Religious Syncretism

Religious Syncretism is the fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices, however subtle it may be. An epitome of Religious Syncretism in America is to assume that all religious beliefs, especially those with similarities, lead to the same God. In a post-Christian culture it is dangerous to assume that when others refer to God they are referring to the God of the Bible. Which God is being addressed, for instance, when one touts the phrase, “God bless America?” Not all who speak of God know God, thus we should be careful of the many voices in the world that might proclaim a form of religion and focus only on the true Word that God has given us in his sacred scripture.

The Elephant In The Room

Lets face it, there are some difficult passages in the Bible. More often than not I think it is easy for us to develop an idea of who we think God is and how we think God behaves and when we stumble across tough Scripture that counters the way we see God we either pass over it with the thought that we must not understand it properly or we simply attempt to make it fit the way we already view God. I’ve got to tell you that the more I study Scripture the harder it gets for me to make God fit into my finite view of him. The truth is God will never fit into my limited understanding of Him and the more I try to make him fit the more I create for myself an idol that serves my purpose. A God who has boundaries that are limited by human understanding is no God at all.

Therefore, when I come to a passage that is difficult to accept or hard to understand I recognize that the problem is me. The problem isn’t that the passage is too difficult, the problem is that I don’t see or think of God rightly and because of my limited understanding of God I cannot fully grasp or embrace the truth being taught in the Scriptures. Thus I find myself longing for a greater and fuller understanding of God so that I can accept those passages that seem difficult to me.

One of the more difficult truths found in scripture that is hard for people to understand and accept is the doctrine of election. It may be the opinion of some that we should not talk about it, treating it as if it is some obscure thought that shouldn’t be given the light of day in church. The problem is that scripture talks about election and predestination as a reality in well over twenty five different passages. It isn’t something you can ignore without ignoring a lengthy and significant portion of God’s Word.

I understand the difficulty that people have with this particular doctrine, but at the same time I think it is foolish on our part to ignore it all together. To take an element of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross that God has intentionally revealed to us in Scripture and make it something that we fear, ignore, or reject all together just seems wrong to me. Isn’t that wrong? Should we not embrace that which God has revealed to us in his word? We should at least talk about it. Regardless of what our final conclusion is concerning its meaning, we need to at the very least have the conversation. In the end we may not agree on exactly every point of the doctrine of election, but at least by having the conversation we are able to admit that it is real, it does exist, and it is important enough to be included in God’s Word.

At the same time we must be careful not to make this an issue that divides us. The existence of election and predestination is undeniable and cannot be debated. The interpretive issues involving exactly how election and predestination affect salvific history is not quite as concrete. Whether or not God’s election is universal or restricted (corporate or individual) is what continues to be the dividing line among believers. Are we chosen in Christ corporately so that all those who are “in Christ” belong to the nation of Israel and thus are the elect or has God chosen before the foundation of the world individuals who would be brought into eternal salvation? While I believe we can have a healthy conversation about the principles of each of these views I don’t believe that this is an issue that should be allowed to bring disunity among believers.

Regardless of your final interpretive stance on the doctrine of election the realities of life, death, and spirituality do not change. It is still a reality that not everyone will go to heaven. Hell exists and there will be people who go there to spend an eternity separated from God. The Bible speaks of this fact as a concrete truth and our interpretive view of specific doctrines will not change this reality.

There will be some people that go to heaven. Jesus Christ came in the flesh, died on the cross, and physically rose again from the grave in order to save lost sinners. There will be a remnant of people that will enter the kingdom of God. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone and only those with faith in Christ will enter his kingdom. Regardless of our interpretive position on election and predestination, these realities remain unchanged.

There is still a need for salvation. People are still saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith comes from hearing the gospel and hearing the gospel happens through people proclaiming it. Christians must still proclaim Christ, care for widows and orphans, look after the poor and disenfranchised, and live on mission for Christ in the world. None of that changes with one’s view of election and predestination. 

Regeneration, conversion, faith, justification, sanctification; these are all still necessary elements of salvation. Human individuals still make a decision to follow Christ, some will follow and some wont, and each individual will be held accountable for the decisions that they make regardless of how one views election and predestination. There will never be anyone that truly has faith in Jesus Christ and desires his salvation who is denied it, nor will there be anyone who is given salvation that doesn’t want it.

One’s theological stance on the doctrines of predestination and election should never bring about dissension and division among believers so far as it remains Biblically sound and gospel centered. And honestly, that is the key. The reason there is apprehension when it comes to this topic is because there has been so much abuse from those who take such extreme stances on election and predestination that their theology is no longer Biblically sound or gospel centered. Because of the negativity and division that has surrounded the Christian community regarding election and predestination, these doctrines have been sadly neglected in the church. Pastors, leaders, and Sunday school teachers will often avoid the topic like the plague. I believe, however, that it is important for us to stop treating election as if it is the elephant in the room lest we be in danger of rejecting parts of Scripture that make us uncomfortable.

We have to remember that God isn’t going to fit into our box. There will be things that we don’t fully understand. But the more we study God’s word, all of it, the greater and fuller our understanding of God will be. And who better to teach us about those things we don’t understand than God himself? May the spirit enlighten your hearts and minds as you diligent seek his truth in all you do!

The Immeasurable Riches of His Grace

I’ve had this Bible verse on my mind for the last couple weeks and I can’t keep from dwelling on it.  Its found in Ephesians 2:7 “…he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In coming to grips with Ephesians chapter 2 you’ll notice that God reveals these immeasurable riches by simply showing kindness to us.  As the praise chorus says “It’s your kindness Lord, that leads me to repentance…”

The first part of Ephesians 2 is quite severe in it’s description of the astranged gentile.  It describes the unregenerate heart as being dead in sin, following the course of this world and the devil, being disobedient, carrying out the passions of the flesh and the desires of the body and thereby becoming children of wrath.  Humanity is dead in sin and mortal enemies of God.  Inhereted from the sins of our disobedient parents Adam and Eve, our sins condemn us and thus we are all children of wrath.  Our rampant disobedience and fleshly desires have alienated us from God and made us wholly unable to approach him.  We’re dead.

God’s kindness towards us is his grace given to us while we were his enemies.  While we were still sinners Christ died for us.  The immeasurable riches of the grace of God is simply the fact that God chose to have grace on unrepentant and undeserving sinners.  Through God’s grace we’ve been made alive.  By grace we have been saved.

The fascinating part in all of this is the fact that we didn’t earn this salvation.   There is nothing we’ve done or could have done to save ourselves.  It’s purely a work of God and thus his grace is indeed immeasurable.  The grace that is lavished upon his people, though they’ve done nothing to deserve it, is a true kindness shown to us by God.

People who were once dead but are now alive are kind of a big deal.  The immeasurable riches of God’s grace are revealed through the regenerate individual whose life is changed by Christ and whose new life reflects the glory of what God has done in them.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Church

I’m sure most of you remember the TV commercials for the product “I can’t believe it’s not butter.”  Has this thought ever crossed your mind: “If it’s not butter then what exactly is it?”  This product is a soft spread made out of “things” that are supposed to be a healthy alternative to butter.  The name of the product implies that it tastes identical to butter, therefore you honesty can’t tell the difference between it and the real thing.  The truth is that no matter how much it tastes, smells, looks, or feels like butter you can rest assured that this product is not really butter.

Listen carefully.  I love the church.  I have a passion and desire to see the church of God become all that it is meant to be and my greatest desire is that the children of God glorify Him with their fullest potential.  I fear, however, that we have become too much like the product “I can’t believe it’s not butter.”  We look so much like the real thing, but when it comes down to the truth can we really claim to be the real deal?  We are very careful to do everything church people do.  Unfortunately the majority of things church people “do” are nothing more than traditions set by men, not by God.  There are so many things that we do, not because we feel led by God to do them, but because we’ve always done them.  Let’s face it, even our worship can become nothing more than a mundane routine that is powerless and void of Spirit.

Much of the problem is our unwillingness to give God our hearts.  We give him everything else.  We do things for him.  We help people, we give money, we give our time, we try to live better lives, we do ministries, we come to church, we sing songs, we teach Sunday school, I mean we do a lot for God and that has to count for something right?  Is that really what God wants?  Is God really interested in the things that we do?  Is that what church is all about, doing our righteous deeds?  God says in Isaiah 64, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”.

Let’s get to the point.  We can look like a church by the worlds standards, we can do a lot of righteous deeds, and we can worship God together in the church building every Sunday morning, but if we’ve yet to give our hearts to God then it is all in vain.  Jesus shot down the heartless traditions of men in Mark 7:6 when he said to the Pharisees and Teachers of the law, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’

Are we the real deal or do we just claim to be?  Do we offer lip service to God or have we really given him our hearts?  I think if we were to look deep within ourselves we would discover that we more often than not honor God with our lips and yet our hearts are so very far away.

While I do not know what the future holds for our churches, I do know that if we desire to glorify God we cannot carry on in our pharisacial traditions that claim to be Christianity but in reality only come off as cheap replicas.  We have to give Jesus our hearts!  I mean we have to go “all in”.  What will it look like for the church of God to listen to God?  What will it look like when we give up our own “views” of what church is supposed to look like and allow God to show us what it really means to be the bride of Christ?  I think it will require change.  I think it will require sacrifice.  I think it will be glorious.  God forgive us when we take everything of yours and make it about us.  Teach us how to bring you glory in our church.

Boundaries in Christian Relationships

We have a ministry in our church called the “Ministry Resource Team” or MRT.  This ministry is designed to provide funds for people who need financial assistance in our community.  This is an excellent resource that helps people on a monthly basis, but as you can well imagine it has the potential of being abused.  In order to protect the integrity of the ministry we have to set certain boundaries.  We can only offer this as a one time assistance and more often than not we only pledge a certain amount depending on funds available and determined need.  If we didn’t set these boundaries the same people would be in the office week after week asking for assistance.  People who have a general sense of need often develop codependent relationships with those who are willing to offer assistance.  This is just one of several things we must do in order to continue to provide this particular assistance.

In the same way we set boundaries in our MRT program, Christians must set boundaries in their relationships with others.  I certainly think we should be charitable and kind to people around us, but being a Christian and loving people does not have to translate into being used and abused.  It’s important for us to set our own boundaries when it comes to our relationships.  It is not “un-Christian” to set boundaries and it is not “un-Christian” to say no.  People we interact with need to know that we have limits and boundaries that cannot be crossed.  Lets face it, even Jesus had boundaries.  He asked people he healed not to tell who he was, so as not to draw a large crowd.  He would go out into a boat or slip off to a quiet, undisclosed location to get away from people pressing him to heal them and perform miracles.

I think sometimes Christians are guilty of confusing gentleness, kindness, and love with acceptance and tolerance.  We’ll accept and tolerate almost anything from people who live under the “Christian” name or under the guise that we are to love one another. Many people even use this as an excuse for bad behavior.  We can’t tell anyone they are wrong because “we’re supposed to love people.”  This is another boundary that we must set.  If people begin to behave or speak inappropriately, we have the right to say something.  That is called love.  I know this because I have to do it with my 16 month old son all the time.  Tolerating bad behavior simply enables people to continue to live wrongly.

Boundaries are important in our lives.  They not only provide some sense of organization and order, but they protect us from being used and abused which leaves us with nothing left to give.

I write this out of consern.  While I understand that love should be the anthem of Christianity, I also willingly admit that we need to better understand what that means.  We must be willing to stand strong for Christ in all that we do.  This includes the boundaries that we set in order to protect the integrity of our relationship with Christ and our love and ministry to others.  Be careful that you don’t become so consumed with doing “good” that you lose sight of what Christianity is all about.

How Should Christians View Halloween?

Once again as we approach October 31 I would like to re-cap some of the discussion and thoughts on this issue, mainly the conversations that have taken place on Avoiding Evil over the years.  I will do this by asking a series of questions and including my own thoughts on the issues.

Does the history and origin of this spooky holiday disqualify Halloween from being celebrated by Christians?

While it is true that the origin of Halloween dates all the way back to the Celts and has its beginnings in pagan ritual and superstitions, our celebration of Halloween is wholly different than what October 31st meant to the Celts.  You cannot possibly compare the two.  Honestly, we are attempting to compare the putting on of costumes and going door to door to collect candy with a festival in which you dress up in order to tell each others fortunes all while sacrificing animals to a false god.  That’s an apples to oranges comparison.  In America the celebration of Halloween is essentially a fun holiday.  Things like pumpkins, ghosts, ghouls, and monsters have no significance other than nostalgia and entertainment.

If you are interested in the history of Halloween there is a lot of information on the internet.  The point here is not to debate history.  The question that needs to be answered here is whether or not the history or origin effects the practice of it.  For Christians I think the biggest fear is the assumption that if you participate in celebrating Halloween then you are in essence practicing or participating in some type of cultic practice or demon worship.

I personally don’t believe Christians who want to celebrate Halloween have anything to worry about.  The origin of Halloween does not negate the celebration of the American holiday, mainly because our current celebration of Halloween barely even resembles pagan ritualistic practices.  Halloween is nothing more than good fun, enticing some of the basic human emotions like fear.

Is Halloween The Devil’s Holiday?

I have found that many “Christians” (and I use the term loosely) are against Halloween because they believe that it is indeed the Devil’s holiday.  Essentially they have associated the celebration of Halloween with following the path of the “evil one”.  I think this is quite laughable.  Surely the “Father of Lies” has something a little more deceptive up his sleeve.  If tricking Christians into celebrating Halloween is the Devil’s plan to thwart the mighty works of God then He obviously doesn’t have much of an imagination.  I think the Devil could possibly be insulted at the thought of this silliness.

Maybe we’ve watched too much TV.  Somehow the Devil gets lumped in together with monsters and ghosts and other “scary” things.  We act as if the Devil comes to us in the form of a big monster or an ugly demonic creature that could cause some serious damage and make the bravest of us all cry like a baby.  That isn’t a true image of Satan.  He’s a little more sly, more subtle.  We won’t see him coming.  I think the places we will find the Devil most active are in human weaknesses like sex, money, power, etc…  There are far more important things to exploit in the weaknesses of humanity than the celebration of Halloween and the possibility of a little too much chocolate.

We have a fascination with dark things that represent what we call evil, when in fact much of it doesn’t even exist. The realm of darkness, vampires, zombies, ghosts, goblins, and little evil princesses are simply a figment of our imagination created for our own entertainment.

Is Halloween “Doing What The Heathen Do?”

In 2004 someone responded to one of my posts about Halloween with “When the bible says ‘do not do as the heathen do’ it is a command, not a request.”  Besides the obvious taking Scripture out of context, what is this person really saying?  They are saying that Halloween is a practice of the heathen.  My argument is that our American Halloween has no resemblance to the former pagan practices. We are not sacrificing animals to false gods or making some type of religious ritual out of the holiday.  Besides if we were going to take that particular scripture passage in the way she used it we would simply have to stop existing.  The heathen exist so we can’t.  The heathen breathe so we can’t.  The heathen go to wal-mart and buy groceries so we can’t.  The heathen allow their children to dress up and “trick or treat” so we can’t.   Make sense?  No.  Halloween is not a heathenistic pagan holiday that pays tribute to false gods.

Another commenter pointed to Exodus 32:4-10 to say that the Israelites got in trouble for adopting Egyptian religious practices and giving them a new name “a festival to God”.  However, notice he said they adopted the “religious practices”.  They did what the heathen were doing.  They adopted the actual practices.  We didn’t.  I don’t believe that departed souls can cause mischief on Halloween and I’m not leaving candy at my door step to try to get the evil spirits away from my house.  It isn’t the same.  We didn’t adopt “religious practices”.

Can Christians Participate In Halloween In Good Conscience?

Yes.  A lot of what this comes down to is motive and intention.  Halloween is not any different than any other day.  There is not like one set day that is evil or “Satan’s day” where Christians need to run and hide.  We don’t celebrate Halloween with the thoughts of worshiping idols or the dead.  The Bible teaches that God looks at the heart.  If in your heart you truly mean evil, it doesn’t matter what day of the year it is on.  I think that Christians can successfully celebrate and even utilize Halloween in a manner that glorifies Christ.

The World I Know

World religion. That is the topic of study I’m doing with students on Sunday nights. The interesting thing about studying the different religions is discovering what each religion has in common. One of the most common themes is making the world and ourselves better. Last night we studied Scientology which is all about getting to know the self and working to make the world a better place by doing good in the world and to all living things. Different religions will tell us that the world I know doesn’t have to be this way. If people all over the world decided to change it, we could all live better lives. We could have world peace, no crime, and live in perfect harmony.

It is indeed a worthy goal to want peace in the midst of chaos. Desiring a world without pain and crime is admirable and seeking to be our best in order to make the world a better place is a valuable endeavor. The only problem is the majority of these religions, Scientology included, ignore one flaw in this plan. Sin. The truth is there is no possible way that people are going to be able to turn the world we know into a place without pain or chaos because the world itself and all that is within it are slaves to the sickness of sin. Worldly religions ignore sin altogether making a claim for false hope and belief in a world that cannot exist without extinguishing the one thing they ignore. This would be like a doctor who tells his patient that he can get better with diet and exercise when in fact he has cancer and will be dead within the month. Sure, he can improve his health with diet and exercise, but he’s still going to die from the disease that is slowly killing him on the inside.

Certainly we can improve our lives and our world, but we do not have the ablility nor the authority to carry this on to completion. We’re still going to die. We are still going to suffer. There will still be war, murder, theft, rape, and crime. Why? Because we are ignoring the disease. Sin is like carbon dioxide “the silent killer”. You know something isn’t right, but you can’t smell anything. If you don’t have anything to detect the carbon dioxide your breathing and if you don’t recognize the symptoms then you’ll likely die from being poisoned by it. That is the state of the world today. If we continue to simply “ignore” the sin problem then we will continue to live in false hope, striving to do good in a world that will progressively get worse.

There is good news. This dream of being in a better place and being better ourselves is not just a dream. A new earth without tears, pain, chaos, crime, and sin is a coming reality. Even a renewed self is a real possibility in the future. These things are coming for those who defeat the one thing most world religions ignore, sin. For those who overcome sin there will be a new heaven and a new earth, there will be peace and harmony, and there will be no more suffering. We are headed for paradise. So what can humanity do to fight sin and overcome it? Nothing. That is the catch, we can do nothing. The world we know is doomed. There is no technology nor weapon that we can develop to destroy sin. It’s a disease without a human cure.

That is the other thing about studying world religions. You begin to realize that everything these religions teach relies strictly on humanities ability to get themselves out of their mess. The fact of the matter is we can’t. If we have to depend on ourselves to do it then it is not going to happen. There is only one man who was able to defeat sin and he did so because he was both man and God. When Christ rose from the dead he defeated both sin and death and it is only through the righteousness of Christ that humanity can indeed overcome sin. Jesus is the other factor that world religions seem to leave out. While they believe he exists, they don’t believe he was who he said he was.

If we ignore sin and ignore who Jesus really is then we will continue to live, hope, and dream for a world that we will never see. It’s only in Jesus that humanity can find a cure for the disease of sin. Until other religions recognize both the true state of the world and the true nature of Jesus they will continue to preach and teach false hope. While they may fight to make this world a better place, in the long run it will be for nothing in the end.