Perverted Religion: “An Empty Vine”

By Ron Halbrook

“I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.” “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself” (Hos. 8:12; 10:1). God’s people rejected God’s Word, substituting their own will and way. They multiplied places of worship and acts of piety, but God compared it all to a running vine which produces no real fruit. When the prophets protested against the empty vine of false religion, they were threatened and told to preach somewhere else. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, complained of Amos, “The land is not able to bear all his words” (Amos 7:10-15). Amos claimed no worldly scholarship or renown, but he preached the truth to please God and would not compromise to please men.

The empty vine of false and perverted religion is running in every direction today, giving multitudes a false sense of security. Most people do not want to hear it, but the truth must be told about the rampant perversions of the Bible, morality, gospel preaching, the church, and worship.

The Bible Perverted

The Old and New Testaments are “given by inspiration of God” as the infallible standard of truth, revealing “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3, 21). The Bible is being butchered today as it was when King Jehoiakim had the prophecy of Jeremiah cut into pieces and burned (Jer. 36:23). Men are cutting out what they do not like and pasting in their own opinions, which God forbad under extreme penalty (Rev. 22:18-19).

Roman Catholicism added several books to the Old Testament and copious notes to the New Testament to justify doctrines and practices not found in the Bible. The Jehovah’s Witnesses published The New World Translation to eliminate references to the deity of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon claims to be another gospel of Christ, though the Bible warns against such claims (Gal. 1:8-9). Perverted paraphrases of the Bible are being pawned off as “new translations,” revising God the Father to “Father- Mother,” the Son of Man to “the human one,” and subject in a wife’s role to “committed,” and correcting other political offensives in Scripture. Men write their own creeds, catechisms, articles of religion, and confessions of faith as norms of truth in addition to Scripture.

Morality Perverted

God gave in Scripture the only perfect and absolute standard of morality. We must forsake our own wicked ways and accept the ways and thoughts of God as higher than our own (Isa. 55:7-9). “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Ps. 19:9; 119:128). Our own ways seem right but lead to destruction (Prov. 14:12). God’s way is the true way of love; we cannot cloak our sins under a false banner of love (Rom. 13:8-10).

Abortion on demand is not a legitimate “choice” of love, but is an unmitigated act of evil against the innocent, like all other forms of murder. Homosexuality is not a lawful “alternative” to the marriage of one man to one woman for life but is unnatural, abominable conduct (Rom. 1:27). Sexual intercourse outside marriage is immoral, irresponsible, and destructive to man’s stability and well-being. No such evil act can be made “safe.” The only safe way is to obey God’s command of abstinence before marriage: “Flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18). All the immoral behavior mentioned above has been endorsed by some priests, pastors, church boards and panels, and other religious spokesmen. The nationwide Metropolitan Community Church openly affirms homosexuality.

God warned of “perilous times” when men would teach “doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron,” “blasphemers, . . . without natural affection, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (1 Tim. 4:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). God demands of the faithful preacher, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet,” but many like the priest Amaziah complain, “The land is not able to bear all his words” (Amos 7:10-15).

Preaching Perverted

God ordained gospel preaching to convict men of sin (John 16:7). Peter said the Jews crucified the Messiah “by wicked hands,” and they were cut to the heart (Acts 2:23, 37). When Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled” (Acts 24:25). Paul said of Jew and Gentile, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Next, true gospel preaching points the sinner to Jesus Christ as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and as our only hope for heaven. The gospel which saves tells us “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The gospel saves when obeyed. We must believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Son, repent of all sins, confess our faith in Christ, and be immersed in water (Acts 2:36-38; Rom. 10:10). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John

14:6). True preaching declares “all the counsel of God” as it relates to God’s pattern for the church and his teaching on every aspect of daily life (Acts 20:27).

