November 17, 2023

The Threat of Syncretism

R.C. Sproul
The Threat of Syncretism

History is marked by vain attempts to mitigate conflict among religions by melding two belief systems together. Today, R.C. Sproul adamantly teaches that we must never negotiate the truth of the Christian faith to achieve a false sense of unity.


Syncretism comes from the Greek word syn, which means “with.” And when we talk about syncopation or synchronization, we’re talking about getting things together with something else. And so what syncretism is in religion is where you have a situation in a culture where there are two coexisting religions. And when you have two religions that are disparate—say, for example, the Canaanite religion and the Jewish religion—totally different religions, you’re inevitably going to have what? Conflict between them. You’re going to have debates and arguments about religion until somebody comes along and says, “Well, one thing I never argue about is religion.” And people will want to bring about peace between these disparate views of religion. And why does religion cause so much controversy in history, even wars at times? Because it represents a conflict of what you believe to be ultimately true and of ultimate significance, of ultimate value and of ultimate duty.

Now, if two people have a completely different understanding as to what ultimate truth is, and about ultimate righteousness, and about ultimate value, you are inevitably going to have a titanic struggle. And every attempt to pass over that in history has failed and will continue to fail. And when people tend to say, “Look, obviously Christians are not called to be involved in violent conflict, we’re called to be at peace with people; we’re to be charitable, long-suffering, kind and all of that,” at the same time, there is a sense in which the Christian cannot compromise his faith without betraying God. That’s why the Christian church was built with the blood of the martyrs that were soaking the sands of the Circus Maximus and of the Colosseum, because they said, “We cannot betray Christ.”

But when different religions come together, inevitably somebody will say: “Well, look, let’s stop this conflict by, ‘We’ll find the best of this religion, and the best of this religion, and the best of this religion,’ and let’s be ecumenical about it. We’ll put them all together into one big happy family.” And that’s fine as long as you ignore the ultimate points of conflict and negotiate them, which no Christian can do, and no Jew was allowed to do.

The Christians would obstinately refuse to bow the knee to the religion of emperor worship in their day. And they were considered by their neighbors troublemakers. They were considered by their neighbors to be narrow-minded, rigid, brittle, contentious, and all the rest. I mean nobody in the history of mankind has stirred up more controversy, caused more trouble on this planet than Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace.

It is the Prince of Peace who divides men. “I came not to bring peace,” He said, “but a sword to set mother against father and sister against brother” (Matt. 10:34–35)—not because He enjoyed conflict but because truth and godliness were at stake. Now, a contentious person, a quarrelsome person, a divisive person, the Bible criticizes because those are people who will contend, and quarrel, and fight over the drop of a hat. And Christians are again—it’s the biblical motif—to live as much as possible at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). But when the real controversy comes, you don’t negotiate. You don’t negotiate your loyalty to Christ.