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The Light of the World Church (TLOW), with over 15,000 temples in 58 countries, claims to be the restoration of the early church of Christ. Although official doctrinal documents are rare, we can trace their central doctrines from its hymnology and other sources. When we analyze three critical doctrines held by TLOW, comparing them to early Christian orthodoxy and early heresies, TLOW aligns more with ancient heresies condemned by the early church. On Christology, the early church professed that Jesus shares the same nature as the Father — that the Son of God is God the Son. However, TLOW denies the deity of Christ using the arguments of ancient Arianism. On the sufficiency of Scripture, the early church recognized the divine inspiration and infallible authority of the books contained in the New Testament canon, as well as the finality of revelation with the death of the apostle John. TLOW, on the other hand, teaches that God is continually giving new unique revelation to their leader. This is precisely the claim upon which ancient Gnosticism was founded. On worship, the apostles were clear that God alone should receive worship. The apostles refused to receive any kind of worship, since they acknowledged themselves as creatures and not gods or saviors. They taught that there is only one Savior and mediator between God and man — the God–Man Christ Jesus. In contrast, TLOW embraces its leader as a new savior-apostle and mediator, even composing and singing hymns to him; a common practice among early Gnostics as well. Thus, TLOW teaches a false gospel and false practice. However, rather than being discouraged by the apparent success of TLOW, we should be encouraged to train ourselves so that we may be ready to present a rational defense of the gospel with gentleness and respect.
From Guadalajara, a major city in Mexico, an astounding statement emerged: “[We are] the restoration of the church that Jesus Christ founded in the first century.”1 Behind this claim is a group called The Church of the Living God Column and Support of Truth the Light of the World; widely known as The Light of the World (TLOW).
Through the administration of Naasón Joaquín García, its current leader, TLOW has established over 15,000 temples and is present in 58 different countries, including the United States.2 But is this worldwide growth something to be celebrated? In one sense, every Christian church should desire to reflect the early church. Nevertheless, TLOW’s claim is that their leader is literally an apostolic successor with the same authority as the early church apostles. This claim to exclusive and absolute apostolic authority that is said to have been absent since the first century is what they mean by “restoration” of the church.3
TLOW marks April 6, 1926, as the day that God spoke directly to its first leader, Eusebio Joaquín González (Naasón’s grandfather), and told him to begin his mission as God’s only Apostle.4 It is from this moment on that he supposedly began to restore the doctrine, norms, principles, and offices of the early church.5 This is an astonishing claim; and as Christians, we must discern whether it is true or not. Since TLOW’s claim is both theological and historical, it needs to be tested against biblical teaching and history.
Researching the historical-theological positions on major doctrines that the original apostles held is rather easy once we understand the Bible as both a theological and historical document. On the other hand, the primary sources for researching TLOW’s beliefs are scarce. Only a few official doctrinal statements, their hymnology, and a small portion of the Apostolic Letters6 are accessible. Yet from the available sources one can clearly see that TLOW’s teachings and practices not only contradict those of the original apostles, they resemble the errors of the false teachers against whom the early church stood firm.
Christology in the Early Church
According to historic Christian orthodoxy, there is only one almighty and perfect God, in three coeternal persons or subjects: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of them is truly God, and each is a distinct person from the others, yet they are one in essence, and equal in power and glory.7 This understanding is foundational to the biblical doctrine of the person of Christ Jesus. Scripture plainly teaches both the true humanity (which very few doubt today) and the true deity of Christ. The New Testament teaches that Jesus was born of a woman (Luke 2:7; Matt. 2:1; Gal. 4:4), grew (Luke 2:52), and learned (Heb. 5:8). He experienced hunger (Matt. 4:2) and ate (Luke 24:41–43); He tired (John 4:6) and slept (Mark 4:38), as any other human being. However, we also learn much about His deity. The whole purpose of the gospel of John is to communicate that Jesus is divine. John opened his gospel identifying Jesus as the light, the logos (the word), and that logos as God (John 1:1–18). He then wrote about seven signs and seven “I am” statements. Each of the seven signs bears witness of an escalating power attributable to God alone — each successive miracle, or sign, is more impressive than the one before, from changing water into wine to giving life back to a dead man (see John 2:1–11; 4:46–54; 5:2–9; 6:1–13, 17–21; 9:1–8; 11:1–45). An “I am” statement is meant to emulate the formula found in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, c. 200–100 BC) concerning the name of God, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exod. 3:14).8 Thus, Jesus spoke of Himself as the “I am” not merely once but on seven different occasions (John 6:35–48; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5). In addition, there is the remarkable explicit claim of Christ, speaking to antagonistic Jewish leaders, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” In response to this clear claim to identify Himself with the one true and living God, “they [Jewish leaders] picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:58–59). It is also in this Gospel account that we find the clear and explicit words of the apostle Thomas, who, after seeing the risen Christ, said directly to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Moreover, the apostle Paul referred to Jesus as God in his pastoral epistle to Titus (Titus 2:13) and elsewhere, including Romans 10:13, in which he equated calling on Jesus with calling on God (Joel 2:32).
