Other Religions of the World
Is it true that “all religions lead to God” as some teach? What should an individual know about world religions that would enhance his/her church experience? Despite the rich and dynamic history of other world religions, what makes Christianity different?
(Response by Dr. Fritz Ridenour)
If you are looking for a church, the first thing to understand is that you are not among the few, but the many. In recent years, riding a wave of new interest in things spiritual, thousands, actually millions, of people have been looking for a church where they and their family can worship and grow in faith.
The question is, faith in what…or whom? It’s possible that you are remembering some of those “Bible stories” you heard in Sunday school as a child. Some of the “big names” start to emerge from the shadows of your memory: Adam and Eve…Noah… Abraham, Moses, King David. And of course, Jesus…depending on what you were taught, you recall that He healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, was crucified, buried in a tomb and came back to life.
It is quite possible, then, to use the Bible as a plumb line to compare biblical Christianity to other points of view..
But it all seems to be such a muddle. And you may be well aware that not every church claiming to be Christian believes the same things about Jesus or all the other parts of the Bible. For some, those Bible stories are just that—stories, but not based on fact. And then there is the question of other world religions. What about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and many other eastern viewpoints? And we cannot forget Judaism, to which Christianity owes its roots. All of these faiths seek to worship God as they understand Him. How does Christianity fit into the giant puzzle? Is Christianity one way to God—or the only way?
To help you sort it out, what follows is a Biblical plumb line that can help you compare one point of view with another. Masons use a plumb line—a string with a pointed weight on the end—to be sure they are laying a brick wall straight and true. In a passage in the Old Testament, God tells the prophet Amos: “…I am setting a plumb line among my people.” In other words, God would use His standards—His word—to measure and guide their lives.
It is quite possible, then, to use the Bible as a plumb line to compare biblical Christianity to other points of view. By “biblical Christianity,” I mean looking at the Bible on its terms, not changing its meaning to “keep up with the times.” What follows is written from an evangelical Protestant viewpoint: that the Bible is not a collection of myths and stories, but that it is true and authoritative, containing God’s very words. Now, it’s possible that you may not agree with me, or at least you will put some of what I say on the shelf labeled: “open to discussion.” That’s okay, we have to start somewhere, so let’s get to it.
Our plumb line hangs on one passage of Scripture in the New Testament: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…he was buried…he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3,4). In order to compare biblical Christianity to other views, you need to understand who Christ is and what He did for us; you need to realize that all (not some) of us are in rebellion against God and in need of a Savior; and (in some ways most important) you need to come to terms with the truth and reliability of the Bible, God’s divinely inspired Word.
Even skeptics admit there was a man named Jesus, but how could one man die for everyone’s sins for all time? Was Jesus only a man? Or was He something more that gave him the additional title of “Christ” (sent from God)?
The New Testament is packed with passages that directly or indirectly teach that Jesus was God in human form. Jesus Himself made numerous claims to deity, for example, He told His disciples: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). In several different encounters with the Pharisees (a very devout Jewish sect) Jesus clearly claimed He and His Father in heaven were the same, which to the Pharisees was blasphemy punishable by death (see John 8:58).
But the most telling passage is John 14:1-9. At the Last Supper, the night before He would go to the cross, Jesus said clearly: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Dozens of other Scriptures can be cited (see, for example, John 5:23, 8:19, 12:44, 15:23; Mark 9:37, 14:60-65). We can either accept the eyewitness accounts of Gospel writers, or we can label Christianity a fraud and Jesus a liar or a lunatic. C. S. Lewis said it best: “He leaves us no other alternative. He did not intend to.”[i]
If you are willing to grant that Jesus was equal to (of the same essence as) God, then it is not too hard to understand how His death could pay for all the sins of humankind. But one other major question remains. Did Jesus actually rise from the dead, proving beyond doubt that He was God and that all who believe in Him have eternal life (John 11:25,26)?
Down through the centuries many doubters (including brilliant scholars) have claimed it did not happen. They have theorized that He didn’t really die, that He just passed out and was revived later by His disciples. Another theory says His followers went to the wrong tomb and found it empty, or perhaps His friends (or His enemies) stole the body. But none of these “explanations” stand up to scrutiny when you actually read the New Testament accounts (see John 20:1-30; Luke 24:1-49; Mark 16:1-18; Matthew 28:1-15). Following His resurrection, Jesus was seen by His disciples and many other followers (up to 500 at one time, I Corinthians 15:6).
And no one can account for the total change that occurred in the disciples and His other followers—from quavering with fear to bold proclaimers of the Good News: Jesus did rise from the dead. All of the12 disciples (and many of the other witnesses) died violent and horrible deaths because they proclaimed their faith in Christ. As the Apostle Paul (also martyred by the Roman government) said: “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians l5:17). And that brings up another crucial point:
CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS
Another question asked by many people goes something like this: “What is this ‘sinner’ business? I’m not perfect, but a ‘sinner’? Actually I’m a fairly decent person, have never really hurt anyone, obey the law, pay my taxes. ‘Sinner’ must be a label for monsters like Hitler or Saddam Hussein.”
It’s typical to want to say that we are not all good, nor all bad, but sort of “in between.” We like to think we are “bad enough to be fun” (not dull or “holier than thou”), but of course we are good enough to “do the right thing” when it counts. Of course, there can be a problem with defining “the right thing.” In our secular post modern culture it is generally accepted that truth and morals are “relative”—meaning that questions of right and wrong depend on the situation or personal opinion. To say there are absolute truths about right and wrong is to be intolerant, bigoted or judgmental. But according to the Bible, God has shown us how to know right from wrong. Scripture is full of definitions for sin, which can be summed up like this: Sin is proud, independent rebellion against God in active or passive form.
To put it in the Bible’s terms ”sin is lawlessness ”(I John 3:4) and “all wrongdoing is sin” (I John 5:17). Active sin includes obvious no-no’s such as lying, stealing, murder and adultery (Exodus 20:1-17.) Passive sin is subtler, because it often involves attitudes or thoughts that lead us into lust, selfishness, greed, jealousy, pride, indifference and lack of love.. As James says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17, Living Bible).
In short, we all sin, either actively or passively and “…if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves…” (1 John 1:8). We all have that basic flaw we inherited from Adam—a sinful nature (see Romans 5:12-21). Scripture says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…” (Jeremiah 17:9). It would all be quite hopeless, except that the Bible says there is a cure: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). And, naturally enough, this brings up another puzzler for many: “How could Christ die for my sins? Isn’t every person responsible for his or her own sins?”
Almost all religions, cults and sects admit the problem of sin, but their answer centers around finding salvation through good works, or by keeping rules and laws. Biblical Christians, however, pin their hopes on the clear teaching of the New Testament: Jesus Christ paid for all our sins by dying on the cross (Romans 3:23,24). When Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, died on the cross, He satisfied God’s holy standard and paid the penalty for the sin of all of us (John 3:16,17). Since God is the One who set the standard, it follows that only Christ—who is God incarnate—could fulfill its requirements.
There is, however, one “hitch”: God’s offer is for those who believe that Christ is God, that He died for them and that He rose from the dead. Faith is all that is required. The biblical Christian is saved by grace—God’s unmerited, unearned and undeserved favor and love (Ephesians 2:8,9).
That almost covers 1 Corinthians 15:3,4, but there is one more point:
CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES
The last major question, which could easily have been first, is this: Can we trust the Bible to be true? Is the Bible actually “inspired” by God as the Apostle Paul claims in 2 Timothy 3:16? Was the Apostle Peter right when he said God the Holy Spirit guided the minds of the authors of Scripture, revealing to them what he wanted written? (See also 2 Peter 1:21.)
The Bible—particularly the New Testament—does have an unmistakable tone of authority because it was written by eyewitnesses, or people very close to those who actually knew and lived with Jesus. J.B. Phillips, gifted Greek scholar, has testified that as he translated the New Testament he “…felt rather like an electrician rewiring an ancient house without being able to ‘turn the mains off.’” [ii]
Granted, this is Phillips’ subjective opinion, so what about proof of the Bible’s accuracy and trustworthiness? Critics have ripped and pounded on the Bible for centuries and continue to do so with theories thinly disguised under the veil of scholarship. But the Bible stands fast for several reasons.
First, there is matter of fulfilled prophecy. The Old Testament contains over 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Using the science of probability, mathematicians have taken just 8 of these prophecies and shown that the chance of one person fulfilling all 8 prophecies is 10 to the 17th power, or 1 in 100 quadrillion. [iii]
Second the science of archaeology has proven, and continues to prove almost yearly, the accuracy of Scripture accounts, including the names of people, places and dates. Eminent archaeologists, such as Nelson Glueck and William Albright have stated that no archaeological discovery has ever disproved a biblical reference but archaeology has instead confirmed the Bible’s accuracy. [iv]
Whenever scholars study ancient manuscripts, they never have the originals, but copies to work from. The question is, how many years between the originals and the copies? Christian scholars have copies of parts of the New Testament as early as 50 to 100 years away from the original, and copies of the entire New Testament are but 225 years later than the originals. By comparison, the time gap between originals of other ancient manuscripts, such as Homer’s Iliad and Caesar’s Gallic Wars, ranges between 400 to over 1000 years. In addition, the number of copies of ancient secular manuscripts are few (some less than 10) while the number of New Testament copies stands at 5366! The point is simple: the New Testament is the best attested ancient manuscript in the world. [v]
A third piece of evidence for the Bible’s divine inspiration is its unity. The Bible was written over a period of 1600 years by 40 authors, most of whom did not know each other. Yet, all these authors, in different ways and from their different angles, are all talking about the same thing “…with a certainty as to bring a wonderful envy into a modern heart. ”[vi]
DO CHRISTIANS HAVE ALL THE TRUTH?
