When Contextualization Becomes Syncretism

Using my own definitions:

Contextualization is wrapping culture around the Gospel.

Syncrentism is wrapping the Gospel around the culture.

When does contextualization become syncretism?


39 Responses

  1. I hope I don’t get slammed for this, but I think both terms are appropriate, depending on the need.

    The wikipedia definition of syncrentism talks about merging… In this conversation, the gospel and the culture would merge in order to form a new religion of some sort… If that can happen without a degredation of the gospel message, I see no problem with that…

    I would also argue that this has already happened over the years, from Catholocism to Pentecostalism and now somewhat with the Emergent Church.

    Contextualization seems to be a less forceful, user-friendly term. Some may say syncretism is selling out the gospel, but I’m not sure if I agree…

    If anyone has a better understanding here, please share… I’m no expert on this one.

  2. Syncretism is a subordination of the Gospel to the culture. Culture becomes dominant and changes the Gospel.

  3. Got it…… Thanks Travis..

    Definitely makes for a more interesting conversation! 🙂

    I’ve seen churches attempt to be culturally relevant to the point where they water down the gospel… It’s a tough gray area. Not every sermon will be a home-run, deep, highly theological exegesis….. But on the other hand, if sermons are more “feel-good” with little gospel for a prolonged period of time, I’d say they became subject to syncretism.

    In doing my research on postmodernism, I’ve found some theologians who I’d say have gone too far towards syncretism. While seeking to reconstruct the gospel for our context, they read the Word through the lens of postmodernism…. This we see a devaluing of absolute truth, acceptance of homosexual behavior, and a shift to liberalism.

    I’m such a moderate that I think we need to find the balance in the postmodern debate… We do need to be culturally relevant, but not at the expense of the absolute truth that is presented in God’s word, and definitely not to the point where we are questioning the meaning of sin.

    We do need to be in the world, not of it, but still find creative ways to reach the world — ie: church services in bars, theaters, and coffee shops; microchurches; and multi-site churches…

    The answer to your question is difficult to answer though.. It will look different.. But I think the seasoned Christ-follower will know syncretism when they see it. (Even if they don’t know the meaning of the word!)

  4. Harvey Cox (Professor of Theology – Harvard University) wrote a very compelling book that examines Pentecostalism from an intrigued outsider’s point of view (Fire from Heaven).

    He notes that Pentecostalism is very syncretistic, giving examples from Africa and Central/South America.

    Using Travis’ definitions, it would be more contextualization than syncretism, though in some cases, it’s not far from the latter….


  5. The Christian Church has always had a tendency towards syncretism. An example of this would be when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Many pagan practices (eg Christmas) were incorporated into the Church.

    In my own nation of Ireland the same thing happened. Pagan wells were simply rebranded with a saints name and the old traditions merrily coexisted side by side with the Church.

    Two tremendous books that deal with this subject are “The Church After Christendom” and “Beyond Christendom” by Stuart Murray – a British Anabaptist. If you can pick them up they are well worth the money. Murray does a great job of describing how a persecuted Church became a persecuting Christendom.

    Contextualisation is, of course, essential to sharing the Gospel. Syncretism, IMHO, is a betrayal of the Gospel. Both can lead to inculturation. This is where the Church and the culture become so enmeshed that you cannot tell where one stops and the other begins.

    Examples of inculturation would be Catholic Ireland or the Islamic World. At first glance it looks as if this is a highly successful kind of contextualisation – where the Church (or Islam) has won and transformed the culture. However, as you look closer you see that the conqueror has himself been captured – similar to how the ancient Roman Empire became soft through its adoption of Greek culture. He who sups with the Devil needs a long spoon!

    The problem with inculturation is that the Church and the culture become so identified that cultural change has the power to kill the Church. This is why Al Quaeda etc are so anti-American. They recognise that the dilution of their desert culture will also dilute their religious identity – so they strike out against the symbols of modernism.

    In Ireland we have gone through massive cultural change – from traditionalism to post-modernism without even going through modernism. The end result is that the Irish Catholic Church has been irreparably broken – identified for ever in people’s eyes with a bygone culture. As Dean Inge, once of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, commented, “The Church that gets married to the spirit of the age will become a widow in the next age.”

    BTW guys, as a well disposed friend of the US looking in from the outside, I see a massive danger in American evangelicalism. There is such a move to wed the Church to particular political parties and ideologies that would leave the Church hopelessly exposed if a cultural seachange occurs.

