World Religions and Cults
Our God is a missionary God who created human beings in His image and for a relationship with Him.
From the time when the first man and woman He created chose to rebel against Him, God has been pursuing the restoration of His relationship with humanity.
Since the time of Abraham, we see that God has chosen a people to join with Him in seeking restoration of relationship with all of humanity.
Jesus Christ came as the Word of God in human form to model God’s heart and His way of living. Through His death and resurrection, He paid the debt for our sins. He makes it possible for all who will believe to be transformed into ambassadors of God, initiating reconciliation with peoples of every tribe, nation, and language.
We can better understand World Mission and how it relates to the Church and our lives by exploring the following;
- God’s Heart for the Nations
- Understanding and Reaching Across Cultures
- World Religions and Cults
- The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ
What is a religion?
Religion is an institution or a set of beliefs constituted by human beings in order to approach a god or gods. It is an organized set of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules in which one believes and which one follows devotedly. There are many different religions in the world.
Below we briefly address three of the world’s religions—Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Islam means submission to the will of God. The founder of Islam, Mohammed, was born in 570.
According to his revelation, there are six doctrines of the faith that Muslims hold to:
- The existence of one God, Allah, who is supreme and eternal—God of all mankind
- A hierarchy of angels with two angels assigned to every Muslim
- The existence of God’s Holy Books—the Torah, Psalms, and the Gospels with the Quran as the final revelation
- Prophets—Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (who is the last and best)
- Predestination—all things, both good and evil, are the direct result of the will of Allah
- The Day of Judgment—those whose good deeds outweigh their bad will be rewarded with Paradise while all others will be judged to hell.
There are five pillars in the Islamic religion. These obligations that every Muslim must keep are as follows:
- Confession of faith—“There is no true god except Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger.”
- Prayers five times a day (morning, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night). Prayer in Islam is a direct link between a worshipper and God. It begins with a confession of sins, a purification of the body, and ends with the purification of the soul.
- Almsgiving—2.5% of one’s income for the poor. Possessions are purified by setting aside a small portion for those in need.
- Fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan—From dawn until sundown, abstaining from any food, drink, and sexual relationships. It’s the act of worship where the faithful deny their own needs and seek Allah.
- Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if they are capable of doing it. It requires financial sacrifices.
Hinduism is tremendously diverse. It encompasses those who believe in one reality, Brahman (the ultimate reality underlying every phenomenon), as well as those who believe in many gods, up to 330 million. It is common in one house for the husband to worship one god, the wife another god, and the children others. Regardless of the diversity within Hinduism, there are some core beliefs.
- Brahman is Truth and Ultimate Reality—Hindus believe in Brahman as the all-inclusive true God who is formless, limitless, and eternal. Brahman is not an abstract concept; it is a real entity that encompasses everything (seen and unseen) in the universe. This is the belief that nothing is distinct; all is one, all is God. The many gods of Hinduism are thus part of Brahman as are human beings and all animate and inanimate things in creation. According to Hinduism, humanity’s primary problem is that we have forgotten we are divine. The New Age movement is a product of this teaching.
- The Vedas are the ultimate authority—The Vedas are Hindu Scriptures that contain revelations received by ancient saints and sages. There is no one holy book, but there are several sacred writings, all of which add up to the “sacred corpus.” They believe that the Vedas are without beginning and without end; when everything else in the universe is destroyed (at the end of a cycle of time), the Vedas remain.
- The consequences of our choices, both bad karma and good karma, follow us from lifetime to lifetime.
- Reincarnation/samsara, the ever-revolving wheel of life, death, and rebirth—The person’s karma determines the kind of incarnated body in the next lifetime.
- Individual souls are immortal. A Hindu believes that the individual soul (atman) is neither created nor destroyed—it has been, it is, and it will be. Actions of the soul, while residing in a body, require that it reap the consequences of those actions in the next life, placing the same soul in a different body.
- Moksha is liberation, the soul’s release from the cycle of death and rebirth—Liberation from the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth occurs when the soul unites with Brahman by realizing its true nature. Several paths can lead to this realization and unity: the path of duty, the path of knowledge, and the path of devotion (unconditional surrender to God).
Most Hindus believe in an immense unifying force that governs all existence and cannot be completely known by humanity. As the apostle Paul did in Athens, this Hindu belief can become a common point to start presenting the Gospel in their context.
Buddhism does not believe in a personal God. It does not have worship, prayer, or praise of divine beings. It offers no redemption, no forgiveness, no hope of heaven, and no final judgment. In Buddhism, there are “The Four Noble Truths”:
- Life consists of suffering—Life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.
- We suffer because we desire those things that are impermanent—Desire is the cause of all sufferings.
- The way to liberate oneself from suffering is by eliminating all desires.
- Desire can be eliminated by following the Eightfold path.
The Eightfold path is:
- Right Understanding, where one sees the universe illusion (the individual does not exist, so do I.)
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Awareness
- Right Meditation.
The Eightfold Path is a set of steps that describes not only a good life but one which will move the follower toward Nirvana—extinction wherein lies one’s essence. The individual doesn’t actually exist in Buddhism; you can turn off existence like a candle flame marking the end of desire and the end of suffering.
How do you feel when you hear the belief of these religions compared to what we as Christians believe?
Do you see how huge your responsibilities are?
Exploring these religions opens our eyes to see how the enemy keeps the world in blindness and what our responsibilities are as a minister of the Gospel.
As messengers of the Gospel of Jesus, we need to pray and find ways to engage the Gospel in the context of other religious beliefs.
Cults are religious groups that claim to be in harmony with Christianity but deny foundational Christian teachings such as the Trinity or the unique deity of Jesus Christ.
The word “cult” is generally used to denote a group or organization which deviates from Christian teaching.
In Matthew 7:15-17, Jesus gives us warning about the coming of cults, and much of the New Testament is written to correct their distractive influence (2 Corinthians 11:1-11; Galatians 1:8-9).
Jesus stated, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” What Jesus was warning us of was that followers of cults will look and act like Christians. However, that is only in external appearance. They might argue as true believers for the time, but eventually, their words, actions, and especially their fruits will reveal their true identity.
The failure of the Church in making disciples contributed a lot to the emersion of many cultic movements. The increase of cults is also a fulfillment of the warning given by Jesus and the apostles (Matthew 24:23-26; 2 Peter 2:1-3). As the day of the return of our Lord is approaching, there will be an increase in false prophets and teachings.
How do we identify cults from real Christian teaching?
All cults have a distorted view of the triune God; they promote false teaching based on the nature of God.
But the Bible teaches us there is one God who has revealed Himself in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
Cults also teach a false view of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:4). For example, Christian Science teaches that Jesus Christ is a historical figure but not the God-man, and Jehovah’s Witnesses also teach that Jesus is not God. But the Bible tells us that Jesus is fully God and fully human (John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:5; Philippians 2:6-7).
Cultic understanding of salvation is also distorted. Most cults have a works-oriented Gospel by undermining the finished work on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In the early Church, there were a number of schisms and heretical movements such as Arianism. These heresies were essentially doctrinal ones. As the church councils met in response to them, the creeds of the Church formed, and the canon of the New Testament was finally agreed upon.
Throughout history, there have been heretical teachings of many kinds, but in recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of these groups. In the end, most cults fail, but they still can cause enormous personal damage and create confusion amongst Christians and non-Christians alike. The good thing is that, as the cults continue to increase, we know that the day of the Lord is near.
Global Disciples Canada is a Christian mission organization that trains local leaders living near least-reached communities to multiply disciples for Christ. One-third of our world hasn’t heard the Good News of Jesus. Yet. Global Disciples refers to these as “least-reached” people, and fewer than 10% of all missionaries work among these groups. We live in a time where many of these people are within reach of a local church. Through our simple and effective strategy of training and coaching, believers share the Gospel in their own nations and cultures. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” and we’re committed to doing just that. If you want a Christian mission organization to partner with to become a better disciple and help make disciples, connect with us today!
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