Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. —2 Thessalonians:2:3-4
And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? —Revelation:13:3-4
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. —Revelation:13:8
According to the Scriptures, in the last days prior to Christ’s return a religion will appear that will deceive virtually the entire world into following it. It will be led by the Antichrist (“the beast”), who will be worshiped as God.
Scripture also indicates, however, that the bride of Christ will be removed from the earth in the Rapture (Jn:14:1-3; 1 Th 4:16-18) before that religion is fulfilled. If true, then why would the knowledge of the coming world religion be of value for true believers in Christ?
There are a number of reasons. First of all, the biblically false content of the coming world religion doesn’t suddenly appear overnight. The seeds of it began in the Garden of Eden with Satan’s seduction of Eve (Gn 3:1). His first words, “Yea, hath God said…?,” set forth his strategy of undermining God’s commands and instructions. That has continued right up to this present time and is increasing exponentially. Secondly, Satan’s offer of godhood to Eve has manifested itself throughout history. Most of the religions of the Far East teach that God is everything or in everything, making everything and everyone God or part of God. Many of the Caesars and other rulers imposed the worship of themselves as deities upon their people. Those forms of idolatry will culminate in the worship of self, the Antichrist, and Satan.
Thirdly, Jesus characterized the days prior to His return for His bride as a time of great deception. He told His disciples, “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Mt 24:4 - emphasis added). His warning included deceits such as false Christs, lying signs and wonders, and unbiblical doctrines and teachers. Some have wrongly concluded that Christ’s warning wasn’t for believers, asserting that verse 24 implies that it would be impossible to “deceive the very elect” (24:24). That can’t be the case because Jesus addressed this warning (v. 4) to His disciples—who were certainly His “elect.” Fourthly, the Word of God gives multiple instructions on how to protect ourselves from the lies of Satan that can adversely affect our fruitfulness in the Lord.
These seductive and deceptive devices of God’s chief adversary will increase prior to the Rapture, but God’s Word gives us the prevention program against being seduced by Satan’s lies: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pt 5:8).
The Apostle Paul pointed to a time in the history of the church when a condition would be prevalent that would greatly undermine the faith of professing and true believers: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tm 4:3 ). Sound doctrine—what is that? It’s simply the teachings given to mankind by God through His prophets. It is God’s written Word, His objective communication to humanity, containing information that comes directly from Him without the input of mankind. That’s what makes it sound doctrine. God, being infinite, has communicated to finite man what He wants him to know and do. That’s the only way finite humanity can truly know their infinite Creator and what He has in mind regarding them.
Undermining sound doctrine is Satan’s primary goal in his attempt to shipwreck the faith and fruitfulness of believers. The strategy involves corrupting the Word of God by adding to it or subtracting from it. Thus the Scriptures are distorted through the input of fallen, finite man and the contributions of seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (1Tm 4:1). Such modifications demolish the objective truth of Scripture. The Bible no longer stands as God’s Word when “adjustments” are made by other sources. This is taking place today in unprecedented fashion, especially through the introduction (or re-introduction) of mysticism.
The antithesis of the objective Word of God, mysticism is defined by The Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience such as intuition or insight,” and adds that it is “vague speculation, a belief without sound basis.” Google gives this definition: “belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.” A mystical worldview, which is intensifying in both the world and its religions, will be foundational to the coming one-world religion.
Among many reasons, the primary one is that mysticism has a universal appeal that will attract and unify all the religions of the world. Why? Because it avoids doctrine (rules, regulations, commandments, obligations, requirements, etc.). The doctrines of the Bible are given by God and are to be obeyed; not obeying them is rebellion, which is the state of the world as well as the state of many within the church. The religions of the world also have doctrines, albeit false ones, against which their followers often rebel. Doctrines divide because people don’t particularly like rules that demand obedience. The stricter the rules, the less attractive the religion. That’s a potential problem for the religion of the Antichrist because its goal is to attract other belief systems and draw all people into its spiritual web.
Mysticism avoids objective rules and requirements, whether biblical or not. It’s a belief system without a sound (objective) basis that majors on subjective experience, insights, intuition, dreamy confusion of thought (e.g., altered states of consciousness), speculation, and mysterious agencies. So the arbiter of what is right and true is how one feels: “If it feels right, then it must be right, and therefore ultimately true.”
In order for mysticism to become the foundational belief system of the one-world religion, it must include all the world religions. With rare exceptions, the religions of the Far East are fundamentally mystical, so little change is necessary for them. But what of the law-oriented religions of Roman Catholicism and Islam? Their combined numbers exceed two billion followers, so they must be included in the religion of the Antichrist. Yet they are both legalistic—Catholicism with its canons and decrees, inquisitions, and obligations, and Islam with its Sharia laws. Obviously this must change in order for them to fit in with the necessary ecumenism of the one-world religion.
Such a change will likely be facilitated by the roots of mysticism that have been a part of both religions for centuries. In Roman Catholicism, for example, the influence of the Desert Fathers began in the third century, just before Constantine, and continued past the time of Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries. These were hermits and mystics, living in seclusion, in caves, some of them attempting to imitate Jesus in His personal desert confrontation with the devil. Their fleshly attempts at overcoming Satan and his demons often led to madness. They lived in caves, isolated from the rest of civilization, which also led to altered states of consciousness. As we know today, that condition opens a person to communication with the spirit world, i.e., demons. An altered mental state often creates the illusion of oneness, or union, with God—the ultimate goal of mysticism.
