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Most of the questions in this study had to do with church issues. I suppose this is because people want to know things about the church itself. Which is the true church; or why do we do what we do in the church of Christ; or do we have to attend and where should we worship and how should we do so in order to please God? Those are the usual questions when we solicit questions about the Bible. There are also many questions about salvation. I think this is normal because salvation is an important issue. Remember the one we started with, "Why do people in the church of Christ think they're the only ones saved?" This question is repeatedly asked. Other related questions are: "Is baptism necessary for salvation?" or "Can you be lost once you're saved?" These are the type of questions on the minds of people who attend church regularly. They seem to think primarily about these kind of things.
The questions about church, however, are ones that are usually debated among those who call themselves Christians. Debates about the true church that, the role of baptism and today's hot topic, the role of women in the church never fail to be part of any serious religious discussion. You need to remember, however, that the closer you are to what the Bible actually teaches on these subjects, the stronger your argument.
It's not about the size of the church or the group, it's not about tradition or name recognition when it comes to these type of matters or questions, it is always about Bible accuracy. Christianity is based on the Bible. The example I give is the Roman Catholic Church, something I know about because I grew up as a Catholic, in a place where most of the people were Roman Catholic. Consider the Catholic Church for a moment. It is the largest "Christian" group in the world. It is over 1000 years old and has name recognition in every nation, however, none of these things strengthens its weak doctrinal teachings on subjects like baptism or church function and form. The way the church should be organized, its teachings on spiritual matters and how it operates as a church are settled by biblical accuracy, not size, age or how elaborate the worship services are. These things count for nothing when it comes to answering important Bible questions. The key factor should be, "What does the Bible teach?" since it is the sole arbiter of matters pertaining to Christianity, including the church. Therefore, when discussing differences with fellow believers, it is important that you use only the Bible as your base and proof for what you believe and teach.
I've said that it is normal that fellow believers often discuss and debate various issues and Bible interpretations. The real conflict, however, occurs when discussing salvation issues with people who are not Christians. I don't mean a discussion with someone who has yet to become a Christian. I mean people who are presently members of a completely different religion. I'd like to briefly discuss these different religions in order to clarify the background of those who practice other faiths, and who may engage you in a discussion concerning religion.
There are 12 major organized religions in the world. These break down into many sub groups and types but for our study's purpose we will examine the 12 core organized religions. The idea of being saved or of going to heaven or being with God, no matter how you explain that, is part of every religion. Each group has a particular teaching on how someone lives after death, or continues their existence in some way after they die.
In the study of world religions the different faiths are categorized by the geographical location of their origins. These, then, would be the order in which they appear and the way we will examine the individual faiths. Near Eastern religions, Eastern religions and Far Eastern religions.
Near Eastern Religions
A very ancient religion, nearly extinct. There are still some that practice Zoroastrianism in the world today. It is a religion that comes from Iran and has been practiced in India and Afghanistan. Their idea of salvation is that if the individual struggles against evil and wins, they go into the place called heaven. Therefore, their concept of salvation: a winning struggle against evil in one's life.
We know that Judaism began in Israel and has spread all over the world. These people were chosen by God, and thus by virtue of the fact that you belong to this nation, you are saved. The idea is that if you are a faithful Jew and part of the nation, you are then subject to the reward. There are different groups within Judaism who have different ideas. Some don't believe that there is any afterlife and some do. However, the idea about salvation is always the same from group to group: you have to be part of the nation in order to have salvation.
Christianity is considered a Near Eastern religion because it started in Israel and has spread all over the world. In Christianity, salvation is a gift from God based on faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and belief that His vicarious death on the cross pays mankind's moral debt for sin. The saved experience conscious eternal life with God in heaven after they are resurrected at the end of the world.
Islam began in the city of Mecca in what is known today as Saudi Arabia and has since spread throughout the world. Islam teaches that salvation is accomplished by practicing and repeating the Five Pillars. The Five Pillars of Islam are: fasting, pilgrimage, giving alms, prayer (five times a day), and confessing that Muhammad is the true Prophet. A continual practice of these things is what saves you. An interesting point concerning this religion is that one is never really sure about their salvation. Muslims can do all the right things and still not be saved because Allah considers that you are deficient in some way or another that only he knows. With Islam, the only sure way to be in paradise is by death through jihad (dying in the defense of the faith).
In the practice of Hinduism, the idea of salvation or the way to salvation is by eliminating evil in your life until you are pure enough to merge with Brahma. In Hinduism, Deity does not have an individual personality, it is a force. Hindus continue in this effort at self-improvement through a series of reincarnated lives until they reach the final stage of merging with Brahma. The prohibition against killing cows for food stems from the belief that cows are the final reincarnated form one attains before merging with Brahma.
Sikhism is an amalgamation of several of these Indian religions, so they have similar features. In Sikhism, repeating God's name and the love of mankind will bring you to the same objective as the Hindu religion. The main differences between Hinduism and Sikhism are social and political rather than spiritual. In Hinduism the caste system locks you into the social status in which you are born. These stations are separated by wealth and position and no social movement is permitted. Sikhism was an effort to maintain some of the ideas of Hinduism but eliminate the caste system. Sikhs place a great moral value on the brotherhood and equality of man.
Far Eastern Religions
Confucianism comes from China and is not strictly a religion, however, is considered so for study purposes. It is a social system that promotes social conformity and harmony. Confucianism believes that virtuous living fostered by conformity and harmony will give you heaven on earth. When people conform to the right way of living they will create a society that works well - a social paradise. There is no formal worship of a Deity or belief in the afterlife.
The religion of Japan, believes that the country itself fell from the heavens, and the Emperor is a god and the people are children of the gods. In the Shinto religion, Japanese supremacy and maintaining it, was heaven on earth. In the Shinto shrines a form of ancestor worship is practiced since their idea of heaven is to live on through their descendants.
Buddhism originally comes from India. In Buddhism, the idea of salvation is that the elimination of desire leads to eternal bliss. The final state is unconsciousness as one is absorbed into the greater Being. This is accomplished through meditation, religious practice or asceticism. The goal is to discipline the body to the point where it no longer experiences desire since it is desire that is the root of all pain and suffering.
Taoism originates from China and also Japan. Taoism or Daoism is a type of belief, or a way of thinking about life. It is at least 2,500 years old and said to be a philosophy. ... Instead of spending a lot of time trying to explain what the Tao is, Taoists focus on living a simple and balanced life in harmony with nature. It is a religion that strives for balance in life. One of the main ideas of Taoism is the belief in balancing forces, or yin and yang. These ideas represent matching pairs, such as light and dark, hot and cold, action and inaction, which work together toward a universal whole which is the main goal of this practice. Taoists have no deity or worship rituals. The main activity is the effort to be in harmony with the Tao and thus live a balanced life.
Paganism is religion. It is worldwide. There are forms of paganism everywhere including all forms of voodoo or witchcraft, magic and nature worship. Nature worship is the type of religion practiced by Native Americans here in the United States and in other places where the subject of the worship is the land, air, trees and other elements of nature including the stars.
The main idea in paganism is that man manipulates the spirits or the unseen forces in nature with various incantations and rituals in order to create an ideal place here on earth. There is also the manipulation of the spirits to advantage oneself or bring harm to enemies.
Atheists believe that mankind is the highest form of life, and there is no God, heaven or salvation beyond the material world. The goal is to make the short existence one has here as pleasant as possible using whatever philosophy or system that achieves this optimum state.
These are the major beliefs of the world and in history, concerning salvation. And again, I have to repeat, we've not done the topic justice. Please note some important points about these various beliefs when you compare them.
First of all, they all have some form or idea of salvation. Every group aspires to a better life somehow, either a better life here through the practice of their religion or belief, or a better life in another world after this life is over. Every belief system has this idea of salvation whether it is a way of having the best life possible here on earth or aspiring to another existence after death. Second, and this is an important point, every one of these religions/belief systems, except Christianity, is a works or law-based system for achieving salvation, heaven or the good life here in this world. All of them are work-based concepts. For example:
- Zoroastrianism - the person has to win the struggle over evil.
- Judaism - You must obey the Jewish law and customs.
- Islam - Muslims must practice the five pillars successfully.
- Hinduism - The individual must purify himself from evil in life, after life, after life.
- Sikhism - Proper worship and conduct must be performed in order to be worthy to be saved.
- Confucianism - Heaven on earth is possible, but only through personal conformity to the rules of society.
