In Jesus Alone…or Nothing
Do you ever wonder why some Christians speak strongly against things the culture defines as benign? Thousands of people do yoga of all varieties, for example, and think very little of it. It is even showing up in many churches. Yet, there are many Christians who strongly decry yoga. They would never willingly participate in it much less offer it in church. Why such a strong position on what many think is just a bit of healthy stretching? Why is there such a divide even within the church?
The short answer is purity. The teachings of Christianity are much like precious metals. They only remain valuable if they are not diluted by the ideas of the world. Cultures regularly borrow from each other and grow as a result. The teachings of Christianity are not something men came up with, though. They are directly from God. Therefore, when we add anything to them, we are messing with the work of God Himself. What can any man add to the wisdom of God? The results run from confusing to dangerous when we try to modernize or assimilate God’s law. Anything else blended into Christianity results in it not being Jesus’ Christianity.
Jesus Plus Anything is not Jesus
The country of Liberia struggled through a terrible civil war recently. It was particularly violent and featured some of the most heinous acts of cruelty one can imagine. War crimes of the worst varieties were common. Voodoo and witchcraft were often used by both sides. A well-known picture shows a teenager militiaman firing a rifle while in a pink tutu and slippers. A shaman told the young soldiers they were immune from bullets if they wore women’s clothing and did other horrific things. Survival was only guaranteed through magic and sorcery. It was a country descended into madness. Thousands were murdered by both sides of the conflict.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect about this war was not the brutality. Man has killed man since Cain and Able, often in terrible ways. Rather, it is over 85 percent of the population of Liberia called themselves Christian. They murdered each other and called themselves followers of Jesus. They committed despicable acts while dressed as a ballerina and said they worshipped God…and they themselves did not see the horrible conflict involved in the claims. They are not alone in history in such terrible acts while claiming Christ.
Germany was the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. It was the home of the Lutheran Church. The majority of the population claimed Christianity as their religion. In 1517 Luther brought the pure Gospel of Jesus back into common understanding in Germany. Within 400 years the same country systematically murdered millions under Hitler and the Nazi’s. While the Nazi leadership certainly were not Christians, the status of the rank and file citizen is less clear. Christian men like Pastor Martin Niemoller enthusiastically supported the German state led by madmen. He wrote this famous statement:
This scenario occurs with regularity throughout history.
How does this make sense? How does this happen? How do some Christian populations descend so quickly into acts the Lord would find abhorrent? One need only understand the effect of syncretism, mixing of faiths and cultures, to see how this fall takes place. We can also see how this danger lurks in our culture today.
No Other God’s before Me
Syncretism is not the total abandonment of a faith. It is way more insidious and dangerous. It is taking aspects of a different faith and merging it into another. Christianity is the faith about following Jesus. Syncretism is overwriting the beliefs of other faiths or cultures onto this practice. The intent may not be to create something new. It may be simply to adapt to the culture. But it is impossible to mix anything with Jesus and not create something new and unholy. Adding anything to the life and teachings of Jesus and Biblical truth simply creates heresy. It may retain Christian teaching and titles, but it is not the faith of the Apostles.
Jesus plus anything is not the real Jesus. We cannot create a new without abandoning the old. God does not take idolatry lightly. Read more Here. Are We Serving an Idol?
The creation of a new faith with Christian trappings can be seen very clearly in the case of Liberia. There was a strong Christian history in the country. The nation identified as Christian. Yet, there was also a strong tribal and cultural connection with animism. This is the traditional tribal religion of the area. It involved the worship of ancestors and spirits of nature. Similar to the pagan practices of the Bible, fertility, and prosperity were achieved through offerings to local and family idols. Success and failure tied into how the spirits responded. The culture never totally departed from the practices. They were a lot like the Jewish people of the Old Testament. By day they worshipped Yahweh and by night they went to their high places and sacrificed to Baal and Molech.
Christianity was embraced but their traditional religions were never renounced completely. Witchcraft and sorcery were accepted alongside Christianity. They eventually mixed together to form a belief system very different than that of the Bible. It could on one hand claim to follow Christ, but on the other revere the bush spirits and accept the shaman as a holy man. This is the heart of syncretism. There should be a clear and stark difference between the darkness of shamanism and the light of Christ. The culture failed to make a choice and tried to accept both. This is not how it works with Jesus. It is either all Him or no Him. Mixing together other religions with that of Christ results in loss of Jesus.
God does not share space with anyone. When the Liberians created a new religion of their own making, it had none of the power and direction of the Lord. It was just a cultural creation reflecting the choices of people. A system of rules created by man is easy to ignore. God isn’t in it. His power does not support it. Man takes it lightly.
A similar problem developed with Germany in the post-World War 1 years. The church was intertwined with the state from the time shortly after Martin Luther onward. Nationalism and politics were mixed together with Christianity in the minds of Germans. The health and pride of Germany were made interchangeable with the state of the Christian. The Kaiser was the head of both the nation and the Church. Serving Germany meant serving Jesus in their minds. This blending was so complete that when the German state was beaten and struggling in World War 1, Christians lashed out at everything they saw as responsible. Jews, Communists and even other Christians were targeted because they threatened the greatness of “Christian Germany”. Jesus had nothing to do with their viewpoints, but this did not matter as they weren’t really following Him anyway. The results were more horrifying than those of Liberia.
Civil wars are not breaking out in New York City. Everyone who has a rational thought in their mind understands the Nazi’s were evil and should not be emulated. So why is syncretism a danger to the modern world? Why is the church struggling with exactly this issue?
The reason is the result of syncretism is just as poisonous with less extreme examples in everyday life. Wherever we add anything to the teaching of Jesus and our devotion to Him, we take away from Jesus. The teachers of the Prosperity Gospel only make a slight modification to the Biblical Jesus, for example. Whereas the real Jesus did not have a place to lay His head and says we should expect to suffer, they claim Jesus wants us wealthy. We need enough faith to claim it. We are little gods who can speak things into existence. It seems like a small alteration, but the results are dramatic. We end up with a Gospel that is really about us, serving our flesh and treating God like a genie to be ordered around by His creations. The true Jesus centered Christianity of Paul and the Apostles dies in the churches of the Prosperity Gospel.
The same influences are present with such things as mindfulness, Yoga, positive thinking and other New Age influenced trends. While they may not seem bad on the surface, they each represent spiritual practices of other faiths attempting to displace Christianity in our lives. They each infringe on areas where it is only Jesus who is meant to lead. “The Force” of Star Wars may appear like a benign fictional Sci-fi idea, but it is the faith of millions of Hindus repackaged to be more tolerable to the Western World. A similar attempt to tap into the mysterious powers present in the world and in us runs through all of these popular and attractive fads.
You Shall Have No Other gods before Me
This is not a statement of ranking. When the Lord says to His people they shall have no other gods before Him, the King of the universe does not think He is about to be replaced on the Throne. Rather, God does not want any other gods, idols, in His sight. We approach the King on His throne on a regular basis. God directs us to not drag the false gods of the world along with us when we do. They are empty, evil and ultimately seek to destroy us. “Get that out of my sight”, says the Lord. Our choice when this happens is whether we are willing to let that idol go or be dragged away from the presence of God with it. The Liberians or Germans so loved their idols when God commanded them removed from His presences, the people chose to depart with them. The end results in both cases speak to the wisdom of the decision. Satan only seeks to steal, kill and destroy.
Is your faith in Jesus pure today? Are you mixing anything into your Christianity that does not belong there? Is God telling you to get your idols of nationalism, politics, New Age spiritualism or otherwise out of His presence?
The choice is yours today what to do next. Jesus is calling you to follow after Him and Him alone. Come to Him or follow your idol.
What choice will you make?