The Reality of Spiritual Warfare and the Problem of Syncretism

Syncretism: When the enemy tries to nullify the gospel by adding his own defiling components to the mix.


During Paul’s second missionary journey, we read about his confrontation with a slave girl who had a spirit of divination.  This lady followed Paul and Silas “for many days”, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you a way of salvation.” (Acts 16:17, NASB margin)  Gradually Paul came to realize that there was something very much wrong about this lady.  Paul turned and spoke to the evil spirit within this lady, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!”  Luke tells us that the spirit came out “at that very moment.”  

Though this seems bizarre to modern readers, this was not uneducated superstition on the part of Paul.  Actually, this same sort of thing still happens in our world today.  Here are two important truths we learn from this account.  

1. Demons are real and they know that Jesus is the only way of salvation.  They must submit to the authority in His name!  There is no geographical or religious immunity from Christ’s rule.  The demons don’t like the fact of Christ’s exclusive power and authority – but neither do they deny it (unlike the leading “fuzzy” thinkers of our day.)  If they can’t keep people from hearing about the salvation in Jesus Christ, they will try to defile the message somehow.  

2.  Subtle alliance with evil is a greater danger to the gospel than is open persecution.  Another term for this is “syncretism”.  This is what happens when people take a little of the old beliefs and religion and mix it with the gospel.  This happens in every culture and it dilutes the gospel until there is no power in it.  Jesus becomes “a way of salvation” rather than “the way of salvation.”  Jesus becomes a great guru and teacher and example…but not the exclusive Son of God and Savior.  Many times it takes someone from outside our own culture to come in and discern where we’ve allowed the enemy to seduce us.    

A dear national pastor once warned me to leave my wife at the host home while we were on missionary assignment, and not bring her out in public that day.  He was afraid that someone would “cast the evil eye upon her.”  Translated, he was afraid that she’d become the object/victim of some form of witchcraft.   

The skeptical American writes this off as pure superstition.  Admittedly, there’s a lot of superstition mixed in.  But just as in Paul’s day, there is real spiritual darkness and opposition present in our world.  And the devil roams around looking for someone to devour (see 1 Pet 5:8).  I told the host pastor, “Brother, Jesus has given us authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the devil and nothing shall by any means injure us” (see Luke 10:19).  The native pastor was mixing up heathen fears with the bold claims of the gospel, thus forfeiting the superior power and support of God’s Spirit!  

But we also need the benefit of the perspective of believers from outside our dominant culture.  The American church is full of compromise with the world-system around us, and much of it we are ignorant of.  

I think it is almost certain that a mono-cultural, mono-ethnic church is also a church that has succumbed to “syncretism” at one or more levels.  If I’m only around people who share the same dominant culture, we probably all share the same prejudices and blinders!  

This is why we need both a historical and global perspective on the things of God.  We all have gaps and errors in our worldviews.

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