Tag Archives: Roman Catholic Church

Rod Dreher – Orthodox and Not

Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, Rod Dreher.  New York: Sentinel, 2020.  Hardcover, 240 pages.

Rod Dreher’s latest book has gained as much interest as his previous work, The Benedict Option.  This new offering explains the new world we’re in, the “brave new world” looming on the horizon, and how it all connects to the recent past of Eastern Europe.  Live Not By Lies also wants to provide guidance for Christians as we descend into the darkness of “soft totalitarianism.”   It looked like a promising read.  However, it turned out to be less than what I was hoping for.

The strength of this volume is in its first part:  Understanding Soft Totalitarianism.  This part is more descriptive, historical, and analytical.  Dreher explains that totalitarianism is about complete state control over actions, thought, emotions, and even what is and isn’t true.  Soft totalitarianism “is therapeutic.  It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing” (p.7).  Soft totalitarianism “masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavoured demographic groups to protect the feelings of ‘victims’ in order to bring about ‘social justice’ (p.9). 

Dreher helpfully draws historical lessons from the Eastern European experience of totalitarianism during the Cold War era.  He interviews people who lived through that horror and who see disturbing parallels developing in western democracies today.  Chapter 3, “Progressivism as Religion” is the best chapter.  It explains how the Christian faith and totalitarianism, particularly manifested with today’s woke leftists, are “best understood as competing religions” (p.56).  So far, so good.

The subtitle is “A Manual for Christian Dissidents.”  Dreher desires to help Christians dissent from the deepening soft totalitarianism.  This is the focus of the second part of Live Not By Lies, How to Live in Truth.  In this section too, there are valuable insights to be gleaned from the experiences of others who’ve endured communism in Eastern Europe.  Nevertheless, this is the weaker section of the book. 

I say that for two main reasons.  One is because I’d expect “A Manual for “Christian Dissidents” to offer authoritative guidance based on what the Bible teaches.  The Bible is mentioned here and there.  There are paraphrases from a couple of Bible passages and one direct quote.  But the Bible doesn’t appear to be foundational to Dreher’s manual.  The lived experience of people who were dissidents during the Cold War seems to be more so.

The second reason I found this section of the book weak is because of what it does, and doesn’t do, with the gospel.  In some places Dreher mentions the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  However, there’s no mention of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone.  In fact, there are places where that biblical teaching is denied by some of those interviewed by Dreher (e.g. Alexander Ogorodnikov on p.196).  Moreover, the book doesn’t emphasize how it’s the true gospel of Jesus Christ which can actually transform not only individual lives, but also entire nations.

These points won’t be surprising to those who know something of Dreher’s background.  He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1993 and then to Eastern Orthodoxy in 2006.  Sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church led to his departure.  However, Dreher continues to have a mostly positive view of Roman Catholicism. 

That leads me to one of the other major issues in Live Not By Lies:  its false ecumenism.  When Dreher says “Christian,” his definition includes Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.  It’s a definition that can’t be swallowed by a confessionally Reformed Christian.  I can grant that many of the people interviewed in this book are religious, as is Dreher.  I can grant that, in sociological terms, they and their churches are often described as “Christian” in the broad sense of being distinct from other religions.  I can grant that totalitarian persecutors don’t care about our theological differences — they will persecute the devout Roman Catholic as a “Christian” just as readily as they will the Bible-believing Protestant.  What I cannot grant is that any person who holds to the gospel-denying tenets of Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy is truly a Christian in the biblical sense of the word.  As an Orthodox believer, Dreher holds otherwise.  This is a dangerous lie which we ought not to live by.    

His Orthodoxy surfaces at certain points in the book.  Dreher describes “mystical awakenings” by which God is supposed to have revealed himself (p.197).  He speaks of a prisoner who “was able to be an icon” to others (p.204) and an Orthodox father-son duo canonized as saints whose icon hangs in Dreher’s home (p.178).  Dreher quotes a Romanian Orthodox priest who says, “You, my friend, are the unique bearer of your deification in Jesus Christ…” (p.160), referring to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis.

Finally, Dreher’s focus is on more recent totalitarian movements.  However, a Reformed reader can’t help but think of other historic forms of totalitarianism, especially those connected with Roman Catholicism.  I think of what the Huguenots endured in France during the two centuries following the Reformation.  What Reformed believers need today is a “manual for Christian dissidents” primarily based on Scripture, but also explaining how our Huguenot brethren dissented in their day.

Live Not By Lies is worth reading, but with discernment.  It requires a cautious eye and a thoughtful mind.  To be sure, Dreher has helpful insights to offer.  But it has to be recognized that he’s not coming from a Reformed perspective, not even a Protestant or Evangelical perspective.  He has an understanding of what it means to live not by lies that’s not entirely acceptable to a Reformed Christian.  For us, living not by lies means we need to live by the truth of God’s Word as our ultimate standard.  Living not by lies means we need to uphold the truth of the biblical gospel – that there’s salvation through Jesus Christ alone.  Living not by lies means we need to experience unity with other believers only on the basis of a biblical faith.


Book Review: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church, R. Albert Mohler Jr..  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2020.  Hardcover, 223 pages.

Albert Mohler has a well-deserved reputation as one of Christianity’s best culture critics.  He has a daily radio program (The Briefing) with thoughtful worldview analysis.  His blog (AlbertMohler.com) is on my must-read list.  When Mohler speaks or writes on a topic, you can be sure of two things:  1) he’ll be starting with the Bible as his foundation and 2) he’ll be aiming for the glory of God through the advance of the gospel.

He does it in this book on our contemporary cultural challenges too.  Here he’s addressing the overarching problem of secularism.  At the outset, I should say he’s writing as an American for an American audience.  I read it as an ex-pat Canadian living in Australia.  Some of the material in the book may seem irrelevant to people like me — the Appendix, for example, deals with the American Supreme Court and the role it plays in political decision-making.  You may have to stop and think about how that transfers to the Canadian or Australian situation (I think it does).  That said, Mohler does pay attention to developments elsewhere in the world.  He writes about situations in British Columbia, Alberta, France, and elsewhere.

The book contains both description and analysis.  If anyone has been paying attention, a lot of the descriptive material is going to be familiar.  He describes how secularism is a threatening storm in regard to civilization, the church, human life, marriage, family, and gender/sexuality.  Mohler’s analysis of these trends is where I found the real value for money in this book.

Let me share a few points of appreciation that might whet your appetite.

Already in the Introduction, Mohler explains that secular doesn’t mean “irreligious” or “non-religious.”  It means “that Christianity, which forged the moral and spiritual worldview of Western civilization, is being displaced.”  In the first chapter, he elaborates:

Secular, in terms of contemporary sociological and intellectual conversation, refers to the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief.  It is both an ideology, which is known as secularism, and a consequence, which is known as secularization.  The latter is not an ideology; it is a concept and a sociological process whereby societies become less theistic, and in our context that means less Christian in general outlook. (pp.4-5)

Elsewhere in the book he illustrates how secularism and secularization have religious and theological values.

The second chapter is entitled “The Gathering Storm in the Church.”  Mohler notes how the prophets of theological liberalism predicted that churches would need to adapt to the culture in order to survive.  He quotes a Baptist minister and lawyer, Oliver Thomas:  “Churches will continue hemorrhaging members until we face the truth:  being a faithful Christian does not mean accepting everything the Bible teaches” (p.30).  However, the truth is quite the opposite:  “it was actually liberal theology that lead to the evacuation of these churches” (p.19).  Mohler doesn’t discuss this, but I’d note that we heard the same canard from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands about women in office.  Some from the RCN argued that the church can’t survive and grow while restricting the special offices of the church to men.  I wonder how that’s going for them.  If you look at the Christian Reformed Church in North America, after their decision to allow women in office in 1992, they’ve been on a steady downward trend in membership.  Adapting to the culture is not a recipe for growth.

That same chapter also issues a cry for the need for creeds and confessions.  Says Mohler, “Churches and denominations that have no confession of faith, or have a confession in name only, disarm themselves doctrinally” (p.36).  Quite right!  Historic Christian confessions which faithfully summarize the Bible are indispensable for keeping our doctrinal heads screwed on straight as the storm of secularism starts blowing in.

The chapter on gender and sexuality discusses the infamous Revoice Conference of 2018.  This conference was held to support, encourage and empower “gay, lesbian, same sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”  This illustrates “the revolution’s demand on the church of Jesus Christ.”  One thing Mohler doesn’t mention is the fact that this conference was hosted by a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.  In fact, the epicentre of the Revoice controversy has been in the PCA and how the church and its courts respond to it.

One of the troubling things about the Revoice Conference was the idea that a Christian can identify himself/herself in terms of being gay or lesbian, etc.  In other words, you can be a “gay Christian.”  Mohler dissents.  The most significant problem “is the idea that any believer can claim identity with a pattern of sexual attraction that is itself sinful” (p.108).  Some associated with Revoice argue that the attraction itself is not sinful.  Mohler’s response to this is worth a careful read:

The issues here are bigger than sexuality.  As Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield rightly explain, we confront here a basic evangelical disagreement with Roman Catholicism.  Ever since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that involuntary incentive to sin is not itself sin.  In the most amazing sentence, the Council of Trent declared: “This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin.”  Don’t miss the acknowledgement that the doctrine of Trent is contrary to the language of the apostle.  (p.109)

That was new to me; both the connection to Roman Catholicism, and how explicitly the Council of Trent repudiated biblical teaching on this point.

Finally, Mohler has a great chapter on the challenges facing our young people.  Again, the description is good, but the analysis is better.  But best of all is the way Mohler lays out a way to “apply the gospel power in order to engage the storm gathering over the coming generations.”  He argues that Christian parents have to lay hold of three things:

  1. Because it’s where the gospel is preached, church has to be the utmost and highest priority for Christian families.
  2. Christian parents need to both understand the challenge of technology, screen time, and social media and rise to meet that challenge.
  3. Christian parents have to disciple their children through family worship and quality family time.  (pp.140-141)

If I could add one item to this list:  recognizing the need for and value of Christian education.  After all, public education is one of the primary ways secularism seeks to indoctrinate our children.

I first became aware of The Gathering Storm through its promotion online through Mohler’s blog and other sources.  However, what really led me to buy it and read it was a friend and colleague from Canada who was doing a course for Christian school teachers on the biblical worldview and contemporary challenges to it.  I’d say that it is a must-read for Christian educators.  But no less so for parents and far more so for office bearers in Christ’s church.  I do wonder whether the storm is still gathering or whether it is upon us.  Whatever the case may be, none of us can be doing the ostrich thing.  We need to see what’s going on and then also realize that if we’re truly Christians, we have the solid foundation under our feet to weather it — and even see the gospel advance despite it.


“Plain Water” — The Reformation and Worship

The Reformation wasn’t only about theology.  It was also, and perhaps most centrally, about doxology.  It was about the right giving of glory, about worship.  That was the central thesis of Carlos Eire’s 1986 book, War Against the Idols: the Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin.  It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what really drove the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

At the heart of the Reformed drive to purify Christian worship was a principle.  That principle was sola Scriptura — by the Bible alone.  Our worship is to be governed only according to the Word of God.  God alone has the prerogative to determine how we are to worship him and his prerogatives are expressed in the Scriptures.

That key principle found expression in the Reformed confessions.  For instance, article 7 of the Belgic Confession says that Scripture is sufficient for our faith and practice.  Then it adds, “The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in it at length.”  Later, in article 32, the Confession insists:

We believe that, although it is useful and good for those who govern the church to establish a certain order to maintain the body of the church, they must at all times watch that they do not deviate from what Christ, our only Master, has commanded.  Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the conscience in any way.

Or as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it in QA 96, “We are not to worship him [God] in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.”  That is the most succinct expression of the Reformed principle of worship.  In more recent times, it’s been called the regulative principle of worship.  It’s simply the application of sola Scriptura to worship.

Naturally, there is a background to this in the pre-Reformation church.  In the medieval church, things had been added and subtracted from Christian worship.  This had been done on human authority, without any divine approbation from the Scriptures.  When the Reformation arrived, people again became attuned to the Scriptures and they realized that the church’s worship had become idolatrous.  Worship was in need of renewal according to the Bible.

A noteworthy example of this is found in article 34 of the Belgic Confession.  This article first speaks in general terms about the meaning of Christian baptism.  Baptism has replaced circumcision.  Baptism is the means by which we are “received into the church of God.”  Through baptism we are set apart from the world.  Then the Reformed churches confess this:

For that reason he has commanded all those who are his to be baptized with plain water into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19).

Notice especially the mention of “plain water.”  Those two words are pregnant with meaning.

“Plain water” is directed at the ways in which Rome had added to baptism.  In his book Flesh and Spirit, Steven Ozment describes how baptism was administered by Rome around the time of the Reformation:

The traditional service of baptism began with the priest blowing gently under the eyes of the newborn and commanding the devil, “Flee from this child, unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.”  The child then received the mark of the cross on its forehead and chest and a pinch of consecrated salt in its mouth, this time accompanied by the words, “Take the salt of [divine] wisdom, and may it atone for you in eternity.”  Thereafter, the priest imitated Christ’s healing of a deaf-mute (Mark 7:33-34) and a blind man (John 9:6) by dabbing a mixture of his own sputum and dirt in the child’s nose and ears, while pronouncing a double command, the first for the child, the second for the devil:  “[Dear child] receive the sweetness [of God]…devil, flee, for the judgment of God is near.”  The priest then anointed the child’s chest and shoulders with olive oil and placed a consecrated mixture of olive oil and balsam — the holy chrism — on the crown of its head.  The final acts of the service belonged to the godparent, who took the naked, baptized child from the priest and clothed it in the traditional white shirt or gown (the Wester, Alba, or Westerhemd) — symbols of purity and acceptance into the body Christian– which the godparent provided for the occasion.  The godparent then named the child, often after the godparent.  The service concluded with the placement of a candle in the combined hands of the child and parent(s), who were exhorted to “receive the ardent and blameless Light [of God].”  (page 78)

