Comparative Religion

It Begins with Christ


Dr. John Hoole





There was a time when most Christians in America had little need for information concerning the other major religions in the world.  That day is past.  The old phrase, ΅East is East; West is West; and never the twain shall meet,” is obsolete.


In the 1960s we began seeing a number of Eastern philosophies and religions invade America.  We had Transcendental Meditations preached by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  We also saw the Hindu sect, Hare Krishna, the New Age movement, Buddhism, Bahai, and Scientology enter the American scene.


We live in a small world where it is easy for people to travel long distances very quickly.  When people move to other location on this globe, they often take their religions with them.  As a person has contact with those from overseas, they become aware of their religious beliefs.  The question then naturally arises – Is Christianity  unique among the world’s religions?  Or is it only a different way to look at the basic theme running through all religions?


To say that in another way – Do sincere Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Sikhs worship the same God as Christians, but under a different name?

I was disappointed by statements made by Pope Francis in a video released by the Catholic News Agency to commemorate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, 2016.  In the video, the Pope very clearly expresses his belief that all of the major religions are different paths to the same God.  He says that while people from various global faiths may be “seeking God or meeting God in different ways it is important to keep in mind that “we are all children of God.”


This is the most recent example where it appears to show the Pope has abandoned any notion that a relationship with God is available only through Jesus Christ.  During the Pope’s visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, he made it very clear that he believes that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.


The negative implications behind such an ascertain that “all religions lead to the same God” is that either God must be rather arbitrary if He insists on only one way to Himself, or, second, that you are being dogmatic and bigoted to believe it.


Let’s begin with a little research of the main religions in the world. 



For many people, no religion should say they are the only way to God.  But Jesus makes a statement that disagrees with the idea that all religions lead to the same God.  He makes a blunt, in-your-face proclamation in John 14.


John 14:6 NKJV


6       Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.


Without question, Jesus is saying that He alone is the way to God.  This issue of whether Christians can make this claim is an issue that must be faced.  Some would ask: “Is God so narrow-minded that He provides only one way to redemption?  They might add: “Of all the religions that exist, how can it be that only Christianity is true?”  “If God exists, why can’t God use different religions?”


Many non-Christian Colleges and Universities offer courses in Comparative Religion.  Most of these courses approach this topic from the position that all religions are equally valid.  Many books have been written from the position that all religions are equal.  Out of this quest for the essence of religion came the now popular “mountain analogy.”


The mountain analogy pictures God at the peak of the mountain with man down at its base.  According to many of these college courses, the history of religion is the account of man’s effort to move from the bottom of the mountain to the top.  The belief is that when they reach the top, some sort of fellowship with God would be attained.  This “mountain analogy” allows for many roads to the top.  Some go up the mountain by a somewhat direct route.  Others wind in circuitous fashion all over the mountain, eventually reaching the top.


According to those who believe this analogy, all religious roads ultimately arrive at the same place, although they differ in the route they take.  The Bible is just one of many holy books.  To them the writings of Buddha, Confucius, Muhammed, Moses and others are all divine revelations.


In the midst of these religions that say all roads lead to heaven, comes Christianity, which teaches that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God the Father.


In studying Comparative Religions there are several points that are critical.  The first point always to ask is, “What do various religions say about Jesus Christ.”  To address this issue, I want to take you to a place in Israel that helps us with the answer.


Jesus makes several very important statement in Matthew 16.  Actually, all of Christ’s statements are important, but this one is crucial to why He came to earth.


In Matthew 16:21 (NKJV), we read:


21     From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.


“From that time!”  From what time?  Where was Jesus and His disciples when He makes this statement, and the words that followed?


Jesus and the disciples had been in Bethsaida, according to Mark 8.  It was there that Christ had healed a blind man that was brought to Him.  Following that, they walked some 25 miles  north.


Mark 8:27  (NIV)


27     Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages of Caesarea Philippi.


In Matthew’s Gospel, we read Matthew 16:13 NKJV


13     When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"


                   This account is also told in Luke 9.


If you visited Caesarea Philippi today, you would see the ruins you see in this photo.  I will come back to this picture, but first I want to show you a few more pictures of the area near the front of this cave.  I climbed the hill to the left of the cave, and took a few pictures.


In this photo, you see the cave at the far left.  But also you are able to see what else archaeologists have uncovered in this area.


The next photo was taken from the same spot, but brings the ruins a little closer.  What you see are the foundations of several temples and courtyards that existed in the 1st century when Christ and His disciples were here.  Here is what this area might have looked like when built by Philip the Tetrarch – son of King Herod.  It was similar to other pagan cities of that era.  While the city of Dan, 2½ miles away from this city, was a Jewish city, Caesarea Philippi was a gentile city.


Caesarea Philippi is located in the very northern part of Israel.  Today, its ruins are located in what is known as the Golan Heights.  Christ comes to this place, a place that during the first century was used for pagan worship.  Inside the cave you see in this photo is a large spring of fresh water.  Its water becomes the Banias River.  This, along with the Hazbani and Dan Rivers make up the 3 headwaters of the Jordan River, which flows from this area into the Huleh valley, where they join, forming the Jordan River on to the Sea of Galilee then on to the Dead Sea,.


At this location, we are 1,150 feet above sea level  (Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level) and we are on the southern slopes of the 9,200 feet Mount Hermon.


The spring in this cave produces an immense amount of water.  Looking into the cave, you see what looks like very little water.  Until the year 1837 the water flowed out over the ground in front of the cave.  An earthquake in 1837 caused debris to fill the ground in front, and partially inside the cave, and since that time, the water has flowed underground to the pools you see.


These pools are not still or standing water.  Let me show you a video I shot on my last trip there, that shows how much water is coming from the spring in this cave.  As you can see in the video, the water is moving quite rapidly.


Before this area was called Caesarea Philippi, its name was Banias [Arabic] or Panias.  This was to honor the mythical Greek god Pan, and this grotto would have been established here after 330 B.C.  That is because it was about this time Alexander the Great came through here, introducing Greek culture to this area.


Those recesses (niches) in the stone cliff once held idols to the Greek god Pan who was the Greek god being half-man and half-goat.


In Old Testament times, - prior to 330 B.C. – this cave was a place to worship Baal.  In the Bible, this place is mentioned by two different names, in five different verses.


In Joshua 11:17, this site was called “Baalg, and, as stated in this passage, the location is “in the valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon.”  (Also mentioned in Joshua 12:7;  13:5)Judges 3:3 calls this place “Baalhermon”, with Mount Hermon nearby (also 1 Chron. 5:23)


If you examined further along this rock cliff, you would see many other recesses carved for placement of idols.


Now that we have looked at the background of this place, I think this would be a natural place for Jesus to stop for refreshment with his disciples.


Jesus often taught his disciples using metaphors and parables that related to the physical surroundings in which He was ministering.  For instance, Christ said “I will make you fishers of men” while they were mending their nets.  Ad He spoke about a “sower who went out to sow,” at a location where they could visibly see sowing occurring.  He spoke of a city on a hill that could not be hid at a place where they could actually see a city on the top of a hill.


So, why did I take you to Caesarea Philippi.  It is here where Jesus asked the disciples, "Who do people say I am?"  In Matthew 16:14, the disciples answer: “Some say you are John the Baptist, some say Elijah, others say Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”


Then Christ turns the attention away from who other people say He is, to asking his disciples, “with regard to what you see here and the gods worshiped in this place, who do YOU believe I am”?


Peter’s declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” challenged all the gods placed in the recesses of the cliff.  And, standing in front of this rock cliff, it would explain Christ’s use of the metaphor of a “rock.”  “Upon this rock I will build my church,……”  He is, of course, speaking about Himself, the “Solid Rock,” and the fact that He is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  He uses the word “Petros,” a term that would be used to describe the very cliff that stood there.


To me, this implies that Christ walked to this place specifically to teach his disciples this lesson.  This is the only biblical record of Christ in Caesarea Philippi.  And at this place, Christ also made three historic statements and predictions.


1.  The Church


Matt 16:18 NKJV


18     And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 


For the first time, Jesus announced His purpose to build an ecclesiaThe Church – a community of the redeemed, called out to be His Body on earth.


2.  His call to discipleship


Matthew 16:24-26 NKJV


24     If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 

25    For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 

26    For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?


Jesus is saying that His Church, His body, will be composed of those on earth who would deny themselves and follow Him.  If you want to belong to this body Christ calls the Church, a Christ follower must deny themselves.  We are to make a complete surrender of ourselves to Christ.


3.  His coming death and resurrection


Let me again read the verse we read a moment ago where Jesus tells his disciple he must go to Jerusalem.  This time I will complete the verse.


Matthew 16:21 NKJV


21     From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem,

and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.


This is the very first time Jesus introduces the disciple to the fact that He must die.  But then He adds that He would be raised alive on the third day.


