The Nature of Non-Christian Religions

What is the real nature of non-Chris­tian religions, and what should be the attitude of the Christian toward them?

By EDWIN R. THIELE, Former Missionary to China Division

What is the real nature of non-Chris­tian religions, and what should be the attitude of the Christian toward them? Are these religions in reality gropings of men for God, and do they lead to God, or are they systems of belief whereby men are effectually kept from God? Do these religions spring from above, or do they have their source in some malevolent power? What are their fruits? Do they lead men to nobler and better lives, and to a clearer understanding of the realities of life, or do they lead to greater degradation and degeneracy, keeping men from a clear perception of the real meaning and value of life?

Since these religions exist throughout the world, and are ingrained in the very life of large cross sections of the human race, is there real need for our Christian message to be pro­claimed in regions in which these religions prevail ? If Christianity is to find its way into places where these religions have long held sway, should it be for the purpose of super­seding them, or should it be for the purpose of merely sharing with them in a mutual give­and-take—passing on some of its truths and accepting in turn some of the beliefs of these non-Christian religions?

To a Seventh-day Adventist worker it may seem almost superfluous to ask such questions. Mention of them might seem out of place were it not for the fact that throughout Christen­dom new views are coming in concerning the real nature of Christianity itself as well as of the non-Christian religions of the world–.-views which are bringing about a volte-face as to the need in the world for the Christian message, and placing in jeopardy the vast mis­sionary enterprise in which Christendom has been so earnestly engaged for the past century.

Let us consider, first, whether these reli­gions are in reality strivings toward God, and whether they spring from a desire to draw closer to God. In Romans 1:21-23 we read:

"Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to cor­ruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things."

In "Patriarchs and Prophets," page 91, we are told that men, "not desiring to retain God in their knowledge. . . . soon came to deny His existence. They adored nature in place of the God of nature. They glorified human genius, worshiped the works of their own hands, and taught their children to bow down to graven images." Then, instead of these religions' springing from a desire on the part of men to know God better and to draw closer to Him, they had their origin in a desire not to know Him and not to glorify Him and give Him the thanks and homage that were, His due. This attitude led to the worship of images and false gods, and to the formation of systems of error which have since well-nigh filled the world.

Let us see what is the real source of these religions—Satan or God—and whether they are in actuality one form of worship of God. Concerning this we are told:

"It is Satan who created, and who maintains the worship of idols, to divert the minds of men from God. It is by his agency that the kingdom of dark­ness and falsehood is supported."—"Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 192. "Modern Spiritualism, and the forms of ancient witchcraft and idol worship,—all having communion with the dead as their vital principle,—are founded upon that first lie by which Satan beguiled Eve in Eden; 'Ye shall not surely die ; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, . . . ye shall be as gods.' Alike based upon falsehood and perpetuating the same, they are alike from the father of lies."—"Patriarchs and Proph­ets," p. 685. "Satan determined to assert his right to control the world. He had succeeded in estab­lishing idolatry in every part of the earth except the land of Palestine."—"The Great Controversy," p. 514 (See also "Patriarchs and Prophets," pp. 334, 335, 684.)

Not only does God reject idol worship as a form of homage to Himself, but His most se­vere denunciations are hurled against those who engage in this practice. The Bible makes it plain that idol worship is in reality a form of devil worship. i Cor. 10:20; Deut. 32:16, 17; Ps. 1o6 :36-40. The first two command­ments of the decalogue are very definitely di­rected against the fundamental principles of all false religious systems. Ex. 20 :3-6. The Spirit of prophecy declares:

"No misfortune is so great as to become the wor­shiper of a false god. No man is in such miserable darkness as he who has lost his way to heaven. It seems that an infatuation is upon him; for he has a false god. To turn this worship of the human, fallen, corrupt beings of earth to the only true object of worship, seems a hopeless task."—"Testimonies to Ministers," p. 435.

