Thursday, May 14, 2009

So What's the Difference- Judaism

Judaism has a history beginning around 200 B.C. begun by Rabbis, or Jewish Teachers. Around the time of the 2nd Temple's destruction is when Judaism really broke off from the traditional religion of Israel which was written about in the Old Testament. The destruction of the Temple meant there were no more Temple worship, no more sacrifices and no more priestly duties- therefore no more need for priests. New practices and institutions such as synagogue, rabbinical training and the office of the Rabbi came about, and the Rabbis were those who now set the laws, authority and practices for the Jewish people.

While Christianity and Judaism are similar in their both being shoots of the Old Testament religion of Israel, there are many differences between the two which we'll look at in the next post. In this post, we'll look at Judaism and the different beliefs.

From the start of Judaism until the early 18th century, Judaism really didn't change much, and there was really only one form practiced. After the 18th century, Modern Judaism broke into 3 main branches. The different branches were more of a personal choice of association, family roots and tradition, and where the nearest synagogue was, and if you liked the rabbi's message.

While there are 3 main branches, many people don't adhere to any particular doctrine, and many times, they come to their own version of what Judaism is all about.

The three branches are Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Orthodox is the closest form of the Judaism which was practiced around the time of the Temple's destruction. It's emphasis is on tradition and strict observance of the Law of Moses as instructed by the Rabbis. Orthodox Judaism can be almost compared to Roman Catholicism, in that they both have heavy Traditional based teachings. There view of the Torah, or the first Five Books of Moses is that they are true. Faith is an essential part of belief in the Torah, and they believe in the divine origin of oral and written word of the Torah. It is given a higher authority than the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Their belief is that God is in spirit. He is to the Orthodox Jew, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal and loving. They believe humans are basically good, but with an equal portion to be capable of evil. They believe that people can have self control over their evil nature and be perfected by their own efforts to be good and in following the Laws of Moses. The Law is the basis for Judaism, and gives structure and meaning to life, which leads to a closer relationship with God. They do not believe in original sin, but that people commit sin by breaking any of the Laws. Repentance, prayer and obedience of the Law are needed for a relationship with God but salvation is not necessary. The Messiah is a human, and not divine. He will restore the Jewish kingdom and rule righteously over the earth, and give judgement and make things right. The Orthodox Jew believes in a physical resurrection, and the righteous will be with God forever. Evil people will suffer after death, but many people have different thoughts on whether a literal hell exists or not. They attend synagogue for teaching and prayer, as well as social reasons. Men and women sit apart from each other, and the teachers usually face the same direction as the congregation.

Reform Judaism had it's beginnings in Germany around the time of the Enlightenment during the 18th century. Reformed Judaism focuses more on ethics and ideas of the prophets. Reformed Judaism can be compared to Unitarianism in that they both have emphasis on humanism. The Reformed Jew's belief is that the Hebrew Bible is a human document which has passed on and preserved the history and cultures of the people. It's an important book for learning moral and ethical ways to live. They have different interpretations of God, which includes mystical, natural and humanist philosophies. They do not believe that anyone holds the truth. They believe in the basic goodness of humans, and their approach is more humanistic, in that with education, evolution and encouragement, people can tap into the potential within self. Their view on the Laws, are that the law is basically evolving and changing, and it adapts to each age. In their view, if the law or observance of Judaism comes against societal demands, they must be dropped in favor of society. They do not believe in original sin, and i is actually a product of society. Salvation is by human effort, and brought about by a better society and education. Reform Jews do not believe in a Messiah, but more in with the liberal ideas of a utopia or perfect world to come where humans have evolved enough to be perfected and good. To the Reformed Jew, this is called the Messianic Age. They have no beliefs of life after death, although some believe in a Eastern Mysticism where souls will all merge into one huge impersonal life force. Their synagogue is called Temple, and the services are totally modern, and men and women sit together. They have choirs included in their worship services.

Conservative Judaism started around the 19th century, again with roots in Germany, and is considered "middle of the road". They can be compared with modern liberal protestants, which focuses on form and social issues rather than on doctrine. Their views of the Hebrew Scripture is that they are both from God and man. It's not considered inspired by God, and it's revelation is an ongoing process. The more popular thought is that God is impersonal- much to the belief that God created the world, and us, but He has left us to "do our own thing". They have similar views as the Reformed Jew, more humanist, that people can become perfect by enlightenment, and that Humanity is in a "partnership" with God. Truth and the law are relative, in that they change with the time, and must adapt to societal changes. There is no belief in original sin, but that people can sin by actions or immoral choices. Conservative Jews identify closer with the Reformed views of salvation, but they include the necessity of keeping their Jewish Identity. They also have similar views as Reformed Jews concerning Messiah. They also have more humanist views of man creating a utopia. Similar views as well on life after death, although they are not as involved in Eastern Mystic ideas. the Synagogue is seen as a basic part of Jewish life, and their services are more to the Reformed views than that of Orthodox.
Out of each branch, there is no real comparison to Bible believing Christianity. Neither do any of the branches really practice having a personal relationship to God, as they are more focused on living according to traditional understanding and ethical behavior. In Judaism, there is no real official religious principal, or doctrine, except to reaffirm that God is One from Deut. 6:4

