Lord Of All – Or Lord Not At All
by Russ Pruitt
I was saved by the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ in the late summer of 1976, not long before my 30th birthday. He saw fit to call me to preach, and I began to do so in 1980. I became a licensed lay-evangelist in the denomination God had lead me to, and I later became a licensed minister. My wife and I started and pastored a mission church and I was also Interim Pastor at two other churches. I later evangelized full-time for almost three years and the Lord has seen fit over the years to give me opportunities to share the gospel on radio, TV, and through the printed word. I have also played drums in church orchestras and with two different contemporary Christian groups.
After several years, the Lord led us to a United Methodist Church. Before we joined the local church I thoroughly read and studied the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Although I didn't agree with everything I found, I had several conversations with the pastor, and became convinced that the doctrine was basically sound and consistent with what I understood as orthodox Christianity. We joined the local church, where we believed we could express our faith and work for the Kingdom of God. I was soon elected as lay-leader, I led Sunday Night services, taught adult Sunday School, preached in the pastor's absence and filled other local pulpits as opportunities arose. I began to pursue the Local Pastor's License in 2001. As part of that process I was required to obtain and research a copy of the Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church for a writing assignment.
To get a feel for what a book is all about, my habit is to read the Preface, Introduction, Contents, and the Index. I also read the User's Guide, and found that the statements and positions taken in the Book of Resolutions "…includes all resolutions that are currently valid" and that they "…state the policy of The United Methodist Church on many current social issues and concerns" (5). I also learned that the resolutions are "Official policy statements for guiding all the work and ministry of The United Methodist Church" (23). The writers recommend that "…this statement of Social Principles be continually available to United Methodist Christians and that it be emphasized regularly in every congregation…" and that the book should "…be frequently used in Sunday worship." In the Contents and the Index I found subjects that piqued my curiosity, and so I ventured to read beyond those sections that had been specifically assigned. What I read amazed, shocked, angered, and saddened me. My pursuit of the Local Pastor's License came to an immediate halt and I made an appointment to speak with the District Superintendent.
There are many Resolutions that I vehemently disagree with, but for the purpose of this essay I am only going to focus on sections that speak to what is stated as the "official position" of the United Methodist Church on how Christians should view other religions. Specifically, Section 79: "Called to Be Neighbors and Witnesses - Guidelines for Interreligious Relationships" (220-229), and Section 299: "Our Muslim Neighbors" (743). I will come back to the specifics later, but in order to understand why I was so upset and dismayed, I must take you back several years prior to my conversion to Christianity. Please bear with me as I tell you a little more about how God has worked in my life.
I became a disciple of a well-known Indian/Hindu Swami in 1971 when he personally initiated me into the practices of Yoga. I was taught that the Guru was taking me as a disciple for all time, and would guide me to the ultimate goal of Hinduism and Yoga: Self-realization or God-realization -- the experiential realization that the individual self and god are one and the same. I received a mantra -- a sacred sound formula, and was told that if I repeated it correctly, and with concentration and devotion, and practiced the other teachings, I would not have to be reincarnated in a physical body -- I would escape the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. As a result I would realize that God and myself were one.
I had been a professional musician since I was 16 years old, and I continued to play in nightclubs, but I gave up bad habits such as drinking, smoking and drugs. I became proficient in Hatha Yoga (the bodily exercises) and Pranayama (breathing techniques), eventually becoming a certified Hatha Yoga teacher. I fasted regularly, became a vegetarian, and did Kriyas (bodily cleansing). I began to train myself to continually mentally repeat my mantra. I tried to keep all the religious festivals of Hinduism, and began to read and study the Hindu Scriptures and writings of Yoga, such as the Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, Vivekananda's Raja Yoga, Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras, and the Upanishads. I attended Kirtan (singing praises to the various deities), Pujas (ceremonial worship services), and practiced Karma Yoga (sacrificial service to others). My personal deity was the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. A gold-plated statue of Lakshmi was ordered from India and kept on the altar, and I did my best to try and worship and honor her second only to my Guru.
My day began with a prayer to the Guru. He was praised as Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and as Lord Shiva the Destroyer. Various other prayers followed, along with praises and special breathing exercises, and the morning meditation ended with mental repetition of my mantra using my sandalwood Mala Beads (similar to a Catholic Rosary). I had been married to a beautiful girl for several years and we had a wonderful son, but I had done much to hurt her during my years as a musician. My transition to Hinduism was the "final straw" for her, and after I had been practicing Yoga for about two years she divorced me. I moved into the ashram (religious retreat), and eventually took pre-monastic vows, with the goal of becoming a Hindu Sannyasi (a monk). I received a special mantra and was given a Hindu name by a visiting Indian holy man, which my Guru later changed. My purpose in all my religious practices was to know God intimately and experience self-realization. I did not want to lose my identity and be absorbed into oneness, but I wanted to remain an eternal Bhakti (worshipper) of God. I wanted love, joy, peace and spiritual experiences, and was not satisfied with just living in the natural realm.