    On a lighter note, I am thrilled to see Church of God ministers discussing the important issues of contextualisation rather than arguing over whether Sarah Palin is hot.

  6. Good thoughts, Nick.

    On the whole political/church intersection, I have to say that I have strong feelings and a made up mind toward American politics. But, I’m not going to breathe a word of it publicly in the circles of influence where I do ministry if it would mean that I would distance myself from people who need me to use my influence for advancing the Gospel.

    I don’t know that that’s an issue of contextualization. But, it sure is an issue of removing barriers for people to be able to come to know Jesus.

  7. There are some big issues of syncretism in South Florida as it relates to the pervasiveness of Santeria among the latin population.

    Concerning Life Pointe Church, I want us to engage culture. But, I will not/don’t want to engage culture as a competitor to being faithful with the Gospel. I think you can go far and make a lot of culturally religious people uncomfortable in the transmission of the Gospel without compromising the integrity of the Gospel. But, knowing the core of what you do and why you do it has to remain on the forefront.

    The presentation of the Gospel is subordinate to the Gospel message.

  8. symmantics

  9. Nick, I think that basic problem with Evangelicals and politics in the U.S. is that the former have too high a view of the state.

    They share that with their opponents. That’s why, for example, LGBT activists want same-sex civil marriage as opposed to abolishing it altogether. That’s what’s made the “culture wars” so acrimonious. Both sides want affirmation from the state and the enforcement power that goes with it.

    Evangelicals should know better. The whole American paradigm has been one of encouraging freedom. That’s one of the things I was referring to in my response to your piece on preaching; it was one of the better contributions brought to this country by the Scotch-Irish. A healthy disrespect of authority is a great contribution of our Celtic ancestors.

    Unfortunately too many Evangelicals today (especially Boomers) are caught up in this Gothardian theonomy that sees the state as a primary instrument of righteousness. If the Evanglicals lose, what will happen is what happened to the RCC in France at the start of the last century, where (for example) the French Army went into World War I without any official chaplains at all.

  10. Don,

    There are scriptural mandates that require us to get seriously ticked off at the state for facilitating infanticide. We’ve got to be involved on some level and care that injustice exists in this arena.

    But, in our process as citizens of the state with a voice to be heard, we will certainly face competing values with the higher priority. We’ve got to take care not to compromise a beautiful Gospel at the feet of advancing a political agenda.

  11. Not sure I’m following all the threads in this discussion (Gothardic Theonomy?) but I can contribute a personal observation.

    Today’s “traditional” church culture was considered “emergent” 30 years ago. And the traditional culture 30 years ago was emergent 20 years before that and so on and so forth…. The point being is that there is no such thing as “authentic” christian culture. From the time Peter and James decided they would focus on the Jews and let Paul and Barnabus focus on the gentiles each minister has had to face the truth that the gospel is universal but the method of perpetrating it is local.

    Even a work as succesful as Travis’ alienates those who do not embrace the “catholic” overtones. No church can hope to appeal to everyone and that is why God has given each church and minister a unique personality to minister to specific segments of our community. Our goal must be to identify our unique place in the body and those to whom we are specifically sent. Any minister that tries to please the entire culture they are part of will simply end up satisfying no one. The nature of the gospel is transformative not conformative and no attempt to make it relevant is necessary if it is being presented in “the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit.”

    We don’t need a church that “looks” and “sounds” like the culture of today, we need a church that looks and sounds like Jesus. On moral issues uncompromising, on method issues discerning, big on forgiveness, big on love and big on sincerity. One size cannot fit all and to try is madness. Find out who you are then you will know whom you are for.

  12. Syncretism, uh, is that like Chuck Pierce teaching the Kabbalah?

  13. Brother Alldredge, Amen, Amen, Amen. And I would add, if I might as be so bold, that we must depend on the Spirit of God to draw people, not our programs, atmosphere, dress, etc.

    If we become too focused on trying to include one group, we will absolutely exclude others. We must be Jesus in the community we are in, and reach those that God sends across our path. Stop trying to market Jesus like you would a suit of clothes or tater chips. Our demographic isn’t a certain age group, or economic group…it’s sinners….that are on their way to hell. When you have people who are lost in sin, and needing a savior, and the Holy Ghost has done His job to show them their need, and we’ve lived the example in front of them…..they will not care if we are singing from the red back, or doing some of that HillSong stuff. They will only care if we can give them Jesus.

