Evangelism or Syncretism?
At what point does cultural sensitivity and awareness become syncretistic? In this episode we discuss the importance of preaching the Gospel in every context.
One of the biggest religious conflicts that we face here is an ever-growing Islamic presence. While most of the population in Medgidia are of Romanian descent, there is a steady influx of Turkish immigrants and descendants that have been amassing a coalition of their own. There is an Islamic-Turkish union as well as multiple mosques and private, Islamic schools in the city.
Unfortunately, these Turkish immigrants can be some of the poorest people in the city, with little education and, oftentimes, little knowledge of the Romanian language. It is for this reason that we reach out to their community. We offer tutoring for the few children that actually attend school and organize a weekly program for children where we tell Bible stories, play games, do arts and crafts, and provide food.
What’s our focus?
This is great and all, but what is our goal? Are we here simply to offer programs and attempt to offer opportunities to children who may never get any? Well certainly that’s a part of it, but more importantly our goal is to spread the Gospel. And this is where I have begun to run into many differences of opinion. How should we properly evangelize the Muslims in our community?
A correct view of evangelism?
A group of people here believe that we should evangelize the Muslims by using their cultural understanding of Jesus and the Bible and shaping it in a way that will cause the fewest conflicts. This may seem like a good idea, but you have to remember that their culture is inherently Islamic. These are people who have immigrated from a national Islamic state. Therefore, to speak in a way that fits their cultural understanding of Jesus and the Bible is to speak to them through the lens of the Qur’an.
A practical example of this would be using the name “Isa” (the Turkish word for Jesus) instead of “Isus” (the Romanian word for Jesus). You may think that this isn’t a problem, but the problem comes from the cultural understanding of “Isa.” In the Qur’an, Jesus, as Christians know Him, is not “Jesus, Son of God,” but “Isa ibn Mariam,” (Jesus son of Mary). Again, you might think, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the Qur’an calls Jesus the son of Mary precisely because it claims that Jesus is NOT the son of God.
This is an error that distinctly separates Islam and Christianity, and if “Isa” is used in the context of evangelism in the Turkish communities, without correction of who Jesus truly is, we are committing an act of religious “syncretism” or “the merging of multiple differing systems of belief.” In short, we are telling them that they can be saved by believing in Isa, as they understand him in the Qur’an.
Unfortunately, this is not true evangelism. Christians know that the only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ, and 1 John 4:1-3 offer us the test in order to know if what is being taught is true or not. John writes,
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
So, is it wrong to use “Isa” instead of “Isus” or “Jesus” in an evangelistic context? Not necessarily. How do the Christians in Turkey talk about Jesus besides using “Isa”? The problem comes when we are afraid of offending our Muslim friends by telling them the truth: only through belief in Jesus Christ the Son of God can we be saved. If you aren’t saying this, you aren’t evangelizing. I say to you, then, do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? For He Himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
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