Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What is Syncretism? Examples of Christian syncretism

What is syncretism?

I walked into a Buddhist Temple one day in the humid surroundings of the Sri Lankan hills, and I found myself uncomfortable. Was I compromising my beliefs? Should I have stood at the entrance and shouted the words of the gospel of Jesus? Was it ok to be silent and be in awe of the architecture? What was Jesus expecting of me? Was he expecting anything of me at all?

Especially in times of cross-cultural ministry, Christians are faced with difficult questions related to syncretism. Harold Turner says, 'Syncretism arises in the course of presenting Jesus Christ as the sole Lord and Saviour to men of other religions [dare I say women too - my note] living in cultures not moulded by the biblical revelation. By translating the gospel into local languages, and adapting or accommodating to local ideas and customs, these are absorbed into the life of the church. Many such elements have, however, been intimately related to another religion, and it is often difficult to incorporate them without also absorbing their previous religious associations and meanings' (Cited in International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Oct 2009).

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Lets put it in context. You enter a party full of goths, dressed in their black clothing, tattoos, consuming drugs, ear piercings, etc, etc. What extent would you go to reach these people with the life transforming message of Jesus. Now, take away the fact that personally I'm a bald headed geek who shouldn't be seen anywhere remotely close to a place where I'll just embarrass myself... What extent could I go to to interact with this community? Tattoos? Maybe - Christians are divided on this one. Black clothing? Why not? Some conservatives might argue that Jesus is light and therefore we should wear a light purple sweater... What about consuming drugs? Hmm... have we just become syncretistic? I think so.

What about reaching our Islamic friends in an Islamic country? Could I wear the burqa? Is this syncretistic? Does wearing a burqa symbolise that I hold the Islamic faith and therefore undermine my Christian beliefs, or not? Difficult questions. Let me say, wearing a Ned Flanders sweater to Church doesn't make me a Christian. Can I attend a mosque, with the hope 'that I might win some' (as the Apostle Paul puts it), and when everyone bows, I simply pray to Jesus and let them pray to Allah? Is this syncretistic or a radical incarnational model of ministry in order to reach a Muslim brother with the gospel? I'm not intending to prescribe answers here, I just want to get people thinking about their beliefs and how far they would/would not go for Jesus' sake.

Syncretism - A concept the cross-cultural missionary is faced with on a day to day basis.

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  1. you know, i'm early days picking up knowledge little by little...
    anywho, was reading today a book and maybe, this has something to do with where grace comes in? from the little i had time to read, its 'grace' not only to accept the love of God without having to rush and do something in return, or pretend to be sinless, but also to give that grace for those around you. Who are we to judge others?
    Im not saying run in and preach the words of Jesus, but be yourself. ( ? )
    And - no - i dont really think you're a geek! lol

  2. Thanks for the comments. What book were you reading?
    I think Christians, including myself have been a little bad at the judging of others over the years. We must show grace to the people around us, and live out and share the truth of Jesus as the Spirit leads us.
    God bless.

  3. "The Ragamuffin Gospel - Graphic Edition"
    if I may quote a little, since i have the book on my lap...
    "Matthew 9:9-13 captures a lovely glimpse of the gospel of grace: "As Jesus was walking on..... "
    Here is revelation bright as the evening star: Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but he dines with them-fully aware that His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of their authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their rejection of the gospel of grace."

    I think it's a human trait, to judge, somehow almost instinctual, perhaps at one point you had to judge others, who will let the tribe down, who can run fastest, who is the best shelter builder, but, like any temptation -it can be worked on. ?
    And agreed - the truth will be shared as it will.
    [ now I must go work on my own work!! ]

  4. Welcome to the land of stereotypes. Goths do drugs and you seem very ignorant when you suggest the whole thing about burqas. Just for the record, muslim men do not wear burqas and it is burqa with a q not a K. Looks like you would do well to step out of your Christian righteousness and open yourself a bit more. Why is the interaction with other people always underlined by the fact that they need to learn about Jesus or your faith? Basically you need to know nothing about them and you have nothing to learn from them. How sad...I embrace various teachings and religions and pick what I think will help me become a better individual. It does not seem like it is your case.

  5. to the above comment...your last sentence sums up a syncretist. Mixing in religions to best suit yourself. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him (John 14).


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