Are There More Gods Than One? (WSC Q. 5)

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Beloved, let us rejoice in the grace of our God who enabled us ‘to flee to him from idols to serve the living and true God’ (1 Thess. 1:9). That is a kindness beyond comparison, and one that should drive us to seek the reclamation of the lost in our city and in the world beyond. For there is but one only, the living and true God.

Are There More Gods Than One?

Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
March 22, 2020

A few weeks ago, Deborah and I had the privilege to attend Mother Tongue Day at our kids’ language school. It was quite amazing to see the vast array of cultures represented at the school. Each classroom had food, artifacts, and people wearing traditional clothes. It was astounding to observe the cultural differences and histories and religions that make up the human race.

But then a question hit me. What is the spiritual condition of these people? 

Most of them certainly worship a different god if they worship a god at all. Is the God of the Bible really the one, living and true God? Is it true that they are damned to eternal punishment if they reject Jesus as their only God and Savior? These are sobering questions to think about when you are in the midst of people dancing and laughing and having a good time.

Is there really only one living and true God? The culture would undoubtedly say no.

We breath the air of religious pluralism, and that air is only getting thicker as we live in an increasingly global society. It sounds pretty arrogant to think, or to say that our religion is the only way—that our God is the only God. Any exclusive claim for your religious faith really does make you public enemy number one in the age of religious pluralism. But is the religious pluralist correct? 

Now, it can be pretty easy to think that this is only a modern problem. But the pages of Scripture are filled with examples of God’s people struggling with this temptation too. Pluralism is no new problem. The people of God wrestle with it in the Old and New Testaments, and far too many fell away. Religious pluralism has been around for a long time, and it is spiritually lethal.

But the Bible is clear. The God of the Christian Scriptures is the one, true, and living God. At the end of the day, each one of us needs to make the choice to follow the revelation of Scripture or the dark path of religious pluralism. But if you are being tempted by the later, don’t pretend to think that you have arrived at some new heightened sense of reality—this is an ancient view.

Question 5 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reflects the Bible’s teaching about God’s exclusive claim to deity:

Q. Are there more Gods than one?      
A. There is but One only, the living and true God.        

—Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 5

We will look at this answer in two parts. Then we will conclude with a final question about the nature of the gods of other religions and cultures.

There Is One God Only

Many religions around the world, past and present, teach that there are many gods to be worshipped and appeased. Often, they teach that there are different gods with different specialties. You have gods of war and gods of fertility, and so forth. Likewise, they often teach that there are gods with various locals—this is the god of this place, and that is the god of that place, etc.

The God of Christian Monotheism

The Bible teaches that there is only one true God. Christianity is monotheistic. There are no other true gods in the universe. There is no dualistic force holding the galaxy together! Various deities did not create the world, and God’s people are certainly not to worship anyone but Yahweh, as we saw last week in question 4. As the catechism teaches, “there is but one only, the living and true God.”

The Westminster divines defend this statement by pointing us to Deuteronomy 6:4:[1]

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.    

—Deuteronomy 6:4

This text is known as the Shema, based on the first word in the sentence, “hear.” God is making a statement through Moses. The Shema is a declaration of the uniqueness and the oneness of Yahweh. The religion of God’s people, in both the Old and New Testaments, is a religion that worships one God only!

The Shema was Israel’s confession of faith, and it was recited twice a day, in the morning when you awake, and in the evening when you go to bed.[2] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Instruction for Your Children

Reciting the Shema was a practice for the whole family. This develops out of the verses that follow 6:4. Here the Bible exhorts us to teach the monotheistic faith to our children.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 

—Deuteronomy 6:5-9

We see a similar command in the New Testament in Ephesians 6:4,

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.         

—Ephesians 6:4

From this, we learn that Christian parents, like the Old Testament saints, have the solemn duty to instruct their children in the faith.

Deuteronomy 6 reveals a few things that all parents and guardians need to know. 

First, the attitude. We are to be diligent in our teaching. This means that we should not be lazy or slipshod in the way that we instruct our children. 

Second, the nature and frequency. We are to teach our children all the time. Look at the description in these verses—when you sit, when you walk, when you lie down, when you rise. Indeed, the very principal of worshiping as the body of Christ both in the morning and evening on the Lord’s Day is based on this principle of morning and evening family worship throughout the week.

Three, the content. The message that there is one God, and only one is at the heart of biblical worship. This was the most important thing that parents can teach their children. There is no God but one. And following from that is the command that we are to love him with all of our being and actions.

The reason for monotheism to be at the heart of religious worship and instruction becomes clear in verses 13-15.

A Biblical Warning about Religious Pluralism

God knows what is in the hearts of his people. Ever are they prone to wander! Forget teaching the faith to their children, Israel is going into the land of Canaan and the heart of religious pluralism. Therefore, God gives them a sober warning.

It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.            

—Deuteronomy 6:13-15

The nations that surrounded Israel worshipped a pantheon of gods. God is destroying these nations because of it, and he gives Israel a warning that the same will happen to them if they follow suit. Sadly, the history of Israel is one of repeated apostasy. Time and time again, they worship the Baals and the Ashtaroth on the high places in addition to worshipping Yahweh. 

Now, if you think that this is only a problem for old pagans, think again. The same gods are worshipped in the abortion clinic and on the market street. In dark days, Israel sacrificed their babies at the altar of Molech to bring a fertile harvest (cf. 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 32:35). And spouses and children are regularly sacrificed on the altar of the god of business so that a man or women can gain worldly wealth and power.[3]

Then there are those apostate Christians and pastors and religious professors who teach that Christianity is only one of many ways. They bring shame to the name they bear, for our Lord Jesus himself has already declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

So, if you are toying with the idea of religious pluralism, know that you are standing on the brink of the abyss. You stand on the edge of eternal condemnation. For there is one God only, and each one of us will stand before him on the day of judgment.

But if there is one God only, what do we make of the other gods?

The God of the Bible is the Living and True God

Not only is the God of the Bible, the one God that we are to worship, he is also the only living and true God. It would be one thing to simply say that Christians are only to worship their God, which is the God of the Bible, and that other nations and religions are to worship their living and true gods. It is quite another thing to say that the God of the Bible is the one true and living God. That is what the catechism teaches. The catechism points us to Jeremiah 10:10 as a biblical foundation.

But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.             

—Jeremiah 10:10

The Bible is showing us that Yahweh is the living and true God and that he is Lord over all creation and every nation. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. So, the God of the Bible stands in judgment over every people and nation and land. 

The only way to find safety from the wrath of the one true God is to bow before the throne of the God of Israel in worship and faith. His name is Yahweh, and he is the living and true God.[4]

So, it is pure folly to teach or to believe that somehow all religions worship the same God. That is pure, biblical heresy. Do not be led astray by such people. There is no ‘coexist program’ that will win you benevolence before the God of heaven and earth on the day of judgment. 

What are the gods of other religions?

But if the God of the Bible is the one, living and true God, what then are the gods of other religions and cultures? And what are we supposed to think about those who bow down to them? Are they merely wasting their time, or is something darker and more sinister going on? What are these idols and the people who worship them?

The catechism doesn’t address this, but the Bible teaches two things that we will note here. Neither of which are politically correct in any modern sense of the phrase. 

This what the Bible says about such people:

They are dumb like their idols

The first politically incorrect statement about the gods of other religions is made by God himself through the prophet Jeremiah. After the statement about Yahweh being the living and true God, he says,

Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish. Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of hosts is his name. 

—Jeremiah 10:14-16

Those who make idols and those who worship idols are stupid. That is not something you say to ‘win friends and influence people.’ But that is the cold, hard truth. The Bible says that those who worship other gods are deluded. There is no breath in these gods. Their images are false. And those who worship them are stupid.

How should we respond to this? Woe to you and me, if we stand up and start laughing! This revelation should cause us to weep for our neighbors and to weep for the nations. It should cause us to seek the salvation of those who are lost. We should pray for the souls of these people who are caught in this deception. This should include atheists who worship their own minds and mental faculties!

We should weep, beloved. And remember that if it were not for the grace of God we would be in the same place! Before God lavished his grace on us, we too were aliens and strangers to his people, we too were without hope and without God, and we too were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-5). Pray then for God’s grace on the lost that you see all around you.

This is what the Bible says about what these people worship:

They worship demons (Deut. 32:16-17; 1 Cor. 10:14-22; 1 Tim. 4:1)

This is a second politically incorrect statement. Those who worship other gods are, in fact, worshipping demons. Speaking of Israel, Deuteronomy 32:16-17 gives us a picture of the demonic reality behind those who worship idols:

They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.    

—Deuteronomy 32:16-17

When Israel whored after the gods of the surrounding nations, the cold, stark reality is that they were worshiping demons. Satan is seeking men and women to worship him. He even tried to get Jesus to fall at his feet (Matt. 4:10). The devil masquerades as an angel of light, and he devours many people by fooling them with false gods and idols (2 Cor. 11:14; cf. 1 Pet. 5:8).

This problem surfaces again in the New Testament with certain members of the church in Corinth. They are participating in the worship of idols in the Greco-Roman temples as well as participating in the Lord’s Supper at church gatherings. Paul warns them about provoking the Lord to jealousy,

Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”…Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?         

—1 Corinthians 10:7, 14-22

It can be so easy to think that idol worship is a thing of the past. But even God’s people have wrestled with it time and time again. The reality for those who worship demons is grim. God is a jealous God and rightly so, for he is the one, true, and living God. His glory, he will not give to another.

By way of application, let’s not be like those who provoke the true God to wrath. There are many idols in our hearts. These idols take many forms: people, possessions, power. These heart-idols rival any golden statue or pretended god. God will punish those who worship them.

Understand that every idol is a means by which the devil tempts you to worship him. In this way, the religious pluralist tempts us to worship the devil too. May we have no participation in that! 

But what if you are wrestling with idols? Is there a person in your life that that takes the place of God? Is there an object or an experience you crave that supersedes your attention on the Lord’s Day? Beloved, if the stronghold of the devil is on you, there is only one recourse— repent and turn to God. 

Beloved, let us rejoice in the grace of our God who enabled us ‘to flee to him from idols to serve the living and true God’ (1 Thess. 1:9). That is a kindness beyond comparison, and one that should drive us to seek the reclamation of the lost in our city and in the world beyond. For there is but one only, the living and true God.

But if God is one, what do we do with the fact that we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? That is an excellent question and one for which we will turn to next time when we unpack question 6 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

[1] “Divine” is the 17th-century term for a theologian. The Westminster divines are the theologians who composed the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. For more information, read our lesson on question one of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

[2] M. R. Wilson, “Shema, The,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 469.

[3] For more on the nature of counterfeit gods in contemporary culture see, Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York: Riverhead Books, 2011).

[4] To learn about the divine name of God, see our lesson on WSC, question 4.