Questions About Cults and Religions People are Really Asking: The TOP Most Frequently Asked Questions About Cults and Religions
Have Questions, Find Answers on Otakada.org – About Cults and Religions people are really asking – Daily, people turn to the Internet to find answers to their questions about spiritual matters. Topics related to spirituality are the second-most searched subjects online. Sadly, websites that present false teachings far outnumber those that proclaim the truth of God’s Word. We will provide answers as the Holy Spirit leads us from a biblical perspective. You will also need to pray to secure answers to any question you may have because one of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth – John 16:13. Today, we look at Questions About Cults and Religions people are really asking and questions that relate to this with biblical answers.. Enjoy
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But before we answer questions about Cults and Religions, hereunder is the most important question that has to do with your eternal destiny with answer for your necessary action:
Question: What does it mean to accept Jesus as your personal Savior?
Answer: Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? To properly understand this question, you must first understand the terms “Jesus Christ,” “personal,” and “Savior.”
Who is Jesus Christ? Many people will acknowledge Jesus Christ as a good man, a great teacher, or even a prophet of God. These things are definitely true of Jesus, but they do not fully define who He truly is. The Bible tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh, God in human form (see John 1:1, 14). God came to earth to teach us, heal us, correct us, forgive us—and die for us! Jesus Christ is God, the Creator, the sovereign Lord. Have you accepted this Jesus?
What is a Savior, and why do we need a Savior? The Bible tells us that we have all sinned; we have all committed evil acts (Romans 3:10-18). As a result of our sin, we deserve God’s anger and judgment. The only just punishment for sins committed against an infinite and eternal God is an infinite punishment (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:11-15). That is why we need a Savior!
Jesus Christ came to earth and died in our place. Jesus’ death was an infinite payment for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins (Romans 5:8). Jesus paid the price so that we would not have to. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead proved that His death was sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins. That is why Jesus is the one and only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12)! Are you trusting in Jesus as your Savior?
Is Jesus your “personal” Savior? Many people view Christianity as attending church, performing rituals, and/or not committing certain sins. That is not Christianity. True Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Accepting Jesus as your personal Savior means placing your own personal faith and trust in Him. No one is saved by the faith of others. No one is forgiven by doing certain deeds. The only way to be saved is to personally accept Jesus as your Savior, trusting in His death as the payment for your sins and His resurrection as your guarantee of eternal life (John 3:16). Is Jesus personally your Savior?
If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, say the following words to God. Remember, saying this prayer or any other prayer will not save you. Only believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross for you can save you from sin. This prayer is simply a way to express to God your faith in Him and thank Him for providing for your salvation. “God, I know that I have sinned against You and deserve punishment. But I believe Jesus Christ took the punishment I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. I receive Your offer of forgiveness and place my trust in You for salvation. I accept Jesus as my personal Savior! Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness— the gift of eternal life! Amen!”
Now, Top Questions About Cults and Religions People are Really Asking:
What is Christianity and what do Christians believe?
What is the definition of a cult?
What is the best way to evangelize someone who is in a cult or false religion?
How can I recognize a false teacher/false prophet?
Should Christians be tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs?
Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and what are their beliefs?
Is Mormonism a cult? What do Mormons believe?
What is Buddhism and what do Buddhists believe?
What is Hinduism and what do Hindus believe?
What is Islam, and what do Muslims believe?
What is Judaism and what do Jews believe?
What is Christian Gnosticism?
What is Christian Science?
What is the Eastern Orthodox Church and what are the beliefs of Orthodox Christians? What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Is Scientology Christian or a cult?
Why are there so many religions? Do all religions lead to God?
With all of the different religions, how can I know which one is correct?
Question: What is Christianity and what do Christians believe?
Answer: The core beliefs of Christianity are summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:1- 4. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was resurrected, and thereby offers salvation to all who will receive Him in faith. Unique among all other faiths, Christianity is more about a relationship than religious practices. Instead of adhering to a list of “do’s and don’ts,” the goal of a Christian is to cultivate a close walk with God. That relationship is made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Beyond these core beliefs, there are many other items that are, or at least should be, indicative of what Christianity is and what Christianity believes. Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, “God-breathed” Word of God and that its teaching is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Christians believe in one God that exists in three persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
Christians believe that mankind was created specifically to have a relationship with God, but sin separates all men from God (Romans 3:23; 5:12). Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ walked this earth, fully God, and yet fully man (Philippians 2:6-11), and died on the cross. Christians believe that after His death, Christ was buried, He rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for the believers forever (Hebrews 7:25). Christianity proclaims that Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to completely pay the sin debt owed by all men and this is what restores the broken relationship between God and man (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:10; Romans 5:8; 6:23).
Christianity teaches that in order to be saved and be granted entrance into heaven after death, one must place one’s faith entirely in the finished work of Christ on the cross. If we believe that Christ died in our place and paid the price of our own sins, and rose again, then we are saved. There is nothing that anyone can do to earn salvation. We cannot be “good enough” to please God on our own, because we are all sinners (Isaiah 53:6; 64:6-7). There is nothing more to be done, because Christ has done all the work! When He was on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning that the work of redemption was completed.
According to Christianity, salvation is freedom from the old sin nature and freedom to pursue a right relationship with God. Where we were once slaves to sin, we are now slaves to Christ (Romans 6:15-22). As long as believers live on this earth in their sinful bodies, they will engage in a constant struggle with sin. However, Christians can have victory in the struggle with sin by studying and applying God’s Word in their lives and being controlled by the Holy Spirit—that is, submitting to the Spirit’s leading in everyday circumstances.
So, while many religious systems require that a person do or not do certain things, Christianity is about believing that Christ died on the cross as payment for our own sins and rose again. Our sin debt is paid and we can have fellowship with God. We can have victory over our sin nature and walk in fellowship and obedience with God. That is true biblical Christianity.
Question: What is the definition of a cult?
Answer: When we hear the word “cult,” we often think of a group that worships Satan, sacrifices animals, or takes part in evil, bizarre, and pagan rituals. However, in reality, most cults appear much more innocent. The specific Christian definition of a cult is “a religious group that denies one or more of the fundamentals of biblical truth.” In simpler terms, a cult is a group that teaches something that will cause a person to remain unsaved if he/she believes it. As distinct from a religion, a cult is a group that claims to be part of the religion, yet denies essential truth(s) of that religion. A Christian cult is a group that denies one or more of the fundamental truths of Christianity, while still claiming to be Christian.
The two most common teachings of cults are that Jesus was not God and that salvation is not by faith alone. A denial of the deity of Christ results in Jesus’ death not being a sufficient payment for our sins. A denial of salvation by faith alone results in salvation being achieved by our own works, something the Bible vehemently and consistently denies. The two most well-known examples of cults are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Both groups claim to be Christian, yet both deny the deity of Christ and salvation by faith alone. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe many things that are in agreement with or similar to what the Bible teaches. However, the fact that they deny the deity of Christ and preach a salvation by works qualifies them as a cult. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and members of other cults are “good people” who genuinely believe they hold the truth. As Christians, our hope and prayer must be that many people involved in the cults will see through the lies and will be drawn to the truth of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Question: What is the best way to evangelize someone who is in a cult or false religion?
Answer: The most important thing we can do for those involved in cults or false religions is pray for them. We need to pray that God would change their hearts and open their eyes to the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). We need to pray that God would convince them of their need for salvation through Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Without the power of God and conviction of the Holy Spirit, we will never succeed in convincing anyone of the truth (John 16:7-11).
We also need to be living a godly Christian life, so those trapped in cults and religions can see the change God has made in our own lives (1 Peter 3:1-2). We need to pray for wisdom in how we can minister to them in a powerful way (James 1:5). After all of this, we must be bold in our actual sharing of the gospel. We must proclaim the message of salvation through Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9- 10). We always need to be prepared to defend our faith (1 Peter 3:15), but we must do so with gentleness and respect. We can proclaim the doctrine correctly, win the war of words, and still impede the cause by an attitude of angry superiority.