Of course not, because only God knows all the truth perfectly and exhaustively. Neither do Christians claim there is absolutely no truth in the teachings of other religions or worldviews. There are many truths that are common to all people. And surely Christians do not claim they are immune to cultural blinders or other errors. Error and foolishness are problems for everyone. That’s why Christians rely so heavily on God’s grace.
And obviously this brief description of Christianity doesn’t cover everything. But what you do have here are some basics that can help you start making comparisons between the plain teaching of the Bible and other points of view.
The following chart shows key differences between Christianity and four major world religions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
|God is three separate but equal Persons in One Essence— Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all co-equal and co-eternal.||Jesus Christ is God, second person of the Trinity, fully divine and fully human.||All have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard.||Salvation comes through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, God’s gift through His grace and love|
|God is One (Deut.6:4).||Jesus was a good teacher/ prophet, claimed to be divine but failed to deliver Israel from Rome's wrath.||Man is born neither good nor evil. He is free to choose throughout his life.||Through moral living and commitment to the one true God salvation can be earned through good works.|
|God is one, Allah||Jesus was a man, a prophet of lower standing than Muhammed. Some teach Jesus "swooned" on the Cross.||Man is born sinless but corrupts himself willingly. Sin can be overcome through personal will and strength.||Allah does not love those who commit wrong; salvation is earned through good works.|
|God is not a personal, loving God but a formless, abstract, eternal being without attributes||Jesus was merely one of many incarnations or "avatars", of Vishnu.||Sin is "utter illusion" because all material reality is illusory.||Salvation is deliverance from the endless cycle of death and rebirth through union with Brahma, achieved only through devotion, meditation, good works and self- control.|
|Denies the existence of a personal God or says God’s existence is irrelevant.||Jesus Christ was a good, moral teacher but less important than the Buddha.||Sin is lust that arises in one's life.||Salvation is to rid oneself of lustful desires by self- effort.|
NOTES: [i] See C. S. Lewis, “Rival Conceptions of God,” in Mere Christianity (1943; reprint, New York: Macmillan Press, 1980), 56 [ii] J. B. Phillips, Letters to Young Churches (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1950), xii [iii] Peter Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), quoted in Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, vol. 1 (Sam Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979, 1991), 166, 167. For many more examples of fulfilled Bible prophecy, see all of chapter 9, which covers messianic prophecies, as well as chapter 11, “Prophecy Fulfilled in History” [iv] See Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 65. Also see all of “Part II—Confirmation by Archaeology” in Evidence [v] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thos. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 33-38 [vi] Phillips, Letters to Young Churches, xii
About Fritz Ridenour:
Fritz Ridenour is a favorite writer for youth and adults around the world, with more than five million copies of his books in circulation. Ridenour and his wife, Jackie, live in Santa Barbara, CA. They have three children and ten grandchildren.
For Further Study:
So What’s the Difference? by Fritz Ridenour, (Ventura: Regal Books, 2001)
A comparison of biblical Christianity with great religions of the world, plus sixteen viewpoints that include Humanism, Post-Modernism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and the New Age.
The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (Nashville: Thos. Nelson Publishers, 1999)
A comprehensive but very readable defense of Christianity that includes the latest discoveries confirming the credibility of the Bible.
How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999)
Why the Christian worldview is the only rational approach to life today.
The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin, revised, updated and expanded, edited by Hank Hanegraaff (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997)
Updated information and coverage of new cults not previously mentioned make Martin’s classic even more valuable.
Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements by Alan W. Gomes, Editor (Zondervan Publishers)
A 16-volume series of 96-page booklets written by leading scholars on such viewpoints as Buddhism, Hinduism, the New Age, Goddess Worship and Satanism.
Nowhere else on the world wide web has such a caliber of scholars provided their wisdom and insights in one place designed to help you find the right church! Looking for a new Church is a very personal decision. Our experts with years of Church experience and scholarly research offer insights that can make the transition easier. Most of these Scholars have written entire volumes about the topics they discuss here. We want to help you determine what is and isn't important.Top