    I’ve found in my short time of ministry, the only people who care about our look, and feel…..our style and our programs are church people….church shoppers, not people who are hungry for Jesus.

  14. Todd,

    I care about how people look. It startled me the first time I really, really cared…I mean deeply cared. It happened when I was visiting another church to “experience” their ministry. I dropped my daughter, who was a baby at the time, off in their nursery.

    I cared what the person receiving my baby looked like and how they interacted with me. The fact that they were clean, considerate, trained, positioned to care for the needs of my family, and were prepared made all the difference in the world to me.

    I wasn’t thinking about my spiritual state. I was thinking how they were prepared in that situation to speak my language.

    Yes. We must be dependent on the Holy Spirit. But, that doesn’t mean we get the luxury of failing to discern the needs and language of our communities and being intentional with how we relate to othe uniqueness of our situations.

  15. Brother Johnson,

    Once again…someone misunderstands what I mean.

    When I say look…I’m talking about our branding. You know, “casual” as opposed to “suit and tie”. Or 7 foot bee hives as opposed to women wearing pants in church.

    What I’m saying is, they won’t care about any of the things us church people tend to care about when they need a savior. For example, I would be very uncomfortable in your church, from what I’ve seen and know of it…but I guarantee you if I were under conviction and really needed to find a place that could give me Jesus, I wouldn’t care if they were contemporary, traditional, etc……

    by the way, interesting article in the Weekly Standard regarding the mass exodus from Evangelical churches…others might find this interesting to read. Not sure I agree with it, but thought you might like to see it…. http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/511pikxv.asp?pg=1

  16. Brother Robbins,

    When you say, “Once again…someone misunderstands what I mean” I think you were thinking of my blog! 🙂

    Glad to see you around!

  17. The Gospel is radically transcultural, yet inherently incarnational. The Gospel stands over and against human culture, and simultaneously speaks directly to it. The Gospel is alien to us in its otherness, yet healing in its relevance.

    I guess I do not see these terms quite as dualistically as the question positioned them. I agree with Nick about Christendom, and about Evangelicals’ approach to American politics. I agree with Pete Zefo that a lot of it is mere semantics. I agree with James Aldredge that there is no such thing as “authentic Christian culture.” I agree with Travis that the Gospel puts people, and their needs, first. I agree with Brother Robbins about style not being an issue when you’re hungry for Jesus. Etc., etc. etc.

    I have never never stopped myself and said, “Oops! I slipped into some syncretism there!” However, I have often felt the probing hand of the Holy Spirit reach into my heart and expose sin in my life–show me where I had turned away from the Lord and begun to trust in other things. When the Lord is gracious enough to help me repent from those sins I find myself both relevant and set apart. I don’t ask this question when I am in the midst of beholding the Lord’s glory, which is good. I don’t ask it when I am spending time with my unsaved friends, which is also good. I guess it seems to me that when I am “on-mission” and tending to my “first love” this question seems to take care of itself.

  18. Todd,

    I agree with 90% of what you say in the following quote:

    “If we become too focused on trying to include one group, we will absolutely exclude others. We must be Jesus in the community we are in, and reach those that God sends across our path. Stop trying to market Jesus like you would a suit of clothes or tater chips. Our demographic isn’t a certain age group, or economic group…it’s sinners….that are on their way to hell. When you have people who are lost in sin, and needing a savior, and the Holy Ghost has done His job to show them their need, and we’ve lived the example in front of them…..”

    #1 We should not treat church like a marketing firm. However, the church is a missionary community and Paul marketed/presented Jesus differently to the Greeks on Mars Hill than he did to a Jewish audience.

    – Paul loved people enough to listen to them and get to know them, their needs, their beliefs etc

    – At the same time Paul listened to the Holy Spirit and responded to what was important to them in their context with God’s truth

    #2 The Great Commission compels us to reach the World for Christ. We cannot wait idly by for God to bring the unsaved across our path. We must be intentional in our praying and actions believing that God will give us insight into how to reach a culture that is different then ours with the message of Christ. The Great Commission is an active not passive task.

    All “sinners” are not the same. Paul recognized this and so did Jesus. Jesus engages fishermen different then he does Pharisees and he engages the tax collector in a way that we might see as inappropriate. Why is he eating with sinners??? Pastors in the US are generally known to be isolated, lack friends and to have little to no contact with the unchurched. Paul sharpened his skills and insight by interacting with those he sought to win to Christ!

    As a military chaplain I have learned much by being expected & required to have significant relationships with “sinners” while at the same time pastoring a denominationally and racially diverse congregation.

    – I have learned to put the Gospel in their language as Paul did.

    – I have learned that many do fear coming to church because they won’t know what to do or what to wear even though they may feel drawn there. (I was told this today by a person who is not saved)

    – I have learned to love them individually and not to lump them all into one group like (sinners) so I can just assume they all need the same thing the same way.

    Now to the second part of your post:

    “…they will not care if we are singing from the red back, or doing some of that HillSong stuff. They will only care if we can give them Jesus.

    I’ve found in my short time of ministry, the only people who care about our look, and feel…..our style and our programs are church people….church shoppers, not people who are hungry for Jesus.”

    Where it is true that people in desperation will tolerate or ignore if our church is still in the 1950’s. It is not true that the unchurched don’t care.

    How do I know? I interact and minister to thousands of unchurched people each year and I ask them why they don’t go to church. Many I have had the privilege of leading to the Lord. Paul teaches us through his presentation of the Gospel all through Acts that the package matters.

    People who are hungry for Jesus are easy to lead to the Lord. People lost in sin, in bondage to the enemy need a prepared, fully armored Christian to love them, wisely share Christ with them in a way that they understand as the Holy Spirit opens the door.

    If we get out into the world we will find that many in our Christian Nation don’t have any idea who Jesus is let alone be hungry for him!

  19. The best treatment on the topic I have ever read is found in evnagelii nuntiandi by Pope Paul VI. Even for evangelicals I think this is true. Great read, and not too long.

  20. I have enjoyed the discussions, but find that when you talk about reaching the World, contextualization takes a different meaning for those who live outside of our culture. For example, if we are to reach into the Middle East we must learn what it means to be Muslim. To attack the religion is to attack the culture. To understand the culture helps us to begin to show the love of Christ. For most Christians we want to make Middle Easterners westerners, instead of allowing the Gospel take root into the lives of those it changes and from there springs a Gospel who can reach into the cotext of the believer. Interestingly, one of the hardest areas of the world to reach into their culture is where the Gospel was birthed!

  21. I love marketing… I have spent most of my working life marketing space by putting it in attractive buildings. I have a wife who has a marketing degree that has used it to sell everything from orthodontics to TV production equipment.

    Even though using architecture to market space and graphic design to market transponders is a little different than marketing Jesus, I still think the package matters. The world (and by world I mean Satan) uses marketing to reach us. He started in the garden by pointing out how nice the fruit looked.

    I don’t live in a community of Jesus hungry people. (If I did maybe planting this church would be easier) Yes, they are hungry, and we know that the only way they can truly be satisfied is with Jesus, but they don’t. They are buying every other nicely packaged alternative to try and satisfy a hunger. The people in the casino commercials look like they are having such a great time. If I drink this type of beer I get this kind of women, etc.

    We are supposed to be representing Jesus everywhere and I think that means everywhere. The church has not been represented well in the “world” because we have been waiting for the world to come to us. Yes, someday every knee will bow and tongue confess, but at that point it is too late.

    The Bible says that He would draw all men unto Him but what does He look like on this earth… I remember something about being the body. I have been around church all of my life and a lot of times the body looks angry. The body is judgmental. Many times the body hasn’t looked like the Jesus I read about. So the marketing starts from the inside of us but a great color brochure, a billboard, and even a radio spot never hurt. Why wouldn’t we use every possible method to reach people so we can show them Jesus.

  22. The essence of my earlier post was that there is no need to make the gospel culturally relevant because it is in and of itself relevant to every culture and person on the planet. Themes of forgiveness, redemption, restoration, righteousness and eternal salvation resonate within all of us. Travis’ point on contextualism v. syncreticism highlights the growing sense within the church that there needs to be a return to a New Testament style connection between place and purpose.

    When the apostles decided (with an assist from the H.S.) that they would not require gentiles to convert to Judaism in order to follow Christ they initiated a radical shift in missional tactics. By discarding the traditions that they themselves were most comfortable with they signified that the gospel could not be defined by any single cultural context. This developed into an “all things to all people” approach that saw the church rapidly expand to all corners of the known world within a generation.

