For centuries, people have accepted and held on to the almost indelible mental meme that there are many pathways toward Heaven and to acquiring the knowledge of divine things. Corollary to that: There is only one God but many ways to know Him. Sounds sensible and logical enough for millions and millions to swallow head and legs — as snakes do to frogs, unlike humans who must bite and chew to savor food to its fullest tastiness and nutritive value.
Human nature, it seems, dictates that in the presence of so many religious sects or denominations marking the landscape of ancient and modern civilizations, it is but a matter of personal choice as to which one satisfies one’s liking or view. Polytheism (worship of many gods) became the rule before Judaism re-introduced monotheism (worship of one God). That is, if there is but one God, the Creator of Adam and Eve, then monotheism was not merely the rule but the fact and reality that existed in the minds of humans in the beginning. If we could only talk to a sunflower or a bee, it might tell us the secrets of the Universe!
Nevertheless, the diversity of religions and the presence of alternative ways of acknowledging divine realities present various channels of expressing piety or spirituality. Even in Christianity, with thousands of possible places to go to in order to “worship” or “serve” God, the assurance that each one ultimately leads to God, as presumed, provides some psychological satisfaction, if not spiritual stability. And for many, that is what really matters.
And who would not wish that such is truly the case? Who would deny the millions and millions of people, who search and labor earnestly to seek God, the future reward of eternal life and peace promised to God’s children?
No one. Except that Christ said that the way to the Kingdom is straight and narrow and not many find it. Those who walk the wide and crooked path are many. Could it be that the millions who troop to those churches and sects that preach varying and conflicting doctrines are walking the wrong path? That the so-called “unity in diversity” that modern thought espouses as our “inherent right to religious freedom” – no matter how confusing the results of such a democratic reality can be – is in fact nothing but an irreconcilable diversity, a hopeless division or, more aptly, a virtual division of a tactical unity? That is like saying a couple are married (or, one) because they live under one roof even though they sleep in separate rooms!
Ecumenism is another word for the present movement to unify the various religions, as initially promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. It is not uncommon now for many multi-cultural nations and religious conventions to offer public prayers addressed to Yahweh, Christ, Mohammad, Buddha and to Mary all within one breath. The perceived vision of a so-called New World Order is somehow becoming a reality and the formation of a united religion (or a unified diversity among religious denominations, whether Christian or not) is an essential aspect toward achieving that goal. What comes next (or along with it) would not be as pleasing a spectacle as expected, to be sure. Denominationalism, be aware, has become a tool for enslaving the minds and souls of so many believers.
Yet today, we hear people say, “Religion will not save us!” If so, why is religion so rampant in spite of its divisiveness? Why do people still remain in religious denominations? Why do we keep converting believers to our own form of religion? What alternative can we give the youth who are seeking answers and who, just like their parents and grandparents before them, are clueless or helpless as to how to resolve the issues that have such eternal consequences?
Let us shift gears by changing metaphors. Forget about religions and denominations for a moment and just consider God and yourself alone. Forget about the many paths to God and Heaven. Let us be like the salmon, for a while, swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean.
The salmon knows only one thing: to feed on plankton and other organic food in order to grow mature enough to swim up the river to spawn and to die. The salmon, by its nature, knows it came from the mountain and has a tracking device that allows it to retrace its way back to where it was born. Do not bother with how this complex bio-technological system came about. If your religion tells you it evolved or it was created that way, keep it to yourself. Let us not let science or religion get in the way for now. We are salmon; and we only know what we know, alright? And that will be sufficient to understand why humans are different and can also be different from what they are now. And, maybe, we can even become wiser than fish eventually!
But before we proceed, let us consider what things came before there were salmon. There were the mountains and the rivers flowing down the valleys and to the oceans. There were the pure water that fell from the sky which fed the rivers and the lakes and, finally, the sea. This is where we reverse our metaphor of the “many pathways” to God. We humans were led to believe that in order to go back to God, we must follow a road that has been laid down by other humans before us (religion). We were born or led to a form of religion by our parents or our friends or some other people. And since there were so many pioneering souls who laid down those hundreds of roads back to God, we have assumed that each one is as fine as the other and that we can all live along as one under the one banner of God – a compromise we call religious denominationalism. That is where we humans are now. And that is what we accept and believe to be right and true.
But salmon do not just believe in something because they were taught by others but because they themselves, individually and as one community of salmon, already know where they came from and where they are going to in the end, even before they were born. For sure, it is a built-in quality of their very nature as salmon. And, even before salmons existed, there were already mountains and rivers built by someone, Who happens to be God alone. God designed a specific way or path for salmon to swim in in order to fulfill their destiny. Salmon did not build pathways for themselves and for others to pass through. God, in His wisdom and power, did so. Salmon simply swim in the river they were given to travel. God dwells in Heaven and no human can pave a road toward it.
The way back to God is the Way He made for humans to follow. We must find that Way and walk it, not build one or another for others to follow our personal leading. Human religion is the corrupted version of that Way. In the same way that God built the mountains, the valleys and the rivers for salmon to navigate, He also built the Way for humans to follow in order to find God. And so, after having changed our metaphors, we now reverse the process: The way back to God, just as it is for salmon, is the way founded by God Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. There are not many ways but only One Way. It is not a religion. It is not a denomination. It is not an amalgamation of many beliefs all made by humans. It is not a formula or creed or system that derives from human conceptions and traditions but a Way of Life and Truth patterned or modeled after the life of the One Who became a servant and lived His life in total submission to God. It is a 24/7 pure and living offering of one’s body, minus the trimmings and ritualistic demands of artificial religion or faith-system.
