Archive for September, 2012

What Christians Can Learn From Other World Religions

September 19, 2012

Title: What Christians Can Learn From Other World Religions

Text: Luke 11:1, Thessalonians 4:3-5, Matthew 5:11

Time: August 2nd, 2012

 

I’ve just finished up a message serious on the other major world religions – Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. I basically gave a critique of the top three problems in each faith. For example, I explained how in Islam, Jesus is given short shrift to Mohammed and the Bible is placed lower in value than the Koran. So I basically pointed out some shocking problems with these rival religions to Christianity. I have no problem warning people to stay away from these false religions if they haven’t gotten too close already, or if they are participating in one of them to flee it, as soon as possible. Why? Because as we examine all the major world religions we quickly realize that, contrary to popular opinion, they don’t all teach the same thing. In fact, at core, they teach totally different things altogether – which is why they are separate religions and haven’t merged together. For example, to be a true Muslim requires that one not be a true Christian or Jew. To be a true Hindu is impossible if one is a true Jew, and so forth. About the only mixing and matching that could take place is between, say, a Jew and a Christian; or a Hindu and a Buddhist. But for the most part, religions are incompatible with each other on core teachings. But having said that, what can a Christian learn from the other world religions? I’ve just completed a message series critiquing the major world religions, but now I’m asking the question, “How can Christians learn from these faiths?” Now for some Christians, that’s the wrong question to ask because they might say, “If these religions are wrong or false, then we shouldn’t be trying to learn anything from them.” True enough, as far as doctrine goes, I would agree that Christians have no business, for example, snooping around the Koran, trying to find some truth in Islam. Why? Because in Christianity we have a complete revelation from God in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation; we don’t need additional religious truths in order to believe and live out the Christian faith. But I’m not talking about doctrines per se, I’m asking a different question – “What can we as Christians learn from members of other religions?” And in answer to this question, I believe the reply should be, “We as Christians can learn some things from others that can even help us be better Christians.” For example, one of the illustrations I’ll make in this message today is that as Christians we can learn some things by watching the total commitment we see in members of other religions; and we can learn from it. Not that we learn from the religion itself, but we learn from the religious person’s commitment to what they believe, even if it’s false. We can admire their dedication, for example, and learn from its example for our lives as Christians. So let me unpack this a little further and point out three areas that we as Christians can learn from members of other religions. (more…)

The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Buddhism

September 19, 2012

Title: The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Buddhism

Text: Psalm 14:1, Genesis 1:31-2:1, Luke 23:42-43

Time: July 28th, 2012

 

Most Americans are not very familiar with the religion of Hinduism or the religion of Buddhism, although more and more Americans are encountering them through the influence of foreign teachers coming to America. For example, in the case of Buddhism, the most important teacher to the West is the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Hollywood celebrities flock to hear him speak — which draws the attention of the public, who join in to see and hear what all the fuss is about. Through books, radio, and television interviews the Dalai Lama communicates the basic teachings of Buddhism to culturally Christian populations. But what is Buddhism, and how does it differ from Hinduism? Last time, I talked about the three most shocking beliefs of Hinduism – belief in an impersonal ultimate reality or God; an inability to categorize anything as ultimately right or wrong, true or false; and belief in the transmigration of the soul or reincarnation. These are strange beliefs to the most westerners who were raised, at least nominally, on Christianity. Buddhism continues in the strange belief category with such shocking things as – an atheistic or agnostic teaching about God, reincarnation of the soul (but only rebirth back into another human life, in contrast to Hinduism, which teaches rebirth into lower life forms, such as animals), and salvation through meditation. Which is more popular in the Untied States today, Buddhism or Hinduism? That’s hard to say because of so many different groups, societies and organizations that promote one or the other or both. For example, mostly Hindu teachings are promoted by the Hare Krishna’s, and mostly Buddhist teachings are promoted by the Dalai Lama. The Beatles traveled to India to learn Hinduism decades ago drawing attention to that religion, while contemporary celebrities like Richard Gere and Steven Segal follow and promote Buddhism. Of course, Hinduism as a religion came first, then Buddhism followed, but they both share a similar worldview that is radically different from the traditional Western theistic worldview. Buddhism claims that the primary problem of life is suffering due to wrong expectations and desires about life. It then offers a spiritual path to eliminate wrong desires as a means to cope with life’s suffering and achieve spiritual salvation, which is called Nirvana. Through meditation, Buddhism teaches, one can achieve salvation by escaping the cycle of reincarnation and reaching a new consciousness. Again, all of this sounds very strange to someone raised in the West, and it is strange, confusing and even contradictory to anyone attempting to understand it. But because it’s important for Christians to understand what and why they believe what we believe, it’s also important that we understand what others believe as well. So let me take a few minutes and outline the three most shocking beliefs of Buddhism. (more…)

The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Hinduism

September 19, 2012

Title: The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Hinduism

Text: Exodus 3:14-15, Isaiah 5:20, Hebrews 9:27

Time: July 27th, 2012

 

So far I’ve talked about two different religions – Islam and Judaism – how they differ from Christianity. I pointed out some of their more shocking beliefs, such as with Islam, how Muslims put Mohammed above Jesus in honor and esteem. From a Christian perspective this is unthinkable. Or how, in Judaism, Jews reject Jesus as Savior, Lord or Messiah – even though he was one of their own, as were his disciples, as was the entire early Christian church. Again, from a Christian perspective, to reject Jesus is just plain spiritual blindness. Today, I’d like to turn to a completely different direction from the Middle Easter – the home of Judaism and Islam – and turn to the Far East – home of Hinduism and Buddhism, two other major religions of the world. With these two eastern religions we encounter not only different doctrines and practices, we run into an entirely different outlook on reality. In other words, the differences between the religions of the Middle East, like Judaism, Islam, even Christianity, are differences of particular beliefs and practices, but they all share a common worldview, a common view of reality, only provide different answers to the questions this reality raises. For example, in Islam, Judaism and Christianity there is a common assumption of monotheism, that is, belief in One God. Each different Middle Eastern religion answers the question how man is to approach the One God differently, for instance. But in the religions of the Far East, there is a radically different view of what constitutes reality. There is no assumption of monotheism in the Far East; to the contrary, the assumption is that all is God or what is called, Pantheism.  In eastern religions, many or even most of the basic assumptions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are missing. In their place are totally different assumptions about what is ultimate reality, who is man, where man came from or where man is going. Also, in Hinduism and Buddhism, the diagnosis of what is wrong with the world or what is wrong with man is totally different from that of the three major monotheism religions. So consequently, the solution or answer given by eastern religions will be radically different from that given by Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Therefore, the fundamental beliefs and practices of Hinduism, for example, are almost incomprehensible to anyone familiar to the Judeo-Christian culture, or even Islamic culture as well. So then with Hinduism and Buddhism, the basic question isn’t so much about specific beliefs and practices, but more importantly – is the eastern assumption about fundamental reality correct? I’d like to demonstrate by reviewing three shocking Hindu beliefs that the fundamental eastern worldview is flawed, not in order to pick a fight, but in order to get closer to the truth. (more…)

The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Judaism

September 19, 2012

Title: The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Judaism

Text: Matthew 26:63-66, Hebrews 9:22, Matthew 26:59-61

Time: July 26th, 2012

 

I’m in the middle of a message series on the most shocking beliefs of the major world religions. Last time I talked about the most shocking beliefs of the Muslim faith – that Mohammed is held in greater esteem than Jesus, that the Koran is viewed as more authoritative than the Bible, and that for Muslims spiritual salvation is obtained not by faith primarily but by submission to Allah’s divine law. Some of these points may not seem shocking at all, but for most Christians they are because they contradict Christianity. It demonstrates once again that Muslims and Christians do not “just believe about the same things.” Today, I come to the religion of Judaism, and in respect to Christianity Jews almost do believe almost the same thing as Christians, except the big difference is centered on the identity of the Messiah Jesus Christ. Christians, of course, see Jesus as Savior, Messiah and Lord; Jews, on the other hand, see him as neither. For Jews, Jesus is at best some kind of prophet – although they aren’t sure what kind of prophet they’d categorize him; or, they reject him outright as a false prophet who led many Jews and many more Gentiles astray. Now in today’s contemporary world it’s not popular to emphasize the differences between religions, especially between the religions of Christianity and Judaism. Hasn’t the relationships between Jews and Christians been tense enough? Do we really need to add to the division by debating and discussing their differences again, today? Well, yes, it is important to outline the major differences between world religions, and yes, also between the religion of the Jews and the religion of the Christians. It’s important because ignorance is never the answer. Many people still continue to confuse the beliefs of Jews and Christians. Others understand and acknowledge there are differences but aren’t particularly interested in talking about them because they feel that one religion is as good as another, just as long as it helps the individual believer. But that post-modern and relativistic view of faith isn’t very helpful in seeking the truth. I’m aware that many people in the modern world have given up on seeking after any religious truth, since they feel that faith is essentially more about psychology than objective reality. But as Christians we oppose such radical skepticism. We believe in objective truth, and we believe that Christianity brings such truth into the world through the person of Jesus Christ. We believe the Bible teaches truth, not just subjective inner truth, but also external, objective truth as well. That’s why it’s important to know what other religions teach and practice, in order to test their teachings against the objective truths of the Bible. What we believe and how we live really do make a difference, in this life and the life to come. So let’s explore today three of the most shocking beliefs found in Judaism today. (more…)

The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Islam

September 19, 2012

Title: The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Islam

Text: Philippians 2:6-8, Revelation 22:18-19, Romans 1:16-17

Time: July 25th, 2012

 

In our modern secular world it’s fashionable to view all religions as the same, essentially. More and more people today consider all religions doing, or attempting to do, more or less the same thing – comprehending ultimate reality.  So then differences between religions are minimized in the contemporary world. But in reality it is impossible to seriously believe that all religions are the same once we start to compare them point-by-point. Once we scratch below the surface, we quickly realize that they teach many radically different things. For example, most people in the West, most Christians, would be shocked to find out what Islam really believes, because the common misconception is that Muslims believe essentially the same thing Christians do, except they follow Mohammed and the Koran. Yes, Islam teaches there is one God and acknowledges many of the same prophets and holy men as Jews and Christians, and accepts many of the Bible stories. But Muslims put all of these together different in their religion. I’m aware that it’s not “politically correct” to criticize another person’s religion, especially Islam post-911, but if we don’t scratch below the surface and find out what Muslims really believe then we’ll remain forever ignorant and limit ourselves to superficial comments that don’t get at the truth of things. Tolerance doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge differences between religions; it means we recognize the profound differences between different beliefs, yet respect the people of different faiths. Pointing out differences in doctrine and practice between religions – and even criticizing false teachings found in different religions – doesn’t mean we harbor hate in our hearts towards others. It may simply mean we want to get at the truth. One of the reasons why many contemporary citizens of the modern world don’t like to debate or discussion different religions is because they don’t believe there are any absolute spiritual truths. If no religion is speaking the real truth – or in other words, that which corresponds to reality – then there’s no reason to argue over different religious beliefs. This is essentially what philosophers call “post-modern thinking” – that there are no absolute spiritual or moral truths. In the post-modern atmosphere it’s easy to see why people wouldn’t want to engage in a fruitless discussion about religious truth, when they don’t believe there really is any truth in religion. But as Christians we can’t subscribe to post-modernism’s skepticism towards truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” John 14:6. Christianity affirms truth, which is why we Christians must be able to point out the errors in other religions. Today, I’d like to point out the three most shocking false teachings in Islam. (more…)

A Friendly Critique of Eastern Orthodoxy — Three Erroneous Beliefs

September 19, 2012

Title: A Friendly Critique of Eastern Orthodoxy – Three Erroneous Beliefs

Text: Galatians 2:16, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Exodus 20:4-5

Time: July 23rd, 2012

 

In previous messages I’ve gone through what I called “A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism,” in an effort to point out a number of unbiblical teachings found in the Catholic church. I consider Catholics brothers and sister in Christ, although I maintain with the Reformers that they hold to some false teachings that at worst could damn the soul and at best hinder one’s spiritual life as a Christian. In other words, some of the false teachings in the Catholic church are severe enough to potentially damn the soul, but most of them can be seen as hurting a believer’s spiritual progress. It’s the same way, I believe, with the false teachings in the Orthodox church. Again, I consider members of Eastern Orthodoxy as brothers and sisters in the Lord, although, just as with Catholicism, they hold to a number of false doctrines and practices. Some of these false teachings, such as teaching about salvation, have the potential of damning the soul if taken a certain way. But most of the false teachings found in Orthodoxy, like in Catholicism, more or less oppose full spiritual growth in Christ. In other words, they hinder Christian maturity. Before the year A.D. 1054 there was a general unity within Christianity, although the church in the West and the church in the East were gradually drifting apart due to many factors. But after 1054 the split was official, and Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity have developed differently ever since. But nevertheless, Orthodoxy and Catholicism share many or most of the same Christian beliefs and practices. For example, they both accept the first seven ecumenical councils; they both recognize more or less the same canonical scriptures; they both hold to apostolic succession; they both view the Mass in similar ways; both follow the same basic structure in the Liturgy, and so forth. So there are many, many similarities between East and West, between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This explains why the late Pope John Paul II saw Orthodoxy as a priority in the eventual unity of all Christianity, because it is already so close to Catholicism in many ways – much more closer than Protestantism in its many forms. So in a sense, many of the same criticisms found of Catholicism apply to Orthodoxy. However in this message, and in the message that follows this one, I’ll try to avoid reduplicating what I’ve already said about a particular false teaching, except where there is some unusual or important twist on a false teaching that Orthodoxy brings. Unfortunately, many of the errors that we see in the Roman Catholic church were already present in the established Christian church before the East-West split in A.D. 1054. Consequently, both branches of the church continued to promote errors as they had before. But let me get specific and point out three erroneous teachings found in the Orthodox church. (more…)

A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism — Three Additional Erroneous Beliefs

September 19, 2012

Title: A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism – Three Additional Erroneous Beliefs

Text: 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 4:14, Mark 14:22-24

Time: July 22nd, 2012

 

This is the final in a series of messages on Roman Catholic doctrine – some of the erroneous teachings within the Catholic church. Of course, there are more points of agreement and harmony between Protestants and Catholics than disagreements; but we won’t talk very much about these because I want to point out the differences. I’m also not going to claim that Protestant theology or doctrine is without error or mistake. Depending on which particular theology we investigate, I’m sure we could uncover something, somewhere that doesn’t perfectly line up with the biblical teaching. One of the great truths that emerged from the Reformation in respect to the church was that no person or group of persons is immune from error. Everyone needs to be held accountable to the Word of God. No church is infallible; no teacher is above error. When we look around the Protestant world today – and there is a vast field of churches and denominations to behold – we can spot error immediately. For example, if we glance a critical eye upon the Episcopal church in the United States we will probably see more heresy and apostasy per square inch than anywhere else. This is the denomination that ordains active homosexual priests; but not only that, appoints active homosexual bishops to oversee the church. But not only that, it allows churches to bless same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships. All of this is in direct contradiction with the New Testament moral teaching on sexual relationships. Shame on the Episcopalians! One thing that can be said for the Roman Catholic church is it doesn’t ordain homosexual leaders or bless same sex unions – and it’s hard to imagine that it ever would do so. In this respect, whether knowingly or unknowingly, the Catholic church is following the Bible more closely than many so-called Protestant churches, like the Episcopalians. The Roman Catholic church is also strongly pro-life or anti-abortion; again, it follows more closely the sacred scriptures than many supposedly Reformation churches. So in pointing out the major errors of the Roman Catholic church, let us not suppose that other churches are error-free; they are not. Today, I’d like to cover the final three erroneous doctrines that I feel are important enough to mention in connection with this message series. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more doctrines and practices found in Roman Catholicism that could be mentioned; there are many more. But these three, along with the six others I’ve already talked about are important enough to underscore. These last three errors of the Catholic church are – prayers to the saints, priestly absolution, and the sacrifice of the Mass. Let’s look at these three errors of the church. (more…)

A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism — Three More Erroneous Beliefs

September 19, 2012

Title: A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism – Three More Erroneous Beliefs

Text: Luke 1:26-28, Hebrews 9:27, Hebrews 10:11-12

Time: July 20th, 2012

 

Last message I started a series entitled, “ A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism,” by pointing out what in my opinion are the top three errors within the Roman Catholic church. I see Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ who have taken on some false doctrines that need to be reformed. The false doctrines I talked about last time were first, the confusion of works and faith within the Catholic church; next, the infallibility of the church; and finally, the infallibility of the Pope. This time I’d like to talk about three more false teachings found within Catholicism – the exaltation of Mary, the doctrine of purgatory, and teachings on indulgences. I plan one more message after this one that I hope will cover still three more erroneous teachings, such as prayers to the saints, the sacrifice of the mass, and the practice of priestly absolution. There are still more questionable and even false teachings within Catholicism, but I think these are the main problems that cause trouble. As a Bible-believing Protestant Christian I believe, along with the 16th Century Reformers such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, that everything — every doctrine and every practice within Christianity — must be tested by the Bible. If the teaching or practice isn’t biblical, it shouldn’t be taught as doctrine or practice within Christianity. So as we go through the erroneous Roman Catholic teachings we should keep in mind that the reason they are judged in error is because they either aren’t biblical teachings or they contradict biblical teachings. Some false Roman Catholic teachings are judged false because they aren’t taught in the Bible, while other false Catholic teachings considered are wrong because they contradict clear biblical teaching. But in either case, the teaching introduces something into the Christian faith without biblical warrant. In other words, it isn’t biblical. One might respond by saying, “Well, just because a doctrine or practice isn’t found in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s automatically false.” True, but if something isn’t found in the Bible, the church has no right to teach it as doctrine or practice. For example, today, in our first point, I’ll talk about the erroneous Roman Catholic practice of exalting Mary the mother of Jesus. Many Catholic teachings about Mary are not found in the New Testament. Does that make them necessarily false? No, but it makes them unbiblical, or without the authority of God’s Word. Then by whose authority are they taught? Catholics would argue, by the authority of the church. But I’ve already explained that no church is infallible, not the Roman Catholic, not Eastern Orthodoxy, not Protestantism. So then “on the authority of the church” isn’t good enough to justify introducing a doctrine or practice into Christianity. Only the Bible can authorize Christian doctrine and practice. But let me review three more erroneous Catholic teachings. (more…)

A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism — The Three Most Erroneous Doctrines

September 19, 2012

Title: A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism – The Three Most Erroneous Doctrines

Text: Romans 3:28, Romans 3:10, 23

Time: July 14th, 2012

 

