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THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
AND
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST

A Historical and Theological Dialogue

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. Introduction

II. The Orthodox Church

A) History

B) The Common Faith

C) Church Government

D) Worship

E) Character

III. The Church of Christ

A) Fundamental Principle

B) Establishment

C) Membership

D) Worship

IV. Dialogue Between Two Spiritual Perspectives.

A) A common departure point

B) A question of authority

C) A basis of unity

INTRODUCTION

The church which believes herself to be the heir of the ancient undivided church, remaining in the faith and orders of the first ages of Christianity, is called "Orthodox" or "Eastern." Both of these names distinguish her from, and contrast her with the "Western" church, or "Roman Catholic Church," which has excommunicated her, as well as from the Protestant communities which have seceded from the latter. The name "Orthodox Church" expresses the idea that she is the Church of Christ which maintains correct belief as inherited from the primitive church.

The Orthodox Church consists of believers organized into fourteen self-governing churches completely independent in regard to internal administration. These self-governing groups constitute one body, inasmuch as they possess (1) a common faith, (2) the same principles of government, and (3) the same basis of worship.

The churches of Christ forms a world-wide community of believers who, though in close communion, have no structural organization except the local independent assembly. There are a growing number of these groups throughout Albania who desire to be known simply as Christians, and who worship and work together as the Body (church) of Christ. As will be seen in the following article and dialogue, the two groups have much in common and share many fundamental beliefs. At the same time, there are differences which have great importance such as the question of authority.

The reader is asked to approach this dialogue with an open mind and with a sincere desire to learn the "truth". This approach can be frightening as we do not know where such a path will lead us. What is important is that we be convinced that the One who is Truth be the One who is leading us! The right conclusion will not lead us to danger but will lead us to eternal life.

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

History

What is today known as the Orthodox Church developed historically from the church of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. Because of this, the main influence upon Orthodoxy has been that of Greece. The Orthodox world first became limited on its Eastern side as a consequence of the Monophysite and Nestorian schisms during the 5th and 6th centuries. As a result, the "patriarchs" of Alexandria and Antioch were greatly reduced in numbers and importance. It should be noted that the Monophysite Churches such as the Syrian Jacobite, the Coptic, and the Ethiopian, also call themselves by the title "Orthodox." Then, from the 9th century onwards, there came an increasing estrangement between the two great "sees, of Rome and Constantinople. This eventually led to an open and lasting schism.

The final breach between the Greek and Latin groups is usually assigned to the year 1045. A great missionary advance was inaugurated in the middle of the 9th century. Bulgaria, Serbia, and subsequently Russia were converted to the Orthodox faith, largely through the efforts of Byzantine missionaries. In due course, these Slavic countries acquired national Churches of their own, independent of the Mother Church of Constantinople. However, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople continues to retain his honorary primacy.

The Common Faith

The Orthodox Church claims an unbroken continuity with the teachings and practices of the earlier church of which it was a part. These teachings and practices were developed by creeds. The Orthodox Church likes to affirm herself as the guardian of the true faith, the faith of the early fathers of the church and of the ecumenical councils. The written witness was given to a community which had been founded by the apostles, and it is claimed that this community had received the same Spirit as the apostles.

According to the Orthodox Church, the common faith of the Church is taken from two sources of revelation: (1) The Bible, (2) Traditions - what they say has been understood and interpreted through their hierarchy, either assembled in Synods, or by themselves teaching each the same doctrine. The basis of dogmatic instructions are the dogmatic decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. In the Orthodox Church, theology and mysticism mutually support and supplement each other. One is impossible without the other.

Transformation is achieved by dying and rising with Christ in baptism. This is conferred on infants in the form of a triple immersion in the water as the names of the three Persons are invoked. It is taught that the seal of the Spirit is received in confirmation. The Church believes that baptism and confirmation belong together and are conferred at the same time.

They believe one becomes a member of the actual body of Christ in the Eucharist. This "Supper" can only be presided over by one person, the priest. It is generally celebrated only four or five times a year.

The doctrine of original sin is interpreted to mean that countless generations of men have been affected by the consequences of Adam's sin. A man, though, is not personally guilty because of this original fault. Redemption, which God granted in Jesus Christ, is available through the church and by means of the church.

Icons are objects of veneration and honor but not of real worship. Some of the icons have been regarded as miraculous and this exception status has been recognized as such by the church. Special feasts commemorating them have been instituted. There are prayers made to saints and they are asked to intercede before God. The Orthodox Church rejects the doctrine of purgatory. There is the practice of praying for the dead. The church does not accept the Immaculate Conception or the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. She is exalted as the Mother of God and is called on to make intercession with the Son and with God Himself.

Government

The second chain binding the self-governing Churches into one is the common principles of government. These principles are supported by the holy canons, among whom the most important is one entitled Nomocanon by Photius. This canon was sanctioned in 920 by a great Council in Constantinople, and was proclaimed as having authority over all the Eastern Church. Orthodox believes in the hierarchy structure of the church, apostolic succession, the episcopate, and the priesthood. The words of Peter in Matthew 16 are not considered related exclusively to the bishops of Rome as the Roman Catholic Church does. They teach that all who imitate Peter and make the same confession inherit the promise.

According to the principles of Orthodox government, the head of the church is Jesus Christ; but the believers are divided into clergy (archpriests, priests, and deacons), and laity. The center of each church is the bishop, but the basis of the administration of the self-governing churches is the Synodical system. Although both married and unmarried men may be priest, they are generally married. The church has never insisted upon the celibacy of the clergy.

