Buddhism and Christianity Today

Buddhism and Christianity Today

Dr. Jim Denison

Historical background:

Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.) is the founder of Buddhism. He lived in nobility and wealth until he was 29 when, shortly after the birth of his son, he came to despair the meaninglessness of his life. And so he renounced his life of royalty and lived the life of a wandering seeker for some six years.

First he tried Hindu metaphysics, then adopted the life of an extreme ascetic. But neither provided the answers he was seeking. Finally Gautama admitted to himself that he was a defeated man; in this moment, he later claimed, he experienced his “enlightenment.” This caused him later to be called the “Buddha” (“the Enlightened One”). This was his experience of “nirvana” or deliverance.

Following his enlightenment, he chose to become a missionary to others. He gave seven weeks to preparation, then traveled to Sarnath, near Benares, the sacred city of the Hindus. Here he preached his first sermon and began his career of disciple-making which would last until his death in 483 B.C.

Original or “hinayana” form of Buddhism

This form of Buddhism denounces Hindu asceticism, mysticism, and speculation. Gautama’s teachings are collected as the Doctrine of the Middle Path: the Three Basic Principles, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Noble Path. This is the original form of Buddhism, known as Hinayana Buddhism, Southern Buddhism, or Theravada.

The Three Basic Principles are the following:

Anicca–nothing is permanent, including human personality.

Dukkha–sorrow is implicit in all life and experience.

Its source is our desire, clinging to the illusion of individual existence.

We cannot gain what we want, and we cannot escape what we dislike. This condition produces the inner frustration and external conflict which create misery and suffering.

Anatta–the doctrine of “no soul,” a focal concept of Buddhism. We are made of five aggregates:

Physical body

Sensations

Perception (ideas)

Consciousness

Thought.

These are held together by an intangible “thread of life.” At “death” the five aggregates (“skandas”) separate from each other. They never come together again in the same combination, although each individual skanda will unite with four other skandas to create a new human life. Thus there is no unique soul dwelling in or as a body. This endless cycle is called Paticca-samuppada.

Buddhism therefore also rejects the Hindu concept of reincarnation. There is the rebirth of skandas in ever-differing combinations (karma), but no migration of a soul-entity from one body or likeness to another. Final salvation (nirvana) comes when none of the component skandas ever again unites with others to form a new life.

The Four Noble Truths are the following:

All suffering is inevitable.

The origin of suffering is desire and craving–especially the desire for separate, individual, everlasting existence.

The extinction of suffering is achieved through the elimination of all desire.

The way to the destruction of all desire is the Eightfold Noble Path.

The Eightfold Noble Path (Magga):

Right understanding

Right thoughts

Right speech

Right action

Right livelihood

Right effort

Right meditation

Right concentration

This Path is believed to break the fetters that bind us to life, and thus to suffering. When these fetters are all broken, we achieve nirvana.

The development of the “Sangha” (congregations) of monks:

These are not priests or intermediaries between god and humans, but rather persons who have given themselves totally to the Eightfold Noble Path. This kind of total commitment is necessary to achieve enlightenment. Thus the Hinayana way (“little vehicle,” or “few they be who are saved”).

The Hinayana canon: the Tipataka (“three baskets”), written in Ceylon in the Pali language about 25 B.C. The “Teaching Basket” contains the alleged teachings of Gautama; the other two “baskets” contain rules for monks and psychological principles.

Zen: a variation of Hinayana

This variation appeared in China in the 6th century and has grown widely since the 13th century, and is especially popular in Japan. It teaches concentrated contemplation, by which adherents hope to achieve enlightenment (santori). It also stresses immediacy, with little emphasis on logic, words, or letters

Zen emphasizes the possibility of enlightenment here and now and uses simple beauty as an object of meditation, in seeking to be enlightened.

Mahayana form of Buddhism (from the north: “Mahayana” means “large” or “wide is the gate and all may pass through it”). This group split from the Hanayana about one hundred years after Buddha’s death.

Almost infinite in variety

Modifies Buddhism so as to open it to all persons, as opposed to the strict monastic lifestyle of those seeking enlightenment through the Hinayana approach

Is today the principal form of Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan

No canonical scripture; its classic document is the Lotus Sutra (“Lotus of the Good Law”)

Emphasizes heavily the Bodhasittvas (“wisdom beings”); these persons are on their way to final enlightenment, but delay for the purpose of helping others until all are enlightened; can appear as an apparition or in a ghost-like body

Has developed highly ornate religious symbols and buildings

Is Buddhism for the masses, with much lower spiritual and moral standards than the Hinayana

One example: Japanese Mahayana Buddhism, from China by way of Korea five centuries after Christ; one popular form involves a Bodhisatva whose features are seen all over Japan; she is the compassionate Kannon, with a female form said to be modeled on a 8th century empress of China.

In America, the three most popular forms of Buddhism are the following:

Zen

Soka Gakkai, called Nichiren Shoshu in America. This 13th century zealous Japanese leader taught chanting and immediate spiritual experience; his movement has grown from a few thousand in 1945 to 20 million worldwide, and is especially popular in the United States.

Pure Land–looks back to a Bodhisattva named Amitabha, or Amida Buddha, who long ago accumulated such a vast store of merit during his progress toward salvation that he vowed to bestow on all who trusted in him an assured rebirth; the only requirements are perfect faith and sincerity and simply repeating, “Hail Amida-Buddha.” This movement, popular in Hawaii, asserts the reality of a life after death, thus the necessity of a self or soul.


Christian Science and Christianity

Christian Science and Christianity

Dr. Jim Denison

“A cult…is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).

Basic traits:

Authority figure

Extrabiblical text

Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity

General characteristics:

Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith

Claims new truth

Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture

Cites non-biblical authority source(s)

Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity

Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology

Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons

Almost always offers a salvation by works

Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims

Introduction to Christian Science

Christian Science was founded by Mary Morse Baker Glover Patterson Eddy. She was born in Bow, New Hampshire in 1821. Her parents were members of a Congregationalist church; its strict doctrine of predestination troubled her as a youth Her life later became characterized by the rejection of central Christian doctrines.

Discovery of “Christian Science”:

In 1866, while still married to Daniel Patterson, she had a serious fall which allegedly brought her near death (the attending physician disputed her account of the severity of her injuries). The principles she “discovered” during this time were to become the basis of Christian Science.

In 1875 her work Science and Health was published; in 1883 Key to the Scriptures was added; for these works, she claimed divine revelation.

The founding of the church:

In 1879 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the Church of Christ Scientist was organized

In 1892, the name was changed to the First Church of Christ Scientist

In 1895 the Church Manual was published, establishing the procedures of governing the church.

The death of Mrs. Eddy

Although she taught that death is “an illusion, the life of life” (Science and Health 584:9), she died on Dec. 3, 1910. Today a self-perpetuating board of directors governs the church. The church does not keep statistics on its membership, but it is estimated to be more than three million worldwide.

Claims

Christian Science believes it has restored the lost element in Christianity, namely healing. When this is applied, it demonstrates itself to work. This knowledge was revealed to Mrs. Eddy, who shared it with the world.

Mrs. Eddy: “Late in the nineteenth century I demonstrated the divine rules of Christian Science. They were submitted to the broadest practical test, and everywhere, when honestly applied under circumstances where demonstration was humanly possible, this science showed that truth had lost none of its divine and healing efficacy, even though centuries had passed away since Jesus practiced these rules on the hills of Judea and in the valleys of Galilee” (SH 147:6-13).

Authority source

Mrs. Eddy claimed that, “as adherents of the Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal life” (SH 497:3-4).

However, she taught that the Bible contains numerous mistakes and contradictions, and make it unreliable (SH 139:15-22; 522:3-5).

Thus in practice, her works are used to interpret the text, and are more significant to the group’s distinctive theology.

“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy is the “textbook” if Christian Science and the primary source for any understanding of the subject. It’s the book for those who want to examine the whole of the theology as it speaks to both head and heart–for those who want to experience the theology for themselves (Christian Science xii).

Note: her writings appear to be basic plagiarisms of the works of Phineas Quimby, a self-professed faith healer at the turn of the century who called his work “the science of the Christ” and “Christian Science.”

Basic beliefs

Ultimate reality:

God is defined as “Divine Principle” (SH 115:13-14; cf. her Miscellaneous Writings 16:21,22).

Jesus Christ:

Basic statement: “Christ is the ideal truth that comes to heal sickness and sin through Christian Science, and attributes all power to God. Jesus is the name of the man who, more than all other men, has presented Christ, the true idea of God . . . Jesus is the human man, and Christ is the divine idea; hence the duality of Jesus the Christ (SH 473:9-16).

Claim: “Jesus Christ is not God” (SH 361:12)

Mankind:

The “mortal mind” is the source of the illusions of evil, sickness, sin and death. We struggle with “animal magnetism”–wrong thinking, which causes us to experience the illusion of evil; malicious animal magnetism can kill those it is practiced against.

We can have unity between our mind and that of God, as was demonstrated by Christ.

In fact, sin and evil do not exist:

“Christ came to destroy the belief of sin” (SH 473).

“Evil is but an illusion, and it has no real basis. Evil is a false belief, God is not its author” (SH 480:23,24).

Central focus: Christian healing

Principles given through Mrs. Eddy: “Our Master…practiced Christian healing…but left no definite rule for demonstrating this Principle of healing and preventing disease. This rule remained to be discovered by Christian Science” (SH 147:24-29).

By faith and practice of Christian Science healing principles, every conceivable kind of disease can supposedly be healed.

Salvation:

Not by the blood of Christ: “The material blood of Jesus was no more efficacious to cleanse from sin when it was shed upon “the accursed tree” than when it was flowing in his veins as he went daily about his Father’s business” (SH 25:6-8).

When Life, Truth, and Love are understood and demonstrated as supreme over all, sin, sickness and death are destroyed (SH 593:20-22).

Because there is no such thing as “sin,” “salvation” is totally unnecessary.

Ultimate destiny:

No such thing as a final judgment.


Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christianity

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christianity

Dr. Jim Denison

“A cult…is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).

Basic traits:

Authority figure

Extrabiblical text

Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity

General characteristics:

Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith

Claims new truth

Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture

Cites non-biblical authority source(s)

Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity

Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology

Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons

Almost always offers a salvation by works

Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims

Introduction to Jehovah’s Witnesses

Charles Taze Russell is founder of the movement. He was born February 16, 1852 near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1870, while a teenager and without formal theological training, Russell organized a Bible class; its members eventually made him their “pastor”

In 1879, he founded the magazine Zion’s Watchtower; in 1886 he wrote the first volume of seven books, later retitled Studies in the Scriptures. By his death in 1916, “Pastor” Russell had, according to the Watchtower, traveled more than a million miles, given more than thirty thousand sermons, and written books totaling over fifty thousand pages.

Joseph F. Rutherford became the second President of the Watchtower Society after Russell’s death. He had been the society’s legal counselor beforehand. Under his leadership the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was adopted

He moved the society’s headquarters to Brooklyn. Nathan Knorr succeeded Rutherford following his death in 1942. Under his presidency the society increased from 115,000 to over two million members.

In 1961, the society produced its own English Bible translation, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Frederick W. Franz succeeded Knorr after his death in 1977. He is spokesman for the translation committee of the New World Translation, although he has no recognized qualifications as a translator of either Hebrew or Greek.

Status and claims:

Jehovah’s Witnessesnumber over two million today. The group claims to be the only correct church. Regarding the Christian church: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are no part of Christendom. In fact, Christendom was founded nearly 300 years after Jesus’ death, and its beliefs have greatly deviated from what Jesus taught” (Jehovah’s Witnesses 3).

The Watchtower believes itself to be the only organization speaking correctly for God today; considers the Scripture Studies to be “practically the Bible itself” (Charles Taze Russell, The Watchtower [September 15, 1910], 298; quoted in McDowell, 57).

Authority sources:

The society contends that the Scriptures are the society’s final authority, but follow only their New World edition

Their doctrinal views are to be found in their various publications, including The Watchtower and Awake; these are considered authoritative.

Basic beliefs

Ultimate reality: uni-personal God

Rejects the Trinity as the invention of Christendom centuries after the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is a created being.

Their statement: “we do not accept Christendom’s belief in the Trinity, which teaches that Jesus is God himself. Nowhere do the Scriptures contain this blasphemous teaching” (Jehovah’s Witnesses 3).

Follows the ancient heresy known as Arianism, which teaches that Jesus was of a different substance than the Father, and was created by him.

Jesus was Michael the Archangel in his preexistent state, with a brother named Lucifer who rebelled against God while Michael remained obedient; at his physical birth the Son of God was transferred to the embryo of a human; after his resurrection he went back to his former state as an invisible spirit.

His death provided a legal means of rescuing us from the consequences of Adam’s sin and bringing faithful people into the promised earthly paradise (ibid).

The Holy Spirit is not part of the Godhead; he is the “invisible active force of Almighty God” (Let God Be True 108; quoted in McDowell, 73). “Holy Spirit” is never capitalized in the New World Translation.

Mankind

Created by God, as a combination of the dust of the earth and the breath of life

Does not receive an eternal, immortal soul; when he dies he is “dead as a dog” (Russell, Scripture Studies v:406; quoted in Gerstner, 18).

Through the redemption of Christ man is kept from eternal death and is preserved in an unconscious state until the resurrection when he will be reawakened and will remember himself (Gerstner 18). Their statement: “the Bible does not teach the concept of an immortal soul…Rather, future life for the dead is based on God’s remembrance of them in a resurrection” (Jehovah’s Witnesses 6).

Central focus: the Kingdom of Jehovah

They believe that this kingdom is a real government, and that the rule of this government will restore true peace to the earth (ibid 4).

The society is the “witness” of Jehovah, preparing for the coming of this Kingdom in our generation (ibid 5).

Salvation

Not based on grace but works

“They, each for himself, may have a full chance to prove, by obedience or disobedience, their worthiness of life eternal” (Russell, Studies in the Scriptures I:158; quoted in McDowell, 73).

“All who by reason of faith in Jehovah God and in Christ Jesus dedicate themselves to do God’s will and then faithfully carry out their dedication will be rewarded with everlasting life” (Let God Be God 298; quoted in McDowell, 73).

Thus requires witnessing and other missionary endeavors.

Future

Unbelievers will be annihilated

The “Little Flock” is the 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who live in heaven after their death

All other Jehovah’s Witnesses barred from heaven and live instead on Paradise Earth.

Apologetics and Jehovah’s Witnesses

Show the biblical contradictions with their theology

The divinity of Jesus (John 1:1-2; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3)

Salvation by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9)


Job and Joel Osteen

Job and Joel Osteen

Job 1:1-5

James C. Denison

Joel Osteen’s new book, Become A Better You, was released this past Monday. Joel has become the pastor of America’s largest church, and is a bestselling author and international figure. He has been interviewed this week on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and talk shows across the country.

In the first chapter of his new book he writes, “Don’t be weighed down by the distractions and disappointments in life; instead, keep stretching to the n ext level, reaching for your highest potential. If you do that, I can tell you with confidence your best days are in front of you. God is going to show you more of His blessings and favor, and you will become a better you, better than you ever dreamed possible” (p. 18).

I have no doubt that this message of positive thinking is helping many people. But what do we do when prosperity doesn’t come to us? When innocent suffering is the reality of our lives? Peter’s future led to a crucifixion, upside down; Paul’s to a beheading; John’s to an exile on Patmos. God’s faithful servants are not always rewarded on earth for their obedience. Of all the people who deserve to be battling leukemia in the hospital today, Dr. Gary Cook is last on the list. But that’s where he is, and I am hurting with him and grieving for his family.

Here’s the fact for today: no matter how our world changes, God doesn’t. Today we’ll see why that fact is so crucial to the help and hope of God, wherever we need it most.

When life caves in

The Book of Job centers on a character who likely predated the Hebrew race and faith.

Job never refers to Abraham, the patriarchs, or the law of Moses. He makes no mention of the Promised Land or the covenant of God with the nation of Israel. The book refers to peoples who thrived before Abraham was born.

But Job was a very real person, not a literary figure; he is described in Ezekiel 14:14 as a righteous man and is commended in James 5:11 for his perseverance.

He lived in Uz, an area east of Israel, encompassing Edom to the south and Aram in the north. Depending on its size, the area could include parts of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Iraq today.

Our text describes him as “blameless and upright.” The two terms go together in the Hebrew syntax, for they are two sides of the same character.

“Blameless” means “complete, mature, lacking nothing,” a man of complete integrity and righteousness in his personal character. “Upright” means “standing straight,” a person who is unwilling to compromise morally, someone who is always honest in his relations with others.

At the same time, “blameless” does not mean sinless. All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). Job was “blameless and upright” in that he sought to live by God’s law in every dimension of his life.

In addition, Job “feared God and shunned evil,” words which also go together in the original grammar. To “fear God” is to reverence him, to respect him deeply. To “shun evil” is to avoid it every time, at all costs. Job was a man of enormous integrity and spirituality, as our text will soon demonstrate.

It was just this character which Satan would attack.

Soon his oxen, donkeys, sheep and camels were stolen and his servants killed (vs. 13-17). Most devastating of all, a “mighty wind” (probably a tornado) from the Arabian Desert then killed all of Job’s children (vs. 18-19). In a single day, “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (v. 3) was reduced to horrific despair and poverty.

Then his health was taken from him. The Bible does not name Job’s disease (if it even had a medical name or description). We know that it caused him to endure “painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head” (Job 2:7). These sores or boils would break and fester over his entire body (Job 7:5); he would endure nightmares (7:14), scabs which became black (30:28, 30), a disfigured and revolting appearance (2:12; 19:19), bad breath (19:17), weight loss (17:7; 19:20), fever (30:30), and pain all day and night (30:17).

A disease known as “hypogammaglobulinemia” matches most of Job’s symptoms. This is an autoimmune deficiency which leads to respiratory infections, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, rheumatoid arthritis, and pneumonia. The patient often experiences bacterial infections which produce skin reactions and boils. Whatever afflicted Job, it was horrific.

It is impossible for us to imagine Job’s torment. His physical response was consistent with Oriental mourning: “Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head” (Job 1:20a). But his spiritual response was unique and astounding: “Then he fell to the ground in worship” (v. 20b).

Admitting that he had nothing at birth and would have nothing at death (v. 21a), he concluded: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (v. 21b). And so, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (v. 22). How can we do the same?

How to trust the God you cannot see

This fall we’ve been exploring the nature of God Almighty. We’ve learned that he is awesome, to be feared and reverenced.

At the same time, we’ve discovered that he is intimately interested in every one of us. He knows everything about us and cares about every part of our lives.

God Almighty is love almighty. He didn’t have to make a single one of us–the planet had enough people before we were born. He wanted to make us. He loves us and likes us and cherishes us as a Father cherishes his children.

But he is Judge Almighty as well. His holiness requires him to condemn sin and judge sinners.


Judaism and Christianity Today

Judaism and Christianity Today

Dr. Jim Denison

Introduction

According to 2008 statistics, the world Jewish population numbers about 13.3 million. About 5.5 million live in Israel and 7.7 million live in the Diaspora, with 5.5 million in the United States. That means that about 41.3 percent of the world Jews now live in the Jewish state.

Most Jews in the U.S. are “Ashkenazim,” descendants of Jewish communities in central and Eastern Europe. Others are “Sephardim,” descendants of Jews from Spain, Portugal, other Mediterranean countries, and the Middle East. Nearly all of them reject the Christian claim that Jesus is their Messiah and our Lord.

History

The Jews trace their beginnings to Abraham (ca. 2000 B.C.). The Lord promised him, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

The Hebrew nation is traced from Abraham through Isaac to his son Jacob and his twelve sons (the “twelve tribes of Israel”). The Jewish people spent 400 years enslaved in Egypt, before God liberated them through the parting of the Red Sea and the Exodus. They eventually conquered the land of Canaan, the Holy Land today.

After the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, the nation split in two. The ten northern tribes were captured by Assyria in 922 B.C. and disappeared. The two southern tribes were enslaved by Babylon in 586 B.C., but returned to their land 70 years later. The nation existed until it was destroyed by Rome in A.D. 70. In 1948 the Jewish people regained their homeland, the modern state of Israel.

Contemporary Judaism

Orthodox: By the beginning of the 19th century, this term described those who maintained that the entire written and oral Torah was divinely revealed and immutable.

The Shulhan Arukh–the 16th century code of law compiled by Joseph Caro, together with commentaries and later decisions–constitutes a fixed and binding standard for proper Jewish life.

Reform: Rejects the idea of a permanently-binding religious law. Thus the most “progressive” of the three movements.

Conservative: Believes that Reform Judaism is in error in rejecting Jewish law. Also believes that Orthodox Judaism is mistaken in wedding adherence to Jewish law to a fundamentalism which rejects changes or developments in Judaism.

Apologetics and Judaism

The Jewish worldview is intensely practical and pragmatic; thus we must show our lives to be different and our faith real. With no world religion is the practical test more important.

We must show who Jesus claimed to be:

Messiah (Matthew 1:1)

Lord (John 13:13)

Savior (John. 3:16)

Ruler and King (Revelation 5).

Show that Jesus claimed to fulfill Messianic prophecy:

Matthew 5:17: “I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”

Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in the Scriptures.”

Acts 17:2-3: “And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.'”

Show that Jesus did fulfill such prophecy.

Offer the opportunity to be “completed” by faith in Jesus as his or her personal Messiah.


Miscellaneous Cults

Miscellaneous Cults

Dr. Jim Denison

“A cult…is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).

Basic traits:

Authority figure

Extrabiblical text

Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity

General characteristics:

Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith

Claims new truth

Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture

Cites non-biblical authority source(s)

Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity

Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology

Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons

Almost always offers a salvation by works

Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims

Hare Krishna: International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

History

15 century A.D.: Chaitanya Mahaprabhu developed The Doctrines of Krishnaism from the Hindu sect of Vishnuism

Believed that Krishna is the chief God who manifested himself one time as Vishnu (opposite of classical Hinduism)

Teaches that every individual must go through reincarnation to rid himself of the debt of karma

Krishnaism made Hinduism appealing to the masses by personalizing god and our interaction with him

Came to America by means of Abhay Charan De Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1965

Founded ISKCON and led it until his death in 1978

Today a wealthy organization, with about 10,000 members in America

Beliefs

God: Krishna, who “creates all and enjoys all” was in the beginning

No real distinction between him and his creation

Jesus Christ is only Krishna’s son

Man: part of creation; can be absorbed into reality

Central focus: this relationship

Salvation: by self-denial and a series of works as prescribed by the cult

Eternal destiny: absorption into reality after karma is cleansed and payment made

Transcendental Meditation (The Science of Creative Intelligence)

History

Founded by Mahesh Brasad Warma, later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (born in India around 1910)

After graduating from Allahabad University in 1942 with a physics degree, Mahesh became the disciple of the Indian religious leader Guru Dev; he taught Mahesh a meditation technique taken from the Vedas (part of the Hindu scripture)

The Maharishi founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in India, 1958; came to America in 1959 and set up his organization here; today several million people in the U.S. and around the world have been taught these meditation techniques

Claims

Will improve health, self-image, productivity, intelligence, and creativity

Supposed to have no religious basis or bias

In fact, has been ruled by a New Jersey federal court to be religious in nature, and thus enjoined from use in public schools (Civil Action No. 76-341)

Maharishi claims that TM will make everyone “infallible,” and derides the use of logic and rational investigation

Beliefs

God: a “supreme being,” identified with nature, who dwells in the heart of every person

Jesus Christ never suffered or could suffer; the theology of atonement is a misunderstanding of the life of Christ

Man: in his true nature, the impersonal God

Central focus: self-realization through Hindu meditation techniques

Salvation: Hindu concept of oneness with reality

Eternal destiny: oneness with reality

Children of God (the Family of Love)

History

Founded by David Brandt Berg (born Oakland, CA, Feb. 18, 1919)

His mother was a prominent evangelist, his father a minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance

David Berg became a pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, first in Arizona in 1949; left after a falling-out with the church leadership in 1950, and became embittered against all organized religion

In 1968 he and his family moved to Huntington Beach, CA and developed a small following of people, basically from the counter-culture

Convinced in 1969 that a great earthquake was imminent and California would slide into the Pacific Ocean, he and about 50 followers left California for Arizona; several years later the movement scattered across the country in small groups

Today the “Family of Love” (their current name) boast about 25,000 members including children; Berg (Moses David, Father David, or King David) lives in Europe, oversees the group, and writes letters

Beliefs

Authority source: the letters of Moses David (“MO letters”); he is the prophet for this generation, and his correspondence is the literal guide for the movement

Theology: there has never been a statement of belief issued by the Children of God; can infer from Berg’s statements:

Jesus: created by God; no “Trinity”

Revolution: the group forsakes all “for Jesus,” giving up all material possessions to the group and forsaking their allegiance to families; it advocates a revolutionary take-over of the current cultural systems

Sex: Berg maintains concubines; the top leaders have sexual affairs with the girls in the group; “all things common” (Acts 2.44) applies to wives and husbands; will use sex to entice people to join or contribute to the cult (“Flirty Fishing”)

Unity (Unity School of Christianity)

History

Founded by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore (Charles born 1854, St. Cloud, MN; he and Myrtle married in 1881)

Myrtle was “healed” of tuberculosis and malaria in 1886 at a lecture led by E. B. Weeks

His statement: “I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness”

Myrtle believed the statement and recited it over and over; eventually she was healed

Charles studied this and other eastern religions in detail, practiced his wife’s meditation technique, and experiencing the healing of his withered leg

Then he joined Myrtle in founding the Unity School of Christianity

Following the Fillmores’ deaths (hers 1931, his 1948), the leadership of Unity was taken over by their two sons, Lowell and Rickert, and subsequently experienced rapid growth


Mormonism and Christianity

Mormonism and Christianity

Dr. Jim Denison

“A cult…is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).

Basic traits:

Authority figure

Extrabiblical text

Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity

General characteristics:

Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith

Claims new truth

Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture

Cites non-biblical authority source(s)

Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity

Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology

Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons

Almost always offers a salvation by works

Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims

Contemporary Mormonism–“Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”

Membership:

13 million worldwide in 20,081 wards and branches in 146 countries

4.2 million in all 50 states of America; Canada: 125,000

Missionaries: 46,025 in 95 countries

Fastest-growing “religion” in America

Has quadrupled in less than 50 years

Gained almost 315,000 converts last year

At current growth rates, would number 250 million within a century, larger than any Christian body except the Roman Catholic Church

45% of adherents live outside the U.S. today

The Mormon Church is an $8 billion-a-year corporation. $4 billion contributed by members each year; would rank 110th among the Fortune 500; one of the largest landowners in the U.S.

History of Mormonism

Founder: Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) founded the Mormon Church. He was born December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont, the fourth of 10 children to Joseph and Lucy Mac Smith. In 1817 he moved to Palmyra, NY. Most of his family soon joined the Presbyterian Church, but young Joseph remained undecided. He saw conflict and strife in all Christian denominations.

He claimed to have visions which led to the founding of the church:

First vision: 1820 (14 years old)–it was revealed to him that no Christian church was right (The Pearl of Great Price 2.18,19).

Second vision: September 21, 1823–Moroni, a heavenly messenger, revealed to him a book on golden plates; finally on September 22, 1927 he was given these plates. The book was translated by Smith and published on March 26, 1830

The church’s founding

The church began on April 6, 1830 at Fayette, New York as the “church of Christ”; the name eventually changed to the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” The group began to grow and moved to Kirtland, Ohio Expansion engendered opposition with battles fought between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri and Illinois.

Smith’s death

Smith was imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois with his brother Hyrum for destroying and burning printing presses and newspapers opposing his movement.

On June 27, 1844, a mob of about 200 stormed the jail and killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith; Joseph shot several of the mob members with his gun before his death. The Mormons consider him a martyr for the cause.

Brigham Young

The President of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young led the group after Smith’s death. They moved westward, and on July 24, 1847, arrived at Salt Lake Valley in Utah. This became their national headquarters

By his death in 1877, there were approximately 150,000 members. Smaller group, descended from Smith, established its headquarters in Independence, Missouri and became the “Reorganized Latter-Day Saints”

Sources of authority

The Bible: “We believe the Bible to be the Word of God in so far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Article 8). However, the Book of Mormon claims that a correct translation of the Bible is impossible since the Catholic Church has corrupted it (1 Nephi 13:26b,27). Thus the church depends much more on its other books than on the biblical materials.

The Book of Mormon: “We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God” (Articles of Faith, Section Eight). Supposedly there is an account of the original inhabitants of America, to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection.

Claims that in early times America was peopled by descendants of Israel

Nephites (a race of righteous white people)

Lamanites (a race of warlike, evil, and dark-skinned people; they are supposed to be the ancestors of the Native American population of today)

Jesus appeared on this continent and founded a group

Mormon, the last leader of the Nephites, supposedly collected the record of his people, and inscribed it on golden plates. It describes reported religious practices of the ancient Americans, including that the Nephites continued their Jewish traditions on this continent, building temples to God, having spiritual revivals, and even establishing a Christian church. Mormon records a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ himself among the Nephite people (3 Nephi 11). Thus the Mormon Church contends that the Book of Mormon is “another testament of Jesus Christ.”

Moroni, the last surviving Nephite (after their destruction by the Lamanites) and son of Mormon supposedly buried the plates in a hill in what later became Manchester County, New York. Joseph Smith supposedly recovered these plates in 1827 when the resurrected Moroni, appearing as an angel, told him where to dig for them; Moroni later took the plates to heaven (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith–History, 1:27-65). The inscriptions were written in a language Smith called “reformed Egyptian” which he was supposedly able to decipher miraculously; he published these inscriptions as the Book of Mormon.

Doctrine and Covenants: a record of 136 revelations concerning some of Mormonism’s distinctive doctrines, such as baptism for the dead and celestial marriage.

The Pearl of Great Price:

“Book of Moses”–roughly equivalent to the first 6 chapters of Genesis

“Book of Abraham”–translation of an Egyptian papyrus

Extract from Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible


Scientology and Christianity

Scientology and Christianity

Dr. Jim Denison

“A cult…is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).

Basic traits:

•Authority figure

•Extrabiblical text

•Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity

General characteristics:

•Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith

•Claims new truth

•Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture

•Cites non-biblical authority source(s)

•Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity

•Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology

•Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons

•Almost always offers a salvation by works

•Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims

Introduction to Scientology

“Scientology” means “the study of truth.” The movement was founded in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard, an American fiction writer. He had earlier authored a self-help system called Dianetics. Hubbard later called Scientology an “applied religious philosophy” and the basis for a new religion. Hubbard produced more than 500,000 pages of writings in support of his movement, working from 1952 until his death in January of 1986. He is called “Source” by his followers.

As a young man, Hubbard was highly influenced by Freudian analysis. He later befriended writers who were influenced by the Hindu concept of karma and the theories of Carl Jung. He credited the Tao Te Ching, the Dharma, and Gautama Buddha as forerunners of his movement.

The Church claims some 10 million members, though objective estimates place the number at 100,000 to 500,000. The first Church of Scientology was incorporated in Camden, New Jersey in 1953. When a Scientology Mission reaches the size required to administer all courses and auditing to reach the State of Clear, it is considered a church. There are 142 Churches in 28 countries around the world, and over 300 missions in 50 countries. Advanced Organizations are located in Los Angeles; Clearwater, Florida; the United Kingdom; Sydney, Australia; Copenhagen, Denmark; and the cruise ship Freewinds. Organizations such as Narconon (to deal with drug rehabilition) are associated with Scientology.

Beliefs

Ultimate reality: Scientology is “the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life.” Followers believe that we are spiritual beings, that our existence spans more than one life, and that we are endowed with abilities beyond our normal experiences. We are basically good, though we err by considering only our own point of view.

The ultimate goal: “a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights.” Nothing is to be accepted on faith; all is to be tested by observation. Scientology provides means by which people can achieve greater spiritual awareness of themselves and their world.

Authority: There is no single book which forms the basis for Scientology. 15 books, 15,000 pages of writing, and over 3,000 lectures compose the “canon” of the religion. Followers study these books and lectures in chronological order.

Mankind: We are immortal spirit beings (thetans) who possess both mind and body. We have lived through many past lives and will continue to live beyond the death of the body. Through “auditing,” we can free ourselves of past traumas and bad decisions which restrict us from being “Clear” and then an “Operating Thetan.”

In each state we recover our spiritual abilities and achieve mental and physical benefits. We are good but become “aberrated” by pain and unconsciousness. Psychiatry and psychology are destructive practices which keep us from progressing toward our personal fulfillment.

We are Mind, Body, and Spirit.

•The thetan (spirit/individual being) has no mass or energy; it is the creator of all other things.

•The Mind is the way our thetan communicates with our environment. We have an “analytical” or conscious mind and a “reactive” or subconscious mind. Dianetics helps us resolve our engrams (bank of traumatic memories) which inhitibit our success and happiness. Many of these have been accumulated in past lives, as thetans have lived for tens of trillions of years.

•Some of our past traumas resulted from “implants” used by extraterrestrials such as Helatrobus to brainwash and control us. A gigantic Church of Spiritual Technology symbol is carved into the ground at Scientology’s Trementina Base so that followers know how to find Hubbard’s works in future lives when they travel to Earth from other places in the universe.

•The Body is a carbon-oxygen machine engineered by the Thetan.

We live successfully when we coordinate affinity (emotions), reality, and communication (the exchange of ideas). This is the ARC triangle. When we increase Knowledge, Responsibility, and Control, we improve our lives and take control over our environment. This is the KRC triangle.

Progress

•The “tone scale” locates our behavior from -40 (“Total Failure”) to +40 (“Serenity of Being”). Emotions, physical health, mating behavior, and ability to deal with truth can help identify our place on the tone scale.

•Those who have achieved the State of Clear may proceed onto the Upper or OT (Operating Thetan) Levels. These are designated OT I to VIII, and are open only to those who have been invited into the process. OT VIII is granted only at sea, aboard the Freewinds, the Scientology ship. Teachings which lead to these levels has been guarded zealously by the movement, but some elements have been leaked by followers or entered into court records over the years.

•One example of these teachings has to do with Xenu, an alien ruler of the “Galactic Confederacy.” He brought billions of people to Earth 75 million years ago in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes, and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their souls stuck to the bodies of the living; alien souls continue to do this today, creating many of our problems and diseases. They are called “Body Thetans”; advanced Scientologists work hard to remove them and their effects.


The Gospel According to Starbucks

The Gospel According to Starbucks

2 Chronicles 7:11-16

James C. Denison

Starbucks is clearly America’s favorite coffee shop, with some $8 billion in sales last year. Since I don’t drink coffee, I have never bought their product. And so I was interested to learn that Starbucks prints quotes from customers on their cups. Some are quite interesting, or even inspiring.

But one cup and quote is not so uplifting. It was given to me last Sunday morning after church: “Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength and help? As cognitive beings, why would we ask something that may well be a figment of our imaginations for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to endure.” The quote is signed by Bill Scheel of Ontario, a self-described “modern day nobody.”

I have an answer for Mr. Scheel, and for anyone who is wondering how you can experience God today. We have learned that God Almighty is awesome, to be feared and revered; and that he is intimately interested in each of us. We have discovered that he is both love and judge. Now we learn that he responds to our faith, and yet he is unchanging. In everything he does he is awesome, intimate, love, and judge. He never changes. But the ways he acts can change, depending on us.

Let me show you why that theological fact is true, and why it is so crucial to living a life God can bless today.

Why does God bless his people?

God called Solomon to build his temple, a place where the Lord would always meet with his people, receive their sacrifices, and hear their prayers. But Solomon was the son of David’s adulterous liaison with Bathsheba. A man who had won no battles and had yet to accomplish anything of significance. How would such an untested leader accomplish the greatest and most significant building project in Israel’s history?

When we trust God, he responds to our faith with his grace.

The king had accumulated 100,000 talents of gold (3,750 tons) and a million talents of silver (37,500 tons; 1 Chronicles 21:14). I ran the numbers recently: that’s a total of $60,504,000,000. Solomon would inherit a net worth 25% greater than Bill Gates’. And that doesn’t count the “quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone” (v. 14). With this disclaimer: “And you may add to them.”

Who would utilize all these riches? His father had enlisted tradesmen in every kind of work (vs. 14-15). Who would help him organize this massive effort? David had enlisted “all the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon” (v. 17).

So it was that a man who had never won a battle, never built a kingdom, never built anything that we know of, was called to build the most important structure in human history. And succeeded. When we respond to God, he responds to us.

Now David’s son has finished his task. It would seem that he has achieved success for the ages. But success in his eyes or that of his people is immaterial. God is clear: only “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways” (2 Chronicles 7:14a) will he bless this Temple.

“Humble ourselves” means to admit that we need his help and hope and direction, that we cannot accomplish his purpose in our plans and power. So we submit ourselves to his plan, his will, his glory. It’s not about us–it’s all and only about him.

So we “pray” as we turn to his power and purposes, not our own. When we pray we “seek my face” with honest, heart-felt, intentional, intense, soul-giving prayers. We seek a personal, daily, intimate relationship with him.

When we do, we must “turn from our wicked ways.” The closer we draw to him, the more our sins are exposed by his light. You see the dirt on your hands not in the dark but in the light.

Only then will he “hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (v. 14b)–the purpose of this Temple.

Only then will his eyes be open and his ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place–the purpose of this Temple. Only then will he use the efforts of men for the eternal glory of God. Only then.

When we respond to God, he responds to us. When we pray, he answers; if we don’t, he doesn’t. When we seek his face we find him; if we don’t, we don’t. When we respond to God in faith, he responds to us in favor. When we don’t, he can’t. This is just how it is with the God who responds to the people he has made.

Does God change his mind?

Have you ever wondered about the times when Scripture indicates that God “changed his mind”? There are numerous biblical references which seem to indicate that God did this. Remember Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah–if ten righteous people had been found, God would have changed his plan to destroy the city (Genesis 18-19).

Other examples are even clearer:

When Moses prayed for the nation as they worshiped the golden calf, “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:14).

God told the prophet Jeremiah, “At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it” (Jeremiah 18:8).

When God showed Amos the destruction he planned for the sinful nation, Amos prayed for his mercy. Then “the Lord relented concerning this; ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord” (Amos 7:3).


The Secret and Your Soul

The Secret and Your Soul

Genesis 3:1-5

James C. Denison

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne has sold more than seven million copies to date. It’s been featured on Oprah Winfrey and talk shows around the country, made into a movie, and is now downloaded as an Internet video. Here are some excerpts which summarize its message:

“You can have, be, or do anything you want” (p. xii). Here’s how: “Decide what you want to be, do, and have, think the thoughts of it, emit the frequency, and your vision will become your life” (p. 23). Why? Because “all good things are your birthright! You are the creator of you” (p. 41). This has always been true: “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of” (p. 109).

Here’s the bottom line: “You are the master of your life, and the Universe is answering your every command” (p. 146). All this because “you are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet…You have God potential and power to create your world” (p. 164). Indeed, “we are the creators not only of our own destiny but also of the Universe. . . . Your life will be what you create it as, and no one will stand in judgment of it, now or ever. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life” (pp. 175, 177, 183).

The Secret is by no means the only self-empowerment book on the market. I ran down to Barnes & Noble this week and jotted down some of their recent self-help titles. Among them: Awaken The Magic of Thinking Big: acquire the secrets of success, achieve everything you’ve always wanted, by David Schwartz (with four million copies sold); The Giant Within, by Anthony Robbins; The Success Principles: how to get from where you are to where you want to be, by Jack Canfield; Your Magic Power to be Rich, by Napoleon Hill; and The Millionaire Course, by Marc Allen.

You can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do, have anything you want to have. Our culture is screaming at us: it’s all about you.

Is that really true? Can you get whatever you want just by wanting it? What if you want it to rain and I want the sun to shine? What if you’re pulling for the Rockies and I want the Red Sox to win the World Series? More to the point: what if the current self-realization fad is a sham? What if The Secret is a lie? Where would this lie come from? Why does it matter so much to your soul today?

Know your enemy

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). The book of Revelation names him: “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (12:9; 20:2).

His central strategy hasn’t changed, because human nature hasn’t changed. His lie is always the same: “you will be like God” (v. 5). Do what you want–if the fruit looks good, eat it. Do what you want–if God says no, be your own God. “You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of life.” The secret of life is that life is whatever you want it to be. It’s all about you.

Watch this strategy unfold across biblical history.

If God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not yours, kill Abel. Be your own God.

Make a name for yourself–build your Tower of Babel to reach the heavens (Genesis 11:1-4). Be your own God.

If Bathsheba is attractive to you, have the affair. Click on the pornography; go to the movie; watch late-night TV; look with lust. Be your own God.

If it’s going to cost you to follow Jesus, deny that you know him as Peter did. Three times, if you must. Be your own God.

This is the basis of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. If you’re hungry, turn the stones into bread. Don’t wait on God to feed you–be your own God. If you want people to follow you, jump 450 feet from the Temple to the valley below. Don’t wait on God to lead you–be your own God. If you want to be the Lord of the world, worship Satan and receive the kingdoms of the earth. Don’t go to the cross–don’t wait on God’s word and will. Be your own God.

This is what’s wrong with you and me today: we want to be God. It started with Adam: “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Now “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And our desire to be God is the reason, the root of the problem. Here are some examples:

“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). Do you want to get rich? Why?

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy” (Proverbs 14:21). Have you thought poorly of someone recently? Why?

“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!” (Proverbs 21:4). Has pride found you yet today? Why?

“If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:9). Do you treat people based on what they have or what they can do for you? Why?


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