    Our problem today is that we are attempting to reverse engineer the paradigm by trying to define the culture first then determine how we will penetrate it with the gospel. Of course we soon realize that culture is much more difficult to pin down than we think. It is constantly evolving and diverting so that what is “current” today is old hat tomorrow.

    A more biblical approach is to reduce missional priority from winning the world to winning the person next to us. One heart at a time, one life transformed will lead to another, then another….In this context we must realize that the gospel is Jesus and we must be”Jesus” to that person. Confronting them about their sin. offering them hope and forgiveness, repurposing their life from being self-centered to being God-centered then discipling them until they are ready to be Jesus to someone else.

    Whatever it takes to make that happen without compromising the gospel is what must be done. If that means having a nursery staffed with competent ministers or playing music that appeals to a rock and roll generation then make it happen! But understand that whatever “cultural” choices you implement will only please a portion of your community. Building through relationships will always result in a stronger and healthier church than being seeker sensitive. People want to be loved and love is relational not cultural.

  23. James,

    You are so right. The Gospel is always relevant.

    It is our inflexibility, rigidity, and added requirements that make it appear irrelevant. On top of that, we go to great lengths to hi-jack the brand of Jesus by dumbing it down or ratcheting up the requirements and blinging it out with accessories. After a while, it’s difficult to see Mr. T under all the rope chains, traditions, and form.

    With that said, the Gospel comes to us in many vehicles, driven by different personalities, and in different settings. Sometimes, the Gospel comes to us while we’re walking alone of a desert road to Ethiopia. Sometimes, it comes to us in a massive crusade where thousands have been saved.

    The Gospel presentation is a both/and and not an either/or proposition. Gospel advancement is without a doubt at its greatest effectiveness as a viral transmission from one person to the next- a Gospel plague of sorts, infecting communities…one person to the next. But, it is also a call out from prominent city centers where secular ideas, pagan philosophers, and people of influence are leveraged for mass communication.

    The culture ought to be leveraged. The Gospel ought to contextualized…it better be, especially in the communities referenced by Charles Lambert. But, as we do it, whether we are classical Pentecostals or cultural subversionists, we better hold the Gospel in a closed hand and above the water line as we insert ourselves in the culture.

  24. Brother Alldredge – Once again you hit it out of the park.

    Others – Isn’t the church supposed to be a sub-culture of it’s own within the culture anyway?

    When I look over church history, it seems that the church was the one influencing culture until about the 1950’s, and suddenly culture was trying to influence the church.

    Shouldn’t we be a culture of our own, that is influencing the culture around it? Or is that just us Classical Pentecostal/Old Time Holiness folks that think that way? Just asking….not an indictment or slam on anyone. Just seems my paradigm is different about this culture thing.

  25. Todd,

    The church is to be a counter-cultural agent. But, we gain nothing for the Kingdom of God by simply changing actions. In fact, I am concerned when the church causes people’s actions to change without changing hearts.

    That’s the whole problem I would have with the idea that America is to be a Christian nation. There can be no such thing. What does it matter that we have a nation of Christian laws if that system is not reflected in our hearts.

    Yes. The church has a counter-cultural call. We are to function as adversaries to the culture. But, we are also called to invade culture incarnationally living out the Christ-life among the culture.

  26. Todd – “pure and undefiled religon before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” There is no authentic christian culture only authentic christian character. Unlike Islam, which sanctified the culture of 7th century Arabia, the church belongs to no single time or place. It is local and universal, current and timeless, generational and personal. What you and I refer to as Classical Pentecostal is no more than the reflection of the mountain holiness culture of the early 20th century. While we love and appreciate the heritage we cannot allow ourselves to make the same mistake as Catholicism and Islam by identifying the times and cultures we were born in (or born again in) as being exclusive to “real” church. The culture of the church is exclusive, but not to dress, speech, hairstyle or building type. What is exclusive of the church is the fruit, gifts and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the hope of eternal life, the love and grace of God, justification, regeneration, redemption, restoration, adoption, fellowship with Jesus and the saints and the New Jerusalem. Our culture is built on an eternal foundation and permeates throughout the boundless generations of history. In every time there has been and will continue to be a unique bond of faith and grace that will define and unite the body of Christ from every tongue, tribe and nation under the banner of the redeemed.

    Travis – we agree on the principles of the diversity of means on ministering the gospel and I suspect much more. The contrast appears to be that we are focusing on different points in the timeline. Your heart is expanding the top of the funnel (conversion) and I respect that immensely. My heart is in closing the bottom of the funnel (discipleship) so that we keep what we catch. Together I think we’ve got them surrounded!

  27. Todd Robbins…

    I prefer Travis’ term of “counter-culture” to the current subculture Christianity has created… Here’s why..

    I mean no offense to anyone, but let’s get real for a minute… The Christian subculture in America is cheesey and irrelevant.
    Whenever something in the secular world is successful, we copy it, and do a bad job at it…. We have Christian fads.. WWJD bracelets, music like Plus One, stupid slogans on our church signs and t-shirts, and now we even have a Christian Guitar Hero (we’ll see how that works out.)

    We try so hard to come up with marketing schemes to make us look like we’re in the world, but not of it, and we come off as second-rate, low-quality, cheesey, irrelevant, and just plain silly…

    Our subculture is even sometimes offensive to unbelievers. Our slogans sometimes do nothing more than help others dig a deeper pit in hell. We make ourselves feel superior for being saved, all the while further marginalizing and alienating hurting and lost people.

    We need to stop being afraid of how the Christian subculture will label us if they catch us being relevant. I mentioned in another thread about how we need to follow the Jesus model of hanging out with sinners. He didn’t care what the subculture (Pharissees) said about him… It doesn’t matter what our music sounds like as long as it’s helping people worship. It doesn’t matter what people wear to church as long as it’s modest and they are attending church. It doesn’t even matter if we have church in bar, as long as we are still preaching the gospel…

    I’d better stop… I haven’t preached in a while, and I feel a sermon coming…. Whhooooooooo!! 🙂

  28. You forgot Xianz (the Christian myspace)…

  29. Wow Brandon… thanks for that – I was in your “amen corner” (subculture alert!) on that one.

    “We need to stop being afraid of how the Christian subculture will label us if they catch us being relevant. I mentioned in another thread about how we need to follow the Jesus model of hanging out with sinners. He didn’t care what the subculture (Pharissees) said about him… It doesn’t matter what our music sounds like as long as it’s helping people worship. It doesn’t matter what people wear to church as long as it’s modest and they are attending church. It doesn’t even matter if we have church in bar, as long as we are still preaching the gospel…”

    …was especially good! People get so caught up in “if church isn’t this way, it isn’t church.” I mean – if we look at it, are any of the traditional ways we have church relevant to the early church, and Jesus’ message? I know certain aspects may be – but c’mon – suit and tie only? KJV only? Are you kidding me?

  30. Brandon you have made some important observations. The “Christian sub-culture” you describe is part of the problem.

    We are never to marry any culture/style. We all have our preferences however we should be able to set them aside so we can communicate the gospel effectively to people who are different from us. The gospel has always been incarnate in a particular culture.

    Classical Pentecostal is not a worship style nor is it a culture. A Classical Pentecostal church in India will look very different in practice, dress, style, metaphors and sermon illustrations then a Classical Pentecostal church in Chattanooga Tennessee. Classical Pentecostals are a group of denominations who came out of the Pentecostal revival in the early 1900’s. They are distinct because of their theology. Namely we believe the gifts of the Spirit and miracles are for today. And the big one that separates us from charismatics and neo-pentecostals/third wavers we believe that speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance is the initial evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

    We are citizens of another kingdom called to be agile enough to give up our favorite gospel package, study the enemy culture, learn their language and then deliver the “good news” in a package they will understand. This is the biblical model that Paul lives out and missionaries use.

    If we choose not to be flexible enough to give up what we like God will use someone else to reach culture.

  31. Now I have another fly to throw into the ointment brethren…

    In these equations you all provide, where do you also place the fact that in the last days, sound preaching and doctrine will not be desired, society will heap to themselves false teachers, because they have itching ears, and that many churches will have a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof. Just curious, not an accusation.

    by the by, I love when I throw out a term on here, like Classical Pentecostal, the assumptions many make to what I mean by it. Sort of funny how people who don’t even know me, automatically throw me in with a lump sum of others, and think they know the complexity of who I am as a minister. Again, not an accusationto anyone particular, just sort of interesting.

  32. Todd, my guess is that any really “missional” pastor understands that problem all too well.

    Let me make a couple of general observations, which to some extent will go along with Matt’s.

    First, we might do ourselves a favour by not always referring to “the culture.” Although shared values are a big deal here in the U.S., I think we sometimes work under the assumption that, if a group of people is predominantly Caucasian and speaks English, then they’re of the same secular culture as we are, if we are and do both. (I won’t get into the Christian Culture issue, that’s been addressed.)

    But that’s simply not the case. It never has been, and certainly isn’t now.

    That leads me to the second observation: perhaps, in looking at a new church plant, we need to prepare for it more like a foreign mission. When people go to a foreign mission field, they learn a new language (generally but not always necessary,) they learn the customs and religions (or lack thereof) of the people (what they like, dislike, etc.) Then they aim their ministry and presentation of the gospel based on those facts “on the ground.” They do this knowing they’re going into a different culture and society than their own, and they want to be effective communicators, not because they want to water down the gospel they’re presenting. It’s going back to Paul’s being “all things to all men, so as at all costs to save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)

    Matt: if you really want to complicate your differentiation between church in Chattanooga and India, consider that Chattanooga has had an Indian church (Tyner COG) for many years. It used to be Anglo.

  33. Don,
    Stop complicating my my differentiation with the facts! lol

  34. Todd – apologies on my presumptive definition of Classical Pentecostalism, of course you are correct that I don’t know you and I should not have projected my perception of that term onto you. I have been “gotcha’d” several times myself and I should know better. My real intention was to express my own internal battle over what it takes to be relevant. If I interpret your comments correctly you and I share a distrust of the emergent church movement based on the idea that real relevance should not involve “compromises” however we choose to define that term. All I can tell you for certain is that I am continuing to ask, seek and knock on each and very opportunity to reach this harvest before Jesus’ comes. As long as the gospel (and only the gospel) is being preached I will learn to live with the “emergent” church whatever form it takes.

  35. No problem at all Brother Alldredge. My concern with all these “waves” and “trends” within our overall attempt to reach the harvest is that the local community church truly is the model I see in the NT. Sure, it may be a big or a large church, but it’s a church that is ministering to the local people, in that culture, and being relevant to that local people in a way that they understand and can hear.

    To me the NT model, is be to that local community what they need – NOT WANT – and ministers a very TRUE and UNCOMPROMISED gospel to them, but in a way they understand in that culture. While also, presenting them the local fellowship, which should almost be a sub-culture within a culture. What I mean by that is, a refuge of righteousness in a world of unrighteousness. Our talk is different than the world, our television watching is different, our music is about different themes, the way we dress and where we go is different. That’s what it means to me to be in the world but not of the world….a culture within a culture. People acting and looking like Jesus in a world under a sin curse.

    See, Brother Johnson’s church would not be able to minister to me…I would feel so out of place there as a good ole country hillbilly, that I wouldn’t open up to people. He’s really into text messaging, twittering, very contemporary means of communication, probably pretty contemporary music, etc…and that’s great as it meets the need in his community.

    Where I serve, life is much slower. Though we have a really nice website, most of our people…even those in their 20’s don’t even have email or go on the internet. The community is primarily blue collar laborers, who work hard, have simple lives, and love southern gospel cause it reminds them of country music in many ways. They don’t like contemporary, cause they don’t listen to pop music.

    See, I think it comes down to this. That old song brighten the corner where you are. There is no broad brush of methodology that will work everywhere. That was the mistake of the Brownsville Revival. Men running down there thinking if they just came back and mimicked a behavior, a music, or a program, they too would explode.

    But we have to be Jesus to the community where we are ministering. Relate on that local level. And the only methodology that will be able to be successful in those terms is men getting on their faces before God and asking God to put in their heart what will reach that community. It may be a big building with lights and smoke and lasers, or it may be big hunters expo, or old fashioned singin.

    And as long as God is leading the shepherd there, He’ll bless it, and provide a harvest.

    Yes, I’m just a basic, simple hillbilly. Who believes the only formula we can have for reaching souls is being Jesus….there is no text book methods.

  36. […] not constitute an endorsement. The Poster Child of Syncretism15 October 2008, me @ 07:34There’s been a lot of talk about syncretism on MissionalCOG, but what passes for it in the Church of God is nothing compared to […]

  37. […] Check out this blog — When Contexualization becomes Syncretism Posted on September 3, 2008 by bruthabran This blog conversation is going on over at Missional COG.. I know I have some readers that aren’t on that blog, but I thought this was a good thread to introduce you.. Check it out here. […]

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