Questions on Other Religions

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What is the difference between confessional Lutheran beliefs and the beliefs of Baptists?

We can only answer your question in a general way. There are between thirty and forty different kinds of Baptists in the United States alone, so they do not all believe and teach precisely the same things. But they have general traits that can be mentioned here.

In most Baptist doctrinal statements there are portions that are basically identical with ours, such as a high view of the authority and accuracy of the Bible, the importance and reality of Jesus Christ and his work as our substitute, and the confession of mankind’s sin and need for the Savior as well as God’s grace and saving work for us. In short, there is much to be thankful for, since fundamental Christianity is confessed here.

You asked about differences. First of all they reject the sacraments (both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as instruments through which God graciously creates or strengthens faith in human hearts. They treat the sacraments as “ordinances” to be obeyed, and being baptized or receiving communion is an “act of obedience” and something WE do rather than primarily a tool of God to give blessings.

Baptism: Southern Baptists believe that baptism is an act of obedience symbolizing a believer’s faith. They do not baptize infants. We believe that baptism is a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works faith, offers and conveys the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (Titus 3:5-7, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21). We believe that infants are to be baptized because they are included in Christ’s command to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). They are sinful and need to be born again (Psalm 51:5, John 3:5-6). Babies also can believe (Luke 18:15-17).

Lord’s Supper: The Southern Baptists believe that the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church memorialize the death of Jesus. They deny the real presence in the Lord’s Supper. We believe that Christ’s true body and blood are given with the bread and wine to assure us that our sins are forgiven (Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

Most Baptists believe we can cooperate in our conversion, making a decision for Christ. Lutherans believe we cooperate with the Holy Spirit only after our conversion. He is completely responsible for the change that takes place in our conversion.

We believe in election to salvation as taught in Ephesians 1. The Bible clearly says there is no predestination to damnation, but God wants all to be saved.

Many Baptists hold to a concept called “once saved, always saved” that they called “eternal security.” We believe a person can fall from faith because the Bible says he can (Hebrews 10:26-31, 1 Corinthians 10:12). We don’t base this conclusion on reason. But in this case the principle is the same as a common principle of daily life: if I give you a gift of money, you have not done anything to earn it, but if you foolishly throw it away you lose the benefit of the gift. Faith and forgiveness is a pure gift, but the person who throws them away loses the blessing that was his.

I would like to know the differences between what the Presbyterians believe and what Lutherans believe.

Just as all churches that bear the name “Lutheran” do not teach the same as other “Lutherans,” so not all churches that bear the name “Presbyterian” teach exactly the same. We can, however, speak of what Presbyterians believed historically and compare it with what confessional Lutherans believe.

Historically, as strict Calvinists, Presbyterians taught that from eternity God elected some to be saved and some to be damned (double predestination). By no means do all Presbyterians believe this today. Confessional Lutherans believe that from eternity God chose those whom he would convert through the gospel and preserve in faith to eternal life. See Ephesians 1:4-6; Romans 8:29,30). Confessional Lutherans reject the notion that unbelievers were predestined to damnation, for “God does not will that any should perish” (see 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9).

Historically, and as a corollary of the Calvinist belief in double predestination, Presbyterians taught that Christ atoned for the sins only of those predestined for life in heaven. Confessional Lutherans believe that Jesus Christ, the God-man, was sent by the Father to atone for the sins of all people, and that he did so. See Romans 5:18,19; Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:19; and John 1:29.

Historically, Presbyterians believed that it is impossible for a believer to fall from the faith. Confessional Lutherans believe that it is possible for believers to fall from faith. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

Historically, Presbyterians have believed that Sunday has replaced Saturday as the Sabbath, to be observed in a way similar to the Old Testament regulations. Confessional Lutherans believe that New Testament believers are free to gather for worship on Sunday (or any other day), without special rules regarding work or recreation. See Colossians 2:16,17: “Do not let anyone judge you . . . with regard to a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

The name “Presbyterian” means “having elders (teaching and ruling or presiding),” as the only form of church government that has God’s approval. Confessional Lutherans believe that the Lord has instituted and provides for the gospel ministry, but that there are no commands in the New Testament as to forms of organization.

