|Session 1:||The problem with ChristianityChristianity holds to absolute truths in a world that is increasingly relativistic.|
|Session 2:||The authority for ChristianityChristians claim the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. But what does that mean, and how can we know the Bible is true?|
|Session 3:||The Christ of ChristianityVirtually every major world religion has an exalted place for Jesus. But which Jesus is the real One?|
|Session 4:||The wolves of ChristianityJesus and the apostles warned us that ravenous wolves would scatter the flock. But how can we see through the sheep’s clothing that so many false prophets wear?|
|Session 5:||The defense of ChristianityChristianity is under increasing attack from atheists, leaders of other religions, and even lukewarm professors of the Christian faith. What are some simple tactics we can use to effectively engage critics in conversation?|
Download a free copy of the study notes: Apologetics Book July’10.
Here are all the resources used in the fall 2009 Apologetics 101 series at Brentwood Baptist Church. Feel free to print multiple copies, save and forward the files electronically, and use the resources in any way helpful to your ministry. The only restrictions are that you do not sell these resources or alter the content in any way. Thanks for your interest in helping other believers defend the Christian faith.
Apologetics 101 – Part 10
This is the final installment in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.
Christianity, Islam, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses (a comparative chart)
Session 10 — Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses (background and comparative chart)
An overview of Mormonism
As the official version of the story goes, in 1820, 14-year-old Joseph Smith, Jr., had a vision in which God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. Caught up in the Protestant revivalism of his day, Smith inquired as to which of the Christian denominations he should join. None of them, he was told, because they were all “wrong and corrupt.” Rather, God would use Smith to reinstate the true church, which had been in apostasy since the death of the apostles.
Thus began the saga of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, or Mormons, which today is the largest and fastest-growing cult (form of counterfeit Christianity) in the world, increasing at an average rate of 300,000 converts a year – as many as 75 percent of whom may be former Protestants, according to author Fritz Ridenour (So What’s the Difference: A Look at 20 Worldviews, Faiths and Religions and How They Compare to Christianity, p. 130).
Today the LDS Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, boasts roughly 13 million members in more than 160 countries; about 6 million members reside in the United States. In addition, the church has more than 50,000 missionaries who spread the Mormon message around the world. Its current leader is Thomas S. Monson, 81, who, like founder Joseph Smith and subsequent presidents, is considered the church’s “prophet, seer, and revelator.”
The LDS Church initially stood in defiance of historical Christianity, claiming that after the death of the apostles the Christian church fell into “the great apostasy.” Joseph Smith taught that he alone was called to restore the true church and that the revelations God have him – particularly as recorded in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price – would guide the church back to its historic foundation. In recent years, however, the LDS Church has minimized, refuted or re-interpreted many earlier teachings of its leaders – such as polygamy, the multiple marriages of Jesus, and the curse of African Americans – and has launched a concerted effort to promote Mormonism as mainstream Christianity. This leads some to ask legitimately whether the LDS Church can have it both ways. Either Mormonism is true and all other forms of Christianity are false, or the LDS Church is not really needed, since historic Christianity is true after all, despite Joseph Smith’s claims to the contrary.
Mormon leaders are exceptionally vague in their official statements about what the LDS church really believes. A visit to the church’s official Web sites (www.lds.org and www.mormon.org) will frustrate any sincere inquirer who wants to know what Mormons truly believe about the nature and character of God, the Trinity, the atonement, and man’s potential for godhood. Of course, Web surfers can always click on the link for a free Book of Mormon and have Mormon missionaries deliver a copy personally to their door, although the answers these missionaries give likely will be as vague as those provided by their leaders.
A Brief History
After Joseph Smith’s initial visit from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, he allegedly saw the angel Moroni appear at his bedside in 1823 and tell him of golden plates on which was inscribed a record of the ancient American people. During his earthly life, Moroni had been a great warrior who lived among the Nephite people, descendents of Jews who fled Israel for North America around 600 B.C. Moroni’s father, Mormon, commander in chief of the Nephites, had given the golden plates to his son, who added a few words of his own before hiding the plates in Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York. These plates featured “the fullness of the everlasting gospel.” In 1827, after further visits from Moroni, Smith dug up the plates and began translating the “Reformed Egyptian” with the assistance of two special stones called “Urim” and “Thummim.” The result was the Book of Mormon. By 1830 the book was published and Smith founded the “Church of Christ” (not affiliated with the Church of Christ denomination) with five of his followers.
