Christianity and the Record of True Religion
1, 2. How does what is generally called “Christianity” compare with the religion of Jesus Christ?
The Detroit Free Press for December 24, 1976, asked:
WOULD TODAY’S CHRISTIANS LEAD SECOND CRUCIFIXION?
In the article that followed, columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote:
“If there should be, on Christmas Day, a second coming, would there not soon be a second crucifixion? And this time, not by the Romans or the Jews, but by those who proudly call themselves Christians?
“I wonder how we today would regard and treat this man with his strange and frightening and ‘impractical’ doctrines of human behavior and social relationships. . . .
“Would not the militarists among us assail him as a cowardly pacifist because he urges us not to resist evil but to return good for evil?
“Would not the nationalists among us attack him as a dangerous subversive because he tells us we are all of one flesh? . . . Would not the sentimentalists among us reject him as a cynic because he warns us that the way to salvation is narrow and difficult? . . .
“I wonder. I wonder if the Christian Era has yet begun.”
2 This article dramatically emphasizes some of the major differences between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the viewpoint of many people today who claim to believe in the true religion as set forth in the Bible.
JESUS AND TRUE RELIGION
3, 4. How does a common view of Adam and Eve compare with what was believed (a) by Jesus? (Gen. 1:26) (b) by his disciples?
3 Now, we have seen that the Bible book of Genesis teaches that Jehovah God created the first humans, Adam and Eve. Though many clergymen and churchgoers who prefer the theory of evolution consider the Genesis account as myth, what about Jesus, the Founder of Christianity?
4 It is undeniable that Jesus was sure that God created Adam and Eve, the parents of the human race. His disciples also believed this. (Gen. 2:21-24; 1 Cor. 6:16; 15:45; Eph. 5:31; Luke 3:23-38) Once, in answering a question about divorce, Jesus said:
“Did you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart. . . . I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.”—Matt. 19:4-9.
5. What attitude toward the Bible helps us to identify true religion?
5 We can be assured by this statement of Jesus that he and his followers accepted the Bible as inspired and reliable. Such acceptance is an important distinguishing mark of true religion. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Each of us may ask, then, ‘Does my religion accept the Bible as inspired and accurate, including what it says about creation? Do I personally believe as did Jesus and the apostles?’
6. (a) How did Jesus feel about marriage and divorce, and how does true religion compare with the Genesis information on these subjects? (b) What course did the early Christians follow as to sex and marriage? (Heb. 13:4)
6 What Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-9 also illustrates the consistency of true religion with regard to right conduct. Jesus agreed that marriage is sacred and that the marriage covenant is binding; divorce and remarriage are to be permitted by the Scriptures only if one’s mate is guilty of gross immorality. By holding to this godly standard, true religion motivates married persons to work at making a success of their union. They should not view marriage as a temporary social contract easily terminated by the State. Accordingly, in practicing true religion the early Christians avoided promiscuity, holding to the Creator’s view of marriage as a sacred, binding union. Thus, Dr. C. J. Cadoux wrote regarding Christians in the second century C.E.:
“All sexual intercourse outside the limits of marriage was sternly prohibited. The Christians frequently inveighed against the excesses prevalent in the pagan world around them.”—The Early Church and the World, p. 283.
7, 8. In your experience, do you find that most churchgoers hold to the Bible’s moral standard? Or, is it impossible to do so today?
7 Do you find that the majority of churches vigorously hold to the Bible’s moral standard? Or, is it common for persons claiming to be Christian to get a divorce and remarry though having no Scriptural basis for such? Also, do not many religions retain as members even persons who live together immorally and individuals practicing polygamy?
8 Of course, many would say that while the Bible’s high morality is admirable, basically it is not possible to hold to it in our time. But it definitely is possible for a religious people to hold to high moral standards despite ‘the excesses prevalent in the world around us.’ (Heb. 13:4) Note this report from the London Daily Telegraph regarding hundreds of thousands of persons on the African continent:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have shown themselves, through Africa, to be decent, orderly citizens living up to a high moral code. . . . The promiscuity and polygamy characteristic of African society is simply inconceivable among Witnesses. The sect inculcates habits of thrift, punctuality, honesty and obedience.”—October 26, 1972.
9. (a) Why is what the Bible says about sexual morality and stealing related? (Deut. 5:19, 21; 1 Thess. 4:4-6) (b) True religion is marked by what action toward someone who becomes an unrepentant, persistent wrongdoer?
9 So, from the beginning, we find as hallmarks of true worship insistence on sexual morality and respect for marriage. This is even involved in the Bible’s concern for property rights and condemnation of stealing. That would include stealing another’s mate or the moral purity of another person. (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 4:28) Furthermore, the Bible plainly states that persons professing true religion but who unrepentantly continue to be ‘fornicators, adulterers, thieves or greedy persons,’ must be expelled from the Christian congregation in accord with God’s requirement: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” (1 Cor. 5:11-13; 6:9, 10) Firm adherence to such divine morality has consistently identified true religion. We can ask, How does our worship of God compare with that?
