Saturday, November 06, 2004

Syncretism part 2

I've been wrestling with this idea of syncretism for some time now, and how far does this go and to what extent are our lives defineded by this style of living.

Perharps one of my greatest quandries is this. How do we remain culturally relevant without becoming apostate in how we carry out our beliefs. In ministry one wants to be culturally relevant to reach out to the unreached. The problem this presents is that in order to separate people from their paganistic beliefs we often dismiss anything they may use in their cult practices as evil soley because it is used in the worship of other "god's". For example: In the native american tradition they use many drums and chants and other things that are of great tribal importance to them. Unfortunately they use this stuff to pray and call upon other spirits. Now earlier in missionary outreach, the "great white savior's" insisted that these things and practices get completely abandoned because they were used in spirit worship and idolotry. Our thinking has greatly changed in the past 10 yrs. as God has shown us that Misuse does not negate Proper Use. This is key, because earlier we would have said that native american Chistians who still used these things and chanted were syncretistic and were sinning. We see now that this is why native americans were so put off by early attempts to reach out to them. Now they have been taught that these drums, and other culturally important items/practices were simply misused, and that to use them properly in worship to Yaweh is okay.

So this opens up a huge can of worms. We see that God has begun to move amongst the native americans and other people groups suggesting that these idea's about cultural relevance are correct and working well, none the less not negating the fact that we should be noticeably set apart. A nation of priests as it were.

We know in the old testament that the Israelites were not to eat meat sacrificed to idol's, but yet we also know that there are no such things as other god's. All they are is stone, wood, metal, etc.. Our God is bigger than these things, which is why Paul says it is okay to eat of such things, unless a brother who is weaker in spirit and who may stumble because of your freedom witnesses you eating of these things. Still when in Ephesus, Paul never slept with temple prostitutes, sacrificed to idols or took part in these things so that he could remain culturally relevant in order to share the gospel (despite his when in Rome speech). He did quite the opposite. He said that all of these things were meaningless and worthless. He preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and ministered in the power of the spirit.

So then, what shall we say? Pine trees, giving of gifts, egg hunts, bunny rabbits, throwing of flowers and garter, dressing up in costumes as weird stuff, and other culturally relevant things. Do we do these so we can be relevant? Are they simply being misused and we need to learn how to use them properly and show the world how to? Or do we need to do what Paul did and cut these things out of our lives and do the opposite.

One of the reasons I love kid's church and teaching with Paul B. is that when these holiday celebrations come upon us we buckle down and teach the kids the history behind these holidays and why they were originally so important. We do not give out bunny rabbit candies at Easter or decorate eggs (both of which are symbols of fertility), or scary stuff around halloween, or santa stuff around Christmas, but emphasize in a world were these things have been forgotton (just like Israel) the importance of such celebrations and why we still celebrate them. Otherwise we risk apostacy and where we celebrate these things with our mouths but our hearts are far from Him. They are on gifts, candy, fun, games, and most importantly ourselves. The Israelites suffered terribly from this and the consequences were tremendous.

So there is a definite tension between cultural relevance and syncretism. Where the fine line is I do not know. I think we as Christians have crossed that line in many places, but haven't in others. Some good questions to ask about a practice or celebration would be, will this give glory to God? Am I opening up opportunities to witness and influence the lives of unbelievers? Why am I doing this? Is it because of tradition, or is there something more?

Lord reveal your heart to me regarding these things. Help me walk out this line between syncretism and cultural relevance. Let everything I do give glory and honor to you and let your kingdom come and be advanced in my life. I trust that as long as you are leading me, I will not fall in to apostacy or syncretism. So lead me and guide me. Teach me your ways.

1 comment:

mike said...

When you find an answer on the syncretism issue, let everyone know. That's such a difficult issue. We want to make the gospel culturally relevant (such as the tape issue--good job), but we also need to hold true to the Gospel.

The Gospel and Christianity is so flexible to be formed within a culture, but should always shape the culture that it is planted in.

I enjoyed your postings...keep up the good work.