Thursday, December 20, 2007

Do We Worship the Same God?

It is my contention that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship the same God. I would even go farther and say that there are many sub-sets of faith traditions inside of the history of Christendom that do not worship the true God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. The intra-Christendom groups include (but are not necessarily limited to) Oneness Pentecostals (“Jesus Only”) and various universalistic churches like the Universalist Unitarian church.

I know that may sound shocking or uncouth in today’s society, but it is nothing different than what Biblical Christians (i.e. “true” Christians) have believed for centuries. Why else do you think that we evangelize? Other than the fact that we are commanded to, we understand what the Bible means when it says,

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)

In other words, if you don’t understand Jesus rightly and trust in Him as He commands, you will be eternally condemned and suffer the just and righteous wrath of God.

While I was putting together my most recent “Daily Bread” devotional thoughts from reading the daily prescribed Scriptures, I saw an application to the coexist campaign. And while looking for a graphic to use, I came across an individual’s Jewish blog who (I believe) is in favor of much of what that symbol stands for. The post that had the graphic attached to it seemed to be a scything condemnation of a “disgusting story” about a Baptist church’s unwillingness to facilitate Muslim prayers during an interfaith service that they were hosting.

He quoted his own rabbi’s disgusted comments about how the situation played out,
“Sadly, when the church leadership learned that ‘interfaith service’ did not mean ‘intra-Christian’ or ‘intra-Protestant,’ in other words, when they learned that non-Christian worshipers and religious leaders would be represented, they withdrew their offer.”1

But my concern was not over the fact that the local Jewish community was upset over this decision by a particular church or even over the reasons why a church would hold an event where (apparently) corporate worship by various different faiths is welcomed and endorsed. No, my concern was over the blogger’s seemingly frustrated and sarcastically aghast comment,
“Upon hearing [that Muslim evening prayers were going to be held in the Baptist Church], HPBC’s leadership apparently had an aneurism and decided that they would not allow people to pray to God in their church. Makes sense, right?”2

My concern, my single concern in this post, is over the common modern concept that says that Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe in the same God while using the Biblical language of "the God of Abraham" for support. I believe that based on Scripture that is not the case. But based on the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, it is clear that God is very jealous and distinct about how He is worshipped or referred to. And prayers to Allah or to the Jewish understanding of God in the Old Testament, both religions flatly deny the deity of Jesus Christ, are prayers to a false god. And prayers to false gods do not belong in a church, nor should they be condoned by a church.

Some of the Biblical support for the exclusivity of God comes from Zephaniah and 2nd John.
4 "So I will stretch out My hand against Judah And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, {And} the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. 5 "And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, And those who bow down {and} swear to the LORD and {yet} swear by Milcom, 6 And those who have turned back from following the LORD, And those who have not sought the LORD or inquired of Him." (Zephaniah 1:4-6)
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 7-9)

Second John says that if anyone denies that Jesus came in the flesh, and John’s writings along with the rest of the New Testament make it clear that Jesus is the eternal 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead, that they do “not have God” but only those who abide in the “teaching of Christ” is one who has “both the Father and Son.” So in a real and obvious way, there is no real debate as to whether Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Mormons worship the same God. If we just look at the primary texts of each of these faiths and look at their historical creeds, followers of these different religions do not worship the same God. And true adherents of these faiths would agree with this statement.

For instance, the historic Jewish beliefs, as I understand, of both the Sh’ma and the Messiah do not allow for God to be Triune or for Him to be incarnated as a man. The Muslim understanding of Jesus is that He was just a prophet, albeit a great prophet, but they deny His deity. Furthermore, it is a heresy, as it is in Judaism too, to believe anything close to a Triune Godhead. And it is not merely vague assent to the deity of Jesus that is necessary according to the Scriptures. And because of this, the Mormon’s declare Jesus as God, but their understanding of Jesus is that He is the first created being. This is contrary to everything in the New Testament about Jesus. The Bible consistently teaches that Jesus is the eternal uncreated God who is the Son of the Father. His status as the “Son” is not a description of His of lineage or origin, but it is a description of His authority and power. In that culture, first-born son had the power and authority of the father and would inherit all that the father had. The rest of the New Testament is in alignment with this. Put it simply again: Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and Christians do not worship the same God.

I fully expect those of different faiths to disagree with my theology, and that is fair. You can argue and disagree as to the ultimate truthfulness of what I believe and what the Bible teaches, but I don’t believe that you can disagree that based on this understanding that I have just espoused (whether you agree with it or not) that the Bible teaches that if you worship God wrongly or understand Him wrongly, He is not pleased and you are not truly worshipping Him. Therefore, any prayers to Allah or the prayers of the practitioners of Judaism and the prayers of a Mormon would be rightly considered an abomination before God. And no church should provide the facilities and encourage things that God detests.

As an aside, does this mean that I hate or don’t like or don’t want to work together in social situations with Jews, Muslims, Mormons, or whoever? Nope. But, I must draw the line at claiming that the object of our individual faiths is the same God. I can love you and work with you in social causes, but we must be clear about the fact that we do not worship the same God.


1 http://davidsaysthings.wordpress.com/2007/11/16/islamofacism-or-islamophobia/
2 Ibid.


3 comments:

Mary said...

Eric,

So I have to say that I agree with you, I know I was surprised too!

All religions are not the same, it frustrates me when people say that it is, and that we all worship “God” If we were all the same there would only be one "religious building" in every town. I don’t think that any church, synagogue, ect.. should have to open their doors and allow another religion to practice in their space. Now if a public building hosts an inter faith event I don’t think any religion can be excluded and they need to be accommodated.

I also wanted to agree with you too that not all Christian religions are the same and that I wish more people took the time to really learn what their church teaches. I love how people pick a church for the music or the social events or the Coffee.

Mary

David A. M. Wilensky said...

Hello. I'm David A.M. Wilensky, author of the post you refer to extensively in this post, which I found quite interesting.

I won't adress most of your points because the stem from what seems to me a basic disagreement on some basic facts and I don't think that your or I will be swayed be the other's arguments.

I do want to clarify some things. The point of the Coexist symbol, and the point of the post in general, was not about the sameness of our respective conceptions of God. My point is that we should look past differences and, well, coexist. Perhaps I went to far in say my aghast statement about not allowing Muslims to pray to God, but my point was that these types of events are the kind of thing that increase understanding and tolerance. Understanding and tolerance are things sadly missing in our current world situation, wouldn't you agree?

EJ said...

David,

Thanks for the feedback and followup.

I believe you when say that your point was not concerning the “sameness of our respective conceptions of God.” My primary desire was to make it clear that there is a distinction between how you, I, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and any other believer in a particular presentation of who (or what) god might be and the true understanding of who God is.

There is nothing wrong with working with a person of a different faith on social issues in the culture; I think that is a good idea. However, to have “tolerance” in the truest sense of the word requires there to be disagreement in faith and practice. Tolerance should have dictate a calm response to the church you referred to (I am not familiar with all of the details, just the ones you presented in your comments). It could be a bewildered “I don’t get it” or “they’re so wrong” tolerance, but tolerance to allow that. Now, perhaps what came through in your article was just that – a bewildered and confused frustration, but you did not attempt to go in and change what they were doing (I don’t believe).

Intolerance – this is where parties disagree and seek to stop what one party believes or practices. This is not always bad. We as a society do not tolerate prostitution, human sacrifice, or polygamy, all of which have historically been used in the practice of or living out of various religions. Temple prostitutes were very common in many of the ancient middle eastern religions that so plagued Israel and made God extremely angry; human sacrifices (many times infants) were also common and were often connected with Molech as well as American (Aztec and more) and various European religions; polygamy has been practiced by many cultures and religions, but we outlaw that in America which has a most direct impact on Mormons.

Intolerance of some things is wise and prudent. But, if an Aztec ideal, a Mormon ideal, or some other ideal was predominant, other things may not be tolerated in our society where some of the above would. I guess what I mean is that society isn’t the rule of what should/shouldn’t be tolerated, only an example that some things are not, and thankfully so.

Tolerance – This involves, at a fundamental level, a very strongly held disagreement between two parties. These parties may even try to convert the other to a different way of thinking, believing, or living. But tolerance does not militate a person to change, forcibly by violence or by governmental pressure, but allows there to be a very strongly held disagreement.

Tolerance allows evangelism seeking conversion from one religion to another, but I would not lump in forced conversions into this idea. I should tolerate your attempts to disseminate Judaism seeking proselytes even from among Christians and you should tolerate Christians evangelizing to Jews seeking for them to come to faith in Christ. But tolerance

But tolerance also allows for religions to say that certain things are wrong as well as to prohibit certain religious practices in their premises.

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