JESUS AND SOUL
10. How do the Christian Scriptures and Genesis compare on the matter of “soul”?
10 Recall that in our previous discussion of Adam we noted that the Bible did not say that Adam possessed an immortal soul, but that he was a soul. Is that the same understanding found in the Christian Scriptures or “New Testament”? Indeed it is. The apostle Paul even quoted the Genesis record in discussing the matter of resurrection, saying: “It is even so written: ‘The first man Adam became a living soul.’ The last Adam [Jesus Christ] became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45) So in this matter, too, there is consistency as to the beliefs of true religion.
11 Christ’s early followers could be sure of that understanding because of what occurred with Jesus himself. He, a human soul, was put to death. He remained dead for three days, during which period he was not alive elsewhere. (Acts 2:22-27; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4) He was in the grave until God resurrected him with a spirit body on the third day, later to ascend back to heaven. (1 Pet. 3:18) Earlier, after likening death to the unconsciousness of sleep, Jesus told believers: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.” (John 11:11-14, 25; 5:28, 29) His disciples, then, had no reason to believe any Greek philosophy about man’s having an immortal soul.
12. Why is belief about the “soul” of significance regarding religion?
12 In this light, each of us can consider just what our religion teaches. Has our religious thinking been molded in line with what true religion has consistently held, that man is a soul and that any future life must await a resurrection? It is not a matter to be taken lightly; our hope is at issue.
CHRISTIANS AND THE COMMANDS TO NOAH
13, 14. Why is the matter of blood important as to true worship?
13 We might reasonably expect that just as Jesus’ teachings agreed with the Genesis account about Adam, they would agree with what we note in the Bible about Noah. And they do. You will recall that in Genesis 9:3-6 the Creator gave instructions that were commands for all mankind. God there spoke against eating meat with blood left in it and against robbing the lives of other humans.
14 From that time forward, true religion included respect for blood, which God himself said was to represent life that came from and belonged to Him. (Lev. 17:13, 14; Ps. 36:9) In harmony with this, it was Jesus’ lifeblood that was poured out in sacrifice for all mankind. (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:19) But are Christians also required to abstain from eating blood or meat not drained of its blood? Looking in the Christian Scriptures, we find that Acts chapter 15 contains a binding decision of the apostles and older men of Jerusalem who formed the central or governing body of Christian elders. The Bible tells us that they, aided by God’s holy spirit, confirmed that Christians must abstain from blood, just as was commanded through Noah.—Acts 15:28, 29; 21:25.
15, 16. How does the conduct of the early Christians and the conduct of Jehovah’s Witnesses compare as respects lifeblood?
15 Early Christians firmly held to this law of God. According to Latin writer Tertullian, second- and third-century Christians did not ‘have even the blood of animals at their meals of simple and natural food; they abstained from things strangled and that died a natural death.’ Even persecutors realized that those holding to the true Christian religion would not eat meat that had the blood left in it. So they ‘tempted Christians with blood sausage, just because they were perfectly aware that the thing by which they thus tried to get them to transgress, Christians held to be unlawful.’—Tertullian’s The Apology, Part I, Chapter 9.
16 Has this distinguishing feature of true religion since been abandoned? Though most churches disregard or do not teach what the Bible says in this connection, it is still a identifying mark of genuine Christianity. A 1976 report out of one African nation told of a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been imprisoned because of their maintaining political neutrality, as did the early Christians. Their prison guards put their faith to the test by trying to force them ‘to write a letter of denial about their beliefs, change their religion, accept the principle of polygamy or eat meat not drained of its blood.’ We are happy to relate that those Christians responded as did the apostles: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
17. What other evidence of true religion can Christians note in what God told Noah?
17 An additional evidence of true religion to consider also relates to what God told Noah. At that time, when the entire human family was just eight souls, God made it clear that they should not fight against and kill one another. (Gen. 9:5, 6) This feeling of brotherhood toward mankind and respect for human life is one of the strongest identifying marks of true religion.—Ex. 20:13.
18 Shortly before his death, Jesus said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) Consequently, early Christians declined joining the Roman army or fighting in the armies of any of the other ancient nations. In his essay “An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity,” Jonathan Dymond reported on his investigation into the matter:
“The Christians who lived nearest to the time of our Saviour, believed, with undoubting confidence, that he had unequivocally forbidden war—that they openly avowed this belief, and that, in support of it, they were willing to sacrifice, and did sacrifice, their fortunes and their lives.
“Christians, however, afterwards became soldiers.—And when? When their general fidelity to Christianity became relaxed;—when, in other respects, they violated its principles; . . . In a word, they became soldiers, when they had ceased to be Christians.”—Pp. 60, 61.
19. What distinguishing feature of true religion did the Bible writer John highlight?
19 The apostle John focused strong attention on love as an essential quality of true religion, when he wrote: “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother. . . . Little children, let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 John 3:11, 12, 18.
