What's So Dangerous about Syncretism in the Bible?
- Clarence L. Haynes Jr. Contributing Writer
- 2021 30 Mar
I am going to share with you a word that you might not be too familiar with. That word is syncretism. I know what you are thinking…”syncre-what.” If you have never heard of this don’t worry you are not alone. Even if you may not know the word you have probably seen its effects. That’s why I want to help you understand what syncretism is and help you see what is so dangerous about syncretism in the Bible.
What Is Syncretism?
Syncretism is when you attempt to combine different forms of belief or practice. It can also mean the blending of two different ideas or concepts into one new unique idea. While this can be seen quite often in the blending of cultural ideas, especially foods, for example, does this work when it comes to your faith as a Christian? Does the Bible mix well with other beliefs and more importantly, should it?
When you consider syncretism from a Christian or biblical sense it is when you inappropriately mix or blend non-Christian religious ideas or practices with the Christian faith. One example of that is what is known as Chrislam. The concept of Chrislam was based on the idea of trying to syncretize Christianity with Islam. The thinking behind Chrislam is that since there are some compatibilities between Christianity and Islam that it is possible to be a Christian and Muslim at the same time. In essence, overlooking the clear distinctions between Christianity and Islam.
Hopefully, right off the bat, you can see the problem with this. Just the belief of who Jesus is in Christianity and who Jesus is in Islam make this blurring or syncretizing impossible. They may both mention the person of Jesus, but a Muslim does not recognize the deity of Jesus Christ. This one fact alone cannot be reconciled therefore removing the possibility of truly blending this into one belief system.
The problem when you mix the gospel with anything is it becomes another gospel. What is so dangerous about syncretism in the Bible is when you attempt to combine the truths of Scripture with the message of any other idea or practice it dilutes and distorts the truth of Scripture. I would say that those who engage in this practice end up creating a gospel message that is far more confusing to the person who is trying to decipher it.
Recently there was a well-known celebrity who posted a video about his faith. In this video, he mixed his supposedly Christian views with views of other religions. In his video, he stated that there has to be more than one way to get to heaven. Though he has previously identified himself as a Christian, in this video he referred to himself as a man of faith. The overarching point of the video was the idea of religious tolerance, which leads to the next question.
Is This the Same as Religious Tolerance?
Let me first say that I believe as Christians we should fully respect everyone’s right to choose to believe. God has given us this right to choose and we should respect this right in other people. The exception to this is if the practice of a person’s religion causes harm or danger to another person or group of people then that in no way should ever be tolerated. While religious tolerance respects the rights of other people to practice their religion, syncretism blends them together. When this happens then the foundations that make Christianity what it is get lost in the shuffle.
What Is So Dangerous about Syncretism in the Bible?
As I stated earlier when you combine the truths of scripture with anything else then it becomes another gospel or another form that is opposite from the truth. The danger in it is that it may look true and almost sound true but there really is no truth in it. Here is an example of this from the very beginning.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5
Satan took the truth of what God said and mixed it with another idea, in this case, a lie that you will be like God. Satan created another “truth” or to say it correctly an untruth or simply a lie. This is what is happening in our culture today as the blending of scripture with other ideas is creating many different types of untruths.
Syncretism in Our Society
I want to deal with one untruth that exists in our society. The idea that there is more than one way to get to heaven. Some would even argue that it doesn’t matter which path you take they will all lead you to heaven. Here is what we know the Bible says.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." – John 14:6
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." – Acts 4:12
The Bible is clear that there is only one way to salvation and one way to heaven. There is no way possible to merge this basic truth of Scripture with anything else and come to the same conclusion. In fact, this truth does not blend with any other thought or idea. If you base your understanding of truth and salvation on the Scriptures, then Jesus is the only way and there is no other way.
I would like to make a basic philosophical argument as well. It is not sensible to say that all roads lead to the same place. If someone came and asked me for directions on how to get from New York City to Washington, DC, I could not say to them it doesn’t matter which way you go just take any road you want. No matter which direction you go you will get to your destination because every road leads to the same place. This doesn’t make sense geographically and it doesn’t make sense spiritually. What is so dangerous about syncretism in the Bible is that when you attempt to blend truth with anything else you end up with no truth.
Does This Exist within the Church?
We must be careful that we don’t allow the idea of syncretism to creep into the church. How does this happen? This happens not just when we mix the gospel with other religions. It happens when we mix the gospel with the culture. We have to guard against trying to be so culturally relevant in our preaching and teaching of the gospel and the Bible that we strip it of its power. One thing that is true about the gospel message. As beautiful as it is, the message of the gospel will be offensive to some people. If you think about it the first thing you must do to come to Christ is to admit that you are wrong, that you are a sinner. This one idea alone can be offensive to people especially when there is pressure for everyone to just get along. I want to be clear I am not saying we should go around purposely trying to offend people because that is not right either, but in sharing the truth of Scripture some people may be offended. This does not mean we don’t preach or teach it, but it means we recognize what could happen as a result.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he warned of this happening in the church. "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." – 2 Timothy 4:3-4
I believe we are living in this day and age where people are no longer putting up with the sound doctrine and truth of Scripture. Many are trying to blend the Word of God into something that fits their thinking. It is vital that we hold firm to the truth of God’s Word. Let’s be careful that we are not taking a syncretistic approach to the preaching and teaching of the gospel. If we do then we could end up giving people something that is not the gospel at all.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/boonchai wedmakawand
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
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