From 1831 to 1844, Smith gained converts and established strongholds in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. Wherever they went, Mormons attracted curiosity and even hostility, either because non-Mormons did not trust Smith or were suspicious of Mormon beliefs and practices. During this time, Smith claimed to continue receiving revelations. In 1835 he released Doctrine and Covenants, which would become “inspired Scripture” along with the Book of Mormon. By 1838 the Mormons had been driven from Missouri to Illinois, where they converted a swampy area on the banks of the Mississippi River into a thriving community called Nauvoo. It was here that Smith claimed to receive revelations concerning the Godhead, the origin and destiny of the human race, eternal progression, baptism for the dead, polygamy and other unique doctrines. The fourth “standard work” of Mormonism (after the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants), the Pearl of Great Price, was first compiled and published in 1851 and incorporated into the LDS canon in 1880.
Tensions in Nauvoo arose between Mormons and non-Mormons and came to a head when the local paper, the Expositor, published stories exposing the LDS practice of polygamy. Smith, who had risen to power as mayor of Nauvoo and “lieutenant general” of the 4,000-man Nauvoo legion, ordered the paper destroyed. For this, he was arrested and jailed in Carthage, Illinois. While awaiting trial, a mob of 200 attacked the jail and a gunfight ensued. Smith, using a six-shooter that had been smuggled into the jail, killed at least two attackers before he succumbed to gunshot wounds.
Following Smith’s death, Brigham Young emerged as successor and led a large number of Mormons west, where they settled in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847. Today, Salt Lake City is home to the LDS Church. But all LDS members did not follow Young west. Smith’s widow, Emma, stayed behind in Illinois. Those who affirmed her son, Joseph Smith III, as the true successor helped found the “Reorganized Church,” now called the Community of Christ and headquartered in Independence, Missouri.
Four Standard Works
Mormons recognize four written volumes as inspired and authoritative:
- The King James Version of the Bible – “as far as it is translated correctly.” This caveat enables Mormons to question the Bible’s veracity and authority. Joseph Smith made more than 600 “corrections” to its text. According to the Book of Mormon, the Bible is missing “plain and precious parts” (1 Nephi 13:26), which the other three standard volumes complete.
- The Book of Mormon, also called “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” According to one of the church’s official Web sites (www.mormon.org), “By the power of God, Joseph Smith translated this book from an ancient record written on gold plates. The Book of Mormon is ‘a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel.’”
- Doctrine and Covenants. This volume features 138 revelations given to Mormon prophets, along with two “declarations.” Here, much of Mormon doctrine may be found, including teachings on the priesthood, baptism for the dead, exaltation (or godhood), and polygamy.
- Pearl of Great Price, which contains Smith’s religious history, the Articles of Faith, the Book of Abraham, and the Book of Moses.
Basic Mormon Beliefs
“The first difference to grasp between the Mormon Church and biblical Christianity is one of semantics,” writes Fritz Ridenour in So What’s the Difference? “The Mormons use but have redefined many key terms employed by evangelical Christians – a definitive sign of a cult. Analysis of Mormon views, past and present, reveals that they dismiss, twist, change or add to all biblical doctrines, particularly revelation, the Trinity and salvation by grace alone through faith alone” (p. 131).
Here is a glimpse of several key doctrines of the Mormon Church:
One true church. Joseph Smith declared that all Christian denominations were false and apostate. Mormons teach that after the death of the apostles, all churches became heretical and no true saints existed until the LDS Church was established. Full salvation and “exaltation” (godhood) is found only in the LDS Church.
LDS president as living prophet, seer and revelator. Joseph Smith and his successors are considered the sole spokesmen and revelators of God through whom God’s will is made known to the church. These revelations are considered authoritative, although some early revelations have been superseded by more recent ones; others are minimized by the church today; and still others, such as Smith’s prophecy that the temple would be built in Independence, Missouri, in his lifetime, have not been fulfilled.
Mormon scripture. Mormons accept “four standard works” – The King James Version of the Bible (“as far as it is translated correctly”); the Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; and Pearl of Great Price. In addition, LDS presidents may receive new revelations from God, and these become scripture.
