How many times have you heard differences between religions shrugged off by people declaring that, after all, we all worship the same God? I recall that phrase being significantly present after 9-11 as anger toward Islam grew. I also recall multiple conversations I have had with Jehovah’s Witnesses in which the person at my door worked to make sure I knew that we might differ on a couple of things, but we worship the same deity.
But do we? Do we really worship the same deity? Do Christians and Muslims or Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christians and adherents of other religions actually worship the same person? No, we do not. Though it is not popular to point out, we do not worship God, the same God, just in different ways. God has revealed himself in Scripture. He has identified himself as the one God, the triune God, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—three in one. If someone says that they worship the same God as Christians, but then they redefine God as not triune or define Jesus as a god rather than God in the flesh, we are not worshipping the same God.
Imagine that you and I are talking, and we have a conversation about our favorite movie. You tell me that your favorite film of all time is “Rocky.” I respond to you with a big grin and say that I really like “Rocky” also. Then I go on to tell you that my favorite part of that movie is when the main character has his leg swept, it looks like the bad guys are going to win, and then Mr. Miyagi gets him back out there to win the tournament. Would you agree that we have the same favorite movie?
If you know your movies at all, you will know that I was talking about “The Karate Kid,” not “Rocky.” Yes, both movies have something to do with fighting. Both have an underdog accomplishing something cool against tough opponents. But these are not the same movie. And no matter how much I want to say to you that we are talking about the same movie, we are not.
If that does not ring any bells for you, try this. If you and I talk about our favorite foods, and we both agree that we love burritos, we might think we have something in common. But if you define a burrito as long pasta noodles on a plate with red sauce and meat balls, we are not talking about the same thing. Perhaps we are both talking about food, but not the same food.
I understand that those who claim that Christians and people from other religions worship the same God often do so out of a desire for peace. In many ways I agree with the motivation. There is no room for violence or cruelty to one another because we disagree about religion. I would not at all support people being nasty to their Muslim neighbors because of the actions of other Muslims. There is no justice in punishing your neighbor because someone else of their religion did something evil. Nor is there value in someone punishing a neighboring Christian because of the nasty attitudes of others who claim Christ. But it is dishonest to say that we have no differences of substance.
What made me think of all this? Interestingly—to me at least—it was Ezra chapter 4. As the priest, Ezra, records the history of the people of Judah returning to their land after their exile in Babylon, he tells of the reestablishing of Israelite worship. But Samaritans who had settled the land wanted to participate, claiming to worship the Lord just as did the people of Judah.
Ezra 4:1-6 – 1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, they carried off many from the land. Then the king of Assyria returned some from that kingdom and forced them to inter-marry with people of other lands in order to create a new ethnic people. In that process, this mingled people also intermingled religious beliefs and practices. Thus, the people of Judah were correct in saying that these people had nothing to do with the house of the Lord or his worship. Even if the people in the land said they had been sacrificing to the Lord for years, they were wrong, they had not.
Take note, by the way, of the responses of the people who were enemies of the Jews. They did not like being told that they were not worshipping the Lord. They argued. Then they began to try to discourage the worship of the Jews. Finally, the opponents of Israel went to the government to try to put a stop to the religious practices of the Jews. The Samaritans were making it clear that if the Jews would not declare the Samaritan religion the same as the religion of Israel, the king should not allow them to worship at all. The Samaritans saw it as dangerous for a people to have a faith that is exclusive.
Christians, there is something here for us. We worship the God of the Bible. We worship Jesus as God the Son. We worship the one, true, God who is triune—Father, Son, and Spirit. We do not assume that others should be forced to agree that we are correct. But we do agree with the word of God that there is no God other than the Lord. WE agree with Jesus that there is no way for anyone to come to the Lord except through him. We agree with the apostles that there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved except for the name of Jesus. We agree with the reformers that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone as revealed in the Scripture alone.
And because we believe the Bible, we have to say,” No,” when someone claims they worship the same God we do and then defines God differently than does the word. This will not be popular. It may bring persecution. It may lead to the government attempting to prevent us from continuing to worship biblically. But it is true.
Yes, there is room for us to see people as believers who differ on significant issues with you. You might disagree on baptism or church government and be a solid believer in the same God as all genuine Christians. But if you believe that God is not triune, not eternal, not holy, you and I do not worship the same God. If you do not believe Jesus is God, we do not worship the same God. If you believe that the Father is the Son in a different form, we do not worship the same God. If you believe that the God of the Bible is also the deity of some other religion under a different name, we do not worship the same God.
God’s word tells us who God is. We cannot say that a being who is not the Lord as revealed in the word is the same as the Lord who is revealed in the word. Rocky is not Daniel LaRusso. A burrito is not a plate of spaghetti. And a deity that is not the triune God of the Bible is not the same God that I worship.