Counterfeit Religion

By Henry S. Ficklin

(INTRODUCTION: Henry S. Ficklin (1883-1974) delivered this lesson over the radio in Athens, Ala., on April 1, 1962. It is still needed in Athens, Nashville, and everywhere else-though it is what some call “legalistic” and “dogmatic.” Ron Halbrook, 3536 Dickerson Rd., Nashville, TN. 37207.)

After the lapse of almost a year, I am again able to speak to you of the radio audience. Through the goodness of God I am permitted to preach here “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” The speakers on this radio program, which has been conducted for a number of years, for the glory of God, for the up-building of the true church, and for your edification, would like to know how much good you, their invisible audience, are obtaining from these sermons. It is a bit different to speak to a radio audience from speaking with your audience at the church building. For on the radio we cannot be rewarded by seeing the lively expressions on your faces as you listen, and we cannot hear you say “Amen.” But there are other ways by which these radio speakers may know how much good you are receiving from these sermons. You may write and say that you were helped, and you can show it by being a more faithful Christian. And your speakers over the radio hope that there are some secret changes that you are making, that you are changed within, that you love the truth more, that burdens have been lifted from your hearts, and that you have a joy and peace in your soul that you have never known before. And if you some of you – should write in and tell them that you have learned the way of salvation from these lessons and that you want someone to come to you, that you might obey the Gospel, your speakers will rejoice to hear this from you.

During this broadcast, and after it is over, too, I want us to be thinking about “Counterfeit Religion.” My text is Exodus the 7th chapter, verses 10, 11 and 12; “And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did as Jehovah had commanded; and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called for the wise-men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” From this text, I have derived my subject; “Counterfeit Religion.” There is great danger for us in Counterfeit Religion, as there always has been.

I. Our Age Abounds in Counterfeits. We have false faces. We sometimes buy boxes of stationery, thinking we have bought a bargain, but find that, half-way down, there is a false bottom, and see that we have only about half as much as we think we have. Some years ago I went to preach at a new congregation in the mountains of Kentucky. On the outside there was a siding that was an imitation of brick. It was not brick, but it looked like brick. I hate for a congregation to pretend that it has something which it does not have. Let us not have any pretense on the inside and let us not begin pretending before we get into the building. And, some years ago, in Paris, Kentucky, officers discovered a factory for counterfeit money. This started me to studying about the counterfeit in religion.

II. The Devil has Been In The Counterfeit Business From The Beginning.

1. He started it in Egypt, when God’s people were in bondage.

God knew that Pharaoh would resist the will of God to bring his people out of Egypt, because of the hardness of his heart. So, the Lord empowered Aaron and Moses to work miracles before him when Pharaoh should say: “Show a wonder for you.” (Exodus 7:8) This came to pass when they went in before Pharaoh. And Aaron did as the Lord commanded-he cast down his rod and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh called for the sorcerers, the magicians, and they cast down every man his rod and it became a serpent. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods, just as every counterfeit will finally be exposed.

2. The devil produced a big counterfeit when Israel vis divided.

The account of this substitute religion is found in 1 Kings 12:25-32. The Northern ten tribes had pulled away from Judah and Benjamin, and had made Jereboam king. Jereboam was a shrewd religious politician, one of the first that the people of God ever had to deal with. He saw that he had to institute a false religion to keep Israel divided. This is the account given in 1 Kings 12:26-32: “And Jereboam said in his heart: Now will the kingdom return to the house of David; if this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of Jehovah in Jerusalem, then will the heart of this people return unto their Lord, even unto Rehoboam, king of Judah; and they will kill me, and return unto Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel and made two calves of gold; and he said unto them it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem, behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one at Bethel, and the other put he at Dan. And this thing became a sin; for the people went to worship before the one, even at Dan. And he made houses of the high places and he made priests from among all the people, that were not of the sons of Levi. And Jereboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he went up unto the altar; so did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made; and he placed at Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.”

III. Here we have a complete system of substitute, counterfeit religion. Here are false places of worship, Bethel and Dan, instead of Jerusalem; idols, calves of gold, instead of the invisible God; false priests, instead of those from Levi; false feasts on the eighth month, instead of on the seventh month, as the Lord had directed. (Lev. 23:39) Jereboam imitates the true worship, but he perverts it. He gives them gods that they can see. He makes it easier, for he tells them “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.” Now, how far was it? It was just about twelve miles farther to Jerusalem from Bethel. But that was “too much,” too far for a backslider to go. We ourselves have heard that argument of the devil. You may live ten miles from where a faithful congregation worships. Satan will say to you: “That is too far for you to go. There is a denomination meeting just a mile from you; that is more convenient, stop there.” That argument, I am sorry to say, has often been the cause of many weak Christians going to places of worship that were not Scriptural. But mere convenience has no weight at all with Christians who have convictions. A sincere Christian would rather walk, or crawl, to the right place of worship, than to go in style to one that is wrong. And you who uphold the truth, let me urge that we never use an argument like that to get some one to come to the right .place of worship. Let us never use low motives. King Jereboam knew, too, that people want some kind of religion, even if it is the wrong kind. He knew, besides this, that people, many of them, want to see some form. This accounts for the many images of the saints and of Mary. They worshiped Jehovah under the form of the golden calves. The devil wants us to have a worship that resembles the true worship, some, if only slightly-one that seems right. But all false religion will bring heartache in the end. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

