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« The Image of Protestant Evangelical Worship: A Word of Clarification | Main | The Image of Protestant Evangelical Worship, pt 10 (final) »

June 08, 2005

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All Christianity is to a certain degree syncretic. Postmoderns just tend to be more forthcoming about their syncretism, laying aside the naive notion that their's is "the only pure apostolic church."

Yes, we are all guilty of selective syncretism. The question may be which of our syncretisms are useful and which are harmful to the church. I think that certain aspects Zen and Taoist philosophy are compatible with Christianity (and may be closer to the religion of Jesus than some modern dogmas). But what if I thought that voodoo was compatible and that we should sacrifice a chicken or two? A worldview of interconnectedness and a Zen-like meditation might be helpful in our worship. Killing chickens is not.

Religious nationalism divides our worship between God and state. Perhaps the regulative principle (to use a puritan term) should be, "Does this practice divert our worship of God to something else? Does this syncretism divide my adoration between God and something else?" If the particular syncretism draws our attention, adoration and worship toward God rather than away from God, then perhaps it is acceptable.

I was visiting a Charismatic Church last year, enjoying the praise and worship, my attention on God, when suddenly a group of women with flags and streamers began to walk through the congregation waving their flags over the people - literally touching us with the flags and streamers. Ther flags were of various colors and the worship leader told us that each symbolized something God wanted to do for us: Red = salvation, Gold = prosperity, Blue = healing, etc. The Spirit, said the worship leader, would tell the flag bearer whom to wave the flag over so that the Spirit could then bless that person. In the midst of this spectacle did my attention stay on God? No. I wanted to know which flag they were waving over me. And why.

Peace,

Mike

Chris,

Always a worthy topic. The apostate world religion at the very end will be nothing more than a cacophony of syncretistic practices--all the world's religions melted down into a Christ-denying mess.

Anyway...

From my time on TheOoze, I can't get over the fact that there's a certain "coolness factor" whenever I hear people there talking about Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism or whatever "-ism" is hot at the time. If you followed the thread on Christianity and Wicca, you'll know what I mean. It always seems like the least postmodern people are cautioning the most postmodern about going after other gods or for offering strange fire.

I wish postmoderns would take this passage to heart:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 ESV)
I think that verse is skipped by postmoderns to tragic results. We wind up here as a result:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.... (1 Timothy 4:1 ESV)
What is astonishing is how easily we wind up in that place if we are not diligent. If we pan for gold in fields of manure, more often than not we'll be covered in manure more than gold.

Dan,

I find the "your spirituality is manure, mine is gold" comment condescending at the very least. Why is your syncretism covered in gold while mine is covered in manure? "My way or the highway" dogmatism is exactly why postmoderns cannot believe the bombastic preachiness of modern evangelicalism. Threats of being left behind to an evil one world religion are pretty much meaningless to emergent thinkers. What we are interested in is an honest and open communion with God and with the Body of Christ, and to see the love of God manifested into the life of the world.

Peace,

Mike

Syncretism in the ears of truth bearers is bitter indeed. But just what constitutes synergetic weaving. Does intermingling of culture constitute syncretism? Is it happening when we evangelize unreached people groups listening to the “myth cycles” that form their world view trying to find the thread of the truth of Yahweh and use it as the starting point to explain the complete revelation from the Scriptures? Is it happening when a African tribal people use a drum they carved from the trees around them to worship? When a plans Native man dresses in full regalia to express his thanksgiving and joy for his salvation in dance to the new song of drum and cider flute, is that syncretism? Meditating upon an icon of the Crucifixion in a fresco ( this form of art derives out of the Greek and Roman culture from temple walls of the pagan gods of that time incase history escapes us, oops) is that syncretism?

When does the mingling of tribe, tongue, and nation formed by Yahweh become abomination? That truly is the question.

If we take Scripture as the guide and not our cultural or emotional reaction it is when the heart of the worshipper has become darken as the result of turning to worshiping the creation instead of the Creator - Yahweh! He so desired that we fill the earth and reflect His image in it that He forced the issue after the Flood when man refused. The creating of different languages forced the multi - dimensional expressions we call cultures.

Moreover, in the same way as man a male and the indwelling Holy Spirit did not completely display the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead (that is why the female was formed and out of the substance of the male same clay to show us the fullness of the interdependent nature of Yahweh Father Son and Holy Spirit another topic). “Mono -cultural” expressions bankrupt the wealth of the infinite beauty of our God. His desire is to express through us and the infinite expressions of worship etc that please Him that only multi - cultures reflect.

The object of our worship and the righteousness of our actions while expressing worship determine alter fire or strange fire. What do I mean, example the sexual worship of the Fertility Cults is not righteous before our God therefore…!
Pastor Art

Chris wrote, "The postmodern world in which we live is unashamedly syncretistic. ..."

Mike wrote, "All Christianity is to a certain degree syncretic. ..."

There is no doubt that the Church is syncrenistic. Over thousands of years and thousands of cultures, it is impossible for it to be otherwise. Those who claim to represent the "true church" are arrogant and misguided. The church has, and will continue to, evolve (loaded term intended). Twenty-first century Christians living in Mongolia, America, or Kenya can no more "be the early Palestian church" than they can "be" from any other culture or time. God gave us the scriptures as a guide for living not stagnating. The gospels, particularly, are tailor-made to any number of cultural and millennial interpretations. Jesus' manner of teaching is a true anchor of the faith for me. The very fact that he didn't hand us another set of "laws" for righteousness or a well-constructed theological treatise, but instead gave us the responsibility and freedom to be disciples: to ponder, question, struggle with, love, and praise God -- and his will for our earthly lives -- makes the Christian faith vital and "relevant" -- and yes syncretistic. To be so doesn't mean we adopt ungodly practices, but implement ones in humility and reverence. God forbid, the church becomes either archaic or anachronistic! There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens ...

"Perhaps the regulative principle (to use a puritan term) should be, "Does this practice divert our worship of God to something else? Does this syncretism divide my adoration between God and something else?"

That's good, Mike. 'Purposeful' syncretism rather than being syncretistic simply because "we can".

"But just what constitutes synergetic weaving. Does intermingling of culture constitute syncretism? Is it happening when we evangelize unreached people groups listening to the “myth cycles” that form their world view trying to find the thread of the truth of Yahweh and use it as the starting point to explain the complete revelation from the Scriptures?"

Art, that's a great question. It feels to me that we need a better grasp on this. Another way to ask this, I suppose, would be: When are we being missional and when are we being syncretistic?

Lauren, when you said:

"...makes the Christian faith vital and "relevant" -- and yes syncretistic. To be so doesn't mean we adopt ungodly practices, but implement ones in humility and reverence."

I was thinking that such principles/commitments (i.e. humility and reverence) might serve as an organic "check" against syncretistic activities that were, say, "irreverent" (a common characteristic of postmodernity).

I agree with you -- we've always been syncretistic. But Lord knows we've frequently made a mess of it.

Mike,

Okay. You believe that the Church in America is okay with syncretism as long as it's the right kind? What constitutes "good" syncretism? I mean, how much Buddhism should we allow into Christianity? And who is making the determination as to what is let in and how much?

You said I had my syncretism and you had yours. Can you elaborate? What does "my syncretism" look like from your perspective? What is your syncretism?

Thanks.

Chris,

How true it is -- that we have made a mess of it (being syncrenistic). We have made of mess of worship, of piety, of "righteousness," of doctrine, of charity, of stewardship, of evangelism, of discipleship, of sacrament ... No doubt this will continue. At the same time, we have done great things in the name of the Lord and to his glory. It's difficult for me to imagine the future will be any different. Thankfully, even the lame-brained things we do, if God-honoring and done in humility, can (by His power) advance God's will. In my estimation, the condition of the church is not "one step forward, two steps back, " but more the reverse.

I want to thank you again for the effort you devote to this blog. I appreciate the opportunity to look in the mirror ... and understand what we all see. More Power to you.

Dan,

Thanks for the questions. I do believe that all Christianity is syncretistic in one way or another. If it weren't, there would only be one denomination. The reformation was partly because the Roman Church was syncretic, not only of paganism, but also of the state.

In the reformed tradition, there is the regulative principle which is used to help determine the "purity" of worship. Some churches will only use Psalms in their worship and see those who use hymns as syncretistic. Some have no decorations in their churches and see those who have paintings or crosses as syncretistic.

In the modern plethora of churchianity, there are literally thousands of denominations who see each other as somehow "compromised" with "the world." The Church of Christ sees syncretism in musical instruments, fundamentalists see syncretism in any translation that's not the KJV, some believe that contemporary Christian music is syncretism (mixing "worldly rock" with the sacred).

Those are examples of the negative view of syncretism, where Christians feel like they have to call each other names because your syncretism is different than mine. Under the regulative principle of "if it's not in the New Testament it can't be in the Church," what would the church look like? No pews, no chairs, no pulpits, no musical instruments, no stained glass, no steeples, no long sermons, no Sunday schools, no youth camps, etc., etc. Why aren't some of these things considered "manure"? Because even though they are not biblical, they are not necessarily harmful to the Church (and one could even say they are a part of the growth of the church into maturity).

The great evangelical writer, A. W. Tozer, was a lover of the Christian mystics. Those mystics most certainly practiced aspects of Zen-like and Tao-like ideas of interconnectedness and meditation. So, is Tozer wrong for loving them? Are the mystics wrong for finding a way of deeply communing with God that was different from the mainstream of thought and practice at the time?

Dan, I never mentioned bringing Buddhism into Christianity. You read that in to what I wrote. What I said was that "certain aspects Zen and Taoist philosophy" are compatible with Christianity. Those who are acquainted with Zen and Tao know that these are philosophies, not religions. They have been adapted traditionally into Buddhism and Taoism, yes, but certain aspects have also been adapted into Christianity as well. Thomas Merton is a good example of that. The mystics afore mentioned would also fit into that category, although they did not know that the prayer techniques they adapted were Zen-like or Tao-like.

As to modern churchianity, I could go on for pages tossing out things that are syncretic. I think that point is obvious to anyone who will honestly look at religion in our time. I have read articles on the Afro-Caribbean roots of American Pentecostalism, the New Thought roots of the Word of Faith Movement, the Neoplatonic fatalist roots of Calvinism, the Pelagian roots of Wesleyanism, etc. etc. The point is that if you look for syncretism, it is there.

So, we must choose our syncretism or we must spend our lives attempting to root out all syncretism. If the latter is chosen, we will ultimately find ourselves utterly alone and cut off from the Body of Christ. Dan, you asked what your syncretism looks like to me. I have no idea. I just know that we all have them. You also asked, "What is your syncretism?" My answer is that I'm sure I do not know all of my own syncretisms. Those I do know about are carefully examined, to the best ability of my soul competency, and have been found to give glory to God.

As I stated in my first post, I think that a regulative principle is needed. Something like, "Does this practice divert our worship of God to something else? Does this syncretism divide my adoration between God and something else?" If the particular syncretism draws our attention, adoration and worship toward God rather than away from God, then perhaps it is acceptable. The sword of Puritanism cuts in both ways. If we honestly examine our own thoughts, beliefs, and practices with that sword in hand, we all will have to do some painful amputations. I simply believe that the Church will operate better with all its arms and legs.

Does this practice bring glory to God? Does it bring us into a closer communion with Him? Does it manifest the love of God into the world? Does it reveal His beauty and grace? These are regulative principles which can be applied to our syncretisms, whether that syncretism is pulpits and pews, statues and icons, philosophies and dogmas, or music or worship style or various kinds of mental or vocal prayer.

Thanks for the opportunity to elaborate.

Peace,

Mike

PS: For an example of my shameless syncretism, and in fuller answer to the question "What is your syncretism?", see this article I posted a few days ago on Emmaus. Thanks for the discussion!

Peace,

Mike

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