Category Archives: Christianity

What is a religion?

This is different than “What is religion?”

Do you see where I’m going with this? I plan on writing about this topic later, too, exploring what true religion involves, and what the bible has to say about being religious. But first let’s start by exploring what a religion is.

There are several, or dozens, or hundreds of religions in the world. I’m not sure how many, because measuring where a religion stops and where the next one starts is like measuring where Alaskan Inuit becomes a different language than Canadian and Greenlandic Inuit. Because of this, there is really no way to know how many languages there are in the world, either. If these people can understand these people, and they can understand them, but they can’t understand them…

As Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church has said, a religion can be viewed like the borders between countries, states, counties, and cities. There are certain issues that must be nonnegotiable, and others that can be debated day and night within a church without changing whether you’re saved. How large or small these issues are can determine your “Big-R” religion, your sect, your denomination, and your personal beliefs within that denomination. If you begin crossing small issues, it’s analogous to traveling to a different state. Larger issues, you may be at a national border and require a passport.

For example, the Christian religion can be said to consist of three sects: Protestant, Catholic, and Easter Orthodox. Protestants focus primarily on salvation through Christ Jesus, while Catholics tend to highlight the Virgin Mary and Eastern Orthodox tend to highlight the Apostles. Within the Protestant branch you might find denominations like Baptist, Pentecostal, Nazarene, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, and Evangelical Free. Non-denominational churches are highly popular across the US because they don’t hold attendees to any tenants of these specific ordinances: as long as you are Protestant, you will fit in. That is to say, as long as you believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and living Savior, and the Bible as God’s inerrant Word, you align with their doctrine.

At the denomination level, most of what makes the difference from one church to the next is the way offices and services operate. This may be important for operations, sure, but may have little to do with theology. Which translation of the bible do stock our pews with? Is the choir allowed to wear jeans? Are visitors allowed to vote? Is the offering money counted by the deacons and deposited into the bank by the elders?

At the personal level, analogous to crossing from one city into another, you may find opinions that are not spoken of in the Bible. Some of these are preferences, others are pertinent to someone’s walk with God. Someone may prefer that the band doesn’t use drums, because it makes the music too rock-ish. Okay, but that’s not sinful. This goes straight into the personal preferences category. Somebody may choose not to drink alcohol because he doesn’t want to offend somebody else. Again, the Bible doesn’t instruct to abstain from alcohol (although it does have a lot to say about drunkenness).

I wanted to take a moment to examine what religions do exist around the world throughout schools of both belief and practice, because it often becomes a topic of hot debate when I refer to agnosticism as a religion or ask somebody what their religion is and they “don’t have one.” My purpose here is not to offend or convince anybody. My primary objective is to construct a lingua franca, so that when I refer to something as a religion, we can all agree on the context in which I intended that, and all understand which definition of that word I used.

There are three types of definitions. Liberal, conservative, and other. Other is usually “in between,” but I’m sure someone in the world can find a case where Other is outside of the box. If you look up Sports on Wikipedia, it gives you a list of anything that could ever possibly be conceived as a sport, be played like a game, or be perceived or used in a sporty fashion. This is a liberal definition. Conversely, if I refer to water as H2O, this is a specific billet to fill. H2O2 and C2H5OH don’t make the grade.

Dictionary.com refers to religion as:

re·li·gion

/rɪˈlɪdʒ ən/ Show Spelled [ri-lij-uh n] Show IPA

noun

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.

4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.

5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.

I personally define a religion as a school or system of belief about God, including who He is or isn’t. This, then, inherently requires the party concerned to begin defining what he believes about the universe and identifying what happens after death. Without addressing these issues, the person is mostly unable to indicate what they believe about God. Here are a few:

Christianity- Jesus is the only son of God. He was born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life. He was crucified, dead, buried, and rose again. He ascended into heaven to judge the living and the dead. <-This is the nonnegotiable doctrine of Christianity. Branches within this ideology differ greatly.