I began to have supernatural experiences. I saw lights and had visions, and felt inner power. I had spiritual dreams, and deeper and deeper meditations, and other unusual spiritual experiences, yet I still didn't seem to be satisfied. I felt that something was still missing --something just beyond my grasp. No matter how hard I tried to be holy and do good, and be kind and compassionate to others, I was never sure that I had done enough good to out-weigh my bad deeds. Then I heard about the Lord Jesus. Oh, I had heard of Him before, but now I began to be really interested in Him. I began to investigate His claims -- His teachings and commandments, and His life as revealed in the Bible.
As I continued to study the Bible, I became more interested and curious about Jesus, and decided to ask the Guru if I could take Him as my personal deity instead of Lakshmi. He agreed, and although I also continued to worship and revere my Guru, I began to meditate on Jesus and center more of my spiritual practices on Him. As time went on I became more and more fascinated with Him, and I began to read the Bible more thoroughly. Jesus said that all those who believed in Him would receive eternal life, and that those who drank of the spiritual water He could give would never thirst again. It seemed to me Jesus was claiming that by a simple act of grace He was able to give me all the spiritual blessings I had been working so diligently to obtain. This became a problem for me, because even though I wanted these blessings from Jesus, I was still very devoted to my Guru, and didn't want to give him up. I continued to see myself as a Yogi and Hindu with Jesus as my personal deity, and continued to cling to the Guru. Still, I was drawn to Jesus and. began to develop an even greater affinity for Him.
After five years practicing Yoga, including two years at the Ashram, circumstances resulted in my coming back to my hometown for a visit. My plan was to only stay for a short time and than move back to Dallas or to an Ashram in another city, but some of my relatives invited me to stay and attend their church. I really wasn't that interested, but we made a deal: they would let me teach them a Yoga class if I would go to church with them. I didn't really think I would learn anything, but I didn't think it would hurt me either, and I really wanted to teach them Yoga, so they took my Yoga class and I agreed to attend church services with them. As I attended the services I was especially impressed with and interested in the preaching.
I heard it claimed that Jesus still lived today and it was possible to have a personal relationship with Him. I heard that His death on the cross wasn't just a moral example of innocent suffering for what He believed, but that His death was the consummation of God's ultimate plan of redemption, and that His shed blood was a substitutionary atonement for the sins of all those who would believe in Him. I learned that trusting Christ doesn't mean just an intellectual belief -- simply believing that He exists, or even that He is divine, or that He died and rose again. That wasn't enough, because I read, "…the devils also believe and tremble" (James 2: 19). I also understood that trusting in Christ did not mean merely trusting Him for temporal blessings like a successful surgery, or prosperity, or a safe journey. I learned that saving faith in Jesus Christ meant resting my entire, complete and total hope for eternal life on Jesus Christ and Him alone, and nothing else. It meant making Him Master over every area of my life, giving Him total reign over all my being, trusting only on His mercies for any hope of spiritual blessing.
Although attending the church services, I continued to worship my Guru and say my mantra and do my other Yogic practices, in addition to praying to Jesus. After several months I decided to make a more serious commitment to Christianity. I gathered up my Hindu religious paraphernalia -- my prayer beads, incense burner, water bowl, pictures of my Guru and his Guru, my meditation blanket, and other items and put them in a suitcase in the closet. I didn't throw everything away, because if this "Christian thing" didn't work out, I could always move on and recommence by former practices.
I thought I could become a Christian the same way I had become a Hindu and Yogi. I would "try" Christianity for a while. I would declare myself a Christian, go to church and play drums in the church band, read the Bible, and worship and pray to Jesus. Things went along like this for several months, but the sermons and the things I was reading in the Bible began to trouble me.
I had been living morally and religiously for several years, and had been trying to keep all the tenets of Yoga and Hinduism. I had been taught that good works was a way to god-realization, but the Bible said all my righteousness was as filthy rags before the Lord (Isaiah 64: 6), and that, "there is none righteous, no not one" and "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3: 10, 23). As I read and studied I began to see even more contradictions between the teachings of the Bible and Hinduism and Yoga. Before I had only focused on the similarities, such as serving humanity, loving others, sacrificial giving, moral living, and meditation and prayer. But I began to discover major differences.
Hinduism taught that god-hood could be attained by meditation, or by breathing techniques, or through devoted service to humanity, or by repeating a mantra, or by worshipping any of the so-called "incarnations" of God. Hinduism even accepted that Jesus was one of these incarnations, but that He was no greater than any of the others, such as Rama, Krishna, Shiva, or Buddha. He was just one in the vast panoply of deities. Hinduism also taught that one could attain Self-realization by "thinking" one's way to God, through an intellectual process of negation. (Jnana Yoga, or Advaita Vedanta).
