Syncretism, the amalgamation of different beliefs, is something that has occurred throughout history. Now in some ways it is a very understandable practice, particularly when there are aspects of other beliefs which can seem so attractive. But because of that, the Israelites were warned against it. Indeed, as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God was quite specific—his people were not to adopt the gods of the people of Canaan, and they were not to engage in their religious practices.
Now you don’t have to be a genius to understand God’s warning. Adopting other gods is tantamount to replacing the creator. Furthermore, adopting their practices has the effect of diminishing God, reducing him down to our level. But what happened was that the Israelites did both. Some adopted other gods in their lives, whilst others engaged in the practices of the Canaanites.
Even in the early pages of the Bible, then, there are stories and illustrations of syncretism. There are stories of people who abandoned their faith in God, for the pursuit of the worship of idols. And there are stories of people who incorporated the beliefs and practices of others, whilst maintaining some sort of faith in the living God. The consequent result was a disaster. It was a disaster for the people, and it was a disaster for God. And it was one that God needed to respond to.
Unfortunately for us, syncretism is not just a problem that is described in the pages of the Bible. It is a problem that over the centuries the church has had to face too. Indeed even today in Africa, and elsewhere in the world, Christianity has been blended with animistic and ancestral beliefs. But even in the western world the Christian faith has been mixed with all sorts of other beliefs and practices—some of which are obvious, and others which are more subtle.
For example, the mental, physical and spiritual practices of Yoga, and the Martial Arts, are very much tied up in other religions. And yet many Christians practice them. Astrology, séances, etc., are also practiced by members of our congregations, and yet they are denounced in the pages of the Old Testament. Even Halloween, which is becoming more popularised today, has as its base some very questionable pagan roots.
So, sadly, Syncretism is alive and well and very much part of our churches today. Indeed, many of the practices I’ve mentioned have gained deep roots in the life of some members. Church people practice Yoga, they read their stars, and churches hire out their halls for all sorts of incompatible practices. So much so, that in order to de-syncretise the faith, there will need to be a major cultural shift in the church today. But hopefully that shift will be based on a review of biblical principles, an honest appraisal of current practices and beliefs, and a genuine commitment to restoring Christian beliefs and practices to those prescribed by God.
Yes, we may need to abandon some of the things that we love. And, yes, we may need to be ruthless. But we need to decide whether we are for God or against him. We will also need to decide whether we are committed to God, as he describes himself, or whether we are content to continue to adjust him, to make him more comfortable with every-day thinking.
Posted: 24th November 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis