In search and rescue operations tracking an individual lost in the wilderness becomes difficult if not impossible when multiple foreign footprints dot the path. Additionally, tracking needs to be done in the daylight before the night falls. In similar fashion, when the true path of salvation found in Christ is interspersed with a foreign message the path to Jesus Christ becomes less discernible.
It is good to confess that Jesus is the one who died for our salvation and in him is found eternal life. This is stating the thesis of what we believe. Notice however, the entire second half of The Book of Concord instructs us to declare what we do not believe. Stating what we do not believe is called the antitheses. When confessing thesis or the antithesis we are always to be polite, kind, and winsome. This addresses the tonality; the way in which we say something. At the same time we are to communicate what is eternally true.
When Christians join together to worship with different religions this is called syncretism. Syncretism is becoming more common in our nation as people rally together in the face of a tragedy. Following the wisdom of Solomon there is a time and a place for everything. Hence, again, it best to follow what we agreed to follow when we were ordained:
From the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Constitution:
“Article VI Conditions of Membership
“Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following:
1. Acceptance of the confessional basis of Article II.
2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as:
a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;
b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;
c. Participating in heterodox tract and missionary activities.” [emphasis added]
In John 14:6 Jesus speaks a thesis, found in v. 6a. The thesis confesses what is true. Then, in v. 6b Jesus confesses the antithesis which states what is rejected.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6).
Here the scandal of the particular is proclaimed. In the thesis Jesus proclaims himself as the only true God. In the second part of the verse you have the antithesis which says: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” These words and similar confessions of faith are so particular there is no way around them. You either believe who Jesus says he is and what he does for us, or, you don’t.
When Christians participate in syncretistic services the antithesis is, dare I say it, omitted so as to not offend the unbeliever and incur wrath from the unbelieving world. The thesis, the confessing of who Christ is, is also eventually muted lest someone comfortable in their sin of unbelief (Jn 16:8-9) be disturbed.
In syncretistic services Jesus is then understood and relegated to say the following:
I am [a] way, and [a] truth, and [a] life. You may come to your Father / Mother / higher power in any self-chosen manner.
Why do I paraphrase Jn 14:6 in this manner? Because I saw it on the You-tube video of the syncretistic worship service for the tragedy at Newtown, Ct. If you so chose you can see this for yourself at this link: [https://youtu.be/OgygwfTGcJ0]. The path to salvation in Jesus Christ is being overrun with multiple foreign footprints because the scandal of the particular has been omitted. There is no thesis, or antithesis which is to say there is no confession. Pastors seek to comfort people by drawing them to repentance which is all-together different from affirming a person in their mis-belief.
When we proclaim Christ rightly and truly amongst non-Christians in joint worship the world will rise up against the church seeking to harm to the Bride of Christ. Did not Jesus tell us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). I find it interesting that in the Middle-East we find no evidence of Christians participating in worship services with their non-Christian neighbors. The reason for this should be palpably evident. Or is it?
It was evident to Moses as he cared for the church at the direction of the thrice holy God. Commissioned by the true and Triune God at the burning bush (Ex 3) Yahweh reveals his holy name to Moses (v. 14). Yahweh then instructed Moses and the elders of Israel to address Pharaoh and say:
‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God’ (Ex 3:18).
Moses did as Yahweh commanded him but Pharaoh ignored his word. Next, in chapter five we read:
[T]hey said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword” (Ex 5:3).
As Pharaoh again hardened his heart he then ordered the Hebrews to make bricks without straw. One last time, in chapter eight, Moses asks Pharaoh for permission to worship freely. And here is where we learn the reason for making a three day’s journey into the wilderness away from the Egyptians to worship free and unmolested.
Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us? We must go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he tells us” (Ex 8:25-27).
Now, to do justice to the text, Moses was not going to enter into syncretistic worship with unbelieving Egyptians. Why not? Well, Moses says the Egyptians would stone the Israelites simply on the basis of seeing the Divine Service the Israelites would receive from the thrice holy God. Hence the necessary three day journey into the anonymity of the wilderness. One cannot begin to imagine the treatment the Hebrews would have received from the Egyptians had the Hebrews actually entered into some form of syncretistic worship with the gods of Egypt!
Moses knew from the Triune God that when we clearly proclaim salvation is found only in the gifts of our crucified and risen Christ Jesus the world will take offense. To be sure, there will be those snatched from the fire (Jude 23) and for this we praise Jesus. If offense is the reaction of the world outside of worship can you begin to imagine the world’s reaction to clear unambiguous loving proclamation within a syncretistic service?
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).
Yes, what Dr. Benke (Yankee Stadium) and Pastor Morris (Newtown, CT) did was wrong. But rather then piling on them in this article I would ask that you pile-up your prayers for pastors. Pray that when we pastors are invited / tempted to participate in syncretistic worship we politely decline any invitation to worship with non-Christian lest the path to salvation in Jesus Christ be obscured and blurred with multiple footprints before “… the night … come[s] when no one can work” (Jn 9:4). Undoubtedly we will receive the scorn of the world and those of our flock who are in the process of learning. Pray that we pastors may graciously suffer the scorn of the world and our flesh (Mt 16:24-25). In times of great tragedy may we find comfort in our own houses of worship as we receive in Divine Service the gifts that flow from the crucified and risen Christ.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).