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A simple definition of syncretism is the mixing of different beliefs. In missionary circles, it is the one thing that we try hard to avoid. When we moved in as missionaries to a remote animistic tribe in Asia Pacific, they had already heard some things about Christianity, but because they had not been taught clearly and systematically from the Bible in their own language, they took what little they understood and mixed it with their traditional animistic belief.
For example, they had heard that there was a Creator God. But they had not learned any of His attributes and so they thought God was fickle and malicious. They believed that if they did not do certain ritualistic things, God would strike them down with a sickness or even kill them. They also did not understand that God was everywhere and knew everything.
When we began to teach them chronologically and systematically through the Bible, we started with who God is, with His attributes. He is all powerful, all knowing, all wise, just, holy, every place all at the same time. Nothing escapes His knowing! As we taught these truths about God, they were blown away. The God of the Bible was so unbelievably greater that they could ever imagine, and they quickly developed a healthy fear of God—Creator Yahweh!
The Lord honored months and years of clear and consistent teaching and now the tribal church is vibrant and even taking this truth out to unreached areas of their own language group.
And now as I sit here in the jungle from the other side of the world, having been given the unique privilege of translating the Bible and teaching in a language and context so different from my own, I now see many things from a different and more simplistic perspective. I sit from afar and look back at my own culture and people in the US and see how syncretized we are as well. In so many ways, we have mixed humanistic philosophy with our understanding of Christianity and the Bible. One of the ways the Christian culture in America has syncretized is in the church’s by and large embracing an old-earth teaching.
Remember the definition of syncretism: a mixing of two different beliefs. Many Christian educational institutions, churches, and homes have taken the secular humanistic belief of an old earth and mixed it with the true biblical narrative, which teaches that the earth was created relatively recently. This has taken the church down a very dangerous road leading to a corrupt exegesis of many portions of Scripture. If old-earth teaching is accepted, death before sin, celestial bodies before the creation of light, a local flood and many more conflicting ideas are awkwardly forced into the natural reading of the Bible.
No matter how many potential old-earth theories men come up with (day-age theory, gap theory, and so on), when giving due attention to context while looking at more specific features of the Hebrew language, it is impossible to come away from Genesis 1 with any other comprehension than that of a young-earth/recent creation.
How can we teach our children what is clear from our Bibles, and then go back and compromise that clear teaching by saying, “Well it says day, but that word really means a vast eon of time,” and, “Well it says the water covered the whole earth, but it was really just covering a certain area on the earth”? If this is what we teach our children, we are unwittingly teaching them that God’s message to man, the Bible, is confusing, cryptic, and unreliable. If they cannot clearly read and believe something as foundational/simple as “God created the heavens and the earth in six days,” then how can they believe in deeper truths such as Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross?
When we taught our tribal friends in the jungle clear, systematic, chronological teaching from the Bible, they saw the error of their previous syncretism with their worship of the evil spirits, and now solely worship the Creator God. This is a very good example for the church in America. Let these dear tribal brothers and sisters, living so far away, lead the charge on the road to regain truth. The syncretized church in America needs to return to a clear, historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible—starting at the beginning, in Genesis.
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