By Michael E. Brooks
“So they feared the Lord, and from every class they appointed for themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods – according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away” (2 Kings 17:32-33 NKJV).
I try to be careful about introducing American customs into the other cultures in which I work. Occasionally however there are things that are harmless, and enjoyable to the people. At Khulna Bible College we have taught our staff and students to enjoy good old Alabama barbecue. They eagerly watch for the charcoal and grill utensils to be brought out and the meat to go on the fire. When it is served they gather hungrily and eat all that is cooked. But then, after the American food is gone, the cooks bring out another set of serving dishes. These contain “dal bhat” and curry (rice, beans, and spicy vegetables) and each Bengali eats another full plate of their traditional (and to them essential) fare. The barbecue is a great treat, but without rice they would go unsatisfied and still hungry.
Many people throughout the world bring the same approach to religion. They may receive the Gospel of Christ and convert to Christianity, but the centuries’ old traditions derived from their previous faiths are hard to leave. They may be very sincere about following Jesus consciously, but on a subconscious, memory, level they strive to retain many habits and thought patterns. This is commonly referred to as “syncretism”, and is a feature not only of many expressions of Christian faith, but of all other world religions as well.
Examples of this phenomenon include various superstitions, special days and observations, charms, symbols, and rituals. Though some of these things may seem harmless, they may reveal allegiance to other gods or faiths, and must be examined closely. This is especially true in societies where animism and spiritual beliefs are strong and people are still attracted to sorcerers, witches, or other such practitioners. It is by no means limited to such places however.
When Assyria destroyed Samaria and took the Israelites into captivity, thus ending the northern kingdom of ten tribes, they repopulated the land with people from many other idolatrous nations. Later they sent former priests of Israel back to the land to teach the inhabitants about the God of the land and how to worship him. The new citizens learned about the Lord, and incorporated him into their belief system. But they did not abandon their old ways and gods. They just added a new religion to their old polytheistic system. They felt there was plenty of room for both.
God however demands, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Jesus restated this principle in the New Testament, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10). There is no room in Biblical faith for syncretism. We must abandon all other gods, beliefs, and allegiances, and honor God alone. This may mean rejecting superstition, renouncing favorite symbols and charms, and even avoiding some holidays. If a thing is associated with a strange god or faith, there is no room for it in the life of a Christian. Our devotion to God must be complete and undivided. He alone is God. There is no room for compromise or accommodation to other beliefs.
By Michael E. Brooks