This system of isolation was in place at the beginning of the development of the Roman Catholic Church. It was furthered through monasticism, in which monks and nuns withdrew from society by entering monasteries. The idea was to fully commit themselves to God by separating from the secular world. Some monastic orders took vows of silence. That left them vulnerable to the spirit realm. (Silence, by the way, is a huge feature of and heavily promoted by the contemplative movement today.)
In the sixteenth century, a Spaniard named Ignatius Loyola, who was the founder of the Jesuits, fostered mysticism through his Spiritual Exercises. They are enormously popular among Catholics and contemplative evangelicals today. One Jesuit source tells us: “Ignatius was convinced that God can speak to us as surely through our imagination as through our thoughts and memories. In the Ignatian tradition, praying with the imagination is called contemplation” (Kevin O’Brien, The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, p.141). “Praying with the imagination,” by the way, is another term for creative visualization, a powerful occult technique that ushers the visualizer into the spirit realm.
Contemplative techniques have divorced the practitioner from the objective Word of God, leading one into the subjective arena of the imagination and feelings. This is what people like Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) and Sarah Young (Jesus Calling) are promoting. The practical consequences of disregarding critical judgment are often disastrous. Yet that is and will be the outcome of a religious system that people will flock to in the Last Days.
Following the mystical practices of Ignatius Loyola in our day were Catholics Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Both are deceased. Merton was a Trappist monk and priest; Nouwen was also a priest, and both were well-known mystics. They were paragons of the modern contemplative movement and greatly influenced leading evangelicals such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, Beth Moore, Kay Warren, and others. Merton studied the Desert Fathers and the Christian mystics and recognized their connection with the meditative practices of Eastern mysticism in Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Sufism, which he taught and practiced. Asked if he felt that “turning away from traditional Christianity toward the East” would cause “an eventual turning back to a different form of Christianity, one that might even be more genuine,” Merton replied, “Yes, I think so” (Merton, Thomas Merton: Preview of the Asian Journey, 53-54).
Henri Nouwen has become the favored mystic among evangelicals. One of his most popular books is Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons. It’s an instruction manual on how to use imagery as the window of heaven in order to enter into the deeper things of the soul. Nouwen espouses mysticism because he sees it “as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.” That doesn’t seem to faze Rick Warren, who quotes him favorably in his best-selling Purpose Driven Life, or Kay Warren, who recommends Nouwen’s books, or Philip Yancy, who sings his praises in Christianity Today, or Chuck Swindoll, who is enamored with his contemplative teachings, or Tony Campolo, who calls the deceased Catholic priest “one of the great Christians of our time.”
Of late there is Pope Francis. Surging ahead at an ecumenical and mystical speed that thrills the world’s religions and has left traditional Catholicism in its wake, the pope and his ecumenism has many professing Christians flocking to Rome at his personal invitation: Kenneth Copeland, James Robison, Rick Warren, Geoff Tunnicliffe, John Arnott, and Joel Osteen, to name a few. After meeting with the pope, Osteen said, “I like the fact that this pope is trying to make the church larger, not smaller. He’s not pushing people out but making the church more inclusive. That resonated with me.” Luis Palau has been a long-time friend of the pope, and Timothy George wrote an article for Christianity Today titled “Our Francis, Too: Why we can enthusiastically join arms with the Catholic leader.”
The most influential evangelical pastor today, Rick Warren, refers to him as “our new pope.” Pope Francis is certainly the man for the renewal of mystical Roman Catholicism. He’s a Jesuit, fully rehearsed in the Spiritual Exercises. In his address before the US Congress recently, he praised mystic monk and priest Thomas Merton.
Many were appalled that one of the first overtures of the new head of the Roman Catholic Church in regard to winning and influencing evangelicals was to send a personal greeting to a conference led by Kenneth Copeland. Was the pope clueless about Copeland’s false doctrines, his charismatic abuses, his prosperity distortions of Scripture, not to mention his con-man-like greed? I think not. Why? Because it doesn’t really matter. Doctrines, whether true or false, take a back seat—or no seat at all—in mysticism. Remember, as noted, doctrines divide. Therefore they need to be pushed aside in order to make room for what helps people to get along, what encourages relationship building, what feels right. That was the gist of the Christianity Today article, “What Evangelicals Like about Francis.” Never mind the theology of the pope. It’s how he makes everyone feel. More and more, it seems, this is what’s important to people.
Fewer and fewer evangelicals today seem to care that all the feel good stuff that Francis reflects personally won’t save him or anyone else. Neither will the gospel of his Church save anyone —whether it’s the new or the old Catholicism. The following quotes in the official Catholic catechism have been a mystery for quite a while. Many within and without the Church have been at a loss as to how to interpret them: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God....The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (CCC paragraph 460). What is now becoming apparent is the way those statements fit perfectly with the foundational objective of mysticism: union with God.
The seeds of mysticism have certainly found fertile soil within legalistic Roman Catholicism, but what of the even more oppressive Sharia law that is foundational to Islam? Are Muslims therefore impervious to mystical beliefs? [To Be Continued]