preparing to study this, and that's define some vocabulary.  The word "antichrist" only appears in a few verses, all of them in 1 John and 2 John.  This is the complete list:

1 John 2:18
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.

1 John 2:22
Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.

1 John 4:3
and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

2 John 1:7
For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

The term "antichrist" is very broad.  It can refer to anyone "who denies the Father and the Son."  What we're wanting to talk about and study is something more specific--THE Antichrist, the major one of the end times, written about in Revelation

Notice the word "antichrist" doesn't appear in Revelation.  Instead, we have the word "beast."

Rev. 13:1
Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.

But there is also a second beast.

Rev. 13:11-12
Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.  And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

Revelation distinguishes the second beast from the first by calling the second beast the "false prophet."

Rev. 16:13
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

Let's read a little more about the false prophet (the second beast).  You can see the first beast is just called the "beast"...

Rev. 13:13-18
13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. 15 He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, 17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.

In Rev. 16:13 (above) there are three key players in the end time, what you might call an "unholy trinity."  They are the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.  The beast is the one whose number is 666, the false prophet works on the beast's behalf, but who is the dragon?  The dragon is Satan.

Rev. 12:9
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Though the dragon and the beast may have some similarities in description, they are not one and the same.  The dragon gives authority and power to the beast.

Rev. 13:2-3
Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.

We might call all three of these "Antichrists" (1 John 2:22), but that would get confusing.  They are three distinct persons.  For the sake of clarity, in my studies here I'm going to make the distinction of calling them by their Revelation titles: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.

The WMSCOG's position is that the Pope is the one whose number is 666.  I know that because they say so themselves, in their video at minute 6:00, "So, the identity of 666 is the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope!!!"
666 is the number of the beast.  So to be perfectly clear, the WMSCOG claims the Pope (Papacy) is the beast.

Therefore my investigation will be whether or not the Pope matches the description of the beast.  It's important to have a clear focus.
More next time...

Click here to go on to Part 3.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is 666 the Pope? - Part 1 - WMSCOG's Sources

One of the key teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God is that the Pope is the Antichrist whose number is 666 (Rev. 13:18).  Although I'm not Catholic, I still find this idea worthy of research, and I'd like to know how much merit it has.  Is the WMSCOG right?  Is the Pope the Antichrist?  How can we know?

After seeing the glaring distortions of their sources in their effort to prove the cross an idol, I've become wary of all the WMSCOG's research.  Let's start there and see if the WMSCOG has presented the idea with good scholarship, or if they have misused their resources again.

"The Identity of 666" is an official video of the World Mission Society Church of God which presents their teaching about the Antichrist.  In it they make several statements about the history of the Catholic Church, accompanied by names of their source books.  I remember in my university studies the importance of using sources to document research.  At first view it looks like the WMSCOG has done scholarly work.  Let's check out these sources and see if that is true.  We'll take the statements in order...
[starting at minute 2:48]
In A.D.493, Heruli was destroyed by the Papacy. (Ridpath, "History of the World")
In A.D. 534, Vandals was destroyed by the Papacy. (Ridpath, "History of the World")
In A.D. 538, Ostrogoths was destroyed by the Papacy. (Ridpath, "History of the World")
According to the prophecy, three kingdoms were destroyed by the Papacy. 
Ridpath's History of the World is available to read online. The reference about the end of the Heruli kingdom is on page 408.  The Heruli kingdom was replaced by the Ostrogothic kingdom, see page 352Page 394 and page 430 tell us of the end of the Vandals. And page 354 records the end of the Ostrogothic kingdom, except it was in 552-553, not 538.  Whether or not these were the three kingdoms of the prophecy remains to be seen, but the WMSCOG follow their source fairly closely with the dates.  (UPDATE: Though two of these three dates are correct, there are many other history facts misrepresented.  See Part 3, Part 5, and Part 6 for more information, including the problem with the incorrect date.)
[at minute 4:12]
In A.D. 321, the Pope abolished the Sabbath and introduced the Sunday service. (From "The History of Christianity")
Sunday service rests upon the authority of the Catholic Church. (From "The Faith of Millions")
I cannot talk about the first statement because I have found at least 5 different books titled The History of Christianity, and so far in none of them have I found the stated fact.  I'll keep looking (and update this if I find something), but good scholarship would dictate that the reference be more specific.  The WMSCOG should give an author.  I will address the fact itself in a future post about Sunday and the Sabbath, but for now I'm left to wonder if this reference is real or not.

