Thursday, January 22, 2009

Syncretism: "Democrianity" - The Religion of America

Many years ago, I had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of a wise, experienced missionary who had seen the Lord use him and his family to bring the gospel to another culture and witnessed the birth of the Church in the people group he worked with.

One of the main issues this sage spoke of was that of "syncretism" which is "A blending of religious beliefs and practices from the cultural context..." or "...the interworking of two or more cultural perspectives into one system."

In this gentleman's experience, this issue of syncretism was one of the more daunting challenges to planting strong churches in this foreign land. You see, the people had a tendency (as do all people it turns out) to combine the new information they were learning about Jesus with their existing, animistic beliefs, with some scattered religious ideas left over from past missionaries also thrown in here and there. His ultimate conclusion? The Gospel Message and the truths of scripture must replace the existing beliefs of the culture or they will result in a new, albeit counter-biblical or extra-biblical worldview.

Since those days, I have come to see some of my own syncretistic tendencies in how I think, etc. Over many years, and continuing to this day I've been challenged to answer the question "What about what I believe is really from a scriptural worldview?" Turns out, much of what I had been taught and always believed was from American culture and NOT from the culture of the Holy Spirit of God as I see in scripture.

This is where some might find my comments to be offensive.

As the scales continue to fall off, it's becoming apparent to me that "Christians" in this country have syncretised the gospel message with the social, political and even religious values and ideals that have existed in America since it's birth as a nation. Since this is not biblical "Christianity" as described in the book of Acts, I find myself calling this combination of belief systems "Democrianity". I choose this word because "democracy" is just one of those values that many in this country hold in as much esteem as faith in Jesus.

I need to be careful here to say that I don't necessarily find some of these American ideals and values to be particularly troublesome or ungodly, however, when mixed with the scriptural message of redemption - a message that transcends all generations and all cultures - a dangerous new mix emerges.

I think it's safe to say that a growing number of Americans are rejecting what they perceive to be "Christianity" because they're finding it to be so desperately lacking in real spiritual value. They should be! What we've seen lived out before us is not the life of Christ described in the scriptures, but an amalgamation of biblical ethics, political ideals, and ethno-centric beliefs that ultimately emasculate the scriptural message of redemption and wreak havoc on the witness of the Church! That's not to mention the sheer propaganda that is hurled at the American public for the sake of getting support for actions that stand totally opposed to the character of Christ.

I've got a lot to say about this topic, so my next several blogs will be devoted to fleshing out some of the myriad ways I see this syncretism occurring right before our eyes. Stay tuned! In the meantime, seek the Lord about what beliefs you might have "merged" with the gospel message!



Andrew B said...

Andrew, You invited me on facebook to post my thoughts on syncretism from my perspective as one living outside America.

There are a couple of points that occur to me.

One is the use of the national flag in church. It seems to be quite common in the USA to have the national flag in the church or outside the church. To me this is an indication of the extent to which nationalism is mixed with religious belief.

Of course, this is not unique to the USA. In the UK there is an annual remembrance of those who died in the two world wars of the 20th century. Often churches have a special service with the involvement of veterans. I remember one time when we walked into church and there were flags draped over the altar. I thought it was absolutely repugnant.

I think an example of this is Michael W. Smith's song "There She Stands", which seems to be a worship song to the national flag. A few years ago we were at a concert of his here in The Netherlands. I blogged a bit about it here.) It was in the early stages of the Iraq war. At one point in the concert he came out on the podium waving the Dutch flag around and talking about it in the way Americans talk about their flag.

Another point that occurs to me is the perspective some American Christians have of their government and political leaders. Of course, the New Testament teaches us to have respect for civil authorities. But I can't understand how some people believe that George Bush was appointed by God with a specific mission. I have had email discussions with people who were very disappointed that they could not get me to accept that point of view. And what is more horrifying is those who consider "praying against" Barack Obama. How can believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ have such a thought go through their minds? Such a manipulative practice would be a form of witchcraft.

So, I think those are forms of syncretism that I perceive among some parts of the church in the USA. Interested to read your comments.

Andrew said...

Andrew B -
I guess nationalism infiltrates the gathering of the saints all over the place. I don't know why we never stop to think that maybe we in America hear propaganda as much as anyone else!

It's amazing how blind we are to this. It's not that I am opposed to nationalism per se (although I don't see the point of it for Kingdom citizens). The trouble I have is the elevation of those values to the same values outlined in the scripture for believers. Many here cannot tell the difference between nationalism and biblical christianity.

I have also seen the same worshipful fervor towards national symbols, events and ideals - often moving people more in action then the Word of God! It's disgusting and it's idolatry. I've been guilty of this myself, particularly in the days post 9/11.

As for political leaders - this is an area much of "evangelical christianity" has been very blind about, myself included. Just to be clear, I am currently a registered republican and voted for GWB both times. (so slap me)

I did so because of his "pro-life" stance on many issues. However, in hindsight, I've come to ask myself if lives were preserved under his leadership. Haven't countless innocent people (women and children)been killed under his watch? I now believe he's a war monger and the fear of terrorism to manipulate the American people to support imperialism. I don't know that the alternatives would have been better. It seems like no matter who leads, millions will die - either unborn children, or innocent civilians in war-torn nations.

I am no fan of any political leader. None of them bring hope because the hope of the nations is Jesus alone. No form of human government can rule with justice and mercy. I am not going to waste my time trying to change hearts through the agency of law.

When Bush took office, a group called the "Presidential Prayer Team" was formed/mobilized. People were in a near-spiritual fervor about having a "christian" president. I've since wondered why no one launched such a campaign when Clinton was in office, and am wondering if there will be much gumption to do so for Obama! I doubt it.

Scripture is clear that we are to pray for our national leaders - not just those who proclaim to be of the faith. We don't have to support their decisions to pray for them, and certainly don't need to pray against them as people. I have no problem with praying against trends of evil in the world, etc. But when we see people as the cause, we've missed truths such as "we wrestle not against flesh and blood...".

Thanks for the comments!