USA Today has on the cover this morning an article about people who mix traditional Christianity with all manner of contrary teaching, and apparently don’t seem to mind or even notice. The article is called More U.S. Christians mix in 'Eastern,' New Age beliefs and the stats are not new but they are disturbing. Syncretism is not only alive and well but apparently thriving.
Like the Israelites, there are a lot of church-goers who are spiritually adulterous. They profess to be Christians and based on what most people think of as Christianity they qualify (i.e. “go to church” occasionally, profess a belief in God no matter how vague, hold to some basic pious beliefs if not practices, etc.) In belief and in practice, what they are qualifies as many things but none of them are what the early church would know as "Christianity".
How is it possible that people can be so spiritually wayward and yet not notice anything is wrong? Shouldn’t a person who gathers with the church regularly and has even a whiff of discernment realize that 2+2 does not equal 7?
Here are a sample of the statistics we find:
Spirit and nature: Many Christians have adopted beliefs or experiences that conflict with basic Christian doctrines. People who say they:
(I just copied the numbers for "Christians")
Have been in touch with the dead 29%
Found "spiritual energy" in trees, etc. 23%
Had ghostly experience 17%
Consulted a psychic 14%
Those are only the most egregious examples. There are plenty of goofy teachings in many congregations that have more or less gained acceptance in modern evangelicalism (for proof of this see: Bookstores, Christian)
I found this especially interesting:
Despite the late Pope John Paul II's warnings to explicitly avoid Buddhist and Hindu practices, Prothero says, "American Catholics are so used to not caring what the official church tells them on birth control, divorce, premarital sex and other points that they don't think they are un-Catholic when they believe and do what they please."
We have some of the same problems among evangelicals. We have diverted all of the authority to the leaders but then feel free to pick and choose from what they teach. People hear what they want to hear. A lot of that is because local churches are so numbers focused that serious teaching and serious discipline are non-existent. On the other hand, a lot of church goers are so Scripturally ignorant that they don’t know error when they hear it and the couple of men in charge are stretched too thinly to keep tabs on everyone.
I think the root of the problem is that there are not a ton of Christians in church. Let me clarify. There are lots of people in church but I would hesitate to say that a large percentage of them are born-again believers. “Going to church” is culturally acceptable and often encouraged and carries with it very little cost. Showing up for an hour at the local Lutheran church is not really bearing the “reproach of Christ” (Heb 11:26). You can show up, do your religious rituals and go home feeling good about yourself. There is no real community. I expect to see the levels of syncretism increase dramatically in conjunction with plummeting numbers of people identifying themselves as Christians. Until we see a real cost for discipleship (and that day is fast approaching), we will continue to see rampant syncretism among American churches.