of the Holy Spirit
HOLY SPIRIT AND WORLD MISSION
will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be
my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the
ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
coming of the Holy Spirit was the key to the expansion of the
Christian church and the demonstration of His life-transforming work.
in the NT resulted in great numbers of people turning to the Lord and
the visitation of the Holy Spirit (eg Samaria, Acts 8). This
preaching was not carried out by “professionals”, but
ordinary men and women who “proclaimed Christ” (Acts
8:15). The ministry of the Gospel in Samaria was Christ-centred,
with the conviction that the coming of the Holy Spirit was one of the
mighty acts of God, not human agency or traditions.
early Christians usually had limited wealth, no national support,
stately buildings, or media; yet they experienced the fullness of the
Holy Spirit in their preaching, church life, ministry to others and
testimony, even before hostile rulers.
revivals have been characterized by increased missionary outreach,
well known “Moravian” movement in Europe in the 1700s
was launched after an, “intense and powerful experience of
renewal, often described as the "Moravian Pentecost."
During a communion service at Berthelsdorf, Germany, the
congregation felt a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, felt their
previous differences swept away and were drawn into a prayer
movement that lasted over one hundred years. This experience began
the Moravian renewal, and
led to the beginning of the Protestant World Mission
John and Charles Wesley were converted to Christ through their
contact with the Moravians.
Pentecostal movement has been a missionary movement. C Peter
Wagner, a former evangelical missionary in Bolivia, discovered this
early in his ministry in Latin America and wrote on the subject,
Out- The Pentecostals are Coming”.
14 of the Lausanne Covenant (1974) (most evangelical denominations
are signatories) states:
believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Father sent His Spirit
to bear witness to His Son; without his witness ours is futile.
Conviction of sin, faith in Christ, new birth, and Christian growth
are all His work. Further, the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit;
thus evangelism should arise spontaneously from a Spirit-filled
church. A church that is not a missionary church is contradicting
itself and quenching the Spirit. Worldwide evangelism will become a
realistic possibility only when the Spirit renews the church in truth
and wisdom, faith, holiness, love and power. We therefore call upon
all Christians to pray for such a visitation of the Spirit of God
that all of His fruit may appear in all of His people, and that all
of His gifts may enrich the Body of Christ. Only then will the whole
church become a fit instrument in His hands, that the whole earth may
hear His voice.”
4 of 25
Holy Spirit still gives gifts to members of the Body of Christ for
the purpose of building up the Body and reaching out to the world.
ministry, or service (including service to the Christian community
gifts, eg prophecy, word of knowledge
“Barrier” of Culture
what is culture
Holy Spirit prepares us for mission in different cultures to people
of other faiths and ideologies by:
us “aware” of the spiritual need of the world around us
and empowering us for faithful witness
us keys to reach into those unique cultures
us to make the break from the limits of our own culture (including
denominational traditions) and empathize with others
hearers to hear and receive the Gospel.
filled with the Holy Spirit will respond joyfully, faithfully,
eagerly to the evangelization of the unreached peoples of the world.
do our Christian communities currently measure up against this
New Testament Pattern
Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people
believed and turned to the Lord” – Acts 11:21.
New Testament shows us:
the Spirit empowered Christians to take the Gospel to the world -
Acts 1:8, etc, etc.
first sermon was preached by Peter under the Spirit’s
anointing – Acts 2
was at the direction of the Holy Spirit that Peter’s cultural
mores were broken down and he went the house of Cornelius –
was the gift of the Spirit that came on Cornelius and his household
that convinced Peter of the validity of his mission to the Gentiles
– Acts 11:15-18
Holy Spirit’s call was responsible for the church at Antioch
sending out Paul and Barnabas on their first Missionary Journey –
empowered them to perform signs and wonders resulting in the
salvation of souls – Acts 13:4-12
description of these signs and wonders led the Jerusalem Council to
a new openness toward Gentile converts – Acts 15
Holy Spirit gave specific direction and restraint to the New
Testament apostles (lit. “sent ones” = missionaries)
5 of 25
Holy Spirit has a direct role in mission in the following ways:
prepares peoples’ hearts for the Word of God- John 16:8; He
brings them to an inescapable sense of guilt so that they seek the
forgiveness Christ offers
calls out and sets apart individuals for the task of mission. While
all Christians are “missionaries”, nevertheless the Holy
Spirit calls some for specific tasks – Acts 13:2. The sense
of the call” of God is a significant factor in raising up
empowers believers as witnesses through the baptism in the Holy
Spirit- Acts 1:8
equips believers through supernatural “gifts”, in order
to further the work of mission as a demonstration of “power”-
1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
accompanies the declaration of the Gospel with manifest
demonstrations of His power – 1 Corinthians 2:4. healings,
deliverances, other signs and wonders convince men to let their
faith rest on God’s power, not men’s’ wisdom
gives specific direction for believers in the spread of the Gospel,
eg led Philip out of Samaria to the road to Gaza to meet the
Ethiopian Eunuch – Acts 8
The Holy Spirit is Our Key to Effectiveness
world today is in need of a great spiritual awakening on the part of
the Christian church.
the West much of the organised church is beset by
ecumenism that embraces non-Christian faiths
in large parts of Africa, China and South America (to name a few)
there is great growth, much of which goes unreported by the media
(and trends to be under-reported by conservative Christianity).
is moving, by His Spirit, just as Joel and others prophesied. It is
imperative that we be actively involved in that move.
closed the Revelation with the invitation: “Come”. It is
given by the Spirit and the bride – Revelation 22:17. How
refreshing to hear the Spirit and the Church speaking with one voice!
