Should the Religions Unite?
UNITE for survival! That is a trend in politics, with the United Nations, the Atlantic Pact and other alliances. In these alliances it is an admission of fear, fear of the common enemy. Uniting for survival is also a trend in religion, with interfaith mergers, brotherhood weeks and national and international councils of churches. Here it is an admission of weakness, of the need of help from others, for not only the political leaders, but religious leaders too, are afraid. Afraid of communism, afraid of trends they are unable to stop, afraid of bigger, more powerful religions. This leads some of them to seek the strength of numbers, and it is one reason that you hear a great deal about interfaith.
Some think all the divisions in today’s religions are satisfactory; they believe all religions are right. This idea comes to the fore in annual “brotherhood weeks,” the thought that all are religious brothers no matter what their beliefs. This common view was expressed in the New York Times, September 23, 1951: “Christian, Jew, Moslem, Buddhist, or whatever we may be, we are all children of God, however differently we may conceive him.”
But which is more important, to agree with your brother or to help him? The brotherhood idea is to agree, to pat him on the back and say: “You’re doing well, brother, keep it up.” But if you think that is a lie, would you not be doing him an injustice by encouraging his wrong course? God’s Word does not agree with the idea that all religions are right, that all men are his children, that they can conceive him any way they wish. It says some are Satan’s children, that the varying ideas about God are prompted by him, that “the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,” “is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” Do we want to follow his lead? Would we want someone to fail to call it to our attention if he knew we were going wrong? Jesus made it clear to those who were teaching false doctrine, false ‘conceptions’ of God: “You are from your Father the Devil.” They had a different father, were no brothers of his!—2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 12:9; John 8:44, NW.
Interfaith may go even farther than brotherhood and lead to actual mergers between closely related religious organizations. The national and international councils of churches are further examples of the proposed unity. In the United States the National Council of the Churches of Christ includes 29 denominations claiming a total membership of over 33 million persons. The World Council of Churches is even larger, being composed of 158 denominations from 43 lands.
While these councils may provide a strong political lobby, or aid in mission work, they have no unity of doctrine, no message for the world, no direction to the kingdom of God as earth’s only hope, no counsel for the Christian conscience in the present crisis. They are merely “United Nations” of religions, ‘agencies of cooperation’ between widely divided denominations, but are not organizations that could bring their members to a unity of correct belief.
ARE ALL WAYS RIGHT?
Could all these religions possibly be right? And, if not, is it correct to associate with them? One clergyman said the more than twenty factions in his group divides them “into a laughing stock before the world and probably a condemned people before God.” Others view it differently, saying the different churches please different “customers,” thinking it is man who is to be pleased, rather than God. They are often the ones who regard the churches, not as places for truth, but as places for socials and smokers and good causes. Of course, there is nothing wrong with amalgamating socials and good causes, but if they are concerned with true worship, which they must be to be Christians, then they cannot contaminate it with the false kind. Concerning false practices the apostle warned that just “a little yeast ferments the whole lump.”—1 Cor. 5:6, NW.
But some say: ‘This unity is among Christian denominations, not with false doctrine.’ Just having the name “Christian” does not make them right. If truly Christian, they would not be so divided on doctrine. The apostles were not. The Christian organization is one of strong internal unity, not division. Just saying, “I believe in Christ,” while going off on various teachings of their own, accepting the “yeast” of human ideas and pagan traditions, does not sanctify their conflicting man-made doctrines. Such ones call Jesus their master, but Jesus warned: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Master, Master,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens.” Further, the Proverbs say: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” And God warns against those who have drawn “near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.”—Matt. 7:21, NW; Prov. 16:25; Isa. 29:13.
Just as “Christendom” claims descent from Christ, the Jews of Jesus’ day claimed descent from Abraham, and therefore thought they were right. But like Christendom today, they no longer had the faith of their forefathers; they had split into sects and had added their own ideas, their own precepts, to what Jehovah had revealed. Did Christ unite with such varying beliefs to get numbers? No, he did not condone false doctrine. He stood up for truth despite popular opinion. Far from proposing unity with other religions, he showed that the truth would be a divisive force, separating those who would accept it from the ones who would not: “I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a young wife against her mother-in-law.”—Matt. 10:35, NW.
