Vol. 6, No. 9
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The religious world of today is vastly different from the one in which I grew up. In 1958 The Yearbook of American Churches reported that a record 62% of all people in the United States were members of a church. Certain polls taken at the time revealed that 95% of Americans considered themselves a Catholic, Protestant or Jew. A tract written years ago by brother Batsell Barrett Baxter was entitled Neither Catholic, Nor Protestant, Nor Jew. It affirmed the value of simple New Testament Christianity. It argued that a person need be neither Catholic, nor Protestant nor Jew in order to be pleasing to God. If brother Baxter were still living and were to write that tract today, he might title it, Neither Catholic, Nor Protestant, Nor Jew, Nor...
Today, our religious world has changed dramatically. There are thousands of religious cults and world religions dotting the landscape. The proliferation of new religions with at least some semblance to Christianity has never been greater than it is today. In our pluralistic society it is not unusual to find that standard religious fare has given way to seemingly countless new religions and spiritual fringe groups. Old-time cults like Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Christian Science and Seventh-Day Adventism maintain their grip on American society, and are growing around the world. A dear sister came to me recently being disturbed that a relative was involved with Branhamism. You may go to yoga classes for relaxation purposes and find yourself in the middle of a religion. New Age gurus, apocalyptic cults, Jesus cults, Eastern mystical imports and psycho-spiritual self-help cell groups have become increasingly popular with the dawning of the twenty-first century. Along with these new religions comes a new vocabulary and new worldview to a public less than discerning. In growing numbers of hotels the Gideon's Bible now keeps company with other "sacred" volumes like, Book of Mormon, Teachings of Buddha, Science and Health with Key to The Scriptures (Christian Science), and The Way to Happiness (Church of Scientology).
The reaction to this state of religious discord is predictable. Some will question the validity of any and all religion, consigning religion itself to the junk heap. This conclusion is hardly justified. Others will go to the opposite extreme and affirm that all religions are right (at least in part). Many women's magazines today will tout the virtues of religion, whatever your choice! Still others will choose whatever seems good to them out of all the religious systems with which they are familiar.
The question for us is how do we argue the case for New Testament Christianity versus world religions? One answer is to show the genuineness of Christianity in contrast to false human systems. The Bible is clear in teaching that there is only "one faith" (Ephesians 4:5). That "one faith" has been "once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Also, we must be able to show the superiority of Jesus Christ over any other religious rival. When the inspired author of the book of Hebrews wanted to show the superiority of Christianity over Judaism he made a series of contrasts:
Jesus Christ is superior to angels through whom the Law of Moses was given (Hebrews 1:5-2:18).
Jesus Christ is greater than Moses and Joshua (Hebrews 5-7).
Jesus' priesthood is greater than that of the Old Testament economy (Hebrews 5-7).
Another approach is to present Christianity as being proven true on the basis of its historical claims. Peter wrote, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15). Did Jesus Christ really live? Anyone who wishes to examine the evidence cannot deny the historical reality of Jesus. Philosophies of the East have little concern for historical verification of their own belief systems. One can be a Buddhist in good standing and deny that Buddha ever existed. Hinduism has no known founder, prophet, priest, king or doctrine. Yet, as Wayne Jackson has correctly stated, "The success of the religion of Jesus Christ can only be accounted for on the basis of the divine origin of the movement, and that supernatural origin is demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." We, as Christians, will have to be prepared to defend the existence of New Testament Christianity. To do so we will need a good understanding of apologetics.
The God of heaven is an eternal, living Spirit (John 4:24). He is Creator [through Christ] and Sustainer of our universe (Acts 17:24; Colossians 1:16-17). In terms of character, God is loving, merciful and just. He will punish sin (Romans 1:18) and reward the redeemed (2 Peter 3:9).
As Christians we have a personal relationship with God. We pray to him as "our Father" (Matthew 6:9). We are exalted as his children (Galatians 3:26-27). As such, we are his special people (1 Peter 2:9). We have this special relationship through Jesus Christ his Son and our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).
There is nothing personal or personable about the gods of eastern mysticism. Buddhists make much of the fact that they claim to follow "one God" (Deuteronomy 6:4). They deny the idea of God in three persons as clearly taught in the New Testament (Acts 5:3-4, 9), because it connects the human Jesus with God. The Koran states, "So believe in Allah and His apostles and do not say, Three. Forbear and it shall be better for you. Allah is but one God" (Sura 4:171). Buddhism denies the existence of a personal God, period. Hinduism believes in one real being called Brahma (non-personal god above all others). It is also polytheistic, allowing for many lesser deities.
According to the New Testament, truth is objective [it originates outside of man]. Truth is in God's Word (John 17:17). Truth is in Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:7). As an objective standard, truth can be known (John 8:32), it can be believed (2 Thessalonians 2:12) and it can be obeyed (Romans 2:8). The Gospel message regarding Jesus Christ is "the word of truth" (2 Corinthians 6:7). To the Christian truth is logical, systematic and consistent. "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33). The Bible constitutes our all-sufficient and infallible guide in all matters of faith and practice in religion (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The cults disallow any objective standard of truth. To the Eastern mind, truth is subjective, that is, it comes form within one's self by means of meditation, intuition or enlightenment. Transcendentalism, for example, teaches that truth is perceived through intuition and that all authority-based religion is to be rejected. To the Eastern mystic truth is neither logical nor consistent.