This is how revival is maintained and touches the world. When the
Holy Spirit’s concerns are ours, His life will flow through us.
Souls will be gathered in. Our community will be ablaze with the
light that shines from Spirit-filled lives. The Word of God will
grow mightily and prevail and the world will come to know Jesus
6 of 25
Impact of Culture
work of the Holy Spirit crosses people of all cultures, with the aim
of bringing them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Christians live and operate within many different cultural milieux.
means that expressions of the Christian message, the value of
tradition and the shape of the church, even many of its operational
values, vary from one culture to another. What often results is a
mix of Biblical teaching, wrapped in conventions and changed to suit
individuals, with elements rusted on that have nothing to do with the
Gospel, and can help or hinder proclamation and acceptance of the
cultures define us more than we realise. We need to be aware of what
cultural changes that impact us mean in practice and know how to
bridge divides effectively and communicate Christ cross-culturally.
is the way we are, how we live, what we share with other people, what
makes “our” group/s distinct. (Many of us belong to
of the nature of government and how society should function
nature of family/kinship and other relationships
systems and segmentation
of the stages of life
“Culture” of Contemporary Christianity
church has a “culture”. However, is it “culturally
idea of organised "church" turns many people off the
Christian message because they (naturally) focus on external forms,
ie what they see.
The challenge to Christian leaders and congregations alike is to be
"in touch" with the world at large and positioned to share
the message of eternal life from the perspective of those who have
"experienced" Jesus Christ in their lives. Christian
"ministry" (or "service") must reflect this
“World View” in a Theological Context
culture has meanings against which everything else is assessed and
views” include peoples’ perceptions of what is “real”.
These involve systems of belief, values and behaviours, and impact
how men and women interpret the world and interact with it. We can
talk about an “Islamic world view”, a “Marxist
world view”, or an “Australian Aboriginal world view”.
people cross from one world view to another, in a way that
re-positions their thinking, we call this a “paradigm shift”.
difference between a scientific approach to world view and the Gospel
is that Biblical paradigm shifts only occur in the human heart as a
result of supernatural revelation. This is the work of the Holy
the implications of 1 Corinthians Chapter 2. Or the man healed by
Jesus in John 9 “Once I was blind, but now I see”.
Saving faith is not subjective; it requires divine intervention (cf
Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about being “born
again” in John 3).
need to understand the world view of those we meet, their “drivers”;
otherwise we will never be able to build a bridge between us and
them. This involves adapting the message, but not its truth. For
teaching the early disciples about “fishing” for people
speaking to the Samaritan woman about water and places of worship
quoting the Old Testament to Jewish audiences
quoting pagan writers to the Athenians
describing adoption to the Romans
describing Roman military outfits to the Ephesian church
writer of Hebrews describing the Old Testament law, the priesthood
and the offerings to struggling Jewish Christians
Church Has Historically Undergone Continuous Cultural Change
versus Gentile Culture in the New Testament
Jesus’ day, there was not a unified “Jewish culture”.
talks about three main schools of Judaism: the Pharisees, the
Sadducees and the Essenes (each of which had theological
other sources we know of as many as 20 additional variations. Jesus
encountered ethnic Jews, Samaritans, Hellenic Jews and non-Jews,
Roman administrators and soldiers, Arabs. On the Day of Pentecost:
were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under
heaven. Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia,
Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt
and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and
converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:5, 9-11)
earliest Christians had different cultures. Look at the book of
Acts, which is our earliest internal record of the history of the
of Jesus Christ were not called Christians until quite a bit down the
road, in the context of the Hellenistic city of Antioch. Until then,
the name that was used was a descriptive term: “the people of
the Way” or “the Nazarenes.”
Paul’s letters and the book of Acts an assumption is made that
the audience is predominantly made up of Gentiles, some of whom
started out as participants in Jewish culture. For example, when
Paul visited Philippi, he went out on the Sabbath (the traditional
day of rest and worship) to a place where people would be gathering
for prayer (the small number of Jewish men in Philippi meant there
was not a synagogue in the city).
Philippians were meeting on the Jewish holy day; praying to the
Jewish God, reading the Jewish Scriptures; and yet many of them were
Gentiles (consider also the story of the Gentile Cornelius in Acts
10). These followers of Paul followed the rhythms of Jewish life;
they were sometimes referred to as “God-fearers”. They
were familiar with the Jewish calendar and were clearly deriving some
sort of meaning out of observing these days. No wonder some
observers took the Christian movement to be a sub-group of Judaism.
of the greatest challenges facing Paul and others in leadership in
the New Testament church was “Judaisers”, who insisted
people accept Moses and become Jews ritually (including submitting to
the rite of circumcision)as part of their conversion to Jesus Christ.
