Calvary Road Baptist Church

“ASSUMPTIONS”

Happy New Year to one and all. I trust your Christmas was a very merry celebration of Christ’s birth. This morning I will bring a message designed to both challenge your thinking and strengthen your Christian convictions. Let us reflect for a bit.

What is most challenging for Christians concerning Christmas and the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is that for several centuries after Christ His birth was not celebrated at all. If I recall correctly, around 200 A. D. Clement of Alexandria made the first known reference to the date of Christ’s birth. Over the centuries, the birth of Christ was observed, but it did not achieve the importance that is associated with Christmas in our day. Indeed, the Pilgrims and Puritans who came out of England and settled in New England outlawed the celebration of Christmas, for two reasons: On one hand, they saw Christmas as a Romish holiday. On the other hand, they did not see the birth of Christ as a celebration that was observed anywhere in the New Testament.

Our historically important celebration, which is the very linchpin of Christianity, is the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.[1] It took place on the third day after His crucifixion and burial, a resurrection that was not denied for centuries because even Christianity’s most vehement opponents could not deny it. However, what is most important to Christians, where we long to bring doubters and skeptics, is not the celebration that is most important to those who are nominal Christians. What has become the most important Christian celebration over the last century to nominal Christians is undoubtedly Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Of course, the importance of Christmas has mainly been driven by economics rather than spiritual concerns, Madison Avenue enlarging upon St. Nicholas (a dim figure from ancient times) and Christmas trees, and inventing reindeer, sleigh bells, Rudolph the red nose reindeer, and the great need to buy expensive gifts to give deserving little children. The Christian community is not completely without all sense of the practical, so as Christmas has figured larger and larger in our culture, it has also taken on more significance in churches. To be sure, it is a bit of the tail wagging the dog, but Christians and churches have rightly seen an expectancy associated with the celebration of Christ’s birth as a once a year opportunity to present the gospel message to a population that is for the most part indifferent to what we have to say throughout the rest of the year.

That understood; allow me to reflect on our recent celebration of Christmas in a profoundly different fashion than you have heard before. I speak to you this morning about assumptions. Whether you realize it or not, our entire view of reality is based upon certain assumptions that each of us has made, with most people’s assumptions taken for granted and not thought through very well, usually depending on the circumstances of our birth. Ever wonder why people arrive at the conclusions they do, why they sometimes heatedly and antagonistically disagree? It is partly because of the assumptions that serve as the starting points in each of our thinking. Think of your assumptions as being somewhat like a pair of glasses that you are wearing, with the lenses of your glasses being tinted by the assumptions you consciously or unconsciously embrace as true. Each of us wears these glasses, and every one of us is affected by the particular tint of the lenses in them. There are different kinds of assumptions that are unconsciously held by people or are consciously adopted, so let us apply ourselves to a consideration of assumptions related to the topic of religion. I know it will disappoint some of you, but the sad reality is that two people with a different set of assumptions will see events differently and will draw different conclusions about those events. How can it be otherwise? Therefore, I think we will understand the process better, and may be able to get along with each other better, after we discuss this matter of assumptions. Me being a pastor, and today being just a few days after Christmas, I am sure you will understand my reasons for dealing with assumptions made about religious issues. I think Christianity stands up to any consideration of assumptions.

Allow me to assert that everyone is religious. Disagree with me here at the beginning if you want to, but please allow me to discuss things to see if you will agree with me, or at least understand what I am saying, as the message unfolds. Since I am asserting that everyone is in some way religious, I propose to consider the assumptions we each have as those assumptions relate to different religious perspectives. I will not denigrate anyone’s religion, and trust neither will you. I will not get mad and raise my voice, and trust that neither will you. However, neither do I propose to agree with everyone, and recognize that neither will you. Therefore, to paraphrase that great theologian, Sgt. Joe Friday, “Just the facts, please.”

First, ASSUMPTIONS BASED UPON THE CLAIM OF UNIVERSALITY

I think everyone should be allowed to enter the marketplace of ideas. That does not mean I think every religious viewpoint can survive scrutiny in the marketplace of ideas. Allow me at the outset to bring to your attention a number of well-known religions, considering each of them based upon their claim of universality. By universality, I refer to the religion’s claim by virtue of either its doctrine or its conduct that it is for everyone:

First, there is Judaism. What is Judaism? It is the religion of the Jewish people, descended from the patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah through his son, Isaac, and his grandson Jacob. Judaism grew out of God’s personal relationship and promise made to Abraham, that was confirmed with his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Does Judaism claim to be universal? I read from Deuteronomy 5.3: “The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.” Thus, it is clear from the Hebrew Bible and Judaism’s conduct through the centuries, that those who embrace Judaism have never claimed theirs to be a universal religion for all mankind. Judaism is a religion for those who are in covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What about contemporary Judaism? Observations of various aspects of the Jewish communities I have been exposed to convince me that those who embrace Judaism are content to allow Gentiles to pursue their own religious convictions without obstruction or interference. What might appear to be evangelistic efforts by those engaged in Judaism are primarily geared to preventing the loss of young Jewish people into the larger Gentile population by assimilation and thereby losing their Jewish heritage and identity, rather than any systematic effort to proselyte Gentiles into Judaism.

Next, there is Hinduism, the dominant religion of India. “Hinduism represents a broad category of religious beliefs.”[2] However, authoritative sources assert that Hinduism broadly endorses a drive toward indifference and that what is thought to be good and evil will be transcended (surpassed) by indifference.[3] I suggest that attitude, along with Hinduism’s historical conduct, reveals no thought of missionary effort or outreach on the part of Hindus, except those embracing the religion who come from a western background. Hinduism does not claim to be or express itself like a universal religion.

Third, Buddhism. “Like Hinduism from which it sprang, Buddhism is not a monolithic religion . . . All [adherents of Buddhism], of course, claim Gautama Buddha (563-483 B.C.)” who abandoned his wife and son in search of enlightenment, which he is said to have found while meditating under a tree.[4] The most influential form of Buddhism is known as Zen Buddhism, which according to its foremost western advocate, a Columbia professor named Daisetz Suzuki, is not a system of philosophy founded upon logic and analysis.[5] Neither is Zen a set of teachings.[6] Though Zen welcomes those who want to learn of it, it is not a missionary or evangelistic religion, thus making no claim to be the universal religion for all men. I suspect other forms of Buddhism have an approach in this regard that is similar to Zen.

I think you can sense the way I am treating this aspect of our assumptions. Of the major religions of the world, only two make the claim that they and only they are universal in scope, the one true religion, and they are Christianity and Islam. The conduct of early Christians, as well as their doctrine, is based upon the words of our founder, the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 14.6, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Then, in Mark 16.15, He said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Christianity spread from India to the British Isles two thousand years ago in less than one hundred years, with no record of the use of force by Christians.[7] Some six hundred years after the time of Christ, Islam spread by means of conquest to India in the east and into Spain in the west in just over a century, a testimony to the Muslim claim that Islam is the universal religion.

What might surprise you is my inclusion of Agnosticism, Atheism, and Secular Humanism in my list of religions. Agnosticism, a term coined by T. H. Huxley, is the belief that one does not and cannot know whether God exists.[8] Atheism is the belief that there is no God.[9] Then there is what is termed Secular Humanism.[10] Are these three barely distinguishable philosophies religions? Secular Humanism sought recognition as a religion and has been so ruled by the U. S. Supreme Court.[11] Julian Huxley wrote that his secular humanism was “the religion of evolutionary humanism.” I am unaware of any protests to the contrary. As for atheism, any observer of atheism in the Soviet Union and in China during Chairman Mao’s lifetime, and in North Korea from 1950 until today, would have difficulty denying that atheism under those regimes is expressed in very religious terms, including efforts to spread those beliefs worldwide by various means with missionary zeal. Secular Humanism and Atheism are very aggressive to spread their beliefs. Therefore, with respect to the assumption of universality, I choose to set aside consideration of religions that do not claim or behave like universal religions. That leaves Christianity, Islam, Atheism, and Secular Humanism as religions that are viable from a universality perspective. That is, these four are believed by their adherents to be the right religion for every man.

Second, ASSUMPTIONS BASED ON THE CLAIM OF REVELATORY TRUTH

Some religions have no authoritative documents, though most religions do. For most of the 20th century, Atheists embraced the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. Secular humanists subscribe to Humanist Manifesto I, written in 1933, Humanist Manifesto II, written in 1973, and The Secular Humanist Declaration.[12] Christians, of course, embrace the Bible. Muslims embrace the Quran. Hindus embrace writings called the Vedas.[13]

Look at the predominant religions of the world and you will notice that, again, only two make the claim that their authoritative scriptures are the result of revelation. Their adherents admit all Buddhist writings, Taoist writings, Confucian writings, Hindu writings, agnostic, atheistic, and secular humanist writings, to being the products of the human mind, and none of those belief systems claims otherwise.

