Several years ago I had a strange conversation with a young woman who was in graduate school and finishing her degree in Social Work. The woman became excited when I mentioned I was in seminary and she proceeded to tell me about the Baptist church she was attending. She’d been active in her church for several years and was involved in the choir and occasionally substituted for her Sunday school teacher. The conversation took a confusing turn when she told me she follows her daily horoscope, believing it helps guide her life. Stanger yet, she began talking about how she believes in reincarnation. When I asked her why she believes in reincarnation she said, “Because I believe God is fair and gives people second chances in another life to make up for bad choices in a previous one.” She said all this with a big smile on her face. However, when I politely tried to explain the biblical teaching against astrology and reincarnation, she quickly shut the conversation down, saying, “I believe what I believe.” She then changed the subject and started talking about her work. This woman was engaging in religious syncretism.
Religious syncretism is the blending of the doctrines and practices of two or more religions in order to come up with something new. Religious syncretism has been going on for millennia. Modern day examples include Chrislam, New Age, Christian Science, and the Interfaith Movement. A biblical example that dates to about 1100 B.C. is found in Judges 17 where an Israelite named Micah blended the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites with the worship of Yahweh. The culmination was a monstrous self-serving religion that fostered spiritual anarchy among God’s people (see Judges 18). In Judges 17 Micah is introduced as a son who stole a great amount of wealth from his mother. He returned the wealth fearing the curse she’d uttered on the thief, and his mother subsequently blessed him the name of Yahweh (Judg. 17:1-2). The historical account gets bizarre when Micah’s mother—in the name of Yahweh—used some of her wealth (silver) to create a molten image and graven image, which she gave to her son (Judg. 17:3-4). Micah took the images from his mother and put them in his shrine and made an ephod (either to be used during worship, or as an object of worship; see Judg. 8:24-27). He added several small household idols (teraphim) and then ordained his son to be the family priest (Judg. 17:5). Micah’s house was a type of Israel during the period of the Judges, in which “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6), and all of this was against God’s instruction for Israel (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15). Micah then welcomed a wandering Levite (Judg. 17:7-10), whom he consecrated to serve as his family priest (Judg. 17:11-12). This was contrary to Scripture, for only descendants of Aaron could serve as priests, whereas Levites were to serve as priestly assistants (Num. 8:19; 18:1-7). Micah falsely believed that by having a Levitical priest as the leader of his new religion that he would also have God’s blessing (Judg. 17:13). This would later prove untrue (see Judges chapter 18).
God’s revelation in the Bible makes it clear that there is no room for religious syncretism (Exodus 20:4-5; Deut. 27:15; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Phil. 1:27), and Christians should be mindful to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Christianity is built on certain theological essentials from which Christians cannot depart. There is room for love and grace when disagreeing on secondary doctrinal matters. There will always be false teachers who will deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, His death, burial, and bodily resurrection, and His second coming. Only those who are advancing toward spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word will find protection against false teachers (Deut. 13:1-4; 18:18-22; Acts 20:28-30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 2:2). Those who fail to grow spiritually will find themselves vulnerable to all sorts of pagan concepts.
Steven R. Cook, M.Div.