Paul rejected the connection; it even led to an argument with the
Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was
clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to
eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back
and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those
who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in
his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led
astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth
of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a
Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then,
that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by
birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by
observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have
put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in
Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no
one will be justified”. (Galatians 2:11-16)
of the Gentile church today still use models from Judaism/Jerusalem
2:44-46 is often quoted as the norm for Christian relationships, but
these patterns (eg shared living) were generally not adopted by
non-Jewish Christians. The latter were Christians in their own
have inherited the notion that God dwells in particular buildings,
and sanctify those buildings. We use terms such as “the House
of God”, or “the presence of God”, in inaccurate
worn by priests is redolent of the Old Testament priesthood.
notion that priests stand between people and God, to intercede, is
widespread but is not Biblical teaching.
between professional clergy and the rest of the Body of Christ is not
Biblical. It ends up excluding most Christians from service.
is important not to become too legalistic about applying one cultural
more to another.
of the major splits in the Christian movement have resulted from
rejection of the legalistic application of old cultures not supported
by the Gospel.
are some absolutes. In Acts 15 these centred on matters of morality
and worship. In recent church history they have included differences
such as plural marriages in indigenous settings, such as Papua New
Cultural Changes in the New Millennium
trends influence the world-wide Body of Christ in the new millennium.
population trend data
historical and predicted populations (in millions
Dr. Todd Johnson, Director,
for the Study of Global Christianity
at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
average Christian family in 1907 can be represented by a European
family with a few children. Children went to Sunday School. Today,
the average Christian family is much more likely to be African or
Latin American, with more children.
emerging from Bible colleges in the West today are facing age gaps of
sometimes 50 years with their congregants or colleagues, becoming
mired in disempowering governance procedures, and not having their
ideas taken seriously. In addition, fewer young people choose to
enter the ministry as a profession—presenting another challenge
to the church. Young people easily drift away from church.
is the way we live. The Christian message is not meant to be
confined to buildings, creeds, programs or denominations. The Gospel
is relevant to every generation. Jesus is above culture; He
transcends it. Instead of changing Him into our likeness, He
transforms us into His own image, by the Holy Spirit He has given us.
in the way, but Christ came into human culture and sends us our into
the world to share His eternal message and love.
are now found in thirty-nine thousand denominations. These range in
size from millions of members to less than one hundred members and
are listed for each of the world’s 238 countries in the World
By 2025, there will likely be fifty-five thousand denominations.
The vast majority of these denominations will be Protestant and
Independent, forming the core of global evangelicalism.
church in the West is declining in a secular environment. In
countries it is growing.
to Roland Croucher, five trends have significantly impacted the
Western church: individualism, privatism, pluralism, relativism,
tease them out a little.
– people less engaged with one another (also evident in
politics and public affairs, civic clubs and community
organizations, work-related organizations, social clubs – a
generational issue; while new religious organizations have emerged
in recent years, they have been less connected to the wider
community than older denominations). The privatized, "feel-good"
religion of recent church history is not only inadequate for the
modern age, but a corruption of the church’s faith. The
faithful church is a culture that embodies the communal stories of
Jesus, forming the character of individuals who are part of a
– there are many ways to God; through immigration and an
expanded interest in diverse traditions, Australia has experienced
an influx and expansion of religious traditions, a religiously
diverse nation. Hindu and Buddhist temples, Sikh gurdwaras, and
Muslim mosques sit alongside Christian churches and Jewish
Moynagh (a British Anglican) says the church must realise it now
operates in a different 'It Must Fit Me' world.
We are moving from an off-the-peg to a tailor-made world.
Post-modern values include the rejection of hierarchy, suspicion of
institutions and strong emphasis on personal choice: so a different
approach is needed - one that is more sensitive to the differences
between people. No longer does tradition, 'the way we do things
around here', guide people's behaviour and outlook. We must reach
out to people on their terms/turf, rather than expecting them to come
to us on ours.
Today, people want a challenging, fulfilling, interesting job: when
work was drudgery people sought fulfilment somewhere else. The
notion of 'parish' is based on geographical neighbourhood, but people
now get together in common-interest groups (e.g. on the Internet).
'Church on Sundays' is being supplemented by
'Looking good' in a consumer culture boosts self-esteem more than the
unconditional love of an invisible God. The growing groups of
divorced, singles, people who cohabit feel alienated from churches.
Today's songs are less 'theologically objective', more about
individual themes; preaching is more life-related, less declamatory.
Church planting is an effective strategy - provided the plants are
designed for their target-audience, rather than clones of the sending
church. 'Seeker services' (à la Willow Creek) attempt to be
culturally relevant: but people are suspicious of organisations
trying to sell them things.
Today we can't avoid global issues: more power in fewer hands; the
growing gap between rich and poor; people feeling they're simply
pawns in a world where bottom-line economics rules (and today we
would add: global nervousness about the dangers of terrorism).
Alpha Courses are successful partly because they're organised by
local churches to fit their particular circumstances. Also people
eat together (parties are one of the icons of our age), and the
emphasis is on building community (rather than its simply being a
sales pitch). There's now a 'Y' course for those not ready for Alpha
- people who don't know the difference between an epistle and an
Young people live in an MTV world where images foster intuitive
rather than rational modes of thought, impressions rather than logic,
thinking in parallel rather than in sequence, pictures rather than
Why is London's Kensington Temple church so popular? Partly because
they get in touch with people new to London ('Would you like some
Filippino food and meet other people from home...?').
People abandon “church”, but not groups (½ a
million 'support' groups in the US).
