May 292015
 

Other religions part 1We have been going through, for some while now, a series on the subject of apologetics. This is the defence of the Christian gospel. We meet all sorts of people in our daily lives and many have a problem with God or Christianity many times through ignorance of what true Christianity is. They reject God for all sorts of reasons, many of which we have already looked at and provided a defence for. Things such as; how can a good God allow evil, what about suffering, is science compatible, what about hell etc etc.

Last week I made quite a provocative statement that ‘Christianity is the only way to God’ and we looked at reasons why this statement was true. To make this statement confidently I think it is at least reasonable to have a general overview of what other religions believe so we can compare them to Christianity. So for a few weeks I’m going to look at the major world religions, covering each one very briefly and after that some of the most popular cults that you may encounter. When you understand where people are coming from and what their major belief system is, it should help you find a connecting point to introduce them to Christianity.

We have such good news to share and rather than preaching at people, I believe it is really important that we love them and walk with them and that will then hopefully give us an opportunity to bring them our life changing news and point them in the right direction. So without further ado, let’s look at some of the most popular religions you will encounter;

BAHA’I FAITH

The Bahá’í Faith is one of the youngest world religions. It arose out of Islam in the 1800s and is now a distinct faith. It is based on the teachings of Baha’u’llah (Name means ‘glory of God’ in Arabic) who Baha’is believe is the most recent manifestation of God’s messengers (following on from Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammed). Recent because Baha’u’llah himself stated that he was not God’s final messenger. Bahá’í’s do not believe these prophets are all the same. The differences in the teachings of each prophet are due to the needs of the society they came to help and what mankind was ready to have revealed to it. They believe that God is transcendent and can’t be known directly, but he is known through the teachings of his prophets.

The Baha’i faith’s central idea is that of unity. It promotes gender and race equality, freedom of expression and assembly, world peace and world government, that people should work together for the common benefit of humanity. They believe that a single world government led by Bahá’ís will be established at some point in the future. Bahá’ís believe that every person has an immortal soul which cannot die but is freed to travel through the spirit world after death.

The Bahá’í religion may be unique in the way that it accepts all other faiths as true and valid despite their ‘apparent’ (I would say obvious) differences.

There are 6 million Bahá’ís in the world, in 235 countries

Their sacred Writings are: The Katab-I-Aqdas, The Katab-I-Iqan

BUDDHISM

Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. Buddhism developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BC, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He promoted ‘The Middle Way’ as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of luxury or poverty. Long after his death the Buddha’s teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.

In general, Buddhists do not believe in any type of God, the need for a saviour, prayer, or eternal life after death. However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia, so that this generalization is no longer true for all Buddhists. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.

There are around 376 million Buddhists throughout the world

HINDUISM

The origins of Hinduism can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization sometime between 4000 and 2500 BC. Though believed by many to be a polytheistic religion, the basis of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of everything. This totality is called Brahman. Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. The purpose of life is to realise that we are part of God and by doing so we can leave this plane of existence and rejoin with God. This enlightenment can only be achieved by going through cycles of birth, life and death known as samsara.

One’s progress towards enlightenment is measured by karma. This is the accumulation of all one’s good and bad deeds and this determines the person’s next reincarnation. Selfless acts and thoughts as well as devotion to God help one to be reborn at a higher level. Bad acts and thoughts will cause one to be born at a lower level, as a person or even an animal. Hindus follow a strict caste system which determines the standing of each person. The caste one is born into is the result of the karma from their previous life. Only members of the highest caste, the brahmins, may perform the Hindu religious rituals and hold positions of authority within the temples. Hindus celebrate many holy days, but the Festival of Lights, Diwali is the best known. Unlike most other regions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture (although the main Hindu texts are called the Vedas) and no commonly agreed set of teachings.

There are over 900 million Hindu’s worldwide.

ISLAM

Islam (which means ‘submission to the will of God’) was founded in 622 AD by Muhammad the Prophet, in Makkah (also spelled Mecca). Though it is one of the youngest of the world’s great religions, Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They believe that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalise and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur’an, which are the words of Allah (the Arabic word for God) as given to Muhammad and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad’s sayings.

The duties of all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and these are:

(1) Recite the shahadah at least once.

(2) Perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah

(3) Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy.

(4) Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the Qur’an from Allah.

(5) Make pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible.

Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to Allah will return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs , and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.