All Jewish people, no matter which branch of Judaism they practice, observe at least some of the Jewish Holidays. They don't look at Holidays as celebrations, but more of observance. More practices of all Judaism include circumcision of sons on the eighth day, which is followed by a ceremony called brit milah. Bar mitzvah for boys and occasionally bat mitzvah for girls, which are coming of age ceremonies at the age of 13. There is usually a synagogue service followed by a fancy reception or party. Jewish weddings are usually celebrated under a canopy, which is called the chuppa, and the smashing of a glass wrapped in cloth to symbolize the destruction of the Temple.

Other observances are practiced mostly by the Orthodox Jews, but to a lesser extent, other branches who wish to get in touch with their Jewish roots include things such as observing the Sabbath. Traditional Jews will not do any work on Sabbath, but others may at least cook a family meal at the beginning of the Sabbath, on Friday nights.Some Traditional Orthodox Jews wear small black boxes, called phylacteries, which contain portions of Scripture. These must be wrapped around the arm and forehead according to a set time and pattern. Many Jews of all branches will have a mezuzah on their door post of their home. These are little boxes which contain various Scripture verses. This isn't really related to Religious beliefs, but more a way to maintain Jewishness.The last, most well known practice is to keep kosher laws. One of the most well known is the prohibition of mixing meat products with dairy at one meal. After high school, I worked for a Jewish family who owned a summer camp, and became accustomed to a lot of these practices- especially getting used to drinking juice at meals which contained meat. Many Jews will keep kosher laws more out of tradition than Religious reasons. Even among non religious Jews, who don't believe in the dietary law will keep most kosher practice. I have to say, I loved working at that camp, and I loved the people there- but I sure missed bacon!

In the next post, we'll look more at the differences between the Scriptures of Judaism and Biblical Christianity.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

So What's the Difference- The Roman Catholic Church Part 2

In the last post we started on looking at the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and Bible believing Christians. While I have no doubt on the sincerity of many Catholics on their love of Jesus as their savior, there are enough differences between the Church teaching and the Bible, that I thought it deserved mention in this series on Religious comparison.

Just as Bible believing Christians rely on the Bible alone for our authority on the truth of God and faith alone (sola fide) in our salvation, the Roman Catholic Church relies on faith plus good works and God's grace mediated through the Seven Sacraments for salvation. While I won't list the seven here, it is important to note that two of the main differences are in the Catholic Holy Eucharist and Penance.

The Holy Eucharist, which in Protestant Church is the Lord's Supper, Catholics believe that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine during Mass, the bread and wine are "transformed" into the actual body and blood of Christ. This is called transubstantiation.Many Catholics attend Mass several times a week, or even daily. In the Catholic Catechism, the Eucharist is explained as a memorial and a sacrifice of Christ's passover and death on the cross. It is sacrifice because it re-presents or makes present the sacrifice of the cross, and the Eucharist is the offering not of the bloody sacrifice of the cross, but the unbloody. This means that during Mass, the Catholic believers can take part in the sacrifice of Christ.

Bible believing Christians believe there is no reason to continuously re-present Christ's sacrifice. He has already made us righteous though His sacrifice, and His one time offering of Himself has given us all His forgiveness. Hebrews 9:27- 10:14
To offer Mass as an ongoing sacrifice so people can "feel" closer and a fuller experience is a contradiction to what the Scripture says.

One of the other Sacraments which is doctrinally different is the act of Penance. These are acts which a Catholic must do for forgiveness. There are different "grades" if you will of sin to the Catholic Church. These are mortal and venial sins. Mortal sins are those which are serious and done with "full knowledge and deliberate consent". These end up in the loss of sanctifying grace. If mortal sin is not confessed and forgiven, the sinner faces eternity in hell. Mortal sins can range from adultery, fornication, stealing or lying, blasphemy, harmful religious discrimination, and hateful or lustful thoughts.Venial sins are minor which can weaken a believer's faith, but do not result in loss of sanctification. These include small lies, overeating or drinking, small stuff. Catholics are encouraged to confess these sins, especially when they "pile up"- to keep the believer from weakening their love for God or their families and neighbors.After confessing to a priest, he has the sinner do an act which fits the crime so to speak. This might include repeating a number of prayers, acts of self discipline such as fasting, or good works such as volunteering.