Like other Protestant (non-Lutheran) churches, Presbyterians do not believe that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are means of grace—forms of the gospel through which the Holy Spirit gives and strengthens faith. Confessional Lutherans believe that Baptism gives new life (Titus 3:5) and cleanses from all sin (Acts 2:38). Confessional Lutherans believe that as believers receive Christ’s body and blood under the bread and wine they also receive the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 10:16).Presbyterians do not believe communicants receive the Lord’s Body and Blood in his Supper.

In what ways are Lutherans different from United Methodists?

There are many differences between the United Methodists and Lutherans. I will note some of the most basic.

Following the father of Methodism, John Wesley, United Methodist theology is basically Arminian. The United Methodists teach that unconverted people have free will in spiritual matters or the ability to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation.

Lutherans teach that unconverted human beings are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5), hostile to God (Romans 8:6-8), and cannot accept the gospel message (1 Corinthians 2:14). Human beings play no part in their own conversion, but are purely passive.

The United Methodists teach that God’s “prevenient grace” surrounds all humanity and “prompts our first wish to please God” and “our first glimmer of understanding of God’s will.” This grace surrounds everyone whether they have ever heard the gospel or not. Lutherans believe that God’s grace comes to us only through the means of grace, the gospel in God’s Word and the sacraments. There is no salvation apart from the means of grace (Romans 10:13-17).

Lutherans put the primary theological emphasis on justification and what God has done for us in sending his Son to live and die for us, forgiving all of our sins and giving us eternal life and salvation. Methodists put their primary theological emphasis on sanctification and what God does in us to lead us to do his will. Lutherans teach that every Christian is both sinner and saint at the same time and will remain so until we reach the perfection of heaven. Methodists teach the possibility of reaching Christian perfection in this life.

The United Methodists see Scripture as the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. They emphasize the importance of tradition, experience, and reason for Christian doctrine. Lutherans teach that the Bible is the sole source for Christian doctrine. The truths of Scripture do not need to be authenticated by tradition, human experience, or reason. Scripture is self authenticating and is true in and of itself.

The United Methodists believe that the church has a responsibility toward the structures of society and therefore commit themselves “to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities . . . collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.”

Lutherans believe that God has given the church the commission to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments so that people can be saved for eternity (Matthew 28:18-20). God has not called the church to reform society or to wield the law as a curb for societal ills. God has instituted the government for that purpose (Romans 13:1-7). As the church carries out its responsibility of proclaiming the gospel and there are more Christians in a country, society will be affected. For individual Christians as citizens will work to address the problems that they see and to improve society. The Christians are then carrying out their responsibility as citizens and are not carrying out the work of the church. We reject the social gospel, the belief that the church’s responsibility is to change the structures of society through mass or group action.

What are the big difference between Lutheran and Mormon beliefs?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the official name for Mormonism. Their television commercials are very appealing and family oriented, but Mormonism cannot be considered a Christian denomination.

The Latter Day Saints deny the scriptural doctrine of the Trinity. They teach that there are many gods and human beings can become gods themselves through a kind of spiritual evolution. Mormons are taught “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.” Mormonism denies the scriptural teaching of justification by grace alone through faith in Jesus and teaches a system of salvation by works. They teach that people are born inherently good and have the freedom to make the right decisions. They believe that people progress by making wise use of this freedom.

Mormons practice “baptism for the dead.” They believe that the spirits of the dead can accept Mormonism in the spirit world, but since they don’t have a body they cannot be baptized. Since Mormon baptism is essential for spiritual progression, Mormons can be baptized in the place of a departed relative. This is the reason why Mormonism places such an emphasis on genealogy.

Mormons teach that there are three spirit kingdoms to which the spirits of the dead can go. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest kingdom and is reserved for faithful Mormons and those who die before the age of eight. The Terrestrial Kingdom is for moral non-Mormons and less “valiant” Mormons. The Telestial Kingdom is the place where most people will go after suffering for their sins. This is the kingdom of the least glory.

The Mormons accept the following as scripture: The Bible, The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. They also consider the words of their living prophets to be scripture.

For more information about Mormonism and witnessing to Mormons visit www.tilm.org.

What are the beliefs (briefly) of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and how do their beliefs compare to the teachings of WELS?

In the SDA statement of “Fundamental Beliefs” (http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.htm), you’ll find many fine things with which we would agree completely. Here are some of the SDA distinctives that we find troubling, however:

  1. Perhaps the “trademark” SDA emphasis–the teaching that, at Creation, God established Saturday as a mandatory day of rest for his people of all time (compare Colossians 2:16-17). In SDA practice, there is a strong streak of legalism–i.e., the view that life with God is fundamentally about “keeping the rules” instead of about faith in Christ–in other matters, too. “The rules” have included strictures about diet, tobacco, alcohol, appropriate apparel, jewelry, tithing, etc.
  2. Baptism is a confession of faith (compare Titus 3:5), not a means of grace; and it must be performed by immersion.
  3. The bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are “emblems” of Jesus’ body and blood, not the real thing. Jesus also instituted foot-washing as a lasting ordnance for his church.
  4. The writings of Ellen G. White (1827-1915) are an authoritative source of teaching alongside the Scriptures. The Church in General Conference session may also be led by the Holy Spirit to revise its teachings still further.
  5. In 1844, Christ in the sanctuary in heaven began a work of “investigative judgment”–i.e., the work of determining which of those who have died were righteous and may participate in the Resurrection at Christ’s coming. When he comes, the “millennium” will begin, which is explained as a 1,000-year reign of Christ with his believers in heaven (during which time the earth will be occupied only by Satan and his angels). Christ and the believers will return to earth at the end of this period, the earth will be cleansed, and this renewed earth will be the home of believers forever.

A word should be said, however, about the SDA’s many admirable educational and charitable endeavors all around the world. Additionally, there has been something of an “evangelical movement” within the SDA in recent times that has led them to put more emphasis on Jesus’ forgiveness and less on “the rules.” We pray it will continue.

Was Peter the first Pope? Please explain WELS' take on the Catholics' assertion that he is. Thank you!

There is no biblical or historical basis for the claim that Peter was the first pope.  While the Roman Catholic Church might like to use Matthew 16:18 to support their belief that Peter was the first pope, those words say nothing of the sort.

We actually find a play on words in Matthew 16:18.  Peter’s name in Greek is petros.  It is a masculine noun.  When Jesus said he was going to build his church “on this rock,” the word translated “rock” is petra, a feminine noun.  Petros refers to a rock, while petra has in mind a rocky cliff or ledge.  The Greek makes it clear that Jesus spoke of building his church not on a person, but on a rock-solid confession of him as the Son of God and the promised Savior.

In addition, Jesus did not tell Peter that only he was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19).  Jesus explained that all Christians possess the keys, the authority to forgive sins or retain sins (Matthew 18:15-20).

I was raised a Presbyterian. Yet, about 22 years ago, I got involved with Mary Baker Eddy's book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and Christian Science. I want to know if Christian Science is OK or not.The practitioners are all are very God-respectful, go to church and are very devoted.

Christian Science is not OK.  Be aware that its teachings are not Christian or biblical.  Consider some of the following false teachings found in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (and the pages where the information can be found):

There is a denial of the Trinity.  “Life, Truth, and Love constitute the triune Person called God—that is the triply divine Principle, Love.  They represent a trinity in unity, three in one,–the same in essence, though multi-form in office:  God the Father-Mother; Christ the spiritual idea of sonship; divine Science or the Holy Comforter.”  (Page 331)

There is a denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  “The Jew who believes in the First Commandment is a monotheist; he has one omnipresent God.  Thus the Jew unites with the Christian’s doctrine that God is come and is present now and forever.  The Christian who believes in the First Commandment is a monotheist.  Thus he virtually unites with the Jew’s belief in one God, and recognizes that Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared, but is the Son of God.  This declaration of Jesus, understood, conflicts not at all with another of his sayings:  “I and the Father are one,”—that is, one in quality, not in quantity.  (Page 361)

There is a denial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “They who earliest saw Jesus after the resurrection and beheld the final proof of all that he had taught, misconstrued that event…Jesus’ students, not sufficiently advanced fully to understand their Master’s triumph, did not perform many wonderful works, until they saw him after his crucifixion and learned that he had not died…Jesus’ unchanged physical condition after what seemed to be death…” (Pages 45-46)

There is a denial of Jesus’ atoning work.  “Wisdom and Love may require many sacrifices of self to save us from sin.  One sacrifice, however great, is insufficient to pay the debt of sin.  The atonement requires constant self-immolation on the sinner’s part.  That God’s wrath should be vented upon His beloved Son, is divinely unnatural.  Such a theory is man-made.”  (Page 23)

I would urge you to turn to the Bible to see the truth, believe the truth through the power of the Holy Spirit and confess the truth.  God is Triune (Matthew 28:19; John 14:7-18).  Jesus is God (John 1:1; 5:22-23; Colossians 2:9).  Jesus Christ rose from the dead as proof that our salvation is complete.  (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15).  Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for sin.  (1 John 2:2).

Christian Science operates with illusions; Christianity is all about realities.  Do turn to the Bible to find the truth.  Speak with a pastor of one of our churches to have a more in-depth conversation about Jesus Christ, the world’s only Savior.

I am seeing Coexist t-shirts and bumper stickers. (These are bumper stickers that spell out the word “coexist” using symbols from various religions including Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Wicca, and Christianity – all in an effort to promote religious tolerance.) As a Christian, how should I react to this symbolism, and how can I witness to someone who displays this?

The popular and often-used “coexist” symbol merits our attention, appraisal, and thoughtful response. The symbol itself was originally a plea for religious tolerance, and today the focus has been somewhat broadened. The symbol is normally used to promote the idea that different religions, value systems, ways of life, and points of view should exist harmoniously and peacefully. This is a plea for tolerance and peaceful coexistence as opposed to open strife, war, and political or social oppression based on differing religious, moral, or ideological convictions.

You ask how Christians should best react to the symbol and to those who display it on their clothing, vehicle, or another personal possession. I believe that the Christian’s response will be more complicated and thoughtful than a simple “I like it” or “I don’t like it” vote. For example:

  • First, we do well to ask the people what the symbol means to them and why they display it. Don’t assume the worst in regard to their motives. They may or may not have given much thought to displaying it. Or they might be sick and tired of all the bloodshed, oppression, and social or political persecution that has stemmed from differing religious and ethical standards. They may not be expressing approval or disapproval of any of the religions or ideologies represented in the symbol, but they like the idea of mutual courtesy or a peaceful coexistence that has little to do with religious convictions. But sometimes the people who display the symbol knowingly seek more than a peaceful coexistence. They may wrongly believe that all religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) or all lifestyle choices (homosexuality and lesbianism, pacifism) are equally valid or worthy of our allegiance. We will want to clarify what they do and why they do it.
  • We also wisely appraise our own kind of “Christian tolerance.” Christian tolerance displays a kind and patient treatment of the persons and motives of others even if or when we disagree or reject their false principles and opinions. We seek to treat the people with kindness, even when they embrace error that we hate and despise as poison to their souls. Christian toleration maintains a love for those in error and seeks points of contact that may be used to witness to the truth and against the error.
  • Then we strive to witness to the other people, reacting to their expressed motives, convictions, and understanding of issues involved. We may warn, encourage, rebuke, commend, and inform or teach — and sometimes we do all of these things depending on what we have learned from the people. We cannot approve or endorse error or falsehood in religion or morality. We can love and seek the well-being of the people to whom we witness. We can share accurate information to serve souls and enlighten minds. And we can be prepared for a variety of reactions, from appreciation to ridicule, from gratitude to hatred. But we are called on to continue to speak and react by speaking the truth in love.
  • And if we do not have opportunity to speak with those who display the symbol because they are in moving vehicles or walking in a crowd, we can include them in our prayers and intercessions. We ask God to guide them into the truth centered in Jesus Christ just as he has graciously guided us.

Why are the Muslims becoming so strong not only around the world, but also in America? That is an evil "so-called" religion. They are taking over more and more of our United States, and I wonder why God doesn't stop them. Thank you for your information, and God's blessings.

These factors are generally put forth as explanations for the growth of Islam in the United States:  a higher birth rate among Muslims and the immigration of Muslims to America.  Growth also takes place through intermarriage with Muslims.

Early in its history Islam appealed to people because of its simplistic faith.  While Christians were debating matters of intricate doctrine, Islam promoted a “simple” faith consisting of only five “pillars,” or five duties, that adherents needed to perform.  That impression of a simplistic faith, I suppose, still appeals to some people.  In addition, because Islam is a work-righteous religion, it naturally appeals to people who think there is something they have to do and can do to find peace with a higher power.

When it comes to your question of why God “doesn’t stop them,” I have to bow in humility to God’s wisdom (Romans 11:33-36).  God knows what he is doing, and he is doing everything in the best interests of his Church.  I have to keep that same section of Scripture in mind when God tells me that shortly before the end of the world, he will grant Satan more freedom to carry out his dastardly work (Revelation 20:7-8).  I marvel at the question Jesus posed about his visible return on the last day:  “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  (Luke 18:8)

Over time, God’s followers have been a “little flock” (Luke 12:32) compared to the numbers of people caught up in false religions.  Because of what the Bible says about “terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1), we can expect that description of the Church to hold true.

All this is not reason for discouragement.  No, the Good Shepherd of the little flock promises us his protecting love and informs us of his generous love that seeks to add sheep to his flock (John 10).

I have just gotten into researching my family's genealogy. There are numerous websites dedicated to genealogy research. Some of these websites are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On many of these websites one can create an account to store and gather information as well as create family trees. However, I am troubled by something I read in the "licenses and rights granted to us" section under "Rights and Use Information" on one such site, familysearch.org, Basically, in exchange for an account, one allows the site owners unrestricted access to all of the genealogy information one has collected and placed on their site, including family trees, sources, etc. I understand that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is interested in family trees and those that have passed away, but for what or to what extent I do not know. So my question is this: is creating an account on LDS owned or affiliated websites okay, or is making an account in some way enabling or approving of the LDS church and their beliefs?

Mormons are interested in genealogies and Web sites that contain genealogical data because that supplies them with information to be used for their baptisms of the dead.

“The teachings of Mormonism state that non-Mormons will enter spirit prison after physical death and wait for Judgment Day. Those in spirit prison have the opportunity to convert to Mormonism, but they cannot eternally progress unless they are baptized. Such spirits must receive baptism vicariously through a living person on earth since they do not have a body that can be baptized. The work of baptizing for the dead (or redeeming the dead) happens only in the temple. Faithful Mormons will carry out this important temple work as a means to further their divine potential. This is the primary motivation behind the extensive genealogical research carried out by the LDS Church. Mormons will refer to this activity as doing family history work.” (From Truth in Love Ministry)

Using an LDS-owned or affiliated Web site will provide information that can be used in a religious ceremony—a ceremony that is entirely void of truth and consequence.  If supplying that information bothers you, I would not submit it.  If you do not want the Mormons to have more names for their baptism of the dead, I would not utilize the Web sites.  If your approach is:  “I’m interested in my family history and it doesn’t bother me what a church does with the names of family members because the souls of those family members are beyond the reach of that church,” then go ahead and make use of those Web sites.  (You see that conscience is a factor here.)

If you are interested in learning more about Mormonism, visit the Truth in Love Ministry Web site.

What is our position on Christian Science teachings?

The teachings of Christian Science are not Christian or biblical.  Consider some of the following false teachings found in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (and the pages where the information can be found), written by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy:

There is a denial of the Trinity.  “Life, Truth, and Love constitute the triune Person called God—that is the triply divine Principle, Love.  They represent a trinity in unity, three in one,–the same in essence, though multi-form in office:  God the Father-Mother; Christ the spiritual idea of sonship; divine Science or the Holy Comforter” (Page 331).

There is a denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ.  “The Jew who believes in the First Commandment is a monotheist; he has one omnipresent God.  Thus the Jew unites with the Christian’s doctrine that God is come and is present now and forever.  The Christian who believes in the First Commandment is a monotheist.  Thus he virtually unites with the Jew’s belief in one God, and recognizes that Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared, but is the Son of God.  This declaration of Jesus, understood, conflicts not at all with another of his sayings:  “I and the Father are one,”—that is, one in quality, not in quantity (Page 361).

There is a denial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “They who earliest saw Jesus after the resurrection and beheld the final proof of all that he had taught, misconstrued that event…Jesus’ students, not sufficiently advanced fully to understand their Master’s triumph, did not perform many wonderful works, until they saw him after his crucifixion and learned that he had not died…Jesus’ unchanged physical condition after what seemed to be death…” (Pages 45-46).

There is a denial of Jesus’ atoning work.  “Wisdom and Love may require many sacrifices of self to save us from sin.  One sacrifice, however great, is insufficient to pay the debt of sin.  The atonement requires constant self-immolation on the sinner’s part.  That God’s wrath should be vented upon His beloved Son, is divinely unnatural.  Such a theory is man-made” (Page 23).

The Bible teaches that God is Triune (Matthew 28:19; John 14:7-18), that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1; 5:22-23; Colossians 2:9), that Jesus Christ rose from the dead as proof that our salvation is complete (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15), that Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).

It has been noted that Christian Science is neither Christian nor scientific.  Those in its churches need to hear the truths of the Bible.

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