Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Syncretism: Freedom to Worship?

Visit many mainstream church buildings these days and you'll likely be greeted with a flag pole dutifully flying the stars and stripes. Walk inside these buildings and you might just find both the "Christian Flag" and the American Flag. Maybe as you greet people, you might notice a flag lapel pin or two, or a patriotic Bible cover.

If flags and American icons were the issue, I'd hardly waste the time to consider or write about this. But I am fearful that it doesn't stop with flags. The real syncretism is taking place in the subtle elevating of American values to the level of scripture, faith, and walking with Jesus.

What are those values? How about Individualism, Patriotism, Democracy, Freedom to name a few? I am sure by now some of you are very ticked! Let me clearly say, these values have their place and I truly appreciate the brave men and women who have, and continue to risk their lives for these values and the general safety of our republic. But is the achievement of these ideals and values the chief end of man and his relationship with God? Is there a difference between what has been accomplished by the Cross and what has been accomplished by the Constitution? I believe there is.

The gospel of Christ's salvation and the resulting freedom it brings is a message that transcends all cultures and is appropriate for every context of human life. The Apostle Paul wrote to believers both free and slave, male and female, Jew and Gentile. He didn't seek to entice these believers to repel or embrace values of their culture - even those we would consider wrong (like slavery). Instead, the scriptures admonish the hearer to find their identity in Christ and no longer from circumstances, culture, tradition, family, ethnicity, gender, etc.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all people who exercise faith in Christ in every circumstance of life. Doesn't the resulting relationship with God through Jesus Christ grant the believer the freedom to worship whether in a "free" country, or under the rule of despotic leader?

In America, we are indeed fortunate to have the freedom to write, speak, assemble, and even disagree with one another and our leaders (so far). But freedom to worship is different and is a sacred right that all people in Christ have despite their culture or restrictions placed on them by their government.

Why? Because worship happens when my spirit, soul, mind and heart joyfully recognizes how big God is and how little I am. How then can that be granted or denied by an external force? Worship (the kind that pleases God) is spiritual and entirely independent of the material trappings we've spent so much time adorning it with.

Our freedom to worship was secured by one man - Jesus Christ - when he uttered the words "It is finished". It was at that point that the veil between God and man was torn asunder and the hostilities between God and man were breached. Before Christ took my place (and yours) on the cross, I was alienated from God and without hope in the world.

That being said, how many times do we credit those in the military, or the founding fathers with securing and protecting this freedom to worship? The reality is, only the soul set free from the evil one is free to worship God. No one can take away that "right" because it's spiritual, and no one need defend it because it cannot be taken away!

Someone is likely saying by now "he can only say these things because of freedom he has because of the blood shed by thousands of soldiers, etc...". Really? Would the mouths of the saints really be sealed in a land where "worship" was forbidden?

Strangely enough, this is not the testimony of those following Christ in places like China, Indonesia, India, etc. Read the stories of people like Richard Wurmbrand of Romania and you'll see that no government or human institution can silence a heart won over by God! If we require force to "secure" or "protect" this liberty, it's truly a testimony to the shallowness of our faith and worship.

Take a brief look through scripture and you won't find America (unless you consider the book of Mormon to be scripture, then you have much bigger problems to sort out). That means that the Kingdom of God represented in the Scriptures can, did, and will continue to thrive with or without the blessings of our nation. Hopefully, our nation will be a friend to the advance of the Kingdom. To do so, I believe we need to begin to separate our duties to Christ and our duties to state recognizing what is borne of God, and what is just cultural. To do that, we must recognize our identity confusion, embrace the culture of the Spirit of God, considering ourselves foremost to be "In Christ". Perhaps then we'll accomplish what Jesus desires we would.

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