God as an exalted man. Elohim, or Heavenly Father, is the god of this world. He was a man in prior existence, but by keeping the requirements of Mormonism, he was exalted to godhood and inherited his own universe. There are an infinite number of gods with their own worlds; these gods, too, once were men. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct gods. The Father and Son have bodies of flesh and bone; the Holy Ghost is a “personage of spirit.”
Jesus is God’s “Son.” Jesus (also called Jehovah) was Elohim’s firstborn spirit child in heaven. (Lucifer also was a spirit child, but his plan of redemption was rejected in favor of Jesus’ superior plan.) Jesus was begotten by God through Mary in a “literal, full and complete sense” (Bruce McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 67). Principally in the Garden of Gethsemane (and not on the cross), Jesus atoned for Adam’s sin and guaranteed all people resurrection and immortality (salvation). Jesus visited the Israelites (ancestors of Native Americans) after his resurrection and established the true church among them. We are the spiritual younger brothers and sisters of Christ. Jesus was married at Cana in Galilee (John 2); in fact, He had numerous wives and fathered many children Himself.
Humans are gods in embryo. Every person has the potential to become a god by keeping the requirements of Mormonism. A key phrase in Mormonism is, “As man is god once was, as god is man may become.” From a prior spirit existence in heaven, people may be born on earth in order to exercise freedom to choose good or evil and to have a body for the resurrection. By obeying Mormon teachings and performing required duties, worthy Mormon males may pass the celestial guards, bring their wives with them, and achieve a status similar to Elohim. In the resurrection, faithful Mormons receive exaltation (godhood) and will have authority over their own world.
Salvation by works. When Mormons say people are “saved” by grace through faith, they mean “resurrection.” In this sense, virtually all people will be saved. To achieve the highest tier of the highest level of heaven, Mormons must exercise faith in the god of Mormonism, in Christ, and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; exercise repentance; and be baptized in the LDS Church. Additionally, they must keep the “Word of Wisdom” by abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine; tithe to the church; attend weekly meetings; support the Mormon prophet; do temple works; and be active in their support of the church. “Full salvation” or “exaltation” (godhood) is only available through the LDS Church.
Eternal progression. All people, as well as all gods, have existed eternally. There are four stages in “eternal progression” through which people may pass: 1) eternally existing intelligence; 2) pre-mortal spirit; 3) mortal probation; 4) resurrection and eternal life in one of six places: outer darkness; the telestial kingdom (lowest level of heaven); the terrestrial kingdom (next-highest level of heaven); or the celestial kingdom, consisting of three levels, the highest of which is exaltation/godhood.
An overview of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
Some 50 years after Joseph Smith claimed to be visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ, an event that launched the Mormon Church, another teenage boy began an inconspicuous Bible study in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1870. The result was the establishment of a second major cult (counterfeit form of Christianity) in the 19th century, known today as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Officially known by several names — The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, and the International Bible Students Association – the Jehovah’s Witnesses today boast more than 6.6 million active participants (known as “publishers”) in more than 230 countries, with nearly 100,000 Kingdom Halls, one of the largest publishing operations in the world, and an aggressive door-to-door “preaching” ministry.
A Brief History
It all began with Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). As a teenager he rejected many of the views taught in his Congregational church, particularly the doctrines of hell and the Trinity, which he found unreasonable. Influenced by Adventists, who assured him there is no eternal punishment and who focused on the return of Christ, he formed his own Bible study and began to develop his unique theology. In 1879, Russell began publishing his own magazine, eventually known as The Watchtower, predicting that the battle of Armageddon would take place in 1914, at which time Jehovah would destroy all earthly governments, end the “Gentile times” and establish His kingdom on earth. Russell believed and taught that Jesus had returned to earth invisibly in 1874.
By 1896 Russell had founded the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. In 1908 he moved his headquarters from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn, New York, where it remains today, along with a massive printing operation, an apartment building, offices, and a Bible school. When the First World War began in 1914, Russell claimed his prophecy of Armageddon was on the verge of being fulfilled, but he died a failed prophet two years later.
