A missionary once told me syncretism is the biggest obstacle he faces in ministry, regardless of the culture. We often think of overt religious syncretism, but the general definition is:
1. : the combination of different forms of belief or practice.
2. : the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional (curving or bending) forms.
While followers of Christ recognize we shouldn't pray to an idol or make sacrifices to appease the spirits of our ancestors, some of our beliefs or practices may actually turn (or “bend”) us away from God.
What do I believe about God that is based on my upbringing, traditions, experiences, secular and religious influences, etc.? Are these beliefs biblical?
Scripture itself tells believers “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV). Other translations use the word “uncontaminated.” The New International Version says “keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Provided we are all assessing ourselves honestly, we should be able to agree that even the religion of genuine believers is not always “pure and undefiled.” For one, our understanding of God and His ways—and therefore our love and worship of Him—is imperfect. As Paul says, “Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!” (1 Corinthians 13:9, NLT).
As humans, we are fickle and limited in our understanding. But while we change, God does not. In Him “there is no variation” (James 1:17). He is perfect and always has been.
As Christians, we look forward to the day when we will no longer see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). In the meantime, passages like Proverbs 3:7 remind us to avoid being wise in our own eyes. Blending the truths of our faith with anything else (the world's perspectives, man-made traditions, etc.) only tarnishes and dulls the message of Christ. How can any of us add to perfection?
Fortunately, while we are not yet perfected, we do have something perfect: God’s Word.
“The law of the Lord is PERFECT, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are TRUSTWORTHY, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are RIGHT, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are RADIANT, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8, NIV). A gift in and of itself, the Word also is the means by which the Holy Spirit sanctifies believers (John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
If we desire to mature in our faith, we must read the Word, meditate upon it, allow the Holy Spirit to test us by it, and submit willingly as He sanctifies and applies truth. His truth. True wisdom comes from God and is available to all His children.
“How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” -Psalm 119:103-105, NIV