UPDATE: I was recently able to examine the WMSCOG's "Evidence Book," and it shows a picture of a book titled "The History of Christianity (A Lion Handbook)."  Since it was used as a source in the Evidence Book, we can guess that it's the same book used as a source here.  The book is out of print, but I was able to borrow it from my local public library.  This book does NOT tell us that "the Pope abolished the Sabbath and introduced the Sunday service."  What is does say on page 29 is, "Sunday, the Christian day of worship, was observed from the very beginning of the Christian church," and on page 140, "When in 321 Constantine made the first day of the week a holiday, he called it 'the venerable day of the Sun' (Sunday)."  Constantine was the Emperor, not the Pope, and the book says nothing about the Sabbath being "abolished," only that Constantine made Sunday an officially sanctioned holiday.  So then, this would be another misrepresented source.

As for the second statement, The Faith of Millions is available online, and I've found the reference on page 401.  It says, "They [Protestant churches] have continued the custom [of Sunday service], even though it rests upon the authority of the Catholic Church and not upon an explicit text in the Bible."  Now back up to the bottom of page 399 and read through to 401 for the context.  Notice on page 400, "The Church received the authority to make such a change from her Founder, Jesus Christ."  The book explains the reasons for the change, and whether or not they are valid will be explored in a future post.  In the meantime, does The Faith of Millions say Sunday service came purely by the authority of the Catholic Church, or by the authority of Jesus through the Church?  I'll let you decide that one.
[at minute 4:17]
In A.D. 155, the Pope took the lead in abolishing the Passover. (From "A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500")
In A.D. 325, the Pope abolished the Passover. (From "The Faith of Our Fathers")
We can look inside A History of the Early Church to AD 500 at Amazon.com.  The information about the year 155 was taken from page 83.  The WMSCOG did not put the statement in quotes, so we're not looking for an exact sentence, but let's see what this book says about the Pope in the year 155.  It says, "In 155 Polycarp argued the question with the Pope Anicetus, but as neither could persuade the other they agreed to differ."  It does not say that "the Pope took the lead," but that he agreed to let the difference in dates continue.  Again we have another misleading statement.

The Faith of Our Fathers is another book available to read online.  Yet, I cannot find in it the fact that "in A.D. 325, the Pope abolished the Passover."  There is brief mention of the Council of Nicaea in 325, but no connection between that year and the Passover.  Page 134 records that there was a "question regarding the proper day for celebrating Easter" which was decided by Pope St. Victor I, but that was about the year 190.  Unless someone can direct us to the correct page in this reference, there is nothing apparent to connect the claimed fact with the given source.
[at minute 4:30]
In A.D. 431, the Roman Catholic Church introduced the cross and the statue of the Virgin Mary. (From "Harpers' Book of Facts")
Harper's Book of Facts is also available to read online.  I've already addressed the WMSCOG's misuse of this source for the cross, but how about the statue of the Virgin Mary?  Harper's Book of Facts tells us that 431 was the first record of Mary being called the mother of God (page 688), but I cannot find a reference to statues of Mary anywhere in this book.  I've tried the search feature and looking up every article that might be related, and still nothing about statues of Mary.  If anyone finds it, please let me know, but as it stands, the WMSCOG's statement is yet another misrepresentation.
[at minute 5:04]
It is because the Roman Catholic Church killed more than 50 million people through the Inquisition and witch-hunts. ("Bible Handbook")
Here is another source without an author specified.  I have not yet found the correct Bible Handbook out of many different books with that title.  Again I must wonder if this reference is real.
[minute 5:35 shows a picture of "Our Sunday Visitor" Apr. 18, 1915]
The letters inscribed in the Pope's mitre are these Vicarius Filii Dei, which is the Latin for the Vicar the son of God.
I have not found a copy of this Our Sunday Visitor, but I have seen it referenced by others, and the WMSCOG has a photocopy of it.  I'll count this a successful source.

So let's tally the score and see how the WMSCOG did with their sources this time....
Good=2      Bad=5      Maybe=1
That's not a very good score, is it?  It reminds me of the "Information Control" aspect of a cult--holding back and distorting information to suit their purposes.

Sorry for such a long post today, but it's good to figure out where we're starting from.
Next time I'll start examining the claims made by the WMSCOG, and we'll see what the Bible has to say about the Antichrist.

Click here to go on to Part 2.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is the Cross an Idol? - Part 5 - The Cross in the Bible

A continuing look at why the cross is not an idol...

Just to review, so far, we've seen that the World Mission Society Church of God distorts their sources and misrepresents the history of the cross in Christianity (Part 1 and Part 2).  In Part 3 we saw that the way the WMSCOG represents the cross as a symbol of death shows an incomplete understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus.  Then in Part 4, we saw that God does in fact encourage and command religious symbols and imagery in the Bible.

The Bible is full of God-directed symbolism and imagery, but is there evidence in the Bible to support using the cross as a symbol?  How is the cross significant?

The Cross Reminds Us...

...that we are reconciled and have peace with God--Col. 1:20-22; Eph. 2:15-18.
...that our debt is cancelled and we are no longer condemned--Col. 2:13-15.
...of the power of God, power to save sinners and power over death--1 Cor. 1:17-18, 23-24.
...that we are new creations, set free from sin and living a new life for God--Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20; Gal. 5:24.
...that we are redeemed from the curse of the law--Gal. 3:13.

About That Curse...

The World Mission Society Church of God video about the cross says, "The early Christians regarded the cross as an instrument of the capital punishment 'shame' (Heb. 12:2) and 'a cursed tree.'" (at minute 3:10)  What does the Bible say about that?  Did the early Christians despise the cross because it brought shame and a curse on Jesus?  No, they were thankful that Jesus removed the curse from them (Gal. 3:10-15).

God mentioned back in Deut. 21:23, "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse."  And there is a curse upon us because we cannot be saved by our own works (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10).

We are not to think, "It's so awful Jesus had to die as a criminal hung on a tree since that is such a shameful and accursed death."  NO. There's more to it than that.

We were under a curse.  Jesus took the curse for us.
God used the cross because it was a curse.

Here it is again, because it is so important, Gal. 3:13 -- "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'"

Going back to our analogy from Part 3, and the WMSCOG's question, what if Jesus had been killed by a gun?  If God meant for Jesus to take our curse away by being killed by a gun (or sword, etc.) then He could have accommodated that in Deuteronomy.  But no, God used "hung on a tree."  He gave us that image Himself, fulfilling it through Jesus.

It parallels 2 Corinthians 5:21 -- "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Here's a good commentary you might like regarding Gal. 3:13.

More Images of the Cross

We're not just looking for references to Jesus' atoning sacrifice (there are plenty of those in the Bible), but for references to His manner of death--the crucifixion.  Besides Deuteronomy 21:23 with Galatians 3:13, are there other indications that God meant the cross to be associated with Jesus? Yes!  Here are a few: 

The Bronze Snake
Jesus said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him." (John 3:14-15)  Jesus was referring to Numbers 21:4-9, comparing His "lifting up" to the way "Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness."  How did Moses lift up the snake in the desert?  On a pole.  (Num. 21:8). 

Psalm 22
When Jesus cried out on the cross, He quoted Psalm 22:1.  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34)  Read Psalm 22 and you'll see a description of the crucifixion.  It's especially apparent in verse 16, "they pierce my hands and feet." 

Ezekiel 9
In chapter 9, Ezekiel saw a vision of judgment being executed on the city of Jerusalem.  God told the angel, "Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” (Eze. 9:4)  Those with this mark of God were spared in the judgment.

Although we do not know what exactly that mark looked like, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used here is "tav"--"mark 'tav' on the foreheads".  "Tav" (also written "taw" or "tau" or "taf") meaning "mark" is actually the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  It corresponds with our English letter "T," and in ancient scripts it did look like a cross.

So you see, God did foreshadow the cross in the Old Testament.  Here's another article you might like to read about images of the cross in the Old Testament.

God's View of the Cross

We might also ask, does God despise the cross shunning it for being the instrument of Jesus' death?  We can answer that by observing Jesus' resurrected body.

God is all powerful.  He did not have to bear the marks of the crucifixion on His resurrected body, but He chose to keep them.
John 20:20 -- "After he said this, he showed them his hands and side...."
John 20:27 -- "Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'"

This tells us God wanted the manner of Jesus' sacrifice remembered.  And He wanted us to have a physical reminder.  God thought this physical reminder of the cross so important that Jesus bore it on His own flesh.

Conclusion

I can already hear the WMSCOG's response, "You say the cross is a reminder of Jesus, but how did Jesus tell us to remember Him?  Luke 22:19 says, 'And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”'  We are supposed to remember Jesus with the Passover bread and wine, not the cross."

Christians do remember Jesus' sacrifice when we take the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper.  But communion is not something we do everyday (some churches, like the WMSCOG, only celebrate it once a year).  We often need a reminder that's right there with us.  When you get the call that your loved one has died, or when you hear the doctor say you have cancer, or when you've just been in a car wreck with your family and you are all being rushed to the hospital...  That's when you might need something to remind you of God's great power and love, without waiting until the next time you can partake in the Lord's Supper.

God knows we need physical symbols and images to help us remember and understand.  The Bible is full of symbols and imagery--not just to picture in our minds, but also to touch with our hands and see with our eyes (Part 4).

