Contextualization And Syncretism
February, 2023.- Daniel Kuje
“Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus, Acts 19:8,9”.
Over the centuries many approaches have been adopted to be useful in the presentation of the gospel, Institutional, apologetics, grace and many other approaches were found to be instrumental to different people groups coming to The Lord, the contextualization approach had been one of the most effective one in today’s ever changing society.
Contextualization is the process of gospel presentation to a people in a way that allows for a church to exist in a way that make sense to them, in this process elements of culture are brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
When we speak of gospel presentation, we’re referring to communicating the gospel in a manner that the recipient clearly understands it. I use to say that “the gospel is not the gospel until it is clearly communicated” The Christian Magna Carta states that “everyone has the right to hear the gospel and to understand it” However, this is not always the case as there are many approaches in Christian missiology and movements over the eras.
In the Bible, in Acts chapter 19, we see an example of a contextualized gospel presentation in Apostle Paul who on his third missionary journey to Ephesus was before his fellow Jews “arguing persuasively” in presenting truths, why? According to Dr. Tim Svoboda a frontier missions leader in YWAM states that “arguments is one of the ways the Jews establishes their messages” on the other hand the Greeks being proud of been learned people believes in discussions, The Jews religious meetings usually occurs in their synagogues, thus Acts 19:8,9 reads:
“Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. 9 But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus.”
The point here is why was Paul arguing in the synagogue of the Jews but when he got to the Greeks he was discussing the same topic? In argument, truths is established in a dispute manner, most cultures in the global south countries of the world are ascribed and indirect cultures, so arguments are seen to be normal but this is not the same in the West which is greatly a direct culture. The central message of the gospel is the same but different approaches could be applied to ensure the salvation message is clearly communicated.
If you come as a missionary to a people group in northern Nigeria and you use a verse of Isiah chapter 1 that say “though your sin be a black as scarlet or red as crimson, they can be as white as snow” you’ll speaking in tongues because they’ve never seen scarlet, crimson or snow before, but if you say “ though your sin be black as charcoal it can be made as white as wool or coconut you would have clearly communicated, there’sa need for we ministers of the gospel to clearly present the message of the gospel.
Syncretism occurs when we lose the basics of what the gospel tends to produce in live of an individual, community or nation, when that is lost in the process of Contextualization, then Syncretism had occurred. For example, when observing the sacrament or during the Holy communion, the flesh becomes the actual flesh of Jesus Christ, entering a cannibalistic society and parting in eating human flesh, involvement in drunkenness, fornication or adultery, practicing masquerades etc, All in the name of becoming all things to all men to save some, this statement always requires a careful consideration because the line between contextualization and syncretism is very slim, the root of heresy and false doctrines often has connection with this matter.
“to the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” 1 Corinthians 9:22.
A wrong look into verses of the bible as this one is dengerous to what Christ want to see happen with the gospel across people groups, these are examples of becoming syncretic in the process of contextualization.
An example of a contextualized gospel is incarnational, “becoming all things to all men in other that I may win some”
1. .Jesus left glory and incarnated into our sinful world to save
2. going into a culture, learning the language and way of life for the purpose saving
3. Becoming a skilled worker; nursing, sportsman, school teacher etc in an Unreached location.
An incarnational gospel is a contextualized gospel and lossing the essence or values of the gospel in the process of Contextualization is Syncretism.
Closing: There’ll be a rapid growth in a people group if the gospel is presented in a manner that make sense to them and if during devotions, elements of culture are brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God want to see every tribe and tongue worship His son within the frame of their culture as every tribe and tongue has something to offer before the throne, Revelation 7:9.
⦁ In your word what’s Contextualization
⦁ At what point can someone be syncretic in a gospel presentation?
⦁ Retell Isiah 1:18 in the language of your target people group