In answer to the question: “Are there more gods than one?” the Shorter Catechism supplies the answer: “There is but one only, the living and true God”. And the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” – that is, before My face, or in My sight – forbids “the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to Him alone”.
It has been said that “the notion of a Deity is engraven on man’s heart”. Thomas Watson thought it was hard for any man to be a natural atheist. “He may”, Watson wrote, “wish there was no God, he may dispute against a Deity, but he cannot in his judgement believe that there is no God, unless by accumulated sin his conscience be seared, and he has such a lethargy upon him that he has sinned away his very sense and reason.” Satan recognised the fact that man, even in his fallen state, is restless and seeks after some god. He soon provided man with false gods in abundance, which then became the objects of worship. Egypt had its gods, ancient Rome likewise, and Greece had its pantheon of gods whose seat was supposed to be located on the summit of Mount Olympus.
The source and centre, however, of all Satan-inspired, idolatrous worship was Babylon. To it may be traced all the major false, heathen religions of the past and of the present – Eastern and Western – with their millions and millions of devotees. Ian A Sadler states that “the mysteries of Babylon were not only copied (with variations) by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, but they have found their way into twentieth-century culture and religion. . . . Further examination of the worship of Babylon will show much that passes for respectable religion today is none other than the worship of the devil in the form of the false messiah Nimrod and his wife Semiramis. The deep symbolism deceives the unsuspecting majority of people today. Most members of the Church of Rome or the Freemasons would be horrified if they knew the truth about their religious systems. It is the cunning of the devil which keeps these things hidden from their eyes.”
Babylonian idolatry, as Alexander Hyslop points out, is found in its most dangerous form in the system of Rome, described by Paul as the “mystery of iniquity” and identified by John in the Apocalypse as “the woman arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth”. Surely the language and attitude of all Christians worthy of the name ought to be that of the Psalmist:
For all the gods are idols dumb,
which blinded nations fear;
But our God is the Lord, by whom
the heavens created were.
Paul, set as he was for the defence of the gospel, bore witness to the truth that “an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God” – not only in Corinth, but wherever his lot was cast. It was so in Lystra, where he called upon the people, led by the priest of Jupiter with his garlands and oxen ready for sacrificing, to “turn from these vanities unto the living God”. It was so especially in Athens, where, on arrival, “his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry”. In the synagogue, he disputed “with the Jews and with the devout persons and in the market daily with them that met with him”. The Jews and the Greek proselytes would claim that their God was the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, the true and the living God revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. But they adhered to religious leaders who had made void the Scriptures by their traditions, and the veil was still not taken away from their eyes. Accordingly they, alas, rejected Him as the Triune God and refused to acknowledge or glorify Him as the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is still considered to be heretical both in Judaism and – we may point out at this juncture – in Islam as well. The Koran pronounces it to be one of the worst possible heresies and sins: “Surely, unbelievers are those who said, ‘Allah is the third of the three [in a Trinity]’. But there is no god but One God. And if they cease not from what they say, verily a painful torment will befall the unbelievers among them” (Quran 5:73). It is important and relevant for us to note that the name Allah is not found in the Bible, whatever claims are made to the contrary. It is, according to the Encyclopaedia of Religion, “a pre-Islamic name . . . corresponding to the Babylonian Bel.” The Koranic concept of deity is undoubtedly rooted in pagan ideas of God – merely a revamped and magnified moon deity. Plainly, then, agreement or compromise on the doctrine of God with either Jews or Mohammedans, is ruled out.
Is the same to be said of Roman Catholicism? Does Rome not acknowledge the doctrine of the Trinity? Does she not, in common with us, subscribe to the three great creeds of Christendom: The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed? But subscription is one thing, interpretation is another. Subscribers to the Apostles’ Creed should, for instance, be of one mind in believing in the “forgiveness of sins”, but the briefest examination of Rome’s view on Justification reveals a radical departure from what the Scriptures teach on the matter.
The Creeds contend for the doctrine of the Trinity, but how can Rome honestly subscribe to it and still pronounce its anathema on anyone who denies that “in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Rome may subscribe to the view, as we do, “that a knowledge of the existence of God, and a number of His perfections, is attainable by the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence,” but that, of itself, is not sufficient. We quote from a recent publication: “The fact that Romanists hold to general revelation does not represent a point of common interest in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many religions recognize a supreme being from the evidence surrounding them in nature. But the supreme beings that they worship are examples of men suppressing the truth, not agreeing with it! Christians can in no way claim commonality with Rome – or with pagan religions, for that matter – based simply on the evidence that Rome calls her supreme being by the same name that we do! Theirs is a different gospel, based on strange fire, offered on the wrong altar, before a false god whose arm is too short to save.”
On Mars’ Hill, Paul addressed, among others, Greek philosophers, including Epicureans and Stoics. The former, according to David Brown were “atheistic materialists, who taught that pleasure was the chief end of human existence”, while the latter were “severe and lofty pantheists, whose principle was that the universe was under the law of an iron necessity, the spirit of which was called the Deity: and that a passionless conformity of the human will to this law, unmoved by all external circumstances and changes, is the perfection of virtue”.
Having noted the fact that they were much given to religious worship, and that he had observed an altar with the inscription: “To the unknown God”, he proceeded without delay to announce to them that the God unknown to them was the Creator of the world and the Lord of heaven and earth, in whom, he said, “we live, and move, and have our being”. He was not at all a God far off, indifferent to human interests and human conduct, but One who was near – One who was now calling upon all men everywhere to repent, having appointed a day in the which He would judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He had ordained and whom He had raised from the dead. In short compass, we have here Paul describing the God who must be known and acknowledged as the only true God, and our God, and who is to be worshipped and glorified accordingly. He identified Him as the Creator, thus confirming the Genesis account and condemning all other explanations for the origin of the universe, including, we may say, prospectively, the theory of evolution. On this question Rome is equivocal: “The teaching of the Church does not forbid that the doctrine of evolutionism, in so far as it inquires into the origin of the human body from already existing living matter, be, according to the present state of human disciplines and sacred theology, treated in research and discussion by experts on both sides”.
Turning to the Eastern religions of our day, we find that what is impersonal, and commonly known as “Ultimate Reality”, is substituted for the living God. Confusion reigns. Even if we had source documents to hand, it would be impossible, within the confines of this paper, to enter into the various views expressed in Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism etc. It will be sufficient to mention that Hindu pantheism proclaims the impersonal Brahman as the source of any existence. All the gods are regarded as “manifestations of this one Power at the heart of the world, absolute, infinite, eternal, omnipresent and impersonal, with which the human spirit is merged”. We are told that “one of the most important Hindu cosmogonies is that of the golden egg, an entity that was the source of all existing beings and worlds”.
On the other hand, in Buddhist teaching “the world as we know it does not have its origin in a primordial being. . . . It exists only as a mental construction shaped by the senses. . . . The Ultimate Reality is nothing but a transcendent truth, which governs the universe and human life.” This quotation may be rather difficult to digest, but the views expressed are so abstruse and confusing to ordinary minds that it is difficult to discover exactly what they are. Pantheistic religions, in general, maintaining that the physical world is but a manifestation of a vague, impersonal Ultimate Reality, are obviously inimical to Christianity and are to be regarded as only cunningly devised fables.
1. The second section of a paper given at the 2002 Theological Conference. The first article was introductory and provided a scriptural definition of Christianity in terms of the Westminster Confession of Faith, in opposition particularly to contemporary varieties which are sympathetic to false religions. This and three further sections deal with the exclusive nature of Christianity under four aspects. The other three sections discuss, respectively, the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, of salvation, and of the last things.
This article is part 2 of a series