You could make a little figure of the bread and cup to put on a chain or hang on a wall if you'd like.  But as for me, I'll gladly look to the cross.  There's plenty of support for it in the Bible.

Some final thoughts:
"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal. 6:14)
"but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23)
That's unfortunate, but even more so, "... many live as enemies of the cross of Christ." (Phil. 3:18)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Is the Cross an Idol? - Part 4 - Symbols in the Bible

A continuing look at why the cross is not an idol...

There's a beautiful song that's been playing on K-LOVE (my favorite radio station) lately, called "Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)" by Casting Crowns.  The chorus of the song says this:
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming, Oh glorious day
It reminds me of my last post, Part 3 -- that if the cross of Jesus only reminds you of death, you are lacking the deeper experience of life and freedom that comes through that cross.  It's as if you sang, "Living, He loved me; Dying," and stopped right there.

But even with this deep meaning and feeling associated with the symbol of the cross, another question surfaces.  Does God forbid this type of symbol or image as idolatry?  If so, then we must not use it, no matter the meaning we may ascribe to it.  If not, then we are free to use such symbols or images to help our faith.  That's what I'll explore today...

Do you remember in Part 1 we examined one of the World Mission Society Church of God's videos about the cross? The video starts with a quote of Exodus 20:4.  (It actually includes part of verse 5, though the video only references verse 4.)
"You shall not make for yourself an idol 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.  (Exodus 20:4)"
And at minute 3:54, the video tells us,
"God forbids us to make any kind of religious image."
Obviously, God forbids us to make any form or image as an idol, worshiping it instead of God.  But does God actually "forbid us to make any kind of religious image"?  Does the Bible allow us to use symbols to help us in our faith, to remind us of spiritual truths or things God has done?  Yes!

Here are just a few of the images God has given us.  Whenever we see these things, whether in real life or in art, we can remember the lessons God gave through the symbols.

Rainbow (Gen. 9:12-17) -- The Noahic Covenant
Dove (Matt. 3:16) -- The Holy Spirit
Rock (1 Cor. 10:4; Matt. 16:18) -- Christ
Vine and Branches (John 15:1-8) -- The relationship between Jesus and the believer
Potter and Clay (Is. 64:8; Jer. 18:6) -- God's sovereignty in our lives
Arrows (Psalm 127:3-5) -- Children as a blessing from God
A Torn Curtain (Mark 15:38; Heb. 10:20) -- We can draw near to God because of Jesus
Water (John 4:1-14) -- Eternal life through Jesus
Fish (Matt. 4:19) -- Making disciples as fishers of men
Lion (Rev. 5:5) --  Jesus, who has triumphed
Shepherd and Sheep (John 10:14) -- Jesus takes care of us
The Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) -- Christ who saves us from death by His sacrifice
Gate or Door (John 10:9) -- Jesus as the only way to heaven

There are so many!  God liked to give us symbolic imagery.  We find it all through the Bible.  But it wasn't for us to only visualize in our heads--God told people to make concrete symbols they could look at and hold.  Here's a list of some of God's concrete symbols and what they were meant to remind us...

Cherubim (Ex. 25:18-22; 26:1) -- God's presence
Jar of Manna (Ex. 16:32) -- God's provision through the wilderness
Pillar of Stones (Josh. 4:19-24) -- The miracle of entering the Promised Land on dry land through the Jordan
Fringes on Garments (Num. 15:38-39) -- The commandments of the Lord
Bronze Snake on a Pole (Num. 21:8) -- The healing power of God

So as you can see, God does NOT "forbid us to making any kind of religious images," as the WMSCOG claims.  He commands and encourages us to use symbolism and imagery!

What is forbidden is worshiping those images and symbols, but we must let God Himself be the judge.  Only He knows the true heart of the person kneeling before a statue or a cross.

Next time--Biblical support for the symbol of the cross.

Click here to go on to Part 5.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is the Cross an Idol? - Part 3 - What About a Gun?

A continuing look at why the cross is not an idol...

In Part 1 and Part 2 we saw how the World Mission Society Church of God misuses its sources in an attempt to prove that the Christian symbol of the cross is in reality a pagan idol, and that history shows the symbol of the cross connected with Christianity centuries earlier than the WMSCOG claims.
 
However, art and images of the cross are less commonly found in the early church than they are in later centuries.  Why is that?

The WMSCOG's quote from History of the Christian Church (see Part 1) implies that the early Christians despised the cross because of its use as a cruel tool of execution.  We saw that History of the Christian Church actually says that the cross was "despised by the heathen Romans" not by the early Christians.  Even though the WMSCOG distorted its source, is there evidence that that's why the cross image is less commonly found in the early centuries?

I've done some reading and the conclusion seems to be evenly split.  Some say it was the severe persecutions of the early church that made it dangerous for them to display images of the cross openly.  Others say (agreeing with the WMSCOG) that it was too much of a reminder of the brutal death of Jesus for them to associate it with anything good.  This brings me to questions the WMSCOG often poses...

The WMSCOG says since the cross was used to kill Jesus, why would people who loved Jesus use this execution tool as a symbol, hanging it around their necks and placing it in their churches?  If Jesus were killed by a gun, would you hang a gun around your neck or put a gun on the top of your church?

At first, it sounds disgusting--a gun as a symbol of something as good as Jesus?!  In our society, death by a gun happens primarily in the course of a crime or by accident.  That's why the idea brings up such feelings in us.  Let's think a little deeper, get past those initial emotions, set up a more modern analogy, and see how we feel then...

First, the story of Jesus' sacrifice:

All of us are sinners.  We can't seem to avoid it--even when we try to be good, we end up sinning in attitude, thought, or deed.  Even the Apostle Paul had this problem (Romans 7).  The price of our sin is death, not just bodily death but eternal separation from God, and we all owe it (Romans 6).  How will we ever escape this debt we owe?

God is a just God.  The debt must be paid.  But He is also a loving God.  He loves us dearly.  God made a way to pay the price for us through Jesus Christ.  Jesus willingly suffered and died on the cross and rose again so that we could have eternal life with God (Romans 4).  When we accept that payment of Jesus on our behalf, we have crossed over from certain death to eternal life (Romans 5).

So because of Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection we have life instead of death.

Now an analogy we can relate to:

I've heard some use an analogy like this, "If your son (mother, brother, etc.) were killed by a gun, would you hang a gun around your neck to remember him?"  The WMSCOG video we saw in Part 1 used the analogy of a helicopter accident and a daughter who hated helicopters because they reminded her of her father's death.  Those are incomplete analogies, showing no depth in understanding the sacrifice of Jesus.

We need something that incorporates as many elements of the story as possible.  Also, the instrument of death doesn't have to be a gun.  We should be able to replace "gun" with anything suitable in order to get a good analogy for our purpose.  Here we go...

Imagine you and your family (parents, spouse, children, grandchildren if you have them) are all sentenced to die.  Whatever it was that caused the sentence of execution doesn't matter, but because of the law of the land there is no possibility of changing it.  You all will die soon.

You can imagine this scenario in different times and places.  You could be headed for the guillotine, or the executioner's axe, or the hangman's noose, or the firing squad, or the lethal injection table, or the stake for burning, etc.  As you all are waiting for your turn for execution, along comes a man--a free man, a man who has done absolutely nothing wrong.  He looks at you and your family, and then you see him talking with the governor, who is watching over the day's executions.

After a few minutes, a guard comes over and takes off your chains.  You and your whole family have been set free, and you will never have to fear being brought back for execution again.  You were all as good as dead.  Now you have life!

As you leave, you notice the man.  He's tied up and about to be beheaded, or hanged, or shot, or injected, or burned at the stake.  You ask the governor what's happening, and he tells you the man agreed to take the punishment instead of you and your family.  He accepted the trade because of the rank and position of the man.  You can't help but watch in awe as the man is executed.

The governor says, "Your sentence has been paid.  You are free to go.  Of course, if you still wish to pay the sentence yourselves, you are welcome to do so."  You and your family walk out to freedom, but the image of the man being executed in your place stays with you.  It is because of his sacrifice you have life and not death.

Reconsidering how we feel:

Keep imagining that scenario.  Every time you and your family see a guillotine, or an executioner's axe, or a hangman's noose, or a gun (from the firing squad), or a bonfire, etc.--how will you feel?  What will you remember?  Will that become a symbol of death or a symbol of life for you?

When I think about it, I find that any disgust that rises in me regarding the instrument of execution is soon overshadowed by the memory of how my family and I have life and freedom now.  Every time I see that particular execution tool, I'll remember what that man did for us.

Disgust is overshadowed by reverent awe and thankfulness.

So would I wear a guillotine, or axe, or noose, or injection needle, or flame, etc., around my neck or put one up in my church?  Yes, I would.  How about you?

As a mere decoration, it means nothing.  But as a symbol of the great sacrifice that's been made for us, it's rich with meaning.

If the cross only makes you think of death, you are missing the most important aspect of it--life and freedom.  Perhaps that's what's missing in the World Mission Society Church of God?

More about the cross and symbolism next time....

Click here to go on to Part 4.