Friday, June 13, 2008

Similarities and differences

The question of the day is: "What are the similarities and differences between Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Jews, etc…???"

On Sunday, Jim's approach was more doctrinal than historic (I will cover the history briefly below). He pointed out the similarities and differences in belief systems as follows:

Jews, Christians, Muslims (Monotheists) believe in:
1. Linear time
2. God as Creator at a specific point in history (though many differ on when that occurred)
3. The Golden rule - do unto others as you would have them do to you
4. We all die, then there is a judgment

Now the key difference:

Christians believe we are saved by grace through the death and resurrection of Christ - Muslims and Jews believe in a saved by works religion.

Of course, the polytheist faith systems Hinduism and Buddhism have very different views of all of these things: Time is cyclical, not linear therefore there is no single point of creation and no real need for a creator. The golden rule applies as a means of getting to the next levels of existence - approaching Nirvana, the state of perfect nothingness.

Historically, let's look at the major religions - similarities first:

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Mormons (we could argue about this one), and Jehovah's Witness folk are all monotheistic (One God) faiths. Hindus are altogether different - polytheistic (many gods). The first three are closely related to one another while the later two split out of the Christian tradition.

The oldest is Judaism. Founded by God through Abraham when God asked him to leave his country and travel to another land that he did not know. Abraham and Sarah were old (70+) and childless when God told Abe that he would be the father of many nations.

Not believing God, Sarah and Abe took matters into their own hands and Sarah sent her servant in to sleep with Abraham. This produced a son named Ishmael. Sarah then got jealous of Ishmael and his mother (Hagar) and tossed them out. God miraculously saved them and founded the Arab peoples.

Judaism really has it's religious roots in the exodus from Egypt that happened several hundred years later. When God delivered his people from Egypt he set up a system of governance and religious belief that still exists today. Many of the ceremonies and rites that orthodox Jews observe today began there. The Scripture for Jews is basically what we would call the Old Testament.

A couple of thousand years later, Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, and died - only to be raised again to new life. This is the foundation of the Christian belief system - later expounded by Paul, Peter, John, and others. Jesus was a Jew, so Christianity is descended from Judaism. Most Christians accept the New and Old Testaments as Scripture - though some would add the Apocrypha.

Shortly after the time of Christ, a man named Mohamed (prophet according to Muslims) was born, met with Angels, and had several prophetic visions. He transcribed these visions verbatim - this is the Koran, which along with the Old testament - is considered to be the Muslim Scripture. Since Christians and Muslims share the Old Testament and are both monotheistic - many consider them to be "cousins".

Most of the trouble that has arisen between the three groups has taken place because of various interpretors of the scriptures in the intervening centuries. The Jews early campaigns against the Christians, the Christian's retaliatory attacks against Jerusalem, and the Crusades back and forth between the Christians and Muslims have all been devastating to these three major and related religious belief systems.

Many of our Scriptures are similar, but the way we interpret them is quite different.

In the end, this Sunday was more like a lecture than a sermon. A good lecture, one full of information, but not the usual Lyon message full of hope, biblical teaching, and vision. I wonder sometimes if MPChoG would benefit from having another teaching pastor who really excelled at this kind of teaching - freeing Jim for even more vision casting. What do you think?

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