"Don’t all roads lead to God?" "Does it really matter which religion you follow,
as long as you believe in a higher being?" "Aren’t all religions basically the
same, anyway?" These are questions that many people are asking today. It’s hard
to see the real difference between one religion and another, and it’s even harder
to understand how a "loving God" would hold a difference in religion against
anyone. After all, isn’t it the same God we are all worshipping?
Now saying that all religions are the same is like saying all Chinese people
look the same. There’s one thing we know for certain about the person who says
this (apart from the fact that he isn’t Chinese): he’s never taken a very close
look at Chinese people. So it is with the world religions. Although there are occasional
similarities, there are also major differences.
In the chapter we will show that all religions do not lead to God, that the
world’s religions are deeply divided and different from the teaching of Christ,
and that in fact it matters very much which religion you follow. At first this
may sound "narrow" or "exclusive," but we should weigh the evidence before deciding.
Similarities between religions are only superficial. There are several things
that most religions have in common: (1) faith, (2) a higher power, (3) obedience
to that power, (4) attending meetings, and (5) a code of behavior. But these
features could just as easily apply to the realm of politics: (1) belief in the
party line, (2) political power, (3) legislation and civil obedience, (4) attendance
at rallies and congresses, and (5) commitment to the basic values of the party.
They could also apply to: participation in a sports team, the Boy Scouts, the Rotary
Club, Higher Education, and many other good institutions. I wouldn’t have bothered
stating the obvious, except that so many people comment that there are parallels
between religions, and then stand back and wait for you to applaud their deep
insight. As we shall soon see, the differences are what is significant.
Let’s now turn our attention to 10 of the most significant differences between
the Christian faith and other world religions:
??????????????? 1.? ????????? ?Who God Is
??????????????? 2.? ????????? History and Myth
??????????????? 3.? ????????? How God Speaks to Us
??????????????? 4.? ????????? Commitment
??????????????? 5.? ????????? Scripture
??????????????? 6.? ????????? Evangelism of Outsiders
??????????????? 7.? ????????? Personal Morality
??????????????? 8.? ????????? The "Golden Rule"
??????????????? 9.? ????????? Salvation
??????????????? 10.? ??????? ??The Ultimate Goal
I.??? Who God Is
Christianity teaches that there is only one God, a personal heavenly Father
beyond time and space, infinitely powerful and yet intimately concerned about
our lives. He loves us and sent Jesus to die for our sins. In a sense, God himself
died for our sins!
No other religion understands God like this! In every other religion, man must
reach up and out, and hope to attain God. But in Christ God has reached down
to us. He’s taken the initiative.
And there are many other differences. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism
identify God with the universe, so anything can be worshipped, and even we are
God! Eastern religions usually accept many gods; Hinduism in India has more
than 10,000 gods! Many of these are very human gods, sexually starved, or fat and
selfish, or bloodthirsty. In Indian and Chinese religion (Taoism and Buddhism)
idols are worshipped, which is seriously forbidden in the Bible. Through sacrifices
the gods are pleased; we control the god, in other words.
The concept of God in Confucianism is very vague, and certainly not very important
– what counts is worshipping your ancestors. The Buddha actually refused to
comment on the existence of God, and Buddhism originally was an atheistic religion!
The concept of God is more accurate in Islam: there is only one God (Allah),
and he is majestic, but he’s also distant from man, responsible for both good
and evil, and not the personal God the Bible speaks of. In fact, since he has
predestined each person to go either to paradise or to hell, fate is accepted as
part of life. Judaism theoretically should come closest to an accurate concept
of God, but Jesus Christ is rejected (even though he is spoken of in the Old
Testament, which is the Bible of Judaism), and so the love of God is greatly misunderstood.
With such extreme differences, how can anyone say that we all believe in the
same God? Members of many religions would be quite offended if you told them
that they believed in the same God you believed in! The fact that many people
use the word "God" does not mean that they all believe in the same God, any more
than the fact that many people know someone named "John" means that they all
know the same person!
??? This first major difference deserves a lot of attention, for knowing God
is what Christianity is all about.
