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Jun 262015
 

PostmodernismThere’s just one more subject I want to cover in this series on Apologetics before I wrap it all up next week.

This week I want to look at the whole subject of postmodernism.

Don’t be put off by the title as I will try as best as I can to explain it simply.

Post modernism is quite difficult to explain in detail but the basic concepts can be understood because they are such a part of our everyday culture. Put simply, postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth. This viewpoint immediately puts it in opposition to Christianity, because we believe, with certainty the truths of the bible and what God says is the absolute truth.

Some Christians have attempted to combine post modernism with Christianity, but I’m afraid the results are so watered down that you can’t really tie anything down beyond ‘Jesus was a really nice guy and he just accepts everybody, no matter what they believe’ which is totally insipid!

The danger of post modernism is that everybody can believe what they want as long as it is true for them. That is why there is a picture of pick and mix at the top of this blog, because that is just what it is like. It is possible to choose beliefs that are mutually incompatible, however no-one can tell the chooser how preposterous that is, because their view is just as valid as anyone else.

All beliefs are given equal weight and are considered equally valid. This is called relativism. That is why people can state that ‘all paths lead to God’ (which is what I argued against a few weeks ago). It is plain to see how dangerous this thinking is when you consider the truth claims of Jesus, when He said things like “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6) and many other definitive statements.

One comment you will encounter regularly is the comeback “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me’ There are also other similar comments you will hear such as “You can’t know anything for sure” and “You shouldn’t judge”

So how do we answer that sort of comment?

Firstly, we have to step very carefully as we don’t want to appear intolerant. That is the biggest sin in many people’s eyes and I’m afraid that sort of statement made in an arrogant way can be totally off-putting to many people. Jesus was very direct, but dealt with people in just the right way. Most people haven’t got a problem with Jesus, so it is good to talk about Him as soon as you can. Jesus would look for some common ground, something that the person would agree with. That is a good place to start.

We need to show people that these kinds of statements are logically inconsistent (we dealt with logic right at the beginning of this series). People who say ”That’s true for you, but not for me” are referring to subjective truth, which is like favouring one chocolate bar over another. The truth claims of God cannot all be true, as different religions hold contradictory truths. When it comes to God there must be absolute truth.

Going back to the people who make these statements, you can carefully show them their own intolerance by turning their statements back to them. The conversations could go something like this;

Other person: “You can’t say that, you cannot know anything for sure”

You: “Really? Are you sure about that, are you sure you can’t know anything for sure?

Other person: “You shouldn’t judge”

You: “Is that your judgement? It sounds like you are judging my choice to judge!”

Other person: “What is true for you is not true for me.”

You: “That’s true and what is true for me is that you are wrong, so who is right?”

These examples show how illogical relativism is. What if I was to say that 2+2 = 5, does that make it right, because I sincerely believe it? Of course not. The answer is 4 whatever I feel, think or believe. This is what we need to get over and I must admit it is very difficult. It’s just as well it’s not just up to us or no-one would believe. We need the Holy Spirit to help us and He most certainly will, if you ask him.

Next week I am going to finish off this series by including lots of links to where you can find all sorts of materials about apologetics and talk about some of my favourite apologists. Until then, have a great week.

 June 26, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jun 192015
 

Cults part 2Last week we looked at the definition of a cult and explored what a few of the more popular ones believed. This week we are going to look at two of the most popular cults in the world and certainly ones that are very active in my town and many other areas around the world.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The JW’s were founded in the USA towards the end of the 19th century by Charles Taze Russell. The headquarters of the movement is in New York.There are about 6.9 million active Witnesses in 235 countries in the world, including 1 million in the USA and 130,000 in the UK. They are probably best known for their door to door evangelism, knocking on people’s doors and offering their literature such as the watchtower. They are also known for the fact that they don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter because they believe that these festivals are based on (or massively contaminated by) pagan customs and religions. They point out that Jesus did not ask his followers to mark his birthday and they don’t celebrate each other’s birthdays, presumably for the same reason. They refuse to vote and also refuse military service and any form of blood transfusions.

JW’s commonly refer to their beliefs as “the truth” and consider themselves to be “in the truth”. They consider secular society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and so will limit their contact and social interaction with non-witnesses unless they are doing evangelism.