Ultimately, we must leave the salvation of those to whom we witness up to God. It is God’s power and grace that saves people, not our efforts. While it is good and wise to be prepared to give a vigorous defense and have knowledge of false beliefs, neither of these things will result in the conversion of those trapped in the lies of the cults and false religions. The best we can do is pray for them, witness to them, and live the Christian life in front of them, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do the work of drawing, convincing, and converting.
Question: How can I recognize a false teacher/false prophet?
Answer: Jesus warned us that “false Christs and false prophets” will come and will attempt to deceive even God’s elect (Matthew 24:23-27; see also 2 Peter 3:3 and Jude 17-18). The best way to guard yourself against falsehood and false teachers is to know the truth. To spot a counterfeit, study the real thing. Any believer who “correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and who makes a careful study of the Bible can identify false doctrine. For example, a believer who has read the activities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:16-17 will immediately question any doctrine that denies the Trinity. Therefore, step one is to study the Bible and judge all teaching by what the Scripture says.
Jesus said “a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). When looking for “fruit,” here are three specific tests to apply to any teacher to determine the accuracy of his or her teaching:
1. What does this teacher say about Jesus? In Matthew 16:15-16, Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and for this answer Peter is called “blessed.” In 2 John 9, we read, “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” In other words, Jesus Christ and His work of redemption is of utmost importance; beware of anyone who denies that Jesus is equal with God, who downplays Jesus’ sacrificial death, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity. First John 2:22 says, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.”
2. Does this teacher preach the gospel? The gospel is defined as the good news concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). As nice as they sound, the statements “God loves you,” “God wants us to feed the hungry,” and “God wants you to be wealthy” are not the complete message of the gospel. As Paul warns in Galatians 1:7, “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” No one, not even a great preacher, has the right to change the message that God gave us. “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:9).
3. Does this teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord? Speaking of false teachers, Jude 11 says, “They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” In other words, a false teacher can be known by his pride (Cain’s rejection of God’s plan), greed (Balaam’s prophesying for money), and rebellion (Korah’s promotion of himself over Moses). Jesus said to beware of such people and that we would know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20).
For further study, review those books of the Bible that were written specifically to combat false teaching within the church: Galatians, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude. It is often difficult to spot a false teacher/false prophet. Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and his ministers masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:15). Only by being thoroughly familiar with the truth will we be able to recognize a counterfeit.
Question: Should Christians be tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs?
Answer: In our age of “tolerance,” moral relativism is touted as the supreme virtue. Every philosophy, idea, and faith system has equal merit, says the relativist, and is worthy of equal respect. Those who favor one faith system over another or—even worse—claim a knowledge of absolute truth are considered narrow-minded, unenlightened, or even bigoted.
Of course, different religions make mutually exclusive claims, and the relativist is unable to logically reconcile outright contradictions. For example, the Bible makes the claim that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), while some Eastern religions teach reincarnation. So, do we die once or many times? Both teachings cannot be true. The relativist essentially redefines truth in order to create a paradoxical world where multiple, contradictory “truths” can coexist.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). A Christian has accepted Truth, not just as a concept, but as a Person. This acknowledgment of Truth distances the Christian from the so-called “open-mindedness” of the day. The Christian has publicly acknowledged that Jesus rose from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). If he truly believes in the resurrection, how can he be “open-minded” concerning an unbeliever’s assertion that Jesus never rose again? For a Christian to deny the clear teaching of God’s Word would indeed be a betrayal of God.
Note that we have cited the fundamentals of the faith in our examples so far. Some things (such as the bodily resurrection of Christ) are non-negotiable. Other things may be open to debate, such as who wrote the book of Hebrews or the nature of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” We should avoid becoming bogged down in disputations over secondary matters (2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9).
Even when disputing/dialoguing over prominent doctrines, a Christian should exercise restraint and show respect. It is one thing to disagree with a position; it is quite another to disparage a person. We must hold fast to the Truth while showing compassion to those who question it. Like Jesus, we must be full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). Peter strikes a good balance between having the answer and having humility: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Question: Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and what are their beliefs?
Answer: The sect known today as the Jehovah’s Witnesses started out in Pennsylvania in 1870 as a Bible class led by Charles Taze Russell. Russell named his group the “Millennial Dawn Bible Study.” Charles T. Russell began writing a series of books he called “The Millennial Dawn,” which stretched to six volumes before his death and contained much of the theology Jehovah’s Witnesses now hold. After Russell’s death in 1916, Judge J. F. Rutherford, Russell’s friend and successor, wrote the seventh and final volume of the “Millennial Dawn” series, “The Finished Mystery,” in 1917. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society was founded in 1886 and quickly became the vehicle through which the “Millennial Dawn” movement began distributing their views to others. The group was known as the “Russellites” until 1931 when, due to a split in the organization, it was renamed the “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The group from which it split became known as the “Bible students.”
What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe? Close scrutiny of their doctrinal position on such subjects as the deity of Christ, salvation, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, and the atonement shows beyond a doubt that they do not hold to orthodox Christian positions on these subjects. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus is Michael the archangel, the highest created being. This contradicts many Scriptures which clearly declare Jesus to be God (John 1:1,14, 8:58, 10:30). Jehovah’s Witnesses believe salvation is obtained by a combination of faith, good works, and obedience. This contradicts countless scriptures which declare salvation to be received by grace through faith (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the Trinity, believing Jesus to be a created being and the Holy Spirit to essentially be the inanimate power of God. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the concept of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and instead hold to a ransom theory, that Jesus’ death was a ransom payment for Adam’s sin.
How do the Jehovah’s Witnesses justify these unbiblical doctrines? First, they claim that the church has corrupted the Bible over the centuries; thus, they have re-translated the Bible into what they call the New World Translation. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society altered the text of the Bible to make it fit their false doctrine, rather than basing their doctrine on what the Bible actually teaches. The New World Translation has gone through numerous editions, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses discover more and more Scriptures that contradict their doctrines.
The Watchtower bases its beliefs and doctrines on the original and expanded teachings of Charles Taze Russell, Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford, and their successors. The governing body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the only body in the cult that claims authority to interpret Scripture. In other words, what the governing body says concerning any scriptural passage is viewed as the last word, and independent thinking is strongly discouraged. This is in direct opposition to Paul’s admonition to Timothy (and to us as well) to study to be approved by God, so that we need not be ashamed as we correctly handle the Word of God. This admonition, found in 2 Timothy 2:15, is a clear instruction from God to each of His children to be like the Berean Christians, who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things they were being taught lined up with the Word.
There is probably no religious group that is more faithful than the Jehovah’s Witnesses at getting their message out. Unfortunately, the message is full of distortions, deceptions, and false doctrine. May God open the eyes of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the truth of the gospel and the true teaching of God’s Word.
Question: Is Mormonism a cult? What do Mormons believe?
Answer: The Mormon religion (Mormonism), whose followers are known as Mormons and Latter Day Saints (LDS), was founded less than two hundred years ago by a man named Joseph Smith. He claimed to have received a personal visit from God the Father and Jesus Christ who told him that all churches and their creeds were an abomination. Joseph Smith then set out to begin a brand- new religion that claims to be the “only true church on earth.” The problem with Mormonism is that it contradicts, modifies, and expands on the Bible. Christians have no reason to believe that the Bible is not true and adequate. To truly believe in and trust God means to believe in His Word, and all Scripture is inspired by God, which means it comes from Him (2 Timothy 3:16).
Mormons believe that there are in fact four sources of divinely inspired words, not just one: 1) The Bible “as far as it is translated correctly.” Which verses are considered incorrectly translated is not always made clear. 2) The Book of Mormon, which was “translated” by Smith and published in 1830. Smith claimed it is the “most correct book” on earth and that a person can get closer to God by following its precepts “than by any other book.” 3) The Doctrine and Covenants, containing a collection of modern revelations regarding the “Church of Jesus Christ as it has been restored.” 4) The Pearl of the Great Price, which is considered by Mormons to “clarify” doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and adds its own information about the earth’s creation.
Mormons believe the following about God: He has not always been the Supreme Being of the universe, but attained that status through righteous living and persistent effort. They believe God the Father has a “body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” Though abandoned by modern Mormon leaders, Brigham Young taught that Adam actually was God and the father of Jesus Christ. In contrast, Christians know this about God: there is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8), He always has existed and always will exist (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17), and He was not created but is the Creator (Genesis 1; Psalm 24:1; Isaiah 37:16). He is perfect, and no one else is equal to Him (Psalm 86:8; Isaiah 40:25). God the Father is not a man, nor was He ever (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hosea 11:9). He is Spirit (John 4:24), and Spirit is not made of flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).
Mormons believe that there are different levels or kingdoms in the afterlife:
the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, the telestial kingdom, and outer darkness. Where mankind will end up depends on what they believe and do in this life. In contrast, the Bible tells us that after death, we go to heaven or hell based on whether or not we had faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. To be absent from our bodies means, as believers, we are with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Unbelievers are sent to hell or the place of the dead (Luke 16:22-23). When Jesus comes the second time, we will receive new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-54). There will be a new heaven and new earth for believers (Revelation 21:1), and unbelievers will be thrown into an everlasting lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). There is no second chance for redemption after death (Hebrews 9:27).
Mormon leaders have taught that Jesus’ incarnation was the result of a physical relationship between God the Father and Mary. Mormons believe Jesus is a god, but that any human can also become a god. Mormonism teaches that salvation can be earned by a combination of faith and good works. Contrary to this, Christians historically have taught that no one can achieve the status of God —only He is holy (1 Samuel 2:2). We can only be made holy in God’s sight through faith in Him (1 Corinthians 1:2). Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16), is the only one ever to have lived a sinless, blameless life, and now has the highest place of honor in heaven (Hebrews 7:26). Jesus and God are one in essence, Jesus being the only One existing before physical birth (John 1:1-8; 8:56). Jesus gave Himself to us as a sacrifice, God raised Him from the dead, and one day everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:6-11). Jesus tells us it is impossible to get to heaven by our own works and that only by faith in Him is it possible (Matthew 19:26). We all deserve eternal punishment for our sins, but God’s infinite love and grace have allowed us a way out. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Clearly, there is only one way to receive salvation and that is to know God and His Son, Jesus (John 17:3). It is not done by works, but by faith (Romans 1:17; 3:28). We can receive this gift no matter who we are or what we have done (Romans 3:22). “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Although Mormons are usually friendly, loving, and kind people, they are deceived by a false religion that distorts the nature of God, the Person of Jesus Christ, and the means of salvation.
Question: What is Buddhism and what do Buddhists believe?
Answer: Buddhism is one of the leading world religions in terms of adherents,
geographical distribution, and socio-cultural influence. While largely an “Eastern” religion, it is becoming increasingly popular and influential in the Western world. It is a unique world religion in its own right, though it has much in common with Hinduism in that both teach Karma (cause-and-effect ethics), Maya (the illusory nature of the world), and Samsara (the cycle of reincarnation). Buddhists believe that the ultimate goal in life is to achieve “enlightenment” as they perceive it.
Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Guatama, was born into royalty in India around 600 B C As the story goes, he lived luxuriously, with little exposure to the outside world. His parents intended for him to be spared from the influence of religion and protected from pain and suffering. However, it was not long before his shelter was penetrated, and he had visions of an aged man, a sick man, and a corpse. His fourth vision was of a peaceful ascetic monk (one who denies luxury and comfort). Seeing the monk’s peacefulness, he decided to become an ascetic himself. He abandoned his life of wealth and affluence to pursue enlightenment through austerity. He was skilled at this sort of self-mortification and intense meditation. He was a leader among his peers. Eventually, his efforts culminated in one final gesture. He “indulged” himself with one bowl of rice and then sat beneath a fig tree (also called the Bodhi tree) to meditate till he either reached “enlightenment” or died trying. Despite his travails and temptations, by the next morning, he had achieved enlightenment. Thus, he became known as the ‘enlightened one’ or the ‘Buddha.’ He took his new realization and began to teach his fellow monks, with whom he had already gained great influence. Five of his peers became the first of his disciples.
What had Gautama discovered? Enlightenment lay in the “middle way,” not in
luxurious indulgence or self-mortification. Moreover, he discovered what would
become known as the ‘Four Noble Truths’—
1) to live is to suffer (Dukha), 2) suffering is caused by desire (Tanha, or “attachment”), 3) one can eliminate suffering by eliminating all attachments, and 4) this is achieved by following the noble eightfold path. The “eightfold path” consists of having a right 1) view, 2) intention, 3) speech, 4) action, 5) livelihood (being a monk), 6) effort (properly direct energies), 7) mindfulness (meditation), and 8) concentration (focus). The Buddha’s teachings were collected into the Tripitaka or “three baskets.”
Behind these distinguishing teachings are teachings common to Hinduism, namely reincarnation, karma, Maya, and a tendency to understand reality as being pantheistic in its orientation. Buddhism also offers an elaborate theology of deities and exalted beings. However, like Hinduism, Buddhism can be hard to pin down as to its view of God. Some streams of Buddhism could legitimately be called atheistic, while others could be called pantheistic, and still others theistic, such as Pure Land Buddhism. Classical Buddhism, however, tends to be silent on the reality of an ultimate being and is therefore considered atheistic.
Buddhism today is quite diverse. It is roughly divisible into the two broad categories of Theravada (small vessel) and Mahayana (large vessel). Theravada is the monastic form which reserves ultimate enlightenment and nirvana for monks, while Mahayana Buddhism extends this goal of enlightenment to the laity as well, that is, to non-monks. Within these categories can be found numerous branches including Tendai, Vajrayana, Nichiren, Shingon, Pure Land, Zen, and Ryobu, among others. Therefore it is important for outsiders seeking to understand Buddhism not to presume to know all the details of a particular school of Buddhism when all they have studied is classical, historic Buddhism.
The Buddha never considered himself to be a god or any type of divine being. Rather, he considered himself to be a ‘way-shower’ for others. Only after his death was he exalted to god status by some of his followers, though not all of his followers viewed him that way. With Christianity however, it is stated quite clearly in the Bible that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 3:17: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’”) and that He and God are one (John 10:30). One cannot rightfully consider himself or herself a Christian without professing faith in Jesus as God.
Jesus taught that He is the way and not simply one who showed the way as John 14:6 confirms: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” By the time Guatama died, Buddhism had become a major influence in India; three hundred years later, Buddhism had encompassed most of Asia. The scriptures and sayings attributed to the Buddha were written about four hundred years after his death.
In Buddhism, sin is largely understood to be ignorance. And, while sin is understood as “moral error,” the context in which “evil” and “good” are understood is amoral. Karma is understood as nature’s balance and is not personally enforced. Nature is not moral; therefore, karma is not a moral code, and sin is not ultimately immoral. Thus, we can say, by Buddhist thought, that our error is not a moral issue since it is ultimately an impersonal mistake, not an interpersonal violation. The consequence of this understanding is devastating. For the Buddhist, sin is more akin to a misstep than a transgression against the nature of holy God. This understanding of sin does not accord with the innate moral consciousness that men stand condemned because of their sin before a holy God (Romans 1-2).