II.??? History and Myth
??? In many faiths, mythical characters and legends are part of the folklore
and scripture of the religion. For example, Tibetan Buddhism has stories of
holy men flying through the air, sitting still in cold caves for months at a
time without eating, and even launching hailstorms with their fingertips. The
ancient Greek religion believed that the world was carried on the back of a
super-strong giant named Atlas, while Indian mythology teaches that the earth
is supported by four elephants on the back of a great serpent. Few Indians really
believe this is true, but still the myth has a religious meaning to Hindus.
??? When we come to Christianity, everything is different. Whether miracles
actually happened is very important. Whether a baby was born to a virgin in
a particular country during a certain century is all-important. (The idea is
important, but the idea without the fact behind it is useless.) Whether a man
was resurrected from the dead is a central focus of the faith: the apostle Paul
explained that if Jesus wasn’t historically raised from the dead, the Christian
faith is absolutely useless. (1 Corinthians 15:14).
??? The apostle Peter insisted that the apostles, who first taught the message
of Christ after his death and resurrection, knew the difference between truth
and myth (2 Peter 1:16):
?We have not followed cunningly devised fables . . . (KJV)
We have not depended on made-up legends . . . (TEV)
We have not been telling you fairy tails . . . (LB)
We did not follow cleverly invented stories . . . (NIV)
??? Christianity is an historical religion: either certain crucial events happened,
or they didn’t. Furthermore, the writers of the Bible knew the difference between
history and myth, and insisted that the distinction is vital. In contrast, other
religions seldom insist on this distinction. Christians know that it is so important
because if God, in Christ Jesus, didn’t really visit our planet and pay the
penalty for our sins, there is now hope for any of us.
III.??? How God Speaks to Us
??? Here again is an area where the world’s religions are deeply divided. Christianity,
Judaism, and Islam urge that God speaks to man in holy scripture, while Hinduism,
Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto play down scripture and instead emphasize spiritual
experience, and looking into your own h
eart to discover truth or God. In other words,
the Eastern religions follow a more subjective standard, the Western ones a
more objective standard.
??? Furthermore, in other religions, the teachings of the founder are what was
originally emphasized. (Mohammed, Buddha, and Confucius did not claim to be
God, but pointed to the truth as they understood it.) This is not the case with
Christianity: Jesus made himself the focus, not just his teachings. ("I am the
way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,"
Jesus said in John 14:6.)
??? Most religions lay down a law or set of rules and expect their followers
to obey them. Usually there is a lower expectation of commitment for the average
member than there is for the holy person who devotes his full time to the religion
(priest, rabbi, yogi, minister, monk, guru, et cetera.) While Christianity need men
and women to dedicate themselves to full-time service, these people are no more
committed to God than those in the regular employment or courses of studies.
The teaching of the New Testament is that every member of the church should do the
work of the church, not just the leaders. (Every member prays, spreads the Word,
attends meetings, et cetera.) This high level of commitment is very different
from the commitment expected in most other religious groups.
??? In many religions (and sometimes even in Christianity) people try to get
by with the minimum commitment, and so the result is legalism (trying to be
right through law-keeping). Religion becomes just a list of do’s and do not’s,
and if we can only be good enough then God will have to except us. In the Koran,
the holy book of Islam, Mohammed taught that we can earn Allah’s mercy, earn
salvation, and eventually earn paradise (40:9, 39:61, 7:43). Not that Islam
is the only religion that teaches this; nearly every religion is a legalistic, do-it-yourself
approach to God – apart from Christianity, which teaches that we are saved only
through the mercy of God. However, a true appreciation of this mercy should
not cause us to be lazy, but to have an even stronger commitment.
??? With rare exceptions, in most religions the scriptures (writings) are not
read – this is usually left to the "experts."? This may be because in many religions
the scriptures are extremely difficult to understand.? The result of this is
that there are not many members of other world religions who are familiar with
their own scriptures. ?Also we should comment that the Eastern religions (Buddhism,
Shinto, Hinduism, et cetera) place the least emphasis on studying scripture
– which is for priests to do.? Western religions (Judaism, Islam, diluted Christianity,
et cetera) focus more on a holy book, but rarely stick to one book only. Judaism
adds massive commentaries (Mishnah and Talmud), Islam adds tradition more important
than the Koran itself (the Hadith), while most of Christiandom adds creeds, councils,
statements of faith, or other authoritative writings.
