The question on whether Christians should study other religions is as old as the early days of the church, and over the years it has come up again and again. After all, the Gospel is the only way to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:11-12). The Word of God is the truth (John 17:17). Therefore, false religion is actually considered to be demonic (1 Cor. 10:21).
Is there any benefit in studying other religions, or can it only be harmful to believers? Should the follower of Christ study anything that isn’t true? Will that ruin your friendship with God?
The answer is yes, and no.
Learning about other religions can be a powerful and useful tool, but it can also be harmful if it is not done correctly. Here are some of the benefits and detriments of studying other religions, so you can best decide what’s right for you.
IT CAN EXPAND YOUR FAITH IN GOD
Contrary to common belief, studying other religions will help you build up your faith in God. Learning about other religions as a way of affirming your faith in God can be fun. You can build yourself up as a believer who brings glory to God and possibly bring others to Christ.
Although Christianity is arguably the biggest religion in the world, it is definitely not the only religion in the world. There will be Buddhists, atheists, and the like that you will meet all your life. Some people may want to question your identity as a Christian. Will you have any answers to their questions? Are you really able to stand up for what you believe in? This is where the study of other religions can be helpful.
Once you have these real experiences with people of other religions, you will begin to see how much your religion means to you. You can also prove to yourself how much you trust God, and have no desire to fall into other lifestyles.
2 Timothy 2:15 commands us to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” However, saying that you “just have faith in God” is not a bulletproof response. It’s easy to say, but testing yourself in other religions and cultures will help you prove that you really believe.
It can also give you the confidence to express your faith with others when you know how deeply ingrained it is in your heart. You should live up to the commands of Jesus to share Christianity with everyone you meet, even though they don’t always agree with you. Those who practice other religions do not understand Christianity as you do. They see it only through a skewed media prism (like you do not understand Islam correctly because you only see what is on the news). In other words, we can learn what is happening in our non-Christian neighbors’ minds so that we can express the Gospel in a way that makes sense to them ideally.
When the armies study the enemy’s battle plans, they want to know how the other generals think and what their normal battle plans and tactics are. The more you learn the way the enemy works, the better you can beat or fight them. There is great benefit in researching other religions as it allows us to learn what they believe in and to have a deeper understanding of why they believe in it.
Perhaps the most remarkable example of Paul’s understanding and use of pagan religion to help make the Gospel accessible to his hearers came during his stay in Athens on his second missionary journey (Acts 17). He knew the pagan literature well enough to quote it from memory, and he could speak to them in words they understood. Paul would never claim that paganism was, in any way, a legitimate means of access to Christ. He knew paganism quite well, and he used the knowledge in his evangelism.
Learning other religions, reading evolutionary books, and testing your beliefs by reading atheism blogs can be useful. It gives us a broader understanding of why others believe what they believe. If we don’t know what they believe compared to how a person can be saved, we won’t know how to compare and contrast any of the differences.
IT ALSO CAN HURT YOUR FAITH IN GOD
It is not all Christians that have the capacity to dive headfirst into the study of other religions. Imagine going to the gym. Newcomers never come to a bench press to work out their full body weight on the first day. It takes effort and time to do the right thing.
It is recommended that one study other religions and rebuttals to Christian faith with the assistance of other believers. Most Christians who start dabbling in other religions do it on their own and totally lose their faith. They study other religions without first getting a stable, permanent foundation in Christ.
If their beliefs are questioned, they waver and crumble. They don’t know how to respond properly, so instead of turning back to Christ to learn the facts, they get stuck into atheism or other religions.
However, when guided by a mentor through adequate reasoning and reliable and verified information, further research would be more beneficial. They will help you make sure you stay focused on the real reason you’re studying. When questions that make you doubt your faith comes up, you have a credible source that will help you understand how Jesus will respond.
Understanding the faiths and beliefs of others reinforces and verifies our faith and allows us to lead people of other religions to Christ. We must be ready to answer when the answer can lead others to the truth.
WHAT CHRISTIANS CAN LEARN FROM OTHER RELIGIONS
First, Christians can learn prayer dedication from leaders of other faiths. Luke 11:1, “And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Jesus spent lots of his time in prayer and even in teaching his followers to pray. But Christians are still severely lacking in prayer today, particularly in the midst of our busy, secular, and modern world. But when we look at leaders of other religions, we still see a greater dedication to prayer on the part of followers than within Christianity. Who can’t help but be impressed by Islam’s call to prayer five times a day – and see Muslims dropping to their knees and pray at these times? We have all seen pictures of Islamic mosques full of adult men bowing down in prayer during the time of prayer. But it is not only in places of worship that prayer takes place, but also outside or wherever there is a call to prayer – we see the Muslims drop everything and pray. This dedication to prayer shames us as Christians because of our general lack of commitment to prayer. It is not just the Muslims who often put Christians to shame in prayer, but also the Jews at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It’s encouraging to see adults taking prayer so seriously, because sometimes in the Christian world, personal prayer is rarely seen except for brief moments of church service. It’s as if the prayer of large segments of the Christian church simply doesn’t happen. We know that Christians pray, but can it be said that they do so with as much zeal and loyalty as some Jews and Muslims do? It doesn’t feel that way. We can also appreciate the devotional life of leaders of the Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. They don’t pray as much as they reflect or meditate, but what they do in personal spiritual practice goes far beyond what many, or even most, Christians do in actual prayer. Aside from the theology behind the practice, we have to agree that it seems that a devout Buddhist or Hindu takes more seriously his or her spiritual discipline of prayer or meditation or reflection – whatever you call it – than most Christians in terms of worship. In the Eastern religious culture, members of a society set time apart like hours, days, often weeks or more to get out of the business of life, away from the pressures of everyday life, and to be alone with God — or their idea of Ultimate Reality. We know that their theology is erroneous and confused, but their commitment and zeal to spiritual reality are commendable. Shouldn’t we be challenged by the level of devotion these people put into their religion and walk more passionately in the road of our Christian faith?
Second, Christians can learn the pursuit of moral purity from members of other religions. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:” One of the great spiritual shortcomings of Christianity today is the problem of sexual immorality among Christians, despite the teaching of the Bible on the subject, and despite what the church officially says it believes. Today, many or even the majority of Christians are involved in sexual immorality of one kind or another in their lifetimes. When the Muslim world looks upon the Christian world, it sees us as morally corrupt – which is not completely true, but almost. It seems that Islam is better at leading its followers to moral life than modern Christianity is. This brings the question further back – “Why don’t Christians determine to abstain from immorality because of their devotion to the Lord Jesus?” No. Christians can learn something or two about the morality of Muslims, who appear to commit to moral purity more seriously than other Christians. Not all major world religions today agree on morality, while several or even most moral precepts are similar. Unfortunately, Christians have the same lack of sexual self-control as do unbelievers. We might spend most of our time looking at the cause of this moral meltdown and why it has influenced the Christian Church. In any case, Christians can learn values from members of other religions. Let their moral lives be an awakening call to follow the ethical teachings of our faith better.
Third, Christians should observe the spiritual commitment of members of other religions. Matthew 5:11, “Blessed, are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” When we look at the New Testament accounts of the early Christian church, we see the high level of commitment that the Apostles and even ordinary Christians had to follow after the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter the cost. Christians died because of their faith in the early days of Christianity. But when we look around the church today, especially in developed Christian lands such as Europe and America, we see nominalism, apathy, and lack of spiritual commitment. Now, since Christianity has spread and developed itself in the West, we are not faced with violent persecution or fear of death or injury for practicing our faith, so we are not called to die for or even suffer physically for Christ today. But the question most Christians have to ask themselves is, is there any price we are willing to pay to follow Christ today? From the looks of things on Sunday morning, it’s hard for most so-called Christians to get themselves up and out to church for just one hour a week. But it is not just church; it’s also prayer. How many Christians are dedicated to a daily time of prayer of any significant length? How many Christians sincerely dedicate themselves to a regular time of reflecting on the Bible for their personal spiritual growth? In Islam, Muslims research the Quran, many memorize long parts of it and take its teachings seriously. Don’t many Muslims put Christians to shame in their adherence to Mohammed’s prophecies? Although we have the truth of God from the original prophets of God found in the Bible, we regularly disregard it or take it for granted. This isn’t supposed to be, but it is. Shouldn’t this motivate us to take full advantage of God’s blessings in the Bible? We are not supposed to need other religions to teach us in the area of sacred scripture study. In another area of spirituality, Hindus and Buddhists also seem to promote an inner spirituality often absent from Christians. While the slogan, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good,” reminds all believers that we can’t always pray, that we can’t always read the Bible, that we can’t always go to church, and that we can’t always reflect on our spiritual home waiting for us in heaven. But that is not the issue of Western religions. Our problem is that we find it hard to think spiritually in life. Although leaders of the Eastern religions will remind us that even though we possess the true spirituality found in Christ, we must exercise the rights and privileges of our inheritance.
Sadly, Members of various world religions frequently follow God in the wrong way but often do so with more dedication. While we Christians, who have the way, the facts, and the future, but we pursue it little and are squandering our rich heritage. If we look at all the ignorance and error of the different false world religions, we should be sad. One, we should cry for the honest people who are being led astray by false religions and false religious leaders. Often these sincere, but misguided, religious people are full of devotion and passion, just for the wrong cause. This is sad, tragic, and it should make us feel sorry for their lost souls. And two, we should cry as well for our poor spiritual condition; even though we live amid the riches of God’s Word in the Bible, and we live in free lands where we can practice our religion openly and without resistance, where we can pray and devote ourselves to God wholeheartedly. But we could change that as Christians if we think about it for a moment and decide to live lives that corresponded to the truth we have in Jesus Christ. We will put away earthly things and concentrate on God’s will for our lives and the universe. We should begin to give priority to spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and Bible study. And we should again be a witness to the truth of God, instead of feeling ashamed of ourselves, because we can’t even equal the commitment of the members of other religions. Let us use their example to motivate ourselves to become more devoted to our God!