Since it holds that sin is an impersonal and fixable error, Buddhism does not agree with the doctrine of depravity, a basic doctrine of Christianity. The Bible tells us man’s sin is a problem of eternal and infinite consequence. In Buddhism, there is no need for a Savior to rescue people from their damning sins. For the Christian, Jesus is the only means of rescue from eternal damnation. For the Buddhist there is only ethical living and meditative appeals to exalted beings for the hope of perhaps achieving enlightenment and ultimate Nirvana. More than likely, one will have to go through a number of reincarnations to pay off his or her vast accumulation of karmic debt. For the true followers of Buddhism, the religion is a philosophy of morality and ethics, encapsulated within a life of renunciation of the ego-self. In Buddhism, reality is impersonal and non relational; therefore, it is not loving. Not only is God seen as illusory, but, in dissolving sin into non-moral error and by rejecting all material reality as maya (“illusion”), even we ourselves lose our “selves.” Personality itself becomes an illusion.
When asked how the world started, who/what created the universe, the Buddha is said to have kept silent because in Buddhism there is no beginning and no end. Instead, there is an endless circle of birth and death. One would have to ask what kind of Being created us to live, endure so much pain and suffering, and then die over and over again? It may cause one to contemplate, what is the point, why bother? Christians know that God sent His Son to die for us, one time, so that we do not have to suffer for an eternity. He sent His Son to give us the knowledge that we are not alone and that we are loved. Christians know there is more to life than suffering, and dying, “… but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).
Buddhism teaches that Nirvana is the highest state of being, a state of pure being, and it is achieved by means relative to the individual. Nirvana defies rational explanation and logical ordering and therefore cannot be taught, only realized. Jesus’ teaching on heaven, in contrast, was quite specific. He taught us that our physical bodies die but our souls ascend to be with Him in heaven (Mark 12:25). The Buddha taught that people do not have individual souls, for the individual self or ego is an illusion. For Buddhists there is no merciful Father in heaven who sent His Son to die for our souls, for our salvation, to provide the way for us to reach His glory. Ultimately, that is why Buddhism is to be rejected.
Question: What is Hinduism and what do Hindus believe?
Answer: Hinduism is one of the oldest known organized religions—its sacred writings date as far back as 1400 to 1500 B C It is also one of the most diverse and complex, having millions of gods. Hindus have a wide variety of core beliefs and exist in many different sects. Although it is the third largest religion in the world, Hinduism exists primarily in India and Nepal.
The main texts of Hinduism are the Vedas (considered most important), Upanishadas, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana. These writings contain hymns, incantations, philosophies, rituals, poems, and stories from which Hindus base their beliefs. Other texts used in Hinduism include the Brahmanas, the Sutras, and the Aranyakas.
Though Hinduism is often understood as being polytheistic, supposedly recognizing as many as 330 million gods, it also has one “god” that is supreme —Brahma. Brahma is an entity believed to inhabit every portion of reality and existence throughout the entire universe. Brahma is both impersonal and unknowable and is often believed to exist in three separate forms: Brahma— Creator; Vishnu—Preserver; and Shiva—Destroyer. These “facets” of Brahma are also known through the many other incarnations of each. It is difficult to summarize Hindu theology since the various Hindu schools contain elements of almost every theological system. Hinduism can be:
1. Monistic—Only one thing exists; Sankara’s school
2. Pantheistic—Only one divine thing exists so that God is identical to the world; Brahmanism 3.Panentheistic—The world is part of God; Ramanuja’s School
4.Theistic—Only one God, distinct from Creation; Bhakti Hinduism.
Observing other schools, Hinduism can also be atheistic, deistic, or even nihilistic. With such diversity included under the title “Hindu,” one may wonder what makes them “Hindu” in the first place? About the only real issue is whether or not a belief system recognizes the Vedas as sacred. If it does, then it is Hindu. If not, then it is not Hindu.
The Vedas are more than theology books. They contain a rich and colorful “theo-mythology,” that is, a religious mythology which deliberately interweaves myth, theology, and history to achieve a story-form religious root. This “theo- mythology” is so deeply rooted in India’s history and culture that to reject the Vedas is viewed as opposing India. Therefore, a belief system is rejected by Hinduism if it does not embrace Indian culture to some extent. If the system accepts Indian culture and its theo-mythical history, then it can be embraced as “Hindu” even if its theology is theistic, nihilistic, or atheistic. This openness to contradiction can be a headache for Westerners who seek logical consistency and rational defensibility in their religious views. But, to be fair, Christians are no more logical when they claim belief in Yahweh yet live life as practical atheists, denying Christ with their lives. For the Hindu the conflict is genuine logical contradiction. For the Christian, the conflict is more likely simple hypocrisy.
Hinduism views mankind as divine. Because Brahma is everything, Hinduism asserts that everyone is divine. Atman, or self, is one with Brahman. All of reality outside of Brahman is considered mere illusion. The spiritual goal of a Hindu is to become one with Brahma, thus ceasing to exist in its illusory form of “individual self.” This freedom is referred to as “moksha.” Until moksha is achieved, a Hindu believes that he/she will be repeatedly reincarnated in order that he/she may work towards self-realization of the truth (the truth being that only Brahman exists, nothing else). How a person is reincarnated is determined by karma, which is a principle of cause and effect governed by nature’s balance. What one did in the past affects and corresponds with what happens in the future, past and future lives included.
Although this is just a brief synopsis, it is readily seen that Hinduism is in opposition to biblical Christianity on almost every count of its belief system. Christianity has one God who is both personal and knowable (Deuteronomy 6:5; 1 Corinthians 8:6); has one set of Scriptures; teaches that God created the earth and all who live upon it (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3); believes that man is created in God’s image and lives only once (Genesis 1:27; Hebrews 9:27-28); and teaches that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone (John 3:16; 6:44; 14:6; Acts 4:12). Hinduism as a religious system fails because it fails to recognize Jesus as the uniquely incarnated God-Man and Savior, the one solely sufficient source of salvation for humanity.
Question: What is Islam, and what do Muslims believe?
Answer: The religion of Islam was begun early in the 7th century AD by a man named Muhammad. He claimed to have been visited by the angel Gabriel. During these angelic visitations, which continued for about 23 years until Muhammad’s death, the angel purportedly revealed to Muhammad the words of God (called “Allah” in Arabic and by Muslims). These dictated revelations comprise the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. Islam teaches that the Qur’an is the final authority and the last revelation of Allah.
Muslims, the followers of Islam, believe the Qur’an to be the preexistent and perfect word of Allah. Further, many Muslims reject all other language versions of the Qur’an. A translation is not a valid version of the Qur’an, which only exists in Arabic. Although the Qur’an is the main holy book, the Sunnah is considered the second source of religious instruction. The Sunnah was written by Muhammad’s companions about what Muhammad said, did, and approved.
The key beliefs of Islam are that Allah is the only true God and that Muhammad was Allah’s prophet. By simply stating these beliefs, a person can convert to Islam. The word “Muslim” means “one who submits to Allah.” Islam purports to be the one true religion from which all other religions are derived (including Judaism and Christianity).
Muslims base their lives on the five pillars:
1. The testimony of faith: “There is no true god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.”
2. Prayer: five prayers must be performed every day.
3. Giving: one must give to the needy, as all comes from Allah.
4. Fasting: besides occasional fasting, all Muslims must fast during celebration of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar).
5. Hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah) should be performed at least once in a lifetime (during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar).
These five tenets, the framework of obedience for Muslims, are taken seriously and literally. A Muslim’s entrance into paradise hinges on obedience to these five pillars.
In relation to Christianity, Islam has several similarities and significant differences. Like Christianity, Islam is monotheistic, but in opposition to Christianity, Islam rejects the concept of the Trinity. Islam accepts certain portions of the Bible, such as the Law and the Gospels, but rejects the majority of it as slanderous and uninspired.
Islam claims that Jesus was a mere prophet, not God’s Son (only Allah is God, Muslims believe, and how could He have a Son?). Rather, Islam asserts that Jesus, though born of a virgin, was created just as Adam, from the dust of the earth. Muslims believe Jesus did not die on the cross; thus, they deny one of the central teachings of Christianity.