As I mentioned earlier, when it comes to understanding Christianity among the religions of the world, one must start by answering the question: “Who do you say that the Son of God is?”  The primary difference between Christianity and all other religions is rooted in the differences between Jesus and other religious leaders.


If all religions point to the same God, you would think that they would teach basically the same things about Christ or God.  If they are the same, their teachings should basically hold the same truths.  But is this the case?  Are there major differences between religions when you study what they hold true?  Or are those differences only minor and insignificant?


Actually, you only have to scratch the surface of what other religions teach to see their differences.  If you let each religion speak for itself, you find they differ greatly on the basic concepts – God, truth, reality, solutions to the human dilemma.  They differ so much that many of their statements contradict one another.


The Quran reads in Surah 5:75:


“Christ, the son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him.”


In Surah 4:157, it reads:


“Christ was a messenger of Allah…….They did not kill him, nor crucify the Messenger of Allah, but so it was made to appear to them.”


Islam denies the deity of Jesus and despises His cross.  It also denies redemption and the forgiveness He gave for mankind through his shed blood.  And it denies the resurrection of Jesus.


For instance, how can a Buddhist deny the existence of a personal God, and at the same time Christianity be true when it advocates very strongly that God is very personal?  Can there be a personal God and a non-personal God at the same time in the same relationship?


Or, how can some orthodox Jews, like the Sadducees, deny life after death, and Christianity be equally right when it affirms life after death?  Can classical Islam have a valid ethic that endorses the killing of infidels, while at the same time the Christian ethic of loving your enemies be equally valid?


There is only two possible ways to maintain the equal validity of all religions.  One is by ignoring the clear contradictions between them.  The other is by assigning these contradictions as being non-essential and insignificant.


Considering these contradictions as being insignificant is the route most take.  The differences are obscured and watered down.


For Christianity, the deity, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of its message.  Islam, on the other hand, denies the deity, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Both views cannot be simultaneously true.  And neither are they insignificant.  One of these contradictory views must be incorrect.


Many world religions have a creation story, a flood story, a rescued-people story, etc.  There’s also usually some king of key person in each religion.  Although there are some similarities between some beliefs of difference religions, I believe the differences far outweigh, and are much greater than, the similarities.  Many religions agree that we should treat others like we would like to be treated.  But man’s problem has never been knowing what he should do.  His problem, rather, has been that he lacks the power to do what he know he should.


And this leads to one of the chief differences between Christianity and all other religions.  We not only have instructions on how we should live our life, but we have access to a personal God that has offered us the power and strength to be what we would never be able to do or be on our own.  Christ offers both the instruction and the power to live as we should.


How does Christianity fit into the “Mountain Analogy?”  Can it fit?  No – the mountain analogy does not in any way illustrate the essence of Christianity.  While other religions are in fact the efforts of man seeking and struggling towards God, Christianity finds God coming down “off the mountain,” because He knows that man could never get to the top by his own efforts.


Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the only way – not just a way.  Let me show you how this is displayed in Scripture.


Acts 4:12 NKJV, says:


12     Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."


Christians believe this, not because they have made it their rule, but because Jesus Christ taught it.


Again, John 14:6 (NKJV)


6       Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.


                   That is about as direct a statement as you can get.


Romans 5:1-2 (NKJV) adds:


1       Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2       through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.


Ephesians 2:18 NKJV


18     For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.


John 10:9 NKJV


9       I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.


The Christian cannot be faithful to his Lord and affirm anything else.  If Jesus Christ is who he claims to be, then we have the authoritative Word of God Himself.  If He is God and there is no other Savior, then obviously He is the ONLY way to God, and Christians could not change this fact by a vote or by anything else.


At the heart of Christianity stands the person and work of Jesus Christ.  His person and His work are the essence and substance of Christianity.  It is in who He is and what He has done that Christianity can be understood.


Again, the difference between Christianity and other religions is rooted in the difference between Jesus and the other religion’s leaders.


Buddha never claimed to be anything more than a man.  Mohammed claimed nothing more than being a human prophet.  Moses and Confucius were mortal.  But, if Christ was in fact God incarnate, then it is unjust to ascribe equal honor to Him and to the others.


It really does not matter what one thinks of Mohammed, Buddha, Moses or Confucius as individuals..  Their followers emphasize their teachings.  Not so with Christ.  He made Himself the focal point of his teaching.


We must come to answer the question of who Jesus is the way that Peter did.


“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”