This week at Gateway Austin we continued a series called “Questionable: Feel Free to Ask.”
John Burke spoke at the McNeil campus and interviewed a panel of folks who grew up in the world’s five major religions. You can watch or listen at www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.
I spoke at Gateway South and interviewed a woman from Iran, a woman from India, and a guy from Oklahoma. All walked away from the religion of their childhood. All now follow Christ.
Here’s some of the opening and closing thoughts we shared:
Today we’re looking at Jesus and the World’s Religions. Why Jesus and the World’s Religions? Because Jesus claimed to come for all people of all religious backgrounds.
Why is this important?
First, we are a Come As You Are church which means that people come from all different backgrounds—including different parts of the world and different Religious Backgrounds. We want to be a place where people are free to explore questions about God who are not coming from a Christian background. Plus, I believe God is bringing the world right here to Austin. And if we are going to Love our Neighbor as ourself, we need to understand how to dialogue with those of different faiths—understanding them is a start, which opens doors for respectful conversation about God.
Second, there is a common idea that says “All the Religions basically say the same thing.” I want to explore this today, and show what they do have in common and where they differ. If you are still exploring faith—I hope this helps you see the differences. We’re going to focus on the 5 Major World’s Religions—there are others—but these are the ones with the most followers.
Let’s start with this question: What do the major world’s religions have in common?
Interestingly, they do share a basic common morality—or Moral Law. When people say, “Aren’t all religions basically saying the same thing” I think this is what they mean. The Bible actually affirms this truth:
“Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them.” – Romans 2:14-15
In most all of the major World Religions, we see evidence of this similar Moral Law that God has written in our hearts. In fact, here are the common Moral Laws found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism.
- Don’t do harm to another human by what you do or say (the Golden Rule)
- Honor your father and mother
- Be kind toward brothers and sisters, children, and the elderly
- Do not have sex with another’s spouse
- Be honest in all your dealings (don’t steal)
- Do not lie
- Care for those weaker or less fortunate
- Dying to self is the path to life
–adapted from Lewis, The Abolition of Man
In just about every culture and Major World Religion since beginning of recorded history, we see a common moral law. So we’ve always known right and wrong in every culture for all time. But how well have we kept the moral law? The world’s a mess! We have a real serious problem humanly speaking—we know basic right from wrong, yet we all fall short consistently. On that, we seem to all agree.
But when it comes to other important questions—do all the world’s religions say the same thing? Let’s find out. Let me give you a quick factual overview of each Religion, then we’ll dive deeper with our panel.
Founder – unknown
Scriptures – 4 Vedas (~1700 B.C.- 1100 B.C.), Upanishads, Mahabharata (Bhagavad-Gita)
Adherents – 1 billion (15% of humanity) – 99% Southeast Asia
Founder – Siddhartha Gautama (~500 B.C.) – Buddha (Enlightened One)
Scriptures – Sutras, Tipitake (no single authoritative text—many useful texts)
Adherents – 500 million (7%) (mostly Southeast Asia – Austin has 10th highest Asian population by %, but don’t assume most Asians are Buddhists—just as likely Unaffiliated or Christian as Eastern in religious perspective)
Founder – Abraham (~2000 B.C.) / Moses (~1500 B.C.) – Prophets of Yahweh (46 male, 7 female prophets)
Scriptures – Tanakh (~1500 B.C. – 400 B.C.), Talmud (Commentaries on Torah)
Adherents – 14 million (.2%) (mostly in Israel, America, and Europe)
Founder – Jesus Christ (~30 A.D.) – Messiah of Yahweh, God revealed
Scriptures – Bible (~1500 B.C. – 90 A.D.)
Adherents – 2.2 billion (32%)
Founder – Muhammad (~600 A.D.) – Last prophet, reforming Jewish/Christian prophets
Scripture – Quran (~600 A.D.), Hadith
Adherents – 1.6 billion (23%) (mostly in Middle East and N. Africa)
All our Religious pursuits are humans trying to understand our place in the Universe—who Created us, for what purpose, what’s our problem, what’s the solution, what happens after death?
I believe the real question is not which religion is the right one, but “Has God revealed Himself?”
If God created the Universe, we can’t go find God. He must reveal Himself to us. You can see traces of General Revelation of God everywhere – like with the Common Moral Law found across religions. The Christian Bible makes clear the God of Jesus has been involved with all nations all along—over 500 times the nations are addressed by Hebrew Prophets and Jesus. It wasn’t Hebrews but Eastern Maji who saw the King of the Jews (Messiah’s birth) written in the stars and came to worship. Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament saw God’s General Revelation even among idol worship (see Acts 17:22-24). So we can look for where God has left evidence of himself Generally among all people, but he goes on to say, “This God has revealed himself Specifically, through Jesus, and wants people to turn away from things that are not God, and learn to love and follow God.”
If you ask the question, “Who is God – Has God revealed?” Search the religions of mankind, you’ll find many prophets claiming to speak from God, but they disagree on Who God is and what’s he like. While many have claimed to speak about God, there’s only One person who claimed to Reveal God, and do anything to verify that claim.
Years before most Major World Religions were born—including Christianity. The Hebrew prophets foretold God’s self-revelation for all nations. In 680 BC God tells the prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah—and notice, God’s heart is for the whole world, all nations, from all religions:
“I, the Lord, have called you [Messiah] to demonstrate my righteousness. I will take you by the hand and guard you, and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide the nations. You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives….When the LORD returns to [Jerusalem]…all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God…Just as there were many who were appalled at him–his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness–so will he sprinkle [cleanse] many nations…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” – Isaiah 42:6-7, 52:8-15, 53:5, ~680 B.C.
The prophet Zechariah, writing about 500 B.C. foretells the New Covenant of the Messiah:
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey…your king will bring peace to the nations. His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood. – Zechariah 9:9-11, ~500 B.C.
Isn’t it mind boggling to think that the God of all Creation created you in His image, and at the Center of the Universe God is One Who Loves! God reveals his heart as one Who loves and who humbles himself to enter into the pain and suffering of a world that goes against God’s Moral Laws, and He demonstrates his love by laying down his life to pay for your debts and mine – His beloved. You, me, every person on this planet he created for himself. He’s written his story in real history.
Before the founders of today’s Great World Religions were born, God revealed that he longs for a family of children (spiritual offspring) who willingly seek Him and love him…from all nations. What God offers as the solution to the human problem is Himself. Restored relationship with God—for all nations, all religious backgrounds.
For you [Jesus] were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. – Revelation 5:9
If all our religions show us reaching for God, Jesus was God reaching for the whole world. The Moral Law in every religion shows us—we need forgiveness, we need God’s help. We can’t just try harder and change. We need God in our lives daily. He pays our debts, so we won’t fear his condemnation, so that every willing heart can turn and trust his guidance. God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves.
If you are still searching, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/foundations.