LCN Article
The Traditional Formula

September / October 2022

John Robinson

God has clear reasons for what He commands, especially when it comes to how He is worshipped. But like the Samaritans, there have always been counterfeits and impure forms of worship. How can we learn to recognize and avoid them?

Every fall and winter, we go through the same cycle of the holiday season, starting with Halloween and culminating with New Year’s Eve. And every year, we see professing Christians of the world participating every step of the way. How did mainstream Christianity become so mixed up?

We can find one answer in an article from Christianity Today that tries to defend Halloween observance.

Christians should embrace the devilish holiday with gusto—and laughter…. If we follow the traditional formula of having a good time at his expense, Satan flees…. I have always considered Halloween a day to celebrate the imagination, to become for a short time something wonderful and strange, smelling of grease paint, to taste sweets that are permissible only once a year. How wonderful to be with other children dressed up as what they might grow up to be, what they wished they could be, or even what they secretly feared. All of us, dreams and nightmares, were brought together on equal footing, going from door to door to be given treats and admired for our creativity. How delightful to go to parties with doughnuts, apples, brown cider, and pumpkin cakes—and to hear spine-tingling ghost stories and feel our hearts skip a beat when the teller grabbed for us (“Hallowing Halloween,” October 2, 2000).

This article reveals the age-old justification for blending Christianity with pagan holidays. Indeed, mixing truth with error according to “the traditional formula” is the way of professing Christianity today. Some of what this author mentions could be harmless—celebrating the imagination, children dressed up as what they might grow up to be, and tasty festival food. But the author also advocates becoming something strange for a short time, children dressed as what they secretly fear, dreams and nightmares being treated as equal, and “ghost stories”—lest we forget, God imposed the death penalty on ancient Israelites who consulted witches and mediums.

Where did this “traditional formula” originate? To find out, let’s examine the origins of the Samaritans in the Old Testament, tracking them through the New Testament and even to our day. Through their history, we’ll see that God clearly defines how He wants to be worshipped—and that He hates it when worship of Him is combined with man-made or satanically inspired ideas.

Confusion by Mixing

Around 721 BC, God used the kingdom of Assyria to punish the ancient Israelites for their spiritual adultery. “Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria” (2 Kings 17:5–6).

Just what had the Israelites done to deserve this? Israel “left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone” (2 Kings 17:16–18).

The Assyrians, however, did not just remove the Israelites. They replaced them with a group from a different area—Babylon, the very name of which evokes confusion by mixing. “Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities” (2 Kings 17:24). Deporting the prior residents, the Assyrians replaced the Israelites of that area—which they called Samerina—with Babylonians and Arameans.

But the worst problem came not with the mixing of cultures, but with the further mixing of religions. “And it was so, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, ‘The nations whom you have removed and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the rituals of the God of the land; therefore He has sent lions among them, and indeed, they are killing them because they do not know the rituals of the God of the land’” (2 Kings 17:25–26).

At first glance, it might seem as though these new residents of Samaria wanted to understand how to sincerely worship the true God—but that was not the case. Rather, because they were a superstitious people well accustomed to performing various rituals for many different gods of hills and valleys, they were simply wanting to know how to ritually please this “new regional god.” In an attempt to appease the people, “the king of Assyria commanded, saying, ‘Send there one of the priests whom you brought from there; let him go and dwell there, and let him teach them the rituals of the God of the land.’ Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord” (2 Kings 17:27–28).

So, who were these priests? Would they teach the people the true worship of God? To find out the legitimacy of these priests—or the lack thereof—we need to look roughly 200 years earlier.

The Origin of Halloween?

Shortly after the death of King Solomon and the split between Israel and Judah, Jeroboam, ruling over the northern kingdom, instituted a thorough change in Israel’s religious system.

Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there. Also he went out from there and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.” Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense (1 Kings 12:25–33).

Jeroboam forced everyone to take a side—anyone who didn’t want to go along with the new religious system had no choice but to leave. Let’s notice some further detail in 2 Chronicles 11: “And from all their territories the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel took their stand with him [Rehoboam, king of Judah]. For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the Lord.” Having kicked out the priests whom God had appointed, Jeroboam solidified his “new version” of Israelite worship by bringing in his own lackeys. “Then he appointed for himself priests for the high places, for the demons, and the calf idols which he had made. And after the Levites left, those from all the tribes of Israel, such as set their heart to seek the Lord God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord God of their fathers” (vv. 13–16).

So, Jeroboam chased out the true priests of God and replaced them with priests who were not sons of Levi, but were from every class of people. That was already a violation of what God had established, but these priests also included idolatrous calves as an important component of their worship, and they made up their own feast in the eighth month. Interestingly, octo is Latin for eight—remember that in ancient times the new year started with March, making October the eighth month, though it has become the tenth month on our current calendar. What do we have in the month of October? None other than Halloween.

Halloween originally came from the Celts in Northwestern Europe—descendants of the house of Israel who were observing an echo of the false feast that Jeroboam had established in the eighth month. With its focus on things popping up from graves and various undead spirits, Halloween is essentially a satanic counterfeit of the Last Great Day, when God will resurrect the uncalled throughout history and give them an opportunity to live His way of life.

Samaritan Religion

In 2 Kings 17:6, we saw the capital of Israel fall to the Assyrians and the Israelites deported from the land. A few verses later, God goes into more detail as to why this finally happened: “He tore Israel from the house of David, and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day” (2 Kings 17:21–23).

With all this background in mind, let’s notice what happened to religious observance in Samaria.

