In analyzing the work of the false prophet (Deut. 18:9-22), we saw that the purpose of the magic, sacrifice, divination, and related rites of false prophecy is prediction. The prediction involved in the rites described (Deut. 18:9-14) has as its basic premise the belief that real and ultimate power resides elsewhere than in God. The practice of false prophecy could involve child sacrifice, divination, astrology, enchantment, witchcraft, charms, spiritualism, wizardry, necromancy, and the like. It could also involve simply the belief that Satan is the ultimate power.
Satan tempted Jesus to become a false prophet. In the culminating temptation, we are told,
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matt. 4:8-10)
The meaning of this temptation is of central importance. Satan, in approaching Jesus in this final attempt to make Him a false prophet, had, among other things, two basic ideas in mind. First, Satan asked Jesus to admit the rightness of his rebellion, to affirm that the creature had a legitimate right to independence from the Creator. Had Jesus in the slightest degree offered any excuse for man's sin, conceded to the environmental excuse, or felt that some independence from God on man's part is justifiable, He would have conceded to Satan a moral justification. This Jesus refused to do: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."
Second, Satan claimed a world power that was not his to claim or to give. A fundamental premise of the law-word is that "The earth is the LORD'S" (Ex. 9:29; Deut. 10:14; Ps. 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26). Satan neither rules it nor holds title to it, nor can he give it to anyone.
At this point, many people are seriously in error. Genesis 3 gives us the Biblical answer: Adam and Eve were guilty before God of rebellion, of apostasy. They compounded their sin by each placing the blame on someone else: the serpent, and the woman. The guilt of Satan made no difference to the fact that Adam and Eve were primarily and essentially guilty for their own sin.
Others disagree with God's Word. The Marxist answer was clearly stated in terms of Genesis 3 by Lincoln Steffens some years ago at a Jonathan Club dinner meeting in Los Angeles. At a second meeting, with about a hundred prominent citizens present, Steffens summed it up to his listeners, who included John R. Haynes, William Mulholland, the Episcopal bishop, and others:
You want to fix the fault at the very start of things. Maybe we can, Bishop. Most people, you know, say it was Adam. But Adam, you remember, he said that it was Eve, the woman; she did it. And Eve said no, no, it wasn't she; it was the serpent. And that's where you clergy have stuck ever since. You blame that serpent, Satan. Now I come and I am trying to show you that it was, it is, the apple.1
Steffens' answer is good Marxism; it affirms the economic determinism: "it was, it is, the apple." This doctrine is a denial of the personal responsibility affirmed by Scripture.
Equally deadly, however, is the very common doctrine of satanic determinism. At this point, Steffens was right, when he told the clergy present: "You blame that serpent, Satan." Too many churchmen have laid the foundation, over the centuries, for a doctrine of satanic determinism. We can call it also the conspiracy theory.
Now very clearly Scripture affirms the fact of conspiracies; Psalm 2 is a classic statement of their reality. This same psalm, however, strongly underscores their futility; God laughs at the conspiracies of the ungodly nations and summons His people to share in His laughter.
Conspiracies prosper only when moral order declines. In every society, there are criminals, thieves, and murderers. Only as a society goes into moral decline and collapse do these elements gain any ascendancy. The declining Roman Empire saw a proliferation of cults espousing revolution, communism, free love, homosexuality, and much more. When Christendom went into moral decline after the thirteenth century, again these criminal secret societies began to abound. Some affirmed communism, others staged nude protests and marches, and still others plotted revolution. As Schmidt observed out of the Reformation era, "The whole of Europe around Calvin was polluted by fraternities, some spreading ‘enlightenment' and some skepticism."2 The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation led to the temporary decline of these groups, which rose again as Christian faith, law, and order declined.
But those who bear false witness, who ascribe to Satan powers which belong only to God, are not content to recognize that conspiracies exist. They go much further. First, they ascribe to conspiracies a moral order and discipline which is an impossibility. Satan cannot construct or create; he is merely a destroyer, a murderer, and he has power only to the extent that we forsake the true power of God. The Soviet Union, to cite an international conspiratorial government, is a corrupt, bumbling, and radically incompetent agency. It has required the repeated aid of other countries plus imperialistic looting in order to survive. The Hoover relief of the 1920s, the Roosevelt recognition of the 1930s, and continuing proppings have kept it alive. The communist problem is not their evil power and ability but rather the steady moral collapse of Christian churches and nations, and their radical apostasy.
Second, the power of evil is weak and limited; it is under God's control and is His scourge of the nations. The weakness of evil conspiracies means that they can normally only occupy a vacuum. The roots of Soviet power are in the moral decay of Russia and its Kenotic Christianity; the Soviet victories in the Baltic countries are due to the morally compromised position of the Western Allies, who sold these countries out.
