As a pastor, I’m often asked by friends outside the church whether there’s any difference between the major world religions. After all—the thinking goes—aren’t they all communicating the importance of love? Don’t they share a common basis in morality?
With all the religious tension in the world, it’d be great to simply conclude that all religions are, at their core, essentially the same. If that’s the case, it’s pointless to argue about dogma, and the thought of going to war over differences becomes incomprehensible. Despite what may be good intentions in emphasizing the similarities across religions, there are real problems with assuming that “all religions just teach love.”
While it’s true that many of the great world religions share common moral teachings, the idea that this means “all religions are basically the same” assumes that morality is the essence of religion, and that the distinct aspects of each religion are peripheral to their primary message of moral uprightness. In truth, the religions of the world, while sharing some similarities, also contain irreconcilable teachings.
As a Christian pastor, I teach that Jesus Christ died on a cross for the sin of the world and that he rose again from the dead after three days. According to the earliest followers of Jesus, that message was the cardinal truth of Christianity. In fact, to dismiss it would be to destroy the Christian faith altogether. Here’s how one of Jesus’ earliest followers put it,
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Cor. 15:13-15)
This man, the apostle Paul, taught that if the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t true, then the Christian faith was in vain. What’s more, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then the moral teaching didn’t matter. He continued, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor. 15:32). In other words, if the resurrection is a hoax, we’re wasting our time with all of this “religion stuff.” Paul wasn’t the only one who realized the importance of the resurrection. Jesus repeatedly talked to his disciples about the bodily resurrection (Jn. 5:25-29; Mk. 8:31; 9:31; Mt. 16:21).
When a person concludes that all religions are basically the same, they’re defining the various religions of the world on their own terms instead of letting the terms define themselves. If religion is primarily about being a good person, then sure, many of the religions out there can assist someone in modifying their behavior, but religions like Christianity aren’t essentially about being “good people.” The Christian religion is all about the God who lovingly pursued people who weren’t very good at all, in fact. That’s why the message of Christ’s death and resurrection is one of the vital organs of Christianity.
How do we get to heaven in Christianity? Not by being good people, but by believing in God’s descent to us. God pursued us by coming to earth, and then he stood in the place of sinners, taking the death our sins had earned so that he might give us the life we didn’t merit. Many religions out there teach love, but none of them have a message of love quite like this. In Christianity, it’s God’s love toward broken people that comes first. That’s what makes Christianity different. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16)
To learn more about the Christian faith, check out Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton.