Seeing the Uniqueness of the Christian Faith to Answer the Big Questions
As we got going in the new year we had a brief discussion last week on union with Christ and the benefits which flow from redemption. It’s an important topic because it emphasizes very directly one of the central differences between Christianity and non-Christian religions. Whenever we talk about paganism we need to distinguish between the greater and lesser. Generally speaking all faiths which are not of the Lord Jesus are pagan. In the old covenant there was a distinction between Jew and Gentile, the latter included Jebusites, Hittites, and Egyptians. For our purposes the word pagan fulfils a similar role. In this Tuesday section over the next couple of months we are going to take the time to make particular arguments out of the common which will highlight the characteristics which separate Christianity from the many examples of false teaching as they reveal themselves in actual, organized non-Biblical creeds.
What we will be doing is more than just listing differences. Without getting too mysterious or so deep in the woods we lose our way, our goal is to illustrate the basic principles which mark those convictions as antithetical to the Bible, and especially how in response to those distinctives the Christian faith then deals in a more profound and helpful manner for real life and its real problems. We will see how the doctrines invented by the sinful heart of men, led astray either by personal deception or ignorance take us away from the solutions we actually need. False religions are intensely harmful in practical and spiritual ways.
To get us going I want to feature something about who we as Christians understand God to be that will facilitate our moving forward with a better grasp of what makes our faith so out of accord with the religions of the world. It starts with how we see our relationship to and with the Lord. (Exodus 3:14).
The characters in Greek mythology are constantly amazed and perplexed by the decisions and actions of the gods of Mount Olympus. Central to the doctrine of Allah in Islam is the idea that there is no person to which the human can relate. Allah is complete otherness. There is a solid wall of separation between the creature and the creator. In Hinduism, Vishnu et al are considered more to be forces, or a presence which surround and in some sense pervades all things, yet the gods of the Hindu pantheon do not have attributes in the way we understand Jehovah to have. Buddhism takes this even further in the fact that it does not believe there is a creator, especially one with the nature of the God of Genesis 1. The endless cycle of birth and rebirth points to an eternality, yet without any prime mover, the world just has always been, and will always be, at least until the human breaks the sequence through achieving Nirvana. Even Mormonism denies the pure spirituality of their god, instead teaching that the divine is as flesh and blood as you or I. His apartness is more a feature of power than identity.
Most other religions (and Christianity is a religion, read James 1:27) likewise agree that the divine being is above and beyond our ability as creatures to fully know, because we ourselves are not God, as Romans 11:33 and Job 9:10 note Jehovah’s ways are “past finding out”. We confess and understand that our God is transcendent, that is as Thomas Aquinas relates, “. . . concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him.” We can only know the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself to us. However, that is about where the comparison ends. For our God is both transcendent and immanent, and both in important ways. The Bible teaches that God is not us (Isaiah 44:6) and yet knows us in a personal way (Luke 12:7). We maintain what we call the Creator/Creature distinction without denying the ability of God to be involved, and in fact in some sense become as us in the incarnation (Philippians 2:5-8) without losing those things that make Jesus, God.
Words like transcendent and immanent can be intimidating, but they need not be. They are vital concepts to know if we are going to both be able to worship and serve as those gifted and granted faith by and in the risen Christ. Or to complicate it a little bit as Cornelius Van Til liked to say:
The transcendence we believe in is not the transcendence of deism and the immanence we believe in is not the immanence of pantheism. In the case of deism transcendence virtually means separation while in the case of pantheism immanence virtually means identification.
One of the things to note at this point is that we have to be very careful to not give equal weight to the truth claims of false religions. We do not serve, for example, the same god as Islam or Judaism, even though we share a common history. Contemporary Jews (and obviously the Muslims) deny the Triune nature of God. Christianity does not have common cause, nor does a saying like “Judeo-Christian” make sense, with those who devote themselves to their father, who is not the Father of Scripture. As the Apostle John says in 1 John 5:6-9:
This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.
Anytime you hear someone say or see someone write the phrase Abrahamic faiths know that they are equivocating on the word Abraham, for as Abraham himself says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’” (Luke 16:29). This is but one example, but it is a good one start with because we need to understand that we as Christians stand alone in the truth.
In closing, next week we will explore more about what these words transcendence and immanence mean in their biblical context so that the chasm between the God of the Scriptures and the gods of the nations can be seen even more clearly. It is always helpful for us to be reminded of these differences not only so that we can worship our God better, but also so that we can discern and be wise in these days when the evil one desires to sow confusion.
Here’s a last word:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church