Whether on earth or in heaven, the cosmic controversy is a fight for the mind, a fight of fancy challenging fact, or falsehood propounded instead of truth. Angels, Adam and Eve, in their perfection, fell victims in this battle. How much more perilous must be the situation for imperfect, fallen minds.
The controversy’s end-time deception involves the issue of false worship on a global level. Too many still live oblivious to the crisis of which they are a part, and of its potentially tragic end.
Scripture’s panorama presents the two sides of the cosmic controversy: Satan versus Christ, hatred versus love. Satan spreads his fictions to counteract what and who was always there: God, the eternal Truth. The inspired writings both expose Satan’s deceptions and disclose Christ’s devotion. Both of these revelations are necessary to resolve the conflict fully. Christ’s dying for sinners on the cross shows God’s matchless, eternal love at the same time that it shows the ultimate cruelty of Satan, the being responsible for the heinous crime of crucifying the innocent Son of God. It shows Satan’s desire to bring an end to the life and possibility of other-centered, self-sacrificing love, and to preserve from thence forward his own rule of me-focused, greed-dictated, self-oriented existence.
Simply told, God is; Satan is created. God is love. Satan has made himself love’s antithesis. His original rebellion from truth in heaven questioned God the Father’s running of the universe, as well as His exaltation of Christ, the Son. Satan craved the ascendancy and corresponding worship due only to the Godhead (Isa. 14:4-20); he clamored for improvement in God’s law. “Change” drove his campaign in heaven, and he has used it successfully throughout human history. Two major elements of his end-time deception are spiritualism and Sunday sacredness.
While ecumenism seeks to draw churches, religions, and nations into cooperation on some practical or social human basis, spiritualism pursues its own effort to replace God’s Word with the words and works of created beings. Mysticism is a major element of spiritualism.
On Planet Earth the cosmic controversy first unfolded in Eden as Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan’s blunt lie. God had warned that eating the forbidden fruit would cause death (Gen. 2:16, 17). Satan denied God’s words, saying, “You surely will not die! . . . You will be like God” (Gen. 3:4, 5).1
Satan’s deception found success in Eden as he “exercised his power of hypnotism over Adam and Eve.”2
Israel’s history would show the advance of deception dressed up in mystery when King Saul asked a “familiar spirit” to speak to him (see 1 Chron. 10:13; cf. 1 Sam. 28:3). Satan uses spiritists or mediums, to continue his denial of the truth of God’s Word that the dead know nothing (Eccl. 9:5, 6). God denounces as an abomination anyone who participates in alleged communication with the dead (Deut. 18:11; cf. Acts 16:16-18). And whether they realize it or not, people who place the claims of Satan above God’s Word are choosing Satan’s side in the cosmic controversy: “Little by little he [Satan] has prepared the way for his masterpiece of deception in the development of spiritualism. He has not yet reached the full accomplishment of his designs; but it will be reached in the last remnant of time.”3
Satan’s strategy of deception begun in heaven has not ceased. Our enthusiasm for mysticism may not be as spiritually helpful as sometimes thought. Consider the advice of Vatican II that “working to plant the church, and thoroughly enriched with the treasures of mysticism adorning the church’s religious tradition, religious communities should strive to give expression to these treasures and to hand them on in a manner harmonious with the nature and the genius of each nation.”4
Satan’s strategy of deception begun in heaven has not ceased.
However respectful of diversity and the world’s many and varied cultures, mysticism and church traditions are not usually developed or designed to establish biblical gospel truth. It is their compatibility with the biblical worldview rather than their national esteem that makes worldviews helpful to planting churches, if those churches are to be grounded in biblical truth.
Jesus did not establish the foundations of His church on religious traditions or local cultures, but on a reality that anticipates and will outlast all human developments of custom and practice: the foundation of Jesus’ church is Jesus Himself, the incomparable and unimprovable foundation; and “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Simply true and simply told, the Word who was and is and is to come, He who created all, is He who took on flesh and lived among us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, yet so one with us as to know and understand the feeling of our infirmities (John 1:1-3, 14; Heb. 7:26; 4:15). God, who in Him became human, became moreover sin for us, He “who knew no sin . . . , that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus Himself, Truth incarnate (John 14:6) and liberating (John 8:32)—Jesus Himself, Spirit-anointed Son of the living God (Matt. 3:16, 17; Acts 10:38; Matt. 16:16-18)—is the basis of saving faith, and the anchored confidence, “both sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19), of saints through the ages, that all the blessings promised to this earth and its inhabitants through Abraham the father of the faithful (Heb. 4:13-20) are ours. Jesus became our sin and bore the punishment of that sin so that we might be healed of its sickness and live instead as super conquerors (1 Peter 2:24; Rom. 8:37) over evil and the evil one. The victory of right in the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan, fought in the minds and hearts, and for the minds and hearts of God’s intelligent creation everywhere, whether angelic or human, whether on this planet or occupying some unfallen orb (Job 38:7; 1 Cor. 4:9),⁵ is guaranteed because what is now Truth has always been truth. Satan’s jealousy notwithstanding, Jesus is Lord of all; human failure notwithstanding, we can still be more than conquerors over self and sin and Satan through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:37).
Going forward from His passion, weeks of instruction to His disciples, His ascension, His coronation and our commissioning (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:1-8; Matt. 28:18-20), we, His representatives, have been charged with doing His work for Him in the way He himself has appointed, under the guidance and anointing of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25, 26; 16:7-15). But God’s self-distorted original cherub and now archenemy has not diminished in hate or developed new love for Jesus or His truth or His spokespeople. Instead, he has worked to develop multiple means of distracting humans from the truth as it is in Jesus. Jesus crushed him at the cross, but he has not surrendered: the conflict rages on.