Finally, Islam teaches that paradise is gained through good works and obedience to the Qur’an. The Bible, in contrast, reveals that man cannot measure up to the holy God. Only because of His mercy and love can sinners be saved through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Clearly, Islam and Christianity cannot both be true. Either Jesus was the greatest prophet, or Muhammad was. Either the Bible is the Word of God, or the Qur’an is. Salvation is either attained by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior or by observing the five pillars. Again, both religions cannot be true. This truth, the separation of the two religions in crucial areas, has eternal consequences.
Question: What is Judaism and what do Jews believe?
Answer: What is Judaism, and who or what is a Jew? Is Judaism simply a religion? Is it a cultural identity or just an ethnic group? Are Jews a clan of people or are they a nation? What do Jews believe, and do they all believe the same things?
Dictionary definitions of a “Jew” include “a member of the tribe of Judah,” “an Israelite,” “a member of a nation existing in Palestine from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD,” “a person belonging to a continuation through descent or conversion of the ancient Jewish people,” and “one whose religion is Judaism.”
According to rabbinical Judaism, a Jew is one who has a Jewish mother or one who has formally converted to Judaism. Leviticus 24:10 is often cited to give this belief credibility, although the Torah makes no specific claim in support of this tradition. Some rabbis say that it has nothing to do with what the individual actually believes. These rabbis tell us that a Jew does not need to be a follower of Jewish laws and customs to be considered Jewish. In fact, a Jew can have no belief in God at all and still be Jewish based on the above rabbinical interpretation.
Other rabbis make it clear that unless the person follows the precepts of the Torah and accepts the “Thirteen Principles of Faith” of Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, one of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars), he cannot be a Jew. Although this person may be a “biological” Jew, he has no real connection to Judaism.
In the Torah—the first five books of the Bible—Genesis 14:13 teaches that Abram, commonly recognized as the first Jew, was described as a “Hebrew.” The name “Jew” comes from the name of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob and one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Apparently the name “Jew” originally referred only to those who were members of the tribe of Judah, but when the kingdom was divided after the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 12), the term referred to anyone in the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. Today, many believe that a Jew is anyone who is a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, regardless of which of the original twelve tribes he descends from.
So, what is it that Jews believe, and what are the basic precepts of Judaism? There are five main forms or sects of Judaism in the world today. They are Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, Reconstructionist, and Humanistic. The beliefs and requirements in each group differ dramatically; however, a short list of the traditional beliefs of Judaism would include the following:
God is the creator of all that exists; He is one, incorporeal (without a body), and He alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe.
The first five books of the Hebrew Bible were revealed to Moses by God. They will not be changed or augmented in the future.
God has communicated to the Jewish people through prophets.
God monitors the activities of humans; He rewards individuals for good deeds and punishes evil.
Although Christians base much of their faith on the same Hebrew Scriptures as Jews do, there are major differences in belief: Jews generally consider actions and behavior to be of primary importance; beliefs come out of actions. This conflicts with conservative Christians for whom belief is of primary importance and actions are a result of that belief.
Jewish belief does not accept the Christian concept of original sin (the belief that all people have inherited Adam and Eve’s sin when they disobeyed God’s instructions in the Garden of Eden).
Judaism affirms the inherent goodness of the world and its people as creations of God.
Jewish believers are able to sanctify their lives and draw closer to God by fulfilling mitzvoth (divine commandments).
No savior is needed or is available as an intermediary.
The 613 commandments found in Leviticus and other books regulate all aspects of Jewish life. The Ten Commandments, as delineated in Exodus 20:1- 17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, form a brief synopsis of the Law.
The Messiah (anointed one of God) will arrive in the future and gather Jews once more into the land of Israel. There will be a general resurrection of the dead at that time. The Jerusalem Temple, destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, will be rebuilt.
Beliefs about Jesus vary considerably. Some view Him as a great moral teacher. Others see Him as a false prophet or as an idol of Christianity. Some sects of Judaism will not even say His name due to the prohibition against saying an idol’s name.
The Jews are often referred to as God’s chosen people. This does not mean that they are in any way to be considered superior to other groups. Bible verses such as Exodus 19:5 simply state that God has selected Israel to receive and study the Torah, to worship God only, to rest on the Sabbath, and to celebrate the festivals. Jews were not chosen to be better than others; they were simply selected to be a light to the Gentiles and to be a blessing to all the nations.
Question: What is Christian Gnosticism?
Answer: There is actually no such thing as Christian Gnosticism, because true Christianity and Gnosticism are mutually exclusive systems of belief. The principles of Gnosticism contradict what it means to be a Christian. Therefore, while some forms of Gnosticism may claim to be Christian, they are in fact decidedly non-Christian.
Gnosticism was perhaps the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first three centuries. Influenced by such philosophers as Plato, Gnosticism is based on two false premises. First, it espouses a dualism regarding spirit and matter. Gnostics assert that matter is inherently evil and spirit is good. As a result of this presupposition, Gnostics believe anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only.
Second, Gnostics claim to possess an elevated knowledge, a “higher truth” known only to a certain few. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “to know.” Gnostics claim to possess a higher knowledge, not from the Bible, but acquired on some mystical higher plain of existence. Gnostics see themselves as a privileged class elevated above everybody else by their higher, deeper knowledge of God.
To discredit the idea of any compatibility between Christianity and Gnosticism, one has only to compare their teachings on the main doctrines of the faith. On the matter of salvation, Gnosticism teaches that salvation is gained through the acquisition of divine knowledge which frees one from the illusions of darkness. Although they claim to follow Jesus Christ and His original teachings, Gnostics contradict Him at every turn. Jesus said nothing about salvation through knowledge, but by faith in Him as Savior from sin. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Furthermore, the salvation Christ offers is free and available to everyone (John 3:16), not just a select few who have acquired a special revelation.
Christianity asserts that there is one source of Truth and that is the Bible, the inspired, inerrant Word of the living God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12). It is God’s written revelation to mankind and is never superseded by man’s thoughts, ideas, writings, or visions. The Gnostics, on the other hand, use a variety of early heretical writings known as the Gnostic gospels, a collection of forgeries claiming to be “lost books of the Bible.” Thankfully, the early church fathers were nearly unanimous in recognizing these Gnostic scrolls as fraudulent forgeries that espouse false doctrines about Jesus Christ, salvation, God, and every other crucial Christian truth. There are countless contradictions between the Gnostic “gospels” and the Bible. Even when the so-called Christian Gnostics quote from the Bible, they rewrite verses and parts of verses to harmonize with their philosophy, a practice that is strictly forbidden and warned against by Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
The Person of Jesus Christ is another area where Christianity and Gnosticism drastically differ. The Gnostics believe that Jesus’ physical body was not real, but only “seemed” to be physical, and that His spirit descended upon Him at His baptism, but left Him just before His crucifixion. Such views destroy not only the true humanity of Jesus, but also the atonement, for Jesus must not only have been truly God, but also the truly human (and physically real) man who actually suffered and died upon the cross in order to be the acceptable substitutionary sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 2:14-17). The biblical view of Jesus affirms His complete humanity as well as His full deity.
Gnosticism is based on a mystical, intuitive, subjective, inward, emotional approach to truth which is not new at all. It is very old, going back in some form to the Garden of Eden, where Satan questioned God and the words He spoke and convinced Adam and Eve to reject them and accept a lie. He does the same thing today as he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He still calls God and the Bible into question and catches in his web those who are either naive and scripturally uninformed or who are seeking some personal revelation to make them feel special, unique, and superior to others. Let us follow the Apostle Paul who said to “test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and this we do by comparing everything to the Word of God, the only Truth.
Question: What is Christian Science?
