October 9, 2016 (KSYC Broadcast) * Download this post (PDF)
In December 2015, a professor at Wheaton College in Chicago, a prestigious Christian university, explained why she wore the Muslim hijab, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” In recent years, she was not the only Christian teacher who has said the same thing. She mentioned Pope Francis. Mother Theresa, who was recently canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a “Saint,” has said that her mission was to make people better better Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, implying that all people will be saved by God, no matter who or what they believed.
But is this what the Holy Scripture of Christians say? Christians must be clear concerning its faith. Christians worship only the God of both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible, the only one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, God revealed himself to mankind as the eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just and good God. And he also revealed to his people Israel his salvation plan in the Person of a coming Messiah. All the religious feasts and ceremonies of Israel were foreshadows of this coming Messiah.
In the fullness of time, 2,000 years ago, God the Father sent God his Son into the world as the Messiah (Christ). The Second Person of the Trinitarian God assumed human flesh and blood when he was born of a virgin woman as Jesus. This Jesus is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made” (Nicene Creed). This Jesus is the God-Man, true God and true man, and therefore, worthy to the worshiped.
Israel never accepted nor believed in Jesus as the Son of God worthy to be worshiped. The only God for them is the God of the Old Testament, so they do not accept the New Testament as God’s Holy Word, and they do not worship Jesus Christ as God. Muslims agree with the Jews. So it is astonishing that many Christians would agree that Muslim, Jews and Christians worship the same God. It is wholly unbiblical for Christians to agree with this statement. Therefore, it is impossible that Jews, Muslims and Christians worship the same God, for Christians worship Jesus Christ as God, Lord and Savior, while Jews and Muslims do not.
And it would be most profitable for Christians to be able to define, state, and firmly believe in this, and why they believe these doctrines. As the Apostle Peter says, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15). He exhorts Christians to always be ready to defend their faith when they are ridiculed and persecuted. But they have to “do it with gentleness and respect,” not arrogantly and disrespectfully.
And it would also be wise for Christians to be able to defend their faith against other religions by knowing what these other religions believe and why. So today, we will briefly look at what other major religions believe. We will focus on Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Unlike any other world religion, Judaism shares common roots with Christianity through its inspired Scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament. Jews trace their origins all the way back to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus himself and the first disciples, were themselves Jews who were descendants of Abraham.
Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah, since they don’t believe that a man can also be God. For them, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—one God in Three Persons—amounts to polytheism, that is, Christians worship three Gods. For most non-Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity is incomprehensible. Almost all the writers of the New Testament were written to Jews to convince them that Jesus is the Divine Messiah, and not merely a good teacher. So Jews today are still awaiting the coming of the Messiah.
Islam, the second largest religion in the world after Christianity, is found not only in the Middle East but throughout the world. Although historically, discussion of Islam begins with Muhammad (ca. 570-632), Muslims are convinced that Islam is God’s eternal religion for all humankind and that Muhammad was the last and greatest in a long line of prophets.
Born and raised in Mecca, one of the most important cities in Arabia, Muhammad was troubled by the polytheism and superstition in his land. He was convinced that he was a “messenger of Allah,” the only true God. The god Allah gave him revelations which were written down in the Qur’an. He claimed to be the last of God’s prophets, which included the man Jesus. For him, the Hebrew and Christian Bible corrupted the true Word of God, the Qur’an.
But the people of Mecca opposed his teachings, so he and his followers relocated to the city of Medina. But in 630, he returned with his forces to Mecca, captured it without a fight, and made it the center of his religion.
The religious, intellectual, and social life of devout Muslims is structured around the “Five Pillars”: (1) the “witness” of the basic creed of Islam (“There is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet”); (2) prayer at specific hours of the day; (3) fasting; (4) almsgiving; and (5) the pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam teaches salvation is by works, based strictly on submission to Allah and faithful adherence to the teachings of Islam. On judgment day, some will be admitted to Paradise, others will be consigned to Hell.
Islam spread through military conquest, because this is what the Qur’an teaches. Islam sees the world divided into two groups: Muslims and non-Muslims. The non-Muslims are enemies who must be subjugated by force, and conquered people who do not want to be converted must be killed by the sword. Because jihad is a doctrine of war and terror on non-Muslims, terrorism is a rightful duty among devout Muslims. Jews and Christians are “infidels” who are under the penalty of death.
Hinduism is a family of diverse religious traditions that are the product of some 4,000 years of development in India. There is no single founder of Hinduism, and it does not have a single, monolithic creed. A Hindu may believe in one god, many gods, or no god. Some Hindus think of the religious “ultimate” as a personal being; others regard it as a non-personal reality. Hindus accept the authority of the Vedas (ca. 1400 and 400 b.c.) as sacred literature, belief in reincarnation of the soul in accordance with karma, and the importance of the caste system.
According to the doctrine of reincarnation, persons are continually being reborn as the the soul passes from one life to another. A person’s present life is one in an unimaginably long series of past and future lives. Rebirths are regulated by karma, a universal principle that determines current and future states on the basis of past actions and motivations. The cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is continuously repeated, and the traditional soteriological goal of Hinduism is liberation from these rebirths through breaking of karma. Hinduism also teaches that good works is the means of salvation.
The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563-483 b.c.), also called “the Buddha,” was born in India. To find the cause of suffering and pain, he rejected his wealthy lifestyle and became a wandering ascetic. After much meditation and ascetic discipline, Gautama experienced an “enlightenment.” For the next 40 years of his live, he traveled throughout India preaching the dharma (“truth”) and attracting a large following.
The core teaching of the Buddha (“enlightened one”) is the Four Noble Truths. The first states that all existence is characterized by “suffering,” or “discontent”). The second holds that the root cause of suffering is “desire.” The third says that when “desire” ceases, then “suffering” ceases as well. The fourth truth sets out ideals in moral self-discipline, meditation, and wisdom that provide the way to eliminate desire and suffering.
At death, the accumulated karmic effects of actions from this life, not the soul, passes on to the next life. This karmic effects produce in the next life the mistaken and unreal perception of an enduring person. But only nirvana is permanent, unconditioned, and ultimately real. Nirvana is not heaven, but a state of utter bliss realized when the fires of “desire” and rebirth are both eliminated.
What Does the Bible Have to Say About These Religions?
So we see that most Christian doctrines are diametrically opposed to the doctrines of all these major world religions. Christianity is fully distinct from other religions. No other religion believe in God as a Trinity—one God in Three Persons. No other religion believe that all human beings are sinful because of the Fall of Adam, and that sin is the root of all suffering and corruption. Death is also the result of sin, and happens only once, and then the Judgment. While all other religions teach salvation by good works, Christianity teaches salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone, who gave himself as a sacrifice for all the sins of all believers. Faith alone in Jesus alone is the only way to heaven. The cornerstone of Christian doctrine is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and that he lives forever. What religion in the world has a living God as leader? Finally, Christianity also teaches that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.
Therefore, it is entirely impossible that Christians and other religions have the same God and worship the same God.