While there is nothing wrong with confessing of one's sin- all Bible believing Christians must seek forgiveness continually, but to the Bible believing Christian, our only confessor is Jesus Christ. Yes, it can also help to have someone who can help you stay accountable, but this person can not give forgiveness for sin. There is only one mediator between man and God- and that is Jesus Christ. (1Tim. 2:5)
And again, Jesus has already "done the work" by dying on the cross for our sins. No amount of what we can do to "atone" is not enough and is no match for what Christ has done for us already.This is not to say we should not do good works- but it is because of our faith in Jesus, which allows the Holy Spirit to impart His gifts and talents in us, to where we can do things for God's kingdom. It is not to do these things out of fear we are not quite saved without them.

I have heard from some people who are disappointed with Christians because when doing such services as working with the poor or homeless, the Christian seems rude, impersonal and/or uncaring in their work. I find this sad and it does a disservice to the purpose of loving one's neighbor as Christ asks us, and it sets a bad example of Christian discipleship in front of non believers. While it is not always the case, I believe some of the reason may be the person's perspective of their work. Obviously, if one is working out of a sense of duty, because they want to serve Christ, they will love, be kind and show a enthusiastic sense of giving. If they have the attitude of having to serve because they have to "make up" for their sanctification, they will feel a sense of having to be there, but not really wanting to be there. It's hard to show love and compassion when your heart is not in it.

We'll look at one more difference in this post to finish our comparison on the Roman Catholic church. This is the practice of Marian worship. We know that Scripture calls Mary favored and blessed among women. She was chosen by God to bear the Son, which is a huge and awesome responsibility. However, Mary was a woman, specially chosen, but not worthy of veneration and honor. Veneration and honor belong to God only- not one of His creations.

Catholics have different levels of worship. These are latiria, which is the adoration of the triune God alone, dulia, which is veneration given the angels and canonized saints. Then there is hyperdulia, which is super veneration given to Mary alone.
Early in the 4th century, it was taught that Mary's virginity continued after the birth of Christ. Out of that, grew the tradition of immaculate conception, which meant that Mary was born without sin and led a sinless life. This was proclaimed dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and the doctrine of Assumption was proclaimed dogma by Pius XII in 1950. Assumption meant that Mary was taken bodily and soul directly to heaven. Other popes have referred to Mary as Mediatrix, which means she is the "co-mediator" with Jesus between God and man. Redemptrix, which means she is Christ's "associate in redemption". Pope Leo XIII though, proclaimed in 1891, that "As no man comes to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by his mother."

Vatican II documents claim that special titles to Mary have no effect on the belief in Christ as sole mediator, but it is impossible for a Bible believing Christian to note the above proclamations by those in the Church to see anything but encouraging followers to place Mary equal with Jesus or even covering His function of our savior and mediator.Bible believing Christians respect Mary as the woman chosen by God, but that is where the similarity ends. Scripture is clear on the subject as the relationship between Jesus and His earthly mother, and more importantly, there are no scriptures which supports the Catholic beliefs about Mary, or the dependence on Mary and the canonized saints in our daily walk with Christ. The Bible is clear that ALL believers in Christ are His Saints. We don't need a Papal decree to state who is a Saint. We do not believe in the infallible man, whether he be the Pope or any other, as the Bible says ALL have sinned and NONE is righteous.

Bible believing Christians know God justifies the believer by declaring us righteous, and sanctification is a life long process as God works in us. Jesus has paid for all sin already, there is nothing we can add by good deeds. We believe we go straight to heaven where sanctification is completed in Christs presence. We do not believe in a purgatory, a place where the dead are still working through the sanctification process. We are either saved by the Grace of Christ by faith, or we are not saved because we do not believe. Once we die, there is no more chance to "make things right". We will not be benefited by prayers of others, nor of lit candles, nor of indulgence. Jesus Christ alone is the only way to God the Father, no one on this earth has ever been perfect except for Jesus Christ and no one on this earth has ever been sinless except for Jesus Christ. He is all we need!

Scripture References on Christ as head of the Church, searching scripture for yourself, Grace through faith alone in Jesus, the sinfulness of ALL men, righteousness through Christ alone- not through our own efforts, God working through us for His purpose, living by faith, immediate life after death with no purgatory, Jesus Christ as sole mediator.

Next time, we'll look at the differences between Judaism and Biblical Christianity.