Joseph F. Rutherford, legal advisor to Russell’s organization, became its new president in 1917. He set a new date of 1925 for Armageddon, but when it didn’t happen, the charismatic and domineering Rutherford backed away from his prediction, claiming that his followers misunderstood him. Undaunted, he changed the name of the society to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, taken from Isaiah 43:10, in part to distance his followers from splinter groups forged by former disillusioned members. He also escalated the aggressive door-to-door “preaching” that distinguishes Jehovah’s Witnesses today. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses log more than 1.2 billion hours of “preaching” door-to-door each year. In an effort to rapidly increase membership, Rutherford proclaimed that only 144,000 people would make it to heaven. When Watchtower ranks swelled beyond this number, Rutherford announced that everyone who had become a Witness before 1935 would go to heaven (the “little flock”), while everyone who joined after 1935 would be among the “great crowd” who would not go to heaven but could live in an earthly paradise after Armageddon and the Millennium.
Rutherford died in 1942. His successor, Nathan Knorr, was less flamboyant than Rutherford and changed Watchtower policy so that all publications from that point forward were released anonymously. Under his direction, the society issued a new Armageddon dating system, teaching that Jesus had not returned invisibly in 1874, as Russell had taught, but in 1914. Further, the generation that had been alive in 1914 would not “pass away” (see Matt. 24:34) before Armageddon would occur – an “absolutely final” date of 1975. Knorr died in 1977 with the final battle yet to be waged.
Frederick Franz became the next president. While he would not permit the society to set any more dates for Armageddon, he insisted that persons alive in 1914 would witness this cataclysmic event. He died in 1992 at age 99. Successor Milton G. Henschel discarded the entire end-times scenario in favor of “new light” that made the “generation” of Matt. 24:34 apply to any generation that sees the signs of Christ’s return. Don Adams heads the organization today – a society that remains prolific in its publications and aggressive in its evangelism. The Watchtower, a semimonthly magazine that instructs the society’s members in faith and practice, is published in 158 languages with a circulation of more than 21 million. Awake!, designed for non-members, reaches 18 million readers in 81 languages. The society’s official Web site may be found at www.watchtower.org.
Basic Jehovah’s Witness Beliefs
Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge that Charles Taze Russell was “the prime mover of the group” (official Web site) but seek to distance themselves from him and his teachings. Unfortunately, Jehovah’s Witnesses today still cling to Russell’s main false teachings: a denial of the Trinity; a denial of the deity of Christ and His bodily resurrection; a denial of the Holy Spirit’s deity and personality; a denial of hell as a place of everlasting punishment; and more.
Here is a glimpse of several key Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrines:
God’s name is Jehovah; He is not triune. No other names must be used to depict the one true and living God. Jehovah is a “spirit being,” invisible and eternal, but He has a spiritual body and is not omnipresent (Insight, vol. 1, pp. 969-970). Neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit is God; the Trinity is strenuously denied.
Jesus is Jehovah’s first created being. Jesus had three periods of existence. In His pre-human existence he was called “God’s only begotten Son” because Jehovah created him directly. He then used Jesus to create all other things. He also had the personal name Michael the Archangel. The second stage of Jesus’ life was on earth as Jehovah transferred his life from heaven to the womb of Mary. Jehovah’s Witnesses are adamant that this was not an incarnation. Jesus became Messiah at his baptism, was executed on a torture stake, and his humanity was annihilated. He then began the third stage of his life, being raised an immortal spirit who returned to heaven once again as Michael the Archangel. He returned invisibly to earth and “very soon now, he will manifest his rulership over our troubled earth” (Knowledge, p. 41).
Jesus is not God. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a type of polytheism with a doctrine of two gods. The say Jehovah is the Almighty God who created Jesus, and Jesus is the mighty god who created everything else. This is simply a modern version of an ancient heresy. Arius, a pastor’s assistant in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that Christ was a created being. He captured a strong following, which necessitated the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325.
Jesus rose spiritually, not physically, from the dead. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Christ was raised from the dead as a spirit who only appeared to have a body. What the disciples saw after Christ’s death was Jesus’ “re-created body.” Because in Watchtower reasoning the body and soul of an individual become extinct at death, God must re-create the “life pattern” of a person, and He does so by retrieving the life pattern from His memory.
