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PART 4 My Search for the One True God
Thinking of Joining a Mainstream Religion Such As:
Judaism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Episcopal, Christian Science, Christian?
If you are considering becoming a member of one of these faiths, what will be required of you? And, what are the conditions to which you must adhere to in order to remain a member?
Does the God they believe in come into one’s life, allowing the experience of his presence now?
Do they believe in an afterlife?
The beliefs of the selected faiths outlined below are very generalized. If a reader who is a member of one of these faiths has any differences of opinion, please remember that this is a broad-spectrum view and specifics are not included.
The following testimony is from a Jewish Rabbi. His words are paraphrased from a phone conversation.
I was brought up in a Jewish family, and I believe that by maintaining traditions and faith, my life will be enhanced.
All religions try to create a pathway to maximize the short time that we have on earth. The commandments, not just the Ten Commandments, are the vehicle that adds meaning to my life and makes the world a better place.
History, beliefs, and membership requirements of Judaism include:
- There is only one God, whose name is Jehovah (Yahweh). The divine revelation of His plan for mankind was given to specific people and is recorded in 24 books today.
- Accounts of the creation of man and all that exist, man’s fall from God’s image and likeness, and God’s attempts to restore relationship with mankind are contained in these writings.
- The formation of Israel began with Abram’s belief in Jehovah, who revealed Himself and promised him that his descendants would become a nation called Israel and they would inherit and inhabit the Promised Land, Canaan. With the act of circumcision, he became the first Jew.
- The Jews were to be a unique demonstration of God’s glory among all the nations of the earth.2
- Unfortunately, due to apostasy from God by failing to observe the civil responsibilities and spiritual ceremonies of the Mosaic Law, they came under various forms of divine discipline.
- In 70AD, the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including the temple and court system.
- Today, the Jews are waiting for their Messiah, who will be born a human being and not of divine conception. When he arrives, he will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, re-establish an adherence to Mosaic Law, restore their court system, and establish a government that will preside over the entire world.
- Becoming a follower requires one to learn the first five books of their Bible, known as the Torah, which defines right and wrong. Then he/she must teach it to other Jews, dropping all prior religious beliefs. One is forbidden to enter most non-Jewish places of worship and is not allowed to celebrate Christmas, Halloween, or any other religious holiday except the Jewish holidays.3 There are also mandated dietary and clothing guidelines and the observance of the 7th day of the week as the Sabbath.
- When the Messiah comes to set up his kingdom on earth, the souls of the righteous dead will be brought back to life to experience this new world of peace and prosperity. Some Jews believe that unrighteous souls are simply destroyed at physical death.
The next testimony is from a Buddhist teacher.
I became particularly interested in Buddhism when I first tried meditating. It was challenging at first, but eventually a peaceful state of mind appeared. This was qualitatively different than the 'happiness' that would appear from ordinary objects like a new car, friend, a better reputation, and so forth. It seemed apparent that the key to real, deep happiness, as opposed to the artificial variety, is found in the mind.
I investigated a few different lineages of Buddhism, but fell in love with Kadampa Buddhism. The native Tibetan Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, after years of studying and then 18 years of extensive meditation, came to the Western world to transmit what he had learned formed the New Kadampa Tradition. I appreciated his humility, pure moral discipline, kindness to all people, incredible work ethic, piercing wisdom, and clarity. The presentation he passed on from his teacher and lineage, stemming back hundreds of years, was the most accessible and practical version of Buddha's teachings I had found. Finally, I saw the practitioners who followed his teachings and was deeply impressed by their good example, great minds, and kind hearts.
The beauty of Buddhism that I discovered through Kadampa Buddhism is that we can bring about a better, more lasting state of mind just through changing the mind itself, instead of searchingly endlessly in an attempt to arrange perfect external conditions. To explain this, someone shared the quote from Buddhist master Shantideva…
Where is there enough leather to cover the surface of the earth?
But just having leather on the soles of one's feet is the same as covering the whole earth.
In the same way, it is not possible to control all external events
But, if I simply control my mind what need is there to control other things?
This logical invitation to change the mind, the 'internal', instead of externals, and seeing how this brings about a deeper change anyway, drew me into Buddhism. What kept me is the constant desire to benefit others through improving ourselves. We do everything we can to cultivate this mind of altruism and become a true friend of the world. For me, the wisdom of training the mind fueled by a compassionate motivation to better ourselves for other people is the heart of Buddhist teachings and why they have touched me.
In order to become a follower of Buddhism a person must:
- Agree with the teachings of Siddharta Gautama, called Dharma, which states that there are four noble truths.
- Living in the cycle of existence involves suffering.
- The cause of suffering is attachment to worldly pleasures, denial of unpleasant situations, and ignorance of the deeper meaning of life (inner happiness).
- If the causes are dissolved, the suffering disappears.
- The way to overcome suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.4
- The Eightfold Path to enlightenment consists of:
- Right wisdom (living in inner happiness).
- Right decision (for spiritual practice).
- Right speech (do not lie).
- Right action (do not steal, do not kill).
- Right livelihood (do well).
- Right effort (after enlightenment).
- Right mindfulness (mental work).
- Right concentration (meditation). Meditation is based on the four stages of contemplation: thinking about life, inner peace and happiness, dissolving the ego, enlightenment.
- Attaining enlightenment means that the follower has obtained freedom from suffering, pain, and misery; thus procuring inner peace, wisdom, and love.
- When a Buddhist attains enlightenment during his lifetime, at physical death he enters into Nirvana (in a higher dimension of consciousness, in pure being, in the void, in inner peace and happiness).
- If Nirvana is not reached in one’s lifetime, they will be reincarnated in order to try to obtain enlightenment again.
- Once Nirvana is reached, at physical death one dissolves to nothingness.
- As far as the afterlife goes, Buddhists do not believe that people possess eternal souls.
- There is no heaven or hell.
This could not be any more different than the initial faith that was presented, and the first thought that came to my mind was the word, “confusion”. I don’t mean this as a knock on Buddhism, but that the task of determining which faith or faiths follow the one true personal God seems daunting because Buddhist beliefs bear no resemblance.
Is there a way to sort through all of these differences? We’ll see as we take a look at the next mainstream religion.
This testimony is from a member of a Catholic congregation.
I was born in 1956 to a wonderful mother and father who are Catholic. I was baptized, received my first communion, and was confirmed as a soldier of God.
Believing in God and the Catholic Church has never left my heart. There are some whose beliefs differ from mine, while there are others who are still searching to find belief.
I believe that there are many religions and all of them have one thing in common, that being the almighty God, even though their writings may differ. Their view, like mine, will hopefully cause all of us to become whole, based on the good that God represents.
People must do whatever it is that causes them to be good in this life. For me this is attributed to the Catholic faith.
Beliefs and requirements to become a member in good standing are outlined below.
- Often, one becomes a Catholic as an infant. A ceremony is performed by the priest, which signifies the forgiveness of sins as water is sprinkled on the forehead. One of the members of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, participates and, together with water, the baby becomes a child of God.
- As an adult converting to Catholicism, one would be immersed in water.
- The Catholic Bible has 46 books in the Old Testament, the content of which is similar to the Jewish Bible. The 27 books in the New Testament are about the birth, life, public ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, who they believe is not only God, but also the Messiah of the Jews. After Jesus’ ascension, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the New Testament church that believes in Christ.
- Between the ages of 8 and 12, the young Catholic goes to catechism and learns about the truths of the Catholic Church such as:
- Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin without a sin nature.
- Jesus was raised from the dead after 3 days, never to die again.
- He is one of the members of the Trinity, the others being God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. While each member of the Trinity is God, they are not three separate Gods, but one God existing in three persons.
- Catechism is followed by Confirmation, at which time a member of the clergy lays hands on the person and the Holy Spirit comes and indwells the child of God in order to make them strong and perfect Catholics and soldiers of Jesus Christ.5
- The Catholic is obligated to go to church every Sunday and to:
- Observe the seven sacraments (water baptism, communion, confession of one’s sins before a priest at least once a year, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick)
- Observe the 6 Days of Obligation
- Observe the two church fasts of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
- Receive communion at least during the Easter season.
- At communion, Jesus comes into the physical body by means of the elements of the bread and wine, turning them into His literal body and blood, and causing the child of God to become more and more transformed into Him. The substance of the bread and the wine changes into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. It is no longer bread and wine, but Christ really present under the appearance of bread and wine.6
- This mystical and spiritual union of the soul with Jesus causes a person to grow in love for God the Father. The more that these elements are partaken; the more recognizable will be the fruit that takes place in one’s life. This recognizable fruit will involve a lessening of racial and national prejudices, of neighborhood resentments; an increase in neighborliness, in compassion, in patience, and forbearance towards others.7 Communion is the sacrament of spiritual growth and of an increase in spiritual stature and strength.
- If a Catholic adheres to these requirements, participates in communion, and commits only Venial sins (little sins that we commit every day without thinking about them), they will eventually go to a literal place called heaven at physical death. If they commit a Mortal Sin such as adultery, homosexuality, pre-marital sex, etc., and do not confess them, they will go to a literal place called hell at physical death.
- Catholicism believes that there is one bishop, the Pope, who presides over all of the other bishops of the church. The teachings of the church as delineated by the Pope are considered as being infallible (absolute) and are to be followed by all of the bishops of the Catholic faith around the world.
The next faith that we will look at is very similar.
There are definitive similarities and differences between the Catholic faith and the Episcopal faith. One major difference is that of the authority of a bishop within the church. In Episcopalism, one bishop presides with authority over one diocese. Even though the origins are different, with Catholics being from Jerusalem and Episcopalians being from England (Anglican), many Catholics believe that Episcopalism is an offshoot of Catholicism.
Basic beliefs and membership requirements are:
- To become a member, one must be baptized in water in the name of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). An infant would be sprinkled in water.
- The same Bible as the Catholics is used and beliefs regarding content are shared. However, Episcopalism also uses a book called “The Book of Common Prayer”, which contains a number of prayer books as well as the complete format of worship services, varying daily and/or weekly throughout the year.
- While they believe in God who exists in the form of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they don’t believe that this is the only way to describe Him. According to them, all religions worship this same God, but in different ways.8
- Once a member, over time individuals are categorized into three groups, which helps to identify the level of participation.
- Communicant Member: one who partakes of communion at least three times per year.
- Good Standing Member: one who is faithful to attend worship and becomes involved with prayer, working, and giving (pledging money).
- Confirmed Communicant Member: expresses a mature commitment to Christ. The bishop will lay hands on this person and pray over them to receive strength from the Holy Spirit in order to live the Christian life.
- The member is asked to observe 7 sacraments, two of which have already been discussed:
- Water baptism
- Penance: public confession of sins during worship service, and the receipt of priestly absolution (the assurance of God’s forgiveness).
- Holy Orders/Ordination: the setting apart by the church of those who are called to a leadership position.
- Matrimony: initially between a man and woman, there now seem to be allowances for same sex marriage.
- Unction: a rite of healing involved with hearing and offering prayers along with the laying on of hands or the anointing with oil on those who are sick.
- The Lord’s Supper celebrates the real presence of Christ in the elements. The more that a person partakes of communion, the more they grow together with Christ and one another.
- Baptism in water assures that one will go to heaven.
- Most do not believe in a literal place of torment called Hell.
In this faith, there are many similarities as well as differences to Catholicism. So close and yet so far away, because an examination of beliefs regarding the afterlife reveals a major discrepancy as to what happens to those who don’t believe in God.
So, we have two similar faiths, both believing in the same God yet with distinct differences. Such is religion, and the next faith may cause you to go, “huh,” because it is so different from Catholicism and Episcopalism.
A Christian Science member provided this testimony.
When you asked me what drew me to my religion, I would have to say the teachings showed me that God and His help are immediately available for us all. That feeling of knowing that wherever I am, no matter the extremity, I can call on God for healing, for peace, and for guidance is what keeps me practicing and studying Christian Science. I do not need a clergy member to help me, because I can just turn to prayer, the study of the Bible, and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by the religion’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, in order to receive the help I need.
Now, I must confess, this is the only religion I have ever known. But as a 55-year-old woman, I have had my years of questioning, and have felt that Christian Science is the religion that helps me to feel peace and connection to God, and my identity with Him.
Christian Science is also a religion that teaches about God’s Love, not condemnation, nor the fear of God’s wrath. I have had many physical healings, healings of finance, and healings of stress and relationships. To me Christian Science is my one true religion, because it teaches the truth about God.
Followers of Christian Science:
- Agree with the teachings of its founder Mary Baker Eddy, as revealed in her book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”. Some of these teachings are:
- Sin, sickness, and death, which appear to have physical causes, are instead only states of mind.9
- Illness is an illusion caused by faulty beliefs.10
- God cannot indwell a person.11
- Bad things that happen are not real, but illusion.
- God never made man capable of sin.
- There is no sin12, hence no sin nature. Therefore, no one needs to be saved.
- There is no devil.13
- Jesus’ atonement is the evidence of divine, efficacious Love. However, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus has no efficacious (effective or remedial) value.
- There is one God, who is an incorporeal Spirit—the only intelligence and all that actually exists.
- His son, Christ, is not God in the flesh; and neither is the Holy Spirit God.
- Matter does not exist.14
- Evil and good are not real.
- A follower must obey two commandments: turn only to God, perfect mind for guidance-the mind that was also in Christ, and …love thy neighbor as thyself.15
- Obey the Ten Commandments; follow Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount; and be devout in obedience in following Christ’s example through good works, patience, meekness, love, watchfulness, and prayerful gratitude.16
- There are no literal places called heaven or hell, but they do exist as states of mind.
- After that which we call "death," spiritual development toward Truth continues until all evil, or "error," destroys itself.
What do you think? I am struck by the diversity of thought about God, which is probably why many people say that there are two things you shouldn’t discuss—politics and religion. Well, there is more to contemplate, so let’s see what faith is next.
A member of a Spanish Christian Church provided this testimony.
Since I was a kid my family had always talked to me about Jesus. In the morning, afternoon, and at night they would talk to me about his love, grace, and his commitments, but with all of this it was difficult for me to comprehend and understand what was being said about him.
They told me about his love, but my own life was filled with sadness, hatred, regret, and many other things. For many years, I fought and I tried to live and be happy, but I failed in every attempt even though I was going to a Christian church where I heard about the gospel and sang songs.
Still there was always emptiness in my heart. I continued feeling sad, tired, defeated, angry, confused, lonely, depressed, being full of hatred and pain. Every day of my life was filled with no sense of purpose causing me to be in depression.
How could this be? I was born in a Christian home, where I would hear about God’s love, peace, charity, being good one to another; and I used to think how we can talk about this love and peace when, in reality, we were always fighting like cats and dogs and hating each other.
My own father, closest relatives, and my neighbors were abusing me physically, mentally, and emotionally. So, I used to think, “Who is this Jesus? Is he real? Or is he just a lame excuse that people use to torment one another?” All these questions and so many more used to flow inside my head, heart, and soul every single day, to the point that I just wanted to end my life.
I made many attempts to kill myself by using pills, drugs, knives, long swims, while at other times I tried as was humanly possible in my own power to change my life. I made the decision to walk away from God. I went on for years without going to church and hearing Jesus’ name, and instead I tried to find happiness in other things.
I tried many things that I thought would make me happy such as sports, working extra hard, finding love in different places, but none of them satisfied me. I went through a divorce that was followed by a few long-term relationships that didn’t work out.
I was sick, tired, desperate, confused, and destroyed. One day I looked up to the sky full of tears in my eyes and I said to God how come if you are a God of love then why do all these horrible things keep on happening to me? Why if the bible says that you have a plan for my life are all these things happening to me? Is this your plan for me?
My relationships with others always turned out bad, as did my friendships, my family interactions, and my associates at work. I struggled every day just to keep my job and support my broken family.
So, one day I began to shout to the sky and heaven saying, God where are you? Where are you? I hear about you almost every day since I was an infant, but I don't know you. If you are real and you love me and care about me; if you are that God that came from heaven who walked on this earth preaching, teaching, forgiving, and healing having died on the cross, and rose again on the third day, then please come into my heart. I repent of all my sins. I need you Jesus to reveal yourself to me.
This confession and profession changed my life. Now I can testify as to what is written in Job 42:2-5, "My ears had heard you but now my eyes have seen you." Even though I had heard about him I never before had a personal encounter with him. Now I can feel him deep in my heart even if I am in one of my worst days, because something deep inside me tells me that he is with me all the time. I can feel his presence every morning when I get up and see the morning light; when I look to the ocean; when I see nature that is all around me; and even when the wind is blowing.
This verse is now true for my life. "You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed.” Joshua 23:14
Every promise has been fulfilled in my life, not one has failed.
The Christian faith uses a similar but albeit a different Bible as Catholicism and Episcopalism. It contains the same 66 books however, an additional seven writings have been added to the latter two faiths, which are not considered as part of the original canon of scripture.
The belief system, based on Biblical content, is that in order to become a Christian a person must:
- Repent, acknowledging one’s sin (including sins of mental attitude, words, and such actions as adultery, fornication, extortion, cheating, homosexuality, slander, etc.)
- Profess a belief in Christ who, as one of the members of the trinity:
- Left heaven and was born of a virgin through conception by the Holy Spirit.
- Has two natures, undiminished deity as well as true humanity.
- Lived a sinless life and evidenced the characteristics of Godliness while in human form.
- Was rejected by the Jews as their Messiah.
- Was crucified on a cross, paying the debt owed for the sins of the whole world and removing the record of such.
- Rose from the dead after three days in a resurrected glorified body, never to die again.
- Was witnessed after his resurrection by over five hundred people while he was still on earth.
- Ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father.
- It is a belief in this Jesus that the Holy Spirit is received, as he comes and indwells the believer’s physical body.
In regard to Christian growth:
- A follower of Christ should learn about doctrinal basics such as forgiveness, sanctification, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth, the trinity, personal sanctification, etc.
- Spiritual growth involves learning about the new person one becomes at salvation.
- Salvation refers to the bundle of benefits that a person receives when they believe in Christ, including the indwelling Holy Spirit, becoming a new creation, receiving eternal life and spiritual gifts, etc.
- These new truths are appropriated through hearing, memorization, and meditation.
- As one embraces new, righteous patterns of thinking, the indwelling Holy Spirit gives a witness of His presence through the spiritual qualities of love, joy, peace, etc., which express the nature of the Spirit-filled life. In this way, the righteousness of the Law (not only the Ten Commandments, but all of the Mosaic Law) is fulfilled.
- Some believe that the receipt of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the believer will go to heaven when they die. If they commit habitual sin, God will chastise or discipline, hopefully causing an acknowledgement of the sin and a desire to replace sinful thoughts with His perspective.
- Others believe that the Christian can lose the indwelling Holy Spirit and go to hell at physical death as a result of habitual sin without repentance.
- There is a literal place called Hell, where those who choose not to repent and profess belief in Christ will go at physical death.
This is fascinating—such divergence of thoughts concerning what a person must do in each faith, and it truly does appear that everyone is sincere in their efforts.
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2R.B. Thieme Jr., The Divine Outline of History (Houston, Texas: Berachah Tapes and Publications, 1989).
3“What if a Jew has a Christian family”, 02 Oct. 2013 <http://answers.yahoo.com/question/ index?qid=20100923212758AA3zAoV>.
4“Buddha oracle”, 25 Oct. 2013 <http://en.wikiversity. org/wiki/Buddha_oracle>.
5“Confirmation”, 03 Oct. 2013 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04215b.htm>.
6Jeff Vehige. “The Doctrine of Transubstantiation.”, 2008, 04 Oct. 2013 <http://catholic-teaching.org/ >.
7“Receiving the Lord in Holy Communion”. 5 Oct. 2013 <http://www.beginningcatholic.com/communion. html>.
8“A Beginners Guide to the Anglican Church”. 09 Oct. 2013 <http://www.stjohnsroslyn.org.nz/guide_to_the_ anglican_church.html>.
9Jack Savada. “Christian Science Church Beliefs and Practices”, 05 Nov. 2013 <http://christianity.about. com/od/christianscience/a/christsciencebeliefs.htm>.
10“David J. Stewart. “Christian Science-EXPOSED!”, 06 Nov. 2013
14“Christian Science Church Beliefs and Practices”.
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