Prayer-visitation ministries are working in some British churches. A
letter is sent to all the people in a street, with an offer for a
couple from the church to come and pray, unless they say they would
prefer not. One church in Rochester aims to visit every home in its
area over three years. Moderns apparently don't mind
no-strings-attached prayer! And city-wide prayer networks are
Why does Vineyard-type worship attract so many? It's 'laid-back'.
Mentoring/coaching is big these days: after-school clubs to help kids
with their homework; courses on parenting, computer skills, stress
is this all compromising our biblical faith? Not at all: the
apostles' strategy was to go to people and form the church around
and Morality Trends
and morality issues have come to affect the church, including in the
level of marriage collapse and divorce, including among Christians
of homosexuality in the church, including the ministry
relativism (ie “anything goes, as long as it feels OK”)
radical types of feminism
role of women in the church beyond reproduction and care taking has
become more widespread, but not without major division about how to
interpret the Scriptures on the matter.
of our cultural trends are far from God’s will for married life
Scientific and Ethical Trends
current issues do not have ready answers in Biblical text. Take, for
family planning and assisted reproductive technology
transplant technology, including animal to human
suggestion that the physical sciences are the only way to understand
the world) and positivism
belief that the scientific method replaces faith) have closed
people's minds to the power and perception of the spiritual realm.
the philosophical and cultural successor of modernism, has undermined
the certainty of science and other belief structures. It seeks to
discredit religious faith as truth.
has coined the word McChurch. McDonalds is well known for mass
producing fast food in a generic way, aimed at younger people, often
attracting children because of give-aways (toys) and colourful
advertising. Customers landing in any city in the world where
McDonalds has outlets can generally predict what the menu will look
like, what the food and coffee will taste like, the physical lay-out
and the broad price range.
are many temptations in the West for churches to adopt the McDonalds
franchise approach. Why have individuality when the shape and
content of the burger can be prescribed and all you need to do is
smile and offer a fast food approach to spirituality. Just don’t
hang around for depth.
Western church today is positioned in a society where practices that
are inimical to the Gospel are entrenched in law. These include:
recognition of de
recognition of homosexuality – and the impact this has on
churches, eg employment laws
support (and funding) for abortion and euthanasia
for adoption by same-sex couples, undermining the role of the family
decisions against churches proclaiming the Gospel in a pluralistic
society (anti-vilification laws)
of (and hostility towards) Christians values in the education sphere
of Christian counselling through new privacy and disclosure rules
positions on death penalty
of human rights
are increasingly being involved in social justice issues (however
this often gets caught up in “right” versus “left”
marginal sections of the church have promoted “theonomy. This
term has been used to describe various views which see God revealed
in the Bible
as the sole source of human ethics.
The ethical perspective of Christian Reconstructionism is a view
that claims to be a faithful revival of the historic Protestant view
of the Old
as espoused by many European
Reformers and Puritans.
American John Rushdoony
was a Calvinist
and is widely credited as the father of Christian
and an inspiration for the modern Christian
writings have exerted considerable influence on the Christian
conversion of Constantine in 312 marked a radical change in the
State’s perception of Christianity. In 313 he issued the
"Edict of Milan," which commanded official toleration of
Christianity and other religions. He ordered that Sunday be granted
the same legal rights as pagan feasts and that feasts in memory of
Christian martyrs be recognized. Constantine's program was one of
toleration and he continued to support both Christianity and
314, the cross appeared on Constantine's coins, but so did the
figures of Sol
Constantine raised his children as Christians and employed Christian
clergy as advisors, but retained the title pontifex
the chief priest of the state cult, until his death. In 380 Emperor
Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the empire.
then Christianity has had a major impact on Western culture, but the
more the message adapts to the culture the more it disappears, until
we are Christian in name only.
with Collocated Belief Systems
has led to secular governments having to deal with substantial
religious differences. Sometimes such differences lead to clashes.
While official policies about social harmonisation and security in
the West are often articulated on relevant government websites,
community experiences, views and practice are not as easily
distilled, leading to disconnects in available information and
analysis. The impact of policies and community programs around
inter-faith dialogue (and related cross-cultural understanding) is
not fully understood.
views change. Commerce has impacted cultural diversity enormously.
Internet and beyond (eg in terms of mission, Christian education,
pastoral care, and fellowship)
dilemmas inherent in new technologies
rising popularity of spirituality
challenge for Christians and Christian communities to remain
dynamic, relevant and flourishing
the Good News Cross-Culturally
Pastor Allan Davis
who are sharing the Gospel today must keep sending it to new
addresses. The recipients are constantly changing their location and
no one is forwarding the mail.
is important that Christians understand how culture works if they are
to successfully present the Gospel in a pluralistic society. This
article explores the issue in some depth. The reader is encouraged
to consider carefully how the elements are inter-woven, in order to
communicate Christ cross-culturally (and keep up with changes in
culture in order to remain relevant and appealing).
film, “The Gods Must Be Crazy”
(written and directed by South African Jamie
was a hit movie
in the 1980s.