Answer: Christian Science was begun by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who pioneered new ideas about spirituality and health. Inspired by her own experience of healing in 1866, Eddy spent years in Bible study, prayer, and research of various healing methods. The result was a system of healing she dubbed “Christian Science” in 1879. Her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, broke new ground in the understanding of the mind-body-spirit connection. She went on to found a college, a church, a publishing enterprise, and the respected newspaper “The Christian Science Monitor.” Because of its similarity to other groups, many believe Christian Science to be a non-Christian cult.
Christian Science teaches that God—Father-Mother of all—is completely good and wholly spiritual and that all God’s creation, including the true nature of every person, is the flawless spiritual likeness of the Divine. Since God’s creation is good, evils such as disease, death, and sin cannot be a part of fundamental reality. Rather, these evils are the result of living apart from God. Prayer is a central way to come closer to God and heal human ills. This differs from the Bible, which teaches that man is born in sin inherited from Adam’s fall and that sin separates us from God. Without God’s saving grace through the death of Christ on the cross, we would never be healed of the ultimate sickness —sin.
Rather than teaching that Jesus heals our spiritual sickness (see Isaiah 53:5), Christian Scientists see Jesus’ ministry as their own paradigm for healing, believing it demonstrates the centrality of healing in regard to salvation. Christian Scientists pray to realize more of the reality of God and God’s love daily and to experience and help others experience the harmonizing, healing effects of this understanding.
For most Christian Scientists, spiritual healing is an effective first choice and, as a result, they turn to the power of prayer in lieu of medical treatment. Government authorities have occasionally challenged this approach, especially in circumstances when medical treatment is withheld from minors. However, there is no church policy mandating members’ health-care decisions.
Christian Science has no ministers. Rather, the Bible and Science and Health act as pastor and preacher. Bible lessons are studied daily and read aloud on Sunday by two elected lay members of each local congregation. Christian Science churches also hold weekly testimonial meetings, at which congregation members relate experiences of healing and regeneration.
Of all the “Christian” cults in existence, “Christian Science” is the most inaccurately named. Christian Science is neither Christian or based on science. Christian Science denies all the core truths of what makes a system “Christian.” Christian Science is, in fact, opposed to science and points to mystical new-age spirituality as the path for physical and spiritual healing. Christian Science should be recognized and rejected as the antiChristian cult that it is.
Question: What is the Eastern Orthodox Church and what are the beliefs of Orthodox Christians?
Answer: The Eastern Orthodox Church is not a single church but rather a family of 13 self-governing bodies, denominated by the nation in which they are located (e.g., the Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church). They are united in their understanding of the sacraments, doctrine, liturgy, and church government, but each administers its own affairs.
The head of each Orthodox church is called a “patriarch” or “metropolitan.” The patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) is considered the ecumenical —or universal—patriarch. He is the closest thing to a counterpart to the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike the Pope, who is known as VICARIUS FILIUS DEI (the vicar of the Son of God), the bishop of Constantinople is known as PRIMUS INTER PARES (the first amongst equals). He enjoys special honor, but he has no power to interfere with the 12 other Orthodox communions.
The Orthodox Church claims to be the one true church of Christ, and seeks to trace its origin back to the original apostles through an unbroken chain of apostolic succession. Orthodox thinkers debate the spiritual status of Roman Catholics and Protestants, and a few still consider them heretics. Like Catholics and Protestants, however, Orthodox believers affirm the Trinity, the Bible as the Word of God, Jesus as God the Son, and many other biblical doctrines. However, in doctrine, they have much more in common with Roman Catholics than they do with Protestant Christians.
Sadly, the doctrine of justification by faith is virtually absent from the history and theology of the Orthodox Church. Rather, Orthodoxy emphasizes theosis (literally, “divinization”), the gradual process by which Christians become more and more like Christ. What many in the Orthodox tradition fail to understand is that “divinization” is the progressive result of salvation, not a requirement for salvation itself. Other Orthodox distinctives that are in conflict with the Bible include:
The equal authority of church tradition and Scripture
Discouragement of individuals interpreting the Bible apart from tradition The perpetual virginity of Mary
Prayer for the dead
Baptism of infants without reference to individual responsibility and faith The possibility of receiving salvation after death
The possibility of losing salvation
While the Eastern Orthodox Church has claimed some of the church’s great voices, and while there are many in the Orthodox tradition that have a genuine salvation relationship with Jesus Christ, the Orthodox church itself does not speak with a clear message that can be harmonized with the biblical gospel of Christ. The call of the Reformers for “Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone” is missing in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and that is too precious a treasure to do without.
Question: What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Answer: Before we explore the difference between religion and spirituality, we must first define the two terms. Religion can be defined as “belief in God or gods to be worshipped, usually expressed in conduct and ritual” or “any specific system of belief, worship, etc., often involving a code of ethics.” Spirituality can be defined as “the quality or fact of being spiritual, non-physical” or “predominantly spiritual character as shown in thought, life, etc.; spiritual tendency or tone.” To put it briefly, religion is a set of beliefs and rituals that claim to get a person in a right relationship with God, and spirituality is a focus on spiritual things and the spiritual world instead of physical/earthly things.
The most common misconception about religion is that Christianity is just another religion like Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Sadly, many who claim to be adherents of Christianity do practice Christianity as if it were a religion. To many, Christianity is nothing more than a set of rules and rituals that a person has to observe in order to go to heaven after death. That is not true Christianity. True Christianity is not a religion; rather, it is having a right relationship with God by receiving Jesus Christ as the Savior-Messiah, by grace through faith. Yes, Christianity does have “rituals” to observe (e.g., baptism and communion). Yes, Christianity does have “rules” to follow (e.g., do not murder, love one another, etc.). However, these rituals and rules are not the essence of Christianity. The rituals and rules of Christianity are the result of salvation. When we receive salvation through Jesus Christ, we are baptized as a proclamation of that faith. We observe communion in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. We follow a list of do’s and don’ts out of love for God and gratitude for what He has done.
The most common misconception about spirituality is that there are many forms of spirituality, and all are equally valid. Meditating in unusual physical positions, communing with nature, seeking conversation with the spirit world, etc., may seem to be “spiritual,” but they are in fact false spirituality. True spirituality is possessing the Holy Spirit of God as a result of receiving salvation through Jesus Christ. True spirituality is the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in a person’s life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Spirituality is all about becoming more like God, who is spirit (John 4:24) and having our character conformed to His image (Romans 12:1-2).
What religion and spirituality have in common is that they both can be false methods of having a relationship with God. Religion tends to substitute the heartless observance of rituals for a genuine relationship with God. Spirituality tends to substitute connection with the spirit world for a genuine relationship with God. Both can be, and often are, false paths to God. At the same time, religion can be valuable in the sense that it points to the fact that there is a God and that we are somehow accountable to Him. The only true value of religion is its ability to point out that we have fallen short and are in need of a Savior. Spirituality can be valuable in that it points out that the physical world is not all there is. Human beings are not only material, but also possess a soul-spirit. There is a spiritual world around us of which we should be aware. The true value of spirituality is that it points to the fact that there is something and someone beyond this physical world to which we need to connect.
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of both religion and spirituality. Jesus is the One to whom we are accountable and to whom true religion points. Jesus is the One to whom we need to connect and the One to whom true spirituality points.
Question: Is Scientology Christian or a cult?
Answer: Scientology is a difficult religion to summarize. Scientology has gained popularity due to some Hollywood celebrities who have embraced it. Scientology was founded in 1953 by fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, just four years after he made the statement, “I’d like to start a religion—that’s where the money is.” That is where he found wealth, also—Hubbard became a multi millionaire.
Scientology teaches that mankind is an immortal being (called a Thetan) not originally from this planet, and that man is trapped by matter, energy, space, and time (MEST). Salvation for a scientologist comes through a process called ’’auditing,” whereby ’’engrams” (basically, memories of past pain and unconsciousness that create energy blockage) are removed. Auditing is a lengthy process and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. When all engrams are finally removed, the Thetan can once again control MEST instead of being controlled by it. Until salvation, each Thetan is constantly reincarnated.
