Christians turning to syncretism

Christians turning to syncretism December 14, 2009

Like many ancient Israelites before the exile, more and more Christians think they can add pagan beliefs to Christianity. Here are some findings from The Pew Forum:

Mixing religions: Many Americans have beliefs or experiences that conflict with basic Christian doctrines. People who say they believe:
Total Christians
People will be reborn in this world again and again 24% 22%
Yoga is a spiritual practice 23% 21%
People with the "evil eye" can cast curses or harmful spells 16% 17%
The position of stars/planets can affect people's lives 25% 23%

Interfaith worship: A third of Americans say they attend multiple places of worship, including outside their own faith (excluding holidays or family events). People who say they attend:
Total All Protestants Catholics
Multiple places within own faith 11% 9% 21%
Services of one other faith 12% 15% 13%
Services of two other faiths 8% 10% 5%
Services of three or more faiths 4% 4% 1%

Attending other services: Attending worship services beyond their own faith is more common among Protestants (30%) than Catholics (19%):
One other faith Two others Three others
White evangelicals 15% 9% 3%
White mainline 11% 8% 5%
Black Protestants 18% 14% 9%

Mystical experiences: Half of all Americans say they have had a "religious or mystical experience or spiritual awakening":
Total
Black Protestants 71%
White evangelical Protestants 70%
Catholics 60%
White mainline Protestants 40%
Unaffiliated 30%

Spirit and nature: Many Christians have adopted beliefs or experiences that conflict with basic Christian doctrines. People who say they:
Total Christians
Have been in touch with the dead 29% 29%
Found "spiritual energy" in trees, etc. 26% 23%
Had ghostly experience 18% 17%
Consulted a psychic 15% 14%

Source: 2009 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Survey of 2,003 U.S. adults. Margin of error /- 2.5 percentage points

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  • Jojakim Dettmann

    I visited Hong Kong International School and Concordia-Shanghai. I talked to Jim Webber at the latter, who at the time was the husband of the principle (but he has been a mover and shaker for a long time). He told me that both schools are run in a syncretistic manner. He said their goal was to make Christian students stronger in their Christian faith and Jewish students stronger in their Jewish faith, etc. Literature I was given spoke of the “spiritual” education the students would receive.

    The entire cost of impressive building that Concordia-Shanghai recently started out with was entirely paid by the government. I believe it was about 40 million–workers labored day and night for six weeks near the end to get it done on time.

    Jim Webber also expressed his personal opinion that “the LCMS needs to change its exegesis that says that everyone that doesn’t believe in Jesus is going to hell.”

    At HKIS, I was told that the Christian teachers were recently forbidden to pray in chapel because it offended the non-Christian teachers. Their faculty, unlike Shanghai’s, was divided.

    Both schools answer to the LCMS Board for Missions. Jim Webber’s views have been written in Christian News again and again for years. I was surprised how vocal and open he was about his heretical beliefs and practices. He must not be too concerned about job security.

  • Jojakim Dettmann

    I visited Hong Kong International School and Concordia-Shanghai. I talked to Jim Webber at the latter, who at the time was the husband of the principle (but he has been a mover and shaker for a long time). He told me that both schools are run in a syncretistic manner. He said their goal was to make Christian students stronger in their Christian faith and Jewish students stronger in their Jewish faith, etc. Literature I was given spoke of the “spiritual” education the students would receive.

    The entire cost of impressive building that Concordia-Shanghai recently started out with was entirely paid by the government. I believe it was about 40 million–workers labored day and night for six weeks near the end to get it done on time.

    Jim Webber also expressed his personal opinion that “the LCMS needs to change its exegesis that says that everyone that doesn’t believe in Jesus is going to hell.”

    At HKIS, I was told that the Christian teachers were recently forbidden to pray in chapel because it offended the non-Christian teachers. Their faculty, unlike Shanghai’s, was divided.

    Both schools answer to the LCMS Board for Missions. Jim Webber’s views have been written in Christian News again and again for years. I was surprised how vocal and open he was about his heretical beliefs and practices. He must not be too concerned about job security.

  • Jonathan

    40 million workers to complete a building, really? That’s got to be right up there with the magnitude of the Great Wall of China!

  • Jonathan

    40 million workers to complete a building, really? That’s got to be right up there with the magnitude of the Great Wall of China!

  • Rose

    Why do we find paganism entertaining? We don’t object to evil if it’s disguised as amusement. We like our entertainment malevolent,malicious and menacing.

  • Rose

    Why do we find paganism entertaining? We don’t object to evil if it’s disguised as amusement. We like our entertainment malevolent,malicious and menacing.

  • These things drive me nuts, and I don’t know what to do about them.

    What I do know is this–truth is a basic human need, just like any other. We can play with relativism for a long time, because it’s so easy and feels so good, but the need will come have its due. Doctrine will return.

    I’m just worried it will be Islamic doctrine. I’m not saying Christianity will disappear. That won’t happen. But we may have to go underground.

  • These things drive me nuts, and I don’t know what to do about them.

    What I do know is this–truth is a basic human need, just like any other. We can play with relativism for a long time, because it’s so easy and feels so good, but the need will come have its due. Doctrine will return.

    I’m just worried it will be Islamic doctrine. I’m not saying Christianity will disappear. That won’t happen. But we may have to go underground.

  • Peter Leavitt

    One thinks of Richard Niebuhr’s quip:

    A God without wrath brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without the cross

    Syncretism necessarily follows the sort of liberal non-doctrinal religious pabulum that presently infests and dominates the present scene in the West.

  • Peter Leavitt

    One thinks of Richard Niebuhr’s quip:

    A God without wrath brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without the cross

    Syncretism necessarily follows the sort of liberal non-doctrinal religious pabulum that presently infests and dominates the present scene in the West.

  • As a few other posters have touched on, the big issue here is one of truth. People do not and cannot really believe contradictions where they touch their lives (although they can make a pretense of it). If you identify as a Christian and yet participate in some of these beliefs and practices (not necessarily everything on the list), there are really only two options. You are extremely ignorant of your own faith, or you do not carry your religion under the category of truth.

    As a corollary to this, if this kind of belief and practice is really so common in the American church, the American church is not providing what it ought to its members.

  • As a few other posters have touched on, the big issue here is one of truth. People do not and cannot really believe contradictions where they touch their lives (although they can make a pretense of it). If you identify as a Christian and yet participate in some of these beliefs and practices (not necessarily everything on the list), there are really only two options. You are extremely ignorant of your own faith, or you do not carry your religion under the category of truth.

    As a corollary to this, if this kind of belief and practice is really so common in the American church, the American church is not providing what it ought to its members.

  • I am not sure it is so much people turning to syncretism as much as it is they never left. Ever since the fall, we have been cursed with itching ears. Now that we have returned to the days of Rome we are once again contending with the idea it doesn’t matter who you worship so long as you pay homage to cult of the emperor.

    I am not surprised with the results of the survey as I have had to deal with people who believe their departed relative has visited them and people who don’t understand why Christianity and Yoga don’t mix.

  • I am not sure it is so much people turning to syncretism as much as it is they never left. Ever since the fall, we have been cursed with itching ears. Now that we have returned to the days of Rome we are once again contending with the idea it doesn’t matter who you worship so long as you pay homage to cult of the emperor.

    I am not surprised with the results of the survey as I have had to deal with people who believe their departed relative has visited them and people who don’t understand why Christianity and Yoga don’t mix.

  • Rob Cartusciello

    A few thoughts:

    The statistics on interfaith worship is not a complete surprise, given the number of interfaith marriages in the United States.

    I do not consider “having a religious or mystical experience or spiritual awakening” to be pagan. Consider, e.g., St. Paul.

    As for reincarnation and the spiritual energy of trees, it is statistics like those that make me want to bang my head of the table.

  • Rob Cartusciello

    A few thoughts:

    The statistics on interfaith worship is not a complete surprise, given the number of interfaith marriages in the United States.

    I do not consider “having a religious or mystical experience or spiritual awakening” to be pagan. Consider, e.g., St. Paul.

    As for reincarnation and the spiritual energy of trees, it is statistics like those that make me want to bang my head of the table.

  • Yes I’m not sure this is new either. There has been a long history of this sort of thing, even among otherwise orthodox Christians. I am reminded that for a long time Melenchthon would not get out of bed until after Chemnitz had read him the horoscope he had prepared.
    Sometimes we don’t get the contradiction until someone else points it out to us. That is the human nature, fallen.

  • Yes I’m not sure this is new either. There has been a long history of this sort of thing, even among otherwise orthodox Christians. I am reminded that for a long time Melenchthon would not get out of bed until after Chemnitz had read him the horoscope he had prepared.
    Sometimes we don’t get the contradiction until someone else points it out to us. That is the human nature, fallen.

  • I also find the statistics capable of multiple interpretation. I am more concerned with what #1 says about the LCMS school in Hong Kong. This is absolute craziness.
    I am also concerned about non-sectarian prayer to a non-sectarian God that is so part of
    American civil religion. This non-sectarian god is the god of the freemasons that our Lutheran fathers wisely rejected.

  • I also find the statistics capable of multiple interpretation. I am more concerned with what #1 says about the LCMS school in Hong Kong. This is absolute craziness.
    I am also concerned about non-sectarian prayer to a non-sectarian God that is so part of
    American civil religion. This non-sectarian god is the god of the freemasons that our Lutheran fathers wisely rejected.

  • fws

    #10 what gregory says.

    we need to keep all talk of faith and small g gods and sin out of our comments , when we as christians, talk about outward righteousness and morality.

    this talk , for the very sake of the Holy Gospel. should be reserved for talk of what is necessary to enter the heavenly kingdom.

  • fws

    #10 what gregory says.

    we need to keep all talk of faith and small g gods and sin out of our comments , when we as christians, talk about outward righteousness and morality.

    this talk , for the very sake of the Holy Gospel. should be reserved for talk of what is necessary to enter the heavenly kingdom.

  • fws

    ‘spiritual energy’ as in, it does my spirit good to spend time in nature, to be around trees, to spend time with the grandchildren.

    people do not necessarily put a religious spin on things by using this mode of speech.

  • fws

    ‘spiritual energy’ as in, it does my spirit good to spend time in nature, to be around trees, to spend time with the grandchildren.

    people do not necessarily put a religious spin on things by using this mode of speech.

  • Peter Leavitt

    FWS we need to keep all talk of faith and small g gods and sin out of our comments , when we as christians, talk about outward righteousness and morality.

    OK about the lower case gods, though keeping sin out of our commentary is absurd. As Niebuhr remarks, Christianity is about both Gospel and Law. Modern, spineless, syncretic, liberal Christians prefer to pontificate about the Gospel and forget about the moral law. A religion without sin and a God of wrath, as well as mercy, lacks any Biblical coherence.

    As to keeping faith out of the discussion, what about sola fide along with sola scriptura?

  • Peter Leavitt

    FWS we need to keep all talk of faith and small g gods and sin out of our comments , when we as christians, talk about outward righteousness and morality.

    OK about the lower case gods, though keeping sin out of our commentary is absurd. As Niebuhr remarks, Christianity is about both Gospel and Law. Modern, spineless, syncretic, liberal Christians prefer to pontificate about the Gospel and forget about the moral law. A religion without sin and a God of wrath, as well as mercy, lacks any Biblical coherence.

    As to keeping faith out of the discussion, what about sola fide along with sola scriptura?

  • Peter at #14 says “Modern, spineless, syncretic, liberal Christians prefer to pontificate about the Gospel and forget about the moral law.” Really? I find them more likely to be so obsessed about leftist politics that they forget both law and Gospel.

  • Peter at #14 says “Modern, spineless, syncretic, liberal Christians prefer to pontificate about the Gospel and forget about the moral law.” Really? I find them more likely to be so obsessed about leftist politics that they forget both law and Gospel.

  • kerner

    Bror and Dr. Luther are right. This has been going on forever. Christian have been believing in hosts and communicating with the “spirit world” for ages.

    Or consider the following conversation between 2 Israelites.

    Israelite 1: Wow, can you believe God parted the Red Sea so we could just walk through?

    Israelite 2: That was really cool…Wanna go build a golden calf and worship it?

    Israelite 1: Sure. why not?

  • kerner

    Bror and Dr. Luther are right. This has been going on forever. Christian have been believing in hosts and communicating with the “spirit world” for ages.

    Or consider the following conversation between 2 Israelites.

    Israelite 1: Wow, can you believe God parted the Red Sea so we could just walk through?

    Israelite 2: That was really cool…Wanna go build a golden calf and worship it?

    Israelite 1: Sure. why not?

  • fws

    #15 kerner,

    what he says. and this disease is in ALL of us.

  • fws

    #15 kerner,

    what he says. and this disease is in ALL of us.

  • Bruce Gee

    #2
    Jonathan said:
    40 million workers to complete a building, really? That’s got to be right up there with the magnitude of the Great Wall of China!”

    Read Jojakim’s comments again, Jonathan. I think he wrote that it cost 40 million dollars (or whatever currency), and that workers worked day and night to get it done.

    A nice quote in today’s Treasury of Daily Prayer: “The doctrine is not of compulsion: the Word of life is of free will. Whoever desires to hear the doctrine, let him cleanse the field of his will so that the good seed may not fall among the thorns of vain questions…” From Ephraim Syrus, THREE HOMILIES.

    Those thorny vain questions. The temptation will always be there to mess with doctrine in an effort to make it more closely approximate the rumbling in our bellies.

  • Bruce Gee

    #2
    Jonathan said:
    40 million workers to complete a building, really? That’s got to be right up there with the magnitude of the Great Wall of China!”

    Read Jojakim’s comments again, Jonathan. I think he wrote that it cost 40 million dollars (or whatever currency), and that workers worked day and night to get it done.

    A nice quote in today’s Treasury of Daily Prayer: “The doctrine is not of compulsion: the Word of life is of free will. Whoever desires to hear the doctrine, let him cleanse the field of his will so that the good seed may not fall among the thorns of vain questions…” From Ephraim Syrus, THREE HOMILIES.

    Those thorny vain questions. The temptation will always be there to mess with doctrine in an effort to make it more closely approximate the rumbling in our bellies.

  • wayne pelling

    it is not just an issue in USA CHRISTIAN circles. please follow the link below to a blog run by a Lutheran Minister in Australia where he discusses syncretism especially in the RCC

    http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com/

  • wayne pelling

    it is not just an issue in USA CHRISTIAN circles. please follow the link below to a blog run by a Lutheran Minister in Australia where he discusses syncretism especially in the RCC

    http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com/

  • Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for the plug for my blog. My train of thought also started with the Pew Forum survey and led me to reflect on what I saw and have heard reported about in one particular RC diocese in Australia. I’m inclined to assume the same sort of thing goes in in US RC circles, at least in some of the more ‘experimental’ dioceses?

    I see syncretism as the modus operandi of a neo-Gnosticism that in the modern period emanates from the US and is infiltrating the mainstream churches which have been de-confessionalised.

    If anyone would like to leave comments on my post that would be most welcome. Thanks again Wayne, and Gene!

  • Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for the plug for my blog. My train of thought also started with the Pew Forum survey and led me to reflect on what I saw and have heard reported about in one particular RC diocese in Australia. I’m inclined to assume the same sort of thing goes in in US RC circles, at least in some of the more ‘experimental’ dioceses?

    I see syncretism as the modus operandi of a neo-Gnosticism that in the modern period emanates from the US and is infiltrating the mainstream churches which have been de-confessionalised.

    If anyone would like to leave comments on my post that would be most welcome. Thanks again Wayne, and Gene!

  • Jonathan

    I still like the visual of 40 million workers laboring day and night to build a Lutheran institution. It has a kind of Revelation feel to it, don’t you think? We can dream, can’t we?

  • Jonathan

    I still like the visual of 40 million workers laboring day and night to build a Lutheran institution. It has a kind of Revelation feel to it, don’t you think? We can dream, can’t we?

  • Bruce Gee

    Hee, hee Jonathan! I dunno. Maybe we need to find you a hobby. _ )

  • Bruce Gee

    Hee, hee Jonathan! I dunno. Maybe we need to find you a hobby. _ )

  • Marian

    #8, # 12, yes.
    Not all of this is syncretism: for example, I am a Lutheran who has attended Catholic Mass on Christmas Day because there was no service at my own church; I have also gone to Mass when visiting a Catholic friend. (I did not take Communion.) I would guess that such experiences, rather than syncretism, account for a fairly large number of the people who say they occasionally attend services of other faiths.
    On the “spritual energy in trees” question, I have certainly felt God’s presence in the mountains and forests (and so did the Psalmists!), and although I wouldn’t have chosen the survey authors’ phrasing myself, if presented with a survey question like tht I might well have answered yes.

  • Marian

    #8, # 12, yes.
    Not all of this is syncretism: for example, I am a Lutheran who has attended Catholic Mass on Christmas Day because there was no service at my own church; I have also gone to Mass when visiting a Catholic friend. (I did not take Communion.) I would guess that such experiences, rather than syncretism, account for a fairly large number of the people who say they occasionally attend services of other faiths.
    On the “spritual energy in trees” question, I have certainly felt God’s presence in the mountains and forests (and so did the Psalmists!), and although I wouldn’t have chosen the survey authors’ phrasing myself, if presented with a survey question like tht I might well have answered yes.

  • I don’t see how having a mystical experience is outside of Christianity. Didn’t St. John the Revelator have a mystical experience? Or those witness to the Transfiguration.

  • I don’t see how having a mystical experience is outside of Christianity. Didn’t St. John the Revelator have a mystical experience? Or those witness to the Transfiguration.