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|Introduction Today the Difference Matters More Than Ever||5||(14)|
|Part One The Importance of a Biblical Worldview|
|Part Two Other Trunks of the Christian Tree|
|Part Three Major Religions of the World|
|Part Four Cults, New Religions and the Occult|
|Appendix A Resources for Further Study||215||(11)|
|Appendix B Ministries for Information on Cults||226||(2)|
A Plumb Line for Comparing Faiths
Biblical Christianity . What does that mean? Can you be a Christian and not be biblical? Are there brands of Christianity that are unbiblical? And what does it mean to have a plumb line for comparing faiths? Some defining of terms is definitely in order.
Biblical. Whatever their tradition or denomination, most who answer to the name of Christian claim in some sense to be biblical. For this book's purposes, "biblical" means that the Christian believer searches seriously and carefully for the meaning of the Bible on its own terms, not changing its meaning to fit the times. Biblical Christians approach the Bible with reverence and respect, because they believe it is true and authoritative-that it contains God's very words.
As early as the second century and even late in the first, Christians saw the need for separating right (true) Christian belief from various kinds of subtle heresies that began to creep in. Webster defines heresy as "an opinion held in opposition to the commonly received doctrine and tending to promote division or dissension." Christianity has always had its foes, but no enemy has been more dangerous than the heretics within who have held opinions in opposition to the commonly received truths on which Christianity was founded. These common truths are contained in the New Testament, the books and epistles that came to be recognized as God's inspired-and final-words on what Christianity really is.
From the gnosticism of the first and second centuries to the liberalism of the present day, biblical Christians-the Body of Christ-have had to guard against heresy as well as against being too quick to judge other Christians with differing viewpoints. Biblical Christianity is like a huge tent or canopy that covers a myriad of churches, denominations and groups, all of which have beliefs or interpretations of Scripture they prefer to emphasize. But what draws all of these groups together are basic biblical doctrines that center around this plain and simple teaching:
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ... he was buried ... he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3,4).
Obviously, there is a lot more to Christianity than what is said in these two verses, but we find here a plumb line for measuring the difference between biblical Christianity and other faiths.
Plumb line. A plumb line-a string with a pointed weight on the end-is still used today by masons to make sure they lay a brick wall straight and true. In a short little book tucked among the minor prophets of the Old Testament, God told Amos, "Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people" (Amos 7:8).
As the Holy Spirit directed Amos's thoughts, the analogy of a plumb line came to his mind and he referred to this familiar tool to tell the Israelite people what God wanted them to know-that God would measure them by His standards, His Word, and no other.
In the same way, God's Word will be the plumb line used in this book to define the differences between the basic truths on which Christianity was founded and what other faiths believe. We will explore the teachings of the Bible on three key points, all contained in capsule form in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4:
ò The person and work of Christ-who He is and what He did for US.
ò Mankind's major problem-all of us are sinners in rebellion against God and in need of a Savior.
ò The truth and reliability of the Bible-divine inspiration of Scripture.
By definition, the backbone of Christianity is Christ. There are two key issues concerning Jesus Christ: who He is and what He did.
1. Who is He? Only a man? God disguised as a man? Or was He someone uniquely different?
2. What did He do? Teach us how to live? Die for our sins? Both?
All biblical Christians subscribing to the Nicene Creed agree on Christ's deity. Following are some of the key questions that people often raise about Jesus Christ.
Was Jesus really God, or was He a great teacher and nothing more than that?
While the Bible does not use the exact words "Jesus is God," the biblical record clearly and frequently teaches that Jesus Christ is, in fact, God. For example, John 1:1 refers to Christ as the Word (Logos) and tells us that "in the beginning was the Word ... and the Word was God." John 1:14 testifies that "the Word [God] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, ... full of grace and truth."
Of primary importance is what Jesus said about Himself. On several occasions, He claimed to be equal with God. See, for example, John 10:30: "I and the Father are one." On another occasion Jesus told Philip and some of the other disciples that because they had seen Him they had seen the Father (see John 14:9).
In addition, Jesus frequently referred to Himself as God. In John 8:58, Jesus told the Pharisees, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!" The Pharisees, being excellent Bible students, knew that in Exodus 3:14 God had said to Moses, "This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.'" The Pharisees knew that Jesus was claiming to be the God of Israel. They picked up stones and would have tried to kill Him, but He slipped away.
Jesus also claimed to be God in important conversations with His own disciples. For example, before being arrested on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well."
Philip then asked, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus' reply was a clear claim of divinity and equality with God: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (see John 14:5-9; see also 20:24-29).
In summary, if Jesus Christ was not who He claimed to be (God), but only a man, then Christianity is a fraud and Jesus would have to be a liar or a lunatic. As C. S. Lewis said, "He leaves us no other alternative. He did not intend to."
Did Jesus' virgin birth actually happen?
According to the Bible, the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. People with an atheistic or naturalistic worldview scoff at this story because they cannot accept miracles or the supernatural. Other people object to the doctrine of the virgin birth on the grounds that it is similar to another legend, like pagan (polytheistic) stories of heroes who were half god, half man. But there is an enormous difference between the pagan worldview and the biblical. In all pagan stories of this kind, there is gross physical cohabitation of a god with a human being. In the Scripture account, Mary is simply informed, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). There is no suggestion that Jesus is half God and half man.
According to theologian Wayne Grudem, "The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person." Jesus could have descended from heaven as a fully grown man, but that would have made it very hard for us to see how He could be just as human as we are. Or, He could have been born of two human parents, but that would have made it hard for us to see that He was truly God.
Instead, writes Grudem, "God, in His wisdom, ordained a combination of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ, so that His full humanity would be evident to us from the fact of His ordinary human birth from a human mother, and His full deity would be evident from the fact of His conception in Mary's womb by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit."
Does the Trinity make three gods?
Even though the Bible never uses the word "trinity," Christians teach the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the one eternal and living God, always existing as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This leads some religions to reject the Trinity on the grounds that it sounds like Christians worship three gods, not one. It is true that Deuteronomy 6:4 states, "The Lord our God, the Lord is one." But it is also true that the Old Testament uses the plural form elohim for the word "God" 2,346 times. (See, for example, Gen. 1:26; 11:7.)
The New Testament also clearly states that "God is one" (see Gal. 3:20), yet here again is abundant evidence that the unity of God, His oneness, involves three "persons." For example, as Matthew describes Jesus' baptism, He speaks of Jesus coming up out of the water, the heavens opening, the Spirit of God descending like a dove and a voice from heaven (God the Father) saying, "This is my Son, whom I love" (see Matt. 3:13-17).
One of the strongest reasons that many critics reject the doctrine of the Trinity is that it makes Christ co-equal with God the Father. The Trinity is the particular target of critics in religions like Judaism and Islam, and in cults such as Unitarianism, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormonism. All of these groups reduce Christ to a created being who is "second-in-command" at best or just another teacher on the same par with Buddha, Krishna or Moses.
But we have already seen that Jesus frequently referred to Himself as God. In addition, the rest of the New Testament fully concurs that the Son, Jesus Christ, is the God-man who was perfectly human and perfectly divine. He was one person having two distinct and separate natures. (See, for example, John 1:1-4 and Phil. 2:5-7.)
As for the Holy Spirit, Scripture clearly teaches that He enjoys the same interrelationship with the Father that Jesus does. In Matthew 28:19, the Holy Spirit is clearly made equal with the Father and the Son when Jesus commands the disciples to go and teach all nations "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His death and resurrection, He told them He was going to send a Comforter, whom he identified as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth who would live with them and be in them (see John 14:15-26). Also, Jesus' continued activity after His ascension, through the promised Holy Spirit, is the central theme of the entire book of Acts.
Despite the many Scripture passages that clearly describe how the oneness of God includes three Persons-the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-the Trinity remains one of the most difficult concepts for Christians to understand or explain to other people. How three persons can be one God called the Trinity is a puzzle to natural reasoning. If you try to see God your creator in natural or creaturelike terms, then you want to believe He is some kind of infinitely powerful person who is THE BOSS. If He is such a gigantic, all-powerful person, then how in the world could He be three big persons or even three smaller persons at once?
However, one question we might ask is, If God is supernatural-beyond nature-why must He be understood only in natural terms? The biblical believer accepts the mystery of God's greatness, realizing that the real point is that God is not the "Big Fella" upstairs. As Wayne Grudem points out, "The Trinity is a kind of existence far different from anything we have experienced." We should not be surprised, then, that in the Trinity there is an element of mystery that defies any human analysis or understanding, because we are only human and God is God.
Did Christ actually rise from the dead?
Biblical Christians say He did. The significance of this event in the biblical, historic Christian faith cannot be overestimated. It is absolutely nonnegotiable. Biblical Christians claim that by conquering death, Jesus Christ proved He was God. Furthermore, He ensured that all who believe in Him will have eternal life (see John 11:25,26), and He lives today as our mediator (see 1 Tim. 2:5) and our high priest (see Heb. 4:14-16). For Resurrection accounts, see Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:18; Luke 24:1-42; John 20 and 21.
The doctrine of the Resurrection is the foundation on which Christianity rests. As Paul wrote, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17).
Dr. Wilbur M. Smith, well-known American Bible scholar, comments in Baker's Dictionary of Theology that the Resurrection doctrine teaches "the absolute uniqueness and the supernaturalness of the person of Jesus Christ, and the particular hope which he has brought to men.... Remove the truth of resurrection from the New Testament and its whole doctrinal structure collapses, and hope vanishes."
If the Christian's hope is in a dead Christ who was martyred because He threatened the existing religious establishment, then the Christian is in the same boat with the Muslim, the Buddhist and the follower of Confucius. Mohammed is dead. Buddha is dead. Confucius is dead. But the Bible affirms that Christ is alive; and because He lives, the Christian will live also, eternally.
Because the Resurrection falls into the same supernatural category as the Trinity, many doubt that Christ actually did rise from the dead. Some theorize that He never really died but that He just passed out and was awakened later by His disciples. Or possibly the women went to the wrong tomb and found it empty. Another theory says that either His friends or His enemies stole the body.
As one Bible scholar has said, none of the "standard" explanations can account for the total change that occurred in Jesus' followers after they found the empty tomb. And as for His postresurrection appearances-to as many as 500 people at a time (see 1 Cor. 15:6)-they were far more than just a spiritual presence or apparition. Instead, "history, theology, and experience combine to show that the glorious fact is that Christ did rise from the dead" (see 1 Cor. 15:20, Phillips ).
Excerpted from So What's the Difference? by FRITZ RIDENOUR Copyright © 2001 by Fritz Ridenour
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.