The false idea that all religions are essentially the same is as old as, well, religion itself. But advances in communications over the centuries – from the printing press to social media – keep giving syncretism a fresh set of legs.
For example, 18th century poet William Blake wrote the seminal book All Religions Are One.
A century later Mohandas Gandhi declared, “Belief in one God is the cornerstone of all religions.”
These days, the Dalai Lama affirms, “The essential message of all religions is very much the same.”
The “all religions are one” mantra reverberates throughout today’s culture, at least in part because it serves as an antidote to the vitriol with which so many religious zealots defend their faith.
Even so, it isn’t true.
This week I finished teaching an eight-week study on world religions and cults for employees at LifeWay Christian Resources. What a great group of men and women with a passion for God and a compassion for the lost. Employees gave up their lunch hours each Wednesday to learn more about Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology and other belief systems. We had two common goals: 1) to better understand the beliefs and practices of other faiths, and 2) to learn how to more effectively share our faith with those who don’t share our faith — kindly, respectfully, and truthfully. Many thanks to LifeWay’s leaders for encouraging this type of training. And many thanks to each person in the class who invested in God’s Word and the lost of this world.
I am including a downloadable version of the booklet used in this study. Feel free to print out copies and/or forward electronic versions to anyone who might benefit from this study.
When Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses come to your door, they will be prepared with questions that lead you to doubt your faith and see theirs as either reasonable (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or new and better (Mormons). Don’t allow them to lead the conversation. Rather, thank them for coming and tell them you have some questions for them. As they provide answers, be sure to ask them the sources of their answers and then graciously share what you believe the Bible teaches.
1. Where did Jesus come from?
- Mormons: He began as we all did – as an eternally existing intelligence.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: He was the first of God’s creations – created as Michael the Archangel.
- The Bible: Jesus is the uncreated Creator. He has always existed and is unique with the Father and Holy Spirit as the only eternal beings existing as the Triune Godhead.
2. Is Jesus God, the second Person of the Trinity?
- Mormons: Yes. However, Joseph Smith taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three gods. Mormons also teach that their “Trinity” makes up the Godhead for our world only; there are millions of other gods throughout the universe, including millions of potential gods on earth (including you).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus is not God and the Trinity is a satanic doctrine. Jesus is “mighty god” but not “Almighty God.”
- The Bible: Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, which may be defined as the one true and living God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal Persons.
3. Why did Jesus die?
- Mormons: To provide salvation for all mankind (meaning resurrection) and to pay for Adam’s sin. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection made it possible for mankind to be resurrected, but “men will be punished for their own sins” (Article of Faith #2 by Joseph Smith).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus was a “ransom to God for Adam’s sin.” He made it possible for all people to be saved by obedience to Jehovah. He died on a torture stake, not a cross.
- The Bible: Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. On the cross Jesus, who was sinless, became sin for us and bore the penalty of our sins so we can be saved by God’s grace through faith in Him.
4. Where is Jesus now?
- Mormons: Jesus rose from the dead and is in heaven today, awaiting His return, the resurrection and final judgment of all mankind. (Brigham Young taught that Joseph Smith will “receive the keys of the resurrection” and that “every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, Junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are.”)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jesus the man ceased to exist at his death. Jehovah recreated his life form into an exalted Michael the Archangel, who returned invisibly to earth in 1914 and is establishing Jehovah’s kingdom on earth, which will come to its fullness at the battle of Armageddon.
- The Bible: Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is seated because the work of redemption was completed in His death, burial and resurrection. He will return one day physically and visibly, resurrect and judge all people.
Concerning the Holy Spirit:
1. Is the Holy Spirit a Person?
- Mormons: Yes. According to some, he is a spirit person awaiting “mortal probation” during which he will take on a body. According to others, there is a distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost; the Spirit is a person and the Ghost is a force.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: No. The holy spirit is an “invisible act or force” that Jehovah uses to inspire His servants to accomplish His will.
- The Bible: Yes. He is the third Person of the Trine Godhead and the Bible describes Him with personal characteristics – for example, He may be lied to and grieved.
2. Is the Holy Spirit God?
- Mormons: Yes. He is the third person of the Mormon concept of the Trinity.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: No. The spirit is an impersonal force.
- The Bible: Yes. He is the third Person of the Triune Godhead.
3. What is the Spirit’s ministry today?
- Mormons: Some say he is waiting to take on a mortal body. Others describe the spirit as an impersonal force God uses to carry out His purposes.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: The spirit is an “invisible act of force” that Jehovah uses to inspire His servants to accomplish His will.
- The Bible: The Spirit has a ministry to believers and to unbelievers. To believers, He regenerates them, seals them, indwells them, comforts them, convicts them of sins, gives them spiritual gifts, and helps them understand God’s Word. To unbelievers, He convinces them of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-11).
4. Where did the Holy Spirit come from?
- Mormons: He always existed. He began as we all did, as an eternally existing intelligence.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: The spirit always existed as Jehovah’s invisible “act or force.”
- The Bible: He always existed as the third Person of the Triune Godhead.
Concerning the Gospel:
1. How may a person receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life?
- Mormons: Everyone will be resurrected and receive eternal life in one of six places because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. To attain the highest level of heaven, however, a person must pay for his own sins (baptism is for the remission of sins) and be faithful to Mormon teachings.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: 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.
- The Bible: A person receives forgiveness of sins and eternal life by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection satisfied God’s justice and extended to all mankind His grace and mercy. No works are required or accepted.
2. Where does a person go at death?
- Mormons: Some go to Paradise, others to Prison where they hear the Mormon gospel and await others on earth to be baptized on their behalf. Ultimately, all will be resurrected and sent to one of six places, including the highest level of the celestial kingdom (godhood).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: 144,000 go to heaven, where they will remain forever. The rest go into a state of soul sleep, where they await resurrection and final judgment.
- The Bible: The souls/spirits of men and women continue to exist after death. Christians who die go directly into the presence of Christ in heaven and await resurrection when they will receive glorified bodies. Unbelievers who die go to Torment in Hades and await resurrection and final judgment, at which time they will be cast into hell.
3. Will people live forever?
- Mormons: Yes. Based on their response to Mormon teachings, they will spend eternity in one of six places: 1) outer darkness (reserved for Satan and his demons and the extremely wicked, including apostate Mormons); 2) telestial kingdom (the lowest of the three heavens; the wicked will spend eternity here); 3) terrestrial kingdom (the second of the three heavens; honorable people and “lukewarm” Mormons will live here); and 4-6) celestial kingdom (the highest of the three heavens consisting of three separate levels; the top level is where Mormons hope to be exalted).
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: Some will and some will not. The 144,000 will live forever in heaven; the “other sheep” will dwell on Paradise Earth; and the wicked will be annihilated after their resurrection and final judgment.
- The Bible: Yes. All people will spend eternity either in the presence of God (in heaven now and on the new earth after Jesus returns and brings the throne of God to the New Jerusalem) or apart from God in hell.
4. What does it mean to believe?
- Mormons: To have faith in God and His prophets – particularly Joseph Smith, whom God used to restore true Christianity. Faith requires actions that lead to individual salvation – for example, baptism for the remission of sins.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: To “exercise faith,” meaning a combination of belief and works, resulting in the hope of a future life on Paradise Earth (only the 144,000 are in heaven).
- The Bible: To have faith in God; to trust Him and His promises. It is belief in Jesus alone that leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal life. While good works will naturally follow conversion, good works cannot pay for our sins or merit eternal life. Salvation is God’s gift, provided through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
For more on Mormons, click here.
For more on Jehovah’s Witnesses, click here.
Similarities between the teachings of the LDS Church and the Watchtower
Both were birthed in the 19th century and became leading cults of Christianity:
- “Church of Christ” established in 1830 (first vision of Joseph Smith in 1820)
- Charles Taze Russell established first Bible study in 1870
Both were founded by individuals who had access to orthodox Christianity but rejected it:
- Joseph Smith was raised in the midst of Protestant revivalism in the Northeast
- Charles Taze Russell was raised in the Congregational Church
Both teach that Jesus’ death dealt with Adam’s sin but was not sufficient to provide full salvation for us apart from human effort.
Both claim that all of Christendom had fallen into apostasy and that their organizations alone constitute the one true Church.
Both reject the clear teachings of Scripture and add to them through new revelations and / or “new” insights.
Both continue to lead many astray from belief in the Jesus of Scripture and the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
Differences between the teachings of the LDS Church and the Watchtower
One relies largely on experiences (Smith / Mormonism) and the other on “reason” (Russell / Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One claims we are all gods in embryo (Mormonism); the other denies (correctly) the potential deity of man while denying (incorrectly) the deity of Jesus and the Spirit (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches that Jesus began as we all did (eternally existing intelligences / Mormonism) and therefore is not particularly unique; the other, that he was created (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches the Holy Spirit is a spirit creature awaiting a mortal body (Mormonism); the other denies the personhood of the Spirit, claiming instead “it” is an impersonal force (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches that the Trinity is three gods (Smith / Mormonism); the other claims that the very idea of the Trinity is satanically inspired (Russell / Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches universal salvation (Mormonism); the other, annihilation (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches that Jesus atoned for sin primarily in Gethsemane (Mormonism); the other, that Jesus died, not on a cross, but a torture stake (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Both minimize or avoid the cross.
One teaches that Jesus’ resurrection made “general salvation” (resurrection) possible (Mormonism); the other teaches that Jesus the man ceased to exist at death and was recreated (not resurrected) as an exalted Michael the Archangel (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
One teaches the possibility of godhood and our own planet to rule (Mormonism); the other restricts heaven to 144,000, and limits the rest of believers to life on earth (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
The link above takes you to a study of world religions and cults, which some people call “alternative” faiths or other paths to God. Our stand will be on the truth of Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is this view narrow-minded and outdated, as some suggest? Quite the contrary. The words Christ speaks are “spirit” and “life” (John 6:63). To disregard them is perilous. Yet many do.
There are roughly 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, 820 million Hindus, 400 million Buddhists, 13 million Mormons, 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses, and millions more engaged in other false religions, or no religion at all. By all appearances, these people are sincere. They want to know the truth and believe they have found it. How can so many people be wrong? This study answers that question — and many others regarding people’s quest for ultimate truth.
Through this study, we will look at many belief systems, from Islam to Scientology. In each case, we’ll examine the background of the “alternative” faith and compare its beliefs to what the Bible says. We also will discuss effective means of witnessing to people who embrace these false religions.
Our purpose is not to condemn anyone or to assume God’s role as sovereign judge of the universe; rather, it is to compare the teachings of the world’s major religions and cults with biblical, historical Christianity so that we might be more effective in praying for and witnessing to the lost, and wiser in our ability to discern false doctrines. Every person, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, is precious in the eyes of God and is someone for whom Christ died. Our attitude as we study these false religious systems should be one of humility, love, and grace.
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.” Every world religion and every cult that we study professes belief in Jesus and has an exalted place for Him in its theology. But without exception, each of these belief systems fails to correctly answer the key question Jesus asked in Matt. 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” They also have false views of the Holy Spirit and without exception embrace a works-based doctrine of salvation.
Paul warned Christians in Acts 20:29-31: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert …” Our prayer is that this study will help protect you, your family and your church from false teachers who proclaim “another Jesus … a different spirit … and a different gospel.”
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips