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« What the Emerging Church Needs, pt. 2 | Main | Disconnecting on Purpose »

August 02, 2004

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Chris,

This is exactly why the Orthodox view the PoMo obsession with "recontexualization" with such skepticism....you are sounding more Orthodox every day! :)

From an apostolic and historical pov what passes for Christainty these days sure walks and talks like syncretism...and of course, just as in Hosea's time, the warnings voiced are typically either scorned or brushed aside as "pharisaical" or "triumphalistic"...

One last thought: Your "Christianity-Plus" reminded me of Lewis in Screwtape Letters when Screwtape advises that Christians should be encouraged to create "Christianity-AND"....

DP, you've touched on one of my major questions these days - how do you discern the difference between a growing realization that the truth of God may be bigger than my previous "tribal" understanding and worldview - and not fall into syncretism? If I am at risk of syncretism, I don't think it's for wanting what the world around me has (though I'll admit to the possibility) - 'cause I AM at risk of loosing the approval of my "tribe" (church community) for adopting differing views.

I don't believe anyone is completely free of mixed motives, even in a wholehearted pursuit of truth - there will almost always be some element of "comfort seeking" in what drives us forward, even if that's buried some layers deep... not that we shouldn't seek to move beyond those drives for something purer, but I doubt it will ever be that clear cut for most of us.

Just some thoughts that your post provoked...

I think contextualization is unavoidable...I mean, unless you think we ought to be worshipping in Aramaic. Translation is contextualization. The fact that we worship in buildings we call "churches" is contextualization, an adaptation of Roman pagan temple worship. Our celebration of Christmas is largely contextualization, full of symbols adapted from heathen cultures and "baptized." The question I'm hearing come out of DP's post is, "Where do we draw the line?"

Deuteronomy 12 is the classic biblical teaching on the subject.

These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess — as long as you live in the land. Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.

The kind of worship God was mandating for his people here has changed, but the principle is still valid, I think. "Resist the temptation to worship me in the way the world worships its gods. Worship me in the way I have taught you." Today, that teaching comes to us first and foremost through the Bible (particularly the New Testament, which describes how to relate to God under the New Covenant) and then through the tradition of the Church. (How's that for sounding Orthodox, Karl?)

Thank you. Thank you for showing that I am not the only one troubled by this.

When I lived in Silicon Valley, I was astounded at how many "Christians" would go to church on Sunday, pray at the Buddhist temple on Tuesday, attend a pagan earth ritual on Friday, and consult their psychic on Saturday.

The Bible says, "My people perish for lack of knowledge," but in these days I think that the word "knowledge" should be replaced with the word "discernment." At the core, I have to wonder if the folks who practice this syncretism actually know the Lord. I tend to believe they do not. What affiliation does Christ have with Belial? None, whatsoever.

We are looking at the beginnings of a worldwide apostate "church" that culls whatever it wants from the major religions and seduces the ignorant. That we in the evangelical church have allowed this to happen in our efforts to not scare away people is to our shame.

"...an adaptation of Roman pagan temple worship."

Not quite. Church architecture is the fulfillment of the Temple in Judaism and has little to do with pagan temples. Check out Orthodox Worship : A Living Continuity With the Temple, the Synagogue, and the Early Church by Benjamin D. Wilson and Harold Anstell for more on this.

"Today, that teaching comes to us first and foremost through the Bible...then through the tradition of the Church."

So why has modern Christianity abandoned the centrality of the Bishop, the sacraments, the Divine Liturgy, incense, prayers to the saints, closed communion, iconography, etc....? Because, as Chris notes, we've substituted the Spirit-filled Tradition for post-Enlightenment "culture"....

The problem, as I've said many times, isn't with contextualization. The Orthodox do it all the time. I think what Chris is getting at is the problem with RE-contextualization--the kind of revisionism and syncretism that isn't consubstantial with the apostolic faith.

"We are looking at the beginnings of a worldwide apostate 'church'...."

No kidding. I highly recommend Fr. Seraphim Rose's "Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future" for more on this.

I think Daniel is hearing me right -- I'm more concerned about where we draw the line than debating whether or not there should even be a line (Hmmmm. That might sound even more unclear!). I see contextualization as an essential component for being incarnational and missional in our ministry efforts. What worries me is if we're using "contextualization" as the proverbial "blank-check", self-righteously validating our syncretisitic activities in the name of contextualization.

Well, anyway... like Chris(tine), my journey has taken me outside of the boundaries which define my community of faith (don't get your hopes up too much, Karl!), but hopefully -- I pray -- not outside the histo-theological tragectory that has united believers throughout the centuries.

Within our current cultural context -- one that places a premium on tolerance, radical egalitarianism, and moral relativism -- I think the Church would be wise to analyze itself. This is sort of (on a macro scale) like the NT's advice that we "examine ourselves, to see if we are in the faith..." If we end up falling short in one way or another, then let's get busy making the necessary changes.

I think that the Church has done this sort of thing in the past. When, for example, "civil government" was oppressively blended with our holy faith -- it was renounced, and renewal followed.

"Church architecture is the fulfillment of the Temple..."

I'm uncomfortable with your use of the word "fulfillment," I think because Christ uses it of himself. As the fulfillment of the Law, I would say that Christ himself is the fulfillment of the Temple...but of course, that's a discussion for another blog, I think.

While you make your point that there are other influences behind today's building-bound ecclesiologly, I think you'll have a hard time justifying that ecclesiology biblically. That's not to say that we shouldn't make use of buildings, only that it's not the biblically mandated way of doing church. You have to admit that NT ecclesiology is pretty vague (though I have a feeling you won't). For example, we know that churches are to be led by people called bishops, elders, pastors, and deacons. We know the criteria (or at least some of the criteria) by which these people are to be selected. But as far as job descriptions for these people, well, I frequently find myself wishing there were a little more detail there.

My point wasn't that Roman pagan temple worship was the sole influencing factor behind the modern practice of worshipping in a building called a church, but to point out that it was a factor, one factor among many. Some of those influences are sacred; some are not. That's contextualization.

DLE has this right:

"I was astounded at how many 'Christians' would go to church on Sunday, pray at the Buddhist temple on Tuesday, attend a pagan earth ritual on Friday, and consult their psychic on Saturday."

That is the end result of the current spate of syncretistic worship. That, and the wonderfully absurd image you chose to illustrate your post -- our glorious Savior linked with a marijuana leaf! The place that is most prone to this addlebrained approach is beliefnet -- what a ghastly bazaar of the bizarre masquerading as religion.

Love all those who seek God, honor all religious traditions, but know you belong to Christ and it is He who has redeemed you.

While I'm not a supporter of syncretism, I think we take the wrong approach far too often ( as with other areas ). Instead of judging or critizing those who practice it, or those who are apart of other religions, we should instead ask why. We are spiritual beings, and maybe these people are looking for God and can't seem to find Him within our christian community.

"I was astounded at how many 'Christians' would go to church on Sunday, pray at the Buddhist temple on Tuesday, attend a pagan earth ritual on Friday, and consult their psychic on Saturday." This is true, but why? Could there be more to it than that its culturally popular? What's the deeper issue here?

I think that Daniel is hinting at the liklihood that syncretism has historically occurred within Christendom in ways perhaps we have generally been blind to until now.

Benjy also makes an important point. Pointing out the syncretistic practices of others is only one facet of the problem. We must also be willing to ask ourselves, "is it possible that something is wrong with how we are practicing our Christian faith that may be leading people to look elsewhere?" We, in fact, may not have a "log" in our own eye -- but we regularly should check and make sure anyway. And when we do check, we might be surprized by what we find. This however should not lead us to minimize or ignore the problem of religious syncretism.

Benjy wrote:
"This is true, but why? Could there be more to it than that its culturally popular? What's the deeper issue here?"

The deeper issue is that the Church has allowed this to happen due to its weak approach toward relativism. People can smell the stench rising out of the rot in our doctrine and so they go looking elsewhere.

There are many out there that have questioned why doctrine matters at all. This is why.

So people claim to be Christians but do not actually ever come to Christ. There is no inner witness imparted. There may be some intellectual assent, but the Spirit is missing. Instead, we fill our churches with these folks and they "dilute" the power of our meetings.

Tolerance has made this possible. Tolerance is what is left when people no longer share a common identity. Our identity in the Church is found in Christ, but if our churches are filled with people who do not share this identity, we are left with no community, but only tolerance. This also sends people looking elsewhere.

The solutions? Relentlessy point to Jesus. Hold fast to what is true. Keep the Bible and throw out the psychology we've foolishly attached to it. Preach about sin and bring people to the cross. Don't ask the Spirit to keep Himself boxed up. Do not tolerate "doctrine creep"--kill it before it guts the Body. Ask for commitment and then hold people to it. Make your common goals clear. Tell people this is what is essential--if they can't buy in, then they can go someplace else because we are not going to change our devotion to Jesus in order to make them feel comfortable. Above all, practice truth with grace. And don't mistake real grace for the cheap variety we have chosen to exalt lately. Real grace is always costly.

You do those things and you'll stand against the waves of syncretism.

"As the fulfillment of the Law, I would say that Christ himself is the fulfillment of the Temple."

Of course. What I was getting at was your assertion that the Church building is an "adaptation" of pagan temples when in fact paganism had little or nothing to do with the Church's architecture or theology of sacred space.

"But as far as job descriptions for these people, well, I frequently find myself wishing there were a little more detail there."

All of this kind of information is contained within the life of the Church Herself. There was no need to explicate on the topic (or on many others) in the NT because it was assumed that those who would read the Epistles would already be experiencing these things sacramentally, liturgically, ascetically, etc.

This is why "contextualization" doesn't make sense coming from those who themselves are "in the dark" (so to speak) on topics of such a fundamental nature. How can one contexualize a truth that one only understands within one context (and one so far removed from the original?)

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