In this lesson, Mike will review the beliefs of the 11 major world religions concerning salvation and compare these with the teachings of Christianity on this important subject.
Most of our questions in the series had to do with church issues. Well, obviously people want to know things about the church. Who 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? Those are the usual questions when we have this kind of class. And then there are also a lot of questions on salvation. And I think that’s 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? That gets asked all the time. Is baptism necessary for salvation? We talked about that a couple of times so far. Can you be lost once you’re saved? So those are the general questions, probably the most asked questions in this type of class, because these are the questions on the mind of people who attend church regularly. They think about these things.
The questions about church, are the ones that are debated among those who call themselves Christians. Christians will debate with each other how is it, what’s proper worship? Well, two Christians are going to talk about that. Who is the true church, the role of baptisms, the role of women in the church. Again, the believers are going to be debating those type of things. You need to remember, of course, that the closer you are to what the Bible actually teaches on these subjects, the stronger your argument. You’re always going to be able to come back with what the Bible teaches.
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, these type of questions. It’s 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 Catholics. So you’ve got the Roman Catholic Church, which is huge, it’s old, has name recognition all over the world, but none of these things enhances its weak doctrinal positions on subjects like baptism or other matters. The organization of the church, ideas and teachings that are settled by biblical accuracy, not how big your church is, not how old your church is, not how spectacular your worship service is. That counts for nothing when it comes to answering important Bible questions. The important thing is what does the Bible teach. I keep reminding you of that idea.
So in discussing differences with fellow believers, it’s important that you stick with the Bible as your base and proof, okay. So that’s a bit of a review of what we’ve been talking about. Now, the questions of salvation are discussed also by believers, but the real conflict comes when discussing salvation issues with people who are not Christians. I don’t mean they haven’t become Christians yet. I mean, they’re not Christians. They’re of a completely other religion. So there are 12 major organized religions in the world, in the history of the world. Some people say, are you kidding? Only 12? I thought there were hundreds or thousands. Well, there are, but there are only really 12 main groups and all of the other religions are kind of branches of different groups. And so, 12 major organized religions in the history of mankind. However, each one of these has its own view of heaven and salvation. Because the idea of being saved, we say saved, but the idea of going to heaven or being with God, no matter how you explain that, is part of every religion. Every religious group has a particular teaching on how does somebody go to heaven, or how does somebody live after death, or whatever. And so, it’s difficult when discussing with someone of a completely other religion, the idea of salvation. So in order to help you kind of work your way through that, tonight I want to go over, in a very brief way, the salvation concept in every one of the major religions in the world. One thing I need to mention, when you’re studying religions and you’re comparing them, they call that a comparative religious studies. You’re comparing one religion to another. The way that they list religions is by geography.
So you have Eastern religions, Far Eastern religions and Near Eastern. It’s always broken down by geography. So that’s how we’re going to do it in this lesson.
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. It’s also from India, Afghanistan. Their idea of salvation is the individual struggles against evil, and if that individual wins over evil, then they go into the place called heaven. That’s their concept of salvation: a winning struggle against evil in one’s life.
We know the source is Israel, of course. And there are Jews all over the world. In Judaism today, the nation itself is chosen by God, and as part of the nation you’re saved. The idea is that if you’re a Jew, a faithful Jew, and part of the nation, then you’re subject to the reward. Now different groups within Judaism have different ideas. Some don’t believe that there’s any afterlife, some do believe that there is one, but the idea about salvation is always the same from group to group: you have to be part of the group in order to have salvation.
Christianity is considered a Near Eastern religion because it started in Israel. Of course, it has spread all over the world. Basically, the idea of salvation in Christianity is that salvation is a gift from God based on faith in Jesus Christ. That’s as compressed as I can make it. I know somebody will say, well what about baptism? Well, sure. How do you express that faith? Well, you express it in repentance and baptism. But if you’re going to just give a very brief succinct definition of salvation for Christianity, it’s a gift from God accessed through faith in Jesus Christ.
The first is Islam from the Middle East, of course, Africa and now all over the world. For Islam, salvation is accessed by practicing and repeating the five pillars. The five pillars of Islam are: fasting, pilgrimage, giving alms, prayer, prayer five times a day, and confessing that Muhammad is the Prophet. A continual practice of these things, a faithful practice of these things is what saves you. An interesting thing about Islam, there’s never really a hundred percent sure thing. If you talk to Muslims, they’ll say, well you can be saved, but if you’re not, praise Allah anyways. So in Islam, you can do all the right things and still maybe not make it, because Allah thinks you’re deficient in some way or another, that no one else is aware of but you, but he’s aware of. In the Islamic religion, the only one hundred percent sure way to be in paradise is through death through jihad. That’s the only one hundred percent sure way to be in paradise – that you die while fighting disbelievers. And the disbelievers are us, which may explain some of the allure.
You wonder, why are some young, perfectly healthy young men blowing themselves up. What’s behind that? Well, in a lot of the country, unemployment is eighty percent. In Islam, you have to have a dowry, you have to have money, you have to have something in order to have a wife. And if you don’t, you don’t get a wife. So with very dim prospects of work, success, personal fulfillment, with very difficult prospects of having a wife or finding a wife if you’re poor or don’t have a lot of education, dying in a blaze of glory with the absolute guarantee that you will be in paradise begins to look pretty good, especially if the leaders who are setting you up to blow yourself up pay your family a certain amount of money. Alright, so there’s not just religious zeal behind suicide bombers, there’s also the economic idea and the social pressure on a lot of young men and young women. But basically, salvation is accessed through the practice of the five pillars.
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, God does not have an individual personality, it is a force. You know in the Star Wars, in these movies, the force be with you. And people are saying, wow, what a concept. Where did they get that from? Well they got it from Hinduism. That’s where they got it from. The force be with you. That’s the whole idea behind the Eastern religion, a great force. And of course, you continue to keep trying, life after life after life, to purify yourself before you finally – why do you think they’re not, you’re not allowed to kill a cow? People are starving in places, but you can’t kill a cow, because many believe that the cow is the last reincarnation that you are transformed into before the next step of being taken up and merging with Brahma. So they don’t want to spoil somebody’s chance. Even to this day, I read an article a little while back that there was a big argument about this with the government. And the government came down on the side of their religious tradition and history. You still can’t destroy these animals for food.
Sikhism is an amalgamation of several of these Indian religions, so they have similar things. In Sikhism, they’re the individuals that wear the little sword and the turban. In Sikhism, repeating God’s name and the love of mankind will bring you to the same objective as the Hindu religion. The big difference between Hinduism and Sikhism is more social and political. In Hinduism you have the caste system, where you have the different stations in life. And if you’re born into that station, that’s where you stay. You can’t move up or down. Sikhism was a push to maintain some of the same ideas of Hinduism, without the caste system. There’s no caste system in Sikhism. So those are the Eastern religions.
Far Eastern Religions
Confucianism in China. Confucius, not really a religion, but it’s considered a religion for study purposes. It’s more political or social. It’s a social system, if you wish. But the belief is social conformity and virtuous living will give you heaven on earth. You wonder sometimes, you look at China and the things that they do, public things, and what do they have? Well, what do we have here in the West? Well, we have fire crackers, we have fireworks, and we’ve got dancers over here and we’ve got singers over here, and we’ve got people tumbling over there. Our shows, if you wish, are like that – three-ring circus. When China puts on a big public thing, what is it? Ten thousand dancers doing the same moves, right? Why? Because they’ve been so influenced throughout the decades by Confucianism. Confucianism teaches that you will have heaven on earth by conformity. People just conform to the right way of living, then we will create a society that works well – heaven on earth. Still, even though China is not a religious country, obviously, there’s still this influence there. And it serves the communist government well. Why not? To have everyone believe that the right thing to do is to conform to everything. If you’re the one in charge, making all the rules, sure, go for it, absolutely.
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. Same idea. They had this – I’ve mentioned this before, Second World War, the suicide bombers. They’d fly their planes into American ships. They believed that when they were doing this, they were doing it for God. They believed that because the Emperor was a god, it was impossible for them to lose. Impossible. That’s why they didn’t give up. That’s why when they lost battles everywhere, when the Americans were cutting off their Island, the embargo, we’re talking Second World War here, there was no way they could win they, were surrounded, they would not give up. Why? Because they thought their military was superior. Because they thought they had, like they had a secret weapon? No. Because they, the rank and file, they sincerely believed that they were on a mission from God, and their Emperor was God. And they couldn’t lose. But then, when America dropped a couple of nuclear bombs on a couple of their cities, and they saw the devastation – it wasn’t the people that gave up, it was the Emperor that finally realized that if they continued, I mean, they would just be completely wiped out as a people. You’d have no people left. It’s not good being a ruler when you don’t have any people to rule. As a matter of fact, in the surrender, unconditional surrender, one of the terms in this, in the surrender, was the Japanese had to take this idea out of their religious thinking. They were forced to take it out of their religious instruction. They even changed, they had to change their flag. Their flag was a circle, a red circle, and it had rays that went all around. And the meaning of the flag was that was Japan at the center of the world and it’s rays went everywhere. They were, manifest destiny, to conquer the entire world. And the United States made that one of the conditions of the unconditional surrender, that they had to change their flag. And what is their flag now? A white background with just a red Sun in the middle. They took away the rays.
Buddhism comes from India, also Vietnam, China, Thailand. In Buddhism, the idea of salvation is the elimination of desire leads to eternal bliss. You have to understand, in the Eastern religions, their end game, if you wish, the idea of heaven, is an unconscious, is becoming unconscious. You still exist, but you’re unconscious. The best description I’ve read is, you’re like a drop of water that falls into the ocean. So you’re still water, but you have merged with the great body of water, with the force. And so, in Buddhism, through meditation, through religious practice, through asceticism, the goal is to discipline the body to the point where the body does not have a desire for anything – no food, no comfort. Food, but to keep you alive. But I’m saying, that you eliminate all desire. And their idea is, if you eliminate all desire, you eliminate all pain and suffering and evil.
The yin and the yang, that’s from Taoism, from China and also Japan. Taoism is another one of these religions that believes heaven on earth type thing, and the way to achieve that is you have to become balanced in your environment, balanced in your environment. A good example is someone – I remember one of my professors saying, if you want to know the difference between Taoism and Americanism, in America if you want to build a road from point A to point B. Well, they get out the bulldozers and the rock movers and everything and you start at A and you bulldoze your way through the mountain and the trees and you get to B, and you build a road. In ancient China, if you had to go from A to B, you started at A, you went around that tree, then you went around that mountain, and then you avoided that creek, and then you avoided this grove of trees. Why was it like that? Taoism. You don’t disturb what is there. You’re in harmony, the yin and the yang, your balanced, balanced living. What is it Feng Shui? Did I pronounce that correctly? Some of you understand. People go into your house and they move the furniture around, so that everything in your house is placed in the right position, so that you’re in balance with the light and the air coming into your house and the movement through your house, so that you’re in balance. That’s Taoism.
Paganism is religion. It’s worldwide. There are forms of paganism everywhere. You read the Bible, right, what are you reading about when the Israelites enter the land of Canaan? All the pagan religions that were there. So, all forms of voodoo or witchcraft, or magic, or nature worship, nature worship is the type of religion practiced by Native Americans here in the United States and in other places, where the work, the subject of the worship or the participation of the land and the air and the trees, the sacred burial grounds. So the idea in paganism is that man manipulates the spirits or the unseen forces, in order to create heaven for themselves here on earth. I’ve also mentioned that to you, magic and the occult, the idea of magic in the occult is, you’ve got something physical that you manipulate or you say words or you make a brew or you do something in the physical world that will somehow manipulate the spirits in the spirit world, to act in your favor or to act against someone else. Voodoo, voodoo, the doll, perfect example, voodoo dolls. You get a representation of a person that you don’t like, or your enemy, and you stick pins in it. That’s the occult.
You say, well how can atheism be a religion? Well, it’s a kind of a religion. In atheism, man or mankind is the highest form of life, and there is no heaven, there is no salvation. There’s only here, now, the material world. And so, heaven is what you make of it here on earth, using whatever system or philosophy that works for you. It’s pretty much what atheists believe.
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, quote, religion or belief, or a better life in another world, the spirit world after this life is over. But every single one of them has this idea in their religion, which is actually the thing that moves their religion. Take that element out, the religion is useless. And secondly, and this is the important one, every one of these, except Christianity, is a works or law-based system for achieving salvation or heaven or the good life or whatever it is. 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.
- Taoism – No harmony (that’s as good as heaven gets).
- Paganism – Must appease the gods and spirits in order to be rewarded.
- Atheism, compliance to a system or a philosophy. You’ve got to do that to be happy; or 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.
Note that in every single one of these religions, the burden is on the human being to do something or achieve something or comply with someone or something, in order to earn or find heaven, nirvana, salvation, happiness, moksha, Brahma. You name it, whatever it’s called, a paradise, the Islam, paradise. 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 salvation.
Salvation from a Christian perspective is possible and available to all.
- Christianity is not culturally or geographically based, like a lot of these other religions – Judaism.
- Christianity offers a tangible, conscious, personal experience of salvation and heaven, with which others don’t.
- Christianity promises life eternal after death. Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism, atheism, there’s no life.
- Christianity is a salvation offered because of love and received because of faith. Zoroastrianism, Islam, these are all works-based.
- Christianity is filled with hope for the future. Paganism especially, is based on fear, mystery.
So when you compare religions, you can see many practices and fascinating histories and 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. I mean, that’s what religion is all about in the end: reconciling human beings with the one who is greater than they are. That’s what religion is about.
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 and it is unique among the 13. In all the other religions, man has to reach up 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 two, which way you want to go? Do you want to climb up to heaven, or do you want God to reach down and take you and bring you up to Himself? I think my money is with God taking me up to heaven. It is the most desirable religion, because it is unlimited, eternal life with power, with happiness, with consciousness, with knowledge of God with knowledge of self. People say, will I know who I am in heaven? Absolutely. How could you be happy if you didn’t know who you were.
If you, all of a sudden, you popped up and you’re in heaven, but you didn’t know who you were, you had no consciousness of who you were. How could you experience happiness? You have to know who you are. You have to be able to know, I’m in heaven. Everything that I read in the scriptures was true. I knew it was true, but now I’m here. So 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? And people say, well what do we talk about? You know what? I probably won’t be interested in talking to you and you won’t be interested in talking to me, because I’ll be way too busy talking to God, way too involved in knowing Him, absorbing Him. Will we think about the people who didn’t make it? I don’t think so.
In the parable, the rich man and Lazarus, where it says, there’s a gulf between the two. I don’t believe that is a literal thing. I believe that’s a parable, but one of the things that it teaches is there’s a gulf. That means there’s something between us in heaven and those who are not there. When Jesus says, you can’t go there, they can’t come here, and we can’t go there. I think that doesn’t mean physically we can’t go there. I mean, we can’t go there up here. Because that would be sadness, right. I have a brother, I have a mother, or I have a grandpa, whatever, who was, kind of a good guy, but had no use for religion whatsoever, didn’t believe in anything, no afterlife, period. Well, according to the Bible, that individual is not going to be spending time with God in the Spirit world. But I think, this is only my opinion here, but I think that this will not sadden us in heaven, because we lose the fleshly body and the fleshly memories and the fleshly things that go with it. We have a spiritual body. And I personally believe we will be so absorbed in knowing God, it’ll wipe out everything else. No other religion offers this or has a historical documentation of God’s appearances, miracle, words to confirm these promises. Mohammad never did any miracles.
So when it comes to a discussion of salvation with other religions, we have the most compelling and powerful argument for the salvation offered through faith in Jesus Christ. So when talking about religion with someone of another religion, the best place to make your case is the superiority of the teaching on salvation in the Bible for the Christian religion. You’re not going to argue with a guy who’s a Muslim about baptism. What does he care about baptism? Baptism, only a person who is interested in Jesus and pleasing Him wants to know about – okay, well what’s baptism? I’ll explain that to you. But a Muslim doesn’t care about baptism. A Hindu doesn’t care about baptism, but he does care about salvation. He does care about what happens after life. A Hindu cares about that. And a Muslim cares about that. And we have – the Bible teaches us a much superior experience of salvation.