I was taught "truth is one, paths are many;" and "God is one, but men know Him by different names." I was taught that the answer to my spiritual ignorance was to be found within, by a change in my own consciousness. If I could enter and stay in deep meditation for a long enough time, my thoughts would be stilled and my true self would emerge. I would have the realization that my individual soul and the universal soul were one and the same. Again, Krishna said in the Bhagavad-Gita that he was the creator of all; the mother and father of the universe, and even the source of the father; he was the way and the master, the beginning and the end (9: 17-18).
I had been taught in Hinduism that the answer was within. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna told his student Arjuna that the goal of Yoga was to bring the mind into harmony by practicing meditation, through concentrating "between the eyebrows" (the third eye, or Ajna Chakra - one of seven inner psychic centers). When the mind is at rest and in harmony and all desires are gone, then the Yogi will be one with Brahman -- one with God (6: 10-18).
On the other hand, I read in the Bible that there is only one way to God. The Apostle Paul said, "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2: 5). Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me" (John 14: 6). Referring to Jesus, the Apostle Peter also told the Jewish religious leaders "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4: 12). I also discovered another major difference between the two religions: the Bible teaches that the answer is not to be found within -- instead, the problem is within. Jesus said that all manner of evil proceeds out of the heart of man (Matt. 15: 19). The Bible teaches that mankind has been separated from God by sin, that all have been born in sin, and that we must repent or perish. The Bible always treats mankind's separation from God as being due to transgression of His Holy Law, and this transgression is Sin. The separation is never attributed to subjective ignorance of our true union with God.
This was all very troubling to me, because I didn't want to think that God was capricious or whimsical. Would the same God who said in the Bible "I am the Lord. I change not" (Mal. 3: 6) tell people in another book that they could get to Him in a variety of ways? Could the God who is described in the Bible as having "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1: 17) be so duplicitous as to instruct people that any way is OK -- that He could be reached through any religious method or means one chooses? Regardless of these feelings, I was becoming more enamored with the person of Jesus and really wanted to grow close to Him. I still was not sure that Jesus was the only way, or that the entire Bible was true, and I really didn't feel that I was a "sinner" that needed to repent, but I was used to following religious rules. The Bible said followers of Jesus must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and verbally confess Him as Lord, so I thought I would go through this Christian ritual of "repentance" and "confession" and then go about my business.
Finally the most momentous day of my life came! On a Sunday morning in the late summer of 1976, I decided to follow what I thought to be the Christian rules of discipleship and repent of my sins and ask Jesus to forgive me. I didn't know what to expect -- in fact I wasn't expecting anything in particular to happen, but even as I was walking to my bedroom altar, tears began to run down my cheeks and my heart began to burn within me. I began making a confession of repentance, but before my knees could hit the floor in prayer, Jesus manifested Himself to me and became more real to me than anything I had ever experienced before.
All the things of the Spirit I had been working and striving for all those years, He seemed to give to me in a moment of time. His loving presence washed over me in wave after wave of indescribable bliss, and He washed my eyes with tears of joy. I knew what the Apostle Peter meant when he said that loving and believing in Jesus would cause one to "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (I Pet. 1: 8). He took me for His own and satisfied every longing of my heart. I didn't really understand until later that what I had experienced was the new birth, or Christian conversion, but I knew that something of ultimate significance had happened. All my Christian life has been an outworking of this seminal event, as I have tried and failed to fathom the depths of the riches of His love. Yet, I will have all eternity to examine the multi-faceted personality of the Lord Jesus Christ, and will still never learn all there is to know about Him who is the Lord of Glory, the King of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, and the Shepherd of His sheep.
I immediately knew that before this experience I had only known about Jesus -- now I knew Him. My feelings and attitude about Jesus had dramatically changed. As I read the Bible later, I understood that just like those in the household of Cornelius, God had "granted" me "repentance unto life" (Acts 11: 18). I understood later that what I had received had been all of grace. Even the desire to seek Jesus had been given to me by a gracious God. Even the fact that I had repented at all was all due to the mercies of God, and I understood the meaning of the scripture, "…the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Rom. 2: 4). Not long after I was converted He also called me to preach in a very dramatic way, although for a long time I did not understand the implications of this grave responsibility.
Within two years of this experience, through what can only be described as a series of miracles, He brought my former wife and my son back from Arizona. He gave me a deep sorrow and a sense of responsibility for what had happened between my wife and me, and I began to visit her and pray for her and my son. By God's grace both my wife and son were eventually converted and baptized. A short time later we were remarried, and my son served as my best man. He later gave us a beautiful and blessed little girl. He helped me to learn a trade and find a job, and later to attend college and earn two degrees, and obtain my Social Work License.
