“Let no one delude you by any
means, because the apostacy must come first, and there must be revealed that
Man of Sin, that Son of Destruction, the opponent, who indeed lifts himself
above everything called Divinity or Majesty; so as to seat himself in the
Temple of God, exhibiting himself that he is a God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4, Diaglott)
Jesus, of course, established the Church in its pristine purity, which example the Apostles also followed. However, the Church greatly increased in numbers immediately after Jesus’ resurrection (“the number of men that believed was about five thousand” - Acts 4:4). This number was from just one effort of the Apostles; and others were won in various places, so that the Apostles could not have the control that Jesus had when He was with them. Thus Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work,” although the worldly politicians did not enter the fray until a few hundred years later.
CONSTANTINE THE GREAT - It was not until the third period of the Church - the Pergamos epoch - that the politicians became active. Pergamos means “earthly elevation”; and it was during this period that earthly elevation really made its appearance in the Christian church - when Roman Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity - about A.D. 313. The Roman emperors have always held the notion that affiliation with some religion was essential to their success in ruling the Roman people. So, when the Church had increased in sufficient numbers, Constantine considered it good business to join with them.
And being a true Roman, he entered the Christian Church with the same ardor that he did with secular things, so he is designated as “the great.” Before his acceptance of Christianity there was raging in the Church a great controversy over the Trinity; and, when Constantine learned of this, he did what would ordinarily be considered a clever thing: He summoned the bishops of the Christian Church from all over the Empire to the Council of Nice in A.D. 325. About 350 of those "bright minds" responded - a third of all the bishops in the Empire. There they engaged in heated debate about this delicate subject. The chief opponent of this great error was the Star Member, Arius. So much had he aroused the populace that one of his opponents in that debate made this statement from the platform: This man has so agitated the people that if you go into a store and ask the price of bread, the answer you get is “the Father is greater than the Son, and the Son is inferior to the Father.” But of all that assembly only two stood with Arius; so Constantine stood with the majority - probably thinking it good politics to do so; and he banished Arius from the Roman Empire. This old man, in his seventies, went to North Africa and during the eleven years he lived there he established a flourishing Church. And what was their name? Why Arians, of course! The Catholics called Arius a heretic, and still do so to this day.
St. Augustine, also of North Africa, was considered by many the most brilliant mind of the human race in all history. When asked to explain this error, he said it is simply a mystery, not capable of explanation. Recently we read the expression of one writer, who concluded that the popes of the Dark Ages were not all bad because none of them has ever denied the Trinity.
JUSTINIAN - A.D. 483-565. This man became Roman Emperor in A.D. 527. From the year 500 onward there had again arisen a heated debate over the Trinity, and the emperor was not to be left out of that. He was a scholarly man, a great intellect. He codified the Roman law; and his legal and architectural monuments have lasted through the centuries. As a codifier of laws and as a legislator he published the Codex Justinianus in 534. He also had a very stringent ecclesiastical policy, which supported “orthodoxy” (meaning belief in the Trinity, etc.); and he forced many pagans and “heretics” to stop teaching.
The battle over the Trinity is recorded as the second great “heresy” in the Eastern Empire, the first having been “disputed by the teachings of the Alexandrian presbyter Arius, who, in an effort to maintain the oneness and majesty of God the Father, had taught that he alone had existed from eternity, while God the Son had been created in time.” Thanks in part to imperial support, the Arian heresy had persisted throughout the 4th century and was definitely condemned only in 381 with promulgation of the doctrine “that Father and Son were of one substance and thus coexistent.”
And some more from the same writer: “If the fathers of the 4th century quarreled over the relations between God the Father and God the Son, those of the 5th century faced the problem of defining the relationship of the two natures - the human and the Divine - within God the Son, Christ Jesus. The theologians of Alexandria generally held that the Divine and human natures were united indistinguishably, whereas those of Antioch taught the two natures coexisted separately in Christ, the latter being ‘the chosen vessel of the Godhead - the man born of Mary.’ In the course of the 5th century, these two contrasting theological positions became the subject of a struggle for supremacy among the rival sees of Constantinople, Alexandria and Rome. Never-theless Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople in 428, adopted the Antiochene formula, which in his hands, came to stress the human nature of Christ to the neglect of the Divine. His opponents (first the Alexandrian patriarch, Cyril, and later Cyril’s followers, Dioscourus and Eutyches), in reaction emphasized the single Divine nature of Christ, the result of the incarnation. Their belief in One God, or the nature of Christ as God the Son, became extraordinarily popular throughout the provinces of Egypt and Syria. Rome, in the person of Pope Leo I, declared in contrast of dual gods, a creed teaching that ‘two natures, perfect and perfectly distinct, existed in the single person of Christ.’
