Different Denominations and Religions
Goal: Your student should learn the basic differences between Christianity and other religions. Your student should visit churches of other denominations and report to you on their distinctives.
Can’t the different religions all be different paths to the same God?
No. The different religions make contradictory claims. For example, Christianity says there is one true living God. Buddhism says there is no god. Hinduism says there are many gods. Any one of these statements could be true, but they cannot all be true. Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Acts 4:12 says, “There is no other name under heaven through which men must be saved.”
How does Christianity differ from the other world religions?
1. The Bible is unique. Most other religions have sacred writings. The Bible is unique in that it records the interaction of God within human history. It is not just a collection of teachings, but the story of God revealing himself through Israel. Thus, the Bible makes historical statements which can be tested to see if they are true. The Bible also makes prophecies. The amazing accuracy of its prophecies is evidence to its reliability and inspiration. For example, Jeremiah predicted that the city of Babylon would be destroyed and never rebuilt or inhabited again (Jeremiah 50:39). That prophecy has held true for 2600 years. The Bible accurately predicted the birthplace (Micah 5:2), rejection (Isaiah 53), death (Psalm 22), and resurrection (Psalm 16) of Jesus.
2. Jesus is unique. Some other religions have a savior figure, but Jesus is unique in that he claimed to be God in human flesh. We call this the incarnation. Because he was fully God and fully man, he could identify with us and bear the punishment for our sin in his death on the cross. No other savior figure could die in our place. Jesus then rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven. The resurrection is the heart of the Christian faith. There is excellent evidence that it is a historical event.
3. The Gospel is unique. Other religions are based on human works. They describe what humans must do to appease the deity. These works may include repeated prayers, offerings, sacrifices, pilgrimages and other acts to earn the favor of god. Christianity is based on grace. The gospel says that God freely gives us the salvation we can never earn. God can do this because Jesus has done the work of atonement for us. We must simply receive the gift of salvation by repentance and faith in Jesus. All other religions are based on what we must do. Christianity is based on what God has done in Christ. Because of this, we have a unique assurance of salvation based not on our goodness but on God’s grace.
Resources for understanding the difference in religions
Why are there different denominations?
The different denominations reflect differences in beliefs, styles of worship, and traditions. All Christian denominations believe in the Trinity. All Christian denominations believe in the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Christian denominations differ on issues such as the method of church government, the method of baptism, and the gift of speaking in tongues.
Today there are three major branches of Christianity—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestants. In 1050 AD Christianity split between east and west, creating the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity. The split was over issues such as clerical celibacy and the use of icons in worship. In 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther called for reform in the church. Catholicism did not accept Luther’s reforms, and this led to the creation of Protestant denominations such as Lutherans. Baptists were born in England in the 1600s and Methodists in the 1700s. Churches of Christ and Churches of God began much later in the United States. Today denominations are losing their importance and non-denominational churches are growing. This is both good and bad. It is good that we may be coming together. It is bad that we do not care as much about doctrine any more.
Why do we consider Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses to be cults?
We cannot consider these two groups to be Christian denominations because they have different beliefs about the central doctrines of Christianity—who Jesus is and how we are saved. Mormons do not believe the Bible is the only revelation of God. They add the Book of Mormon. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus is God. Both groups tend to emphasize works as a component of salvation. To say it another way, we differ with Methodists on doctrines that are important but not essential—the method of baptism and church government. We differ with Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses on doctrines that are essential—who is Jesus and how are we saved.
Some Differences between Protestant Denominations:
Objectives for This Year
- Talk to your student about the differences between the major religions. Can he or she explain them in his or her own words?
- Ask your student if he or she would like to visit churches of up to four different denominations. If he is not interested in this, do not insist. This will help some students as they get ready to move away from home soon. Do not encourage your student to visit cults or non-Christian religions. You may choose to go with him or allow him to go with friends. After the visits, talk to him about the differences he observed. Were there things he did not understand? What were the similarities?