Editor’s Note: One of the more popular issues of The Lutheran Witness was February 2022, “The Truth Will Set You Free,” in which writers looked at the history, founding documents and key beliefs of other world religions. We also explained what Lutherans confess with regard to the false teachings of these religions. We could not address every world religion, so we are adding more of these articles over time. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Sikhism began in the Punjab region of India during the second half of the 15th century. It takes its name from the Punjabi word “sikh,” meaning “seeker.” Its founder, Bābā Nānak (1469–1539), was the first of 10 gurus (spiritual guides) that, over the next 200 years, would codify the Sikh religion. Nānak was raised as a Hindu, and some historians view Sikhism as a subset of Hinduism.
Since its founding, Sikhism (or Sikhi, as it is sometimes known) has grown to an estimated 25–30 million followers worldwide, making it the world’s fifth-largest organized religion. Most converts to Sikhism have come from Hinduism or Islam. Sikhism came to the U.S. in the second half of the 19th century as many Sikhs left India to escape British rule.
Sikhism’s core written document is the Guru Granth Sahib. A compilation of writings by Sikh gurus, it was pronounced Sikhism’s 11th and final guru by the tenth human guru, Gobind Singh (1666–1708). The forerunner of the Guru Granth Sahib was the Adi Granth, for which the oldest surviving manuscript dates to 1599.
The Guru Granth Sahib is organized into poetic texts, or hymns, set to rāgas — musical frameworks around which a performer improvises notes and rhythms. It is written in Gurmukhī, the official Punjabi script, in a variety of languages, including Sanskrit and Persian.
- There is only one god, Akal (“timeless”), a divine but shapeless force that created everything that exists. Akal is neither male nor female but is alternately referred to as one or the other depending on the context.
- The purpose of life is to achieve unity with Akal, but the deceptive and illusory nature of the temporal world gets in the way. Humans are constantly led astray by the “Five Thieves”: ego, anger, greed, attachment and lust.
- Sikhism’s core values, which all followers are expected to pursue, are devotion, equality, service, justice and honesty.
- The Sikh house of worship is called the “gurdwara,” which means “doorway to God.” A gurdwara may be a room, in a home, that has been set apart for worship, or it may be a shared space for corporate worship. There is not a set day of the week on which corporate worship happens, but it is determined by the individual congregation. Worship does not follow a set pattern, and it does not need to be led by a priest, although some congregations do hire priests. Worship consists of meditation, prayer, singing and reading from the Guru Granth Sahib, often followed by a meal.
- Some Sikhs take part in an initiation ceremony that involves consuming a sweet drink that has been stirred with a ceremonial sword. The initiated individual is considered to have been “reborn” and agrees to follow a certain set of behaviors, including not cutting his or her hair.
- Sikhs believe that the soul, on its way to eternal union with the divine, may be reincarnated multiple times.
- Sikhs do not believe that any religion can claim that it alone possesses the truth, and as a result, they do not seek to proselytize or convert others.
As its name suggests, Sikhism — which might be called “Seekerism” — emphasizes the individual’s need, via his or her own efforts, to achieve union with the divine. Lutherans, by contrast, rejoice that God comes to us in Christ to forgive our sins and to claim us as His own (1 John 3:1).
Our fellowship with God (1 John 1:3) comes not because of what we do but because of what Christ did. By clinging to Him in faith — faith that is not merited or chosen but freely given and received — we enjoy all the blessings of being God’s own child. As such, we are freed from the burden of the Law, forgiven and redeemed to live a life of service to our neighbor, our good works a joyful response to all that Christ has done.
The Scriptures reveal that God in His divine essence is neither male nor female, yet the Bible and God Himself consistently use male pronouns and terms for God. Lutherans use the language God used to reveal Himself to us. While the First and Third persons of the Trinity do not have physical bodies, God continues to refer to Himself using male pronouns. Furthermore, in Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh as a biological male.
For Lutherans, Baptism is not merely a right of initiation but a spiritual rebirth. In Baptism, the new believer receives Christ’s death and resurrection such that the believer dies and rises with Christ in the waters of Baptism.
The Scriptures speak of physical death as final: “It is appointed for many to die once, and after that comes judgment …” (Heb. 9:25). Sikhism’s belief in reincarnation includes the idea of self-improvement: When someone dies and reincarnates, he progressively improves until he reaches full enlightenment. This does not reflect the Scriptures’ teaching that faith is given by God through His Means of Grace and not as a result of our own work. Our hope for eternal life is found in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3).
Finally, Lutherans are not afraid to confess they have and speak the truth of God as revealed in Scripture. God has revealed Himself and His work in the Scriptures, the Word of God. We boldly confess this truth.
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