Thus, in the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260–340 AD) wrote in his Historia Ecclesiae: “[Jesus’] character is twofold: like the head of the body in that he is regarded as God and yet comparable to the feet in that he put on humanity for the sake of our salvation, a man of passions like ours.”9 Ultimately, the Christian church codified the limpid teachings of Scripture concerning the deity of Christ in the Nicene Creed: “We believe….in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made.”10 The New Testament and the ancient ecumenical creeds make it clear that the early church regarded Jesus Christ as truly God and truly man.
Jesus According to the Light of the World
Although we would expect to find the same teaching by those who claim to be the restoration of the early church, the reality differs. Whereas TLOW recognizes that Jesus is human, they do not acknowledge His divinity.11
In an official document meant for training ministers, there is an interesting statement that sheds light on where TLOW stands concerning the person of Jesus: “We worship God because to Him only belongs all adoration, and Jesus Christ out of obedience, not only by the angels but also by man. God authorizes adoration to His Only Begotten because he comes from Him.”12 In the original Spanish in which this text was written, the language carries an implicit distinction between God and Jesus as different beings.13 If this statement were making an intra-Trinitarian Father–Son personhood distinction, that would not present a problem. However, the weight of an ontological distinction is made more onerous by the message of the text itself. In Trinitarian theology, we worship Jesus because He is worthy of worship as God. Otherwise, no matter how elevated a created being Christ were, worshiping Him would be idolatry. What we see in TLOW doctrine is an explicit statement asserting that the only reason for worshiping the created being Jesus is because God has authorized it.
Two years after that document for training ministers was released, TLOW minister Carlos Montemayor, the most recognized TLOW apologist, uploaded a video explaining why TLOW is not Trinitarian, and why we should not regard Jesus as God. He states: “We do not regard Jesus as God, but as the son of God, and this does not mean God the Son.”14
This non-Trinitarian Christology would have been something rare for the early church. History tells us that the early church’s certitude about the deity of Jesus was such that the first of His two natures to be denied by way of heresy was His humanity. This heresy was known as Docetism, and it taught that Jesus, while truly divine, only appeared to be human (see 1 John 1:1–3, 4:1–3; 2 John 7; cf. Col. 1:19; 2:9).15 It wasn’t until the fourth century that the unbiblical and heretical teaching that Jesus does not share the same nature as the Father fully manifested within the church.16 Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, wrote a letter to Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, explaining his belief: “And before he [Jesus] was begotten or created or appointed or established, he did not exist; for he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning. For that reason, we are persecuted, and because we say that he is from what is not.”17 This heresy is known today as Arianism, and we find this same kind of argument made by Mr. Montemayor, which leads him to the conclusion that Jesus is, therefore, not divine.18 Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and led to the composition of the aforementioned Nicene Creed.
The First Apostles and Scripture
Moving on, we need to ask the question: What did the original apostles teach about Scripture? They taught that the Holy Spirit “breathed out” Scripture, including the Old Testament and the (then to be completed) New Testament;19 therefore, Scripture is infallibly authoritative and sufficient for all teaching and practice (2 Tim. 3:16).
The early church recognized the divine authority of some writings traceable to the apostles in the first century. Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15–16). And Paul recognized Luke’s writings as Scripture (Paul cited directly from Luke’s gospel the phrase “the laborer deserves his wages” and regards it as Scripture by the prefatory note “Scripture says” [1 Tim. 5:18; Luke 10:7]). Also, we have the apostles’ testimony recognizing their writings as divinely inspired; this is the case of both Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 14:37–38; 1 Thess. 2:13) and John (cf. 1 John 4:6; Rev. 1:3).
Furthermore, the apostle John sealed the canon of Scripture when he wrote, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev. 22:18–19). Most of the early church regarded this formula as applying not only to the book of Revelation but to the whole Scripture,20 thus, understanding that divine revelation would cease.21 This was to be so not least because God established that new revelation required ratification by the community of apostolic eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ — no longer possible after the death of the apostles.22 This is called the finality of Scripture. We can find examples of the same Johannine formula in the Didache,23 a document dated between the late first and early second centuries. The Didache states, “Thou shall never forsake the commandments of the Lord; but shall keep those things which thou hast received, neither adding to them nor taking away from them” (emphasis added).24
Another important document to consider is the Muratorian Fragment. This is a fragment of text from about the year AD 200, which describes an early list of books regarded as Scripture, and it contains most of the books that we have today as canonical.25 In addition to this, Augustine wrote a book titled On Christian Doctrine in the year AD 397 in which he listed a whole closed canon that contains all of the books we have now;26 and also regarded the canon as closed in his The City of God.27
It is important, however, to state not only what the early church thought about Scripture but also their standard practices and uses of Scripture as well. Luke describes in the book of Acts that the early church was devoted to the apostles’ teachings (Acts 4:42). The apostle Paul commands Timothy to teach and read Scripture publicly (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:1–2). This teaching and preaching of Scripture included expositions of both the Old Testament and the apostles’ writings already recognized as divinely authoritative. We do not have any hint whatsoever from the Bible that writings outside of Scripture were taught in the early Christian gatherings as divinely inspired and infallibly authoritative.28 Furthermore, Scripture contains explicit apostolic commands to avoid silly myths and unprofitable teaching (cf. 1 Tim. 4:7; 3:9). In addition, the Didache also sheds light on Christian services in the early church regarding teaching: “Whosoever therefore shall come and teach you all these things that have been said before [Scripture based teachings], receive him; but if the teacher himself be perverted and teach a different doctrine to the destruction thereof, hear him not…not everyone who speaketh in the Spirit is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord.”29
Long before the entire canon of Scripture was officially recognized in the fourth century, the early church regarded exclusively first-century apostolic-authored or apostolic-approved writings as divinely inspired. The early church also acknowledged that divine revelation ended with the death of John; and they did not teach anything outside those writings as divinely inspired and infallibly authoritative.
The Light of the World and New Revelation
The official statement of TLOW says that “Scripture is a rule of faith, useful to teach men the path onto salvation.”30 For TLOW, Scripture is not the only divinely inspired and infallible rule of faith, but rather a rule of faith. They argue for ongoing special revelation. The account of the election of each of their apostles is an excellent example of this continuing revelation, as their leaders have always claimed to be called directly by the audible voice of God.31 Also, recall the documents mentioned above, denominated the Apostolic Letters. In practice, TLOW treats these collections of teachings from their leaders as inspired text. In several public videos of TLOW official services, we see how different ministers set aside their Bibles to preach directly from these new Apostolic Letters.32
There is also a video of TLOW’s leader, Naasón Joaquín (the Apostle), preaching extemporaneously without reference to any biblical text, claiming that the church is the seal of his apostleship, since it is said to be Christ himself who has put this thought in the believers’ hearts.33 There is a hymn composed for Naasón titled “Blessed Voice of God” that confirms this teaching:
Blessed voice of God that I heard on my heart, / Which told me: There is a Man of God /…And you will love Apostle Naasón, / Because it is I, who send him for consolation. / …When He came in, the ministers of the people / And all of his Church shouted in one voice: / You are the Apostle sent by God, / And He has manifested this on our heart. / And today we confirm that you are the Apostle of God, / Since we already love you in our hearts.34 (Emphasis added.)
Now, this kind of practice would have been familiar to the early church. However, that was because the early church had to fight against it. Several groups of Gnostics made similar claims. Indeed, while Gnosticism is abundantly diverse in its doctrines, there is one common feature that characterizes all. “In Gnosticism, saving gnosis [knowledge] comes by revelation from a transcendent realm, mediated by a revealer.”35 Because ongoing divine revelation was the hallmark of Gnosticism, various movements produced a surfeit of writings. The Nag Hammadi Library alone, a collection of Gnostic writings found in Egypt, consists of 12 codices and eight leaves, containing 52 separate tractates.36 Some of the works have been classified as Christian Gnosticism. Such is the case with the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Interpretation of Knowledge, among others.37 All of this is something to keep in mind as we continue with the next doctrine.
Were the Apostles Saviors of the Early Church?
Let us now come to our last question: were the original apostles worshiped as saviors in the early church? Whereas the apostles were completely aware that the power of the Holy Spirit was upon them, and that their teaching was divinely inspired, there is not one verse in Scripture that displays any of the early apostles as willing to accept praise and worship. In fact, the apostles explicitly refused to receive worship.
As Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house after being instructed through a vision, Luke recounts, “Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man’” (Acts 10:25–26). The term for worship in the original Greek is proskuneo, which means to go on one’s knees face down as a display of honor and reverence. A similar situation in Acts occurred when Paul, who was with Barnabas, brought Christ’s healing to a lame man in Athens. As a result, the crowds shouted, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” and they attempted to offer animal sacrifices to the apostles. But the apostles “tore their garments,” declaring, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God.” Luke goes on to explain, “Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them” (see Acts 14:8–18).
In these passages, people offer adoration and worship to Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. Peter was worshiped through an exceeding reverence paid to him. Paul and Barnabas were worshiped through shouted praises and attempted sacrificial offering. Yet the apostles refused to receive adoration and worship, giving the same rationale: they were merely human beings.
It should be noted, too, that even holy angels refuse worship. As the apostle John received the last revelations from the glorious angel, he explained, “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God’” (Rev. 22:8–9, emphasis added). Here, again, the word translated worship is proskuneo. Since even the angels acknowledge their unworthiness to receive worship, we may conclude that the unified apostolic teaching in the first century was that no creature should receive worship. Nevertheless, the practices we observe in the life of TLOW are entirely different. Hymns and praises are sung week after week to Naasón. Why?
Naasón Joaquín, Savior of the Church
In TLOW’s theology, Naasón Joaquín is a savior figure. Since he has been “chosen by God” to preach the “unique message of true salvation” for the church, he functions as a mediator between the church and Jesus Christ.38 Following this logic, anyone who desires salvation needs Jesus, the mediator between God and man, but one also needs Naasón as a mediator between man and Jesus. Therefore, Naasón plays a primary role in the salvation of the world. Outside of him, there is no hope. Hence, the hymnology we find among TLOW is designed to extoll these properties of an apostle-savior:
#420 Oh Holy Apostle: / “Oh, holy Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ / You are theAngel that God has sent, / To preach the gospel of eternal life, / You have justice and authority to save humankind, / God gives you his strength in spiritual work.”39 (Emphasis added.)
An Honor to Know You: / “With a great King’s scepter, he [the Apostle] governed his people, / The grace God gave him overflowed upon all, / Come ye thirsty and drink from this divine spring.”40 (Emphasis added.)
Consolation of God: / “You ask me [God] for comfort, / but that comfort is you [Naasón].”41 (Emphasis added.)
#227 It Was on April the 6th: / “We have all witnessed the Gloryof Christ Jesus, / God’s mighty power descended with great love; / In the Apostle that He has manifested.”42 (Emphasis added.)
#310 People Ask Me: / “One day I beheld the light of the Sun, / That was shining with great splendor, / I felt so joyful while seeing, / The greatness that God manifested. / That light is an Apostle of the Lord.”43 (Emphasis added.)