IV. The Devil, It Seems, Has a Substitute For Almost Everything That God Does.

Some time back it came as a distinct shock to me that there would be false Christs, even, for our Lord says “For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matt. 24:24) And the closer we get to the end, the more the false in religion will come out.

The devil, of course, knows that the Christian religion is true and divine. That is why he imitates it and not a pagan religion. You never saw a counterfeit infidel, and no one today is counterfeiting Confederate (worthless) money.

V. Let Us Notice Some of the Many Substitutes that the Devil is Putting Into Circulation: First, let us notice the living beings (persons) which he puts forward.

1. There are false angels. “Even Satan fashioneth himself into an, angel of light. It is no great thing, therefore if his ministers fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness.” (2 Cor. 11:14, 15) Besides this, the devil has angels, for Hell is prepared for the “Devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)

2. There are the false spirits. So real and so dangerous are these false spirits that the apostle John warns us against them: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the anti-christ, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now is in the world already.” (1 John 4:1-3) The Thessalonians were warned by the apostle not to be misled about the immediate second coming of Christ, for he writes to them, “to the end that ye be not shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle, as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand.” (2 Thess. 2:2)

3. There are false prophets. Our Lord said that “false prophets” would arise (Matthew 24:24), and he told. his disciples to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing.” (Matt. 7:15) And the apostle John in 1 Jno. 4:1 said that they had already appeared.

4. There are false shepherds, or preachers or teachers.

The apostle Peter in his second epistle writes that, as there were false prophets of old “among you, also there shall be false teachers.” (2 Peter 2:1) Christ gives the marks of such teachers, shepherds: such a one is a “hireling and careth not for the sheep.” (John 10:13) Such preachers are man-pleasers. They follow: they do not lead. They go with the tide of worldliness that is engulfing us today.

5. There are false apostles. They were in Paul’s day, for he writes: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:13) And we have them today. Any church that claims to have apostles today is either itself misled, or is trying to mislead you and me, for an apostle must have seen Christ. When an apostle was to be chosen “to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell,” the apostle Peter said that he must be chosen “of the men therefore that have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21, 22) When Paul was asserting his undoubted claims to be an apostle, he writes to the Corinthians, “. . . am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus my Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1) Any man who claims to be an apostle today is a “false apostle,” to use Paul’s own inspired words.

6. There are false Christs – counterfeit Christs. It is a shocking thing that anyone could claim to be Christ. But our Savior foretold that men would do that, “. . . for there shall arise false Christs.” (Matt. 24:24) Nothing will stop ungodly men from their false claims. But we must not accept them.

7. Then, there is the most familiar counterfeit of all-the false Christian-the hypocrite. He wants to have the name of being a Christian, without bearing his cross, and without living the Christian life.

8. The Devil Can Give Us, Too, The false church the false institution. The Lord has pictured for us the true church, made up of saved people, a divine holy institution, “. . . a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:21) But Satan has many substitutes to offer. He can give you a proud church, like Laodicea. He can give you a worldly church, with profane elders and deacons. He can give you a denomination that sprinkles babies and has a human creed and a human name. He can give you Babylon itself with its images, its worship of Mary, its “. . golden cup full of abominations.” (Revelation 17:4) Satan will offer you even a Christless church-the Unitarian church that denies the divinity of Christ.

9. There Are Counterfeit Ordinances, Too.

a. There is the true Lord’s Supper, with its impressive simplicity, a spiritual feast, But Satan takes it and turns it into “The Mass,” with its unscriptural ritual, withholding the cup from the congregation, and having the priest drink that, of which Jesus plainly said: “Drink ye all of it.” (Matthew 26:27)

b. The Lord gave us the One Baptism. It is the burial of a repentant believer. He is buried in the water, as Jesus was. He is baptized for remission of sins. But a paedo-baptist preacher, will take a little baby and will sprinkle water, or even rose petals on it. What a mockery!

