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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

10 August 2005

Old-Time Religions

Q: Is Islam older than Christianity? Which is the oldest religion and which is newest?

Three ReligionsA: Islam is a latter-day mingling of Christianity, Judaism, and Arab folk-religion and superstition. Its beginning (ca. AD 610) stems from messages which Muhammad claimed came from Allah.

As for religions in general, the oldest is that of the world, which Martin Luther called “enthusiasm,” or looking into oneself or a source other than the true God and his Word for knowledge, guidance, and protection. Adam and Eve were the first enthusiasts, disregarding the clear word of the Lord concerning the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Although not always called by its current name, the oldest — the only — true religion is Christianity, the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is true God and true man and mankind’s Savior from sin. This faith began when sinners trusted in the promise of the One to come who would crush the Serpent’s head (see Gen 3:15). It was the religion of all who believed God as He made His promises to them, starting with Adam and Eve. Some of this was recorded in the early part of Genesis and the beginning of Hebrews 11. To the extent that any religion teaches contrary to orthodox Christianity, it is guilty of enthusiasm.

Faith in this coming Messiah (Anointed One) was the central part of the religion of Israel as God revealed His promises through the patriarchs, Moses, the prophets, and the holy authors of the Old Testament Scriptures. Modern Judaism is actually only a partial form of the faith of the Hebrews. It grew out of the Babylonian Captivity and began mingling enthusiasm with the true faith, especially emphasizing human works over God’s grace. When Judaism completely rejected Jesus as the promised Christ (or Messiah), it entirely ceased being part of true religion.

Many groups claim to be the oldest formally organized religion. Some are older than Judaism, but since they also do not claim Jesus as Son of God and Savior, they are false faiths. As for the newest, I’d be hard pressed to answer, since new variations of age-old falsehoods continually arise. The 20th Century alone has seen the dawn of pseudo-Christian supremacy groups, Marxism, the Unification Church, Scientology, and more all claim to bring some universal “truth” that is no truth to people.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


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