Third, the key to overcoming evil conspiracies is not a concentration on evil but godly reconstruction. One of the sins Jesus Christ condemned in some members of the church at Thyatira was their concern with studying "the depths of Satan," which can be translated as "exploring the deep or hidden things of Satan" (Rev. 2:24). The non-Christian conservative movements are radically given to studying or exploring the deep things of Satan, as though this were the key to the future.
Fourth, implicit in all this is the belief, as noted, in satanic determination, which makes of these conservatives staunch Satanists. To deny the sovereign power of conspiracies is one of the surest ways of antagonizing many of the people, who will then argue with religious passion for the sovereign, predestinating power of Satan. They will insist that every national and international act is a carefully planned and manipulated conspiracy, all governed by a master plan or plot, and a secret master council. That the plotters and plans exist, and are many, can be granted, but the Christian must hold to their futility. They rage in vain; they "imagine a vain thing" when they plot together against the Lord and His anointed (Ps. 2:1, 2).
To blame the world's evils, and to ascribe the world's government, to hidden satanic conspiracies is to be guilty of false witness against God. It is comparable to resorting to magic, witchcraft, or human sacrifice. It denies that God only is the source of prediction and ascribes power and prediction to Satan instead.
Far better than most theologians, Berle has described the laws of power:
Five natural laws of power are discernible. They are applicable wherever, and at whatever level, power appears, whether it be that of the mother in her nursery or that of the executive head of a business, the mayor of a city, the dictator of an empire.
One: Power invariably fills any vacuum in human organization. As between chaos and power, the latter always prevails.
Two: Power is invariably personal. There is no such thing as "class power," "elite power," or "group power," though classes, elites, and groups may assist processes of organization by which power is lodged in individuals.
Three: Power is invariably based on a system of ideas or philosophy. Absent such a system or philosophy, the institutions essential to power cease to be reliable, power ceases to be effective, and the power holder is eventually displaced.
Four: Power is exercised through, and depends on, institutions. By their existence, they limit, come to control, and eventually confer or withdraw power.
Five: Power is invariably confronted with, and acts in the presence of, a field of responsibility. The two constantly interact, in hostility or co-operation, in conflict or through some form of dialogue, organized or unorganized, made part of, or perhaps intruding into, the institutions on which power depends.3
Berle is right. Power is based on a faith, a philosophy. When the faith or philosophy behind a culture begins to die, there is a shift of power. Today, because Christian faith has waned and has become antinomian, it cannot maintain or create a law-order. As a result, ancient criminal impulses and movements grasp at power. The key to displacing these grasping evil powers is not a study of the deep things of Satan, nor a belief in their power, but godly reconstruction in terms of Biblical faith, morality, and law. For many non-Christian conservatives, the test of a true conservative is simply this: Does he believe in the existence, plan, and power of the conspirators, call them what you will? This test is a satanic one: it holds almost as much danger to society, if not more, as does the belief that the apple is to blame, i.e., as economic determinism. It is a form of Moloch worship. God confronted Adam and Eve in Eden with their responsibility; Nathan declares to David, "Thou art the man" (2 Sam. 12:7).
The Biblical position involves not only an affirmation of man's essential responsibility, but it also declares that God alone is the almighty one, and He alone predestines and governs all things. To ascribe to conspiracies a power, discipline, and government of the past, present, and future which is not theirs is another form of affirming witchcraft and like "abominations." It is to become a false prophet, and to make a false witness.
It means also incurring God's judgment. To affirm another power is to deny God and His law. Not surprisingly, an antinomian age has readily subscribed to such beliefs. But God will no more respect the antinomianism of the church members than He will the lawlessness of the ungodly. At this point, men face the only effective "conspiracy": God's "conspiracy" against all who deny or forsake Him.
The commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness," means that we must bear true witness concerning all things. We must not bear false witness concerning God or man, and we are not to bear false witness concerning Satan by ascribing to him power that belongs only to God. The true witness of the apostles was not a testimony about the powers of Satan but of the triumphant Christ. The world they faced, as a very small handful, was far more entrenched in its evil than our own, but the apostles did not spend their time documenting the depravity, perversity, and power of Nero. Instead, St. Paul, who was aware of the approach of persecution, still wrote confidently to the Christians in Rome: "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:20). The confidence of St. John is similar: "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4).
Today, however, many so-called Christian conservatives not only spend their time studying the work of Satan but become angry if you question the omnipotence of Satan. They insist that every step of our world history is now in the hands of satanic manipulators who use men as puppets. To deny this is to be classed as some kind of heretic; the practical meaning of this position is Satan worship. But St. John tells us that, at the supreme moment of Satan's conspiracy, when Christ's death was decreed, the secret purpose of God was being most fulfilled (John 11:47-53). It is always God who reigns, never Satan. Any other faith is a false witness and an especially evil one.
(Reprinted from The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1[Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1973], 560-565)
1. The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1931), 574.
2. Albert-Marie Schmidt, Calvin and the Calvinistic Tradition (New York: Harper, 1960), 58.
3. Adolf Augustus Berle, Power (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969), 37.