According to Jehovah’s Witness’ theology, God is a single person, not a Trinity, who does not know all things and is not everywhere.  He first created Michael the Archangel through whom He created all “other things,” including the universe, the earth, Adam and Eve, etc.  This creative work took God 42,000 years.  At one point, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society taught that God ruled the universe from somewhere in the Pleiades star system.  They have since modified this to say that the “Pleiades can no longer be considered the centre of the universe and it would be unwise for us to try to fix God’s throne as being at a particular spot in the universe.” Such changes and even contradictions in teaching are frequent in the Watchtower organization; and when a doctrine changes, they tell their followers that the light of truth is getting brighter.

After Adam sinned, the paradise which God had created for them was ruined.  So, God instituted a system of redemption which was revealed in the Bible and would ultimately lead to the crucifixion of Jesus the messiah.  But, in the meantime, God needed to have a visible, theocratic organization on earth to accurately represent Him.  Throughout history, this true organization had a remnant of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.,); JW’s believe that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the continuation of that tradition and it alone can properly interpret God’s Word since it is the angel directed prophet of God on earth.

When it came time for the saviour to be born, Michael the Archangel became a human in the form of Jesus.  Jesus grew and kept all the laws of God and never sinned.  Finally, when Jesus died, it was not on a cross but on a torture stake where he bore the sins of mankind–but this did not include Adam’s sins.  Jesus rose from the dead as a spirit, not physically (his body was dissolved and taken by God); and during his visitations to people on earth, he manifested a temporary physical body for them to see and touch.

Throughout history there have been faithful Jehovah’s witnesses who have managed to keep The Truth in spite of the “demonic” doctrine of Trinitarianism (the trinity) that has permeated the Christian church.  They believe that Christianity has sold its soul to the devil and now support his earthly governments.  In other words, all of Christianity is false; and only the Jehovah’s Witness “theocratic” organization led by several men in Brooklyn, New York, is true.

Jehovah’s witnesses believe that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 and is now reigning in heaven.  When Jesus finally returns physically to earth, which will happen at the time of the Battle of Armageddon, He will set up his earthly 1000-year kingdom.

During this 1000-year period, people will be resurrected and have a second chance to receive eternal salvation by following the principles of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  After the millennium, those who reject God and His organization will be annihilated; that is, they will cease to exist.  The rest of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have faithfully followed God’s organization on earth will be saved from eternal annihilation and reside forever on Paradise earth.  Heaven, however, is a place for a special group of 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses–the only ones who are “born again” and who alone are allowed to take communion in their annual communion service.  These are the ones who have “immortal life”;  all other Witnesses have “everlasting life.”  Those with immortal life do not have resurrected bodies.  They have “spirit bodies.”  Those on Paradise Earth have everlasting life which consists of a resurrected body that must be maintained through eating, rest, etc.

In order to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you have to agree to attend five meetings a week where you are taught from Watchtower literature.  You cannot be baptized until you have studied their material for at least six months and have answered numerous questions before a panel of elders.  Men are not supposed to have long hair or wear beards, and women are to dress in modest apparel. A schedule of door-to-door canvassing is required where you distribute the Watchtower literature, acquire donations, and forward all monies to the headquarters. If you ever leave the Jehovah’s Witness organization, you are considered an apostate and are to be shunned.

Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in 19th century America and was then developed by Brigham Young who migrated with the new Mormons to Salt Lake City in 1847. Mormons believe their church is a restoration of the Church as conceived by Jesus and that the other Christian churches have gone astray. Mormons believe that God has a physical body, is married, and can have children. They also believe that humans can become gods in the afterlife. Mormons are strongly focused on traditional family life and values. They oppose abortion, homosexuality, unmarried sexual acts, pornography, gambling, tobacco, consuming alcohol, tea, coffee, and the use of drugs.

One of the more common misconceptions is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints advocates polygamy. However, this was discontinued over a century ago and the Church excommunicates anyone who practices it. There are roughly 13.5 million members world-wide.

Mormonism teaches that God used to be a man on another world and that he became a god by following the laws and ordinances of his god on his home world.  He brought his wife to this world, a woman he had married on the other world.  She is essentially a goddess.

In his present god-state, he rules our world. Since god and his wife are both exalted persons, they each possess physical bodies.  In their exalted states as deities, they produce spirit children that grow and mature in the spiritual realm.  The first spirit born was Jesus.  Afterwards, Lucifer was born along with the rest of us.  So, Mormonism teaches that we all pre-existed in the spirit realm–having been produced from the union of god and his goddess wife.  Therefore, we all existed in spirit form before coming down and entering the bodies of human babies that are being born on earth.  During this ‘compression’ into the infant state, the memories of our pre-existence is ‘veiled.’

God the father, who is called Elohim, was concerned for the future salvation of the people on earth. In the heavenly realm, the Father had a plan for the salvation of the world.  Jesus endorsed the Father’s plan.  Lucifer did not.  Lucifer became jealous and rebelled.  In his rebellion, he convinced a large portion of the spirits existing in heaven to side with him and oppose god.  God, being more powerful then they, cursed these rebellious spirits to become demons.  They can never be born in human bodies.

The remaining spirits sided with God.  Since they chose the better way, when it comes time for them to live on earth, they have the privilege of being born in races and locations that are relative to their condition and choice made in the spirit realm.

In the Mormon plan of salvation there needed to be a saviour: Jesus.  But Jesus was a spirit in heaven.  For him to be born on earth, Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon church, said that instead of letting any other man do it, God the Father did it with Mary.  He said that the birth of our saviour was as natural as the birth of our parents.  Essentially, what this means is that Brigham Young taught that god the father came down and had relations with Mary, his spirit daughter, to produce the body of Jesus.  Though many Mormons will not entertain such incestuous thoughts about God and Mary, this is what Brigham Young taught; and as far as we know, this has not been denied by the Mormon church.

Nevertheless, Jesus was born, got married, and had children. He died on the cross and paid for sins–but not on the cross only.  According to Mormonism, the atonement of Christ was not only on the cross.  It began in the Garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross.

In Mormonism, men and women have the potential of becoming gods.  President Lorenzo Snow said, “As god once was, man is. As God is, man may become.”  In order to reach this exalted state of godhood, a person must first become a good Mormon, pay a full ten percent tithe to the Mormon church, follow various laws and ordinances of the church, and be found worthy.  At this point, they receive a temple recommend, whereupon the Mormon is allowed to enter the sacred temples in order to go through a set of secret rituals: baptism for the dead, celestial marriage, and various oaths of secrecy and commitment.  Additionally, four secret handshakes are taught so the believing Mormon, upon entering the third level of Mormon heaven, can shake hands with god in a certain pattern.  This celestial ritual is for the purpose of permitting entrance into the highest level of heaven.  For those who achieve this highest of heavens, exaltation to godhood awaits them.  Then he or she will be permitted to have his or her own planet and be the god of his own world, and the Mormon system will be expanded to other planets.

As you can see, on the surface, these two dangerous cults can seem very similar to Christianity and for a Christian who is not well versed in the scriptures it would be possible to be drawn away. It is so important we know what the word of God says and get good biblical teaching. The most important thing to do with members of these cults is to show them grace, because their movements have no true grace in them. Mixed with love and acceptance, I believe it is possible to win them over. God’s word is stronger than any heresy and I believe He will win many over to Himself. Let’s continue to pray for that.

 June 19, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jun 122015
 

Cults part 1We are coming to the end of our long running apologetics series, where I have covered all sorts of subjects to help us lead people to Jesus. We have looked at many of the questions that people will ask us as they seek to understand what Christianity is all about.

Over the last couple of weeks we have looked at the major world religions and briefly covered what they are about. It’s important to know where people are coming from. This week and next week we will look at some of the cults that we are perhaps even more likely to encounter, as many of them are very evangelistic.

A lot of them, upon first encounter, will seem very Christian. They use many of the same words as we do, but on further investigation, you realise they are a cult.

‘Cult’ is a very negative term (cults never use it to describe themselves) and so I think it is important to explain what I mean when I use the term.

Generally a cult is a group which is unorthodox, they would be devoted to a new teaching, theology or doctrine and they are usually associated with a very strong leader. They will often challenge the established church, calling them apostate and declaring that they (the cult) alone hold the truth. They also generally look to control their members physically, intellectually, financially and emotionally.They do this through fear, threatening loss of salvation if someone leaves the group or through indoctrination. A lot of their teachings that deviate from traditional Christianity cannot be substantiated, due to them being revealed by some special revelation to just one or a select few. These revelations can be quite outrageous involving; space ships, special glasses or special angelic visitation and weird dreams.

Next week I am going to look at the two which I encounter the most and certainly where I live are more prevalent; Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons, but let’s this week have a brief look at some of the others.

The Unification Church (aka the ‘Moonies’)

The Moonies were founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1954 in Korea. Moon claims that in 1935 Jesus appeared to him on a mountain in Korea and told him to finish the work of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. He believes he has since received many revelations from God. On May 1, 1954, in Seoul, Moon founded the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. In 1958 he sent missionaries to Japan and in 1959 to America. Moon moved to the United States in 1971.

They are well known for holding mass weddings. In August of 1992 in Seoul Korea, Moon presided over a mass wedding of 3,000 couples.

Moon claims to be the messiah of the Second Coming and his wife is the Holy Spirit. He and his wife, called The True Parents where he is the True Father and his wife the True Mother, are the first couple to be able to bring forth children with no original sin. “The cross is the symbol of the defeat of Christianity.” The Bible is considered scripture along with Moon’s work “Divine Principles.” Sin is genetically based. It is not a moral issue. Adam and Eve fell because of sexual sin. Eve had sexual relations with Satan. Jesus is a ‘true person’ though not God in flesh. The Holy Spirit is ‘the True Mother,’ or ‘the Second Eve.” The church denies the doctrine of the Trinity.

They believe that people determine their own future place in the spirit world after death through what they do here on earth.

Moon has his own worldwide empire of many different businesses and financial institutions to gain support and influence. His 536 page book called Divine principles he considers as inspired and equal to scripture. He has spent time in a US prison for tax evasion. He has been involved in seances and other occult practices like clairvoyance, trances, etc.

There are approximately 3 million Moonies worldwide.

Scientology

Scientology was founded in Los Angeles in the nineteen fifties by a science fiction author, L.Ron Hubbard.

He said human beings contained the souls of Thetans — immortal creatures responsible for making the universe.

However, the world has been invaded by dark forces — the Engrams — and individuals can be cleansed and enlightened only through intense therapy called Dianetics.

It is a costly process and the Scientologists expect their adherents to donate considerable sums.

In the United States, Scientology enjoys the full rights of a recognised religion and has attracted a number of Hollywood celebrities, probably the most famous being Tom Cruise.

In Europe, the business side of Scientology has prompted several governments to deprive it of tax exemptions enjoyed by other churches.

Christadelphianism

Christadelphianism is a relatively new religious system.  It claims, like many other non-Christian cults, to be the authentic Christian Church with authentic Christian doctrines.  However, it denies the Trinity doctrine as well as the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  In addition, it states that the Devil is not a real person but is, instead, our own natural tendency to sin.  They also says that Jesus was a created being who had a fallen nature who himself needed to be redeemed. There are certain disagreements as to the extent of Jesus fallen nature amongst some of them, but nevertheless, they all deny the deity of Christ and this is enough to put them outside the camp of Christianity.

Christian Science

This cult is a real misnomer; it is neither Christian or scientific. Christian Science is a set of beliefs and practices developed in 19th-century New England by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), who argued in her book Science and Health(1875) that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone.Science and health is meant to be a companion to the bible but many of its teachings are contradictory to the bible. Here are some of its teachings with the science and health references;

  • God is just a Universal Principle, S&H331:18-19.
  • God cannot indwell a person, S&H336:19-20.
  • God is the only intelligence in the universe, including man S&H330:11-12.
  • God is Mind, S&H 330:20-21; 469:13.
  • God is the Father-Mother, S&H l331:30; 332:4.
  • The Trinity is Life, Truth, and Love, S&H331:26.
  • Belief in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity is polytheism, S&H256:9-11.
  • Jesus was not the Christ, S&H333:3-15; 334:3.
  • “Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared . . . ” S&H361:12-13.
  • Jesus did not reflect the fullness of God, S&H336:20-21.
  • Jesus did not die, S&H45:32-46:3.
  • The Holy Spirit is divine science, S&H331:31.
  • There is no devil, S&H469:13-17.
  • There is no sin, S&H447:24.
  • Evil and good are not real, S&H330:25-27; 470:9-14.
  • “Matter, sin, and sickness are not real, but only illusions,”  S&H335:7-15; 447:27-28.”The sacrifice of Jesus was not sufficient to cleanse from sin,” S&H25:6.
  • “True healings are the result of true belief,” S&H194:6.

Additionally, Christian Scientists prefer not to use doctors, medicine, or immunizations.  Christian Science Practitioners are used to help people through the false reality of illness.

Proper prayer and training are employed to battle the “non-reality” of illness.

They have no ordinances like the Lord’s Supper or baptism.

In the early 20th century Christian Science became the fastest growing religion in the United States, with nearly 270,000 members there by 1936. This has since declined somewhat.

 June 12, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics 1 Response »
Jun 052015
 

Other religions part 2Last week we started to look at some of the major world religions we may encounter as we talk to people about our own faith. It is important we understand what other people’s beliefs are and where they are coming from. As followers of Jesus we want to replicate his attitude of love and respect towards others.

Last week we looked at; Baha’i, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. This week we will look at 5 more.

JAINISM

Jainism is an ancient religion from India. It is similar in outlook to Hinduism and Buddhism. They believe in Karma and reincarnation but they believe that these things can only be achieved through asceticism and denial. The essence of Janism is a concern for every living thing and so they are strict vegetarians and seek to live in a way that minimises the use of the world’s resources.

The founder of the religion, Vardhamana, attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation, eventually fasting to death, in 420 BC

Janism has no god.

The 3 guiding principles (3 jewels) of Jainism are:

  1. right belief
  2. right knowledge
  3. right conduct.

The Jain religion has 5 great vows called mahavratas and these are:

  1. Non Violence
  2. non-attachment to possessions
  3. not lying
  4. not stealing
  5. sexual restraint (with celibacy as the ideal).

I guess if all Jain’s really took their religion seriously it would die out in one generation!

Jainism is divided into two major sects;

the Digambara (sky clad) sect

the Svetambara (white clad) sect.

Jainism has no priests, but the ‘professional’ people are monks and nuns.

JUDAISM

I’m not going to go into this in detail as most of the readers of this blog are familiar with the Old Testament. Judaism focuses on the first five books which they call the ‘Torah’.

The spiritual leaders are called Rabbi’s and the people worship in Synagogues. There are many nominal followers of Judaism who don’t necessarily believe in or observe Jewish law. They identify themselves with the religion simply because they are Jews

SHINTOISM

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion, which is closely tied to nature (It means ‘way of the spirits’). It is devoted to various nature ‘deities’ called ‘Kami.’ The essence of Shintoism is performing various rituals that enable human beings to communicate with Kami. Kami are not gods but spirits that appreciate human interest and if treated properly will bring; health, wealth and happiness etc. Followers of Shinto desire peace and believe that all human life is sacred.

There are “Four Affirmations” in Shinto:

  1. Tradition and family – families are the main way that traditions are preserved.
  2. Love of nature – nature is sacred and natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits.
  3. Physical cleanliness – bathing, washing of hands and mouth rinsing are performed constantly.
  4. “Matsuri” – is a festival which honours the spirits.

Shinto has no canonical scriptures. It teaches important ethical principles but has no commandments. It has no recognised founder or main god and in fact does not insist on believers following it exclusively as the only way.

SIKHISM

Sikhism was founded in the 15thcentury AD in the Punjab (now mostly Pakistan) by Guru Nanak. It is based on his teachings and the 9 Sikh guru’s who followed after him.

Sikhs believe in a single formless God with many names, who can be known through meditation. Sikhs pray many times each day and are prohibited from worshipping idols or icons. They believe in samsara, karma, and reincarnation as Hindus do but they reject the caste system believing everyone has equal status in the eyes of God.

Sikhism stresses the importance of doing good actions rather than just observing religious rituals. They believe that the way to lead a good life is to:

  1. keep God in heart and mind at all times
  2. live honestly and work hard
  3. treat everyone equally
  4. be generous to the less fortunate
  5. serve others

Sikh’s worship at a Gurdwara and they consider their scriptures to be a living Guru called ‘the Guru Granth Sahib’

The men wear distinctive turbans.

There are believed to be about 20 million Sikhs in the world, most of whom live in the Punjab province of India.

TAOISM

Taoism originated in China 2000 years ago and was founded by Lao-Tse, a contemporary of Confucius in China. His writings the Lao-te-ching are a combination of psychology and philosophy and were written in an attempt to help end the endless and bloody feudal system in China. They describe the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life. ‘Tao’ is translated as ‘way’ or ‘path’ and they believe it is the ultimate creative principle of the universe, unifying and connecting all things.

Becoming one with the Tao involves ‘Tai-Chi’ which is that slow martial art type practice which you may have seen people performing in local parks etc.

Another concept is yin and yang which symbolise the balance of the dark side and light side. It is a balance of opposites; good and evil, male and female etc

Taoism includes many deities which are worshipped in Taoist temples.

Taoism promotes:

  • achieving harmony or union with nature
  • the pursuit of spiritual immortality
  • being ‘virtuous’ (but not ostentatiously so)
  • self-development

Taoist practices include:

  • meditation
  • feng shui
  • fortune telling (tea leaves etc)
  • reading and chanting of scriptures

It is difficult to tell how many followers of Taosim there are today as it was largely obliterated by the Communist revolution fifty years ago, although the practices above are still popular today.

Next week we will start to look at a few popular cults which you may encounter.

 June 5, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
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 »
Apr 242015
 

What about miraclesWe’ve been looking in this apologetics series on problems that opponents to Christianity have about our faith. We spent 3 weeks on the existence of God because for many that is one of the major hurdles they have to jump over – admitting that God exists.

As we saw last week, many of the reasons people struggle with the existence of God is because they see a problem with believing in God and science, they think they have to make a choice. I think I said enough last week to show that this needn’t be a choice. You can be a fully fledged, lab-coat wearing, science geek and still have a deep passion and love for God. In fact that love for God motivates you to discover more of his creation through education and science.

Another potential barrier from science comes with the whole subject of miracles, surely science and miracles are incompatible? And if they are, shouldn’t we call into question the miracles of Jesus. But when you start to do that you soon find that you have no faith left to speak of at all.

Firstly, I think we need to define what a miracle is. As you might imagine there are very many definitions but basically, a miracle is an event that cannot be normally explained through the laws of nature. In the context of Christianity, miracles are the product and the work of God who created the natural laws as well as the universe. Well of course this gives many people a problem, especially those who don’t want to believe in God.

The argument against miracles from the scientific establishment can be traced back a couple of hundred years ago to a philosopher called David Hume. He was one of the foremost thinkers of his day and in 1748 wrote an essay called ‘on miracles’ He wrote at a time when the elite thinkers were especially sceptical about miracles and saw them as an affront to science. He stated that “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature” since he believed that the laws of nature couldn’t be broken, he therefore believed that miracles were impossible. It was rather circular reasoning because he used the premise that miracles were impossible, to prove that miracles couldn’t happen!

You would be amazed by how pervasive his arguments are, even today. It is reckoned that about 85% of the criticism against miracles stems from his arguments, which is incredible considering they were made nearly 270 years ago, but a lot has changed since then.

So the big issue in all of this is a belief in God. There’s not going to be much point in persuading someone about miracles if they have no belief in God at all. We need to go through those arguments about the existence of God and at least get to the point where someone is open to the possibility of God.

With even the possibility of a creator God, it is not a big jump then to believe in miracles. The God who created the universe in the first place would have no problem intervening in His creation and perform a miracle. You don’t even have to ditch science. Just imagine Newton’s apple tree. Gravity is the force that causes the apples to fall to the ground and not float in the air. But what if someone was to reach out and catch one of the apples? You couldn’t say that gravity doesn’t work anymore, just that a greater force has interrupted it. Miracles are just the same as someone catching an apple. A greater force has been at work.

If we believe in God and indeed a God who intervenes, then we can certainly believe that the bible is full of miracles demonstrating God’s desire to touch mankind with His great love and mercy.

The truth is, there have been 10’s of millions of miracles in the world, in fact I have seen some myself and heard countless testimonies of absolutely amazing healings, including people being raised from the dead. A significant number of these have documentary and sound medical evidence. If someone doesn’t want to believe in miracles, they will always find an explanation no matter how ridiculous. I hope that if you are reading this and are not sure, you will at least have an open mind. I find it extremely ironic that atheists accuse Christians of not being open minded and subjective when they are some of the most close minded people that can be.

When you think about it, it is illogical to state that miracles cannot occur. How can you say that with any certainty unless you know all things?

Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought; The Christian’s faith and hope is built on a miracle and that is the miracle of the resurrection. Jesus was dead, in the tomb for three days. He was resurrected, demonstrating God’s power and now He performs miracles on a daily basis by saving people from their life of sin. He is indeed a miracle working God

 April 24, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »