By Dan Juster
Sometimes I think about the marvelous quality of our faith. The teachings are stupendous. In our faith, the universe is made by a personal and loving God who created us in His image, who gave us freedom, and who sought our rescue even when we used this freedom to choose the way of selfishness. He so loved us that he gave his only Son to die for us. (John 3:16) He loves Israel and all of the nations of the earth. However, He does have a moral standard by which He will judge the nations and individuals who do not repent for their sins and turn back to Him. Indeed, with regard to God’s whole plan, He has given us a trustworthy revelation in the Bible. The word love is more prominent in our faith than in any other. It is absent in Islam. We are to love God, our spouses, our brothers and sisters in the Messiah, our neighbors, and our enemies! Why would everyone not want to believe in the faith of the Bible? It would seem that pride and running form God’s standards are the major issue. We want to be boss of ourselves.
One day as I was reflecting on this I began to see that many flee the truth through false religion. There are one or perhaps two great lies at the heart of every false religion. Classic major religions did provide some stability in society, but these systems are not solid in core ways. I did significant undergraduate work and masters work in Philosophy of Religion. So here is my little summary of major religious systems in decreasing order of their erroneousness.
We begin with polytheism. The belief in many gods is the one great error of polytheism. These gods often are at odds with each other. One must placate these many gods. To be too favored by one would bring a person into trouble with another god. There are good gods and mean gods. In India there is Krishna and Kali. The Greek stoic philosophers saw the absurdity of this and opted for the view that polytheism was the superstition of the masses. They opted for a more intellectual type of pantheism. Augustine gave the greatest classic refutation of pagan polytheism in his The City of God in the fifth century. It is still worth reading. Polytheism is the general view of primitives and of popular Hindusim today. There was a belief in life after death, but the nature of this life was often vague as well.
Then there is the Hinduism of the educated classes of India. The lie of Hinduism in this form is found in the classic statement of the Hindu Scriptures (the Vedas): “That art thou.” This means that one’s higher self or real self is the same as the identity of God. What can be known of God is really quite vague. This is the view of Shirley McClaine and many Hollywood people. In western popular Hinduism, moral absolutes are missing. Classic Hindu society maintained absolutes, but nothing arises from the Pantheism of Hinduism to give moral absolutes. There were Hindus who began to think of God in more Theistic (Personal God) terms (some say Panentheism). Such Hindus even taught an eternal life for the individual soul. These were a minority. After the cycle of many reincarnations, the soul returns to the ocean of the One Self which it really is. This is another lie. The continued existence of the individual comes to an end. He is of no ultimate worth.
Buddhism presents a different challenge. The original Buddhists were considered atheists by some. They denied the existence of the soul and that anything could be really known about the ultimate nature or existence of God. This is the central lie of Buddhism. Nirvana was simply the state of living death where one could transcend all desire and even consciousness. This was the wrong answer for pain and suffering. Biblical faith teaches us to embrace redemptive suffering. Our quest is not to eliminate suffering in this life. We do seek to relieve and comfort sufferers, but we value life. Many Buddhists could not live in such a stark view and drifted back into more Hindu ideas which is the case of popular Buddhism today. Hinduism is better than Buddhism, and at least had some schools that tended to a personal god.
Confucianism presents us with a system of hierarchy and caste. This is rigidly held so that change, adoption and development are thwarted. The central error in Confucianism is ancestor worship which
maintains and is part of a rigid social system. Taoism is an offshoot with more pantheistic ideas, but in many ways still fits the overall pattern of Confucianism.
Islam is monotheistic. God is described as infinite and personal. However, the central lie of Islam is that Ishmael is the chosen son and not Isaac, that Ishmael was offered on the altar by Abraham. This is a whopper of a lie. The second great lie is that Mohammed is the greatest and last prophet. One does not find the love of God in the Koran. After reading this book I can assure you that many texts taken in context do give grounds for the violent jihad we see today. There are other “gentle” texts too, but there is so much error. Bible story after Bible story is twisted. It is amazing to behold. One can not really understand the Koran without the Bible, for the Koran constantly refers to Biblical stories. The big contradiction is found in the many passages that refer to Moses leading Israel out of Egypt and the prophets going to Israel but without success. There is no mention of God delivering the Arabs or sending prophets to the Arabs. How can this be if Ishmael was on the alter instead of Isaac and the Arabs were chosen and not Israel? Is Islam a religion built upon Arab anger and feelings of rejection that go back to Ishmael? In its violence and rejection of the true Biblical account we can understand the terrible battle we fight.
Rabbinic Judaism is closer to the truth than any religion that does not embrace Yeshua. Judaism also speaks of the love of God and love for one another. However, there are two central lies. One is that the oral law of the rabbis was given by Moses. This gives the classical rabbis absolute authority equal to the Bible. This lie leads to the other lie, that Yeshua is not Messiah and Lord. So much good is found in Rabbinic Judaism, for the influence of the Hebrew Bible is great and inspired much wisdom in the traditions of Rabbinic Judaism. Yet this lie has led to legalism and superstition. We do seek to embrace what is good and discard what is not good, in Rabbinic Judaism.
Replacement-Theology Christianity has so much truth. However, saying the Church has replaced Israel or the Jewish people, has caused much pain and distortion. Such a doctrine gave way to the very arrogance against which Paul wrote, in Romans 11. The lack of regard for the place of the Jews, I believe, was a factor in not only persecuting the Jews and anti-Semitism, but also in the arrogance of religious wars and persecution. The Bible is so very clear on both Israel’s preservation and restoration. It is an everlasting covenant. Replacement theology is an extraordinary blindness, for the call and covenant with Israel is as clear as any other major doctrine in the Bible.
Israel-Embracing Christianity and Messianic Judaism
Israel-Embracing Christianity and Messianic Judaism share the same basic theology. There is no basic error in the mainstream of this faith, though there are fringe groups that teach error due to wrong applications of Jewish roots and demeaning the value of the best traditions of the Church. In this faith we know the love of God but also God’s future hope for both Israel and the nations. Keeping in mind the central errors of these other religions will help you maintain clarity when you are witnessing to the many followers of such religions. They all have adherents in Western nations.
In our faith, we serve a Jewish Messiah who is also the Savior of the whole world. We are seeing more and more churches and denominations embracing this view. In this faith Jewish followers of the Messiah show the covenant with Israel by continuing to live and identify as Jews. As you can see by this summary, we are not relativists. We believe that God has revealed his truth. That truth is disclosed in the Bible and the history of Israel and is most profoundly made manifest in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah. We are to go and make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to obey all that Yeshua commanded (Matthew 28). We are not to seek a relativistic type of dialogue with religions.