“Justinian is but one example of the civilizing magic that Constantinople often worked upon the heirs of those who ventured within its walls. Justin, the uncle, was a rude and illiterate soldier; Justinian, the nephew, was a cultured gentleman, adept at theology, a mighty builder of churches, and a sponsor of the codification of Roman law. All these accomplishments are, in the deepest sense of the word civilian; and it's easy to forget that Justinian's empire was almost constantly at war during his reign. The history of east Rome during that period illustrates, in classical fashion, how the impact of war can transform ideas and institutions alike. The reign opened with external warfare and internal strife. From Lazica to the Arabian Desert, the Persian frontier blazed into action in a series of campaigns, in which many of the generals later destined for fame in the West, first demonstrated their capacities. The strength of the east Roman armies is revealed in the fact that, while containing Persian might, Justinian could nonetheless dispatch troops to attack the Huns in the Crimea and to maintain the Danubian frontier against a host of enemies. In 532 he abandoned military operations for diplomacy, negotiating, at the cost of considerable tribute, an ‘Endless Peace’ with the Persian king Khosrow, which freed the Roman hands for operations in another quarter of the globe.”
His subjects at that time were divided mainly into two classes - the Blues and the Greens. The Blues were the landholding senatorial aristocracy - mostly orthodox in their sympathies; the Greens, in contrast, found their leaders among men whose wealth was based upon trade and industry and whose theological sympathies lay with the One-God idea. There were some very severe riots during Justinian's reign. In one of them his troops slaughtered 30,000 rioters. Their leaders were executed, and their estates passed, at least temporarily, into the emperor's hands. The western Romans preferred the rule of a Catholic Roman emperor to that of an Arian German kinglet. In those early years of the 530s, Justinian could indeed pose as the pattern of a Roman and Christian emperor. Latin was his language; and his knowledge of Roman history and antiquities was profound. In 529 his officials had completed a major collection of the laws and degrees of the emperors promulgated since the reign of Hadrean. Known as the Code of Justinian and partly founded upon the fifth century Code of Theodosius, this connection of imperial edicts pales before the Digest under Tribonian in 533. Meanwhile architects and builders worked apace to complete the new Church of the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, designed to replace older churches.
It took five years to complete the Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was finished in A.D. 539, which marked the beginning of the 1260 years supremacy of the apostate church, united with the kings and emperors of the various unchristian governments until 1799, of which more later.
It should be noted here that Justinian dealt with almost every aspect of the Christian life: entrance into it by conversion and baptism, administration of the sacraments that marked its several stages, proper conduct of the laity to avoid the wrath God would surely visit upon a sinful people; finally, the standards to be followed by those who lived the particularly holy life of the secular or monastic clergy. Pagans were ordered to attend church and accept baptism, while a purge thinned their ranks in Constantinople, and masses of them were converted by missionaries in Asia Minor. Only the orthodox wife might enjoy the privileges of her dowry; Jews and Samaritans were denied, in addition to other civil liberties, the privilege of testamentary inheritance unless they converted. A woman who worked as an actress might better serve God were she to forswear any oath she had taken - even though before God - to remain in that immoral profession. Blasphemy and sacrilege were forbidden, or famine, earthquake, and pestilence would punish the Christian society. Surely God would take vengeance on Constantinople, as He had on Sodom and Gomorrah when the homosexual persisted in his “unnatural” ways.
The best possible men were needed, for, in most Roman cities in the sixth century, imperial and civil officials gradually surrendered many of their functions to the bishop, or patriarch. The latter collected taxes, dispensed justice, provided charity, organized commerce, negotiated with barbarians, and even mustered the soldiers. By the early seventh century, the typical Byzantine city, viewed from without, actually or potentially resembled a fortress; viewed from within, it was essentially a religious community under ecclesiastical leadership. Nor did Justinian neglect the monastic clergy, or those who had removed themselves from the world. Drawing upon the regulations to be found in the writings of the 4th century Church, as well as the acts of the 4th and 5th century church councils, Father St. Basil of Caesarea ordered the cenobitic (or collective) form of monastic life in a fashion so minute that later codes, including the rule of St. Theodore the Studite in the ninth century, only further developed the Justinianic foundation.
