Welcome to the “Understanding World Religions” podcast. This is episode number 5. My name is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. The simple purpose of this podcast is to help you become informed about the various religious beliefs that exist in the world today. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Christian and I do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. However, I do have two degrees in Religion and with the knowledge of all these religions, I have chosen to be and remain a Christian.
Religion is the driving force behind much of what happens in the world today — particularly when it comes to the “big three” religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religious differences have and continue to spark wars, create nations, and spawn ongoing conflict — along with doing much good — down through the centuries. No matter what religion you adhere to (or even if you claim that you don’t adhere to any religion at all), you need to have a basic understanding of the world’s religions in order to understand what is happening in the world today so that you can be better informed and a more useful citizen of your nation and of the world. Without some knowledge of religion, you will not understand the underpinnings of what is happening in an increasingly global society.
Our quote for today is from C.S. Lewis. He said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan’s book, “Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day.” Garry Morgan is a Professor of Intercultural Studies at Northwestern College. He served with World Venture for 20 years in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Our topic for today is, “Christianity: What Sets It Apart?”
“Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship!” We often hear this when someone’s trying to set Christianity apart from “religion.” Is it accurate? Is this the characteristic that makes Christianity unique? And if not, what does?
Based on our description of religion, Christianity clearly fits the definition. It is an organized system of belief and practice that answers ultimate questions and guides daily life. But why have we come to think of religion as a negative term in the first place?
Due to historical abuses, we tend to view it as something artificial or without true meaning. However, the New Testament uses the term in James 1:27 with the adjectives pure and undefiled. Religion can become tradition without meaning, yet that isn’t the fault of religion itself— responsibility would belong with those who wrongly practice a given faith.
So believers could say that Christianity is the religious expression of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our faith uses the Bible to answer ultimate questions about God and life. Because the Christian’s relationship with God through Christ is lived out with other followers of Jesus (what the New Testament calls “the body of Christ”), we worship and engage in other activities as a unified group, and this also is what characterizes religion.
Also, regarding the “religion vs. relationship” debate, we should keep in mind that other religious systems claim a relationship with the god or gods they revere and worship. The Qur’an says, “God is nearer [to a man] than [his] jugular vein”. The Bha-ga-vad Gita describes an incarnation of the god Krishna who helps a warrior king make significant life decisions. Many animists maintain relationships with ancestral spirits.
If relationship itself is not what makes Christianity unique, what does? Starting with stating the obvious, Jesus of Nazareth is the most compelling religious figure of all time. Historians, scholars, and even leaders of other religions widely acknowledge and admire (although sometimes distort) the unique quality of his life and teachings.
For the Christian, however, it is not Jesus’ teachings or even his earthly life that are most important. We look to Jesus not just as a gifted teacher and moral example but as our Savior. His death and resurrection are the watershed events that stand at the center of our faith. By them, Jesus established the truth of his claim to be God’s unique Son— fully human and fully divine— and provided the means of salvation for humankind, separated from God by sin.
Another way to describe the faith’s uniqueness is with the word grace. Grace means giving someone something they don’t deserve. Because the God of the Bible is a God of grace, he takes the first step to repair our relationship with him after disobedience (sin). Because of grace, God provides the way of salvation in Jesus, who takes our punishment for wrongdoing. Because of grace, God can be both just (punishing sin) and forgiving (removing sin).
All other religious systems believe the main responsibility for solving life’s problems rests upon people. Christianity reveals and demonstrates that we cannot set things right by our own efforts, which makes grace all the more astounding and precious.
Historically, the Christian church is widely regarded to have begun on the day of Pentecost (described in Acts 2). It spread widely and grew quickly over the next several centuries. Early on, even as seen within the pages of the New Testament, it began developing religious forms. Initially, these were heavily influenced by Judaism. The first Christians worshiped in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and used the Hebrew Scriptures we now call the Old Testament.
But as non-Jews accepted the Christian message (the gospel) and became followers of Jesus, the church began adopting Hellenistic (Greek) forms, especially in how the message of Jesus was explained to others. John’s gospel, for example, describes Jesus as the Logos (Word), a term with significant meaning to those influenced by Greek philosophy.
Indeed, Christianity can flourish in any culture. The New Testament focuses more on principles for living and the type of people we’re supposed to be (i.e., character qualities) than on specific behaviors, so its practices and forms tend to take on the local flavor of surrounding cultures. For example, the apostle Paul commands husbands to love their wives; the specific ways Christians obey this order look different from culture to culture.
This flexibility, coupled with extensive geographic expansion, political issues (especially after Christianity received favored status from the Roman Empire in the late fourth century), and theological differences of opinion, eventually led to divisions. The Western church, centered in Rome, became what is now the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern church, based in Constantinople, became the (Eastern) Orthodox Church with its regional fellowships (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.).
Later, near the end of the fifteenth century, various reformers protested against abuses within the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others, largely after being excommunicated, organized new expressions of the Christian faith that came to be known as Protestant churches. While there are smaller branches on the Christian church tree, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant form the largest or primary three.
From AD 500, and for more than a millennium, the Christian message was largely spread by groups of Catholic monks, reaching eastward as far as Japan and west to the New World. By the eighteenth century, Protestants began what came to be called the modern missionary movement, taking the gospel to every part of the world. Today, Christianity truly is a global faith. While there are still areas and people groups that have not heard the name of Jesus Christ, he has followers in virtually every country.
Now, for An Extra Minute
Christians of all walks comprise about a third of the world’s population (about 2.1 billion in 2010). Approximately 1.1 billion belong to the Roman Catholic Church, about 600 million to Protestant churches, and about 270 million are Eastern Orthodox, with the balance in independent groups. In 1900, about 68 percent of the world’s Christians lived on the European continent, with about 14 percent in North America. By 2050, Africa is likely to have about 29 percent of the world’s Christians, followed by Asia with 20 percent. Church historians refer to this trend as Christianity’s “global center” shifting from north to south.
– – – – – – – – –
On our next Understanding World Religions podcast, we will continue talking about “What is Religion?”
In closing, I would like to say that even though we are covering many religious belief systems in this podcast, there is only one way of truly being cleansed of your sins and only one way that you can be guaranteed an eternal home in Heaven with God. That way is through Jesus Christ. The Bible says in Acts 4:12: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” First Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all.”
If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Until next time, may God richly bless you.
Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in over twenty-five foreign countries. He is the author of over forty books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts/podcasts, which include: The Prayer Motivator Devotional, The Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report, the Second Coming Watch Update and the Soul-Winning Motivator, among others. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Religion, a Master of Divinity degree, and a Master of Theology degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for over twenty-seven years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at www.danielwhyte3.com. Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.