Only the Bible and the Quran are claimed by their adherents to be inspired in any sense, the product of divine intervention to communicate transcendent truth. Thus, when various religions seem to speak authoritatively on such matters as morals and ethics, and even the afterlife, every religion known to man except Christianity and Islam offers the opinions of mortal men, and makes no claim to offer any other opinion. Only Christianity and Islam make the claim of speaking authoritatively by means of the Bible and the Quran on ethical and moral matters, and about the afterlife.

Third, ASSUMPTIONS BASED UPON THE LAWS OF LOGIC

Let me stipulate that no religion’s text contains a systematic presentation of the laws of logic. However, unlike other ancient religion’s texts, the Christian Bible does call for and exhibits reliance upon logic. I illustrate with two examples in harmony with the rest of the Bible: Isaiah 1.18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD.” “Let us reason together” translates a Hebrew verb that means, “decide, adjudge, prove.”[14] Thus, God’s desire is for His creatures to engage Him in a rational way. Is that true of other religions? In Romans 11.6, we find another illustration of applied logic. The Apostle Paul sets forth in his letter a classic statement of what is commonly called in logic the law of the excluded middle: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” But for lack of time, I could provide more examples. Just let me say that I have read the Bible through every year for thirty-seven years, have studied it for decades, and have never yet found evidence of a departure from the principles of logic.

The same cannot be said for Buddhism, which according to Suzuki is not a system or philosophy “founded upon logic and analysis.”[15] His words, not mine. As for Hinduism, Hindus insist, “The world that we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell does not actually exist. It appears to exist, but it is in fact an illusion.”[16] Is that logical? I cannot imagine anyone insisting such a view is logical.

I do not wish to discuss Islam in the context of the laws of logic at this time because such a discussion would involve too much consideration of the character of the Quran, and take up far too much time. However, I would like to make a comment about Atheism and Secular Humanism, both of which tout their commitment to logic and science. Please recognize the limitations of science to phenomena that can be observed, can be experimented upon, etc. Science is rightly understood to be very limited concerning what it can authoritatively speak to. Therefore, whenever anyone, even a scientist, speaks about that which is beyond the reach of science, he has entered the realm of philosophy, the realm of the religious, and the realm of the historical. That understood, recognize that foundational to science is the idea of cause and effect. No scientist has ever observed an effect that was not caused. Indeed, scientists operating within the realm of science deny that an effect is even possible without a cause. However, many scientists are on record endorsing what is commonly called the Big Bang theory. “The Big Bang theory is an effort to explain what happened at the very beginning of our universe.”[17] The Big Bang is an effect. What caused the Big Bang, Mr. Secular Humanist, Mr. Atheist? Since it is a singularity event that no one observed or can experiment with, it is properly seen as a question to be dealt with by religion more than science, unless logic is abandoned. If you insist that the Big Bang had no cause, you violate the precepts of science and you are illogical.

Is logic important to you? Then keep in mind that logic is not important to many of the world’s religions. However, logic is important in Christianity, as I have illustrated. Atheism and secular humanism claim to be logic-based belief systems, despite their insistence that the Big Bang theory is science. I have one more question before moving on: Since an organic process has never been observed that produces information useful to living things, where did the information contained in DNA come from? I suggest that you read on this before formulating your answer. Christians believe it is logical to conclude the information contained in DNA originated with God. However, Atheists and Secular Humanists deny the existence of God. Okay, then where does the information come from in their belief system, since no observation has ever seen information being produced by living things, only being lost by mutations and death? Is logic really so important? Yes, it certainly is. Computers could not function but for logic. Science, rightly understood, would not be possible but for logic. From a Christian perspective, the fact that we have an orderly universe that is based upon natural laws arises from God being the Author of such order in His creation.[18] The whole basis of right and wrong in the moral realm is an outgrowth of the importance of logic.

Fourth, ASSUMPTIONS BASED UPON THE MIRACULOUS

Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Agnosticism, Atheism, and Secular Humanism not only make no claim of anything like the miraculous associated with their belief systems, but they deny the possibility of the miraculous. However, there are two religions that assert the existence of the miraculous, Christianity and Islam.

It will not surprise you that the Bible contains accounts of the miracles performed by the Lord Jesus Christ, but it might surprise you that Christ’s miracles are not only acknowledged in the Quran, but that in the Quran Muhammad declares that he did not work miracles and that no one should believe that he did work miracles.[19]

Miracles are especially important to Christianity, which is established on the basis of the miraculous resurrection of Christ, that He rose from the dead and that if He did not rise from the dead the Christian faith is vain.[20] What about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?

Ÿ  Scholars, both Christian and otherwise, are virtually unanimous that He was crucified,

Ÿ  that His earliest followers were so convinced they saw Him risen from the dead that they were willing to die for their faith,

Ÿ  that the transformation of the Apostle Paul from the greatest enemy of Christianity to its most effective advocate was said by that same Paul to be because he saw the risen Christ,

Ÿ  and that the turnabout of the greatest skeptic into one of Christianity’s most prominent leaders, Christ’s half brother James, was also caused by seeing Christ raised from the dead.

Ÿ  Add to that the empty tomb in Jerusalem and no voices of opposition to that empty tomb for centuries, and you have the most compelling historical evidence possible that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.[21]

When you contemplate the validity of a religion to address matters that deal with eternity, do the opinions of fallible men who deny the existence of miracles weigh more heavily in your thinking than the power of miracles that are brought to bear for your benefit? Assumptions will affect the way you answer that question. Do you insist that miracles are “unscientific”? John Warwick Montgomery wrote, “Since Einstein no modern man has had the right to rule out the possibility of events because of prior knowledge of ‘natural law.’” “Confirming this view, eminent German physicist Werner Schaafs has recently argued that the changing view of science causes us to investigate events. Even miracles cannot be rejected without such examination.”[22] Allow me read Schaafs’ own words:

Though a miracle is a rare, or perhaps even unique, event or experience, quite out of the ordinary, it can with comparative ease, as our example shows, be placed in a statistical framework. It has no intrinsic peculiarity requiring that it be placed outside that framework. Thus, a miracle, though a rarity to be sure, is a phenomenon of natural law, for statistics are the essence of natural law.[23]

That, my friends, is an example of a scientist speaking as a scientist and not going beyond science to pontificate about philosophical or religious matters beyond the reach of science.

Fifth, ASSUMPTIONS BASED UPON THE NATURE OF MANKIND

Is it not interesting that every one of the religions we are considering (and you will notice that I have intentionally set Judaism aside) believes that man’s nature is good, or at worst neutral, with one exception? In Buddhism, enlightenment is supposedly achieved by learning and doing.[24] In Hinduism, people are seen as capable of transcending the world of illusion to discover the true Self.[25] Atheism and Secular Humanism have great confidence in the reliability and potential of mankind in the moral realm. Even Islam sees man as naturally good and untainted in his nature by Adam’s first sin.

Only Christianity holds that mankind is a lost race, blinded by sin, and actually in a state of spiritual deadness that leaves every sinner impotent to deliver himself and unwilling to deliver himself.[26] Thus, all religious perspectives except Christianity have a somewhat benign, even optimistic view of mankind’s nature. Only Christianity sees the human race as helpless and hopeless.

Look around and consider what you see. Reflect on the violence, the disease, the corruption, the genocide, the racism, and the murder of the unborn. What assumptions do you make about the correctness of a religion, the accuracy of a religion’s view of mankind, and the capacity of a religion to deal with mankind as we actually are, in light of the world you see around you?

Finally, ASSUMPTIONS BASED UPON PREDICTIVE PROPHECY

The Christian Bible, unchanged in almost 2000 years (as archaeological discoveries have proven),[27] contains more than one thousand predictions of events that were future at the time they were written, with about one-fourth of the Bible written as prophecy. More than five hundred of those predictive prophecies have been literally fulfilled thus far.[28] The Quran contains prophecies related to the future, dealing with paradise and Hell, as well as the coming of the Mahdi.[29] However, no predictions found in the Quran have yet been fulfilled. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and the like have no predictive prophecies. Neither do Atheism and Secular Humanism. This is understandable, seeing those belief systems hold that the progress of time is cyclical, whereas Christianity and Islam believe time and existence had a beginning and that time will have an end.

Used to be, scientists insisted matter was eternal and without either beginning or ending. Therefore, Atheists and Secular Humanists claimed theirs was a “scientific” belief system since they agreed with what scientists who made philosophical claims about beginnings and endings were saying. However, according to the All About Science people on their Big Bang Theory overview web site, “First of all, we are reasonably certain that the universe had a beginning.”[30]

To quickly review, this message has been about assumptions. We all make assumptions, since we can hardly grow up without embracing assumptions related to the culture and values of our parents. Additionally, we come to discard or embrace some of our assumptions as we mature. However, most people do not carefully examine their assumptions, when embracing or discarding them. Most people decide on a conclusion they feel comfortable about and then work backwards to embrace assumptions that allow them to keep the conclusions they have already decided they want to live with. You will immediately recognize that this approach, though common, is certainly not scientific, logical, or the proper approach to arrive at the truth. Therefore, I have a suggestion. Work your way through the assumptions I have set before you this morning.

Which belief system, and each belief system is a religious perspective after all, claims to be universal? Which belief system claims to embrace revelatory truth rather than holding the opinions of unknown men long dead? Which belief system not only claims to embrace logic, but also provides the cultural milieu in which logical thought and science historically find their best environment for growth and development? Which belief system holds to the miraculous, which is the only hope for this world? Which belief system recognizes the real nature of mankind? Finally, which religion has centuries of verifiable predictive prophecies that have been fulfilled, including the nation, tribe, clan, city, and timing of Christ’s birth?

Reflect on the various assumptions we have considered this morning. I am quite sure that the only thing, which will dissuade you from the conviction that Christianity is the most logical, most reasonable, and most comprehensive approach to preparing for eternity in light of those topics we have touched on, is emotional baggage of some kind.

The next thing for you to do, based upon my understanding of the Bible and my experience in the gospel ministry, is sit under the preaching of the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.



[1] 1 Corinthians 15.1-19

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), page 316-318.

[3] Ibid., page 317.

[4] Ibid., page 788.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., page 789.

[7] Matthew 28.18-20

[8] Geisler, pages 10-14.

[9] Ibid., pages 55-58.

[10] Ibid., pages 337-342.

[11] Ibid., page 342, humanists sought recognition as a religious group and were ruled by the SCOTUS as a religion in 1961 in Torcasso v. Watkins

[12] Ibid., pages 337-341.

[13] Ibid., page 316.

[14] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: 1979), page 406.

[15] Geisler, page 788.

[16] Ibid., page 316.

[17] http://www.big-bang-theory.com/ 12/21/12

[18] 1 Corinthians 14.33

[19] Thomas C. Ptotenhauer translator, Riccoldo da Montecroce and Martin Luther, Islam In The Crucible: Can it pass the test?, (New Haven, Missouri: Lutheran News, Inc., 2002), pages 43-47.

[20] 1 Corinthians 15.14

[21] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004) pages 48-77.

[22] Cited by Gary R. Habermas, Ancient Evidence For The Life Of Jesus, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), page 24.

[23] Cited by Gary Robert Habermas, A Dissertation Submitted to Michigan State University, The Resurrection Of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry, 1976, page 42.

[24] Geisler, page 790.

[25] Ibid., page 317.

[26] Matthew 18.11; 2 Corinthians 4.3-4; Ephesians 2.1; Romans 5.6; 6.19

[27] “[T]he number of available mss. of the N.T. is overwhelmingly greater than those of any other work of ancient literature . . . the earliest extant mss. of the N.T. were written much closer to the date of the original writing than is the case in almost any other piece of ancient literature . . . The plays of Aeschylus are known in some fifty mss., the works of Sophocles in one hundred, the Greek Anthology and the Annals of Tacitus in one ms. each, the poems of Catullus in three mss. of independent value; while there are a few hundred known mss. of works of Euripides, Cicero, Ovid, and Virgil. In the case of the N. T., in sharp contrast, there are over 4800 extant mss. in Greek, 2 8000 in Latin, and 1000 in other languages. As regards the time interval between the extant mss. and the autograph, the oldest known mss. of most of the Greek classical authors are dated a thousand years or more after the author’s death. The time interval for the Latin authors is somewhat less, varying down to a minimum of three centuries in the case of Virgil. In the case of the N.T., however, two of the most important mss. were written within 300 years after the N.T. was completed, and some virtually complete N.T. books as well as extensive fragmentary mss. of many parts of the N.T. date back to one century from the original writings.” J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction To New Testament Textual Criticism, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), pages 15-16.

[28] Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (p. 7, 10). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

[29] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahdi 12/28/12

[30] http://www.big-bang-theory.com/ 12/28/12



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org