DISCLAIMER: If you are offended by discussions of religion, then read no further. I'm not inviting an exchange of opinions, so if you want to pick an argument...look elsewhere. These are my feelings and I own them...believe me.
As a child I attended Sunday School and Church with the neighborhood Methodist. I was drawn there by my friendship with a schoolmate and friend. I was raised in a home where my father was Jewish, my mother a Gentile, and religion was rarely mentioned. I suppose it was assumed that once I grew to adulthood, I would make my own decision.
Today, I find myself at age 62, still undecided about which church fits my beliefs. In my heart, I'm a Christian, but finding the congregation is a monumental chore. Religion is a personal choice and not one that should be taken lightly, and it's also a sensitive topic of conversation. I tend to avoid writing about it, but today, rather than attend church as I always vow to do, in my quest to find a home, I decided to do a little research, and now I'm even more confused than ever.
I give full credit to About.com and Wikipedia for the information I'm going to share with you. I'm paraphrased what was offered on these sites into more concise paragraphs for the sake of space and time. This brief compilation is only the tip of the iceberg. There are far more religions, cults and sects in the world, so I elected to touch on the ones I seem to hear about the most:
Religion based on the Old Testament, and the first five books are considered the TORAH. They embrace one God only. The do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, rather consider him a prophet or teacher.
Romans 10:12 – “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”
The word Islam means "submission" or the total surrender of oneself to God or Allah. Muslim, means “one who submits to Allah” and boasts between one billion to 1.8 billion followers in the world. This makes it the second largest religion after Christianaity. Muslims believe that Allah’s words were revealed to Muhammad in the Qur’an, and consider it the fundamental souce of their religion. Islamic believers hold that the Jews and Christians distorted God’s Word by either altering the text or introducing their own interpretations.
Catholics employ many of the same beliefs as Protestants. They recognize the Trinity, Christ’s divinity and the Word of God. Differences include the use of the Apocrpha and recognizing spiritual authority of the Pope, bishops and priests. They believe in saints, confession, seven sacraments, and often have icons and statues of saints of display. Angels are considered spiritual and immortal beings with names and purposes. In the same vein of all Christian religions, one can only reach heaven if they believe in Christ. Catholics also believe there is an eternal Hell. They also believe in Purgatory, as a sort of holding place where one goes if they are not purified. The soul remains until they become holy enough to enter Heaven. Satan is a spirit filled with power and evil, and demons are fallen angels who are incapable to repentance. Rosary beads are used to count prayers. The prayers said on the beads are known as “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory Be.”
Not a denomination as much as a branch of Christianity that originated in the 16th Century when some left the Catholic Church. As a result, many denominations are very similar in practices and traditions. The Bible is the sole sacred book used by most, and only baptism and communion are the sacraments used. Belief in angels is not a primary focus, and the view of Satan differs among denominations, recognizing him in some cases a real and evil while others consider him a metaphor. Faith is a person’s salvation and is unconditional once saved. Those who have never heard of Christ will be saved. Unlike the Catholic religion, they view Mary as the mother of Jesus but do not use her as intervention to God. Heaven is the final destination of Christians, and where they will eventually meet and adore God. Hell is where non-believers spend eternity.
Although there are distinctive beliefs held in common by all Baptists, there are some minor ones that are not consistent from one Baptist church to another. This denomination, as with other Christian denominations, believe in one God, the virgin birth, miracles, Jesus as the savior by his atonement through death, burial and resurrection. They recognize the Trinity, the need for salvation, and the second coming of Christ, at which time God will judge and divide humanity. Christ will decide on the rewards due for things done while alive. These deeds will not get someone into heaven. This religion requires baptism by dousing in water.
Seventh Day Adventists:
The Law of God is the Ten Commandments as embraced by most Protestant religions. The SDA church recognizes Saturday as the seventh day of the week, hence the Sabbath. They also believe in the second coming and end of time. Unlike some religions who believe the mind and body are divisible, SDA do not. The mind, spirit and body are one, and death is a state of ‘soul sleep’ until Christ’s return and resurrection. They do not believe in eternal Hell, rather the wicked will be permanently destroyed.