Scientology is a very expensive religion to pursue. Every aspect of Scientology has some sort of fee associated with it. This is why Scientology’s “pews” are filled only with the wealthy. It is also a very strict religion and very punitive against those who would try to leave behind its teachings and membership. Its “scriptures” are limited solely to the writings and teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.
Though scientologists will claim that Scientology is compatible with Christianity, the Bible counters each and every belief they hold to. The Bible teaches that God is the sovereign and only creator of the universe (Genesis 1:1); mankind was created by God (Genesis 1:27); the only salvation available to man is by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:8); salvation is a free gift that mankind can do nothing to earn (Ephesians 2:8-9); and Jesus Christ is alive and well and is seated at the right hand of God the Father even now (Acts 2:33; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3), awaiting the time when He will gather His people to Himself to reside with Him for eternity in heaven. Everyone else will be cast into a very real hell, separated from God for eternity (Revelation 20:15).
Scientology categorically denies the existence of the God of the Bible, heaven, and hell. To a scientologist, Jesus Christ was simply a good teacher who unfortunately was wrongfully put to death. Scientology differs from biblical Christianity on every important doctrine. Some of the most important differences are summarized below.
God: Scientology believes that there are multiple gods and that some gods are above other gods. Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, recognizes the one and only true God who revealed Himself to us in the Bible and through Jesus Christ. Those who believe in Him cannot believe the false concept of God as taught in Scientology.
Jesus Christ: Like other cults, Scientology denies the deity of Christ. Instead of having a biblical view of who Christ is and what He did, they assign to Him the characteristics of some sort of lesser god who has obtained legendary status over the years. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was God in the flesh and through His incarnation He could act as a sacrifice for our sins. It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we can have the hope of eternal life with God (John 3:16).
Sin: Scientology believes in the inherent goodness of man and teaches that it is despicable and utterly beneath contempt to tell a man he must repent or that he is evil. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that man is a sinner and the only hope for him is that he receive Christ as his Lord and Savior (Romans 6:23).
Salvation: Scientology believes in reincarnation and that personal salvation in one’s lifetime is freedom from the cycle of birth and death associated with reincarnation. They believe that religious practice of all faiths is the universal way to wisdom, understanding, and salvation. In contrast, the Bible teaches that there is only one way of salvation and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Comparing the teachings of Scientology with the Bible, we see that the two have very little, if anything, in common. Scientology only leads away from God and eternal life. Scientology, while sometimes disguising its beliefs in Christian- sounding language, in fact diametrically opposes Christianity on every core belief. Scientology is clearly, and most definitely, not Christian.
Question: Why are there so many religions? Do all religions lead to God? Answer: The existence of so many religions and the claim that all religions lead
to God without question confuses many who are earnestly seeking the truth about God, with the end result sometimes being that some despair of ever reaching the absolute truth on the subject. Or they end up embracing the universalist claim that all religions lead to God. Of course, skeptics also point to the existence of so many religions as proof that either you cannot know God or that God simply does not exist.
Romans 1:19-21 contains the biblical explanation for why there are so many religions. The truth of God is seen and known by every human being because God has made it so. Instead of accepting the truth about God and submitting to it, most human beings reject it and seek their own way to understand God. But this leads not to enlightenment regarding God, but to futility of thinking. Here is where we find the basis of the “many religions.”
Many people do not want to believe in a God who demands righteousness and morality, so they invent a God who makes no such requirements. Many people do not want to believe in a God who declares it impossible for people to earn their own way to heaven. So they invent a God who accepts people into heaven if they have completed certain steps, followed certain rules, and/or obeyed certain laws, at least to the best of their ability. Many people do not want a relationship with a God who is sovereign and omnipotent. So they imagine God as being more of a mystical force than a personal and sovereign ruler.
The existence of so many religions is not an argument against God’s existence or an argument that truth about God is not clear. Rather, the existence of so many religions is demonstration of humanity’s rejection of the one true God. Mankind has replaced Him with gods that are more to their liking. This is a dangerous enterprise. The desire to recreate God in our own image comes from the sin nature within us—a nature that will eventually “reap destruction” (Galatians 6:7-8).
Do all religions lead to God? Actually they do. All but one leads to His judgment. Only one—Christianity—leads to His forgiveness and eternal life. No matter what religion one embraces, everyone will meet God after death (Hebrews 9:27). All religions lead to God, but only one religion will result in God’s acceptance, because only through His salvation through faith in Jesus Christ can anyone approach Him with confidence. The decision to embrace the truth about God is important for a simple reason: eternity is an awfully long time to be wrong. This is why right thinking about God is so critical.
Question: With all of the different religions, how can I know which one is correct?
Answer: There is no doubt that the number of different religions in the world makes it a challenge to know which one is correct. First, let’s consider some thoughts on the overall subject and then look at how one might approach the topic in a manner that can actually get to a right conclusion about God. The challenge of different answers to a particular issue is not unique to the topic of religion. For example, you can sit 100 math students down, give them a complex problem to solve, and it is likely that many will get the answer wrong. But does this mean that a correct answer does not exist? Not at all. Those who get the answer wrong simply need to be shown their error and know the techniques necessary to arrive at the correct answer.
How do we arrive at the truth about God? We use a systematic methodology that is designed to separate truth from error by using various tests for truth, with the end result being a set of right conclusions. Can you imagine the end results a scientist would arrive at if he went into the lab and just started mixing things together with no rhyme or reason? Or if a physician just started treating a patient with random medicines in the hope of making him well? Neither the scientist nor the physician takes this approach; instead, they use systematic methods that are methodical, logical, evidential, and proven to yield the right end result.
This being the case, why think theology—the study of God—should be any different? Why believe it can be approached in a haphazard and undisciplined way and still yield right conclusions? Unfortunately, this is the approach many take, and this is one of the reasons why so many religions exist. That said, we now return to the question of how to reach truthful conclusions about God. What systematic approach should be used? First, we need to establish a framework for testing various truth claims, and then we need a roadmap to follow to reach a right conclusion. Here is a good framework to use:
1. Logical consistency—the claims of a belief system must logically cohere to each other and not contradict in any way. As an example, the end goal of Buddhism is to rid oneself of all desires. Yet, one must have a desire to rid oneself of all desires, which is a contradictory and illogical principle.
2. Empirical adequacy—is there evidence to support the belief system (whether the evidence is rational, externally evidential, etc.)? Naturally, it is only right to want proof for important claims being made so the assertions can be verified. For example, Mormons teach that Jesus lived in North America. Yet there is absolutely no proof, archaeological or otherwise, to support such a claim.
3. Existential relevancy—the belief system must conform to reality as we know it, and it must make a meaningful difference in the life of the adherent. Deism, for example, claims that God just threw the spinning world into the universe and does not interact with those who live on it. How does such a belief impact someone in a day-to-day manner? In short, it does not.
The above framework, when applied to the topic of religion, will help lead one to a right view of God and will answer the four big questions of life:
- Origin – where did we come from?
- Ethics – how should we live?
- Meaning – what is the purpose for life?
- Destiny – where is mankind heading?
But how does one go about applying this framework in the pursuit of God? A step-by-step question/answer approach is one of the best tactics to employ. Narrowing the list of possible questions down produces the following:
- Does absolute truth exist?
- Do reason and religion mix?
- Does God exist?
- Can God be known?
- Is Jesus God?
- Does God care about me?
First we need to know if absolute truth exists. If it does not, then we really cannot be sure of anything (spiritual or not), and we end up either an agnostic, unsure if we can really know anything, or a pluralist, accepting every position because we are not sure which, if any, is right.