The Major World Religions
Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita
Old Testament, Mishnah, Talmud
Tripitaka, et cetara
Wu Ching, Ssu Shu (with Analects of Confucius
Tao Te Ching
6 BC-27 AD
Kojiki, Nihongi, Yengishiki
??? Christianity as we read about it in the Bible is unique in that nothing
extra is added – under penalty of judgment!? (Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6,
1 Corinthians 4:6, Revelation 22:18-19.)? It’s the Bible plus nothing – and
the personal responsibility of every follower is to digest and spread it.
VI.??? Evangelism of Outsiders
??? Most religions are not concerned with winning others to their position.?
Judaism is extremely inward focused, and rarely has converts.? Hinduism, with
its loose concept of truth, does not teach its followers to go and make disciples.?
Buddhism soon became a missionary religion, but few Buddhists today consider evangelism
a priority.?? The same is true of every religion, fundamentalist Islam being
the notable exception.? (Muslims are an exception because they firmly believe
that they are right, and that no one else has the hope of going to heaven.)? Christianity,
in the same way, is radically different from most religions, especially in Jesus’
teaching that all his followers are to actively make followers (or disciples)
of every nation (Matthew 28:19-20).
??? Interestingly, the people who proclaim "All roads lead to God" most loudly
are those who are afraid to spread the Word!
VII.??? Personal Morality
??? Here is yet another area in which we find tremendous differences among world
religions.? Most religions officially discourage drunkenness, bad language,
gambling, premarital sex, and other actions, but unofficially tolerate them,
because they are unable to give their members the determination – or the power –
to live morally.? With Christians it is a very different situation.
??? Because every Christian in the local community (the church) is striving
to live the moral life Jesus lived, there is much more incentive – and mutual
help – to change.
??? The code of ethics Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
is second to none, with its emphasis on loving enemies and pure-heartedness,
and not even thinking about evil.? When questioned about which parts of the
Old Testament were the most important, Jesus pointed to the commands to love
God with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40).?
Perhaps this is why Christianity, more than any other religion, has done so
much to help the poor.
??? All other religions have a lower standard of personal morality.?? Islam
has wife beating, polygamy, concubines, and holy wars (Jihad), all authorized
in the Koran (Surahs 4,24,8).? Hinduism has its lusting gods and goddesses and
rigid caste system which seriously discriminates against the poor.? Hinduism, teaching
that all suffering is the result of evil actions in previous lives, and Buddhism,
with its insistence that suffering is unreal, have allowed millions to suffer
alone.? Shinto has no real concept of morality at all, but speaks rather of duty.?
But Christianity demonstrates the highest standard of personal morality, for
the goal is to be like Jesus (1 John 2:6).
??? Don’t be confused:? there is a distinction between true Christians ( disciples
who are actually putting Christ’s teaching into practice, are committed, and
are spreading the faith) and people who only call themselves "Christians," but
are not fully committed.
VII.??? The Golden Rule
??? Jesus’ saying, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them
do to you" (Matthew 7:12) has been call
ed the "Golden Rule."? Other religions
(Confucianism and Judaism) have the "Negative Golden Rule,"? which is "Don’t
do to other what you wouldn’t want them to do to to you."? Which is easier?
??? Christ taught that we should actively love our neighbors.? In other words,
rather than wait for convenient opportunities to do good to other, we should
make opportunities to help others.? Most people proclaim "I try to mind my own
business and not hurt anyone else," as though this were exemplary behavior.? It
is not exemplary at all; if that is all we do, it is quite unloving and selfish.?
For those whose eyes are open, there are always loads of opportunities to help
meet others’ physical, emotional, and (especially) spiritually needs.
?? As we have already seen, salvation cannot be earned or deserved.? It is God’s
gift to man.? There is no way to "work" our way to God.? But what is "salvation?"?
Salvation from what?
??? In Islam salvation is freedom from hellfire.?? In Hinduism it is escape
from the endless cycle of death and rebirth ("reincarnation").? In Buddhism
it is the blissful realization that our "self" is only an illusion, that we
have no independent existence.? In Judaism there is little concept of salvation, other
than freedom from hardship.? In the Christian faith, however, salvation is freedom
from sin and death.? Other religions speak o sin to some extent, but only Christianity
offers real hope:? Jesus Christ dying on the cross in our place.? It should
be clear that although most religions have some concept of "salvation," there
is no agreement at all over what "salvation" is.