To begin a critique of the teachings of Roman Catholicism I must first state how much I appreciate the last two popes that have led the church. Beginning with Pope John Paul II and continuing on with Pope Benedict the XVI, I have enjoyed how they both bring an intellectual clarity to Christianity. I’ve read a few books of Pope John Paul II, but I’ve particularly enjoyed reading the works of Pope Benedict XVI or Joseph Ratzinger, who in my opinion is perhaps the greatest intellect to ever lead the Roman Catholic church.  At a time in Protestantism where church leaders seem to fleeing theology and opting for business management, politics or entertainment, it’s refreshing to have a Christian leader who isn’t afraid to rationally explain Christianity. In particular, he’s written three or four books where he does nothing but answers questions posed to him from a journalist about a wide range of topics. Instead of dodging questions, he answers them forthrightly and with depth. This I appreciate. So I have the greatest admiration for the current pope and also great admiration for the late Pope John Paul II. In addition, I have friends who are Roman Catholic. I’ve had the opportunity to attend different Roman Catholic church services over the years, and I’ve experienced the wide range of different styles of Catholicism from the very formal services found in large cathedrals, to the very informal services found in small local churches. I have nothing against Roman Catholics per se, nor do I hold any animosity towards the institution of the church due to any bad experiences of the past. My critique has to do with some of the doctrines and teachings of the Roman Catholic church as expressed in its official documents, such as church councils, papal decrees and other formal church pronouncements. Even so, I don’t consider Roman Catholicism a cult or false religion. I’m aware that some Protestant church leaders, authors and scholars do classify Catholic teaching as heretical enough to label it as a false religion or cult. I do not. My understanding of Roman Catholicism is that it is an ancient expression of Christianity that has departed from the biblical Christian faith in a number of key areas. It is still in need of reform, but it is not a false religion or a cult. That is too harsh a critique. It holds to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, the atoning sacrificial death of Christ on the cross for our salvation, the virgin birth of Christ, and so on and so forth. In other words, it affirms all the most important orthodox and historic creeds of Christianity, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. I fail to see how one can affirm so many sound, Christian teachings and be called a cult or false religion. Yes, there is error in Roman Catholicism, but I would like to point it out in a friendly way – which is why I am calling this message, “A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism – The Three Most Erroneous Doctrines.” Let me start with the three greatest errors of Catholicism. (more…)

Why I Am A Protestant

September 19, 2012

Title: Why I Am A Protestant

Text: Matthew 4:4, Romans 3:11, 23, John 10:14

Time: July 17th, 2012

 

Last time I explained why I am a Christian. I argued that Christianity best explains everything we experience in the world, it makes the most sense of everything when we think about it, and that it offers superior answers to more or most questions that we ask about life. I then also said that faith in Jesus Christ feels right, or in other words, it is fully satisfying personally and emotionally. Jesus claimed to be the bread of life, to fully satisfy our spiritual hunger – and I’ve found that to be true. Finally, I said that the superior fruits of the Christian faith are shown in the great success of the Western civilization. Christianity has been a greater blessing to more people than any other religion or philosophy. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t made mistakes or that it hasn’t failed or is without fault in the world. But it says that even with all its faults and failures Christianity has been a great blessing to the world, greater than any other belief ever. Now today, I’d like to talk about a similar thing, only get more specific, and answer the question, “Why I am a Protestant Christian.” There are three main branches of Christianity in the world today – Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Easter Orthodoxy. I’d like to explain why I’m a Protestant Christian, as opposed to say, being Catholic or Orthodox. Now to begin with, I must say that I was raised in a more or less Protestant Christian family, in a generally speaking Protestant American culture. So that stacked the deck somewhat in the form of Christianity I entered. And when I came to the place of committing my life to the Lord Jesus Christ personally, Protestantism was the form that I embraced because it was essentially the only expression that I had access to at the time. So I’m not unaware of the social and spiritual circumstances I was surrounded by when I fully embraced the Christian faith. But having said all that, and upon closer reflection on the different braches of Christianity, I’ve come to the point in my life that I can say that I not only embrace Christianity, but I also embrace Protestant Christianity. Why do I say that? Because there are some very good reasons why I believe that Protestant Christianity represents the purist and truest form of Christianity. I believe Bible-believing Protestantism is the truest expression of Christianity today. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate many aspects of Catholicism or even Orthodoxy. And there are days, when I see certain negative developments in Protestantism, that I wonder if maybe I should consider Catholicism or Orthodoxy. But something always brings me back to Protestantism as the superior form of the Christian faith. Why? Let me try to explain in this short message. So whereas last time I explained why I am a Christian, this time, I’d like to explain why I’m a particular kind of Christian – Protestant. (more…)