Patchwork Religion II
District Fellowship News
January, February 2008
We gave a brief description of ‘ patchwork religion’ and some of the reasons it has become so pervasive in our culture in our last column (NNED News, Nov-Dec 07). As people become more narcissistic the gap between truth as it exists and our me-centered interpretations of truth widens greatly. So what can be done to combat this issue?
First, we must test the assumptions of culture through biblical theology. We cannot let the culture be the filter for Biblical truth, but instead the truth of the culture must be filtered through the Word of God. You may be asking, ‘Why should I test culture with Scripture and not the other way around?’ And the answer to that question has two parts. Before we decide what ‘truth’ to use, we must decide that there is truth. Put simply, if there is no absolute truth, (nothing that can be the bedrock from which we can all begin from) then there is no basis for mankind to coexist with each other. If everyone can come up with their own truth, society must inevitably disintegrate into anarchy and chaos as varying ’truths’ fight it out to see which one will prevail. Without deciding whose truth is absolute, we certainly must agree that there is an absolute somewhere. Once that is established then we can come to the point that we realize this truth cannot come from within, it cannot be my truth or your truth, but it must come from outside of us. Of course, (although the proof would take much longer than the space I have here) that outside source could only be the One who created us and everything around us. We can know truth by knowing God. Now there will be those who argue that even if we accept the fact that truth is from God that we cannot use Scripture as the basis for our tests because Christianity or Judaism are ‘patchwork’ or syncretistic religions themselves; that they have taken parts and pieces of other beliefs and mixed them all together to come up with their own belief system. This is simply not borne out by the facts. Nowhere else is there a Savior who sacrificed himself for mankind and rose again as the first fruits of eternal life. The centrality of Christ in God’s truth is paramount, and the only place that is found is through his revelation in Scripture. There may be some similarities between religions because the Bible tells us from the beginning that man had relationship with God and then went astray. As they went they added there now sin clouded theology to the truth to come up with something that may resemble the truth in some way, but is far from it in others. Of course if we believe truth exists and that we can know it, then we must reject anything that is incompatible with that truth. We don’t reject things because they are incompatible with our traditions, or our culture, or our interpretations; we reject them because they are incompatible with God’s truth. We don’t reject music because our tradition says we don’t sing, we don’t reject people who wear suits because our culture likes t-shirts, we don’t reject someone because their opinion differs from ours; but we do not accept something that is entirely against the truth God has laid down in His Scripture.
Next, we need to put the Gospel into the context of the culture being careful to realize that it is more important to communicate meaning than just message. Jesus did this well when he used a story to communicate ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. If we live in a homogenous society where all our neighbors are the same as us, we may assume that loving our neighbors means loving someone just like me, but Jesus pointed out a new definition of neighbor. In today’s society the word Christian means many different things to many different people. To some it is a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, to others it means a person living in the United States, to still others it is any person who calls themselves by that designation, it means whatever they want it to mean. So when we talk about being a Christian we must communicate the meaning of that word not just the message to ’be a Christian’. If we are not able or willing to define and contextualize the Gospel for our culture, others will be glad to put their own meanings and definitions to our message.
Finally, anything we assimilate into the church must be done on the church’s terms not the other way around. At one time the church brought pagan celebrations into the church to help the transition of potential converts to Christianity. The problem is that many who remember the old reason for celebrating will want to incorporate the old back into the new. The renewing of the mind will be hindered by the fact that the remnants of the old are still being associated with this celebration. Think of Paul telling the Corinthians that the idols had no power but that they also needed to be aware that if a brother still thought of idols as real and ate meat offered to those idols, that brother may think of it as worship of those idols. He would be relating to the food through his old way of thinking. True Christianity is not a patchwork of any ideas you can come up with to solve your particular issues, but it is an over arching truth that leads us in living our lives in service to the Lord. Don’t add what you want, but discover what is already there.