Astonishingly successful examples of his distraction-deceptions include three that we shall briefly address: the glossolalia phenomenon, the Emergent Church movement, and Sunday sacredness.
Glossolalia is one label of the sensational spiritual experience of “speaking in unknown tongues” [Greek glossa—“tongue”; laleo—“speak”] that allegedly proves that a person has experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the first half of the 1960s the experience of “speaking in other tongues” began to spread with previously unheard-of rapidity, reaching nearly 100 countries and multiple denominations, including Roman Catholicism, in a period of 10 years. By 1999 there were about 450 million Pentecostals or Charismatics involved, about 25 percent of all Christians. The fact that both Protestants and Catholics were involved in the spiritual experience gave a significant upgrade to ecumenism, as multiple denominations shared common spiritual experience. The label “baptism of the Holy Spirit” which came to be attached to their “speaking in tongues” was the practitioners’ way of identifying with the experience of early Christians reported in the book of Acts. The primary event to which they connected their own would have been the day of Pentecost when a sudden noise “like a violent rushing wind” filled a house occupied by approximately 120 praying male and female believers in Christ; simultaneously, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4).
The divine purpose in sending this gift of speaking in other tongues was both gloriously synchronous with celestial timetables and thoroughly utilitarian in its function. The synchrony with heaven’s schedule was the fulfillment of Jesus’ own promise (John 14:16-18, 25, 26; 16:7-15), and a witness to earth that heaven was celebrating the coronation of Jesus Christ in glory, upon the Father’s acceptance of His atoning sacrifice for our sins and His enthronement at the Father’s right hand (Acts 23:32, 33; Rev. 4, 5). But the unprecedented outpouring of spiritual glory on that day had a simple functional purpose: it enabled uneducated people to be suddenly able to communicate the gospel in languages they had not learned, because there were people around who spoke those languages. The Bible lists at least 15 different people groups along with their stunned reaction: “They were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?’” (Acts 2:7, 8). Whether at Pentecost or otherwise (Acts 10:44-46; 19:1-7), the Spirit’s baptism was not related to the show, competition and proof of spiritual superiority, or to the coached development of nonsense utterances that came to characterize it later on in biblical times (1 Cor. 14) and the decade of the 1960s and 1970s. Those distortions were nothing but functions of Satan’s distraction-deceptions brought in to contaminate the purity of God’s truth, embarrass the church of God (1 Cor. 14:11, 16) and confuse uninformed but objective onlookers, even spurring them to mockery (verse 23).
Another distraction-deception of the enemy of truth is the Emerging or Emergent Church movement. To Brian McLaren, a prolific Emergent Church writer, the church, through this movement, is now blessed with a generous orthodoxy: “all creation is healed . . . from its lost state” because “Jesus is the Savior of the whole world,” and Christians of different persuasions will be “working together to save the village which we call Planet Earth, and which God calls ‘beloved creation.’”6
The truth of God is unfathomably deep yet accessibly simple.
Jesus is the Savior of the world, and McLaren rightly celebrates that salvation as long as he understands that Jesus saves the world from fancy to fact and from falsehood to truth. McLaren’s accommodation of different persuasions may not point in the same direction as does John 3:16. Indeed, McLaren believes all humans will be saved—a position historically characterized as “universalism.” But from the biblical perspective, he may have an even more fundamental problem: his panentheism⁷ raises questions about the personhood of his God; McLaren’s God “is in the air that surrounds the tree, the soil in which it is rooted, the sunlight and rainfall that beckon it to grow and become, season by season, ring by ring. In God we live and grow and have our being. In God’s wind we sway and our leaves dance.”8
Leonard Sweet, another prolific Emergent leader and also a panentheist, subscribes to “a radical doctrine of embodiment of God in the very substance of creation.”9
McLaren and Sweet show limited understanding of the irreconcilable difference between the Creator and creation, or the cosmic controversy with its opposing sides.
The creation of Planet Earth took place in six literal, continuous, contiguous days of 24 hours (Gen. 1 and 2). Only the seventh day was blessed by Christ (Gen. 2:2, 3). Later Christ‘s own written commentary records that He blessed the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11). While on earth Christ said, “The Sabbath was made for [humanity],” and He self-identified as “Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, 28); He rested in the grave on the Sabbath (John 19:42; 20:1), and said the Sabbath would continue to be kept beyond His resurrection (Matt. 24:20).
Human attempts to tamper with God’s law are prophesied in Daniel 7:25, and elaborated on by Ellen White: “Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul [Satan’s lie in Eden—Gen. 3:4, 5] and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundation of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome.” Note what follows: “The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience.”10 Evidently, this rapprochement of Protestant, papist and spiritualist movements will produce a global union, an integration on a spiritual basis of forces inspired not by the truth as it is in Jesus, but by fascinations of spiritual darkness and distortions of the explicit commandments of God. Over against them Revelation depicts God’s saints who still “keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
The truth of God is unfathomably deep yet accessibly simple. We shall never plumb its depths, but we may always know what He desires of us. The constancy of His eternal love guarantees us and His universe eternal safety when He closes out the controversy. Staying with Him and steering clear of the devil’s distraction-deceptions makes sense. If we are willing Jesus is “able to keep [us] from stumbling, and to make [us] stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy (Jude 24). Simple, glorious, transporting truth.
Norman R. Gulley, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of systematic theology at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. Lael Caesar is an associate editor of Adventist Review.