There are more than thirty official hymns and songs like this written for the Apostle. The hymnology of TLOW makes manifest that they regard their leader as a savior; and they ascribe to him titles such as “The Angel of the Lord,” “The Light,” “The Consolation of God,” “The Greatness of God,” “Divine Spring,” “The Glory of Jesus Christ,” among others. The Bible ascribes titles like these only to Jesus. The early church apostles would have never accepted such titles and praises.
Although the official teaching of TLOW is that these are not praises of worship, but only due honor,44 let us remember three things. First, the verb proskuneo, even though it is translated as worship, carries this connotation of high honor as the motive behind the action of worship. In this sense, regardless of semantic distinctions, there is no real difference between this hymn-singing and title-giving to Naasón and those actions that the apostles refused to receive. Second, in the case of the incident with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14, the term for worship is not used. Paul could have argued that what the people were doing was not real worship. Even like Christ, he could have said that the application of the term “god” to humans is not unbiblical (cf. John 10:33–36; Ps. 82:6). However, this was not the case. Paul recognized the action of misdirected worship and condemned it without using the specific term. Third, recall that TLOW offers praise and adoration to Christ (who is a creature in their view) out of obedience, and not because Christ is intrinsically worthy of worship as God, despite biblical prohibitions against the worship of creatures45 and commandments to worship Christ as God.46 In fact, there is little distinction between the praise and adoration TLOW offers to Christ and the praise and honor they offer to Naasón, which not only lacks any scriptural foundation, but which Scripture prohibits.
Several biblical characters desired to receive worship. For example, Satan, at Jesus’ temptation (Matt. 4:9). Also, in the book of Acts, as King Herod delivered a speech, people began calling him god. But in that moment he was struck dead because “he did not give God the glory” (Acts 12:22–23). Another such individual is Simon Magus. Whereas the Bible says very little about him, we know that many people called him “The Great Power of God” (Acts 8:10 NASB), and we have extra-biblical sources that position him as one of the earliest Christian Gnostics.47
Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was a famous fourth-century Christian Gnostic, who, like Naasón, presented himself as the salvation of his followers. He also was called “elect,” “the angel of the Lord,” “the light,” and his followers composed hymns of praise to him.48 Here is an example of a hymn to Mani: “Hymn in Praise of Mani: / ‘You have come with salvation, / oh Savior of our souls, / Lord Mani, Apostle of Light! / You have come with salvation, / oh Redeemer of our souls! / You have come with salvation, oh great Savior! / You have come with salvation, oh great Shepherd!” (emphasis added).49 The similarities in tone, language, and titles applied to Mani and Naasón are remarkable.
Finally, by adding another savior to the equation, TLOW departs further from the original gospel message. Salvation is no longer through Christ alone but through Christ and Naasón. The glory is no more for God alone, but also for the created Christ,50 and for Naasón as well. The apostle Paul, however, makes evident that there is only one mediator between God and man, and he is not Naasón Joaquín, but the God–Man Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). Usurping the place of the one and only Savior fulfills again the prophecy: “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:11). And fans into flame Paul’s warning to the Galatians: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (1:8).
So, are we to celebrate the growth of this movement in Mexico, the United States, and the world? No, we are not. As respectful as we may be, we cannot call Christian any organization with a different God (non-triune), a different Jesus (not divine), and a different gospel (mediated through Naasón). However, let us not fall into despair either. My intention behind comparing TLOW practices with those of ancient Christian opponents is to show that most of these heresies and errors are long-known enemies of the Christian Church. There is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). And yet, even when ancient heresies continue to abound, the Church of Christ stands. Why? Because Christ promised to build His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). What are we to do then? As long as the Church of Christ is still on Earth, we need to keep training ourselves to discern, identify, and give response to every unbiblical doctrine with kindness and love, so that more people will come to know the truth of the gospel, and worship none else than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — the one true and only wise God.
Alberto Paredes, MD, is currently working to earn his MDiv and MATS degrees at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte. He also is chairman and author at Enviados México Ministries.
“Jesus doesn’t encounter Matthew and John — or you and me — and ask, ‘What do you know?’ He doesn’t even ask, ‘What do you believe?’ He asks, ‘What do you want?’ This is the most incisive, piercing question Jesus can ask of us precisely because we are what we want.” —from You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith