“The essence of idolatry,” exclaimed A. W. Tozer, “is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” Samuel Rutherford declared, “Verily, we know not what an evil it is to indulge ourselves, and to make an idol of our will.” The Apostle Paul avowed of the ills of idolatry: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:21-25 ESV)

My Reformation Study Bible (ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr.) contains an interesting side note entitled “Syncretism and Idolatry” (p. 1362). Theopedia defines ‘syncretism’ as “Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile disparate, even opposing, beliefs and to meld practices of various schools of thought.” Erasmus probably coined the modern usage of the Latin term of which the English term syncretism is derivative in his Adagia (“Adages”), published in the winter of 1517–1518. The RSB notes:

Though there is only one God and only one true faith, that taught in the Bible, the apostate world (Rom. 1:18-25) has always been full of religions. The age-old urge toward syncretism (the assimilation of one’s religion’s beliefs and practices) is still with us. Indeed, it has been revived in our time through renewed attempts to unify all religions and through persistent amalgams of Eastern and Western ideas that rise and fall in popularity.

The pressure to compromise is not new. After entering Canaan, Israel was constantly tempted to absorb into the worship of Yahweh the Canaanite worship of fertility gods and goddesses, if not to make images of Yahweh himself—both practices forbidden in the law (Ex. 20:3-6). The spiritual issue was whether Israel would remember that the covenant God was all-sufficient for them and that He claimed their exclusive allegiance, making the worship of other gods a spiritual adultery (Jer. 3; Ezek. 16; Hos. 2). This was a test the nation often failed.

Syncretism was widespread in the Roman Empire during the first centuries of Christianity. Polytheism was rife and all manner of mystery cults flourished. Early Christian teachers diligently to keep the faith from being assimilated to Gnosticism, a kind of theosophy that had no use for Christ’s Incarnation and Atonement, since it saw the root problem of man as ignorance rather than sin. Neoplatonism and Manichaeism also saw the way of salvation mainly as a matter of ascetical detachment and escape from the physical world. Christian resistance to these movements was successful, and the classic formulations of the Trinity and the Incarnation in the creeds are a permanent legacy of these struggles.

Scripture condemns all idolatry as evil. Idols are mocked as delusive non-entities (Ps. 115:4-7; Is. 44:9-20), but they nevertheless enslave their worshipers in blind superstition (Is. 44:20). Paul adds that demons operate through idols, making them a spiritual menace (1 Cor. 8:4-6; 10:19-21). Biblical warnings against idolatry (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:14; 1 John 5:19-21) need to be taken to heart in the post-Christian Western culture, which is prepared to fill the spiritual vacuum that people feel by embracing religious syncretism, witchcraft, and experiments with the occult.

I find this highly relevant at a time when it’s become popular to amalgamate New Age and Eastern spirituality with Christianity. I want no part of idolatry nor syncretism. I believe in the all-sufficiency of Scriptures, and do not seek to incorporate elements of divergent creeds, religions, nor New Age beliefs, practices, nor religious elements into my adherence of biblical Christianity. The predicament in this day and age is we often run into people who embrace the temptation to syncretism. My desire is to embrace an orthodox (i.e., “right-believing”) Christianity through the lens of the early Christian formularies, such as the Nicene Creed and the early ecumenical councils. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Confessional Protestants share these creeds in common.

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