Those who would accept the truth could do so, but he had no intention of watering it down to please the multitude or to satisfy those teaching differently. Rarely has such an accusation been flung at religious leaders as his charge recorded in Matthew 23: He six times called the spreaders of falsehood hypocrites, five times said they were blind, once called them fools; he said they were “serpents, offspring of vipers” and resembled “whitewashed graves . . . full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Interfaith with Judaism would have saved the apostles a great deal of trouble, but would not have gained God’s favor. It would have saved Stephen from stoning and Paul from prison bonds. But these Christians refused to be “tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of craftiness in contriving error.” (Eph. 4:14, NW) They knew what they believed and why; they had firm and accurate knowledge. No one could shake them from it, persuade them to contaminate it, or convince them to associate with or lend support to those who were leading innocent men the wrong way. Their hold on truth was viselike and unbreakable. They did not want to be among those having “a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge,” who “because of . . . seeking to establish their own, . . . did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”—Rom. 10:2, 3, NW.
A DANGER SIGNAL
Many of today’s clergy have no such determination. They are not sure what is right. Even officials of a denomination will allow that group’s scholars and teachers to be so divided that some are liberal, others conservative; some modernist, others fundamentalist. If one is right, the other must be wrong, but they are not sure which is which. This is sometimes justified as “investigation,” a right the individual has to decide on doctrine, or it is argued that divine revelation available to the individual allows for differing doctrines. Certainly each individual has the right, even the obligation, to investigate. But when his investigation shows that even the scholars in his denomination cannot agree, or that they think the individual who has not studied God’s Word may know more than one who has, or think that divine revelation to the individual may differ from what the organization receives, then they have little confidence in their organization’s having truth, and feel that something is most certainly wrong! The Scriptures do not praise this lack of clear vision, but say: “If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”—Matt. 15:14, NW.
If today’s religions are no more firmly convinced that their doctrines are right than their willingness to merge with those having different doctrines indicates, then they are waving a red sign of danger before their members, a sign lettered: “BEWARE!” If their doctrines are identical with those of the group they plan to merge with, then the clergy are admitting that their previous divisions have not been based on doctrine, but were personal, sectarian. But if their doctrines differ and it is just that the clergy are not sufficiently convinced that they are right, or if they want a big organization so much that to get it they would accept doctrines they believe are false, then it is high time their members examined whether they are being led the way they want to go!
What interfaith usually proposes is a unity of headquarters, while true faith would require a unity of doctrine. Headquarters provide secular strength; doctrine, spiritual strength. Which is more important?
Is a way to unity of doctrine available? Yes. It is found by getting back through the mound of human ideas and pagan teachings that have split Christendom, back to the simple worship that the first-century Christians had. That is done by returning to the Book that shows what true faith originally was. Even those who scoff at the Bible’s inspiration must recognize it as the record of what Christianity was before human ideas and interfaith with paganism had, by a few centuries after Christ, led Christendom astray.
The purpose of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society since its inception has been to check not just the “proof texts” every religion has, but every text relating to every doctrine of Christendom. The job is tremendous, and has taken decades. It could be done only with the blessing of the holy spirit, and it is the only way to return to the unity of true worship, the faith of the apostles, and the favor of God. If the Bible actually teaches a doctrine, then and then only should it be accepted. If it is speculation, human theory, some man’s idea, it should be rejected. The startling result has been that an amazing number of doctrines taught in Christendom are found false, are not supported by the Scriptures. And when one’s own belief conflicts with the Scriptures, the psalmist’s course was the wise one: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Trust in that Word.—Ps. 119:105.
While the houses of twentieth-century religion may look alike from the outside, the Bible, the blueprint, shows misfit construction, false fronts and showy windows foreign to plan. The need to lean together in interfaith self-support is caused by major structural weaknesses. True Christianity never needs to compromise doctrine or principle to gain strength. It has no brotherhood with false teachings, and needs no support from other doctrines. It does not need great numbers to have strength, because its is the firm structure the psalmist spoke of: “In God have I put my trust.”—Ps. 56:11.
It heeds the warning: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing,’ ‘and I will take you in.’” (2 Cor. 6:14-18, NW) God commands separateness from differing doctrines, rather than unity with them. The unity of true worship is internal, among its brotherhood; rather than external, with other denominations. The true Christian organization will hold firmly to the truth, just as firmly as did the apostles. Associating with false doctrine is forbidden, and the Christian principle narrows down to the four-word summary: TRUE FAITH, NOT INTERFAITH!