Modern preaching is a running vine, an empty shell. Conviction of sin is replaced by the positive-mental-attitude of pop psychology. Self-denial is replaced by self-esteem (Luke 9:27). Man’s accountability for sin is dissolved by appealing to social conditions and medical explanations. Drinking, stealing, and adultery are caused by slums and genes, not by sin. Modernism denies the virgin birth, miracles, and resurrection of Christ, and offers instead the platitudes of social and political liberalism. Some preachers offer a gospel of “health and wealth” — “name it, claim it.” Sermons address the carnal concerns of here and now, not the spiritual concerns of eternal redemption. Preachers are expected to be stand-up comics and show directors. Drama and theater have invaded the pulpit as people seek to be entertained.

The Church Perverted

Jesus promised to build his church through the preaching of the Apostles (Matt. 16:18-19). He purchased the church with his own blood and is “head over all things to the church” (Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:22-23). The New Testament is the standard of faith and practice given by Christ to guide his church. He taught there is only one true church, one true Spirit, one true hope, one true Lord, one true faith, one true baptism, and one true God (Eph. 4:4-6). Each local church with its own elders, deacons, and teachers was given the mission of spreading the gospel with no added levels and layers of organization, hierarchy, or denominational machinery (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3:1-16). The church’s focus is on saving souls for eternity.

After the New Testament age, a great apostasy developed which ultimately produced many new levels and layers of organization, a hierarchy, and an elaborate bureaucracy. This new institution is called the Roman Catholic Church. The capstone of its organizational pyramid is the Pope. Christ ordained no such pyramid with its myriad of offices and powers. The Pope claims both religious and political powers, but Jesus repudiated political power in the church (John 6:15; 18:36). The Pope claims to be a bishop but must be unmarried; Bible bishops were married men with children (1 Tim. 3:1-5). Though not as elaborate, Protestant denominations have layers of organization and bureaucracy above the local church. These synods, presbyteries, and conventions unauthorized by Christ are running vines of false religion.

Churches have lost the focus of saving souls for eternity. Churches have become social welfare institutions, religious versions of the Red Cross. They organize political campaigns. They offer recreational activities such as social meals, ball teams, and bowling leagues. They build “fellowship halls” (euphemism for party rooms) and family life centers (euphemism for gyms). Some churches even attract people with the bait of sin: gambling, dancing, and drinking parties!

Perverted Worship

Christ ordained worship as a sacred occasion for spiritual songs, Bible study, and prayer. On “the first day of the week,” the Lord’s supper is observed as a memorial to his death, and Christians make freewill offerings of money for the work of the church (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Every action in this simple pattern of worship exalts and glorifies God. Man has no authority to “add unto these things” or to “take away” anything from God’s revealed plan of worship (Rev. 22:18-19).

When worship is changed to please men, it is perverted. All its elaborate beauties and attractions are running vines, an abomination to God. The personal participation of each Christian is sacrificed for solo and choir performances. Concerts and contests parade as worship. Men have tried to improve God’s simple plan of worship by adding instrumental music, incense, and candles. Some churches “take away” from God’s plan by not having the Lord’s supper every Sunday, others “add unto these things” by having it on other days of the week.

Entertainment is disguised as worship with orchestras, jazz concerts, dramas, monologues, mimes, movies, puppet shows, dances, celebrity appearances, talent shows, and comedy theater. Often, preachers and popes are glorified and commercialized. They allow people to fall at their feet in reverence, something not allowed by Apostles or angels (Acts 10:25-26; Rev. 19:10). Hats, shirts, mementos, and assorted paraphernalia are sold. Religious festivals and celebrations unknown to the Bible are held, such as Mardi Gras, appealing to man’s sensual and carnal appetites. Much of modern religion has fallen to the level of a circus or carnival. This running vine may be beautiful to behold, but it bears no fruit unto God.

What Is the Answer?

“Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16). We must repent of all sin and error, and return to God’s Word as the standard of true religion. We must return to the original gospel of Christ found in the Bible. It alone “is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). We must “hold fast the form of sound words” found in the New Testament regarding the authority of the Bible, the standard of moral- ity, true gospel preaching, the pattern for the church, and God’s plan for worship (2 Tim. 1:13). To receive forgive- ness of sin and to begin a Christian life, we must believe the gospel, repent of our sins, confess Christ as God’s Son, and be immersed in water. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).