Islam- Allah is the only god, and Mohammad is his prophet. Muslims believe the Bible was changed or corrupted from its original state, but believe that Jesus was a “good prophet,” just like Abraham and Moses. They believe that Jesus was not the son of God, and if he were, this would be polytheism. The Qur’an actually tells its readers to read the New Testament (Enjeel), but many Muslims aren’t aware of this because the Qur’an cannot be translated out of Arabic and many of its followers either don’t read Arabic fluently or that passage somehow gets overlooked (usually by peer pressure). The two major sects of Islam are Sunni and Shia, the greatest differences being whether prophecy is continuing or dead, and whether contradictory passages within the Qur’an (out of order chronologically) will abrogate each other.

Judaism- The God of the Tanakh (Old Testament) is the same God that Christians worship in the Bible. They are still waiting for the Messiah to come, and believe that Jesus was not the Christ (Masih). I know this is pretty straightforward, but the Jews can teach us a lot about who Jesus really was (for starters, a Rabbi with Smikha).

Buddhism- Originally Gautama Siddhartha (raised Hindu) had planned for his school of thought to be a philosophy. It wasn’t made into a religion until after he was dead. His principle was that all pain comes from interacting with the world. If you pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist, you can eliminate pain. I know I paraphrased that severely. Gautama was the skinny Buddha, not the fat one. They are still waiting for the coming of the enlightened Buddha, who will be the fat one that you see statues of. The Americanized sect is referred to as Zen, which differs drastically from the traditional or ascetic sects practiced in remote parts of Tibet.

Shintoism- Practiced in Japan, where many people incorrectly think Buddhism predominates because of Hollywood. Shinto teaches that the Japanese islands were formed from the tears of the gods. There are hundreds of Kapa, who look like animals and chimeras and mythological beings. If you die in a distant land, your spirit will wonder the earth lost for centuries trying to find its way home. Because of this, the religion has remained in Japan pretty well and doesn’t spread easily. Annually, they honor their ancestors at festivals and ceremonies, and often use prayer papers or prayer waters to lift their thoughts up to their ancestors. Lions or dragons may be on either side of an entryway, one with its mouth open to scare away bad spirits, and the other with its mouth shut to welcome good spirits.

Hinduism- There are many gods. I will not even get into them. The many holy books of Hinduism have only been translated a fraction into English. They believe that their ancestors may be cows and rats, for which reason many don’t eat beef and rats run rampant in places. The area of reincarnation is a turn-off to the modernized “yolo” culture of today, but hits a theological problem for me when you begin asking where the spirits came from and how their number is continually increasing.

Atheism- God does not exist. Hardcore atheists do lots of research and work trying to disprove God, although I have yet to meet one who can provide me adequate evidence. Schools of thought may vary significantly about how the universe came into being, from the popular Big Bang all the way to “It has always been here.”

Agnosticism- No one knows whether God exists. This may range anywhere from “It is impossible to ever know whether God exists” all the way to “I don’t know who God is right now.” It is the ultimate hanging a lampshade, red herring scapegoat. If you completely avoid the issue, you don’t have to argue it.

Secularism- Religion sucks. This is traditionally not regarded as a religion, and is commonly used to refer to a philosophy, school of practice, or operational tactic within the social or political systems. Let me reiterate that: I am the one who decided to include Secularism as a religion, whereas in the popular worldview it is standardly not so. That said, the reason I included it as a religion distinct from Agnosticism and Atheism is because in my interactions with Americans and witnessing to my friends and colleagues in the USA, I’ve found that the school of belief regarding the banishment of organized religions and anything faith-based or God-based is distinct from the other two groups. Agnostics will willingly argue why it is not possible to know about God, and Atheists will willingly argue why God does not exist. Some of them even get passionate about it. Secularists, on the other hand, adamantly demand that these topics not be talked about. Their reasons for describing why religion is so terrible may vary, sometimes stemming from past hurt or seeing hypocrisy within the Church or national constitution. And yes, at times it is possible to find overlap between the “atheological” religions. Nonetheless, this school of belief is growing at a blistering rate, and the number of people who want “God” and “religion” taken out of their political arguments is stretching across the nation, as well as in countries like China. Religion is quickly being replaced by two groups: those who want to use their iPads to listen to music, and those who demand to know why children in Namibia are starving to death.

(Economically speaking, those who use iPads are consuming all of the food and water that those without electricity need to survive.)

Mormonism- The Bible was corrupted by sinful man, and God sent his angel Moroni to correct it to its original form. He visited Native Americans, who wrote down their accounts in the New York and Vermont area prior to the coming of white man. These documents were preserved in golden tablets and translated by Joseph Smith. Common issues that separate Mormons from Christians are the oneness of Christ with God the Father, the death and resurrection, the corruption of the Bible, and the veracity of Joseph Smith as a prophet.

Jehovah’s Witnesses- prophesied that Jesus would return (as spoken in Revelation) in 1874. When this didn’t happen, they changed it to 1914. When this didn’t’ happen, they determined it must have already happened, but in spirit and not physically, and therefore we just didn’t notice. The other prophets were supposed to return from heaven in 1925, also, but that didn’t happen either. Because of these failed predictions, most of the movement has died away.

Sikh- They believe in a good god, one who upholds noble and honorable principles like treating your neighbor with love. This is the religion that wears turbans, and from which we get the word Guru. Laden with lavish practices that keep them holy, they worship a god that is monotheistic, omniscient, and omnipotent. There is one problem. This god is not able to become flesh. He is spirit only, and becoming flesh would make him not god anymore. How omnipotent is he?

What is the major difference between saying that you belong to a religious group, and acutally following that group? The reason I created this list is so that we can see there are many people who will claim to be Catholic, but only because they were raised going to Mass; claim to be Christian, but only because they live in America; claim to be Muslim, but only because they were given a Qur’an; when in truth, they may just be agnostic or lukewarm on the inside, and just not say it. The difference isn’t what people’s mouths say, it is what they believe in their hearts.

I know there is no way that I can ever cover all the religions in the world. But I wanted to identify a few systems of belief that exist in the world today, which I’ve encountered when sharing the Cross with people, so that in future posts we can discuss things like “What is True Religion?” and claims that others make against the Bible. Please, if you have something to add, let me know.

This graphic is not intended to identify what religion everybody is. It is merely directed toward identifying what religion supposedly holds a majority support in each country.

This graphic is not intended to identify what religion everybody is. It is merely indicates what religion supposedly holds a majority support in each country.

5 Comments

Filed under Christianity

God behaves illogically?

Here is the logic pattern:

P1. God is omnipotent, e.g. he can create whatever he wants, however he wants it, provided it follows laws of logic and physics.
P2. God is omniscient; he knows every possible fact and outcome of every situation; he has foreseen everything that happens.
P3. Mankind disobeys and God punishes mankind for disobedience.
P4. God, by his discretion, brings some to himself or pushes them away, by his own discretion – he predestines some to certain fates.
C1. Free will could not exist with a God that is both omniscient and omnipotent.
C2. Free will cannot truly be said to exist in those with whom God directly interferes.
C3: Therefore, the Biblical God behaves illogically and capriciously.

I’m assuming the person who wrote this was an atheist. I have no conclusive evidence of that, since the only other thing I know about him is that his name was Ha ha ha!. I don’t know if I’m supposed to put a period after the exclamation point if that punctuation was part of his name.

The world wants us to be able to answer anything with logic. If you can’t create a good logic argument, then you’re not a good thinker. Anything you say or propose should be logical. If you’re illogical, you’re irrational. And I can’t knock that. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rational. On the other hand, the Bible never calls us to be good logicians, statisticians, or postulates. Christ never commanded us to be world-class philosophers or out-think Copernicus. The bible states “if you confess with your mouth Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

Now, I’m not going to get into the “with your mouth” portion. That’s a different post for a different day. But I am going to stand firm that all God really requires of us is our heart. He wants us to live for him. But, in the spirit of good cheer, there are a lot of confused people out there who really do want these questions explained in a palatable doctrine that utilizes reasoning, doesn’t exploit irrational conclusions, and most of all, is articulated. Let’s all face it- it’s frustrating when someone who’s defending a belief system is unwilling to go near a topic!

