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Review of some Christian Denominations

22 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MAY 1985 REVIEW OF SOME CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS By Bashir Ahmad Orchard ROMAN CATHOLICS The largest Christian denomination is composed of Roman Catholics. It has been estimated that they comprise one sixth to one fifth of the world’s population. The supreme head of the Church is the Pope who resides in Vatican City, Rome. The Church claims to be the only true representative of the Chris- tian faith. This claim is based partly on the New Testament, tradi- tions, history and other considerations. The Church claims that Jesus appointed Peter as the first head of the Church for which the Biblical authority is: “And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19) Roman Catholics believe that Peter travelled from Palestine to Rome where he was appointed the first bishop of that city. They also believe that both he and Paul suffered the death of martyrdom. The Bishop of Rome was the head of the Church and it was not until a few centuries later that he assumed the title of Pope. The Pope is elected by seventy senior priests known as cardinals. There are six fundamental rules which Roman Catholics are ex- pected to observe: 1. Attend the mass service on Sundays and Holy days. 2. Confess their sins to a priest at least once in a year. 3. Receive communion at Easter time. This involves the eating of a small portion of bread and the drinking of a little wine which has been blessed by the priest and believed, thereafter, to have become transmuted into the flesh and blood of Jesus. 4. Observe certain fasting and abstinence days. 5. Give contributions. MAY 1985 REVIEW OF SOME CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS 23 6. Marriage within a proper circle of relations. Contrary to the belief of other Christians, Roman Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, ascended physically into heaven although there is no scriptural nor historical evidence quoted in support of this pronouncement which was proclaimed officially by Pope Pious 12th in 1950 and known as the Doctrine of the Assump- tion of Mary. They also believe in the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which states that Mary was free from both original and all other kinds of sin. Roman Catholics accept most of the Apocrypha as inspired scrip- ture. These writings consist of fifteen books which were included in the Old Testament until the time of the Reformation in the 16th cen- tury when they were deleted by Protestants on the ground that they do not fall within the category of inspired scriptures. The names of these books are: 1st Esdras. 2nd Esdras. Prayer of Manesses Tobit Judith Rest of Book of Esther Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiasticus Baruch the Prophet Letter of Jeremiah Song of the three Holy Children The Story of Susanna Bel and the Dragon 1st Book of Maccabee. 2nd Book of Maccabee. Roman Catholics believe these books to be divinely inspired scrip- tures except the first three. Martin Luther—the German reformer—was the first to extract them from his translation of the Bible in 1534. On the other hand, their divine authenticity was ratified by the Roman Catholics at the Council of Trent in 1541. The New English Bible and the Jerusalem Bible are two of a number of publications of the Bible which contain the Apocrypha. The priests are not permitted to marry and take an oath of celibacy. MORMONS Mormons are active in the propagation of their faith. They are members of the Church of Latter Day Saints which was founded in America by Joseph Smith. They are persons of integrity with abstemious habits. 24 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MAY 1985 Joseph Smith was born in the State of New York in 1806. At the age of fourteen he claimed to have had a vision in which two celestial beings appeared before him. One of them spoke to him. In 1823 he described another vision in which a holy messenger called Maroni appeared to him and announced to him that God had selected him for a special mission. He was told to go after three years to a .par- ticular place where he would find buried a set of golden plates on which he would find written the religious history of the ancient peo- ple of America. These plates were purported to have been buried fourteen hundred years earlier by Maroni himself who is said to have been a prophet of his time. The story goes that Joseph Smith col- lected the plates as commanded and during a period of three years translated the weird script into English which he published under the name of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon tells the story of a family living in Jerusalem about 600 B.C. Lehi, the father of the family, was warned of the destruction of Jerusalem. He built a ship and sailed westward with his family eventually landing somewhere on the American con- tinent. As the family multiplied, there emerged from it two nations of people—The Nephites and Lamanites. Later on, after the crucifixion, Jesus descended among them for a short while. It is asserted that the book was compiled by a prophet called Mor- mon about 400 A.D. It contains the abridged history and teachings of the Nephites and Laminites. Mormon entrusted the book to his son Moroni who buried it prior to a destructive war between the Nephites and Laminites. There it remained unknown and unseen until Joseph Smith excavated it after being informed of its whereabouts by Maroni in the vision he claims to have witnessed. Joseph Smith goes on to say that after he had completed the transla- tion, he returned the golden plates to Maroni thereby leaving them unavailable for examination. Some of his followers testified that they had seem them during the period they were with Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon was first printed in 1830. Mormons believe that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the Word of God. The latter, they say, reveals a clearer understand- ing of the Bible. They consider as corrupt the present day teachings of Christianity. The Mormons suffered considerable persecution during the first two decades of their growth. In 1843 Joseph Smith was assassinated MAY 1985 REVIEW OF SOME CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS 25 in prison by an unruly mob which burst inside. He was succeeded by Brigham Young. Severe opposition compelled them to migrate westwards. After a long and hazardous journey they settled in the state of Utah where in 1847 they established their centre in Salt Lake City. At one time the Church of the Latter Day Saints sanctioned polygamy but later abandoned it under Government pressure. It is no longer permitted. Four commodities which are forbidden to Mormons are alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee. They are active in the mission field and their missionaries are usually young men who devote two years of their life to the propogation of their faith. They work in pairs and stay together usually in lodgings. Should one be unable to participate in the daily outdoor work on account of sickness or any other reason then the other will not carry on alone. They move around only in pairs. They receive no salaries or allowances and are usually financed by their parents. JEHOVA WITNESSES Jehova Witnesses are members of the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society. They are well known for their diligent preaching ac- tivities. Like the Mormons they visit homes from door to door and usually work in pairs although this is not binding. Their plan of cam- paign in Great Britain demands that every house be visited at least twice annually. All members are called upon to devote considerable time in the propagation of their faith. Those known as regular members pledge a hundred hours voluntary service a month while others known as special workers dedicate one hundred and fifty hours. The Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society originated in America. The first leader and organizer was Charles Taze Russell. He wrote and compiled six large volumes under the title ‘Studies in the Scrip- tures’ in which he has presented his interpretation of the Bible which is accepted by Jehova Witnesses. The Society was incorporated in 1884 with Charles Russell as its president. He died in 1914 and was succeeded by Joseph Franklin Rutherford—better known as Judge Rutherford. There was a schism at that time and the smaller splinter group re-named itself the Dawn Bible Students’ Association. Judge Rutherford was a dynamic leader charged with considerable personal magnetism. He re-organised the administration and the ac- tivities of the Society. It was not until 1931 that its members became 26 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MAY 1985 known as Jehova Witnesses which they adopted from the Biblical verse: “Ye are witnesses, says Jehova, and I am God.” (American Standard Version of the Bible, Isiah 43:12) Judge Rutherford was a prolific writer. He wrote more than a hundred books and major pamphlets besides hundreds of articles. Jehova Witnesses are pacifists. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to enter the armed forces. They believe killing is against the Christian teachings. In 1918 Judge Rutherford himself was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for allegedly encouraging some of his conscripted followers to refuse to carry out their duties. He was released after one year. Jehova Witnesses also refuse blood transfusions even in the face of death. They quote the Old Testa- ment: “Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh.” (Leviticus 17:14) They hold the view that there is no difference in taking blood into the body through the veins than there is by taking it through the mouth. They do not believe in the divinity of Jesus; nor do they believe in the Doctrine of Trinity. They believe that the second advent of Jesus took place in 1914 in the manner of an invisible appearance and that he is helping them to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. The first issue of the Watch Tower magazine was published in 1879 and today it is printed in fifty four different languages. Another regular magazine is The Awake which is printed in more than thirty languages. Jehova Witnesses are working in more than one hundred and seventy countries. So said the Promised Messiah: As you are the heirs of truth you are bound to be treated with enmity. Then be warned and let not your egos prevail over you. Endure every hardship and reply gently to all abuse so that you may be rewarded in heaven… Do not deride and do not indulge in mockery. Your speech should betray no meanness or ribaldry, so that the fountain of wisdom may be opened for you. Wise words conquer hearts. Coarse and vulgar language promises disorder. [Naseem Dawat, pp. 3-4]