Probably the least successful of Justinian's ecclesiastical policies were those adopted in an attempt to reconcile the Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians. After the success of negotiations that had done so much to conciliate the West during the reign of his uncle, Justinian attempted to win over the moderate anti-trinitarians, separating them from the extremists. Of the complicated series of events that ensued, only the results need be noted. In developing a creed acceptable to the moderate trinitarians of the East, Justinian alienated the believers of the West and thus sacrificed his earlier gains in that section.
However, that same century witnessed the growth of a Christian culture to rival it. Magnificent hymns were written by St. Romanos Melodos, and reveal the striking development of the liturgy during Justinian’s reign, a development that was not without its social implications. Whereas traditional pagan culture was literary and its pursuit or enjoyment thereby limited to the leisurely and wealthy, the Christian liturgical celebration and its musical component were available to all, regardless of place or position.
Next came the acceptance of images as a normal feature of Christian practice, which satisfied certain powerful needs as Christianity spread among the Gentiles and certain Hellenized Jews who had broken with the Mosaic commandment. The convert all the more readily accepted use of the image if he had brought into his Christianity, as many did, a heritage of heathenism. These people taught that through contemplation of that which could be seen - i.e., the image of Christ - the mind might rise to that which could not be seen. From a belief that the seen suggests the unseen, it is but a short step to a belief that the seen contains the unseen and that the image deserves veneration because Divine power somehow resides in it. And this then was but a short step to veneration of the emperor's image - the Divine right of kings.
The foregoing detail has been given to offer very positive proof that Justinian was indeed the foundation of the 1260 years of real apostate Christianity, most of which finds no support from the Bible, the teachings of Jesus or the Apostles. Of course, the Communists in Russia saw this, probably not so clearly, when they took over in 1917, took the supposed bodies of the saints, which had never decayed, and picked them apart on the steps of the temple, to show they were nothing more than stuffed cotton dummies - much to the amazement of the Russian faithful Christians.
CHARLEMAGNE - A.D. 742-814. Latin Carolus Magnus, meaning Charles the Great. King of the Franks 768-814, he united by conquest nearly all Christian lands of western Europe and ruled as emperor 800-814. His reign was characterized by a brilliant court and by an imperial unity unrivaled for centuries before and after. He conquered the Lombards and the pagan Saxons, whom he Christianized. He continued expansion of the Frankish state. His close alliance with the Papacy and the papal desire for a western emperor to counter Byzantium resulted in the coronation of Charlemagne in 800. His court became an intellectual, political and administrative center after 794.
THE PAPACY - From the time of Justinian to the reign of Charlemagne the apostate church made great strides in subduing all “heretics” and expanding their own territory and increasing their numbers. During that time the Papacy gradually developed. The word is derived from the Latin papacia, meaning pope or father. It is of medieval origin. In its primary usage it denotes the office of the pope (of Rome); hence, the system of ecclesiastical and temporal government over which the pope directly presides.
Early in the Age there developed two great divisions of the Church - the Roman and the Greek. One of the outstanding differences between them is that the Roman system forbids its priests to marry, while the Greek does not. As the conflict between the two sharpened, Rome decided to build up its prestige by naming their leader the Pope, which means Father. Not to be outdone, the Greeks then named their leader the Patriarch, which means Great Papa; and thus it stands to this day, although the Greek Catholic Church is now without a titular head.
Of course, the Roman Church claimed to be the successor to St. Peter, the “chief of the Apostles,” although there is no record at all that St. Peter ever even visited the City of Rome, much less reside there. And there is strong logic to prove that he never was in Rome. “The multiplicity and variety of papal titles themselves indicates the complexity of the papal office. In the official Vatical directory he is described as Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, successor of the prince of the Apostles, supreme pontiff of the universal church, sovereign of the state of Vatican City, servant of the servants of God. In his more circumscribed capacities as Bishop of Rome, metropolitan of the Roman province, primate of Italy, and patriarch of the West, the pope is the bearer of responsibilities and the wielder of powers that have their counterparts in the other episcopal, metropolitan primatial, and patriarchal jurisdictions of the Catholic Church. [The Bible does not give God Himself as many titles as the Pope has.]”
