By Harry L. Lewis
We must always keep in mind that the counterfeit is never as good as the original in religion. This statement is true with regard to most other things in this life but especially is it true with reference to religion. When the apostles began to preach the message of Jesus and to prove it with miraculous action, it was inevitable that some should see the possibilities of gain in power, money, or popularity and begin to counterfeit the message and the proofs as well (Gal. 1:6-9). Men who have been influenced more by greed than by the promise of salvation have been around from the first century to this. Ananias and Sapphira as well as the Simon of Acts 8:9-22 are some examples of the folks I am speaking of. There was seven such people spoken of in Acts 19:13-20. It is in relation to these seven vagabond Jews, exorcists, that I would like to direct some remarks about the true and the counterfeit in religion.
The first thing I would like for us to see is that they took this upon themselves (verse 13). This has always been the brand of the false, the counterfeit, in matters religious. Notice that these men tried to give some respectability to what they were doing by saying it was in the name of Jesus, the one Paul preached. How many times have you heard some preacher try to justify something he was doing by using the name of Jesus or the name of Paul without telling you where either of these actually said anything about what was being done? There is not a single denomination in existence which did not begin with someone taking something upon themselves. The name, organization, or the practice of these groups come from men and not from God. Some of these churches have changed all three of these; others have been satisfied to change one or two. Keep in mind that if men had not “took upon them” this power to change what God demanded they would have reproduced the church of the New Testament instead of coming up with something different.
The second point I would like for us to see is that this was done by religious leaders. This fact may not amount to much but it seems to me that teachers and leaders should be extra careful about taking liberties with the word of God. These seven men were sons of a chief religious leader. They had a good chance to learn the fact that God never respects a person who “takes it upon himself” to make decisions for Him. Take, for instance, Saul (1 Sam. 13:1-14). Saul “took upon him” the power to offer sacrifice. God was not pleased. Saul knew enough about the religion of God to know that he should not do something that God had not authorized him to do, but he “forced himself” (v. 12). People should never “force” themselves to do something in religion which God has not authorized them to do. This is especially true with regard to religious teachers and leaders for they have the resources to know better. Our liberal brethren have “forced” themselves into the support of every hair-brained scheme in the book by saying, “It is a good work.” I am amazed that they have never “took upon them” to get on the new-exorcist band wagon in the name of “Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” Is ridding the world of demon rum and demon tobacco a good enough work? (Remember our modern-day exorcists think that these were the kinds of demons Jesus dealt with.) Always remember that even the apostles Jesus appointed religious leaders) were never given the authority to “take upon them” the binding and loosing authority but were told to bind what had already been bound in heaven and loose what had already been loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19).
One more thing we need to see is the fact that even the evil spirits recognized the need for authority in this matter. In verse 15, they asked, “Who are you?” It is as if these demons were saying, “Who do you think you are?” What a large ego a person must have when he “takes upon himself” to do something for or in the name of God. When God has said nothing to us we had better stay-out of it. When someone “takes upon himself” to speak what God has not revealed to all men we might ask, “Who do you think you are?” When some preacher tries to urge a congregation to support some organization to do the work which God gave the church to do, we might ask, “Who do you think you are?” When someone tries to saddle the church with subsidizing some money-making scheme he has dreamed up, we might ask, “Who do you think you are?” Remember, those who claim authority they do not have are bound to failure as these seven men were. While you are remembering, how about remembering the Herald of Truth? What has happened to it? It did so well for a while. How many of the preachers who defended this monster in the beginning would be willing to do so now?
Last of all, let us look at verse 17. Be assured that the cause of Christ will prevail in spite of the false claims of bunko artists and phoney fellows who deal in counterfeits. There are a lot of counterfeits among churches, preachers, and “good works.” This is not new. We find these on nearly every page of the Bible. Paul said they were necessary to prove the true children of God (1 Cor. 11:19). Have faith that the other side of the coin is the true church, the faithful gospel preacher and those who are full of the good works you can read about in the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The true man of God does not need a drum and bugle corps following him around to motivate him to do the good works which God teaches him to do.
Truth Magazine XXII: 49, p. 790
December 14, 1978