Absolute truth is defined as that which matches reality, that which corresponds to its object, telling it like it is. Some say there is no such thing as absolute truth, but taking such a position becomes self-defeating. For example, the relativist says, “All truth is relative,” yet one must ask: is that statement absolutely true? If so, then absolute truth exists; if not, then why consider it? Postmodernism affirms no truth, yet it affirms at least one absolute truth: postmodernism is true. In the end, absolute truth becomes undeniable.
Further, absolute truth is naturally narrow and excludes its opposite. Two plus two equals four, with no other answer being possible. This point becomes critical as different belief systems and worldviews are compared. If one belief system has components that are proven true, then any competing belief system with contrary claims must be false. Also, we must keep in mind that absolute truth is not impacted by sincerity and desire. No matter how sincerely someone embraces a lie, it is still a lie. And no desire in the world can make something true that is false.
The answer of question one is that absolute truth exists. This being the case, agnosticism, postmodernism, relativism, and skepticism are all false positions.
This leads us to the next question of whether reason/logic can be used in matters of religion. Some say this is not possible, but—why not? The truth is, logic is vital when examining spiritual claims because it helps us understand why some claims should be excluded and others embraced. Logic is absolutely critical in dismantling pluralism (which says that all truth claims, even those that oppose each other, are equal and valid).
For example, Islam and Judaism claim that Jesus is not God, whereas Christianity claims He is. One of the core laws of logic is the law of non contradiction, which says something cannot be both “A” and “non-A” at the same time and in the same sense. Applying this law to the claims Judaism, Islam, and Christianity means that one is right and the other two are wrong. Jesus cannot be both God and not God. Used properly, logic is a potent weapon against pluralism because it clearly demonstrates that contrary truth claims cannot both be true. This understanding topples the whole “true for you but not for me” mindset.
Logic also dispels the whole “all roads lead to the top of the mountain” analogy that pluralists use. Logic shows that each belief system has its own set of signs that point to radically different locations in the end. Logic shows that the proper illustration of a search for spiritual truth is more like a maze—one path makes it through to truth, while all others arrive at dead ends. All faiths may have some surface similarities, but they differ in major ways in their core doctrines.
The conclusion is that you can use reason and logic in matters of religion. That being the case, pluralism (the belief that all truth claims are equally true and valid) is ruled out because it is illogical and contradictory to believe that diametrically opposing truth claims can both be right.
Next comes the big question: does God exist? Atheists and naturalists (who do not accept anything beyond this physical world and universe) say “no.” While volumes have been written and debates have raged throughout history on this question, it is actually not difficult to answer. To give it proper attention, you must first ask this question: Why do we have something rather than nothing at all? In other words, how did you and everything around you get here? The argument for God can be presented very simply: Something exists.
You do not get something from nothing. Therefore, a necessary and eternal Being exists.
You cannot deny you exist because you have to exist in order to deny your own existence (which is self-defeating), so the first premise above is true. No one believes you can get something from nothing (i.e., that ’’nothing” produced the universe), so the second premise is true. Therefore, the third premise must be true—an eternal Being responsible for everything must exist.
This is a position no thinking atheist denies; they just claim that the universe is that eternal being. However, the problem with that stance is that all scientific evidence points to the fact that the universe had a beginning (the ‘big bang’). And everything that has a beginning must have a cause; therefore, the universe had a cause and is not eternal. Because the only two sources of eternality are an eternal universe (proven to be untrue) or an eternal Creator, the only logical conclusion is that God exists. Answering the question of God’s existence in the affirmative rules out atheism as a valid belief system.
Now, this conclusion says nothing about what kind of God exists, but amazingly enough, it does do one sweeping thing—it rules out all pantheistic religions. All pantheistic worldviews say that the universe is God and is eternal. And this assertion is false. So, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and all other pantheistic religions are ruled out as valid belief systems.
Further, we learn some interesting things about this God who created the universe. He is:
- Supernatural in nature (as He exists outside of His creation)
- Incredibly powerful (to have created all that is known)
- Eternal (self-existent, as He exists outside of time and space)
- Omnipresent (He created space and is not limited by it)
- Timeless and changeless (He created time)
- Immaterial (because He transcends space)
- Personal (the impersonal can’t create personality)
- Necessary (as everything else depends on Him)
- Infinite and singular (as you cannot have two infinites)
- Diverse yet has unity (as nature exhibits diversity)
- Intelligent (supremely, to create everything)
- Purposeful (as He deliberately created everything)
- Moral (no moral law can exist without a lawgiver)
• Caring (or no moral laws would have been given)
This Being exhibits characteristics very similar to the God of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, which interestingly enough, are the only core faiths left standing after atheism and pantheism have been eliminated. Note also that one of the big questions in life (origins) is now answered: we know where we came from.
This leads to the next question: can we know God? At this point, the need for religion is replaced by something more important—the need for revelation. If mankind is to know this God well, it is up to God to reveal Himself to His creation. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all claim to have a book that is God’s revelation to man, but the question is which (if any) is actually true? Pushing aside minor differences, the two core areas of dispute are 1) the New Testament of the Bible 2) the person of Jesus Christ. Islam and Judaism both claim the New Testament of the Bible is untrue in what it claims, and both deny that Jesus is God incarnate, while Christianity affirms both to be true.
There is no faith on the planet that can match the mountains of evidence that exist for Christianity. From the voluminous number of ancient manuscripts, to the very early dating of the documents written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses (some only 15 years after Christ’s death), to the multiplicity of the accounts (nine authors in 27 books of the New Testament), to the archaeological evidence—none of which has ever contradicted a single claim the New Testament makes—to the fact that the apostles went to their deaths claiming they had seen Jesus in action and that He had come back from the dead, Christianity sets the bar in terms of providing the proof to back up its claims. The New Testament’s historical authenticity—that it conveys a truthful account of the actual events as they occurred—is the only right conclusion to reach once all the evidence has been examined.
When it comes to Jesus, one finds a very curious thing about Him—He claimed to be God in the flesh. Jesus own words (e.g., “Before Abraham was born I AM”), His actions (e.g., forgiving sins, accepting worship), His sinless and miraculous life (which He used to prove His truth claims over opposing claims), and His resurrection all support His claims to be God. The New Testament writers affirm this fact over and over again in their writings.
Now, if Jesus is God, then what He says must be true. And if Jesus said that the Bible is inerrant and true in everything it says (which He did), this must mean that the Bible is true in what it proclaims. As we have already learned, two competing truth claims cannot both be right. So anything in the Islamic Qur’an or writings of Judaism that contradict the Bible cannot be true. In fact, both
Islam and Judaism fail since they both say that Jesus is not God incarnate, while the evidence says otherwise. And because we can indeed know God (because He has revealed Himself in His written Word and in Christ), all forms of agnosticism are refuted. Lastly, another big question of life is answered—that of ethics—as the Bible contains clear instructions on how mankind ought to live.
This same Bible proclaims that God cares deeply for mankind and wishes all to know Him intimately. In fact, He cares so much that He became a man to show His creation exactly what He is like. There are many men who have sought to be God, but only one God who sought to be man so He could save those He deeply loves from an eternity separated from Him. This fact demonstrates the existential relevancy of Christianity and also answers that last two big questions of life—meaning and destiny. Each person has been designed by God for a purpose, and each has a destiny that awaits him—one of eternal life with God or eternal separation from Him. This deduction (and the point of God’s becoming a man in Christ) also refutes Deism, which says God is not interested in the affairs of mankind.
In the end, we see that ultimate truth about God can be found and the worldview maze successfully navigated by testing various truth claims and systematically pushing aside falsehoods so that only the truth remains. Using the tests of logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and existential relevancy, coupled with asking the right questions, yields truthful and reasonable conclusions about religion and God. Everyone should agree that the only reason to believe something is that it is true—nothing more. Sadly, true belief is a matter of the will, and no matter how much logical evidence is presented, some will still choose to deny the God who is there and miss the one true path to harmony with Him.
Hereunder are Links for Questions and Answers on hot topics that people are really asking:
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