What differentiates his particular jurisdiction from others and renders his office unique is the Roman Catholic teaching that the Bishop of Rome is at the same time successor to St. Peter, prince of the Apostles. As the bearer of the Petrine office, he is raised to a position of lonely eminence as chief bishop or primate of the universal church. The precise lineaments of this belief have undergone considerable development over the centuries, but as defined by the first Vatican Council in 1870 (when the ruling power in Italy, the house of Savoy, severed all connection with the Roman Church) - and reaffirmed by the second in 1974. It involves these fundamental assertions: that Christ singled out St. Peter among the Apostles, conferring upon him not only a preeminence among them but also the leadership or primacy in that visible community or church which he established after His resurrection; that Christ intended this primacy to be one not merely of honor but of true jurisdiction, and one exercised not merely by Peter himself but also by his successors down through the ages to the end of time; and that the bishops of Rome are to be recognized as these successors.
“Because of the development of this belief the popes have come over the course of time to wield supreme legislative, executive and judicial powers [jurisdictional functions] in the church - issuing authoritative statements on matters of doctrine [the magisterial or teaching function] creating and suppressing church laws, establishing dioceses, appointing bishops, controlling missions, acting as a court of first instance as well as of appeal, and performing either by deputy or in person, a host of other functions. Also, because of this belief, they had assumed already in the 5th century the title of supreme pontiff (summus pontifex) that had earlier been borne by the pagan Roman emperors as the heads of the college of priests. During the Middle Ages the popes also began to monopolize the title of ‘vicar (i.e., representative) of Christ,’ which, like the very name of pope for that matter, the early Latin church had customarily accorded to bishops in general. The title of sovereign of the state of Vatican City refers to the pope's position as temporal ruler of the tiny sovereign state in Rome created in 1929 by Italy in accordance with the terms of the Lateran Treaty [with Mussolini]. The last title, ‘servant of the servants of God,’ an essentially pastoral designation, is the title that popes themselves have very often chosen when called upon to issue solemn pronouncements of great importance for the whole church.”
THE INSTRUMENTS OF PAPAL GOVERNMENT - “In the day-to-day exercise of his primatial jurisdiction the pope relies on the assistance of the Roman Curia, a name first used of the body of papal assistants in the 11th century. The Curia had its origin in the local body of presbyters (priests), deacons (lower order of clergy), and notaries (lower clerics with secretarial duties), upon which, like other bishops in their own dioceses, the early bishops of Rome relied for help. By the 11th century, this body had, on the one hand, been narrowed down to include only the leading (or cardinal) presbyters and deacons of the Roman diocese, while, on the other hand, being broadened out to embrace the cardinal-bishops (the heads of the seven neighboring or ‘suburban.’ dioceses). From this emerged the Sacred College of Cardinals, a corporate body possessed, from 1179 onward, of the exclusive right to elect the pope. This right it still possesses, as it does the right to govern the church in urgent matters during a vacancy in the papal office. Recent popes have extended the size of the Sacred College beyond the traditional limit of 70 [which had been patterned after the Jewish Sanhedrin of 70 members], and have attempted, with growing success, to broaden its national complexion and to make its membership more faithfully representative of the church's international character.
“During the Middle Ages, the cardinals played an important role as a corporate body, not only during the papal vacancies, as today, but also during the pope's lifetime. In the 12th century the Roman councils that the popes had hitherto convoked when urgent matters were at hand were replaced by the assembly of the cardinals, or consistory, which thus became the most important collegial (corporate) body advising the pope and participating in his judicial activity. Eventually it began to make oligarchic claims to a share in the powers of the Petrine office, and attempted with sporadic success, to bind the pope to act on important matters only with its consent. During the 16th century, however, with the final establishment of the Roman congregations (administrative committees), each charged with the task of assisting the pope in a specific area of government, the significance of the consistory began to decline, and with it the importance of the cardinals as a corporate body.”
ANOTHER AUTHORITY - Following is a quotation from Volume 2, Studies in the Scriptures, p. 310: “From Ferraris’ Ecclesiastical Dictionary, a standard Roman Catholic authority, we quote the following condensed outline of papal power as given under the word papa: ‘The pope is of such dignity and highness that he is not simply a man, but, as it were, God, and the vicar [representative] of God... Hence the pope is crowned with a triple crown, as king of heaven, of earth and of hell. Nay, the pope’s excellence and power are not only about heavenly, terrestrial and infernal things, but he is also above angels, and is their superior; so that if it were possible that angels could err from the faith, or entertain sentiments contrary thereto, they could be judged and excommunicated by the pope... He is of such great dignity and power that he occupies one and the same tribunal with Christ; so that whatsoever the pope does seems to proceed from the mouth of God... The pope is, as it were, God on earth, the only prince of the faithful of Christ, the greatest king of all kings, possessing the plenitude of power; to whom the government of the earthly and heavenly kingdom is entrusted.’ He further adds: ‘The pope is of so great authority and power that he can modify, declare or interpret the Divine Law.’ ‘The pope can sometimes counteract the Divine Law by limiting, explaining, etc.’
“Thus, Antichrist not only endeavored to establish the Church in power before the Lord's time, but it was audacious enough to attempt to ‘counteract’ and ‘modify’ Divine laws to suit its own schemes. It thus fulfilled the prophecy which over a thousand years before declared, ‘He shall think to change times and laws.’ (Dan. 7:25)
“In a bull, or edict, Sixtus V declares: ‘The authority given to St. Peter and his successors by the immense power of the eternal King, excels all the power of earthly kings and princes. It passeth uncontrollable sentence upon them all. And if it find any of them resisting God's ordinance, it takes more severe vengeance on them, casting them down from their thrones, however powerful they may be, and tumbling them down to the lowest parts of the earth as ministers of aspiring Lucifer.’
“A bull of Pope Pius V, entitled ‘The damnation and excommunication of Elizabeth, Queen of England, and her adherents - with an addition of other punishments,’ reads:
“‘He that reigneth on high, to whom is given all power in heaven and in earth, committed one holy, catholic and apostolic church (out of which there is no salvation) to one alone upon earth, namely, to Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and to Peter’s successor, the Bishop of Rome, to be governed in fullness of power. Him alone he made prince over all people and all kingdoms, to pluck up, destroy, scatter, consume, plant and build.’ Saint Bernard affirms that ‘none except God is like the pope, either in heaven or on earth.’
“‘The Emperor Constantine,’ says Pope Nicholas I, ‘conferred the appellation of God on the pope; who, therefore, being God, cannot be judged of man.’
“Said Pope Innocent III: ‘The pope holds the place of the true God’; and the cannon law, in the gloss, denominates the pope - ‘our Lord God.’
“Innocent and Jacobatius state that ‘the pope can do nearly all that God can do,’ while Decius rejects the word nearly as unnecessary. Jacobatius and Durand assert that ‘none dare to say to him any more than to God - Lord, what doest thou?’ And Antonius wrote: ‘To him [the pope] it belongs to ordain those things which pertain to the public good, and remove those things which prevent this end, as vices, abuses which alienate men from God... And this according to Jeremiah 1:10: ‘Behold, I have placed thee over the nations and kingdoms, to root up and destroy, to scatter and disperse,’ that is, as it regards vices. [Here again appropriating to Antichrist a prophecy which belongs to Christ's Millennial reign.]
“‘The church can punish, indirectly, the Jews with spiritual punishment, by excommunicating Christian princes to whom the Jews are subject, if they neglect to punish them with temporal punishment when they do anything against Christians.’ Men may speedily be led into every form of cruelty and oppression, if first they can convince themselves that in the exercise of such depravities they are the more like God - imitators of God.
“‘The power of the pope is exercised over schismatics and heretics, denoted also by oxen, because they resist the truth with the horn of pride.’ The following utterances of the popes, culled from Fox's Acts and Monuments, by H. G. Guinness, an English writer of note, deserves a place of prominence... ‘If he that exalteth himself shall be abased, what degradation can be commensurate with such self-exaltation as this?’
“‘Wherefore, seeing such power is given to Peter, and to me in Peter, being his successor, who is he then in all the world that ought not to be subject to my decrees, which have such power in heaven, in hell, in earth, with the quick and also the dead.’”
SUMMARY - Much more of the foregoing can be given, but we assume that what we have written is sufficient for present conditions. Therefore we now recapitulate various dates and the occurrences of each date:
A.D. 313 - In that year Constantine the Great was the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity.
A.D. 325 - Constantine summoned the Council of Nice to consider the Trinity. Being the politician that he was, the emperor went with the crowd and accepted the error, banishing Arius and his two confederates from the Roman Empire.
A.D. 539 - Roman emperor Justinian conferred great favors upon the Roman Catholic Church, favoring them with a temple which was five years in building; and 539 marked the beginning of the 1260 years of dominance of the Church, a period that ended in 1799, of which more later.
A.D. 799 - In that year Charlemagne greatly enhanced the prestige and power of the Church by merging his vast empire (practically all of Christendom) with the Church. That marked the beginning of “The Holy Roman Empire” - the beginning of the counterfeit Millennium. When we ponder the real Millennium - “There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying” (Rev. 21:4) - compared with the atrocities of their 799-1799 Millennium, we recognize the depth of insult that is attempted by assuming the name of “Holy Millennium” for that period. And we can say the same for the Jehovah's Witnesses who are now separating the “sheep from the goats” while sin is still in the ascendency - when “knowledge is not abroad in the earth.”
