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We all know the biblical passages praising faith, and we have also seen many cases where faith was abused by conmen (or went wrong on its own). What differentiates Christian faith (which seems to imply a belief in things not seen and with no direct witnesses) from the faith of various cults, or of suicidal / murderous individuals who were genuinely persuaded that by killing others they are doing (the same as ours) God's work(think suicide bombers, but also Charles Manson's followers)?

If it's all in the gift that God lovingly gives Christians and withdraws from other groups, then why should society hold suicide bombers accountable for not being the recipients of that gift (and separately why should they not receive the same ticket to heaven as "our" faithful)?

If it's about "crossing the line" and harming others, remember that Abraham fully intended to murder his son, and Moses actually ordered the Levites to murder 3000 israelites for the furtherance of his political power (well, God's power as it is claimed). Who is to say that people who kill abortion doctors haven't received personal instruction from God, or that a mass murdering dictator isn't doing God's work?

There is a very well reasoned, but unfortunately too many-headed question about the meaning of faith which of course received answers that didn't address the full range of topics raised.

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This may be asking more what the difference is between faith of virtuous people and the so-called faith of murderers. Virtuous people may have "extreme" faith, but would never use their faith as an excuse to carry out acts of hatred and vengeance. –  Narnian Jun 20 '13 at 12:29
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Inquisition? The religious-inspired wars (the crusades, and the concept of bellum sacrum, which differs little from jihad)? Support for capital punishments (think of the people exonerated from the death row by DNA)? Support for slavery and oppression of native peoples? Perhaps Jesus would not have endorsed any of these, but the church certainly did. –  justbelieve Jun 20 '13 at 18:19
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You need to read the truth about the crusades. They were a response to an invasion. Yet, those were spawned by an organization--not individual Christians. Capital punishment is an establishment of God--not man. We should endeavor to only convict the guilty, of course. You cannot lay every false conviction on devout Christians. Life imprisonment is not much better if the person is innocent. Again, one particular church engaged in the crusades. Don't blame all Christians for the acts of a few. Don't blame all people of any group for the actions of a few. –  Narnian Jun 20 '13 at 18:23
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Who makes something "officially-sanctioned"? Again, you're speaking about one specific institution, which didn't really put up well with protests. There were many people who did protest against that institution, but many of them were killed. –  Narnian Jun 20 '13 at 18:37
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this is actually a really good, applicable question...not sure why the down votes –  Greg McNulty Jun 20 '13 at 18:49
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4 Answers 4

Taking an action based on your belief is not the same as acting in faith, if the thing you are placing your faith into has criteria which do specify the requirements for being a true member of that faith.

The Christian faith sets out the criteria which will indicate if the follower is truly faithful. These criteria are set out in the words and example of Jesus and the nature of God as set out in the bible.

The words and actions of Jesus are easier to recognise because they are obvious and require far less understanding that does the nature of God. For example when Jesus says,

'Love your enemies'

It is hard for me or for any person to interpret that as, 'go and blow up that woman and her child over there'. That is obvious. There are many examples where Jesus demonstrates how we should be operating as followers.

The nature of God explanation is very difficult to explain, but there is a kind of 'knowledge' which can be used to attain the criteria, but as I said it is difficult and I am not sure I can explain very well here but I will try.....

For a while my wife and I had been contemplating how Judas, one of Jesus's original disciples, could spend 3 years in the very presence of God being taught by the greatest person that ever lived in every respect and yet still betray Him and all that had been taught.

How can that happen, to someone in the privileged situation that Judas had found himself in, could I end up the same? These were the questions we posed to ourselves and our pastor.

From what I have read about God and His nature, I have learnt that God is gracious, loving; Ex 34:6

6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and [a]truth;

How can God be compassionate, slow to anger and gracious yet still in the Bible we see many examples where whole cities are wiped out, Jericho, Gomorrah etc?

Well, the fact is God does satisfy all those attributes, but the Bible says He is slow to anger, not without anger. God does give opportunity to individuals and cultures alike, which is why Judas had the greatest opportunity, but Judas also demonstrates human weakness at its very lowest. Judas had the opportunity but he refused it (there are a multitude of theologies about this).

On a cultural level there are examples of God giving opportunity, take Jonah for example, God actually had Jonah swallowed by a sea creature, all because Jonah refused to obey God when he was commanded to preach to the Ninevites, because Jonah knew if he did so the Ninevites would repent. God went to great lengths to provide opportunity for people to turn their hearts back to Him. This message and similar messages serve to point us, mere men, to also afford people the same kindness to give an opportunity to change their heart attitude both in how they treat us and how they treat God.

My point is, when man or entire cultures/nations are confused and have their backs to God, He does not seek to wipe them out, He gives every opportunity, going to the nth degree to give them chance after chance to see the error of their ways. He does not conscript men to kill in His name and even when people knowingly turn their backs on Him, God is still patient until it is their time to answer for their attitude toward Him.

Take this example with the example of Gal 5:22:

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: [i]immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, [j]factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

In verse 21, the ones that choose not to accept these opportunities will have their punishment in that they will by no means inherit the kingdom of God. It does not instruct anyone to seek vengeance on God's behalf.

On another note, why would we need to defend God; He is omnipotent enough to do that Himself, but He exercises great patience before doing so, as He did when He gave Noah time to try and persuade people to join Him on the ark, or when Moses persuaded God not to wipe out the Israelites after they escaped from Egypt. God went to massive lengths to give opportunity to people and ultimately gave His own Son.

Moreover, there are specific commands:

Luke 6:31

31 [a]Treat others the same way you want [b]them to treat you.

What right do we have in passing judgement by our actions:

Romans 3:23

23 for all [a]have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

John 3:17

17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Deuteronomy 5:17

17 ‘You shall not murder.

Romans 12:14-21

14 Bless those who persecute [m]you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but [n]associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. [o]Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but [p]leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

"Respect what is right in the sight of ALL men".

Overcome evil with good is the last line I quoted, God gives opportunity, but in the end it is not for us to seek vengeance, for vengeance belongs to God, not man. God promises to repay those who wrong Him, He never asks us to do it for Him.

What makes the difference? One acts purely from their convictions without actually knowing the will of the Father, the other has an understanding of how Jesus would operate in the same situation and chooses to follow the example of Jesus.

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But this is very culture-centric. Suppose you are an obedient, conformist human being born in some culture (Islam, Fundamentalist Christians, Charles Manson commune). And they tell you to accept "on faith" some dogmas, not question the wisdom of the elders, etc. You accept it, not having any skepticism bred into you by your genes or instilled into you by education. Then they tell you to go make a personal sacrifice "for God" -- a sacrifice which involves killing some "enemy of God". What do you do? –  justbelieve Jun 20 '13 at 12:08
    
@user4813 Religions founded on a static canon are a bit like constitutional democracies; the canon acts like the child in "The Emperor's New Clothes", pointing out to everyone basic errors which people might otherwise be afraid to admit. Obviously, clever arguments can support misinterpretation, but the Berean example ("examined the Scripture every day to see if what Paul said was true", Acts 17:11 [NIV]) gives some protection. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 20 '13 at 12:36
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I have not finished my arguments yet, still need to finish my lunch then I will give an full answer from the Bible and hopefully without my own personal biases. –  Monkieboy Jun 20 '13 at 12:49
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@Monkieboy: sure, the point was that with the same brain, but two different cultures (e.g. Christianity vs. Islam) a person could become a faithful member of the church vs. a suicide bomber. Somehow that seems broken and points to me that being too suggestible is not a good thing. –  justbelieve Jun 20 '13 at 17:49
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I've read part 2 of this answer. Some very good points, and if those points won out in Christianity, we would not have had Inquisition, crusades, capital punishment, endorsment of slavery (see my reply to @Narnian at the top). Would you say the people who worked for Inquisition, from the qustioners to the decision makers to the stake-lighters were faithful? How about the supporters of capital punishment? There are some very questionable officially-sanctioned deeds within Christianity. –  justbelieve Jun 20 '13 at 18:32
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The term "faith" means trust -- some have watered the definition down to nothing more than "belief without proof" but we can still see the original meaning in words such as "faithful" -- we recognize that a person who is faithful ("full of faith") is trustworthy.

The difference between the faith of a Christian and the faith of another is the object of that faith -- not the person holding the belief (except as that belief changes that person). Christianity places its trust (faith) in God as revealed by the entirety of what we call the Bible. Christianity tells us that God is faithful -- we can trust Him.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

I will not speak for other religions and worldviews, but Christianity does not ask for belief without evidence -- the evidence has been provided. There were direct witnesses to Jesus' life -- the Christian New Testament was written by them, and we have evidence that they have been adequately preserved throughout the centuries.

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So, Christianity (which flavor?) is the one true religion because there are witnesses. The timing of the writings isn't that convincing: earliest NT writing: Galatians, ca. 48AD, by Paul who never met Jesus. Earliest Gospel: 70AD (Mark). The early practitioners also couldn't agree on one theology (until the winning church managed to eradicate the other sects and their competing writings) –  justbelieve Jun 20 '13 at 14:32
    
I'm not speaking of what is "true" -- I'm speaking of evidence that allows for rational belief; even science's "truth" changes -- Newtonian physics was believed to be true because of the evidence, but now we have evidence that shows that it isn't 100% accurate. –  Ryan Frame Jun 20 '13 at 15:02
    
What is truth? Pilate said to Jesus. Christianity is a way of life that can lead one to become a virtuous person, like Jesus. If one becomes virtuous through the practice of Christianity, it is true. If one becomes virtuous through Judaism, it also is true. It is not what you believe to be true, it is what you experience to be true. Once you have experienced the truth, no-one can argue against what you have found. –  Waeshael Jun 21 '13 at 2:42
    
@Waeshael Yes, I agree. The part where I'm concerned is when you start teaching others about your truth, and when as a society you start imposing the majority's version of truth on the minority (when it doesn't really pertain to the functioning of society). –  justbelieve Jun 21 '13 at 5:58
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God the Father gives to those who ask (demand,) the Faith of Jesus by which one becomes like Jesus, through the reception of the gift of the virtues of Jesus, and as Origen explained, the seven virtues (Sermon on the Mount commentary by St. Augustine,) are synonymous with Jesus. And as Paul explained, The Christ is within us when we have the seven virtues of Jesus. These virtues then prevent us from acting in any manner to the detriment of any man, or to ourselves - we are declared righteous by God, and are holy men and women. Unless we demand these virtues deeply and sincerely, and believe they have been received, they will not be realized, and we will not have The Christ within us. Bad things arise when someone is missing any of the seven virtues.

Now, God has promised to give to anyone who believes in God, whatever they ask for - even if the gift will cause the recipient to do bad things (the parable of the Prodigal Son.) God does not judge motive, but must respond to a demand (the importunate widow, and the man who asked bread of his friend.) As Jesus said "the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by storm."

Pilate's power was given him by The Father, according to Jesus's testimony at the trial.

So, a sincere man who importunes God for power will be given it. If the power leads to corruption and evil, that is the choice of the man. God has given the gift of choice to man who if he exercises free will and does evil, will not be punished by God "who is merciful and just to forgive us our sins." Evil lives unpunished in this world because of God's infinite mercy towards His children. "for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:45) and loves all people equally. Judgement is in the hands of the Son at the final assizes.

It is the job of the church and all men to train people to ask God for the virtues that are Jesus.

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So perhaps we need to pray not just for faith, but also for discernment, so that we don't end up doing horrible things in the name of our favorite religion? This is an interesting point that I have not thought about. –  justbelieve Jun 21 '13 at 5:58
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I'm answering your question along the lines of "Does the bible or logic offer any guidance as to refute 'murderous individuals' who claim to be following the bible?"

SOME VERSES CLAIM PRIMACY

There are verses that say, seemingly in opposition, "love your enemies" (Sermon on the Mount), and call for the wholesale slaughter of God's enemies (Josh 6:41). There are Christians who have used one verse or another as a guiding principle in foreign policy, for example. (The "slaughter God's enemies" being a member of one of my congregations about 10 years ago.)

Which is it-- love enemies or kill their families? Each side could claim to be acting on the Word of God. Is it the case that the only thing you get out of scripture is affirmation of your pre-existing agendas?

Fortunately, the bible tells us which rules are tantamount.

SECOND GREATEST COMMANDMENT “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22-36-40

WEIGHTIER PARTS OF LAW “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Matthew 23:23

GOLDEN RULE "Do unto others as you would have them do to yourself" Luke 6:31

The bible itself claims primacy of the two passages ("second greatest" and "weightier"); the third label of "Golden Rule" was added by men.

Back to our friends above debating foreign policy. If one picks a verse about loving enemies and the other about killing them, one reasonable approach is to check the interpretation against these "weightier" passages. Is killing your enemies, holding slaves as another example, a direct literal obedience to a command to practice mercy?

IF LAWS CONFLICT, DON'T DO EITHER

Here's an allegory I've used to illustrate the "difficulty" in obeying "conflicting" passages. Suppose there's a man who sees a "SPEED LIMIT 40 MPH" sign in front of his street. Suppose he takes that law as the literal decree of the mayor that he may drive 40 MPH on the road-- regardless of whether there were ducks or schoolchildren crossing the road. He is going 40 MPH. Now if someone points out that there is also a law on the books about not killing children, can the man throw up his hands and credulously say he's part of a sect that loves the mayor more than him and so is following the higher law that men should be allowed to drive 40 MPH? No. Likewise, in Christian circles-- take our Josh 6:41 foreign policy analyst-- even if there were a law with a mandate to go and do something, there are many laws to do it with mercy and justice.

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