Thought provoking questions we have received, with our responses
Topics discussed in this essay:
|Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:
Mine is the only true Christian denomination:
Incoming Email: "You are wrong when you state that Catholics, Mormons,
Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. are Christian. They are not because they hold
Our response: Your Email is the most common single type of complaint that we
There is an enormous diversity of definitions of the
term "Christian." You use one, which we can only guess at. We have what appears to be
a very different one. There are many dozens of other definitions in common use -- all different.
I assume that you are a conservative Protestant. If so, then:
||Certainly Roman Catholics are not Christians, within your definition
of the term. But in their statement Dominus Iesus
(2000) they state that the Roman Catholic church was
the only one created by Jesus.
They regard the Orthodox Churches as "true
particular Churches," and united with them. They believe that the Church
of Christ is "present and operative" in those churches. But the Catholic Church considers the rest
of the tens of thousands of groups which call themselves Christian
as not being "churches in the proper
sense." We suspect that this latter group includes your denomination.
|Certainly the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the
other denominations in the Mormon movement are not
Christians within your definition of the term. Mormons believe
in Restorationism. This is the concept that:|
The true Christian church died out early in the 2nd
Century CE, when
religious leaders abandoned many of the original teachings of Jesus
Christ, Paul and the other apostles.
It was restored by Joseph Smith in 1830
CE, when he
founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They regard all of the other denominations -- including
Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox churches, Protestant Churches, the
Anglican Communion, etc. -- as mired in heresy. We suspect that this
includes your denomination.
|Certainly Jehovah's Witnesses are not
Christians, within your definition of the term. But Jehovah's
Witnesses teach that theirs is the only true Christian church. They teach
that when the end of the world happens in the near future, Jehovah's
Witnesses in good standing will survive. However, all of the other groups
who consider themselves Christian will be largely destroyed in the largest
genocide in the history of the human race.|
By now, the pattern is clear. There are over 1,000 faith groups in the U.S.
alone that consider themselves to be Christian. Many, perhaps most, regard
themselves to be the "true" Christian church. They look upon other denominations
as being at least partly in a state of error; they are regarded as near
Christian, quasi-Christian, part-Christian, or perhaps even unchristian.
Each group is certain that they
are following the religion created by Jesus and are
in harmony with the Bible's message. A few denominations have attempted to
enter into dialogue with outher faith groups in an attempt to harmonize their differences. But this is
There is one obvious solution to this problem. Jesus or God could decide to communicate directly with people by opening up a myspace account, a facebook account, a telephone number, an email account, a postal address. or some other means of communication. Then people could ask questions and receive back authoritative answers. He could identify which, if any, of the over 20,000 Christian faith groups teach the truth. But every indication is that God wants to let humanity flounder in its ingnorance. We conducted a pilot study to see if people could assess the will of God throuh prayer. It appears that people cannot.
So, our site is not in error. Also, your belief that Roman Catholics and other
denominations are in error is not incorrect. You and we are simply using two of the hundred or so
various definitions of "Christian." We intentionally chose
a more inclusive definition.
Sincere, thoughtful, thorough, dedicated, and intelligent theologians have studied the Bible and interpreted what is says. Unfortunately, they have come to very different conclusions. Most of the over 1,000 faith groups who consider themselves Christian in the U.S. regard their own denomination, alone, as having the fullness of truth. That, of course, is impossible because there can only be one faith group that is true; the others must be wrong to at least some degree. If there is a totally true faith group, then the chance of any one group being true is less than one in a thousand. If there is no totally true faith group, then the chance is zero.
Multiple, conflicting interpretations of passages in the Bible by different faith groups appears to prove that the Bible is ambiguous. However, viewing the Bible as an ambiguous document is not something that most Christians can easily accept.
Incoming Email: "...There can only be one Type Of
There was only one Christ, thus there is
only one type of Christian."
Our response: Your reasoning sounds neat, but it may contain a
People who consider themselves Christians
approach the Bible and 1st/2nd century historical documents with
very different pre-conceptions. For example:
Most conservative Christians believe that
the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant -- free of error. They are immediately faced with internal
conflicts: places where two biblical passages appear to say different things.
Let's call them passages "A"
and "B." Theologians often harmonize the conflict by interpreting one
passage literally and the other symbolically. This approach immediately produces
differences of opinion among Christians,
because one denomination might select "A" to be the passage that
is interpreted literally and "B"
to be interpreted symbolically. Another faith group might select
"B" to be understood literally. Multiply this confusion by the 200
so apparent and significant conflicts in the Bible, and you end up with the situation that we have
today: over 1,000 Christian faith groups in North America, teaching slightly
belief systems, yet all based on the Bible.
Sometimes, this solution doesn't work. If sufficiently desperate, theologians will sometimes speculate that one or more passages in the Bible is incorrect because of an ancient scribe's copying error. Theologian's rely on the belief that Biblical inerrancy only refers to the original hand-written copy by the author, and not to subsequent copies. Theologians normally don't like to take this option because it weakens believers' faith in the reliability of the Bible. If all else fails, then they simply ignore passages, as in those approving of human slavery, requiring non-virgin brides to be stoned to death, allowing soldiers to rape female prisoners of war, and other activities now considered by both theologians and secularists profoundly immoral.
You can see this problem in action by reading our web site's section on salvation. Salvation is perhaps the most important topic for a Christian over which to have clarity. Most conservative Christians believe that people who are saved will attain Heaven after death; the unsaved will be dispatched to the torture chambers of Hell to be punished for all eternity. Thus Christians should be very concerned about whether they meet the Bible's criteria for salvation. Unfortunately, the Bible's various descriptions of salvation criteria are hopelessly confused and conflicted.
||Many liberal Christians believe that each of the
authors of the Bible was trying to promote their own particular
spiritual and religious beliefs. Many apparent conflicts in the Bible
are real; they represent the different positions of the writers. The gospel writers, for example,
reported some sayings and acts of Jesus verbatim, and some with poor
accuracy. They created sayings and acts that promoted their own beliefs,
and attributed them to Jesus. They incorporated some features of
Pagan religions in the Mediterranean region in order to make Christianity more
competitive with those religions -- the virgin birth, and bodily
resurrection and ascension of Jesus were three such
features. Finally, they inserted some anti-Jewish propaganda. Modern-day theologians then attempt to strip away these layers
of theology in order to reach an understanding of the
historical Jesus. Some interpret him as a Greek cynic philosopher; some as a
student of Buddhism; some as a magician; some as a liberal Jew with a
message of reform to his fellow Jews, etc. These theologians end up with many different
concepts of the historical Jesus. |
So there is not a single version of Christianity; there are literally thousands. Many of these faith groups believe that they alone are
following Jesus' teachings; they are the "true" church. The Roman Catholic Church
issued a formal statement to that effect in 2000-SEP. Although many ecumenical efforts are active today, the Christian religion remains split into
thousands of denominations -- in essence thousands of varieties of Christians.
Group prayer with an Atheist:
Incoming Email: "I am a public school student. I asked
my group whether they would like to pray together before each meeting.
They all seemed to agree, but I asked anyone who wasn't comfortable with
the idea to see me privately. Nobody did. Before the next meeting, I asked
the group again to pray, and mentioned that anyone who didn't want to pray
could simply not join the group, or could stand with us and remain silent.
Before the next meeting one of the group came to me and said that they
were an Atheist, that what I was doing was wrong, and that it shamed our
group and organization.
Did I do wrong? What do I do now?"
Our response: Some people might tell you that what you did is
illegal because it violates the principle of separation of church and
state. The U.S. Supreme Court has read this concept into the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Some people believe that public
schools should be religion-free zones. But they are wrong. Students can
pray, carry their Bible, read their Bible, talk about religion, wear
religious T-shirts, etc. They can do these things on the school bus, by the flagpole, in the
school corridors, in the classroom before and after a class, in the
cafeteria, etc. If the school allows as few as one extra-curricular
student-led club, then it must allow students to organize and advertise
a Bible club. Since you are a student, you have every right to
pray before a non-classroom student meeting, and to invite others to join with
prayer. In fact, there are relatively few forms of religious expression
that are forbidden students in public schools before, between and after classes.
You showed a great deal of sensitivity to the other group members.
Religion is a hot topic. There is always the possibility that in your
group, there is one or more students who are members of a non-Christian
faith. To them, a Christian prayer would be very offensive. Imagine how
you would feel if the majority of your group were Hindus and wanted to
pray to a Goddess before every meeting. Also, there is the possibility
that one of the students is an Atheist, Humanist or other non-theist to whom a prayer to a personal God would be stupid --
as as ridiculous as a prayer to Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Some
Atheists might consider prayer to be as disgusting as a racist, sexist
or homophobic statement.
But perhaps a better way to implement a prayer might have been to contact each member of the
group individually and in confidence to see if any objected to the
prayer. By asking them as a group, there is always the possibility
that one team member felt awkward about public prayer but was reluctant
to come out and say so due to peer pressure.
What you did is certainly not "wrong" in the legal sense. A
student can pray; a group of students can pray; a student can suggest that
other students pray. If you were a staff member of the school, then you
could not pray out loud or gather students around to pray because this
would involve a leader of the school promoting religion over a
secular lifestyle; that would be unconstitutional.
So your question becomes:
||Whether your actions were wrong religiously? In Matthew 6:1-6, Jesus
is recorded as forbidding public prayer. Prayer is only to be done in
private, alone. The Living Bible paraphrases this section "go
away by yourself, all alone and shut the door behind you and pray to
your Father secretly." So at least according to that one
passage, public prayer is an inappropriate activity.|
||Whether your actions were wrong morally? Almost all religions have
an "ethic of reciprocity" which
governs how their members should behave towards other humans. In
Christianity, this is called the Golden Rule: to do onto others as you
would have them do onto you. Group prayer is apparently causing significant levels of
discomfort to at least one member of your group. I would suggest that
you try to find another way to accomplish your goal, without causing
distress. I suggest that you talk to the Atheist, explain
that you understand his/her objection, and that you would like to try an
alternative procedure. You plan to give the the group a
short, purely secular, pep-talk about striving to accomplish their
personal best, to behave in a responsible manner, to work effectively
as a team, etc. Then you will ask for a moment of silence so that the
members can meditate, pray silently, or simply think about the task ahead. Each student would then follow the dictates of their own heart.
Everyone on the team would probably be comfortable with at least one
of the three alternatives. I think that this arrangement would be
sensitive to the Atheist's concerns, and would not be offensive to
is also the distinct probability that there are others on the team
that were uncomfortable with prayer but did not want to object for
fear of being alienated; these teammates would probably feel more
comfortable with a multiple choice option. Matthew 6 would not be a
concern, because it would not be obvious whether anyone was praying.|
This topic continues in the next essay
Copyright © 2000 to 2014by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-SEP-23
Latest update: 2014-OCT-02
Author: B.A. Robinson