Syncretism is a word that describes the merging of different philosophies and authoritative sources to form a “superior religion.” Take a little bit of what Jesus said, mix it with a little bit of what your friends talk you into believing, mix that with a little bit of what your favorite celebrity believes and, presto! You’ve just invented a new and “allegedly” improved religion!
The New Testament describes syncretism as being very influential in the First Century church and, the truth is, it never really went away. Social media has reintroduced it to this generation in a big way. In fact, it may describe you!
It’s not that syncretists don’t want to find the best way to move forward in their lives. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The problem lies in the credibility of their sources for what might constitute a good idea.
The ancient Greeks, employing representatives from literally dozens of political and philosophical parties, maintained an ongoing public debate about theological and social ideas. But it wasn’t just the voices of humans that were asked to provide divine wisdom. The ancient Romans, who wanted very much to receive a word from God, often defaulted to their most common source of divination—the birds. Public officials called augurs would listen to the birds. In fact, the word augur is a combination of the two Latin words for “bird” and “talk.” When the augur would let the master of ceremonies know that, according to the birds, all was well, the ceremony could begin. Others would carefully monitor the flight of the birds. If they moved one direction, then God wanted to say one thing. If they flew the other direction, then God evidently had a different opinion.
The Apostle Paul’s intellectual wheelhouse was pretty broad, including expertise in history, law and theology. So, he was familiar with how culture was impacting local churches throughout the ancient world. He knew the typical (and very predictable) sequence that, by the way, hasn’t changed since he first warned the church about it.
FAITH—People place their faith in Jesus, which is too often followed by an underwhelming understanding of the Bible.
PASSIVE IGNORANCE—They fail to learn enough about Jesus to fully appreciate His greatness.
SYNCRETISM—False teachers, often even standing behind the word Christian, use a passive aggressive approach to subtly introduce crippling false doctrines (always with a soft voice and gentle smile). “Yeah, I used to believe that Christianity stuff too. Like you, I was a victim of their judgmental attitudes and disdain for anyone who didn’t believe just like they did. Then I discovered that you can still follow Jesus but not have to believe all that other stuff.” And that leads to…
Author and teacher Beth Moore predicts the inevitable result. “You will watch a generation of Christians set the Bible aside in order to become more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible.”
It’s no surprise that people, who perceive Jesus as less than He is, would follow Him with less than they have, and thereby settle for less than there is.
When other opinions and philosophies become as important to you as Jesus is, by default, His status becomes diminished. Whenever you elevate the voices of your friends or a favorite politician to the level of what God’s Word says, you’ve detracted from both the uniqueness and authority of Jesus.
The issues that become clouded by syncretism are seemingly endless—cohabitation, divorce, sexual identity, materialism, parenting. You name it and syncretism can ruin it.
Who is on your advisory board?
Your BFF (at least for now)?
A favorite youtube or pinterest blogger?
A flock of birds (kidding)?
Jesus is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. —Colossians 1:18
It’s not that other people cannot bring value to conversations or provide us with helpful advice, but who do you consider to be the most reliable source for spiritual and practical wisdom? And should your next advisory board meeting break out into an argument, whose side are you going to take? Or, in Pauline terminology, to whom will you give supremacy? That’s a decision you need to make before you even convene your board.