A warning from Paul

During the first century, as the Gospel was spreading far and wide to the furthest reaches of the then known world, Paul wrote his second letter to the brethren and sisters at Thessalonica. In Holy Spirit-guided foresight, he warned of a terrible calamity that was to take place within the ecclesia. While the brethren and sisters were eagerly looking to the appearing of the Lord as imminent, the apostle to the Gentiles wrote concerning the day of the Lord, that it would not come “except there come a falling away first” (2 Thess 2:3).

Concerning this future heretical movement, Paul cautioned that “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth” (v11–12). This is something many would find difficult to accept in today’s ‘tolerant’ world. Why would God wish to delude and mislead people? Isn’t God willing that none should perish?

To those who misrepresent God as all-loving, to the exclusion of His righteousness, these words of Paul must come as a rude shock. It is certain that God is “not willing that any should perish”, however, He will not save those who do not “come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Yahweh is merciful and loving but His righteousness must be upheld; His character demands it.

A closer reading of 2 Thessalonians 2 shows that God would not indiscriminately and unjustly deceive the innocent; or be the author of the lie which would delude so many. The great lie would be established through “the mystery of iniquity” which was already at work in Paul’s day (v7), by cunning and crafty men who “lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4:14), concerning whom Peter also warned (2 Pet 2; 3:16–17). Furthermore, the deceived would be those who “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” and “had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 12).

The prophecy is tragically fulfilled

The dreadful fulfilment of Paul’s prophetic words have been graphically captured in the writings of the ‘Ante-Nicene Fathers’, who were leaders and elders amongst the ecclesia before ‘Christianity’ was established as the religion of the state of Rome in 325AD at the council of Nicea.

During this early period division and delusion was on every side, from the familiar Jewish extremes of the Ebionites, who argued that the Law of Moses could never be abolished, to the mystical ravings of the Gnostics, who despised the religion of the Jews and blended Pagan and Greek mythology with the Gospel. Of early church history, Gibbon remarks:

“… during that period, the disciples of the Messiah were indulged in a freer latitude both of faith and practice than has ever been allowed in succeeding ages.”[1]

The effect of these heresies was devastating on the early ecclesia. The outworking of these swirling currents of false doctrine produced in little more than two hundred years a church which was completely unrecognisable when compared with the pure and simple faith of the apostles as recorded in the New Testament.

It seems almost inconceivable that, in so short a space of time, such a great falling away should take place, just as Paul had predicted. However, the delusion that God sent was just, producing a separation of those who loved the Truth from those who sought an easier path to tread. That delusion developed gradually within the early ecclesia until it became firmly entrenched. That delusion is still alive and well today.

The delusion of today

It is clear from even a casual glance at the New Testament, that the great edifice of the present Catholic Church with all its hierarchy, rituals, pomp and ceremony bears no resemblance to the humble ecclesias of the first century. How is it that the extravagant wealth and opulence displayed in her church buildings could find their origin in their supposed founder, the Son of Man, who had “not where to lay his head” (Matt 8:10) when he walked the earth?

Similar observations can also be made concerning Church doctrines, which are largely unsupported by the Bible, for which the Catholic Church astonishingly makes no apology. In an article titled ‘Tradition and Living Magisterium’, the Catholic Encyclopaedia has this to say:

“Holy Scripture is therefore not the only theological source of the Revelation made by God to His Church. Side by side with Scripture there is tradition; side by side with the written revelation there is the oral revelation. This granted, it is impossible to be satisfied with the Bible alone for the solution of all dogmatic questions.” [2]

This provides justification for all Church doctrines, which therefore need no scriptural authority. Church tradition has been elevated to a position of equal importance with the Bible, which is ‘convenient’ since many Church teachings cannot be substantiated from the Scriptures. The Catholic Encyclopaedia says:

“The Church … ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.’” [3]

Any contradictions between the clear message of the Bible and the doctrines taught by the Church are deftly brushed aside, since the Bible is a spiritual book that is affirmed to be complicated and difficult to be understood by unqualified people, as confirmed in the following passage:

“… the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith … because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance … ”[4]

This is the clear position of the Catholic Church, adamantly put forward for all to see.

A question of authority

These assertions are bold indeed, attacking our faith at its very foundation, and challenging that which we hold as our highest authority. Can we be confident in the claims of the Bible to be the Word of God? Are we justified in deriving our doctrines from the Bible alone? How can we combat challenges to our faith when they come from a supposed source of divine revelation external to the Bible?

One lie of many

This teaching of the Church rests on very shaky ground.

The Church declares it has infallibility in doctrine through the guidance of the Comforter, given by Christ to the apostles, and then supposedly by succession to the Church as an assurance of truth for all time. But was the Comforter given to the Church for all time?

The Church elevates tradition to an equal level with the Bible. But when Peter wrote his second epistle, did he encourage the brothers and sisters to take heed to tradition or to a more sure word of prophecy?

These bold claims of the Church will quickly collapse with a little careful reading and meditation on the Bible passages they are wrested from. The Bible claims to be written by men moved by the Holy Spirit, affirmed by no less than Peter himself (2 Pet 1:21)!

We are told by the Apostle John to try the spirits (teachings), for there is a “spirit of truth” and a “spirit of error” (1 John 4:1,6). How can we try a spirit to see whether it be true without a benchmark of divine authority to compare it against? Does not the Church claim that her doctrines are based on tradition and the Bible? If we accept the Bible as a written source of God’s revelation to mankind inspired by the spirit of truth, what better divine standard against which to compare any spirit or teaching?

Therefore should any supposed revelation of God contradict the words of the Bible, let it be rejected, for God’s revelation cannot contradict itself. Let not human tradition form the benchmark for divine authority, but the trustworthy and true Word of God.

A vital message for us all

The strong delusion that Paul spoke of rose with meteoric success, and is still powerfully at work today. As Paul predicted, from the ecclesia of God a corrupt religious system evolved based on a lie. This delusion has now ensnared more than one billion followers around the world. The Protestant churches that once stood against the Catholic Church have also forsaken the love of the Truth and are slowly coming home to their ‘mother’.

Truth, however, is more readily available than ever before. The Bible is available almost anywhere, and is available in a wide variety of languages, translations and mediums. There is an enormous array of study tools to aid those who seek to understand the Word of God. No book in history has ever been so readily available, so widely published, and so misunderstood.

The delusion Paul spoke of so long ago is extremely compelling for those who have no love of the Truth, and would instead rely on ‘authorised’ teachers who alone are ‘qualified’ to interpret the Bible. Let us therefore take heed. The warning of Paul’s words is just as powerful and relevant for us as it was for those to whom he first wrote.

Do we love Truth, and seek it with fervour and zeal? Are we thankful that we have been spared from the delusion which has claimed so many? Do we earnestly seek to save others who may have been ensnared by the lie?

Beware, dear reader! If we are not in love with Truth, and if we are not continually reading and seeking to understand the Word of God, delusion and lies are just around the corner.

[1] Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon,

chapter 15, p183

[2]http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15006b.htm

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 82

[4] _ e Faith of Our Fathers, James Gibbons, p. 73