It told the story of a Kalahari Bushman named Xixo, whose tribe had
no prior contact with the outside world. One day the pilot of a
small plane passing overhead discarded a Coca Cola bottle, which
landed near Xixo’s family. At first the bottle, perceived as a
gift from the gods, was gratefully received and put to innovative
uses in daily village life. Eventually, competition over control and
ownership (a new concept in the community) of the bottle caused
division and Xixo decided that the only remedy was to take the
“thing” to the edge of the world and return it to the
gods. (The elders concluded the gods must have been crazy to bestow
this gift on the clan in the first place.)
his journey Xixo met members of Western civilization for the first
time. One was a scientist, another a teacher, and others still
members of a militant group fleeing after an aborted coup attempt in
a neighbouring country. As the story unfolded and the characters
collided in unusual circumstances, the film presented a fascinating
and funny interpretation of differences
in cultures. Xixo
eventually reached an escarpment where the countryside below was
obscured by a solid layer of low-lying clouds. He believed this was
the edge of the world and threw the bottle over the side before
returning home to his relieved family.
first saw “The Gods Must Be Crazy” on a British Airways
flight from London to New York. It was the only time I ever observed
rows of suited British businessmen laughing uproariously at an
in-flight movie. The film has a powerful sub-plot and continues to
have appeal to audiences around the world. It was recently
re-released in DVD format and had high sales. One reason for its
popularity is that it demonstrates graphically how cultural
assumptions and misunderstandings between people can lead to major
differences, with consequences that can be either amusing or
disastrous for those involved.
who desire to be relevant and touch the world for Christ need to
understand the role of culture in informing what people believe, how
they build and live out their existence and how they relate to one
is the way we think, structure society, understand the world around
us, interpret events, establish relationships, determine mores (norms
for behaviour), provide and use shelter and act (eg dance, eat,
dress, marry, work). Culture is not isolated. it is shared with
Culture unifies individuals through common experiences. People
generally learn culture by growing up in a society, through language,
watching and imitating others. This is known as “enculturation”.
society has a culture, reflected in its art, literature, music,
beliefs, customs, institutions, inventions, language, technology, and
values. “Popular” culture includes arts and
entertainment expressed via such media as television, radio, sound
recordings, advertising, sports, hobbies, fads, and fashions.
Culture is also demonstrated symbiologically, by the use of religious
symbols, national emblems, war stories, slogans and flags.
(as a policy of government) recognizes that distinct cultures can be
collocated. It encourages diversity where this is the case.
Multiculturalism works best in a society with different ethnic groups
and a political system that promotes freedom of expression and
awareness of differences. Ethnic groups bring variety and richness
by introducing exogenous (external) ideas and customs. However,
ethnic groups that keep their values and traditions can also threaten
national unity. Many people feel confused and uneasy when they deal
with people of “other” cultures.
is an attitude that one's culture is central, that it is the best.
It contributes to nationalistic militarism (remember the stories of
“ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the early 1990s). The
opposite view is “cultural relativism”, which contends
that no culture should be judged by the standards of others. This
approach can be carried to extremes, such as promoting universal
morality (or amorality) and rules that allow infanticide, genocide,
cannibalism and torture.
can be local or national. Australian culture has been influenced by:
the original inhabitants (as reflected in many place names); the
settlement experience (convicts and free settlers); shared
ancestries; common experiences in war and sport; national values
(egalitarianism, “fairness”, mateship); religious values
(particularly our “Judeo-Christian heritage”); and
and religious expression
has been a supreme source of inspiration in the arts. Some of the
most beautiful buildings in the world are houses of worship. A lot
of the greatest music is religious. Religious stories have provided
countless subjects for paintings, sculptures, literature, dance, and
films. The Christian music industry is an under-reported
multi-billion dollar sector in every major Western economy.
people follow specific religions because of heritage, tribe, or
family. Judaism and Christianity have been major influences in the
formation of Western culture. The cultures of Asia have been shaped
by Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and Daoism. Most
extant religions have been influenced by older ones.
commemorate historical events. The Jewish Passover ritual recalls
the meal the Israelites ate before their departure from slavery in
Egypt. Christian celebrations of Communion (an echo of the Passover)
are related to the last meal that Jesus shared with His disciples
before His death. Hindu rituals reflect ancient stories. Rituals
mark important life events, such as ceremonies making sacred events
out of birth, marriage and death. Rites of passage (from one stage
of life to another, such as puberty) serve to transition young people
into the religion and society. In Judaism, circumcision is performed
on baby boys. Some Christians “baptize” babies soon
after birth; others baptize only teenagers or adults. Traditional
Aboriginal circumcision signalled passage to manhood.
cultures are “closed”, not allowing outsiders into the
group, even through marriage, and ostracizing those who change their
religious affiliation – unless the whole group does so. (The
notion of “people movements”, entire groups coming to
Christ, has existed since the days of the early church).
people fear cultural change
is never static. It is dynamic and constantly changing. Some people
fear and oppose change. One effect of change can be the substitution
of a culture for another (such as using the vernacular instead of
Latin in Roman Catholic liturgy); loss of culture (eg young Catholics
not using the rosary, or young Muslims not praying 5 times a day),
incremental culture (additions to traditional forms) through
television, food franchises and the Internet and fusion of new
cultures on what already exists, and consequent loss of value
systems, through the atrophying of language or oral traditions. Let
me give an example. Roman Catholic churches in Australia were
recently reproved for using gluten-free bread in masses (introduced
to serve people with gluten intolerance), because the change was
considered by the Vatican to be inconsistent with long-held protocols
about trans-substantiation. The changes had nothing to do with
Biblical truths, but those who feared change moved against it with
need to understand the nature of culture if we are to appreciate the
nuances of religious systems and how to reach people with the Gospel.
