Five Sources of Negative Cultural Syncretism in Christianity

Syncretism is the blending of different religions into something that isn’t really any of its original components. Some people call this a la carte religion. You pick a little of this and a little of that until you come up with something that agrees with your sensibilities.

As secularism and secular-humanism is on the rise in the West it is important that we understand how these forces affect our faith and congregational life. It is not all negative but it can be negative. We should acknowledge both. This post will focus on the negative aspects of this and a future post will focus on the positive.

1 – Consumerism.
Secularism and post-modernism put the individual in the center. When you are the center of your universe then it only makes sense that things should be to your liking. Congregational life, life in Christ, is not set up in a way that is agreeable to this so you have tension. What I have seen in several cases (if not many) is that culture wins this one. People “go to church” to get things their way just like they do in every other areas of their lives. Many churches are nearly run by the complainers that at its root comes out of secularism, not Christianity. This expresses itself in the idea of giving and the minister doing the ministry. The congregation becomes a location for the exchange of religious goods and services rather than a cruciforum community where submission to Christ and sacrifice are common place and even expected.

2 – An unhealthy sexual ethic. If this is all there is and secularism is true then hedonism would make sense to some people. But this is more than just pleasure, this is about identity. As Christians, our identity comes in and through Christ. We see this crop up in many forms but probably the most common is the complete lack of accountability in many congregations. There may be people on the praise team or a Bible class teacher who everyone knows is having an affair. No one says a word. It is just too sensitive or we just don’t want to know. This does harm to everyone, including the one engaged in the sin. This is very culturally driven rather than Spirit/scripture driven.

3 – Corporate mindset. This is most easily seen in two places: 1) what we count and 2) how leaders lead. If you count attendance and contribution and base success on if those go up or down your congregation has this mindset. If the leaders conflate leadership with decision making rather than shepherding then you probably have this cultural influence getting its say rather than what the scriptures say about what it means to be a leader.

4 – The cult of personality. Some churches rise and fall on the success of a single individual. Unless that individual is Jesus, this is also culturally conditioned. I try to have as little personality as possible just to avoid this from the start!

5 – Busyness. There can certainly be Christian busyness but I don’t see it very often. Busyness is secular by nature because the people of God should be people who know how to rest, be still and trust God. Once we understand busyness for what it is, we can begin setting things aside to make more room for God, spiritual practices/disciplines, and our neighbors.

What would you add or subtract?

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