The Holy Spirit is not God. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the “holy spirit” is an “invisible act or force” that Jehovah uses to inspire His servants to accomplish His will. Put simply, the holy spirit is like electricity, according to Watchtower reasoning.
Christ’s death did not provide full atonement. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was a “ransom to God for Adam’s sin.” By this, they mean that Jesus (Michael the Archangel in human form) was a fair exchange for Adam’s sin. As such, he made it possible for all people to be saved by obedience to Jehovah. Christ died on a torture stake, not a cross. After lying in death for parts of three days, Jehovah re-created him as a mighty spirit person.
Salvation is by faith and obedience. Requirements for salvation are “exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice,” baptism by immersion, active association with the Watchtower society, righteous conduct, and absolute loyalty to Jehovah. There is no assurance of salvation, only hope for a resurrection.
There are two classes of saved people. Only 144,000, known as the “Anointed Class,” will go to heaven at death to rule with Jesus. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses hope to be among the “other sheep” or “great crowd” who will not go to heaven but live forever in Paradise on earth after Armageddon and the Millennium.
Hell is mankind’s common grave. The body and soul cease to exist at death, say Jehovah’s Witnesses. When Jehovah raises them from the dead one day, the righteous will populate Paradise on earth (the 144,000 “Anointed Class” are the only people in heaven). Apparently, the wicked will have a second chance for life, but if they don’t measure up, they will be annihilated, ceasing to exist forever. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the biblical teaching that hell is a place of conscious, everlasting separation from God.
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Apologetics 101: Part 9
This is session nine in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.
Islam is the youngest and fastest-growing major world religion. It was founded by Arabian visionary Muhammad (570-632 AD), who was born in the city of Mecca in Arabia. Muhammad claimed he received supernatural revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. These revelations were written down by others and compiled into a book called the Koran (or Qur’an). Islam today is comprised of two main schools: the majority Sunni school and the minority Shi’ite school. In addition, there are millions of Muslim mystics called Sufis. Islam is the second largest religion in the world (behind Christianity) with about 1.5 billion followers. Interestingly, the four nations with the largest number of Muslims today are all outside the Middle East – Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.
The ultimate goal of Islam is to subjugate the world and then rule it according to Islamic law. Islam claims to be the restoration of true monotheism and thus supersedes both Judaism and Christianity. Islamic law teaches that conversion may be achieved through persuasion or subjugation, but some hold that if these fail, unbelievers (or “infidels”) may be eliminated if necessary. As such, hostility toward non-Muslims is accepted and even encouraged in some Islamic cultures, based on passages from the Koran such as, “O, true believers, take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends. They cannot be trusted. They are defiled – filth.”
Islam began with the supernatural visions and revelations that Muhammad claimed he received from God through the angel Gabriel. Because Muhammad could neither read nor write, he claimed to have memorized these revelations and ordered his followers to write them down. These writings became Islam’s holy book, the Koran. Muhammad at first feared his revelations came from a jinn, or evil spirit, but later he accepted their source as divine and taught that he alone was the true recipient of Allah’s truth.
Muhammad was born in the Arabian city of Mecca in 570 A.D. Mecca was an important economic center, serving as a resting place for trading caravans. But is also was an important religious city because the Ka’bah was located there. The Ka’bah is a cubic structure that in the days of Muhammad housed 360 deities. Each Arabian tribe selected its own deity and came to Mecca each year to pay homage to its god. Muhammad’s monotheistic preaching threatened the economic and religious livelihood of Mecca and set him against his own tribe. He and about 100 Muslim families were forced to flee to Medina, a city 200 miles north of Mecca. Muslims look to the year of Muhammad’s flight, 622 A.D., as the beginning of the Muslim calendar. In 630, Muhammad and his army returned and took control of Mecca. He personally destroyed the idols in the Ka’bah and within a year succeeded in unifying the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula under Islam. Muhammad died in 632 A.D. without appointing a successor.