1. God is omnipotent. Yes, this is Biblical. He can create anything.
2. God is omniscient. Also Biblical. He knows everything from eternity past to eternity future down to the quark.
3. Mankind disobeys, and He punishes us for it. Hmmm. We’ll come back to this.
4. God, by his own volition, choses some to be in heaven with Him and some to be in hell without Him. Thereby he predestines people to eternal fate in one of two opposite places.

Because of these, the argument holds that freewill cannot exist because God made us all robots, and therefore He behaves irrationally.  Freewill has been a topic of debate even among denominations within the Protestant Church. We’re the sect that’s allowed to read our Bibles, and yet pastors still manage to find differential from one congregation to the next. The Nazarenes, for instance, believe it is possible to lose your salvation. I love them to death, and I can see where they are coming from. But I disagree. There are a lot of verses talking about becoming saved, and verses that talk about not becoming saved. The only unpardonable sin is choosing to be without God for the rest of eternity.

…which brings us to sin. Does God punish us for sin? It certainly is a punishment. That’s not what I’m trying to dispute. Hell is not a cake-walk, and should not be taken lightly. In fact, the Bible clearly describes not only hell but also the Day of the Lord in which He punishes people even before they go there. “Who can endure His wrath? His fury is poured out like fire,” it says in Nahum 1. But does God send people to hell? Or do we go there on our own? God’s will is that none should perish. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17). God does not send us to hell. He came here to save us. We were already on a course going there. He brought the good news – that he will take our sins for us – and those who reject His forgiveness reject Him. “But whoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33).

He cannot bring to heaven those who are unwilling to go. 11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ – Matthew 22

So if God is omnipotent, then He is sending those people there on His own, right? Besides- it says “Bind him hand and foot and cast him out.” And if He’s omniscient, He knows that they won’t choose him. Doesn’t this contradict the part where His will is that none should perish? (2nd Peter 3:9)

Hell is the place that the Lord isn’t. He cannot be in the presence of sin. If somebody is not willing to let go of their sin and leave it, it would be against His nature to invite them to the wedding banquet. God doesn’t make anybody choose to sin. 1 Corinthians says that whenever we are tempted, He will provide a way out so that we are able to stand up under the burden. Yes, he has that person cast out, who chose not to wear the wedding clothes. But God did not put the street clothes on that person. They refused to wear the wedding clothes. They are cast into hell by His verdict, but they don’t have Him to blame. John 3 says “Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. He who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. He who practices the truth steps into the light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done is done in the sight of God.”

And God is omniscient, so He knows who will choose Him and who will not. That does not mean that it wasn’t a choice. After all, sin must be punished. God cannot leave sin unpunished. In the end, the originator of sin will be fully punished. Satan and death and hell are cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death (Rev 20:14).

So does free will exist? If we have the choice to choose Christ, that means that He is not omnipotent, right? No.

He chose to give us the free will. He didn’t have to. He is able to make us believe. He is able to turn our hearts any second that He wants. But that would make us robots. How would we be able to sing praises to Him and thank Him for choosing us if we were robots? If we didn’t have free will, we wouldn’t be able to sing songs of blessing to Him. It would be forced worship. That’s not worship at all. He sovereignly allowed us the free will to choose Him. Thank God.

3 Comments

Filed under Christianity

Jesus Christ is Freedom.

Jesus Christ z Freedom is a place to talk about Christian issues, topics, concerns, beliefs, philosophy, and serious questions. It is a blog spot where Christians can feel welcome to explore ideas that pastors don’t address in church. It is a site where atheists, agnostics, and secularists can feel invited to challenge the Christian faith. Because, when Jesus Christ became freedom, he did so with answers. God won’t be offended if you ask questions. This is a place where they can be discussed.

Let’s get our hands dirty.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity