In the April 17, 2013 post, I discussed several reasons why I believe Jesus is the Son of God. One reason I noted was because of how the ancient and mighty Roman Empire changed from being a polytheistic (many gods) civilization to accepting Christianity up to the point where it became the empire’s foremost religion. I expressed amazement at this and realized that God’s Holy Spirit, starting on the Day of Pentecost, had a tremendous influence in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the empire.
Yet, I can almost hear several Christians screaming, “Foul! Foul!” and “Syncretism! Syncretism!” to what I just said. What they are complaining is how the Christian Church, after becoming recognized by this Roman Empire, made converts to Christendom by using the existing customs and traditions that were pagan in the local areas they were evangelizing. The Church, they complain, is therefore guilty of what is called syncretism.
What is syncretism? Is there anything wrong with it? Does syncretism cause Christians to become pagans? That is what I want to discuss here.
According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, syncretism is:
1) The combination of different forms of belief or practice
2) The fusion of two original different inflectional forms
In other words, syncretism, applied to religion, is when a religious organization takes customs, practices and even gods from other religions and blends them into its beliefs. When this occurs to an established Christian Church the question then arises whether that Church or denomination is still Christian or not. That is the issue revolving around the observance of Christmas, Easter and other holidays. Are these holidays, today, pagan days of worship or Christian days of worship?
First of all, what is meant by the word, “pagan”? We should not assume that everyone all agree with what that word means. One person may believe it means anyone who is not a Christian. Another person believes it means a person who has no religion, not religious. The definition of “pagan” can be clarified.
Using the same dictionary, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word, “pagan” as:
1. heathen, a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome).
2. One who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods – an irreligious or hedonistic person.
Using this definition of “pagan”, is pagan worship of other gods being added to worshiping Christ? If gods are being added to Christian worship, that would constitute a syncretism that is abominable to God. It would also include adding customs and traditions toward this worship of another god or gods when worshiping the true God.
Other than that, syncretism would be fine with God – not a problem with Him! Believing ALL syncretism is against God or angers Him in some way, to me, is being presumptuous. For the purpose of this post, I will label syncretism that is abominable to God as incompatible syncretism. Syncretism that is not abominable to God I will label as compatible syncretism.
Organizations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, label Christians not of their persuasion, pagan because they see in history the Church – especially since the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 325 AD – converting non-Christians by taking pagan days and customs and incorporating them into Christianity. These days and rituals include December 25, Saturnalia festivals, and spring celebrations. These groups want us Christians to believe we are therefore pagan because we keep such holidays as Christmas and Easter which may or may not coincide with these days.
I believe, however, that much of Christianity today is NOT pagan. I believe salvation is in believing and in trusting Jesus Christ and being saved by the power of His name. When I check whether there is compatible or incompatible syncretism being used, I use a simple formula to test the beliefs of a Christian denomination in question.
a = Christ
b = any pagan custom, god, day etc.
c? = does it equal salvation?
1) Christ + Santa Claus = Salvation?
If any Church tells me that in order to be saved I must believe in Christ and Santa Claus then that is incompatible syncretism. A new religion, has formed. If this is true then we have more than one savior, more than one God being worshiped. No, we only have Jesus Christ, one Savior, one God.
2) Christ + the Easter Bunny = Salvation?
If any Church tells me that in order to be saved I must believe in Christ and the Easter Bunny, then that is incompatible syncretism. A new religion, has formed where the Easter bunny is also worshiped. That religion is no longer what God wants.
3) Christ + Circumcision = Salvation?
If anyone tells me that a Christian must believe in Christ and also be circumcised in order to be saved then that is incompatible syncretism. The Apostle Paul told the Galatians (Galatians 1:6-9) they were foolish for combining the Mosaic law, which includes circumcision, to Christianity. It was wrong and did not belong to the church. Another gospel had been added. It is not to be done today by Christians. Note: circumcision was not a pagan custom or practice. Still, it is incompatible syncretism if it is added to Christianity for salvation.
4) Christ + Tithing 10% of your income = Salvation?
Believing in Christ and believing that one must keep the Old Testament law of tithing is incompatible syncretism. Tithing does not lead to salvation. Believing only in Jesus Christ does. Again, it is foolish to combine the Mosaic law, which includes tithing, to Christianity.
Now, if a church denomination requires tithing for membership and a disciple is willing to tithe, that is OK with me. That would be compatible syncretism. But once a church official begins announcing that its saints and saints in other churches are sinning because they do not tithe then that is another matter. Practicing tithing in order to be saved is not what God wants for the New Testament Church. I know I am walking on thin ice with many of you on this one.
5) Christ + Keeping Saturday or Keeping Sunday holy = Salvation?
If anyone tells me that I must go to church on a Sunday because it is the Lord’s day, then that is incompatible syncretism. This is adding something to the worship of Christ, a day, that God says is not required for salvation. Observing a day of the week should not lead anyone to believe it will save him. Again, this is incompatible syncretism of law and Christianity. It is a different faith than Christ began. It is legalistic. It is close to being cultist. Again, I know I am walking on thin ice with many of you Christians out there.
The same is true with Saturday. Many believe that Saturday, the Sabbath Day of the fourth commandment, must be kept holy in order to be saved. I know this sounds strange, but no, that was never stated as a law for Christians to keep – but it was required for the ancient nation of Israel! God does not want the Old Testament Mosaic law combined with the gospel of Christ.
Sabbath keeping was never a pagan custom required for salvation. It was required by God (not man) for all of the Israelites to keep in order not to be removed from the congregation of Israel. Before Christ was born, God placed His holiness on the seventh day; but after His death, Christ was declared to be our Sabbath (Hebrews 4:10). And He, as our High Priest, desires to keep us Christians holy (righteous, justified) through faith in Him. As our Sabbath rest we cannot “keep Jesus holy”. He is holy and always will be holy! But we Christians can now rest daily – not once a week – with Him with us. For Christians, believing in Jesus Christ is Sabbath-keeping – not maintaining a day. God instituted the Sabbath for man just as He later personified it as Christ for man. Once again, I know I am walking on thin ice with some of you. Anyway….
Oh, by the way, Romans 14:5-6 is very important here. If a Christian believes keeping the Sabbath day, Saturday, is holy to him, so be it with him. As long as he does not bother others about it who may not agree with him, leave him alone! He is still my brother. Compatible syncretism is displayed here. Likewise, if a believer says that Sunday keeping is holy to him, I will not label him a pagan because ancient pagans worshiped the sun or whatever on that day. With God, salvation has nothing to do with days. It is all about Jesus Christ.
6) Christ + the Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization (or any denomination, church group, congregation, etc.) = Salvation?
To believe that salvation is only through one organization only is incorrect. Even if she believes in Jesus Christ. This will create the tendency to worship the organization besides Christ. I am not going to worship a corporate entity just as I will not worship the body of Christ – the church – which is made up of saints. God want us to be in the Body of Christ, the Church, not bow down to it.
A passage of the Bible often used by those who are anti-Christmas, anti-Easter, etc. is Deuteronomy 12:29-31
When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
Notes on the passage (Deut. 12:29-31):
1) The passage above is addressing the Israelites who were entering the promised land – not Christians.
2) In the Old Testament, God had given them Holy Days, Sabbaths, New Moons, sacrifices and regulations that they, the Israelites, were to follow to the letter! They were not to add any other manner of worship to the worship of God. This applied only to the Israelites – not to Christians.
3) The Israelites were being forewarned by God not to learn about or add other gods to the way He wanted them to worship Him.
The figure you see on your right of Santa Claus nailed to a cross may be offensive to many of you. It is not my intention to make a mockery of what Christ did for us on Calvary. Instead, I am making a point and concluding that most Christians, including myself, do not worship Santa, Rudolf, the Easter rabbit or Christmas trees as part of their devotions and holiday keeping. Doing so would be incompatible syncretism – the combining of two different beliefs and customs and making it a newly formed faith required for salvation. Christians, instead, worship Jesus Christ.
It is annoying, to say the least, to constantly be told that we Christians are pagans because of what is perceived to be incompatible syncretism – something that may have been done a long time ago and is not relevant to us today.
I must stop here knowing I have oversimplified and probably overstated this topic. There are objections, of course, to what I have posted here. I will address them in future blogs.
In the meantime, let us Christians stop judging other Christians as being pagan or second class because of doctrines and practices you think are incompatible with God. Our job is to seek the lost – not others of the Christian faith who are already living in Christ.
I am thankful that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and that He will soon return to straighten and sort everything out.