The name Jehovah is a personal name translated from Hebrew letters to mean “my lord.” Jesus is recognized as the only-begotten Son and that Jesus and Jehovah are separate beings with the Holy Spirit being Jehovah’s active force. The only way to Jehovah is through Jesus. JW’s believe in the imminent war of Armageddon where the wicked will be destroyed and the righteous, those living and resurrected) will form a new society on earth and live forever in paradise. The soul is the person, not an immortal entity. It dies with the person and exists in a state of non-consciousness until resurrected. They consider the entire Bible the religious authority upon which they base their church, however prefer their own New World Translation, published in 1950 by their own Bible and Tract Society. They employ a literal translation in most cases, although claim belief that parables, figures of speech and symbolism were used in writing the Good Book. They do not celebrate national holidays, birthdays nor do they salute the flag. Several holidays are considered as pagan in origin. This religion is probably best known for spreading their belief by door-to-door visits, free home Bible studies, and sharing their own publications.
Church of Christ:
Non Protestant. Those believers in Christ who continue to use only the New Testament as the source for Christian doctrine and practice.
Mormons/Latter Day Saints:
Non Protestant. This religion is based on the Bible and the Book of Mormon (a historical and religious record translated by the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith.) The term “Mormon” is applied to members of the LDS Church. Unlike most Christian religions, The LDS church recognizes Jesus the living head of their church, and believe he serves at his father’s hand. Because of this, they do not utilize the cross as a recognizable symbol of their church. The Book of Mormon provides a deep basis for the beliefs of the church and is far too complicated to compile in brevity. Until 1978 when the Church received negative publicity for ethnic issues, black men were not allowed to descend to priesthood, nor were black men and women allowed to participate in the temple ordinances necessary to achieve the highest salvation. Their practices of changing their rules of religion haven been drawn into question…particularly their stance on drinks containing caffeine. After the church president met with officials from Coca-Cola, the practice of abstaining was lifted. This religion is known as one of the wealthiest per capita and he has also invested in business, real estate and cattle ranching ventures.
As you can see, the differences are endless, and they even increase in number from one church to another among the same denomination. The question still remains in my mind...how can so many religions spring from the translation of one book...The Bible?
I'm reminded of the game we used to play as kids. A group lines up and the first person whispers something in the next person's ear. The practice continues until the last in line repeats what he/she heard. The difference is astounding. What we hear and what we repeat can be totally different. Explaining religion is like watching a car accident from two perspectives. If you have two witnesses on opposite sides of the street, they may relate contradictory stories.
Who is Joseph Smith and why does the LDS put such stock in a book he created and maintains to be true? Evidence of times and places in the Bible have been substantiated with anthropological finds, yet no places, coins, or relics mentioned in the Book of Mormon have ever been discovered. How can there be a Heaven and Hell in some religions, but a holding space called Purgatory in others. I always considered Hell and Purgatory one in the same. Shows what I know. It's embarrassing at my age not to have made a sound choice, but I think my relationship with God will have to continue in my heart rather than in a brick and mortar building.
Why? I can't decide. There is no religion I've found thus far that encompasses what I believe in my heart to be true. The Bible is the word of God as written by man. The Jehovah Witnesses use passages in the Bible to support their refusal of life-saving blood, while the Jewish religion utilize the same to make their meat kosher. While the Witnesses refuse to recognize the flag or the anthem because Jehovah is a jealous God who wants no God before him, the Catholics bow to the Pope and feature statues and icons in their church. The Seventh Day Adventists recognize Saturday as their Sabbath while the rest worship on Sunday. Will the day of reckoning include our choice of the Sabbath as a reason for salvation? The LDS seem to value the male gender more highly then the female when it comes to achieving salvation and change their beliefs on a whim. And, some religions use only the New Testament while the Jewish use the Old. If the Bible truly is the word of God, how can you pick and choose?
My father was a good, honest man. He knew much about the Bible, although he rarely preached from it. He lived the best he could. When he died, I prayed in Jesus' name for strength and guidance. My father had always been my rock and the person I went to for advice. I found solace in the hope of eternal life, and that one day I might be reunited with him...BUT if I truly am a Christian, by Protestant doctrines, I will never see my father again because he didn't embrace Christ as his Messiah. I can't grasp that God is going to pick one religion over another...avow that one group who worships in his name is more worthy than another...that innocent children who have never been exposed to religion will be consumed by the fires of hell because of it.
I understand why there are agnostics and atheists, but I would never be one. I cannot look at the world's beauty and splendor and not believe in a creator bigger than my imagination. I need to have God and Jesus in my life to get by, so I accept them with unconditional question and feel relieved by their presence. They fill a void in my heart, take away the emptiness I see in the lives of those who are non-believers. (My humble opinion).
I've going to live my life the best I can, strive to be the child of whom a father would be proud, and seek God's wisdom and forgiveness through his son. If I can achieve that, how can I go wrong? It's practicing what I preach that's going to be the hardest part. :)
Blessings to you all!