Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Danger of Syncretism

A sermon developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett based on Philippians 3:18-20.


Paul founded the church in Philippi on his second missionary journey after having a vision from God of a man asking him to come help them. (Acts 16:9). The population was a mix of both Romans and Greeks. The Jewish population was very small. Though there is some disagreement among scholars, most believe that Paul wrote Philippians from Rome while he was in prison. 

Verse 18 - For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Paul wrote these words in a culture that was hostile to Gospel. In fact, Paul was in jail for preaching the Gospel even as he wrote these words. Across North America, and in many places in Europe, Western culture is no longer sympathetic to the Gospel. We frequently encounter people who are openly enemies of the cross. This should cause of great concern and we should spend time in intense prayer asking the Father to call the enemies of the cross to the foot of that very cross they despise. 

However, the most dangerous enemies of the Gospel are often those who may not appear to be openly hostile, yet inwardly fight against the truth of the Gospel in subtle ways.

For example, I was recently in Haiti and noticed that there are signs and posters about God everywhere. Tap-taps (mass transit taxis) have Christian phrases written on them, as do many buildings. It would appear that Haiti is a very “Christian” nation. But many of the people of Haiti have simply added “Jesus” to the list of things they already believe. One Christian leader from Canada who has been working in Haiti for many years said, “Haiti is 90% Catholic, 10% Evangelic and 100% Voodoo.” He went on to explain how even people who appeared to be committed Christians would quickly turn to Voodoo when they had a serious problem. Though the Christian church teaches against Voodoo and the belief system that under girds Voodoo is in direct opposition to the Christian Gospel.

What the Haitians have done is call syncretism. Syncretism is the combination of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practice. Syncretism is one of the greatest enemies of the Cross because on the outside it looks like it accepts the Gospel when in fact it does not. People in Haiti are content to practice voodoo, pray to Mary and plaster “Jesus” on their tap-taps, but that is not the true Gospel. The true Gospel requires a 100% commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and a total trust in His atonement on the cross for our eternal salvation. Any less than this is a false Gospel.

While it is easy to see the syncretism in a place like Haiti, we have plenty of it in our own culture as well. Many Americans want to add Jesus to our belief system of consumerism, materialism and self-focus. Jesus becomes just one more thing on the list of what makes us “successful.” Jesus is not just one more ingredient for a successful life. Jesus is THE INGREDIENT for a successful life! When we are more loyal to anything other than the Jesus, we have become an enemy of the cross.

Verse 19 - Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things.

Paul warned the Philippians that those who lived as enemies of the cross would meet a disastrous end. The Greek word for destruction is apoleia, which means utter and hopeless loss of all that gives worth to existence. However, it does not refer to extinction or annihilation or an end of existence, but to total ruin of one’s purpose of existence. How many people are living lives that have no purpose or direction? They move like emotional or spiritual zombies through life. That is the result of being an enemy of the cross.

We only find purpose and fulfillment in life through a meaningful relationship with Jesus. Otherwise, just finding a little food for the day, a little bit of money, or entertainment, or some other trivial thing becomes our goal. A life pursing trivial things is mere survival not true living!

When we are living as enemies of the cross, even our “best” days are still a shameful waste of our lives. When we live that way, our focus is on temporary things of this earth that will soon pass away. And we are often missing out on the things that have eternal or lasting value.

Verse 20 - But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Christians should not be living lives that are meaningless. We are not supposed to be enemies of the cross. We are supposed to be allies of the cross, following the Christ of the cross on a meaningful journey through life that leads to a heavenly destination that will never fade. When we entered into a relationship with Christ, we were given a new spiritual passport; we are now citizens of heaven. On earth, some people have dual citizenship with two countries. Though that has some advantages on earth, it does create some divided loyalties. Too many Christians are trying to be “dual-citizens” of both earth and heaven. But a total commitment to Christ means a denunciation of our earthly citizenship. We must place all our hopes on the heavenly kingdom as we eagerly await the return of the King.


Enemies of the cross include those who are openly hostile to Christ and those who have misplaced loyalties to anything other than Christ. Enemies of the cross will lack purpose, meaning and fulfillment in life. Allies of the cross have a 100% loyalty to Christ the King and stay focused on their heavenly journey with Jesus, encouraging others to join them on the journey.