But now, go back with me to the early stages of my Christian development. I began to go deeper in my study of the Bible, and as I did, more contradictions between Christianity and Hinduism appeared. During this time of learning and re-education I had a dream, and in the dream I knew I was in the presence of Jesus. I cannot say that I actually saw Him, but I was definitely aware that He was personally present. I began to have thoughts about my former guru, and then Jesus clearly said, "I will either be Lord of all, or Lord not at all."
When I awoke, I dressed and gathered all my Hindu and Yogic paraphernalia. I took it outside, poured gasoline on all of it and set it on fire. I told Him I wanted everything that was of Him and everything that was true, and to take everything else away. As I continued to study, more disagreements between Christianity and Eastern Religions continued to emerge. Contrary to what I had formerly been taught, Jesus said His disciples could not simultaneously follow him and hold to and believe in other so-called deities. Jesus said "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other" (Matt. 6: 24).
The Hindu Upanishads teach that the individual self is actually god, and that god is all that exists -- that all perceived differences we see around us are apparent and not real. The Upanishads and the Hindu system of Advaita Vedanta teach that god is not just in his creation -- he is the creation. These systems also teach that it may be necessary for those on lower levels of spiritual development to worship personal manifestations of god, but as one grows spiritually, a personal god must eventually be abandoned in favor of the impersonal universal self -- Brahman.
On the other hand, the Bible teaches that although God is present in His creation, overseeing and aware of all that occurs -- even to the falling of a sparrow, He is different and separate from His creation. Before creation, He was all that existed, but He decided to create and He called other things into being than Himself. Paul wrote, "…by Him (Jesus) all things were created, that are in heaven and that are in earth…all things were created by Him and for Him" (Col. 1: 16). John writes, "All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made" (John 1: 3).
The Bible also presents a personal God -- a God who can be known. He invites people to seek Him. Jesus says, "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11: 28, 29). Rather than the Impersonal Existence of the Upanishads or the nameless, formless absolute Brahman of the Advaita System, the Bible presents a loving, personal God. The Christian is encouraged to "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…" (James 4: 8). The Bible presents Christians as being those, who before conversion were "…without Christ…having no hope, and without God in the world…" but by His grace, "…now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ" (Eph.2: 12, 13).
The Upanishads also teach that on the way to a more developed spirituality the seeker may worship so-called deities such as Indra, a nature god, Agni, the god of fire, Vayu, the god of the wind, Uma the mother god, and other so-called deities. In contrast the Bible teaches that there is only one God of all the universe, and that true worshippers are not to make graven images, or "…any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them, nor serve them" (Exodus 20: 4-5). The Psalmist wrote, "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them" (Psalms. 115: 4-8). The Apostle Paul reminded the Galatians that before they were Christians they "…did service unto them which by nature are no gods." He asked them why, after they had known God and were known by Him did they "…turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (of nature), whereunto you desire again to be in bondage" (Col. 4: 8, 9).
God in His Word presented these and other differences between the two systems. I realized that the Bible was very clear about the fact that one is saved and kept by grace alone through faith alone -- that no work, no matter how religiously motivated -- no deed, no matter how moral or selfless, can ever recommend a person to God. C. H. Spurgeon, the famed 19th century British pastor, preacher, and writer, said that there are really only two religions in all the world: Faith and Works. All the other religions can be lumped into one and put under the heading of Works. They teach that a person can save him or herself by keeping religious rules -- by performing certain rites and rituals, or at the least one can assist God, by being and doing "good" and following certain moral teachings.
Hinduism and Yoga clearly and definitely teach that good works is a way to God. This is called Karma Yoga -- the Yoga of doing good deeds selflessly for the sake of others. Section II of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras -- the Sadhana Pada, instructs and admonishes the Yogi to keep many religious rules and outward practices of morality and purity. These practices are supposedly spiritually beneficial and will aid the seeker, and after also practicing deep and extended meditation, the Yogi will realize that the individual self and the universal self are one.
On the other hand, Christianity teaches that fallen, unregenerate man is totally and completely unable, when unaided by the Holy Spirit, to do anything spiritually pleasing to God, or to savingly believe in God. The Bible says "By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2: 8, 9). Paul wrote to Titus: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, by the washing and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3: 5).
Through my studies I learned that Christianity clearly teaches that someone else must save us, and that someone is God Himself, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, through His atoning work on the cross of Calvary. I saw and continue to this day to see many other significant differences. Jesus was teaching me that there are major and irreconcilable differences between the two systems and I realized that both could not be true.
Not only did I read the scriptures, I also began to collect the great creeds of Christianity, such as the Nicene, the Constantinopolitan, and the Athanasian Creeds. I studied most of the confessions of the various denominations such as the 1st and 2nd London Baptist Confessions, the Westminster Confession, the Augsburg Confession, the 39 Articles of The Church of England, and the Methodist Doctrines stated in The United Methodist Book of Discipline. As Spurgeon said, the creeds and confessions are not the road we walk on, but they are the guardrails along the road, assuring us that we are following the same sure and orthodox path that our forbearers followed.
If we can look back through the tunnel of time and see that the giants of the Christian Faith were all unanimous regarding certain points of doctrine, then we can feel comfortable that we too are on the right road. I came to the understanding that if I wanted to continue to hold to theological pluralism and religious syncretism, and the "truth is one, paths are many" view, I could not in all honesty call myself a Christian and a true follower of Jesus Christ. I learned that Christianity is not an idiosyncratic religion. There are certain inviolate principles -- basic beliefs that cannot be departed from without "departing from the faith." The Bible does not teach that God can be found by "doing your own thing." Nor does it teach that any way is OK, because it really doesn't matter to God. He said, "This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him."
In addition to studying Hinduism, I had also familiarized myself with the teachings of Buddhism and Islam. While in college I also took a course on Islamic Culture and Civilization, and several other courses on Middle Eastern History. One day after class I was having a discussion with a Palestinian classmate and the Professor overheard us. He asked if we would like to have a "dialogue" for the benefit of the class. As a result my classmate, her husband, who was a professor at the University, and myself conducted " A Christian-Muslim Dialogue."
In preparation for this I felt it was necessary to read the Koran. I could not help drawing comparisons between the two religion's books. My reading of the Bible revealed it as an historical accounting of God's dealings with his creatures, and a progressive revelation of God to man. One reads therein stories of God's involvement with His creatures. These stories have a beginning, middle and an end. There is a sense of "connectedness" from Genesis to Revelation. In contrast, I found the Koran to be a collection of verses, gathered into chapter divisions called Suras, and most of the time there is no seeming, logical connection from verse to verse. Rather than coherence, there was a sense of randomness in the writing. I also found that there are no recorded accounts of miracles performed by Mohammed, nor is there any prophecy in the Koran, other than the self-fulfilling prophecy that Mohammed would return to Mecca from Medina. I found that although the Koran accepts Jesus as a Prophet, Mohammed was the greatest and the last Prophet, and his teachings supplant those of any that had come before, including Jesus.
Where the Bible and the Koran disagree, The Koran claims superiority. The Koran also denies the Trinitarian nature of God, and emphatically and repeatedly denounces the claim that Jesus is God. It refutes His divine Sonship, rejects the central truth of Christianity, that truth that He was crucified, thus denying the resurrection, and disavows the truth that Jesus is our Intercessor with the Father. In my studies I also found it interesting that Mohammed is also the only founder of an historical religion who was a warrior. During his life, he furthered his newly founded religion, not only by preaching and teaching, but also if necessary, by waging war against those that disagreed with him.
I also learned that the religion he founded allows no compromise -- no ecumenism. Ask a Muslim if god can be found in any other religion than Islam, and he or she will emphatically and resoundingly say "No!" It must also be noted that the Bible is virtually banned in Muslim countries, and Christianity is barely tolerated, let alone allowed to flourish. In many countries, Christians must pay a special tax for permission to practice their faith. Many times, if a Muslim converts to Christianity, his or her very life is put at risk, and at the very least, the new believer will most assuredly confront severe discrimination, rejection by the family, loss of employment or other hardships.
Yet in the face of all these facts, The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church includes six verses from the Koran, comparing them favorably to Holy Scripture (746), and refers to Islam as a "…faith perspective…" (221), and a "…faith community" (223). The writers tell Methodists that when we interact with other religions, including Islam "…we witness and are witnessed to…" (226) and that "…power and attractiveness…" may be "…experienced" (226) in dialogue with those of "…other faiths" (226).
The Book of Resolution writers say, "…Buddhism offers contemplative ways to connect to the divine; and Hinduism in its varieties brings the gift of tolerance. Engaging in dialogue with positive expectation offers the possibility of sharing mutually beneficial spiritual gifts…" (225). Yet in contrast to this the Bible says "…and what communion hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel" (II Cor. 6: 14, 15)? The writers of The Book of Resolutions would have us believe that Christians can learn from those of other religions "…the truth and wisdom of the other faith" (226). Far from learning "truth and wisdom" from other "faiths," the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul tells us, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness" (II Cor. 6: 14).
Jesus did not say He would show us "a" way, He said "I am the way." He did not tell us He would teach us some truth, or truth in part, He said "I am…the truth." He did not say He would give us spiritual life that is the same as can be found in a variety of methods or through many means, but said "I am the …life." In contrast, my former guru said to follow his teachings -- they would give assurance that the disciple would find god, but Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh to the Father but by me" (John 14: 6). He was not saying His teachings were the way -- He was saying He personally was the way to God. And this is what must be decided -- is the God of the Bible the only, true, living God of the Universe, or not? Is Jesus God's Only Son, or is He just one in a vast panoply of other gods -- just one among many? How one answers these questions will determine whether or not one is truly a Christian. I believe a helpful perspective can be gained from the Book of Jude.
Jude said he wrote his letter to exhort his readers "to…earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before…ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4). The letter was written to the Christian church at large, and it was obviously written in response to heretical teachings that were at variance with "…the faith that was once delivered to the saints," and that had already invaded the church, even in that early day. Jude was implying the possibility that certain essentials of the common faith, which should be held to by all Christians, could be neglected; else he would not have been prompted by the Holy Spirit to "exhort" the believers to "contend" for it. I believe this is still instructive for the church today. I believe it is normative.
His emphasis was not so much on the nature of the faith. There was an emergency: false and ungodly persons were bringing in teachings contrary to the truth, and although interpreting the faith was important, defense of the faith was called for now. If this was true 2,000 years ago, it is just as true today. It also is interesting to note that the King James Translators translated the one word "Epagonizomai" (Ep ag o nid' zom ahee), as two words: "Earnestly contend," to give a sense of the seriousness they believed Jude felt and was trying to impart to his readers. This Greek word means: "To struggle for." Synonyms for struggle are: strive, grapple, fight and withstand. Images are brought to mind of a boxing match, a wrestling match, or a hard-hitting football game between two determined opponents. The image presented is that we are to struggle, and then struggle some more against anything or anyone who tries to compromise or minimize the faith.
It is noteworthy that Jude refers to "The faith," not "a faith." The implication is that this faith is not some vacillating, amorphous, unorganized "I'm OK, you're OK" philosophy, but a specific set of essential beliefs that define Christianity It is obvious that even in those early days of the church a body of authoritative teachings existed, and Jude takes it for granted that Christians are aware of these beliefs, and he urges his readers to defend them.
He also writes that this faith was "once delivered to the saints." The NIV gives this as "once for all entrusted to the saints." He was saying that this faith was delivered fully and finally to the Apostles, their associates, and other original followers of Christ, and that it needs no supplementation. It is given as a trust to those that follow, and they are to pass it on without any innovations. Yes, there are certain beliefs of Christianity that are Cardinal. Cardinal is from the Latin word, "Cardinalis," and means: "That on which something else turns or depends; of main importance; principal; chief." These cardinal beliefs are essential, constituting the fundamental nature of the Christian faith, and are intrinsic to the definition of Christianity. Those who deny them have "depart(ed) from the faith" (I Tim 4:1), and can no longer make the claim that they are Christians. Denial of the unique deity of Christ is not a peripheral issue, but strikes at the very heart of the gospel. It is an essential belief-- a cardinal doctrine.
Christianity proclaims that Jesus is God in the flesh. In Exodus 3: 14, when God appeared to Moses at the burning bush, Moses asked God His name, and God said: "I am that I am." God told Moses to tell the Jews, "I am sent me." In John 8: 58 the Jewish leaders asked Jesus to tell them who He was, and He said, "Before Abraham was, I am." He used the same name for Himself that God had spoken to Moses. They took up stones to kill Jesus, because to them, He had blasphemed by calling Himself God. But He went on even further to emphasize this by telling them, "…if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins" (John 8: 24). Jesus repeatedly claimed the divine title for Himself. He claimed that He was in fact, God -- of this there is no doubt.
It is also explicitly clear that Jesus and His Apostles and other followers were aware that there were other so-called "gods" that were believed in by others. Yet we are repeatedly told that Jesus is truly the one, true, living God, the only creator of the universe (Col. 1: 16; John 1: 3). Christianity says that this doctrine of the deity of Christ is essential to determining Christian orthodoxy. Islam denies this truth. How can the Methodist Church, or for that matter any Christian -- any one who is a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, find spiritual agreement with those who deny this? Does this mean that we should hate individual Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists? -- of course not; nor does it mean that we should avoid contact with them -- emphatically not. But we also cannot agree with their denial of cardinal tenets of the Christian faith.
Christians are to share the love of God in Christ with all they come in contact with. Jesus tells us six times in the Gospels that we are to "Love our neighbors as we love ourselves." We are to strive to have Christ-like love for all we encounter. But at the same time, the Holy Spirit that teaches us to be loving to all, also warns us against the cultist, the false religionist, the wolf in sheep's clothing, the legalist -- those that deny either subtly and covertly, or overtly the essentials of the faith. What is even more dangerous than those from without who deny these doctrines, are those who are not true Christians, but who have gained position of authority over God's people, and are not regenerate at all, but only call themselves Christians.
They are not Christians. The Bible gives us a solemn warning. Paul wrote to the Galatians:
I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of
Christ unto another gospel; which is not another, but there be some that trouble
you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from
heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto
you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man
preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be
accursed. But I certify you brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is
not after man, for I neither received it from man, neither was I taught it, but by
revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1: 6-8; 9, 11, 12).
We must go no farther than Scripture, but we should go as far as Scripture commands us, and say even today: You that trouble us; you that pervert the gospel of Christ; you that preach another gospel than the one we have received: be accursed.
The Bible says, "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 16:25). There are many ways in life that seem right, but there is only one true way to God. The Bible describes many types of faith: an empty faith (Rom. 4:14); a vain faith (I Cor. 15: 17); no faith (II Thess. 3: 2); a denial of faith (I Tim. 5:8); a cast off faith (I Tim5: 12); a dead faith (James 2: 20), and a faith that demons have (James 2: 19). But there is only one true faith. This is not dogmatism -- this is not being bigoted or narrow-minded, this is Christianity in its essence. Paul said, "There is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim 2: 5).
False faith is anything other than Biblical faith. Is it loving to keep silent, and allow Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus, or those of any other religion to go on their merry way, when we know that the way they are following does not lead to salvation? Is it exhibiting kindness to say nothing, and give tacit assent by our silence to denial of the way that leads to life? In Matthew 25 the Bible portrays those who have come to the end of life by the many other ways than the true way, as being on the left hand of Jesus. They are not classified or separated by degrees of relative goodness or by how religious they have been. They all enter the same place. They are separated from God forever. Jesus says, "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment…" (46). But the ones who have come to God only through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ are on the right hand of Christ. Listen to their end: "Then the king shall say unto them on His right hand, come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25: 34). How can we Christians remain silent, and offer no word of warning to those facing eternity without God?
The prophet Elijah offered this challenge to the Israelites who had left off following the true faith: "How long will you halt between two opinions? If the Lord be God follow Him, but if Ba'al, then follow him" (I Kings 18: 21). He then challenged the false religionists to a test of faith. He proposed a contest between their so-called god, Ba'al, and the God of Israel: The Lord Jehovah. He proposed that an altar be set up and an animal sacrificed upon it. The prophets of Ba'al would pray to their god, and Elijah would pray to Jehovah, and the god who answered by sending fire from Heaven, consuming the sacrifice, would be the true God. While the prophets of Ba'al slashed themselves with knives and jumped up and down on the altar, Elijah sat back laughing at them, saying it may be that their god was on a vacation or perhaps he was sleeping.
Elijah then took his turn to pray. He had the sacrifice soaked with twelve barrels of water, and prayed a short prayer and asked God to send His fire so the people would turn their hearts back to God. We are then told, "…the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, He is the God; The Lord, He is the God" (I Kings 18: 38-39). The same is true today. The one true God will answer by fire to purge the dross of heresy and false teaching, and all sin. As it was then, so it is today -- the way one chooses determines one's eternal destiny.
It must be said that if any purported Christian organization, be it The United Methodist Church or any other denomination, group or individual, teaches that there is any other way to God but through the shed blood of Jesus Christ -- or teaches that there is even the possibility of salvation by following the teachings of another religion, then it has become the "some other way" that Jesus speaks of in John 10: 1. In that same chapter He goes on to say that His sheep will not follow "some other way" but will only listen to His voice and follow Him, because all that came before Him (or after) are "thieves and robbers." He says that He is the "good shepherd that gives His life for the sheep" (John 10: 11).
Any church that takes the position that there are "other ways," regardless of what Jesus says, might just as well put "Ichabod" over the doorway, because truly, the glory of the Lord has departed. The house of God must only be built on a solid foundation, the foundation that Jesus is "…the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16: 16). So, what then should be the Christian response to false teachers -- those whom the Apostle Paul described as "…grievous wolves…not sparing the flock…speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20: 29-30)? What saith the Word of God?
In Joshua 7 we are told the story of the effects of sin. Achan disobeyed the clear command of God. He had taken Babylonian garments, and gold and silver after God had ordered that the Israelites were to take no spoils. As a result "…the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel." God told Joshua, "Neither will I be with you anymore, except ye destroy the accursed from among you" (7: 1, 12). God could not bless while sin was in the camp. Sin cannot be negotiated. When a deadly snake is under your child's bed, you don't negotiate with it -- you don't try to woo it out with soothing words. You kill it any way you can, because it will kill your child if you don't kill it first. It is the same with false doctrine. It is a deadly snake -- desiring to kill the faith of the children of God, and it must be dealt with ruthlessly.
When Elymas the sorcerer sought to turn Sergius Paulus, a potential convert, away from the faith, Paul said "O full of all subtlety and mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand" (Acts13: 8-12). Paul gave the Ephesians advice that they should deal similarly with false teachers in their midst, when he said, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5: 11).
We are also furnished instructive words through Paul's letter to Titus, his "son after the common faith" (Titus 1: 4). In the first chapter Paul describes those who "hold(ing) fast the faithful word…" so that they "…may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (Titus 1: 9). He then contrasts those of sound doctrine with "…many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers…whose mouths must be stopped" (v. 10). He tells Titus to "…rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (v. 13). He says, "…even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (vs. 15-16).
The entire 2nd chapter of II Peter is given over to the foretelling of the appearance of false teachers who appear in the church, and the eventual judgments that will befall them and their impious followers. They are described as "…brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed" (v. 12); they "…cannot cease from sin…" and "…have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Ba'laam (vs 14, 15); they are called "wells without water" and "servants of corruption" (vs 17, 19). Peter ends his 2nd letter with this admonition: "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen" (II Pet. 3: 17-18).
In the book of Galatians Paul explains that the household of Abraham is also representative of the Church of the Living God. He says that although Abraham's slave and concubine Hagar was a real, historical personage, and that Sara was really his wife, they also are allegorical, standing for the two covenants: Law and Grace. Hagar represents the Law. The Law says, "This do and live." It is based on works, and leads only to spiritual bondage. Hagar's son, Ishmael, is the fruit of the Law: human self-vindication -- religious self-effort. Sara is the freewoman and represents Grace. Grace tells us we can do nothing to earn eternal life. No work, no matter how outwardly good, or however intensely and devoutly performed, can ever win us favor with God. Eternal life must be divinely imparted to us only by and through the mercy of God -- by His Grace and His Grace alone. Sara's son, Isaac, represents the fruit of grace: saving faith.
As already mentioned, all the other religions of the world except Christianity contend that sinners can save themselves, or at least contribute to their salvation through keeping the Golden Rule, or by doing good works, or by observing certain prescribed religious rites or rituals. Therefore, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to be ruthless with the Law, and its child of religious self-help. He says we must "…cast out the bondwoman and her son" (Gal. 4: 30). So, based on clear Biblical instruction, we must not -- we cannot agree with those who lend credence or credibility to religions that deny the essential, cardinal doctrines of orthodox Christianity. By doing so we ourselves are guilty of denying the true faith, and the very Lord that brought us out of sin. Any teaching that denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world strikes at the very heart of the gospel. Saying that one can hope to find God through "some other way" than the Bible way, takes away one's right to be called a Christian.
Knowing what the Lord has delivered us from, and that He has delivered us into the light of His glorious gospel, we cannot keep silent against the claims of false teachers. As Jude admonishes us, we must "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." Like Paul we must be "…set for the defense of the gospel: (Php. 1: 17). As the Lord said to me many years ago, so says He now: I will either be Lord of all, or Lord not at all. And the Lord says the same thing to all those who name His name. To all those who are truly His he says, "…have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20: 3). He says, "What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (II Cor. 6: 16, 17). As the ancient prophet said, "Can two walk together except they be agreed" (Amos 3: 3)? But we must remember that the claim to be a Christian can also only be validated by "Speaking the truth in love…" (Eph. 4: 15).
Dear friends, be you religious law-keepers, or moral relativists, or theological pluralists, or lost sheep, looking for the fold of God -- and all who read -- I encourage you to investigate Jesus' claims anew. No guru -- no founder of any religion -- none ever made the promises Jesus made. No one ever cared for humanity like Him. None ever died, was buried and rose from the grave, never having to die again. None else can cleanse all our sins. There is none like the lovely Jesus. Pilate asked Jesus: "What is truth" (John 18: 38)? Jesus' answer rings down through eternity: "I am…the truth…" (John 14: 6). Find Jesus, or rather be found by Him, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8: 32).
If you haven't done so, learn more about Jesus, the sacrifice for sin, and the giver of faith. I believe you will come to the same conclusion reached by the Roman Centurion who was overseeing the crucifixion of Jesus, when he said, "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matt. 27: 54). Try Him yourself and see what happens. He was and is the only Son of God. Ask Him to be your one and only savior as I did, and I know He will forgive all your sins. He is saying still today, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one" (John 10: 27-30).
Be like the Bereans, who "…received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17: 11). Give up religious seeking, and become a follower of Christ as I did, and I know you will also find Him to be a living, ever-present, compassionate Master. All glory and praise to His Name now, and throughout all eternity. Amen.
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