|Posted by DrRaj on July 26, 2009 at 2:15 PM|
How do we do what is right?
Recently I attended a missions conference in Toronto, where variousethnic communites (they were all Christians) presented their culture andtraditions, together with sights and sounds of various cultures. Having livedin Asia for a long time, I have been exposedto and deeply experienced many of these cultures before.
My conclusion is that it has always been difficult toseparate what is cultural from what is religious, when it comes to dealing withissues in Asia.
To briefly put this issue in context, there has been arevival among academic circles and seminaries in Asia to remove the “cultural”baggage that the western missionaries brought to Asia,and to articulate an authentic Asian theology. The presupposition is that ifone can find what the essential kernel of Christian belief is, then that iswhat we can present to Asians, in their own cultural setting. For example, theearly Indian converts changed their names to English ones (not Hebrew, as onemight expect) due to the need to identify with the “new” religion. They alsostarted wearing shirt and pants, and changed their dietary habits. Much of thischange was cultural, and in and of itself, was not wrong. But the effect was toidentify Christianity as a western religion.
But there is a change in the 21st century! In North America, as mainline Christianity has become“diluted”, and may I say “polluted”, by the world, the trend has reversed. Now,many religious Asian customs are being foisted onto churches and society underthe guise of “culture”.
How do we know what is religious and what is custom? A NorthAmerican would readily accept something as cultural if the church he attendedpresented it as such. Yet it is not so simple. As an ethnic South Asian, I havedifficulty because what I feel is a religious custom may not be that way foranother South Asian Christian. And this is where the issue becomes heated.
In an evangelical community of churches which have sizeableethnic Asian there is the movement toward ethnic culture. This is good, and itis nice to see the cheongsam of the Chinese and the saree of the Indian make acomeback. But then, what do we do when the dragon dance or the yoga classesmake their debut? What about henna tattoos, with their images of the zodiac?What about yin-yang healing or zen meditation?
The cardinal rule that I think a Christian must ensure isthat the historical roots of the custom are not based on the pagan religion.This requires research and talking to the practitioners of these customs.
For example, yoga practitioners readily say that thephilosophical foundations of their system are Hindu based. Yet, churchesreadily start yoga classes and do not enquire as to what the mantras mean orwhether the “exercise” poses reflect a worship of the hindu gods.
But read what was written on 15th Feb 2006, byCathy Lee Grossman in USA Today entitled “Hindu Lite”:
“Reincarnationis a core belief in Hinduism, says Mark Hawthorne, who writes for HinduismToday, but the ultimate aim is for the soul to transcend its individuality andreunite with the one God. Yoga's mind-body workout has attracted at least 16.5million Americans, says Yoga Journal. And, the magazine assures readers, it'snot necessary to study or follow a Hindu or Buddhist path to practice. However,authentic Hindu yoga is a 5,000-year-old discipline "designed to changeyour consciousness," says Hawthorne.Yoga's meditative chanting is believed to carry spiritual vibrations that bringone close to God”. (http://www.usatoday.com/life/2006-02-15-hindu-lite_x.htm)
The writer titles her article Hindu Lite! If secular writersare noticing that Hindu Lite is influencing American culture, what are churchesdoing about it? We are to guard against it. Any light “Lite”, be it “Zen Lite” or“TM Lite” is not compatible with the gospel, for any other philosophy is not ofGod. And there can be no fellowship.
2 Cor 6: 14Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowshiphath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light withdarkness? 15And what concord hath Christ withBelial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
The same process of discernment must be applied to all othereastern customs and traditions that are popular these days. North Americansculture has been redeemed of much pagan influence over the centuries, thoughsome still persist (e.g Halloween). But new trends must be evaluated and churchmembers warned if necessary.
Yes, we can talk of redeeming customs from their paganroots, but do we really want to fight that battle when we have not even reachedout effectively to preach the gospel to all peoples?
As Christians we must think hard about any new easterncustoms or traditions that we want to introduce in churches, and only acceptcustoms that have no obvious or known pagan religious roots. If in doubt, it isbetter to wait rather than to give the devil a toehold in the sanctuary of God.
I have noted that God has gifted us differently. SomeChristians are strong in their faith with regard to exposure to idols anddemonic customs. Yet others, just as faithful, feel a reaction or get sick ifthey encounter the same. Yet the latter might be far more gifted prayerwarriors than the former! Such is the Lord’s gifting and it makes us strongeras a local church family when we respect and utilize each other’s gifts to themaximum.
In that context and principle, those who argue that it isall right to allow questionable practices in to the church because they lookinnocuous, or are not being used in their religious context, must think oftheir fellow believers to whom this might be a stumbling block.
1 Cor 8:9But take heed lest by any means thisliberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10For if any man see thee which hastknowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of himwhich is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11Andthrough thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
We are to remember that syncretism can affect those who arestrong in faith (a reminder for those who think they are strong - 1 Cor 10:12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.), but willadversely affect those who are weak or lukewarm Christians. It will definitelydilute the gospel for those who have grown up in religious Asian homes withstrong teaching of Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam. As leaders, we are not to doanything that might lead people astray, for great is our judgment if we do.Appropriate research is mandatory, together with dialogue with converts fromthat particular religion and ethnic group, before proceeding.
It is better to wait than to err.