However every nation continued to make gods of its own, and put them in the shrines on the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities where they dwelt…. So they feared the Lord, and from every class they appointed for themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods—according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away (2 Kings 17:29–33).

The new people brought into Samaria, who were Babylonians and Arameans by birth, had a superstitious fear that was very different from the sincere reverence God expects from His people. They saw Him as just one more god to appease ritualistically, no different from the many others they feared. Mixing some ritual worship of a new god in with their worship of their familiar idols was a simple matter for them. “To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel…. So these nations feared the Lord, yet served their carved images; also their children and their children’s children have continued doing as their fathers did, even to this day” (2 Kings 17:34, 40–41).

Here we see the people of Samaria concocting “the traditional formula,” one of religious mixing and confusion. They took the name of God, and Jeroboam’s corrupt worship of Him, and combined these with the rituals that pertained to their carved images. This way of worshiping God was in name only—no form or substance, only a veneer of piety.

Two hundred years later, Judah returned from captivity and began to rebuild Jerusalem and God’s temple. But the land to which the Jews returned was not empty; there were other people still inhabiting it. When these inhabitants heard that the newly returned Jews were building God’s temple, they came to the Jewish leaders and said, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” But the leaders of Judah didn’t fall for it. They responded, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” In response to this rejection, the people of the land tried to discourage the Jews from building, and even hired people to slow their progress (Ezra 4:1–5).

Who were these “helpful” people? The Samaritans—the descendants of the colonists brought in by the Assyrian king. Two hundred years after Assyria took Israel captive, the group now known as the Samaritans was not only still in the area, but more influential than ever.

Jesus Christ, the New Testament Church, and the Samaritans

Fast-forward to the first century AD, and we find that tensions between the Jews and Samaritans were still high—largely because the Samaritans represented a mingling of Judaism and Babylonian paganism. Jesus told a Samaritan, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). The Samaritans practiced religious syncretism—combining different religions, cultures, and philosophies—and therefore didn’t truly understand who or what they were trying to worship.

Not long after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, God’s Church reached out to the Samaritans with His truth, sending Philip to preach in Samaria. “But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God.’ And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time” (Acts 8:5–11).

Simon was a popular Samaritan magician—but the Samaritans who followed him weren’t only in Samaria. Alexander the Great had actually scattered the Samaritans, and by this time significant Samaritan communities also existed in Egypt and Italy, specifically Alexandria and Rome. Many Samaritans in all three of these areas followed and revered Simon.

Simon claimed that he was the bearer of divine revelation, and Justin Martyr, who was himself a Samaritan, wrote that almost all the Samaritans believed that Simon was a god. This Simon, who would come to be known as Simon Magus, was an early writer and influencer of false Christianity—and the Bible describes him as a sorcerer. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Simon Magus is known as “the founder of post-Christian Gnosticism, a dualist religious sect advocating salvation through secret knowledge, and as the archetypal heretic of the Christian Church” (15th edition, vol. 10, p. 820). Regarding the Gnostics, historian Edward Gibbon wrote in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that they “blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets, which they derived from oriental philosophy.”

But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.… Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:12–19).

Simon was essentially trying to buy an apostleship. Peter responded, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” (vv. 20–23).

Who Are Today’s Samaritans?

To recap, the original Samaritans were Babylonians and Arameans who were imported into the area of Samaria. They were then taught how to “worship” God by false, corrupted priests. They didn’t die out, and neither did their syncretistic form of worship—they were still in Samaria when Jesus began His ministry, and they were still there at the beginning of the New Testament Church.

Some of these Samaritans came under the spell of the Gnostic magician Simon Magus, and a new religion developed in which Simon was even considered to be God. Others continued—and continue to this day—with a syncretic, pseudo-Judaic religion influenced by Babylon.

But can we identify another religion, popular in our world today, that has done what the Samaritans and the followers of Simon Magus did—take a previous religion and put a new “spin” on it by mixing it with new religious ideas? Today we find the Roman Catholic church in that role—a paganized religion with a Christian veneer.

Having betrayed Christ’s pure teachings by mixing them with pagan philosophies and doctrines, this church—and those that sprang from it—are doing today what the Samaritans and Simon Magus did centuries ago. They follow “the traditional formula” of combining various religious practices—now with a few Christian elements mixed in.

Sadly, most people are not concerned that “the traditional formula,” using the right name for the wrong thing, has shaped what most today call “Christianity.” The Bible, however, does see something wrong with this, and in fact calls out such a mix as an abominable Babylonian mystery religion: “The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:4–5).

 The concept of a great “mystery” is a central tenet of Gnosticism—and those who followed the approach of Simon Magus are still at it today. As we in God’s Church have quoted many times, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it…. Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient pagan world…. [The Eucharist] was a conception long sanctified by time; the pagan mind needed no schooling to receive it; by embodying the ‘mystery of the Mass,’ Christianity became the last and greatest of the mystery religions” (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ).

Don’t Fall for It

All through the ages, Satan has been actively trying to deceive the nations, and one of the deadliest tools in his arsenal is the mixing of satanically inspired ideas with the name of God—in other words, calling the wrong thing by the right name. Despite what Christianity Today claims, Satan does not flee from us when we “have a good time at his expense” with the very practices he has inspired—rather, he flees from us when we resist him (James 4:7).

Let’s remember that God, through His inspired word, makes it very clear that we should never mix other philosophies, holidays, venerations, or rituals with anything that God Himself has ordained. Let’s make sure we do not fall for the traditional formula, and instead heed God’s commands in 2 Corinthians:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (6:14–7:1).