Note: All bible verses are from the ESV unless specified otherwise. Emphasis in all quotes has been added.
Some listening music while we talk again.
One of the reasons people conclude that “all religions are true” or that all paths lead to God is the assertion that all religions teach basically the same thing. Be nice to each other, don’t steal or murder, etc. While there is some truth to the idea that all religions tend to instruct people to live in ways that are generally conducive to a peaceful life (though there are exceptions), this is an extremely naïve approach to the teachings and requirements laid down by each faith system.
We’ll start with Islam. In Islam, it is expected that the faithful Muslim will follow what are called the Five Pillars of Islam. These Five Pillars are speaking the Muslim confession of faith (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), paying alms (charities), reciting your five daily prayers, observing the fast during the month of Ramadan, and making – at least once in your lifetime – a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Here we already have problems. The first pillar is a confession and acknowledgement of Muhammad as a true prophet of God. This creates problems for the Jew and the Christian who believe that Muhammad taught false doctrine and therefore cannot be a true prophet according to the test of a prophet as laid out in Deuteronomy 18. I will not attempt to settle the issue of true or false prophets now, it is enough for the moment to say simply that already we have tension and disagreement between these faith systems which are supposed to somehow all be true.
In Mormonism the same problem exists. One Sunday a month, Mormons get up in front of their congregations and “give testimony”. These testimonies can vary in length and content, but they are expected to contain a few key ideas:
Again, I will not try to settle the question of whether or not Joseph Smith or any of the fifteen LDS presidents that followed him are true prophets. For the moment it is enough to show that this is a foundational concept for Mormons that people of other faiths are in deep disagreement with.
In addition to these confessions of who is or is not a prophet, both of these faiths place specific tasks in front of believers that must be followed or lived up to in order to get the best that their religion offers them. For Islam it is the five pillars. For Mormonism it is baptism, temple ordinances, temple marriage and a laundry list of other tasks.
But these two faiths are not alone in this. Buddhism requires that you follow the eight-fold path in order to reach enlightenment. Modern rabbinic Judaism requires strict adherence to the law of Moses. Scientology requires endless sessions of frighteningly expensive auditing. Meditation. Sacrifices and dancing before alters. Penance. Burning incense. All religions except one have very specific tasks that must be done, states that must be achieved, or rites that must be performed in order to get what it promises in addition to a laundry list of things that are forbidden. Unfortunately for the pluralist, many of these are contradictory.
Much more can be said on this subject, but for now I would like to look at only two things. First, what Islam and Christianity teach about the nature of Jesus and his relationship to God. Second, the nature of salvation as taught by Mormonism and Christianity.
Who is Jesus?
According to the bible, Jesus is divine, “The Son of God”, the second person of the Trinity. Doing a quick search, I found a staggering number of passages that clearly refer to Jesus as the Son of God. There are others that are not as clear – implying rather than asserting – and some recorded in the gospels are paralleled in other accounts, but whether it comes from the lips of demons, men, Jesus or even God himself, the title “Son of God” as it refers to Jesus is impossible to escape. At least seventeen of the twenty-seven New Testament writings refer to Jesus as the Son. Here is a brief sample. This list could have been much longer:
With so many clear references, it would be impossible to affirm the teachings of the New Testament while rejecting the idea that Jesus is God’s Son. In fact, John teaches in several passages state that this is an issue of salvific importance:
As we can see, this is absolutely central to the life of a Christian. It is non-negotiable. How interesting is it, then, that Islam specifically teaches the exact opposite? The Quran makes very clear that Jesus is not God and that Allah has no son. To say that he does is to commit oneself to hell:
For a Muslim to affirm one of the core tenants of Christianity is to apostatize from Islam entirely. The opposite is true as well. To acknowledge Muhammad as a prophet as required by the first pillar is to accept his teaching about Jesus, thereby denying the very things that John says are absolutely essential. This is the very definition of incompatible belief systems.
What Must I Do to be Saved?
The Gospel as taught by biblical Christianity is this: God has laws and expectations. Every single person in human history has broken those laws and failed to live up to those expectations and therefore faces the wrath and judgment of God. It is not possible for us to save ourselves, so God provided a way to save us by willingly taking the punishment we deserved on himself. Since the work is done and the price is paid, there is nothing we can do to earn or achieve this salvation. It is a gift freely given to any who would accept it.
This too is a core aspect of biblical Christianity. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is emphatic that trying to “earn” your salvation or add anything to the work of Christ is to risk apostasy:
However, despite these many passages which clearly lay out that we are justified by the work of Christ on the cross rather than by anything we can do, the LDS church has historically been deeply antagonistic to this concept. In Mormonism, forgiveness of sin only comes after you work, earn, do your best and do better:
Which is it? That you must earn your salvation or that you cannot earn your salvation? Do you follow the five pillars or the eight-fold path? Do you join the LDS church and risk taking part in “blasphemy”?* Being a Christian means that you don’t try to earn God’s favor, but literally every other religion in the world teaches that you must do so. Being a Christian means acknowledging Jesus as God and submitting to him in repentance, but being a Muslim means denying that. What is required by one faith is forbidden by another. As with so many of the other things we’ve looked at so far, these concepts are irreconcilable. They impose requirements and restrictions that directly contradict each other, often intentionally and specifically polemical towards the Christian faith. How then could we possibly say that they are all true?
As a post script, I have mentioned several times that the bible teaches how man cannot work our way to God. This is more than laziness or pessimism on the part of the Christian. Only in Christianity is our salvation guaranteed because it is on the basis of what Christ has done for us, not on what we do for ourselves. Whether it is Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, Krishna or anything else, all other world religions teach that the onus is on you to do what needs to be done and that your reward is never guaranteed. Even Muhammad did not know if he would enter paradise.
All of this in contrast to the Apostle John’s teaching that we can know that our sins are forgiven:
* “I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy.” – Gordon B Hinckley
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.