A.D. 1799 - In that year Napoleon (the man of destiny, and mentioned in the Bible - Dan. 11:36-45) declared himself emperor of France. He ordered the pope to come to France for the occasion; but, instead of asking the pope to crown him - as had been the custom for centuries - he boldly placed the crown on his own head, cast the pope into a French prison, where he died in deep disgrace, ending the phony Millennium and freeing the world of much of the butchery the apostate Church had been committing. But of Napoleon also it is recorded: “He shall come to his end, and none shall help him.” (Dan. 11:45) He was exiled to the Island of St. Helena, where he died.
A.D. 1870 - The House of Savoy severed a1l relations with the Vatican, thus divorcing the pope from all temporal power.
A.D. 1929 - Mussolini renewed Italian alliance with the Vatican; thus, the church could once more say, “I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow” (Rev. 18:7); but the church has been seeing plenty of “sorrow” since that date; and will see yet much more of it in the immediate years ahead. This is well expressed in Isaiah 4:1: “In that day [in which we are now living] seven women [all the apostate church systems] shall take hold of one man [Christ], saying, We will eat our own bread [follow our own ideas and teachings], and wear our own apparel [flaunt our own respectability and position]: only let us be called by thy name [be called Christians], to take away our reproach [do not expose our apostate doings].”
“They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever.”(Psa. 125:1) “Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.” (John 8: 32)
(Brother John J. Hoefle, Reprint No. 470, November 1995)
Correction: In January-February 2008 paper, Retrospect and Prospect - Part Two, No. 606, Page 1, second column, seventh line from the bottom Pope Pius XIII should be Pope Pius XII.
BERNSTEINS TODAY, BAPTISTS TOMORROW
When ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Avraham Bernstein of Freehold Township, New Jersey, decided to hold a Friday evening Shabbat service in his home almost ten years ago, he had no idea he would become the object of secret, municipal surveillance and the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit.
The township claims Rabbi Bernstein is violating Freehold’s zoning laws, newly amended on September 25, 2007, that ban places of worship in residential neighborhoods without a permit. Bernstein claims the zoning laws violate his First Amendment rights. He has filed suit and is represented by the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Interestingly, Freehold’s laws do not prohibit someone from inviting friends over to drink beer, eat pizza, and watch sports on television they only prohibit praying. Nor do they ban Monday night football or weekly scrapbooking parties. They only ban studying the Scriptures and addressing the Almighty.
To ascertain the number of people walking to Rabbi Bernstein’s home (his guests park no cars there because they do not drive on Shabbat), the township mounted a camera on the window of the municipal building across the street and secretly filmed what it claims to be between 35 and 50 people attending the Friday evening service.
No, this did not happen in Russia. It happened in America where the First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” In other words, if Rabbi Bernstein and his friends want to assemble peaceably to exercise their religion freely in a private home, the government should not be able to stop them. But it is trying, nevertheless. And if it succeeds, the implications will be far-reaching.
If Freehold wins this lawsuit, it will be free to shut down home Bible studies and prayer meetings, which actually generate vehicular traffic. And if Freehold gets away with this zoning sleight of hand, what’s to stop other municipalities from doing likewise?
Of course, we’ve seen all this before - only not in America. For example, around 167 B.C, when the madman Antiochus Epiphanes ruled the Promise Land and was determined to exterminate Judaism, he made it illegal for Jewish people to study Torah and pray. So when authorities raided a Jewish home, the Jews quickly hid their Scriptures and pretended to play games, such as dreidel (spinning top) - which evidently was okay with Antiochus, as it would be with Freehold.
Christianity has a long, distinguished history of meeting in homes to study, pray, and sing. When an angel freed the apostle Peter from prison, Peter went “to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.” (Acts 12:12) To the Corinthians the apostle Paul wrote, “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” (1 Cor. 16:19) In America, many churches emerged from weekly home Bible studies.
Today Christians are being persecuted around the world by hundreds of thousands. America is one of the few countries left where citizens are supposed to be able to practice their religion freely. But even in America, a big blaze begins with a little spark. If you don’t douse a fire when it’s small, you may end up watching helplessly as it burns every thing in sight. If Freehold succeeds in dismembering the Shabbat service in Rabbi Bernstein’s home, it may only be a matter of time before Baptists see their home Bible studies go up in flames. (By Lorna Simco, editor-in-chief for The Friends of Israel)