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29 Mar '11

Syncretism and false altars

Missionaries fight it all the time. As the gospel comes to a new group, and some start accepting it, they often times keep some of the old practices and add in the new. This is called syncretism and an unhealthy practice as it embraces the new but wants to hang on the the pagan practices of the past at the same time. Missionaries, of course, would like to see all of the practices of past religion abandoned for Christianity but it often takes time for that to happen. Syncretism is really bowing to two altars and trying to have it both ways.


It struck me recently that the American evangelical church suffers from the same problem of syncretism in that our religious practices often reflect more of the society in which we live than the Gospel of the New Testament. When our definition of success is numbers rather than spiritual transformation and fruit, we are seeking to have it both ways, bowing to two altars. When our lives are driven more by the religion of America - materialism and pleasure rather than a followership that says I take up my cross daily to follow Him, we are bowing to two altars: one secular and one sacred.

In our personal lives, to the extent that we hang on to the values and practices of our world (those that we are told to "put off" in the New Testament) we live with syncretism.  In fact, the Christian life is process of sanctification and sanctification is all about putting off that which is displeasing to God and putting on that which is pleasing to Him and consistent with our followership of Him. It is the process of eliminating all alters at which we worship for the one true alter of Jesus Christ.


This is a life long process driven by the Holy Spirit who is our divine counselor and one who is always seeking to eliminate false altars from our lives so that our worship and followership is pure and true.


It is easy to see syncretistic practices among people outside our own culture. It is much harder to see its subtle presence in our own culture but for each of us eliminating false altars is an ongoing opportunity to follow Jesus more closely. Any false altars reflect syncretistic practices of our own.