Worship

Any service can be performed in any language, not just in Latin as the Roman Catholic Church required. Preaching of the Divine Word, for the explanation and imparting of Christian truth, which was anciently an inseparable part of public worship, has now almost disappeared. The veneration of icons plays a notable part in Orthodox worship. Prayers to the Mother of God and the Saints are common in a worship service or liturgy, as it is called. The music of the church is only vocal. Instrumental music and graven images are forbidden.

The Orthodox Church accepts seven sacraments: baptism, chrismatation (similar to confirmation), the Eucharist, repentance or confession, holy orders, marriage, and anointing of the sick. The Orthodox Church summons all believers to a return to the faith of the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Ecumenical Counsels, which they claims to have preserved in its fullness.

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST

The Fundamental Principle

Why do you believe what you believe about Jesus Christ, about salvation in Him, and about His church? Why are you a member of the Orthodox Church or some other religious group? By what authority are you being guided?

The fundamental principle followed by members of the church of Christ is that Jesus Christ is our only authority. The Bible demands that we should have divine authority for everything we do in service to God. It is important and fundamental that we know the meaning of authority in religion. You are urged to carefully examine all of our beliefs and practices so that you can determine whether or not we have divine authority for them. We ask you read very carefully Matthew 21:23-27.

Does the Orthodox Church come from heaven of men? Does the church of Christ come from heaven or men? Dear friend, because of the differences between them, the logical conclusion is that either both come from men, or one comes from men and the other comes from heaven. It is important that we discover which it might be.

In the churches of Christ, there is a desire to continually examine doctrine and actions to see if they come from men or from heaven. When it is found that the source is man-made, we make every possible effort to bring that doctrine or that practice into line with the authority of Jesus and the Bible. We seek to make sure that we believe, worship, and practice like the church we read about in the New Testament.

Establishment

When did the church of Christ begin? Who was her founder? What did she teach and believe? How did she worship? Normal questions! Every movement or group has a beginning and a founder. So it is with the church.

Jesus said, "1 will build My church " (Matthew 16:18). There are two points from this short phrase. First, it is to be in the future from when it was said. Second, it will belong to Christ. Later in the New Testament, we read that the church began on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection and the ascension of Christ.

Through the apostles' teaching as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, this church continued to develop and grow in the first century. By the end of New Testament times, the Bible was completed and was the divine model of that church. They practiced "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:4-6). Since those first centuries, many men have changed and distorted the church begun by Jesus and His apostles. Which church accepts only the teachings of Jesus and the apostles given in the Bible?

Membership

Membership depends on Fatherhood. The church is "the house of God" (1 Timothy 3:15). This is a way to say the "family of God." To be a member of His family, we have to be born into it. This birth is accomplished through water and Spirit (John 3:5) and is what happens at the time of a believers' baptism (Romans 6:3-5). The Father accepts us into His church when we fulfill the conditions of the new birth. This obedient faith becomes the means of eternal salvation with God. Two Scriptures from the Holy Book are important here:

'He (Christ) became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:9).

'You are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27).

This membership into the church of Christ is only made possible by God. It has nothing to do with man's acceptance. God adds the saved to that group which has gladly accepted only the authority of Jesus and His apostles as given in the Bible (Acts 2:47). Faith comes from hearing the word (Romans 10:17). Faith leads to obedience to what is read.

Membership in the church of Christ, then, is a response of faith to the authority of Christ who instructed such believers to repent (change their way of living), and be baptized (immersed in water) for the forgiveness (remission) of their sins.

Government

The head of the church is Jesus Christ. She belongs to him and He guides her as her head. The term "patriarch" or "Archbishop" are nowhere found in the Holy Scriptures. There are also no headquarters of the church on earth given in the Bible. Heaven is the "headquarters" of the church of Christ. The church of Christ recognizes no synods, councils, or human church government.

Another remarkable characteristic of the church in the Bible is that every local group of believers was totally autonomous. This is the only government of the church found in the New Testament.

The Bible also defines the way that the local body of believers are to be organized, with pastors (elders), deacons, teachers, and evangelists (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). In the church of Christ there is no distinction between a group called the "clergy" and another called the "laity."

Worship

In the New Testament church of Christ the baptized believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). The worship of the church is a balance of word and praise.

Preaching is a fundamental need (Romans 10:14). Prayer is needed constantly. Singing is a type of praise told about in the Holy Scriptures. The Communion (Lord's Supper) is regularly observed. It is symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus who died one time for all on the cross. In the churches of Christ, the Lord's Supper (Communion) is observed each Sunday, or first day of the week; as is told in the Holy Scriptures (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-21; 16:1-2). This Lord's Supper will be shared by God's people until the Son returns to take His bride, the church, to heaven with Him.

The weekly assembly of the church is considered to be an appropriate time, according to I Corinthians 16:1-2, to receive an offering from the members to the work of the church. There is no set amount which each member must give, but the principles of joy and freedom are encouraged. The apostles' teachings about the offering do not allow for public sales, tickets sold for entertainment, or other means of raising money as the way to support the church of our Lord. The money is to be given by the members not the people of the world.

The meetings of the church of Christ provide opportunities for mutual encouragement, for study of the Holy Scriptures, for sharing the Lord's Supper, and for praise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what the church of Christ continues to do today. This does not mean that there is no private Bible Study and worship on a daily basis.

A DIALOGUE BETWEEN TWO PERSPECTIVES

In view of the existence of many groups of believers, known as the Orthodox Church and other names and also the church of Christ, how are we to consider their differences? Can we speak of a "true" church of Christ and, on the other hand, of churches which no longer reflect the image of the Body of Christ as taught in the Bible? A series of questions and answers will help us better understand the differences.

Q. What is the fundamental difference between the Orthodox Church and the church of Christ?

A. There can be no unity if there is no common authority. This does not exist between the two groups. The authority of the Orthodox Church is the pronouncements of the church fathers, the ecumenical councils, church canons, and the ecclesiastical synods. The church of Christ approves no belief or practice that is not found in the teachings of the New Testament. The "authority" of the Orthodox Church has created a religious organization that, in many ways, has no relationship with the church Jesus founded.

Q. What are some examples of this?

A. There are many ways that are evident. First, consider the question of the baptism of babies. The form of baptism in the Orthodox Church is foreign to the New Testament. Only those who could "believe" and "repent" were baptized. Babies cannot believe nor repent. The churches of Christ only baptize those who are old enough to believe and repent.

Another example is that of the organization of the church. The Orthodox Church has been influenced by the decisions of several councils which finally lead to the modern structure of a hierarchical system. Though it does not terminate with a "pope" as does the Roman Catholic Church. It does have regional or national "popes" with the Patriarch of Constantinople having honorary primacy. This system is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The church of Christ only accepts the organization given in the Scriptures.

Q. Why does it seem in the church of Christ that Mary, the mother of Jesus has an inferior role?

A. Mary does not have an inferior role to that which the Scriptures give her. She was a blessed woman to have been chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. All generations have spoken of her as such. Other than being the physical mother of Jesus, however, she was only a disciple as were others who came to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The Bible never says Mary was without sin. No miracles were ever associated with her, and there is no biblical indication of an "earthly assumption" without death at the and of her life on earth. Any teachings that places Mary in these roles are a result of "tradition" and not based on the Holy Scriptures. This is a good example of the different practices that develop when on the one hand only the Bible serves as authority, and on the other hand when "tradition" is allowed to develop doctrinal systems.

Q. What do you see as the most serious differences between the church of Christ and the Orthodox Church?

A. Although the differences of organization and worship are important, that which has the most serious consequences is the question of how and when we become a child of God. It is the question of how and when we are saved.

In a sense the Orthodox church does not really answer the question, "How do I Become a Christian?" They assume that your infant baptism and your allowance to the Holy Communion makes you a member of that church. It is hardly ever a question of personal choice, but more the consequences of cultural and national circumstances. This is very different from the concept taught in the Bible. In contrast, the church of Christ knows that the believer must take seriously the thought of John 3:16, "...that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." this thought continues to the next logical step to some of the last words of Jesus on earth, "... whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mark 16:16).

The reason for this process from belief to baptism is that the individual is called to make a personal choice for their own life. When some believers asked Peter, "...what should we do?" he told them to, "Repent and be baptized", every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:37-38). There is absolutely no mention in the Holy Scriptures about baptism/confirmation of babies as a means of salvation for them.

 

Q. In view of what you have learned, what then should a believing Orthodox member do?

A. He should first be thankful for every spiritual influence which has brought him to this level of his faith. Truth remains truth wherever it is found. However, truth has become useless if the believer does not act upon what God has revealed to him through the Bible.

Repentance is a decision to turn from old ways which do not have God's approval, and to turn to those things which please the Father. For some Orthodox members who are deeply rooted in their families' and national culture, this decision may be very difficult because of the pressure of family and friends. God's promises to those who are obedient to Him, makes the effort worthwhile.

With the decision to turn from "tradition" to the "truth" of the word, the command is to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. When one does this, believing the promise of God that He will adopt him as His child, the Christian has the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome all pressures.

Once a baptized person has obeyed the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, he will seek out a body of believers who are organized and who worship according to the New Testament. If the group is faithful to the divine pattern given in the New Testament, it will be the church of Christ. If no such group is found, the Christian will know that they have the duty to begin the church of Christ in their own home, as long as they continue to follow only those things taught in the Bible.


THE MUSLIM FAITH Vs CHRISTIAN FAITH

To Our Muslim Friends
Which God do you Serve
Who Is This Jesus?
Buddhaism

Points to Consider

  • Mohammed was born in 570AD and Islam came about 630 A.D.

  • Mohammed is dead.

  • Jesus came in 4AD, "But, when the time had fully come, God sent his Son..." -- Galatians 4:4

  • Jesus is alive today.

  • Muslims claim that the New Testament is false and the Bible is full of errors.

  • But, the Koran refers to the Bible for their basic ideas.

  • The Koran has changed the promised son of Abraham from Isaac, the promised son, to Ishmael, the one referred to as the "wild donkey man." -- Genesis 16:11

  • The Koran leaves out the 10th plague invoked by Moses that finally caused Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go. The 10 plague refers to "The Lamb of God," Jesus.

  • The Koran claims that if one doesn't understand the Bible, they should consult the "People of the Book" referring to Jews and Christians. This is the basic reason that the Black Muslim leader converted to Christianity.

  • The Bible claims to be God's word and commands men not to murder. -- Exodus 20

  • Jesus teaches men to love their enemies and pray for them. God is love and forgiving.

  • Jesus said, "I am the way -- and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
    -- John 14:6

 

 

To our Muslims Friends

We come to you with the conviction that you, like us, want peace and a home where you can live without fear of another religious group trying to impose its beliefs upon us. We condemn the actions taken by the Crusaders many centuries ago who, while claiming to be Christians, promoted the killing of Muslims and Jews because they held different beliefs. We likewise condemn the actions of Muslims of centuries ago who conquered other lands populated by Christians and then demanded those men become Muslim or die. Others were forced to pay high taxes or become Muslims.

Unfortunately, these acts of ruthless killing in the name of religion have not ceased. We condemn the men in Serbia who, while claiming to be Christians, sought to destroy Muslims in Kosova. We also condemn the men from the Middle East who, claiming to be Muslims, seek to kill Christians in New York and to enslave Christians in Sudan. We recognize that many evil people use religion for an excuse to destroy others for their personal gain. This is not unique to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Paganism or Atheism.

We come to you hoping that you will join us in accepting the right of all men to hold to their religious belief without fear of persecution or ridicule. We come recognizing that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all accept one God and hold to many of the same Holy Books. Judaism holds to that part of the Bible known as the Old Testament that includes the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets, and the historical books.

Christians accept these same books with the addition of the New Testament, that is the Gospel portion of the Bible. Most of Islam accepts these same books, both Old Testament and New Testament, and then adds the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sunah. Let us unite in allowing men the right to their beliefs, to accept those books they believe are from God.

Many Christians and Muslims are unaware that Muslims are to accept the Bible as scripture from God. Some Muslims are aware but then argue that the Bible has been corrupted. Please consider the following five points.


1. Islamic believers in the Qur’an are also to follow the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel as these were also given by God through his early prophets. This is taught in Surahs 3:93-94,119, 199, 4:136,150-152, 5:43-44,46-47,65-69,10:37,94-95, 16:40, 21:7 & 29:46.

Surah 4:136 says, “Believers, have faith in God and his apostle, in the Book He has revealed to his apostle, and in the Scriptures He formerly revealed. He that denies God, His angels, His scriptures, His apostles, and the Last Day has strayed far.”

 

The Qur’an continues in 4:150 to say, “Those that deny God and His Apostles and those that draw a line between God and His apostles, saying: ‘We believe in some, but deny others,’ – thus seeking a middle way – these indeed are the unbelievers. For the unbelievers, We have prepared a shameful punishment.”

Several of the older manuscripts are IDENTICAL to our current Hebrew text. These documents prove scientifically that the Bible we currently posses is a faithful reproduction of the Bible that existed over years before Mohammad. If our current manuscript is the same as it was over 2100 years ago, then surely it is the same as it was 1400 years ago when Mohammad was told to ask the people of the Book about the word of God. These claims that the Bible is corrupted will not stand up to an honest evaluation.

To our Muslims friends, we encourage you to read the Bible. Do not be guilty of saying “We believe in some, but deny others, – thus seeking a middle way – these indeed are the unbelievers.” As students of the Bible we want to offer you our help in studying the Bible.

Given these two passages from the Qur’an Islamic believers must also accept the Bible as scriptures from God. When one considers the large number of verses in the Qur’an that teach that the Bible is a part of the Islamic scriptures, one must conclude that Muslims must accept the Bible as scriptures. While not identifying all portions of the Bible as scriptures, the Qur’an does identify in addition to the Torah, Psalms and Gospel, other prophets such as Isaiah, Jonah, etc. These references indicate acceptance of the writings of the Prophets recorded in the Old Testament. It should be added that nowhere does the Qur’an suggest that any portion of the Bible scriptures were corrupted or not to be accepted as from God.

3. The Qur’an also teaches that the scriptures cannot be falsified, only distorted by men. Surah 6:34 says, “Other apostles have been denied before you. But they patiently bore with disbelief and persecution until our help came down to them: for none can change the decrees of God”.  Surah 10:64 says, “Surely the servants of God have nothing to fear … the words of God shall never change.” Surah 75:17 says, “ … We ourselves shall see to its collection and recital”. The last quotation applies specifically to the Qur’an while the first passage pertains specifically to the earlier scriptures. It is clear that this teaching that the scriptures can’t be falsified must apply to all scriptures. Any corruption of the Bible would invalidate these passages just as it would any corruption of the Qur’an.

 

4. The teaching of the Qur’an are clearly supportive of the Bible being an accurate portrayal of God’s will. In fact, on three occasions Muhammad was told to ask the people of the book if he doubted the teaching that he received from the angel Gabriel. Surah 10:94 says “If you (Muhammad) doubt what we have revealed to you, ask those who have read the Scriptures before you.” If Muhammad himself was to ask the people of the Book about their scriptures (the ones written before him) then clearly the current scriptures (the Bible) were holy writings from God and were uncorrupted at that time.

5. We wish to bring to the attention of our Muslim friends that the Bible that the Christians accept is based upon much examination of ancient manuscripts to make sure that the scriptures are accurate words of the prophets of God. The Bible is based upon a large number of ancient manuscripts of which many predate the time of Mohammad by hundreds of years.

One of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century was the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Palestine in about 1950. These scrolls have confirmed that the present Hebrew text is a very accurate copy of the text found in the multiple manuscripts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, there were 24 different manuscripts containing parts of the book of Genesis found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Of those 24 manuscripts, only 11 show any variance at all except for some minor spelling variances.

Several of the older manuscripts are IDENTICAL to our current Hebrew text.  These documents prove scientifically that the Bible we currently posses is a faithful reproduction of the Bible that existed over years before Mohammad. 

If our current manuscript is the same as it was over 2100 years ago then surely it is the same as it was 1400 years ago when Mohammad was told to ask the people of the Book about the word of God.  The claims that the Bible is corrupted will not stand up to an honest evaluation.

To our Muslims friends, we encourage you to read the Bible.  Do not be guilty of saying “We believe in some, but deny others, – thus seeking a middle way – these indeed are the unbelievers.”  As students of the Bible we want to offer you our help in studying the Bible.

Author: Gene Banister

email: gbanister@nwi.net

Permission is granted to reproduce this document and distribute it unedited freely.

 

 

Which God do you serve?

Both Islam and Christianity believe in One God. But do they believe in the same God? Let’s look at the God worshipped by Islam and the God worshipped by Christians.

Islam:
  • One God
     

God is presented as One God (fundamental tenet of Islam and first pillar). The phrases All knowing, All mighty, All wise, All hearing, All seeing and All aware are found repeatedly in the Qur’an. These terms have been listed in the order of their frequency of use in the Qur’an. In addition God is referred to over 100 times as Most Merciful (not counting the use of this phrase found in the preface to each Surah). At the same time there are over 100 references to “merciful” there are over 200 references to Hell in terms of a excruciating pain or torture, the opposite of mercy.

  • Impersonal and Unknowable God
     

While not explicitly stated in the Qur’an, another important and significant teaching of Islam is that it is not possible to have any personal relationship with God.

Many Muslim scholars acknowledge that Allah is unknowable and unapproachable by man. AlGhazali, the most prominent theologian in the history of Islam, said: "The end result of the knowledge of the `arifin is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him." Fadlou Shehadi, a contemporary scholar of Al-Ghazali, after analyzing Al-Ghazali's arguments about the transcendence of God, concludes, “From all the foregoing, one important consequence has to be drawn. God is Utterly Unknowable.”

Only twice in the Qur’an is God referred to as Holy. In contrast there are several references to Holy Books, Holy land and Holy Jihad. (Actually many of these references are in the comments of the translators.

The statements in this section are based upon a computer word search of “The Noble Quran” by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Ph.D. and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan.)

  • A God who loves only good people
     

God loves only the good people, not the sinner or transgressor, 2:190,276, 3:31-32,57,140, 4:36, 30:44. Nowhere in the Qur’an is God ever reported to love someone who does not love Him first, nor is God's love ever used as the central motivating factor for someone to draw close to Him.

Christianity:
  • One God
     

God is presented as One God (Genesis 20:1-3, Isaiah 45:18,21, 46:9, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6) in agreement with Islam. But the Christian concept of God does not limit Him to one form. God is a Spirit, capable of appearing in physical flesh but not restricted to flesh. (John 4:24) Jesus appeared as God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14, 14:6-11). He sent his Son, a part of Himself, so that we can know Him (John 14:5-10, 1 John 4:7-10). The three forms or three parts of One God will be discussed more in another brochure.

  • Holy God
     

The term most often used in referring to God is Holy. See Isaiah 6:3. This describes a God who is without sin, fault or blemish of any type. It is the great Holiness of God that makes it impossible for men (sinners) to be in his presence unless they are perfect. The term Holy appears in the Bible over 500 times with this term generally being restricted to use with respect to God or some object associated with God. For example, holy temple, holy ground, holy worship, etc.

  • A God of Love


God is presented as powerful (the creator – Genesis 1 & 2 and elsewhere), but more importantly as a loving God (John 3:16, 1 John 4:19). He is a God concerned with each person (Prodigal son – Luke 15:11-32).

The distinction between Islam and Christianity is that the Christian God is not a distance God unconcerned with each individual but rather a God who knows the number of hairs on the head of each person and has an incomprehensible love for each person (Luke 12:7).

God is repeatedly called a God of love, 2 Corinthians 13:11, 1 John 4:7-8. The Greek term for love, ‘Agape’, does not describe an emotional love but actions. It is in this sense that God so loved the world (mankind) that he gave His Son as a sacrifice (an action for the good of men) that all men might be saved, John 3:16, 15:13.

 

Christianity, continued

 


Men are called to respond in the same way towards other men and towards God Himself, 1 John 3:16. Our response is attributed to His love for us while we were sinners deserving of death, Romans 5:8. We are to love our enemies; that is to do good towards them rather than harm, Matthew 5:43-44. Unlike Islam, God is presented as loving ALL men, not just those who are good.

  • God as our Father


Finally, we see God referred to as Father many times. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, Matthew 6:9-13. This is the opposite of a distant unconcerned God. Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 to illustrate the concern of God (our Father) over the lost son. In Genesis 6:6 we are told of God’s grief that men were evil. This concept of God as a loving Father seeking his children is not found in the Qur’an and is only alluded to in prophetic passages in the Old Testament. It is with the coming of Jesus that the concept of God as Father is fully made known.

  • A God we can Know


In John 14:1-9 Jesus stresses that if we know Him (Jesus) we know the Father. We see in Jesus, the Son of God, all the characteristics of God the Father, Colossians 2:9. John 1:18 says, “No man has ever seen God, the only begotten Son of God, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” Jesus came to earth as a man in order that we could know God. He is not unknowable but desires that we know Him.

Do Islam and Christianity worship the same God? The answer must be emphatically NO!
Which God do you worship? Does your God love you and want you to go to heaven? Or has your God created men to fill hell?

 

If you wish to know more about the God who loves you, we urge you to visit the church of Christ to learn more about this God. This letter is from your friends at the church of Christ.

Author: Gene Banister

email: gbanister@nwi.net

Permission is granted to reproduce this document and distribute it unedited freely.

 

 Who is this “Jesus”?

Muslims say that he was a prophet of God. Jews say he was an imposter who claimed to be the Messiah, the One sent by God, but was not. Others claim he was an angelic being, neither a man nor a part of God. Still others say no, he was only a good man. Christians say He was the Messiah prophesized of in the Old Testament. He was also the Lamb of God referred to in several Old Testament passages and also the Son of God. Let’s look at these conflicting claims.
 
  • The Seed of Woman, The Messiah


The first prophesy found in the Bible, Genesis 3:15, says a man, who will be born of a woman will be bruised (hurt) by Satan but the man will conquer Satan. It is curious that this man is referred to as the seed of woman, not man. This implies the man has no earthly father. This statement was made thousands of years prior to the coming of this man, Jesus. In

BC the prophet Isaiah prophesies that a virgin shall bear a son and he shall be called Emanuel, which means “God with us”, Isaiah 7:14. We then come to the fulfillment of both these prophesies in Matthew 1:18-25 where the virgin Mary becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God. An Angel of God directed that the boy was to be named Jesus for he would save his people from sin. It is this Jesus, the seed of a woman but not the seed of a man, who would die on the cross but be raised again (hurt by Satan but not destroyed), Acts 2:22-23. It is this Jesus who would die as a sin offering for all men so that they would be free from sin destroying the power of Satan, Acts 2:36-39. It is this Jesus who an Angel called the Christ (Greek name for Messiah) and said that he was to be the Savior of the world, Luke 2:10-11.

  • The Lamb of God


We are first told of the lamb of God by Abraham. In Genesis 21, about 4200 years ago, God tested Abraham to see if he is willing to sacrifice his son, his only son, to God. It was while climbing the mountain of Moriah near Jerusalem that Isaiah, his son, asked his father Abraham “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham’s response was that God will provide for himself the lamb.

When God knew that Abraham would indeed offer his son, God stopped Abraham form sacrificing his son and provided a Ram for the sacrifice.
Then, next we read of the sacrifice of a lamb is in Exodus where God orders Moses to have each Israelite family offer a lamb as a sacrifice in what became know as the Passover feast.

The blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorpost of the houses of the Israelites protected them from the death of the firstborn in every house in Egypt. See Exodus 12.This was about 3500 years ago.
We then read in Isaiah 53:4-9 a prophesy of the coming Messiah being described as like a lamb being led to the slaughter that makes no cry. It is this lamb or Messiah that is to be killed as a sacrifice for our sins. We then turn to John 1:29 where John the Baptist seeing Jesus coming to him cries out “Behold the Lamb of God”. It is this Lamb of God that is taken by the Jews to Pilate to be crucified. Like a lamb Jesus offers no cry of defense, John 19:9-10. The Lamb of God was then led to the cross where he was crucified for our sins.

This Lamb of God is next seen in the Revelation of John, Revelation 5:6-14, where the angels and all creatures in heaven bow down and worship the One on the throne (the Father) and the Lamb that was slain. Just as we see the Seed of woman and the Messiah described throughout the Bible and identified as Jesus, so also we see the Lamb of God described throughout the Bible as the sacrificial lamb that sets men free from sin. This lamb is identified as Jesus.

It is interesting to notice other comparisons between Jesus and Isaac, the son of Abraham. It is true that Abraham had another son Ishmael, the son of a slave woman. But Abraham had sent Ishmael away many years prior to this sacrifice of Isaac. To Abraham, Isaac was his only son as stated in Genesis 22:2. In Matthew 3:17 God identifies Jesus as His beloved Son. In John 3:16 Jesus refers to himself as the only Son of God. In Genesis 22:6 it is Isaac that carries the wood up the mountain. In John 19:17 it is Jesus that carries his wooden cross up the hill. In Genesis 22:2 Abraham is told to journey to the land of Moriah for the offering. Jerusalem, where Jesus was sacrificed, is located on Mount Moriah. See 2 Chronicles 3:1. Jesus also journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee for the sacrifice. It appears that God had Abraham present his offering of his only son on the same mountain where God was later to offer His only son as the sacrificial Lamb of God.
  • Coincidence or Plan?


Are all these events coincidental? Certainly not! It was the plan of God to redeem man from sin from the beginning. God is a Holy God and only a holy sacrifice can satisfy the justice of God. Jesus, as the Son of God, is Holy. His sacrifice was not only a Holy sacrifice but was a loving offering from God to man to show us how much He loves us. No animal sacrifice would suffice to cleanse us from all our sins. No animal sacrifice would prove to us that God loves us. Neither would the sacrifice of some heavenly being prove that God actually loves men. Just as Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son proved to God that Abraham truly trusted him, so God’s sacrifice of His only son proves His love for us.

Was Jesus only a prophet? If so then the claim of John 3:16 that God’s gift of His Son as proof of His love for us is not true. Furthermore, the whole story of Abraham offering his son no longer has any meaning.

  • Imposter or Savior?


Was Jesus an imposter claiming to be the Messiah? If so, then His willingness to be crucified is the act of a lunatic. He certainly was not a good man or a prophet if he was an imposter. His disciples were foolish men who gave up their lives to carry His message throughout the world for a man who died on the cross.

No! They were witnesses to His resurrection. He was no imposter. They chose to serve a risen Savior as should we.
What about you? How will you answer the question “Who was this man Jesus?” Would you like to know more about this man?

The Church of Christ invites you to come join us in study of this Messiah, Lamb of God, and the Son of God.

If you wish to know more about the God who loves you, we urge you to visit the church of Christ to learn more about this God. This letter is from your friends at the church of Christ.

Author: Gene Banister

email: gbanister@nwi.net

Permission is granted to reproduce this document and distribute it unedited freely.

 

Buddhism and WEI in SE Asia

By Bill McDonough

 

Bill has spent several years working in SE Asia and offers these insights.

 

 

First, about Buddhism

     1.   Buddhism here and there

*Buddhism that is studied from a world religions or historical perspective is not the same as what is actually practiced in Buddhist countries. In fact, the now popular form of Buddhism practiced by many Americans is actually closer to true Buddhism than what is found in so-called Buddhist countries.

 

     2.   What Buddha taught
 

*Buddha (whose name is Guatama) never intended for any one to worship HIM! His plan was the middle way, a life style in between the two extremes of asceticism and indulgence. It could be compared to the lifestyle of Jesus-provided for, yet simple and poor. For Buddha, the point of life was for a person to escape the cycle of suffering. Love can bring suffering (when the person dies or leaves); death and illness bring suffering; relationships in general can bring suffering. It is each person’s responsibility to release him or herself from this cycle.

So, essentially, each person is to “work out his own salvation” in Buddhism. Buddha offers an 8 fold Path, as well as other teachings in the Dharma. This is what you hear being chanted in the morning. These teachings give people direction on right living and right thinking to help his followers release themselves from the cycle of suffering. The goal of any Buddhist is to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment can be described as a cosmic, spiritual “Ah-Ha.” It is when, through meditation-a state of clearing one’s mind completely- a person attains complete understanding of the universe. Buddha attained this state of enlightenment under a Bodi tree. (These trees are all over SE Asia. Many times they have urns in them that hold the ashes of ancestors. They are considered holy trees. This is good example of how Buddhism and animism have merged in SE Asia). Satan, they believe, came to tempt Buddha at this moment with women and weather, but a big snake, named Naga, protected Buddha. (Statues of this snake are all over Cambodia). Therefore, while meditating, Buddha reached enlightenment, and thus released himself from the cycle of reincarnation.

 

In Buddhism, this cycle continues through death. After death, the “soul” returns to earth in the form of another being UNLESS the soul reached enlightenment while it was living. The next life form is determined by the life currently being lived. It is possible for one to live well enough to be reincarnated into a heavenly being. It is possible for one to live poorly enough to be reincarnated into an animal. (Buddha said, ”the chances of being reincarnated as a human are 500 million times the age of the universe.”) But only attaining enlightenment in life can release a person from the cycle all-together, and send the soul to nirvana. Buddha then told others about his enlightenment, and told them how to reach it for themselves.

 

3. What modern Buddhists practice

 

*People like to have something beyond themselves to worship. Therefore, people began to worship the Buddha. Statues were made to “remember” him, and to “remind people of his example.” After hundreds of years, though, people are now bowing down to Buddha and asking him for favors and wisdom. Buddha himself has become a god. Many monks, in countries where a truer Buddhism is practiced, like Burma, will deny that they do this, but will readily admit that this is the religion of the people and it is errant to true Buddhism. The people have pagodas that house relics of the Buddha (like many Catholic churches). (I’ve been to so many pagodas that housed a tooth of the Buddha I’m convinced that the man had a jaw like a crocodile). In these pagodas are stupas (mini-temples) where the people worship bodhisattvas. A bodhisattva is a man who could have reached enlightenment, but decided not to in order to teach the people the true way. He sacrificed meditation time for teaching time. The people believe that these bodhisattvas can hear their prayers and help them. (Like Saints). In Burma there is a stupa where people go to pray for a baby, one where they go to pray for their new house, etc….

 

Modern Buddhism has split into two major groups. Theravada and Mahayana. I call them, “the fat Buddha and the skinny Buddha.” Of course, there are many more differences between the two than this. Cambodia, with the rest of SE Asia, follows Theravada Buddhism (skinny Buddha). It is considered more traditional and strict than Mahayana. In this form of Buddhism, a woman cannot reach enlightenment. She must be born as a man first, as he is the higher life form. After being born as a man, she can become a monk, reach enlightenment, and enter nirvana.

 

Theravada Buddhism has come to believe in “instant Karma.” No longer do they believe that the consequences of this life will be felt entirely in the next life. The consequences of actions in this life can be felt immediately. It is as practical to them as, “I got drunk last night. Therefore, my moto got a flat tire today.” Many people say that Buddhists are selfish. This is because when Buddhists see a poor person, they think, “He must have done something to deserve that.” Or if someone is sick, or dies unexpectedly, they think, “That is karma. He did bad, so bad will come to him”. There is little sympathy. However, Buddhists will usually help the poor and sick in order to build up good karma for themselves. If they don’t, the same bad things may happen to them.

 

Modern Buddhism in SE Asia is entirely work oriented. A person is saved by his works, “merits.” There is no concept of grace.

 

Superstition and ancestor worship has infiltrated Buddhism in these countries as well. (Refer back to the Bodi tree). Most homes have an ancestor shrine where fruit or rice is offered daily. There are animistic spirits in all things of nature. There are bad spirits all around. For example, if three people get their picture taken together, the person in the middle will die. Or if you photograph a newborn, the bad spirits may see what a beautiful baby it is and come to steal the baby away (kill it). The Khmer word for moon and sun is preceded by the Khmer word, “god.” This presents a challenge when teaching the creation story. We can either say in Khmer, “God made the sun god,” or “God made the big light that lights up the day.” Because of superstition, most Buddhists live in a constant state of fear.

 

Cambodia is unique. It is a country where religion was forbidden for some time under the Khmer Rouge. Monks were killed and the temples were destroyed. Now this country allows freedom of religion. This is a country where there is a whole generation who are essentially of no religion, other than what has been passed down to them in the form of tradition and superstition. They are clean slates, and sometimes they are looking for something to believe in. Others, though, see Buddhism as the lost religion of the people and are striving to restore the country back to it. We have an opportunity here in Cambodia that is not available in most other places.

 

What this Buddhism information has to do with teaching our students:

We are offering a Living God. They worship a dead one-Buddha and their ancestors. This realization can make a complacent student more interested.

  1. We offer salvation to men and women in one lifetime-for free.
  2. We are offering a salvation that is not based upon works. Christianity is much simpler than Buddhism.
  3. We are offering them a way out of fear. God gives us victory over Satan and his demons. One student asked me what the opposite was of the word, superstition. I told her, faith.
  4. We are offering grace.
  5. We are offering hope in eternity to be reached at the end of this one life-a permanent end to suffering within the next 50 yrs. (or however long they live).

Be careful with:

  1. The word, “god.” If you ask them, “Do you believe in God?” They will readily say, “Yes!” We must specify, “Do you believe in the Living God of this book - the one Abraham is worshipping?” Then, most will change their answer and say, “No.” I’ve heard many teachers get excited over so-called “expressions of faith” by Buddhist students, when really the student was simply saying, “I believe in Buddha.” We should distinguish which god we are talking about from lesson one, and continue to make that distinction throughout the studies. Many students do not know we are talking about a different God than theirs. Now, my students often ask me, “Which god are you asking me about?” And I tell them, “the Living God.”
  2. The names of God and Jesus. The students come from a polytheistic culture (many gods). When they read the words, God, Father, the Almighty, the Creator, Christ, Jesus, Lord, the Savior, Messiah….they think they are reading about many different gods. It may help them to make a list of all the different names of God and Jesus used in the lessons and explain to them that all of these names represent the same person.
  3. The word, “heaven.” Some concepts about heaven and nirvana are the same, yet they are fundamentally different. When Buddhists learn the word, nirvana in English, they learn the English word, heaven. However, as we know, these words are not synonyms. God is in our heaven, not in theirs.
  4. The word, “worship.” I never use the Khmer/English dictionary to define spiritual words like this. They are probably translated into something related to Buddhism-something they will understand. They can understand worship as bringing fruit to the pagoda, honoring ancestors, and burning incense. We need to give them the definition of worship as it relates to the Bible. Dick Ady gives a definition of worship on page 21 of the WEI book. This definition is very difficult for students with limited English, though. I usually say something like, “Worship is living a life that says, ‘Thank you’ to God.” And then I give examples, like singing, praying, loving others….
  5. Phil. 2:12 “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This would not be the verse to quote at the beginning of a study with a Buddhist! Without context and explanation, it would be very confusing, as this is the mantra of sorts for modern Buddhism.

*Try to put yourself in their religious perspective while teaching each lesson. Pretend all you know is a life of superstition and works. You have never heard of one Living God before. You have never heard of Jesus before. You have never heard of grace. You have no idea what a church is, or what happens there. You have never heard of a God that sees your heart and weighs your motives. You don’t know about judgment, or that God wrote a book for you, and can save you. With this in mind, speak to the students simply. Don’t assume they know anything, and clarify everything spiritual. Imagine they are teaching you about Buddhism in Khmer. Remember the sun god problem.

 

BUDDHA

JESUS

  1. He was born of a man and a woman
  2. He lived between 550 and 480 BC
  3. He was born and lived in India.
  4. He was called "The Enlightened One."
  5. He learned wisdom, and studies the way to Enlightenment.
  6. He taught a new way and discarded the old way.
  7. He died at approximately age 80 from food poisoning.
  8. He did not live again after his death.
  9. He left his wife and son to learn about spiritual things.
  10. He looked inward for salvation.
  11. He searched for answers to the world's problems.
  12. He separated himself from love and close relationships.
  13. He actively tried to avoid suffering.
  14. He did not have a relationship with the Living God.
  15. He pointed the way to Enlightenment.
  16. He claimed to be a reincarnated man.
  17. He is a creation.
  18. He was not a perfect man.
  19. He did not perform miracles.
  20. He has roughly 327 million followers today.
  21. He left his followers to find their own way after his death.
  22. He established the earthly Sangha, the brotherhood of monks.
  1. He was born of the Holy Spirit and a woman.
  2. He is eternal, but he lived on earth between 4 BC - 30 AD (The world's time is measured by his life.)
  3. He was born and lived in Judea.
  4. He was called the "Anointed One."
  5. He knew everything from the beginning of time.
  6. He explained the full meaning of the old way and made the old way perfect fulfilling it.
  7. He was killed at age 33 by crucifixion to fulfill a divine plan.
  8. He lives eternally in heaven.
  9. He cared for his mother, had a relationship with his father, and encouraged his children to come to him.
  10. He is salvation and looked upward to the Father.
  11. He knew he is the answer to the world's problems from the beginning.
  12. He actively loved people and had many personal relationships.
  13. He accepted suffering.
  14. He is united with the Living God.
  15. He said, "I am the way," and "I am the Light of the World."
  16. He is the eternal savior.
  17. He is the Creator.
  18. He was perfect and without sin.
  19. He performed miracles.
  20. He has roughly 560 million followers today.
  21. He remained with his followers in the form of the Holy Spirit to help them after he went to heaven.
  22. He established the eternal church.

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