(Part one can be found at: http://www.marketfaith.org/why-do-we-do-worldview-and-interfaith-evangelism-part-1-three-basic-reasons)
“Aren’t all religions good? Don’t they all teach essentially the same thing? Don’t they all worship the same God but just call him by different names? Isn’t it arrogant and narrow-minded to say one religion is better than any other?”
Like me, maybe you have heard those kinds of questions in the course of witnessing encounters from ordinary Americans, liberal college professors, or even ordained ministers in mainline Christian denominations. We live in an age where exclusivity of any kind is considered prejudicial and intolerant. The Post-modern mind-set assumes that all truth is relative and culturally determined. Thus, any criticism of other faiths, philosophies, or cultures is regarded as bigotry that should be eliminated from one’s thinking process. (This principle is, of course, self-refuting and logically incoherent since they are themselves criticizing those who criticize others and are, therefore, violating their own principle. Sort of like saying, “It’s wrong to say anything is wrong.”)
In the previous installment, we examined three basic reasons why teaching Christians about worldview and interfaith evangelism are needed. In this installment we will look at how God’s people in the Bible confronted pagan gods and false religions and how they reached out to evangelize those in them.
Literally from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible records how God’s people fell to the temptation to tolerate the belief and worship of false gods and even to incorporate abominable practices into their religious life. In fact, most of the New Testament was written specifically to refute false teaching and false teachers who threatened the purity of the Gospel. The Bible also teaches that God clearly expects His people to reach out to followers of other gods and religions with His truth and Gospel.
We will survey the vast amount of biblical materials relating to worldview and interfaith issues. We will see that this kind of ministry rests solidly on biblical foundations from both the Old and New Testaments. In this installment we will begin with the Old Testament. In the next one we will survey the New Testament.
1. When Cain and Abel presented their worship offerings to God, Abel’s was accepted as valid but Cain’s was rejected. We are not told why, but it may be that Abel’s offering consisted of the “firstlings” (best) of his flock whereas Cain’s was less than the best of his produce. In any case, Cain was angry that God refused his offering and killed his brother Abel. The point is that God did not regard both men’s worship as valid. One was true and the other was false.
So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. (Genesis 4:3-8 NASB)
Thus, from the very beginning, people have drifted into counterfeit doctrines and ways of worship. Today cults and world religions may claim to worship the true God and honor Jesus, but do so in ways that are not acceptable to Him.
2. The Hebrews were explicitly warned in the Ten Commandments to worship no other gods and to make no graven idols. God demanded that worship be reserved only for Him. Also, making idols was absolutely prohibited since the one true God cannot be likened to any earthly creature. God warned them that idolatry would have dire consequences that would endure for generations to come.
Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before Me. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Exodus 20:1-5 NASB; see also Deuteronomy 5:6-9)
When I was a young Christian we used to talk figuratively about people committing idolatry in America by worshipping money, material possessions, celebrities, or sex. That was certainly the case and still is true for the most part today. Nonetheless, as hard as it is to believe, literal idolatry is now rampant in America. That is to say, in this country many people now follow religions that have carved images of their deities made of wood or stone that they worship and to which they make offerings. For instance, all Hindu temples (like the one in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and in other cities across the country) contain hundreds of idols representing many of their thousands of deities. Devotees make offerings of flowers and fruit to the idols to curry favor with the gods.
Also, American followers of the Caribbean religion Santeria display images of African animist gods in their homes and yards. They often disguise them by identifying them with Roman Catholic saints.
3. The Hebrews were told to destroy the idols and places of false worship of the pagans in the land they were to possess so their faith would not be corrupted by them. It was always a danger that by allowing pagan symbols and places of worship to remain in the land of Israel. He did not want them to be tempted to follow the false gods they represented.
Then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. (Numbers 33:52-53 NASB)
You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place. (Deuteronomy 12:2-3 NASB)
Pagan symbols, such as the Yen-Yang symbol of Taoism, the Egyptian Ankh, inverted pentagrams, swastikas, Buddha statuettes, and signs of the Zodiac are common in America today as jewelry, good luck charms, and bumper stickers. While we do not want to be guilty of being superstitious about such things, Christians should nonetheless avoid wearing or displaying pagan talismans.
Also, as we said earlier, pagan centers of worship are proliferating in this country. For examples, Hindu and Buddhist temples can be found in most large American communities. Another example is the many Church of Scientology centers springing up in various places. We should not forget, as well, the more than 68 temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where secretive occult rituals are performed daily by devout Mormons.
4. Deuteronomy clearly stated there is only one true and living God and all others are false. This was the SHEMA (Listen!), the prime directive for Hebrew religion. Therefore, people are to love only Him with all their hearts, as Jesus affirmed as the greatest commandment.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NASB)
Followers of any polytheistic religion, such as Hinduism, Animism, etc., who worship or honor any other deity or deities is committing idolatry. Also, anyone who fails to acknowledge God’s existence (atheists or agnostics), does not obey His rules, and does not love Him, is in violation of this command.
5. Through Isaiah, God declared that there are absolutely no other gods like Him or besides Him. There were no other gods before Him and there will be no other gods after Him. Therefore, to suggest that other deities exist or that men may become gods (as taught in traditional Mormonism) is blasphemy.
“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. ‘Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place. ‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock?
I know of none.’” (Isaiah 44:6-8 NASB)
For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), “I am the LORD, and there is none else. (Isaiah 45: 18 NASB)
“Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22 NASB)
“Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me. (Isaiah 46: 9 NASB)
6. God absolutely prohibited the Israelites to practice the occult and abominable customs of their pagan neighbors. Those wicked traditions included divination (fortune-telling and astrology), witchcraft (casting magic spells), reading omens, sorcery (potions and drugs), and spiritism (necromancy/mediums or communication with the dead). Worst of all was human sacrifice (making sons and daughters pass through the fire).
“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18: 9-14 NASB)
Occult practices are widely practiced in modern America and have been for generations. They include fortune telling, astrology (horoscopes/ Zodiacs), drug use (Rastafarianism), witchcraft (Wicca), and the New Age Movement.
One of the most popular practices today is spiritism. Thousands of professional mediums and so-called psychics like John Edward, James Van Praagh, and Theresa Caputo (“the Long Island Medium”) make millions of dollars off gullible clients. Many mediums are affiliated with formal religious organizations like the National Spiritualist Association of Churches. God forbids those practices because when people dabble in the occult they often fall into moral and spiritual perversion.
In my many years of study of cults, I have found that most of them actually began when their founders ignored these biblical warnings and became involved in various forms of the occult. Examples include: Emanuel Swedenborg (Church of the New Jerusalem); Joseph Smith, Jr. (Mormonism); Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses); Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science); L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology); and Rev, Sun Myung Moon (Unification Church).
Thankfully, religious human sacrifice is not practiced today, though it has been alleged that some satanist cults may actually have done so. Several best-selling books were written in the 1970s by supposed eye-witnesses to satanic child sacrifice whose claims were discredited as hoaxes by researchers. The allegations of human sacrifices by them and others have never been substantiated according to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. In any case, with the abortion rate in America at nearly a million a year, we can hardly claim to be guiltless of taking innocent blood.
7. God promised the Israelites that He would provide prophets to deliver His word to them. God told them they would know a true prophet if the things he said or predicted came true. False prophets in Israel, however, were denounced. This was so important that if what they said did not happen, then they were worthy of death.
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. …
It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18: 9-22 NASB)
False prophets and teachers abound in America today claiming to speak new revelation. For instance, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is regarded as a “living prophet, seer, and revelator.” Rev. Sun Myung Moon claimed he was “Lord of the Second Advent.” Herbert W. Armstrong said he was a modern “Apostle” chosen by God to reveal the lost key to the Bible in the last days.
Since we are a constitutional republic with freedom of religion, obviously we cannot criminally prosecute false prophets in civil courts. Nonetheless, we should, as Bible believing Christians, expose and challenge false prophets and false teachings and educate our people about them.
8. Elijah demanded the people of Israel choose between the true LORD God or the false pagan gods of Baal and Asherah (Baal’s goddess mother). He publically challenged the false prophets of Baal and Asherah a test of power. King Ahab allowed them to function in Israel at the bequest of his pagan wife Jezebel. The Baal and Asherah prophets called on their gods to destroy the altar they had built with an ox upon it, but nothing happened. Elijah then prayed and God sent fire and totally destroyed the altar built by Elijah, the true spokesman of the true God. The Baal and Asherah prophets were immediately taken prisoner and executed, as eventually was Jezebel.
Elijah’s challenge is still effective today. People must choose between serving the true God and following false prophets and false gods.
So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals. Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel. Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.”
So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water.
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.” Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kings 18:16-40 NASB)
9. The Psalmist warned against “strange gods” that the Israelites might be tempted to worship along-side of or instead of the true God.
“Let there be no strange god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god. (Psalm 81: 9 NASB)
10. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the LORD challenged the lies of false prophets who used His name deceptively and warned of their impending judgment by sword and famine.
Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them-yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’-by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! The people also to whom they are prophesying will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and there will be no one to bury them-neither them, nor their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters-for I will pour out their own wickedness on them. (Jeremiah 14:14-16 NASB)
The implication of this passage is that those who use God’s name to deceive others, either for personal gain or to teach distorted doctrines, will incur a harsh judgment from God.
11. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to bow down to the images of the false gods of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar had decreed that everyone should bow down to them when the music was played. The young Jews refused to do so. Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach) and Azariah (Abeg-nego) were cast into a furnace but were saved by an angel. Those four young men were role models because of their steadfast refusals to bow to any god or man other than the true God, no matter what the cost.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; [p]and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them. (Daniel 3:16-27 NASB)
12. Daniel, like his three comrades, refused to cease his petitions to the LORD God when King Darius commanded all the people not to pray to any other god but his for thirty days. Daniel was cast into the lion’s den where God sent an angel to protect him.
Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. (Daniel 6:10 NASB)
Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.” A stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing would be changed in regard to Daniel. Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him.
Then the king arose at dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions’ den. When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” (Daniel 6:16- 22 NASB)
13. Jonah was sent by God to preach to the city of Nineveh. Jonah did not want to go and tried to escape from God’s command by boat. He was, of course, swallowed and spit up by a big fish and did as God commanded. The Ninevites repented and God spared them from destruction. This was one of the earliest examples interfaith evangelism and of God sending a missionary to a foreign and pagan land to preach a warning of His judgment to them.
The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:1-2 NASB)
Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let [u]men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (Jonah 3:5-10 NASB)
Sadly, some Christian denominations today are becoming like Jonah and abandoning their missionary efforts. Nonetheless, Jesus’ call to world missions to carry the Gospel to all peoples is no less imperative today than it was in biblical times.
In this installment we have surveyed briefly how the Old Testament teaches the importance and validity of worldview and interfaith ministry. We have seen how the clear judgment of the Old Testament Scriptures is that all religions are not good nor do they worship the same god. Only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is real and worthy of worship and faith. In the next installment we will look at what Jesus and the New Testament writers taught regarding to this issue.
© 2013 Tal Davis