A willingness on the part of man to believe the falsehoods promulgated by Satan and an unwillingness to believe the revealed truths of God, are responsible for the origin and perpet­uation of false systems of worship. (See Jer. 1014, 15.) These false religions of the world, which have error as their basis, very definitely do not lead men closer to God, but, as is their constant tendency, rather drive men farther and farther from Him. Read "The Desire of Ages," pages 35, 36, 478. "By their fruits ye shall know them." The most telling evidence against false systems of religion is the fruit­age that these religions have produced in their adherents. Their effect has not been to uplift mankind, but to degrade; not to produce nobler and better traits of character, but to drag men ever downward to lower levels of wickedness and immorality. See "Patriarchs and Proph­ets," pages 91, 95, 96.

Ringing about in the minds of the wor­shipers of idols such a perverted conception of God, Satan led men on into the most abomin­able immoralities and the most horrible cruel­ties. Read "The Great Controversy," page 569; "Patriarchs and Prophets," pages 337, 338. Any one who has any degree of acquaint­ance with modern heathen rites and practices, and who has left in him any spark of respect for decency, morality, and the higher concepts of life, cannot but view with aversion and dis­gust the revolting practices that still prevail where these false religions hold sway. The tendency is ever to degrade. The Spirit of prophecy, in "The Desire of Ages," pages 286, 287, tells us of the working of false religions, and on pages 36, 37 of the condition of affairs at the time Jesus came into the world.

These words were true at the time of Christ, and they are equally true today. As one makes his way about in countries where false re­ligions have their firmest grip upon the people, one still sees countenances that reflect the very image of demons. When I first saw such faces, I would turn away with horror, and a shudder would come over me. I had not be­lieved that such faces could exist, but seeing them made me realize the terrible results of men's placing themselves under the control of demons of darkness.

Dark and degrading as these false religions are, must we conclude that there are none among them who still hold to that which is good, and who are striving for a higher and better life? Not at all. There are such, and though they may not be understood by their fellow men, we have the assurance that God sees and knows them, and that they will have their reward. "Even among the heathen there were men through whom Christ was working to uplift the people from their sin and degrada­tion. But these men were despised and hated.

Many of them suffered a violent death."—"The Desire of Ages," p. 35. (See also page 638.)

How many, however, are there among the heathen who, left to themselves, will by their own groping find their way back to God? With every influence of their surroundings tending constantly to degrade and depress, are these heathen who are now in darkness to be left to their own devices, to work out their own spiritual development? Must salvation come to these by their own efforts to regenerate themselves, or should they, too, be pointed to Jesus as the one way of life? What is the means that God has devised for their en­lightenment? In answer to these questions we read:

"The class of worshipers who follow the example of Cain includes by far the greater portion of the world ; for nearly every false religion has been based on the same principle,—that man can depend upon his own efforts for salvation. It is claimed by some that the human race is in need, not of redemp­tion, but of development,—that it can refine, elevate, and regenerate itself. As Cain thought to secure the divine favor by an offering that lacked the blood of a sacrifice, so do these expect to exalt humanity to the divine standard, independent of the atone­ment. The history of Cain shows what must be the result. It shows what man will become apart from Christ. Humanity has no power to regenerate itself. It does not tend upward, toward the divine, but downward, toward the satanic. Christ is our only hope. 'There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' Neither is there salvation in any other.' "—"Patriarchs and Prophets," p. 73. (See also Rom. 10;13, 14.)

The more deeply we study this question of those living in darkness, the more deeply im­pressed we are with their very great need of salvation—the salvation offered by Jesus. It is hopeless to think that these people can or will regenerate themselves. Their systems of re­ligion hold them in darkness and degradation, and do not lift them toward the light. The Christian today has one outstanding commis­sion, and that is to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Jesus came into this world as the divine Son of God, with a message from heaven for the saving of men.

That message has been committed to us to proclaim. When we go forth to proclaim it, we are not repeating cunningly devised fables, but we are passing on to men the solemn, soul-stirring call of God to come out of the dark­ness of sin and get ready for the kingdom of heaven. Agents of heaven we are, indeed, as we engage in this all-important task. (See 2 Cor. 5 :20.) It is our inestimable privilege to go forth as ambassadors for heaven, plead­ing with men, in the name of Jesus, to be reconciled to God.

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By EDWIN R. THIELE, Former Missionary to China Division

February 1939

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