10. There Is The Counterfeit Conversion. To be converted is something very deep, very sincere, my friends. It means that you and I have been born again. The apostle writes: “Wherefore, if any man is in Christ he is a New Creature; the old things are passed away; behold they have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17) But you can do it a much easier way, if you accept the devil’s counterfeit. You can merely go through the form, and not really be changed; you can let it be all outward. Or, you can sit in the seat, and just hold up your hand. A President of the United States, not wishing to come as any other sinner, was enrolled without formality.

11. There is the counterfeit worship-It is simple, heart-searching, and soul-feeding, if done as God directs, with nothing material or carnal, such as a mechanical instrument, and no choir. But Satan can make it more attractive for you, if you are without spirituality. He can make it stiff, cold, proud, with no kneeling, and no note of victory.

12. There is the counterfeit Sanctification. True sanctification is deeply sincere and spiritual. But Satan can induce you to have the kind that merely has the groans, and the pious phrases. You can have a bragging religion, like the Pharisee in the temple. Even Love, the purest and most heavenly of all our affections, can be made counterfeit. The apostle Paul urges: “Let love be without hypocrisy.” (Rom. 12:9) And the apostle John urges, too: “My little children, let us not love, the purest and most heavenly of all our affections, can be made counterfeit. The apostle Paul urges: “Let love be without hypocrisy.” (Rom. 12:9) And the apostle John urges, too: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) We can just say that we love Christ, while not keeping his commandments. That is counterfeit.

13. There are the counterfeit sacred books. God gave us the Bible. It is inspired, holy, complete, infallible, altogether heavenly. But Satan has seen to it that we have counterfeit sacred books. Mrs. Eddy’s Science and Health, and Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon. Do not accept these, my friends.

And, if we do not watch, Satan will take even our virtues and turn them into something wrong-something counterfeit. I may think that I have firmness-surely a noble trait of Christian character-and my firmness may become stubbornness. I may think I have patience. That is good, but patience ceases to be a virtue when I tolerate evil or false doctrine, or perverted and vain worship. God wants me to be zealous and earnest. But Satan can get me to be fanatical, instead and destroy my influence. So my love may get to be just soft. An English author warns against extremes by saying: “What goodness can there be in the world without moderation, whether in the use of God’s gifts or in our own disposition and courage? Without this justice is no other than cruel rigor, mercy unjust remissness, pleasure brutish sensuality, love frenzy, anger fury, sorrow desperate mopishness, joy distempered wildness, knowledge saucy curiosity, piety superstition, care wracking distraction, courage mad rashness.” (Synonyms Discriminated, page 23) So, let us watch our virtues, and not allow Satan to pervert even them.

14. There Is the False Unity. Scriptural unity is found in (Jn. 17:21, but the devil offers the World Council of Churches; Communism; Buddhism-all forms of error.

15. The False Centralization. Israel had it (i.e., divinely approved central authority, RH) under the Judges, Apostolic congregations were under Christ. My friends and brethren, let this be one of our mottoes: “Nothing but the truth.” God has given us the true religion-it is Christianity. Its doctrine is pure, sound. It is not human, but divine. Its worship is simple and divinely given; such will feed the soul. We can know that we are right, if we follow God’s way, given us in the New Testament. Human substitutes are vain, showy, carnal, attractive to the flesh, and give you an easy religion. But, if you follow them you will be bitterly disappointed in the end.


The true Church is still in the world today. For the prophet Daniel prophesied, “And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people but it shall break in pieces and consume all those kingdoms and it shall stand forever.” (Dan. 2:44) Our Lord himself promised: “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) So, there has always since then been a true church and there is today, and always will be. If you are not in it, any of you who are my listeners, let me urge you with all the strength I have to find it and belong to it, and give up all false doctrine and false and vain worship and be sure about your salvation.

You that are members of the one body, I urge you to keep the church pure. You cannot watch too closely; you just can not stand too firmly for the faith. We are in great danger. The spirit of the age is modernism, luxury, ease, compromise. The apostle wrote the Corinthians: “But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3) From almost every college in existence young preachers are coming out with worldly ideas, and they mislead the churches very often.

The true church is a glorious church. You could gild a lily or a rose far more easily than you could improve on the true church. The true doctrine is God’s thoughts. The gospel teaching will really save you, it will give you blessed assurance. You can know that you are right. As the apostle wrote to Timothy: “Hold the pattern of sound words.” (2 Tim. 1:13)

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord

Is laid for your faith in his excellent word

What more can he say than to you he has said

You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed

I, I am thy God and will still give thee aid

I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand

Upheld by my righteous, Omnipotent, hand.

“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose

I’ll never, no never desert to its foes

That soul, tho’ all Hell shall endeavor to shake

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

Truth Magazine XIX: 9, pp. 137-140
January 9, 1975