Christianity and World Religions
Daniel H. King
Our world is becoming more of a unified community. Several things have contributed to making this so. One is the speed at which we can now travel from one place to another on our globe. Air travel is primarily responsible for this revolution in rapid transport. Both speed and cost have changed drastically. Another important advancement has been in the area of satellite communication. With the touch of a few numbers on the key pad of a modern telephone we can now communicate with people almost anywhere in the world. News events happen live on our TV screen as they take place half a world away from us.
One of the obvious results of these technological innovations is that, so to speak, the "world has become a smaller place." At one time it was easy for us to ignore what was happening in some remote land that did not speak our language, wear clothing similar to ours or have customs like us. We could even pass over the section of the newspaper that covered the rise and fall of their despots and dictators and heralded the stance they took toward the "superpowers," "East and West," etc. Those of us who cared deeply about the spread of the gospel might read with more than a little interest about how missionaries were treated and what the native religion was like. But it all seemed so far away! No longer. Now one can get on a jumbo jet and fly anywhere on earth in a single day. And with every passing decade that time factor becomes a smaller consideration. Communication with these remote locations is well nigh instantaneous. Indeed, our world is becoming a "smaller place."
By watching world events in recent years, and especially those turbulent occurrences relating to Iran and the Middle East, Christians are finding it necessary to become better informed as to the nature of world religions. Whereas in the past we could be satisfied to understand the basic views of Methodism, Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, and the other so called "affiliations of historic Christianity," suddenly we had thrust upon us a new vocabulary and a whole new set of religious ideologues representing arcane movements. Where do they come from? What do they stand for? What do they believe? Why do they seem to resent us (Americans) so much? These are questions that immediately entertain us when we hear the newscasts and read the papers.
But for God's people there are some issues which loom large in our minds. The most obvious one relates to the salvation of the souls of men. The Bible says that the gospel of Christ is the only hope for the rescue and redemption of the human race from sin and its punishment (Rom. 1:16). Without faith in Christ and obedience to him, there is no salvation (Jn. 3:16, 8:32, etc.). There is no more plain teaching of the Word of God than this. It will not help wistfully to promote some system of escape for them apart from Christ. Some of our brethren, of course, in their misguided sympathy have made the effort. But this will neither justify the ungodly nor will it relieve those of us commissioned with the gospel from our responsibility. When we view on our TV screens these masses of humanity idolizing in ignorance some religious figure of dubious reputation, we cannot help but be moved. Hopefully we will be moved to action. Sending men to preach the Word, supporting them at a level where they can be effective and will not grow discouraged and quit, developing native preachers, provisions of Bibles and supplies, teaching materials in translation, etc., are all things we can and should be doing.
Another matter of some concern should be that of educating our people as to the basic background and viewpoint of most of these major world religions. In coming years we will not only be confronting the reality of this sort of religious diversity in the national media, but these people will be living in our neighborhoods. Many already are. We can confidently expect that with our birthrate in this country declining and our tax base dwindling because of this (leading to fewer workers supporting more people on social programs), we will be seeing many more immigrants from other countries permitted entrance into the U.S. A considerable number of foreign temples and shrines already dot the landscape in many major U.S. cities. Good materials and solid teaching have always presented the first and best hope against the inroads of any error (1 Tim. 5:16). This is no exception. To that end, we at Guardian of Truth have prepared the present "special issue." We hope that it will serve a useful purpose in those places where it goes.
Finally, the Lord's people ought to be encouraged by every opportunity to compare Christianity to the world religions. Like a diamond among the commonest stones, its radiance and purity have everything to gain and nothing to lose by the comparison. Inevitably we will be regarded as intolerant or even arrogant by some for taking this viewpoint. A large number of our intellectual leaders suggest that we submit our faith to some sort of "syncretism" - i.e., attempt to unite or reconcile diverse religious tenets or practices, so as to coexist peacefully and without competition, Syncretic movements are starting to burgeon in this philosophical climate: the Theosophical movement in this country, the aim of which is "to rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions; and to uncover the fundamental unity from which they all spring"; from the Hindu background, there is the Ramakrishna Mission; from Muslim origins comes Baha'ism (its temple near Chicago has nine doors through which men may enter representing the "nine religions of the world"); in Japan there is the symbol of Ittoen, the Garden of Light, a swastika with a cross at the center and a sun in the background, and whose prayer is, "Teach us to worship the essence of all religions, and help us to learn the one ultimate truth" (See J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity and Comparative Religion, p. 14).
The more we honestly examine the biblical revelation and the faith of the early church, the more obvious the reason becomes for Christianity's ultimate displacement of all the philosophical, immoral and amoral religious constituencies existing at the time of its appearance. The proclamation of the church was and is utterly unique. There are some features which have their counterparts in other religious systems, but nothing compares with the gospel related by Paul in I Corinthians 15:3f: "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all . . . he appeared to me."
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 10, pp. 289, 319