Have you ever wondered why there are so many different religions and so many different denominations? In large cities as well as small villages, it seems there is a church on practically every corner. Apparently everyone is trying to get to the same place—heaven. You have perhaps heard comments such as, “It doesn’t make any difference what church you attend. You just need to love Jesus. We are all going to the same place.”
If that is true, then it must not matter in what direction you go when you are traveling to a specific destination! But it does make a difference if someone gives you directions to a destination. If you follow his or her instructions, you will reach the desired site.
When I was traveling one time, I knew that I needed to exit the freeway at Exit 57 and make several left turns to reach my desired destination. I did not count on road construction, however, and a change in signage. I thought I had it made, but two hours later I was still making left turns—and had no idea where I was. Generally, men do not like to stop and ask for directions, and it usually takes me awhile, because I have never considered myself ever to be lost. I have been confused and not known where I was sometimes, but if you had asked me, “Are you lost?” I would have said, “No”! You are lost when you give up. When you turn off the engine of your vehicle or stop whatever it is in your life and say, “I am done,” then it might be said that you are in a lost condition. But finally I telephoned and said, “Brother, I cannot find this place!” Well, I did not call just once; I called twice! I was almost 20 miles short of Exit 57, so it did not matter how many left turns I made, I still was not going to find the place.
You and I need specific directions in order to make heaven our home. It makes a difference how we read the road map, the Bible. Not everyone who reads it is going to reach the same conclusion. You may read a verse and your neighbor may read the same verse, and the two of you can arrive at totally different conclusions of what the text says or means.
This will happen, unless you follow what God says in His Word. Do you remember how He said to find truth? “For precept [must be] upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little.” Isaiah 28:10. If the Bible writers agree on the same subject, and they will if God says it is important, then you and I, by faith, must accept what God’s Word says on that subject.
Why So Many?
It is said there are at least 10,000 different religions in the world! Why are there so many different denominations and religions? It needs to be made very clear that no one will be saved because of the denomination to which he or she belongs. The members of every denomination declare that they are right and that their church’s way is the only way. If we feel that way here on earth—and we are not going to change our opinions—what would it be like in heaven? There would be many different groups, and each group would want everyone to join it. It would be chaos! So there must be some things in God’s Word that will help us to understand what God wants us to know is truth.
How would you define a heathen? Many Christians define a heathen as anyone who does not theologically agree with them.
Anyone who gives a different message than what the Bible says can be put in the class of a heathen. It does not mean he or she is a bad person. God looks upon the heart, and He only expects and accepts from an individual what that person understands and knows is truth. How nice it would be for us to understand and accept that God has good people in every church! They love Him with all their heart, and they want heaven to be their eternal home. As they study His Word, God will reveal to them, as He will to us, more of His truths to prepare them—and us—to live with Him. We must never “write off” someone because he or she attends another church and believes differently than someone else.
Lessons to Learn
In Jeremiah 29, we read that God’s people had been taken captive. They were in Babylon, which was under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. Basically, they were slaves. Have you ever wondered why God would allow His people, a small group during that time, to go into captivity? Should they not have been allowed to be free so they could tell others about God?
God took responsibility for these people being in captivity. (Verse 4.) It was not His fault; it was the fault of the people. God allowed them to go into captivity to teach them a lesson.
There are a number of lessons to be learned in this life, and sometimes we have to be led in this direction and in that direction in order to learn the lesson that God has for us. The lesson can be as easy or as difficult to learn as we make it. If we are stubborn and rebellious, the Lord will direct us over and over the same ground until the lesson is learned—as long as we are still saying with an honest heart, “Lord, I want to do what is right. I want to be what You want me to be.”
Those who were considered to be the religious leaders of those in captivity were giving a different message to the people than God had given. They were saying, “Do not cooperate with these Babylonians. Let us not do anything they say to do. We are going to be here for only a little while, and then we are going home.” But God said, through His prophet Jeremiah, “Build ye houses, and dwell [in them]; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.” Verses 5, 6.
It takes more than a day or two to build a house; it cannot be completed and moved into in one day. A garden cannot be tilled, planted, and harvested in a few days’ time either. God was not just talking to those who were of marrying age at the time the message was given, but to those who would come of age to marry, because they were going to be in Babylon for a while. God’s plan for His people is never to diminish, never to regress, never to go backwards, never to just maintain, but to always move forward by His power and by His grace.
God placed His people in Babylon, a city occupied by heathens. The occupants did not know the God of heaven. God allowed His people, because of their rebellion, to go into captivity. But, also, the Babylonians needed to know about the God of heaven, and the captives were going to be witnesses for Him.
In Jeremiah 29:7, God instructed the captives to “seek the peace”: “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” God was telling these slaves to pray for the city and its leadership, because in so doing they would be able to have peace with Him. If they caused turmoil, the captivity would be harder for them, and He did not want the lesson He had for them to be harder, just as He does not want our lessons to be difficult for us.
God warned His people against the false prophets and religious leaders in their midst in verses 8 and 9: “Let not your prophets and your diviners, that [be] in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the Lord.”
God warns His people about two classes of deceivers. The elders had already told the captives that they would not be in Babylon for very long—a totally opposite message than God gave in verses 5 and 6. The false-speaking leaders enticed the dreams of things that they wanted to come to pass, things that they wanted to hear.
Today there are many self-proclaimed preachers, pastors, and evangelists. Just saying, “I am a pastor” or “I am a priest” or “I am a preacher” does not make it so! Too many have called themselves into the office; they have not been called of God. The experience given in Jeremiah 29 is an example of self-proclamation. The so-called religious leaders in the midst of God’s people taught directly against Him.
Many men and women warn of the doom that is coming to this earth. We must be able to discern who is a true prophet of God. Remember, when a person says, “I am a prophet of God,” then he or she must speak as God speaks. If the person does not speak as God speaks, he or she is not His prophet. It matters not what their title may be. It does not matter how much education they have. They may have the learning of the world, but they have not the heart experience that Jesus desires for each of us. They have not true understanding without the Spirit, because spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
Surrounded by Evil
Those who studied astrology, who were palm readers, who practiced sorcery, magic, and witchcraft daily surrounded God’s people in captivity. God warned His people repeatedly about the contact they would have with these people. Evidently interest in the tricks of the devil was a weakness with God’s children at that time.
God counseled, “Do not worship the sun; do not worship the moon and the stars. Worship the One who created those things.” (Deuteronomy 4:19.) Jeremiah 10:2 tells us, “Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.” The heathen did not and do not understand that God is behind all these things. God warned His people that they were not to get too carried away with the practices of the heathen. These individuals in Babylon had studied the celestial phenomena in the heavens. They understood eclipses; they understood comets. They understood the orderly conjunction of the stars, the sun and the moon, and the different heavenly bodies. They understood them very well, and they used them to their advantage. God said, “Do not be dismayed at this.”
The devil will use the same wonders again. The Bible tells us that he will work signs and miracles and wonders, but no matter what the devil does, he will always fall short of the power of God. He can never gain the victory if we do not let him have it. Through Christ, we are more than conquerors. (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9, 10; Romans 8:37.)
Who Witnessed to Whom?
I Kings 16:30–34 tells of Ahab and how, through raising altars to Baal, he “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.” He participated in providing altars for human sacrifices. How frightening that must have been! Is it possible that the Babylonians had so mixed with God’s people that they were participating in these rites of sacrificing their children? Sadly, that was the situation.
How could God’s last-day people, as it were, who were supposed to know Him, get so deeply involved in these kinds of rites and ceremonies? If the people who were supposed to know God and keep His statutes and commandments could go so far as to participate in these rites and ceremonies of killing and shedding blood, is it possible that you and I may get off the path if we do not keep our eyes on Jesus? You had better believe it! Take the time to read I Kings 16, 17, 18, and 19. There is told of this great deception that was among the Israelites. It will challenge your thinking how this counterfeit religion took over what was supposed to be good.
Ellen White brings out the very interesting point that God’s so-called people at that time did not really know the difference between Baal, the devil, and the true God of heaven. (See Prophets and Kings, 153.) Do you see why they had to stay in captivity for 70 years? They had to reach the point in their lives where they finally cried out, “Lord, we need You. We need a Saviour.” Do not let your life come to the point where there is nothing left before you finally cry out, “I need a Saviour.”
If you are looking today for a Saviour, He is there. If your heart aches that your life should be changed and you want to be something different, God is there for you. If you are saying, “I want Jesus in my life,” and yet you are afraid to make a move, please do not be afraid. There is no one that could love you more, care for you more, or meet your every need more than Jesus. You can trust your life with Jesus, because He gave His life for you.
Baal or God
Several things help to quickly identify the differences between Baal worshippers and followers of the true God. Baal worshippers always satisfy the flesh. The Lord always satisfies the desires of the soul. There is such a difference! One takes lives; the other gives life.
Israel was committing the same atrocities as the Babylonians were, which was just inhumane. The majority of them were participating in the same kind of worship; they had evidently sunk far into paganism. Interestingly, some began to see that this was not right. They wanted to stop and to come out of it, but they were afraid to expose the error for what might happen to them.
Can this be related to Adventism today? Perhaps in your church teaching is being presented that is not truth. Sometimes we are afraid to expose error or a false teaching for fear that it might cause problems or that we may be disfellowshipped. But we must expose what the Bible exposes.
Now, we have been addressing heathenism in the world and the devil; we have looked at Baal worshippers. Romans 1:25 says, “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” Even today the heathen are giving praise to gods of gold and silver and of wood.
There are many things being promoted in religious organizations today to try to persuade people that that particular denomination is right and that they should attend that church—many things except a plain “thus saith the Lord.”
“God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24. Does this mean that we need the Holy Spirit to understand truth? Absolutely! One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth.
“Those only who read the Scriptures as the voice of God speaking to them, are true learners. They tremble at the voice of God, for to them it is a living reality. They open their understanding to divine instruction and pray for grace. … He prays for the Holy Spirit, the representative of Christ, to be his constant guide, to lead him into all truth.” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 450.
So there must be truth to answer questions such as, What happens when a person dies? What about heaven and hell? Will there be a rapture? Will it be a Second Coming? Upon what day does God want us to worship? Is it Friday, Saturday, Sunday? There cannot be 10,000 different answers to such questions, because the Bible does not give 10,000 different answers.
Oh, friend, do you want heaven to be your home? The choice is yours. Unlike some heathen religions, you do not have to cut yourself. You do not have to do a lot of penance, beat your head on the wall, crawl so many miles, or say so many prayers. All you have to do is pray, “Lord, I want you to come into my life. Forgive me of my sins; come in and be Lord of my life and help me day by day to be like You.”
Pastor Kenny Shelton is speaker for the television ministry of Behold the Lamb in Herrin, Illinois. He may be contacted by e-mail at: BTLM@GTE.net, or by telephone at: 1-800-238-2856.