Other aspects of Islam are ‘Sufism’ which is Islamic mysticism. There are 2 distinct divisions in Islam ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shi’a’ which are difficult to explain in this brief blog. With the risk of being simplistic their main disagreements are over who would succeed the prophet Muhammed. Shi’as believe it should have been Muhammed’s son in law and cousin Ali. Sunni’s believe it should be his close companion Abu Bakr. These disagreements have caused major rifts in the Islamic community.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over 1 billion followers.

Next week we will look at some more world religions.

 May 29, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
May 222015
 

Is-Christianity-the-only-way-Wow, that title right there will get a lot of people hot under the collar. How dare you say that Christianity is the only way to God. You have probably heard it said on more than one occasion that “all paths lead to God” People will call you arrogant for making such a claim that there is only one way. So why do we proclaim it confidently? I want to set out some of the reasons below, in the hope that you will have confidence in your own beliefs but also to counteract false claims.

One of the simplest reasons for disagreeing with the statement that all paths lead to God is because all faiths and religions to a smaller or a greater degree contradict each other. Going back to logic; If ‘Truth’ is true (and there can only be one truth), it must be that ‘non-truth’ is false. For example, some religions have many gods and some are insistent that there is only one God, some believe in reincarnation and others believe in an afterlife away from the body, they can’t both be right. Some religions have similarities but they all disagree on one point or another. The bible states that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and if he did allow all these different beliefs it would indeed be confusing. It is reasonable to believe then that there is an absolute spiritual truth and that some religious claims must be false.

This way of thinking goes against a ‘post modern’ thought pattern, which believes you can pick whatever you like as long as it is true for you. In the post modern world you cannot tell somebody that they are wrong no matter how crazy their belief system is.

So why is Christianity true amongst all these other false beliefs? There are reasons why we can be confident of the truth of the Christian gospel.

Firstly, there are the amazing prophecies contained in the bible. Other religions have prophecies in them but they are way behind the bible in its level of accuracy. The Old Testament prophesied many hundreds of years before Jesus numerous accurate descriptions about Him, about His character and what He would do. Things such as the fact he would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), he would be betrayed by a close friend (Psalm 41:9) He would be crucified (Psalm 22) and his side would be pierced (Zechariah 12:10) and many more. This is clear evidence of divine influence upon the Bible.

Another reason to suppose that Christianity is true is because of its central character, Jesus Christ. Jesus has shaped history more than any other person and many throughout history have tried to deny he even existed or at the very least deny His claims and His miracles and His incredible teachings. He wasn’t just a great spiritual leader though, it was His claims that set Him apart. He claimed to be God incarnate, but unlike many before and since who have claimed to be God, Jesus actually backed up His claims. He did this by performing many staggering works which are recorded in the gospels. Things like; Turning water into wine (John 2:6-10), Casting out demons (Matthew 8:32), healing diseases (Luke 6:17-19), feeding a multitude (Matthew 14:15-21), walking on water (Matthew 14:25-27) and raising a man who had been dead for 4 days (John 11)

These accounts have been carefully transmitted to us by many reliable witnesses.

One of the central miracles of Christianity though is the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. We looked at this in detail recently at Easter time. The death and resurrection is so important though because without it Christianity itself would crumble (1 Corinthians 15:14).

It was the resurrection which changed the lives of His disciples and followers forever. Prior to the resurrection they were cowering in fear, afterwards and with the power of the Holy Spirit given to them by the ascended Christ, they turned the world upside down.

No other religious leader has died in full view of trained executioners, had a guarded tomb, and then risen three days later to appear to hundreds of people.  This resurrection is proof of every claim that Jesus made about himself, especially His divinity.

Buddha did not rise from the dead, neither did Muhammad, Confucius, Krishna or any other religious leader. Why would you want to follow a lesser leader?

We’ll conclude with what Jesus actually said about himself, which leaves no doubt as to what he thought about other ways to God;

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

 May 22, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
May 152015
 

CreationI still want to look at a couple more subjects in my series on apologetics, but I just wanted to finish the more scientific type posts on the subject of creation. I am keen to highlight and underline this subject as scientific because I know that many people in the scientific community are dismissive of even the thought of God.

I’m afraid I’m probably going to anger those people even more because this week I’m talking about ‘Young earth creation.’ I’m going to define this even further and call it ‘biblical creation’ I know that Old earth creationists will call their beliefs biblical creation as well, but I beg to differ as their arguments are simply too contrived.

Biblical creation starts with God and what He reveals about himself in the bible and from that starting point we seek to understand science.

Biblical creation is mentioned many times in the bible both in the Old and the New Testaments. But the foundational thoughts are focused in the first few chapters of Genesis which explain how God created the universe and everything contained in it. I understand that some of it is written poetically, but that shouldn’t mean that we totally rewrite the meaning of the text.

Biblical creation asserts that God created all things within 6 literal, 24 hour days. As you might imagine this has been hotly disputed. A lot of the arguments centre around the Hebrew word ‘yom’ which can indeed mean a different period of time, but in most cases simply means a day. It seems to me that the account in Genesis 1 is referring to days because it also mentions morning and evening.

Another reason why it is referring to a normal day is because God rested on the 7thday. Now God doesn’t need to rest at all, but he wanted to institute a rest day for his people to bless them and so He chose the seventh day (see Exodus 20:8-11)

These are just 2 arguments, but there are many others, which I cannot go into now for the sake of time.

If you accept that the bible was referring to 6 literal days, that means that the earth is somewhere between 6-10,000 years old. This is worked out by looking at the various historical events and many lists of genealogies listed in the bible.

This leaves many people with a problem with why the earth looks older than that, given geology, the fossil record etc. These problems can be explained by a worldwide flood at the time of Noah as recorded in Genesis 6 & 7. It is likely that the earth looked extremely different before the flood, with a huge canopy of water surrounding the earth (Psalm 104:6). At that time there were possibly no large mountains or oceans. The effect of this water covering the earth would have caused massive upheaval in the earth’s surface and it is this catastrophic event which caused the formation of mountains and oceans. This is consistent with how the earth is structured today and also the fossil record.

This may seem utterly amazing to imagine, but you have to consider that none of us were around at the time and so we just cannot prove anything by pure science (i.e. a repeatable experiment). So we are left with two main choices; One being evolution (which is highly problematic as we saw 2 weeks ago) and the other creation, which involves trusting what God says in His word. I know which one I choose to believe.

 May 15, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
May 082015
 

How it all beganWe’ve spent quite a few weeks now from a scientific angle and I don’t want to carry on for too much longer. I don’t have a huge passion for science, but what I’ve wanted to do is show you that science does fit comfortably with Christianity. We should have confidence that there are a growing number of very intelligent scientists and philosophers who can argue very effectively for intelligent design or a God inspired creation.

What I just wanted to do today was to sum up the main views about how the universe and life itself all began. This may help you as you are talking to people to see where they are coming from. These are very broad explanations as I don’t want to go into too much detail.

The first viewpoint is routed firmly in last week’s subject about Evolution. That is the belief that the universe came about without any help from God, “there is no God” they say. They say that life emerged from pre-existing building blocks which were influenced by natural laws (although it is not clear where these laws came from). I will call it atheistic evolution because as we will see later some people try to mix God and evolution together. There are various terms for people who would not believe in God such as Atheist, humanist, secularist or even agnostic.

The second viewpoint could actually be used as an umbrella for all the others, it is called ‘Intelligent design’. But I just wanted to mention that this idea is by no means exclusively Christian or religious. The very basic definition is “the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity.” Intelligent design does not state who or what did the creating just that it must have been intelligent given the amazing complexity of the created order and this is a better explanation for how things came into being rather than just blind, random chance. We looked at this a few weeks back when we were considering the argument for the existence of God from design.

The remaining 3 views we will look at today are the different views that people have that believe in a biblical God (and I guess other world religions would have aspects of these views). The first one believes that God created indirectly and the second two direct creation;

1. Theistic Evolution or evolutionary creation

These views are not identical but for the purposes of this discussion the differences are negligible so I have lumped them together. Theistic Evolutionists say that God created all the necessary ingredients and building blocks needed to sustain the universe but He then stood back and let it all happen. The only difference between theistic evolution and atheistic evolution is obviously the presence of God. After that, everything else can be largely agreed upon.

Theistic Evolutionists would generally believe that Adam and Eve were just stories and only served some symbolic purpose, although those that do believe in Adam and Eve would tend to think of them as a special creation at the end of the evolutionary process.

The last two viewpoints centre on the questionDid God create everything in 6 (24 hour) days?

2. Old-Earth Creationism

This view separates the creation of the universe from the creation of life. Old-Earth Creationists agree with mainstream science that the universe is billions of years old, but they deny evolution. They believe that God specially created humans and that there was a literal Adam and Eve. They can be further split into two camps:

  • Gap Creationists believe that there is a time gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 – God created the heavens and the earth (pause) then the earth became void. This view is based on the study of verb tenses in verses 1 and 2, which could suggest that an indefinite time period existed before a literal 6-day creation took place. Gap Creationists vary on what made the earth become void of life, but some believe another original creation existed and was destroyed which would account for the age of the earth and the existence of dinosaurs).
  • Day-Age Creationists believe that the creation days of Genesis should not be taken to mean literally 24-hour days, but rather indefinitely long periods of time. This is based primarily on the analysis of the Hebrew word “yom,” which is usually translated day but can mean a period of time.

3. Young-Earth Creationism

Lastly, we come to the view people most commonly associate with the term “creationism.” This is the belief that all things were created by God in 6 literal 24 hour days. That’s what it says in the beginning of Genesis and why would it not be as it says. If we really believe that God is all powerful and can create the world from nothing we should believe He is capable of doing it in 6 days. In fact He could do it in 6 nano-seconds if he wished! The outworking of this viewpoint is that the earth is somewhere between 6 to 10,000 years old based on time frames in the bible and the well recorded genealogies. Young-Earth Creationists answer disputes over aspects of geology and why the earth appears older to the events of Noah’s flood. This would explain such things as the fossil record.

Please indulge me, but I would like to take one more week on this subject and look in further detail at creation next time.

 May 8, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
May 012015
 

EvolutionWe have been looking in this series on apologetics and the role that science plays in Christianity. So far, I think I have shown that science and Christianity are not incompatible. In fact there are many well known scientists throughout history and today, who are Christians, but see no problem with combining their love for science with their love for God.

But what about evolution? Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution at the same time. Some would say no and others would say yes. I wouldn’t want to make that call and I don’t believe it’s mine to make anyway, I’ll happily let God sort all that out. My part is to love people whatever they believe and not create stumbling blocks to prevent them encountering God. What I will say though, is I have major problems with evolution and I plan to set some of those arguments out below. This series so far has mainly been about defending Christianity but today I am fully on the offensive.

Let’s just establish from the outset what I mean by evolution. I am not talking about ‘micro’ evolution, that is the subtle changes that can occur within a species. I think it is fairly clear and has been demonstrated that these things can occur. What I am talking about is referred to as ‘macro’ evolution. That is that major changes can occur; such as the belief that an amoeba developed into ever more complex creatures until eventually a human evolved. This is the belief that given enough time and luck, things will completely change from one thing into another. I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it. For me evolution exists because of man’s futile attempts to do away with God and quite frankly it is ridiculous.

Let me briefly set out some of the glaring errors with evolution;

Mutation and natural selection – In theory a mutation in DNA increases a creature’s natural ability to survive so it adopts this mutation through natural selection. This might conceivably work if it took one gene to control one part but given that each part of a creature is incredibly complex with different components all needing to be in place at the same time for something to evolve, it makes the chance of this working nigh-on impossible. By way of illustration imagine that all the components needed to build a house (bricks, cement, nails, windows, tiles, pipes etc etc) were all lying on the ground. Now tie a hammer to a dog’s tail and let it roam around the parts with its wagging tail and see how long it takes its wagging tail to build a house. That’s how long it would take to adapt one gene, let alone a completely new creature.

That argument is only relevant if you believe that mutations can be beneficial. All known mutations are at best neutral but in most cases are either harmful or fatal. Not a great start.

Fossil record – Evolution is all about constant change, whether gradual or in leaps. The thing about fossils is they are all complete animals. For evolution to occur one would expect multiple examples of fossils with evolving creatures. There are none. That’s right, not even one (out of millions found). Darwin even recognised this himself. Writing in his seminal book “Origin of species” he wrote “The number of intermediate varieties which have formerly existed on Earth must be truly enormous.  Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?  Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.

The fossil record pretty much proves that evolution never happened.

There are loads of other arguments against evolution such as the fact that life has never been created from non-life (the law of biogenesis), and also it is disproved by the second law of thermodynamics which states that all natural processes become more disordered over time. It prevents the invention of new organs by mutations ,because without a construction system already in place, things naturally fall apart.

It seems that the tide is slowly starting to turn. It has been very difficult to argue against evolution as up until recently it has been accepted by all the influential academic figures in the scientific community. But there is an increasing groundswell in scientific circles which is starting to see through the obvious flaws of this theory and many hundreds of well respected scientists and educationalists have stated that they no longer believe in evolution. See the 22 page list here sceptics list

My opinion is that man in his pride and rebellion refuses to admit that there is a God and will hold on tightly to any alternative to a creator, because the consequences for admitting the existence of a God would be unthinkable. The following quote by Richard Lewontin pretty much sums up a lot of people’s thinking;

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. “

At least he’s honest. It’s incredible that they would rather believe absurdities than admit or even entertain the existence of God.

If you would like to study this subject further, there are loads of materials and websites to visit. I would recommend the following website https://answersingenesis.org/evolution/

 May 1, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »