Jeff Smith

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Solid Food

The Religion of Syncretism

One of the crazes among people searching to regain a spiritual compass in their lives is what lexicographers calls syncretism. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines it as "the combination of different forms of belief or practice." It remarks about the verb form of the word, syncretize, "to attempt to unite and harmonize especially without critical examination or logical unity."

Syncretism is popular because the two leading competitors for the hearts of men are less so. The first is the word of God contained in the Bible. Its popularity among men has waned because it is perceived to be antiquated and its texts unsatisfactory in meeting today's concerns. The second is the religion taught in your public schools, secular humanism, in which each individual is instructed to be his own god and make his own standard of morality.

Humanism has been such a tragic failure in terms of increased drug abuse, laziness and uninhibited sexual experimentation that many baby boomers — the first generation spoon fed the stuff — are in search of something higher. Naturally, many turn first to the Bible, but its instruction is, for them, further in the opposite direction than they intended to travel. The magic solution is to mix the desirable liberties of humanism with the basic guiding force of the Bible. The product is a potluck night stew: prepared with a little of this and a little of that.

The Bible teaches that lying is a sin: "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 12:22) and "Therefore, putting away lying, let each one speak truth with his neighbor" (Ephesians 4:25). That is all well and good and acceptable as long as the truth is immediately beneficial, but when a "little" lie would seem to make things easier, syncretism kicks in a "little" liberty to tell a fib.

Fornication is sinful, according to the Bible, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality" (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But the vocabulary of failure overwhelms us: "Kids are going to do it anyway," "It is an uncontrollable impulse," "It's all right as long as you are truly in love." Modern man has syncretized the Bible message of love with the humanistic freedom to do as you please and arrived at divinely sanctioned fornication.

The church of Christ is coming down with a bad case of syncretism as well. Whereas we were once known for a knowledge of the scriptures, we are losing the ability to cite book, chapter and verse for what we practice and believe. Our children are not learning the reasons we do things a certain way because we do not know enough to teach them. When the world hits them with the convenient religion of syncretism, they are lost in alarming numbers to the devil, the leader of its church.

It is time to be reminded that the Bible contains a pattern for our lives and our religion. Paul told Titus to show himself "a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility" (Titus 2:7). When my wife makes a dress, she places a pattern on the fabric and cuts it out with careful precision. The saint of God traces his life against the Bible pattern which demands purity and humility before Him.

Ivory brand soap likes to advertise itself as "99 and 44/100th % pure." What does that mean? It means it is not pure, but impure, if only a little. Syncretized spirituality — taking a doctrine from the Bible and another from a catechism and another from the Westminster Confession and yet another from The Book of Discipline and still one more from Tim LaHaye or James Redfield — is a perversion of the pure gospel that Jesus died to establish (Galatians 1:6-8).

By definition, syncretism is illogical. Mixing belief systems into the gospel is the same perversion for which Jesus convicted the Pharisees. In Matthew 15, he condemned their habit of setting aside divine law when human precept was more convenient. Are there people nowadays who claim piety and praise Jesus but guiltlessly lie or engage in immorality or steal when it suits them better? Are there people who adhere to the Bible except when situation ethics promises to free them from an embarrassing circumstance? "Hypocrites, Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'" (Matthew 15:7-9).

Yes, there are Pharisees in the church today. They syncretize the Bible with their own preferences and tolerate sins which they find less then reprehensible by their own standard. Like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, they set aside God's law for their own liberties (James 2:12).

Many now regard the use of instruments of music in worship as a tolerable matter of opinion. They think similarly about regular observance of the the Lord's supper, the distinction of the church, its necessity of eldership, immodest attire, mixed swimming, dancing, social drinking and gambling. The Bible has been whittled down to its "bare essentials" — death, burial and resurrection of Christ — and summarily stripped of its application to moral and doctrinal questions. We now hear older gospel preachers uttering the word "ambiguity" in relation to Matthew 19 about divorce and remarriage. Another man picks that up and applies it to 1 Timothy 4:3 where Paul condemns those who forbid to marry and suddenly no marriage is unscriptural. Context and harmony with other passages is forgotten and the hermeneutic is new and vulgar.

Romans 14 is the vehicle of syncretism in our day. Based on a poor study of this chapter, many preachers are teaching that anything done in good conscience is not to be rejected. I have read sermons and quotes from men advocating the tolerance of every one of the unfruitful works of darkness listed in the previous paragraph, and instead of mourning, they are puffed up over their tolerance and their "big tent" approach to evangelism. "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (1 Corinthians 5:6)?