This includes the historical role of the caste system in Hinduism;
the influence of the “land” in defining Judaism; Islam as
a total culture for those within its fold; the role of “the
Dreaming” in Aboriginal identity and self-determination; the
influence of Irish Catholicism in the Australian Labor Party and the
impact of our economic and business priorities on editorial value in
the print and electronic media.
far are we prepared to tolerate pluralism? People I meet tell me
they are tolerant but would object to a mosque with a 20 metre
minaret being built in their street. Others have issues working with
Sikhs' wearing turbans in government departments; being surrounded by
people speaking another language; being served by Muslim women
wearing the hijab,
and dealing with people of other faiths who take work breaks for
prayer. Celebration of multiculturalism and positive discrimination
in favour of non-Christian traditions, at a government level has had
the effect of making evangelicalism appear grossly intolerant. It is
now considered offensive to criticize other faiths, while the radio
and print media have reduced scorn of Christianity to an art form.
is not Western
once sat on a flight between Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Dubai (United
Arab Emirates) discussing Christianity and Islam with a Muslim
cleric. He spoke about Christians and the excess of Western culture
in the same breath, as though they were the same thing. He was
surprised when I told him Anglo-Saxon Christians are a minority group
in the world-wide Christian movement and that people he observed to
be living immoral lives in the West were not true believers. I said
it not to assuage his concerns, but because it is true.
is not quintessentially Western. It is a faith system that had its
genesis in Judaism and oriental values, language and values.
Moreover, in a sense, it is not human, because it is predicated on
divine revelation. But the moment we act as though “our”
culture is the right one to be a vehicle for saving faith and genuine
worship we alienate the rest of the world. The same thing happens
when churches take sides in political debates and alienate half the
population on matters that are not even central to the Gospel (God
does not vote Labor, Liberal, Democrat, Republican, or even Christian
is nothing efficacious about Western culture. As Christians we
cannot be captive to the human environment that produced us. After
all, we are born “from above” (John 3:3-8). God is our
heavenly Father and His desire is to make us like His Son. The Holy
Spirit in us, transforming our minds, hearts and attitudes makes us
more and more like Jesus, not our cultural icons.
receptivity and responsiveness
Biblical Christianity, culture is broken down. There can be no
distinction between Jews and Greeks (Galatians 3:26-28), Americans
and Sudanese, Germans and Chinese. We belong to the family of God.
The Bible describes a multiplicity of languages, tribes, kinships and
forms of worship serving Jesus Christ in His Kingdom. These
differences speak to the diversity of the Christian community,
differences that make us one, not opponents or exclusive sects. If
we cannot embrace a Christian from another culture because they look,
act, smell, dress and sing differently, we are not acting in the
spirit of Christ.
can a Biblical Christian operate in a pluralistic world? The answer
is simple. The same way the early church worked it out. The
geo-political environment that obtained in the first century was
characterised by pantheons of gods, hostile political systems and
innumerable vested interests. Our world is not very different. In
every generation, the
enables the people of God to transcend cultural differences and
proclaim that Christ died for all people, so that whoever believes in
him will not perish, but have eternal life.
Problem of Syncretism - Being Just Like Everyone Else
Pastor Allan Davis
an attempt to remain relevant and attractive in a changing world,
many Christians are apt to reflect the patterns and modalities of
society at large. Playing “follow-the-leader” this way
may be a logical soft option, but only conforming to the image of
Christ will empower us to impact our generation. Christians must be
contemporary as, indeed, Jesus was, but he was not “just like
everyone else”. The life of God, multiplied exponentially by
the Spirit living within gave him (and will give us) the burst of
power we need to make a difference.
mass over, the priest’s words were echoing around the niches
and chapels built into the sides of San Francisco Cathedral in La Paz
as the Aymara family next to me stood up and prepared to leave.
Pulling his “chullo” down over his ears, to keep the cold
off his head, Don Juan (not his real name) told me he was going home.
I asked what the mass meant to him. He told me he had been coming
to the church every week since he was a boy. Did he believe in
prayer, I asked. He told me that he did, but that he didn’t
understand some of the things that happened in the service. He was
mainly concerned about keeping his family going. Religion was
helpful, but he confided that it did not always meet his needs. When
prayer failed the shaman in his village would say incantations over
him, maybe sacrifice a chicken, so that the spirits would heed the
sight of blood and give him the favour he needed. I asked him how he
managed to balance two competing faiths. He told me they were one
and the same, in his opinion. “They are all about God.”
In his mind, shamanism and Christianity functioned as one paradigm.
He saw no conflict, because that is how he had been brought up. He
told me the spirit world of his village predated the arrival of the
Spaniards and their gilt images five hundred years previously. It
had kept his ancestors together and given them hope and power in
times of need.
exactly is Syncretism?
option of mixing faith systems and observing them as one is called
“syncretism”. It is a framework, a process by which
elements of a single set of world views are harmonized and
assimilated into another, resulting in a change in the nature of both
of them and the emergence of a new system, a revised set of beliefs
It is a union of theologies. The synthesized form is a new product,
although separate segments retain some identifiable components, such
as a high altar, or a witchdoctor’s tools of trade. I have
seen syncretism at work in some African churches, where animism and
other traditional religions have been wedded to the Christian
message. I have observed it in Andean villages in Peru, where
indigenous religions are often mapped to Christianity, giving local
deities new Christian identities, so that prayers are said in old
ways to new names, such as the Virgin Mary or the Apostle Peter.
When our Prime Minister recently attended a Christian church service
to celebrate the opening of a new parliament, nodding his assent to
the creed recited, and then went to help officiate at a Hindu
ceremony, he was being syncretistic. Biblical Christianity and this
type of accommodation simply do not mix (2 Corinthians 6:15-16).
is usually associated with attempts by belief systems to be relevant,
less confrontational, controversial and culturally alienated by
mixing and matching with local ones. It removes absolutes and works
on the assumption that any belief can be adopted, melded, re-shaped,
discarded, denied or repudiated, depending on whether it suits the
new operating environment. Syncretism involves representation of a
limited and distorted part of the underlying message, so that it fits
the values and traditions of outsiders, or is rendered acceptable to
it is all around us.
have been to India a number of times. Hinduism is syncretistic. I
recently read a fictionalised account of an Indian boy who met a
Christian missionary who explained the Gospel and led him to accept
Jesus Christ as his Saviour. The boy then went home and thanked
Krishna for helping him find Jesus as his new god. In spite of its
claim to be universally monotheistic, Islam is also practiced
alongside traditional faiths in many countries. In Indonesia,
millions of Muslims tolerate traditional Javanese folk religion,
parallel to the mosque.
the West, syncretism is widespread. In essence, it means “living
like everyone else”, adopting their world views and mixing them
with faith, so that the new soup is palatable to everyone and no one
is offended by “fundamentalist” beliefs. It involves
downplaying key elements of the Gospel that are considered “old
fashioned” or “not cool”, so as to be more
acceptable, less eccentric. Young people growing up in church have a
fear - almost a phobia – about distinctiveness, of being
rejected because they are different. They don’t want to be
associated with the image of the small, traditional, suburban church
with a hall, a manse and an aging membership. The church of the
future must employ culturally sensitive evangelism, without being
seduced to conform. Otherwise, the natural process of syncretism
will increasingly lead to the acceptance and validation of
extra-Biblical offshoots such as Christian feminism, Christian gay
groups, atheistic evolution in Christian schools, removing Christ
from Christmas celebrations and a host of similar developments in
respectable ecclesial circles.
what’s wrong with syncretism?
demands that worship of God be shared with competing deities. This
occurred constantly in the Old Testament, as the values of the
Canaanites, Babylonians, Assyrians and others permeated ancient
Israel. On one occasion, the Prophet Elijah challenged the nation to
stop dithering between two opinions and decide whether Jehovah or
Baal was the deity worth following (1 Kings 18:21). That should have
been a no-brainer, but Baal and other gods of the Canaanites had
great influence. I have visited ancient Canaanite settlements in
Lebanon and seen the influence of the deities that sought to displace
Jehovah in the life of his people.
history is filled with the struggle against syncretism from
political, social, religious and economic sources. In New Testament
times, Greek, Roman and so-called “mystery religions”
sought to undermine the Christian community through
syncretism. In subsequent centuries (particularly after Christianity
became the official religion of the state following the conversion of
Constantine in 312 AD) it was easier to undermine Christian faith by
mandating “toleration” rather than persecuting
Christians, which only led to martyrs.
crisis that faced the early church was acceptance of non-Jewish
Christian converts. Many Jewish believers acted as though their
faith was an extension of their national history and identity. When
God began to save Gentiles many of them were horrified. Only a major
conference in Jerusalem, under the leadership of wise men of God, was
able to deal with the issue (Acts 15, Galatians 2). Now we know the
people of God are not identified by ethnicity, gender or social
status, but their relationship to God and to one another through
Christ (Galatians 3:28).
exist on all sides today, as secular humanism strives to be the
common ground for solving problems. Pluralism is proclaimed as the
ground for melting all religions into a porridge of new religious
ideas. The values of this world view strive for a place in the
church's response to both the demands for conformity and the cries
for liberation confronting it.
people argue (or act on the basis that) that the best way to reach
people is to live in their space and be like them. This involves
“contextualising” the Gospel. I once listened in horror
as a visiting speaker in a church I attended told the congregation it
was OK to break the law if imprisonment could be used by God to reach
non-Christian prisoners. Where do we draw the line? When
God is just like everyone else, the whole reason for being a
Christian is up for grabs.
occurs when basic elements of the Bible are replaced by religious
elements from other faiths.
It often results from a quest to make the Gospel acceptable, less
alien, or embodied in a different cultural context. In many
societies, including in the West, standing up for the absolutes of
Christian revelation is a criminal offence. It is safer to look for
common ground and inter-faith dialogue than run the risk of being
called a “crank”.
Bible teaches that truth comes by revelation, through the agency of
the Holy Spirit. There are times when elements of traditional
religion foreshadow aspects of the Gospel and can be a way of opening
up communities to evangelism. This was the case in Athens (read Acts
Chapter 17) and many Asian societies where missionaries eventually
made inroads when they learned enough about local religions to show
the people that Christ was the One they were looking for and
encouraged them to abandon half-truths for the real thing.
on the other hand, involves adding other beliefs to Christian
doctrine, with the intention of supplementing
the salvation provided by Jesus - as if it were somehow incomplete.
Syncretism springs from lack of faith in Christ's saving power. At
issue are not methods of praying, clothing worn, songs that are sung,
styles, forms and expressions that are used (let’s celebrate
Jesus with the best music available), languages that are spoken, or
even objects used in worship, but the heart. Syncretism is a tool of
Satan to water down revelation and separate God from his people by
the accretion of symbols, liturgies, art forms and theologies that do
not “offend”. It involves a loss of moral and spiritual
but into whose mould?
billion people simply do not squeeze into fixed moulds. They are
influenced by a host of cultural realties that include gender,
education, ethnic space, occupation, family mores, taboos and
semiotic frameworks. The global cultural economy is a complex
network, a sophisticated multi-dimensional jigsaw. Culture is not
is ideological, political and economic. If we are to be relevant
Christians in a global village we have to recognize local dynamics,
histories, subcultures, prejudices and imagined communities and try
not to compartmentalize people or insist on a single “fix”
on human dynamics that cannot be constrained by a single “snapshot”.
Our message must be addressed to population fluidity,
disjunctiveness and rapid global transformation. As Christians,
being relevant in the modern world involves learning how to be
simple, uncomplicated and transparent as we relate to the Eternal and
His creation. It means being open to people but sticking to Truth.
That is a hard juggle. If the balls fall, the message is compromised
and people look elsewhere.
First Commandment requires that we love God with all our heart, mind,
soul and strength (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus
is the only one through whom we can be saved (Acts 4:12). He said,
"I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one can come to the
Father except through me" (John 14:6). These are categorical
statements. The Bible says that the “natural mind” of
the non-Christian cannot understand the things of the Spirit, but
rejects them. They are “foolish” to him (1 Corinthians
1:18-25). When we strive to be like others, and reify their values
in our lives, as our guiding principles and aspirations, we are not
consciously bowing to false idols or making them our “gods”,
but yielding in more subtle ways.
efforts not to be squeezed into everyone else’s mould (Romans
12:1-2) must not be confused with religious pride and self-effort,
making us so out of step that our walk is disqualified and people are
turned off by our lives. (People should be drawn to the message
because of our lives, not driven away from it.) My father used to
tell the story of a man who went to a passing-out parade to watch his
son’s graduating class. As he sat in the stands, he looked
hard to make out his son. Finally he saw him. “Look”,
he cried out, “There is my son. He is the only one marching in
time”. No doubt his listeners realized the poor man’s
son was the only one marching out of step. Instead of surveying the
whole, he focused on one small aspect and missed the obvious.
is building a contemporary church, one that overflows with his
abounding life, presence and purpose, in step with the Holy Spirit.
He has come to show us how to live, and how to make the reality of
Christ a compelling force in our generation, tearing down false
images, rather than the other way around. Sections of the modern
church are working hard to reinvent techniques of praise and worship,
to make it more “real”, more tangible, but fully birthed
of God. This is great news. Lamentably, some traditional elements
of the Body of Christ respond with criticism, rather than rejoicing.
to the simplicity of Christ
an effort not to be like the world around us, it is important that we
not become so different as to turn them off. Let me give an example.
I once took a flight from Perth to Melbourne, surrounded by several
dozen men and women who belonged to an exclusive Christian
denomination and were on their way to a conference. The women wore
scarves on their heads. The men were well-dressed and spoke
conservative English (not unlike the vernacular used in the version
of the Bible authorised by King James in 1611). One of their number,
a middle-aged farmer who sat beside me told me the group refused to
have formal contact with other Christian denominations, because they
considered them a’’ “too worldly”.
longer we talked the more convinced I became that the focus of this
group was not holiness but exclusivity. What was important, in their
world view, was not the Body of Christ but externalities such as
dress styles, forms of music and social intercourse. Their response
to syncretism was to cut themselves off. In so doing, they lived as
though they were the only ones left in God’s Family. Jesus
lived among us and we were attracted to him because the presence of
the Spirit in Him created and celebrated overflowing life, not
because he established an exclusive society. It is important that we
not tie ourselves to legalistic bandwagons that focus on stereotypes
about form, rather than substance. We are not different for the sake
of being different, but as a consequence of a new inner life, living
by new values, appetites and priorities. The normative family of God
is above culture, nation, language or familial ties.
Apostle Paul encouraged Christians in the first church at Corinth not
to lose sight of their pure and simple devotion to Christ, not to add
anything to it, but hold firm to the simplicity of the Christian
message (2 Corinthians 11:3). We can add nothing to what Jesus has
already done for us, but need to know what we believe and be
committed to it, holding to the absolutes of Biblical revelation,
living by our faith. God doesn’t have to be so different as to
can we be people of influence, relevant, dynamic, attractive,
persuasive and still be able to proclaim the message, with integrity
to the truth. How do we avoid syncretism in our church, family and
of us is free from the innate desire to be accepted by others and to
be like the world around us. The human heart reaches out to gods in
all forms. Dealing effectively with the temptation to compromise on
many levels is an essential part of Christian growth and maturity.
We cannot long mask the subtle attachments we feel to “our”
world, and the hunger to be part of what is going on.
calls us to be different, to escape the downward drag and be re-made
in the image of His Son. The Bible says that true liberty comes from
the Lordship of the Holy Spirit, as He makes us less like others and
more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Only He can give us power
to be different. Regardless of culture or personal background,
believers don’t have to live by the standards and patterns of
everyone else, because they are “born of God” and their
Biblical praxis is predicated on the person and presence of His Son.
Let’s allow Him to bring this about in a transforming way.