UNITED SUPPORTERS OF THE KINGDOM
20. In helping someone to identify true worship, what could we point out about the Kingdom?
20 Another reason for the global unity of the Christian brotherhood is found in the central theme of Jesus’ preaching: the kingdom of the heavens. True Christians give their support and lives to this kingdom’s authority wherever they live on the face of the earth. Though millions of churchgoers today repeat the “model prayer” that Jesus gave, praying “Thy kingdom come,” do they appreciate that the Kingdom is a real government that will actually rule this earth for the benefit of earth’s inhabitants, bringing justice, peace, health and life to mankind? (Rev. 21:3, 4; 2 Pet. 3:11-13) Jesus said about that kingdom when before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate:
“My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.”—John 18:36.
21. To what do genuine Christians direct their loyalty and efforts?
21 This kingdom is from a heavenly source. Therefore Christians, though they respect human efforts to bring peace, devote all their strength and resources to proclaiming that kingdom and the hope that it holds out to all mankind. (Matt. 24:14; 28:18-20) Accordingly, belief in and loyalty to the Kingdom are the most important things in the lives of Christ’s true followers.
22 In the postapostolic period the early Christians demonstrated this belief in Christ’s words. They paid their taxes, obeyed the laws of the land and in all normal respects were exemplary citizens of the lands in which they lived. (Matt. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:1-7) But they took a position of neutrality in the midst of political factions and strifes of their day. History records:
“The Christians were strangers and pilgrims in the world around them; their citizenship was in heaven; the kingdom to which they looked was not of this world. The consequent want of interest in public affairs came thus from the outset to be a noticeable feature in Christianity.”—Christianity and the Roman Government, by E. G. Hardy, p. 39.
23. Why is the neutral position of Jehovah’s Witnesses of interest in thinking about right religion? (John 15:19)
23 Consistently, in identifying the practicers of true religion today, we should look for those who maintain neutrality in the affairs of human governments, not for any personal reasons, but because they are awaiting action by God’s kingdom to correct the injustices and suffering of our time. Can there be such Christians today? A recent book on Christianity made this observation:
“The withdrawal of Jehovah’s Witnesses from political, military and social involvement has been interpreted by their enemies as misanthropy, and has been the chief cause of the outrageous persecution which has often been inflicted upon them.”—American Christianity, An Historical Interpretation.
Also, From State Church to Pluralism (1971), by F. H. Littell, says:
“However incredible and literal-minded the J[ehovah’s] W[itnesses]’s peculiar doctrine of the Kingdom may seem, we should not forget that in biblical religion the advent of the Kingdom is a moment of dramatic penetration and reversal of the normal course of human expectation.”—P. 212.
The Bible doctrine of the Kingdom is indeed different from the world’s point of view, just as it was when Jesus was on judgment before Pontius Pilate. But Jesus also said: “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” It is worth while to examine the works of those following the Bible view if we are concerned with what is true religion.—Matt. 11:19.
WHAT IS THE MEANING?
24. In summary, what are some important identifying marks of the true religion?
24 The points that we have considered here are not by any means all the identifying marks of true religion. However, they do provide us with an ample basis on which to weigh the beliefs and practices of our religion, and of ourselves personally. In agreement with what we have found in the Bible and in the lives of the early Christians, we will easily recognize true religion to include the following: That God directly created man to live on earth; that humans possess no immortal soul, but that the dead receive a future resurrection; that we must be firm in avoiding immorality and in upholding the sacredness of the marriage arrangement; that it is important to abide by God’s law on blood and to exercise love toward fellow humans, which makes life so much more pleasant; and that Christians need to proclaim God’s kingdom with a view to helping others to possess the marvelous hope that God provides.
25, 26. Why do each of us personally need to be concerned about these features of true worship? With what results?
25 Some may find that their religion or personal beliefs and practices are different from what the Bible identifies as true religion. If you find in your case that some adjustment is needed, do not delay in making it. Follow the inspired counsel in 1 Peter 3:10-12: “For, ‘he that would love life and see good days, let him . . . turn away from what is bad and do what is good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous ones.’”
26 How may we pursue what is right? Not just by abandoning what is out of harmony with true religion, but also by taking positive steps to live in accord with the will of our God. Recall that Noah was not merely a believer. The Bible tells us that Noah walked with the true God and was “a preacher of righteousness.” Similarly, Jesus and his apostles both believed and lived in accord with right religion. This included their sharing with others the good news concerning the kingdom of God and the new order of peace on earth that God promises. (Matt. 4:17; 10:7; 28:19, 20) Our wholeheartedly doing the same will give us great enjoyment and bring to other persons hope, purpose in living and real happiness. Rich blessings will be their portion, because of their identifying and practicing true religion.
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Rather than involve themselves in war and strife, true Christians have found global unity—founded on their common hope in God’s kingdom