In short, it is not for humans to reduce total-life service (worship in spirit and truth) into ceremonial practices but in practical and humble daily living. The salmon feeds by the grace of God. It leaps over rocks and against strong river currents by God’s power. It eventually spawns eggs which hatch into alevins that grow to become fries by God’s decree to fulfill His law of reproducing a species’ own kind – from the very beginning. That is the salmon’s way-of-life. If you were a salmon, would you know any other way? No!
Are we saying we should live like animals led by instincts and not by reason? If we really did use reason, there would be unity today. For if animals follow God’s laws through their God-given natural instincts, we would also follow His laws through our God-given spiritual reason. Now, we know God cursed Nature by virtue of human disobedience. Poor animals, they never sinned like Adam (except for the serpent); but they also suffer because of his sin. That is why animals were sacrificed to appease divine anger. Today, God requires pure and living human sacrifice.
Whatever God has given us, we must offer to His service. So, if anyone received the gift of teaching from God, do it wherever and whenever you can. And do it for all, not just those who share your “religion”. Besides, what is your religion or what do you teach other than what your leaders tell you to teach? Teach the Way, the Truth and the Life! Teach what God taught through Jesus Christ. No religion or denomination has an exclusive right and ownership to that way, truth and life; only God does. And only you alone will be held accountable for what you will do with your own life in relation to that calling, no one else.
The many pathways we have made toward Heaven have only bred confusion, division, conflict and immorality among many believers. It has only further increased division and intolerance among the children of God as it did during the time of the apostles. The river that the salmon follows is the same Way we need to follow back to the Father in Heaven. There is, therefore, only One Way – Jesus Christ. No one else came from the Father (I come from the Father and I go back to the Father) and no one else knows the Father (The Son knows the Father; I and the Father are one). In following Christ alone, not in following religious denominationalism, lies the answer to genuine unity.
Final proof of this is Christ’s resurrection from death. He died on the cross and resurrected and went back to sit on the right hand of God. He said so and eyewitnesses prove that reality and truth – both angels and prophets. Salmon will die and, in a way, resurrect through the eggs they lay. The cycle of life goes on. In the case of humans, we have the hope of eternal life through the Way prepared for us, not like salmon which must reproduce and die and will lose existence. Humans were created in the image of God and are destined to be with the Creator through faithful obedience.
If salmon remain faithful to the pattern of God, from the beginning to the end of time, how much more should we be humble enough to obey God’s pattern for our lives? Religion is not the way. Denominationalism is unnatural and patently artificial and impractical. It is a compromise with the political divisiveness of this world and will never bring us genuine and lasting unity. Live the life of a disciple who walks the Way, applies the Truth and manifests the Life of Jesus Christ every moment of one’s life. You become one with God and God unites you with those who seek such path.
It may be argued, however, that there are various species of salmon that possess distinct characteristics – where they spend maturity, how long they stay in a lake or the ocean, what they feed on and many others. This may seem to justify the presence of different sects that have varying teachings or practices, some totally inconsistent with biblical truth. This diversity, to some, is but an expression of individuality or cultural distinctions produced by cultural or religious development or personal preference. And as long as people believe and serve God with their conscience, they are considered safe and acceptable to God and humans.
No doubt such reality has helped to produce general peace and cooperation among denominations and sects. But it seems, that is not enough, especially if we consider the Apostle Paul’s admonition for believers to be one in mind, spirit, faith, hope and love in the face of so much strife and confusion among the early believers.
Let us look at the Gospel then as pure water (as Christ often used it in His parables) – the pure water that falls from Heaven. Scientifically, rain falls as naturally distilled and absolutely pure water which then mixes with the minerals and other substances contained in the air, land, rivers, lakes and oceans. It is that water which is drunk by all creatures, whether salmon, birds or humans. Water – the pure H2O – remains as the essential ingredient that gives life to all living things. And just as the salmon yearns in the end to return to the pristine waters where it came from and closer to the very source of “heavenly water” (their original home), our faith in the Gospel must long for that pure message taught and practiced by the One Who made and gave the Good News. (Take note that once the salmon reaches the fresh water where it begins to ascend to its final breeding place, it ceases to take any food and merely uses its body fat and muscles to survive the long and great ordeal of swimming up against the current. What bravery! Having found the way, it gives up everything to reach its destiny! For then, the female salmon, with the help of the male, reproduces and lays eggs in redds or egg nests, and then they both die.)
Are there many ways back to God? No, there is only One Way back and God gave it a long, long time ago. All other paths, made or invented by humans, will lead nowhere. Seek the right path. That is the only way to eternal life.
Our task then is not to seek to entrench the teachings and practices of humans in what we have established as our “religion” or “denomination” but to seek the purity and simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The sophistication and complexities in many of the denominational or sectarian teachings and practices have diluted the purity that millions seek from the message of grace which Jesus delivered through the apostles. How to ultimately attain that state of belief and life that is acceptable and pleasing to God is what Romans 12:1 has taught for centuries – nothing more.
“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your pleasing and acceptable offering to God.”
The salmon lives with courage and wisdom all its life, avoiding predators and natural dangers along the way to its maturity, and eventually offers its life as a final sacrifice to reproduce itself and to give life to others who will pass on the joy and glory of living.
What do you have to offer to God? Your religion or your body as a pure, living sacrifice?
To know God’s word, we have to swim back to the top of the mountain where the water is pure, undiluted, unpolluted, coming directly from Heaven. To many, the ocean is Heaven. But the real Heaven is above the mountain. The ocean is the world with its history of denominationalism where people, in their immaturity, practice a diversity of faith and religions. We need to swim back up the river, like salmons fasting in the fresh waters of life to purge the corruption of this divided world, to reach the heights of purity of life and sacrifice – the true, pleasing and acceptable worship to God.