The Sects of Islam
The two major sects of Islam, Sunni and Shi’ite, originally were established after Muhammad’s death in a dispute over who should serve as his successor, or caliph. The Sunni Muslims insisted that Muhammad’s successor be elected, while the Shi’ite Muslims felt he should be of Muhammad’s blood line, which would have meant that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, would have become caliph. The Sunnis prevailed and today account for about 80 percent of the Muslim population. Sunnis and Shi’ites differ in other ways as well:
- Authority. Sunnis emphasize the authority of the written traditions, which include the Koran and the Sunna (“custom”), from which they derive their name. They also receive guidance from a consensus of elders (ulama), who base their decisions on Islam’s writings. Shi’ites look more toward human authority. Initially, they believed Allah spoke through the Imam, roughly the equivalent of the Catholic Pope. In the ninth century, however, the twelfth Imam, known as the Mahdi, became hidden; Shi’ites today await his return, much as Christians await the return of Christ.
- Civil and religious power. Sunnis believe there should be a separation between civil and religious authorities, while Shi’ites believe the religious authorities should exercise both political and religious power. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, for example, was a Shi’ite leader.
There is another significant sect of Islam known as Sufism, which is mystical in nature. Minor sects include the Wahhabis (primarily in Saudi Arabia), the Druze (mostly in Lebanon, Syria and northern Israel), the Alawites (mainly in Syria), and the Ahmadiyas (primarily in Pakistan). Beyond this, Islam has been influential in the founding of two other religions: Sikhism and Baha’ism.
Source of Authority
Muslims believe Allah has revealed many written works, including the Old and New Testaments. But these revelations ended with the Koran (Qur’an, “recitations”), which supersedes all others. For all practical purposes, Muslims accept only the Koran as the Word of God. They believe Allah’s earlier revelations in the Bible have been corrupted by Jews and Christians and therefore are not trustworthy, except as interpreted by the Koran. Sunni Muslims, as mentioned above, also place strong emphasis on the Sunna, which includes the Hadith, in which the sayings and conduct of Muhammad and his companions are recorded.
Every Muslim must hold to six articles of faith:
- Faith in Allah. The central doctrine of Islam is that God is one and that no one may be associated with his deity. To associate someone, like Jesus, with Allah by calling Him God’s Son is to commit the unpardonable sin of shirk (see Surah 4:48).
- Belief in angels like Gabriel, whom they claim transmitted the Koran to Muhammad. Each person has two angels assigned to him or her – one to record the person’s good deeds and the other to record the person’s evil deeds. Muslims also believe in evil spirits called jinn, from which we get the word “genie.”
- Acceptance of the Koran. Four high-ranking prophets were given books by divine revelation. Moses was given the Tawrat (Torah); David, the Zabur (his Psalms); Jesus, the Injil (Gospel); and Muhammad, the Koran. Muslims teach that only the Koran has been preserved in perfection; Jews and Christians have corrupted the rest.
- Acceptance of Islam’s prophets, with Muhammad as the greatest. The Koran says Allah has sent prophets to every nation, proclaiming the truth of the one true God. In all, 124,000 prophets have been sent. Most are unknown, but many include biblical characters such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Muhammad is the only prophet who is for all time; he is called “Seal of the Prophets.”
- Belief in predestination – that is, everything that happens, good and evil, is predestined by Allah’s will.
- Preparation for the Day of Judgment, in which each person’s good and evil works will be measured, resulting in heaven or hell. Only Allah knows – and has predetermined – who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. Hell is not an eternal place of torment, but a place where evil is purged from its inhabitants
Every Muslim must practice at least five fundamental religious duties. These are known as the Pillars of Religion, and they are:
- The confession of faith or Shahada: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” Sincerity in voicing the confession is essential. If a Muslim repudiates the Shahada it nullifies his or her hope of salvation.
- Prayer (Salat). Muslims must recite 17 cycles of prayer each day. These cycles usually are spread over five times while the supplicant faces Mecca – dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, and two hours after sunset. The noon service on Friday is the only time Muslims are expected to gather together at the mosque. Muslims wash themselves ceremonially before praying; this is called ablution or wudu.
- Observing Ramadan, a month of fasting throughout the daylight hours to commemorate the first revelation of the Koran to Muhammad. During the day, Muslims must refrain from food, drink, smoke, and sexual relations. After sundown, all of these pleasures may be enjoyed until sunrise the next day.
- Almsgiving or Zakat. Muslims are required to give 2.5 percent of their currency, plus other forms of wealth, as determined by a complicated system that purifies their remaining wealth.
- Pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca, Muhammad’s place of birth. Every Muslim who is physically and financially able must make this trek at least once is his or her lifetime. Pilgrims must wear white garments to eliminate all class distinctions. The process of visiting several sacred sites usually takes more than a week.
- A sixth religious duty is sometimes associated with these: Jihad. Muslims tend to speak of two jihads – an internal jihad, or struggle between right and wrong, much like the Christian’s struggle between the Spirit and the flesh; and an external jihad, or military battle. When the situation warrants it, this duty requires Muslims to go to war to defend Islam against “infidels.” Anyone who dies in a holy war is guaranteed everlasting life in heaven and is considered a martyr for Islam.
Are God and Allah the same?
While many people assume that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, differing only in the name upon which they call, this simply is not true. The God of the Koran and the God of the Bible do share similarities, but the differences are profound. Following are some similarities and differences as highlighted in The Illustrated Guide to World Religions:
- Both are one.
- Both are transcendent creators of the universe.
- Both are sovereign.
- Both are omnipotent.
- Both have spoken to humanity through messengers or prophets, through angels, and through the written word.
- Both know in intimate detail the thoughts and deeds of men.
- Both will judge the wicked.
- Allah is a singular unity, while God is a compound unity who is one in essence and three in persons (Matt. 28:19; John 10:30; Acts 5:3-4).
- Allah is not a father and has begotten no sons (Surahs 19:88-92; 112:3), but God exists in an eternal relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Through the Koran, Allah broke into history through a word that is written, but the God of the Bible broke into history through the Word who is a person (John 1:1, 14; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:2-3; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:9-10).
- “Allah loves not those that do wrong” (Surah 3:140), and neither does he love “him who is treacherous, sinful” (Surah 4:107), but the God of the Bible “proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
- The standard of judgment for Allah is the Koranic teaching that our good deeds must outweigh our bad deeds (Surahs 7:8-9; 21:47), but the standard of the God of the Bible is complete perfection as measured by the holy character of God Himself (Matt. 5:48; Rom. 3:23); since it is impossible for sinful and fallen people to attain godly perfection, God sent His Son to pay our sin debt and reconcile us to God (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).
- Allah provided a messenger, Muhammad, who warned of Allah’s impending judgment (Surahs 2:119; 5:19; 7:184, 188; 15:89-90) and who declared that “No bearer of a burden can bear the burden of another” (Surahs 17:15; 35:18). But God provided a sinless Savior who took our sins upon Himself and bore God’s wrath in our place (Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Luke 22:37; John 3:16; 10:9-11; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:9-10).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Apologetics 101: Part 8 — How can I identify false prophets?
This is session eight in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith
“But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!” (2 Cor. 11:3-4 HCSB)
The words of the apostle Paul are clear: Those who are not grounded in the Word of God are subject to deceptive teachings about “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” – three distinctive markers that help us identify false prophets. Whether they are Muslim prophets like Muhammad, or self-proclaimed messiahs like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, these false teachers invariably promote an unbiblical view of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel. We will use these three markers, along with a comparative chart, to examine the teachings of Islam, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in light of what God’s Word proclaims.
The Bible cautions us to beware of false messiahs, false prophets and false teachers who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” and promote “doctrines of demons” (see Matt. 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3-4). But before we go deeper, let’s define some key terms.
Defining our terms
False religion. From a New Testament perspective, a false religion is any system of belief that opposes the central teachings of the Christian faith. While all cults of Christianity are false religions, not all false religions are cults, because not all religions claim to be Christian. Islam, for example, is a false religion but not a cult, because Islam does not claim to be Christian.
Cult. A cult is a religious organization whose members claim to be Christians, and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity. Simply put, a cult is a counterfeit form of Christianity.
Heresy. This may be defined as a teaching strongly opposed to the doctrines of historical Christianity, for example the denial of Christ’s deity, full humanity, virgin birth, or bodily resurrection.
Sect. A sect is an otherwise orthodox group having established its own identity and teachings distinct from the group to which it belongs. In Jesus’ day for example, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were sects of Judaism.
Another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel
Every Christian can identify false belief systems by asking three important questions: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Who is the Holy Spirit? and 3) How am I saved? As we go to the comparative chart and place the teachings of God’s Word against the teachings of Islam, Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, let’s remind ourselves of some key biblical truths that address these crucial questions.
Key truths about the real Jesus
- The eternal Son of God, without beginning or end
- God / deity
- Co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit
- Virgin born
- The God-Man / fully divine and fully human
- Sinless in His humanity
- Our substitute through His sacrificial death on the cross
- Alive, having been raised physically from the dead
- The only way of salvation
- Seated today in heaven as our Mediator and Intercessor
- Coming visibly and physically one day in power and great glory
- The One who will judge all people and to whom, one day, all creatures will bow
Key truths about the real Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is:
- The eternal Spirit, without beginning or end
- God / deity
- Personal (not an impersonal force)
- Co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son
- The Author of Scripture
- The One who convicts the lost of their need for Christ
- The One who regenerates believing sinners, causing them to be made spiritually alive
- The One who indwells, seals and sanctifies believers, and who places them positionally into the Body of Christ
- The Giver of spiritual gifts
- God’s down payment /guarantee of our home in heaven
Key truths about the real Gospel
- All people are sinners
- Sin separates us from holy God, resulting in spiritual and physical death and, ultimately, eternity apart from God in hell
- People are incapable of saving themselves
- Christ died on the cross for our sins and, as our Substitute, paid our sin debt in full
- Christ was buried and rose physically from the dead
- His finished work at Calvary conquered sin and death for us
- As a result, salvation is by God’s grace through faith – not by works
- Salvation is God’s gift – and everlasting, unbreakable, covenant relationship with Him
An exhortation from John the apostle
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4 HCSB)
The Bible not only warns believers about false prophets; it describes them graphically as:
- Ravaging wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15; see also Acts 20:29)
- Deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13)
- Springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind (2 Peter 2:17)
- Dreamers who defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings (Jude 1:8)
- Liars (Rev. 2:2)
- Antichrists (1 John 2:18)
How do we define a false prophet? Simply put, a false prophet is one who preaches, teaches, or foretells events contrary to the Word of God – sometimes claiming God as his or her source. As believers, we can guard our hearts from the teachings of false prophets by obeying three commands of the apostle John:
- Do not believe every spirit. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 1 John 4:1 puts it this way: “Stop believing every spirit.” The term “spirit” refers to those who claim to have divine gifts for service, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary. We should beware. Jesus warns us of miracle-working false messiahs and false prophets (Matt. 24:24). Paul says Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and his followers disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-5). Paul further cautions against “deceitful spirits” and “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). And he warns that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We should be like the Bereans who greeted Paul and Silas. Acts 17:11 says “they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (emphasis mine).
- Test the spirits. The Word of God is the yardstick by which all truth claims must be measured. Here are a few markers. True prophets: a) Are 100 percent accurate when they speak in the Lord’s name (Deut. 18:21-2); b) Exalt God, not themselves or false gods (Deut. 13:1-4); c) Tell the whole truth, not tickle the ears (Ezek. 13:22-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4); d) Proclaim salvation by grace through faith (Gal. 1:8-9); e) Set lifestyle examples (2 Peter 2:1-3).
- Know the Spirit of God. In his first epistle, John challenges the views of the “antichrists” about the identity of Jesus. The most important question Jesus ever asked – and the question upon which every person’s eternal destiny hangs – is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:16). Believers need to know who the real Jesus is. Indeed, He is:
- The eternal Son of God, Creator and sovereign Lord (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-18; 2:9-10; Heb. 1:3).
- Virgin born (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).
- Full deity and full humanity in His incarnation (John 1:14).
- Sinless Savior whose death paid our sin debt (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).
- Raised and ascended in the flesh; seated at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor; and returning Lord who will appear visibly and physically one day (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 4:15-16; Rev. 19-22).
John’s words are simple and effective. Christians are people of faith – not a blind, ignorant faith, but a reasonable faith based on the evidence God has given us in creation, Scripture, and in the Person of His Son. While there have always been false prophets, and while there will continue to be those who fleece the flock rather than feed it, we can guard our hearts – and protect our families and our churches – from false teachings if we follow John’s commands: Don’t believe every spirit (that is, every person claiming divine gifting); test the spirits (according to Scripture); and know the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit’s teaching about the real Jesus as revealed in the Bible).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips