|Worshipping the Creature rather than the Creator
Man, it has been said, is a religious being. Recorded history of earliest known civilizations bear witness to his relentless attempt to return to his Creator. Since the days of antiquity, man has sought ways to win back God's favor which he lost through the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. This original transgression caused his fall from the Lord's grace, his eviction from "paradise" and the consequent forfeiture of his right to serve the Almighty. The history of religion is the thrilling account of man's unending quest to be reconciled with his Maker.
His innate desire to search for his God and the impulse to worship Him is man's natural response to the invitation of his ever-compassionate Benefactor:
'''Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty..." (Malachi 3:7, NIV)
In their earnest effort to return to God, however, many have trod the wrong path. Instead of taking the road or way that God prescribes, they established what Apostle Paul described as their "own way" as stated in Romans 10:2-3:
"I can assure you that they are deeply devoted to God; but their devotion is not based on true knowledge. They have not known the way in which God puts people right with himself, and instead, they have tried to set up their own way; and so they did not submit themselves to God's way of putting people right." (TEV)
These people seek God with zeal and devotion, their passion is indeed beyond question! The problem is that their devotion is not based on true knowledge, that is, they have not known God's righteousness or the way He puts people right with Himself. Instead of submitting themselves to the way chosen by God, they decided to set up their "own way." Hence, their attempt to return to God is already doomed at the outset. What is one of these futile and unsuccessful ways conceived by man by which he has sought reconciliation with his Creator?
In writing to the first-century Christians in Rome, Apostle Paul noted his observation:
"For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." (Romans 1:21-23, NRSV)
It is common knowledge that the ancient Greeks and Romans, to whom Apostle Paul was sent to preach the gospel, worshiped a pantheon of gods. They built temples dedicated to these gods and goddesses, carved out images of them and offered sacrifices before them. What remains of the glory and grandeur of the said cradles of Western civilization-their architecture, sculpture, literature-testify to this. A visiting tourist today can see the ruins of the temple built for Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana, or the Greek Parthenon for Pallas Athena. Greek and Roman literature contains rich tales about their gods and goddesses, even demigods.
Apostle Paul sharply denounced this practice. He lamented that although they know God, "they did not honor Him as God." In what way did these people fail to glorify the immortal God as God? They exchanged His glory for "images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
" How grievous a sin have they committed? Apostle Paul continued, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised. Amen." (Romans 1:25, NIV)
Instead of worshiping the Creator, many opted to serve the things He has created as well as the images purporting to represent them. Who is the true God that Apostle Paul and the first century Christians recognized and worshiped?
The true God who must be worshiped
In his first epistle to the Christians in Corinth, Apostle Paul declared:
"Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth -as in fact there are many gods and many lords-yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist..." (I Corinthians 8:5-6, NRSV)
The early Christians acknowledged only one God: the Father in heaven who created all things. He is a spirit in state of being, that is, He has no flesh and bones but is invisible and therefore should be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24; Luke 24:38-39; I Timothy 1: 17). To worship Him otherwise is to fail to honor Him as God. To serve any other except Him alone is to serve "other gods" or idols (Exodus 20:3-5). To think that he has a physical form or image that could be molded out of gold, silver and stone is blasphemy in the highest order (Acts 17:29).
Pagan worship and idolatry, however, did not originate in ancient Greece and Rome. Long before the birth of Western societies, the cradles of civilizations in the East-Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese-had already been worshiping innumerable gods. Every city and village, every human endeavor, had some inspiring and disciplinary divinity.
The worship of the sun, the moon, and the stars-known as cosmic gods-is common to almost all ancient civilizations. The Sumerian pantheon included, among others, Anu as the Sky God, Sin the Moon God, Shamash the Sun God, and Enlil the Storm God. In ancient Egypt, the moon was also a deity, but in their official theology, the greatest of the gods was the sun. Sometimes it was worshiped as the supreme deity Ra or Re. In the book entitled, The Story of Civilization 1: Our Oriental Heritage, author Will Durant states:
"...the Egyptians worshiped not merely the source, but almost every form, of life. Many plants were sacred to them:... More popular were the animal gods; they were so numerous that they filled the Egyptian pantheon like a chattering menagerie. In one nome or another, in one period or another, Egyptians worshiped the bull, the crocodile, the hawk, the cow, the goose, the goat, the ram, the cat, the dog, the chicken, the swallow, the jackal, the serpent, and allowed some of these creatures to roam in the temples with the same freedom that is accorded to the sacred cow of India today." (pp. 198-199)
Nature worship dates back to the dawn of civilization. The Semites, Egyptians, and Babylonians all worshiped as their supreme deities heavenly bodies, as well as plant and animal life-things that were only created by the Supreme Being. God long ago deplored this practice when He said through Moses:
"You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the. air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars-all the heavenly array-do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven." (Deuteronomy 4:15-19, NIV)
India, the birthplace of three of the world's major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism -is not to be outdone. In the book entitled, Major Religions of the World, the author, Marcus Bach, said the following:
"Anyone who travels in India will be struck by the multiplicity of Hindu gods. There are literally thousands of gods. There are gods within gods, families of gods, and wives and children of gods. Here is Krishna, an embodiment or incarnation of Vishnu. Here, too, is Indra, god of the firmament; Varuna, the all-seeing god; Agni, god of fire; Soma, personification of the juice of the soma plant. Hinduism honors Ganesa, the elephant god, and Hanuman, the monkey god. It loves and respects Sarasvati, goddess of learning, and Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, and Parvati, who is the wife of the god Siva. Hinduism has gods and goddesses galore." (p. 26)
The Christian Church, after the death of the apostles, was not spared from this prevalent but deplorable practice. At first there was strong resistance from the faithful disciples of Christ against idolatry. The apostles were at the forefront of this opposition to image worship. Apostle Paul and Barnabas, when people mistook them as gods after healing a crippled man in Lystra, exclaimed to the crowd:
"Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them." (Acts 14: 15, NIV)
But the seeds of deception were sown by the false prophets after the death of the apostles and the Christian Church was led into apostasy. Historian Will Durant has this to say:
"The early Church had frowned upon images as relics of paganism, and had looked with horror upon pagan sculptures purporting to represent the gods. But the triumph of Christianity under Constantine, and the influence of Greek surroundings, traditions, and statuary in Constantinople and the Hellenistic East, had softened this opposition. As the number of worshiped saints multiplied, a need arose for identifying and remembering them; pictures of them and of Mary were produced in great number; and in the case of Christ not only His imagined form but His cross became objects of reverence-even, for simple minds, magic talismans. A natural freedom of fancy among the people turned the holy relics, pictures, and statues into objects of adoration; people prostrated themselves before them, kissed them, burned candles and incense before them, crowned them with flowers, and sought miracles from their occult influence." (The Story of Civilization 4: The Age of Faith, pp. 425-426).
The true Church founded by Christ succumbed to the pressure from its pagan surroundings and eventually became the Roman Catholic Church, embracing idolatry during the time of Constantine the Great. And this practice continues up to our time. In Catholic masses and rituals, a number of objects of worship and adoration are being used, which include the cross, holy relics, pictures, and statues of their so-called saints. The Catholic faithful venerate graven images of these "saints," as enforced upon them by their religious authorities. This is recorded in the Catechism of Christian Doctrine No.3:
"10. What is a saint? A saint in the strict sense of the word, is one who is in heaven, and has been presented by the Church for the public worship of the faithful 13. Is the worship of the saints confined to their persons? No; it extends also to their relics and images 15. Ought we to worship holy images? We should have, particularly in our churches, images of Our Lord, as also of the Blessed Virgin and the saints,..." (p. 86)
It is indeed unfortunate that a great majority of the people in the world today practice idolatry and pagan worship. They chose to set up their own way of returning to God. Instead of serving and worshiping the only one true God, they have chosen to channel their devotion to the things He has created and the images allegedly representing them. This explains the sad plight of humanity at present, as expressed by the Apostle Paul:
"And the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth... And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless." (Romans 1:18,28-31, NRSV)________________________________________________
PASUGO/March 1999 issue, pp. 10-13
THE SABBATH AND THE MODERN-DAY SABBATHARIANS
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