- Shintoism - Must maintain Japanese supremacy at all costs.
- Buddhism - Must renounce self in order to reach Nirvana.
- Taoism - Must maintain Yin/Yang balance otherwise, no harmony.
- Paganism - Must appease the gods and spirits in order to be rewarded.
- Atheism, compliance to a system or a philosophy. You must be in compliance to be happy; or practice total non-compliance, in order to be free. So, you're either going to be an anarchist - break all the rules, or keep all the rules, but you've got to deal with the rules either way.
Note that in every single one of these religions, the burden is on the human being to do something, achieve something or comply with someone or something, in order to earn or find heaven, nirvana, salvation, happiness, moksha or oneness with Brahma. You name it, whatever salvation is called, you've got to do something in order to be worthy of it.
Christianity is the only religion where the offer and the burden for accomplishing salvation rests solely with God, and man can do nothing on his own to deserve or to accomplish his own salvation.
Salvation from a Christian perspective is possible and available to all.
- Christianity is not culturally or geographically based, like a many of these other religions - i.e. Judaism.
- Christianity offers a tangible, conscious, personal experience of salvation and heaven, which others don't.
- Christianity promises life eternal after death. In Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism and Atheism, there is no life after death.
- Christianity is a salvation offered because of love and received because of faith. Zoroastrianism and Islam, these are both works-based religions.
- Christianity is filled with hope for the future. Paganism, especially, is based on fear and the mystery of the unknown.
Therefore, when you compare religions, you learn of many practices and fascinating histories, as well as great leaders and deep spiritual ideas, but the bottom line is always what they teach about the salvation of the soul or what they teach about heaven or the improvement of the spiritual person. This is what religion is all about in the end: reconciling human beings with the One who is greater than they are. This is the essence of religious practice.
So, in the debate over this issue among the 13 major religions or systems in the world, Christianity's teaching is universally accessible and timeless, not to mention unique among the 13. In all the other religions, man has to reach and pull himself up to God. Christianity is the only religion where God reaches down and brings man up to Himself.
I ask you, which religion do you want to practice? If you had no religion and you were offered the choice, which way would you want to go? Would you want to climb up to heaven using your own resources, or would you prefer that God simply brought you up to Himself by His own power? Christianity is the most desirable religion because it is unlimited and offers eternal life with power, with happiness, with consciousness, with knowledge of God and knowledge of self.
People often ask, "Will I know who I am in heaven?" Absolutely! How could you be happy if you didn't know who you were? If you suddenly arrived in heaven, but you didn't know who you were, or had no consciousness of who you had been, how could you experience happiness? You have to know who you are. You have to be able to know that you're in heaven. You will know that everything that you read in the scriptures was true because now you are here. Therefore, you have to be conscious in order to experience happiness in heaven. "Will we know each other?" Absolutely, we'll know each other in heaven. Why wouldn't we? If I'm me and you're you, why wouldn't I know you? Some also ask, "What will we talk about?" In my opinion, I believe that we won't be interested in talking to each other because we will be too involved in knowing and worshipping our Lord.
A more unhappy thought is, "Will we think about the people who didn't make it?" I don't believe we will because in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) it says that there is a gulf between those in heaven and those in hell so that there can be no communication or crossing over from one dimension to another. I believe that this is Jesus' way of telling us that we can no longer communicate literally, emotionally or historically with those who we once knew but are not with us in heaven. This buffer to maintain our peace of mind and happiness is given to us by God to erase the knowledge of sin, sinners and unbelievers we once knew. We will have a spiritual body and I personally believe that we will be so absorbed in knowing God that this experience will eclipse everything else. No other religion offers this experience of heaven or has historical documentation of God's appearances, miracles and words to confirm these promises.
In conclusion, when it comes to a discussion concerning salvation with those of other religions, we have the most compelling and powerful argument for the salvation offered through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, when talking about religion with someone of another faith, the best place to make your case is the superiority of Christian salvation taught in the Bible. Let's be realistic, you are never going to debate with a Muslim believer about baptism since this rite has no interest for him. However, a Muslim or a Hindu or Buddhist cares about salvation or what happens after death. This similar interest can be the common point of discussion in which the Christian religion has the strongest argument and evidence of a superior experience and manner of receiving this most precious and universally desired blessing.