That was a long, complicated description, wasn’t it?  And how much of it is commanded in Scripture?  You can see why the Belgic Confession says so much with two words about baptism:  “plain water.”  That’s how Christ commanded baptism to be done, so that’s how we do baptism.  It’s simple and biblical.

With 500 years since the Reformation, is this Reformed principle of worship still relevant?  Look around.  You’ll see Protestant churches that add and take away from Christ’s commands for worship here, there, and everywhere.  Sadly, there are churches where there is no biblical preaching to speak of.  There are churches which neglect the sacraments.  There are churches which substitute dramatic productions (on the stage or on the screen) for preaching.  In some “Presbyterian” churches, they’ve at times added liturgical dancing.   There have even  been “Reformed” churches where they decided to preach on The Simpsons rather than the Word of God.  It’s almost as if the Reformation never happened!  For this reason, we need to learn again from the Reformation about worship.  We need to go back to the faithful summary of Scripture in our Reformed confessions.  When we do that, we will worship God only as he commands in his Word — no additions or subtractions.


The Reformation in Latin America

I recently finished reading Timothy Tennent’s Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century.  There are some good things in this volume, but there are also some serious concerns.  Time permitting, I intend to write a full review and submit it to a journal.

For today, I just want to interact briefly with something Tennent writes in chapter 10, “The Flowering of World Christianity, 1910-Present.”  In this chapter, he discusses the explosion of Pentecostalism around the world, and especially in Latin America.  Tennent views this in a positive light.  Here’s a paragraph to give you a taste:

…Latin America is not merely the story of the rise of Pentecostalism and the decline of Roman Catholicism, or the intrusion of Pentecostals into Roman Catholic territory.  As with the European Reformation, this new reformation has also stimulated vitality in the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in a renewed emphasis on evangelism and mission.  As Roman Catholic missiologist John Gorski has noted, “Evangelization in the specific sense of announcing the Gospel to enable a personal encounter with the living Christ, leading to conversion and discipleship, became a conscious concern of the Catholic Church only within the past half century.”  The point is, the Reformation has finally arrived in Latin America!  Just as the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation in Europe challenged and helped to foster the emergence of a new branch of Christianity and to bring reformation to the established church of its day, so today the Pentecostals in Latin America are bringing along the emergence of new Christian movements and the renewal of Roman Catholicism, as well as theological discussions that mirror many of the broad contours of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.  (288)

There’s so much askew here.  Where to start?

First of all, one of the major problems throughout this book is the author’s view of Roman Catholicism.  He believes that Roman Catholics are Christians and that, as Christians, they bring the gospel to the lost.  With this position, he denies the necessity of the Reformation.  More significantly, he denies the point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians!  Because of their denial of sola gratia and sola fide, the Roman Catholics do not have a gospel to bring to the lost.  Instead, from a Reformed perspective, they too are in need of the gospel.  As the Heidelberg Catechism states it in QA 30, you cannot believe in the only Saviour Jesus if you also seek your salvation or well-being from saints or anywhere else.

Second, to compare the explosion of Pentecostalism in Latin America with the Reformation is unbelievable.  The Pentecostalism one finds in Latin America is so rife with errors and heresies that this comparison just doesn’t fly.  Much of Latin American Pentecostalism is syncretistic.  In Brazil, for instance, many practitioners of African tribal religions are also Pentecostal.  Some of Latin American Pentecostalism is heretical on the doctrine of the Trinity.  With its view of revelation, Pentecostalism functionally denies sola Scriptura.  Their doctrine of salvation is Arminian at best, Pelagian at worst — a denial of the gospel of grace.  The list goes on.  This is not a Reformation — it’s merely trading in one form of defective religion for another form.  To say that Pentecostalism echoes the “broad contours” of the Reformation makes me wonder whether Tennent is failing to understand the teachings of Pentecostalism or the Reformation — or perhaps both?

Finally, let me comment on Tennent’s view of the Reformation.  He writes that it “fostered the emergence of a new branch of Christianity.”  Here he shows his hand and the game is up.  If the Reformation introduced something new, then it really wasn’t a Reformation, but a revolution.  The Reformers were not intent on producing “a new branch of Christianity.”  They wanted to bring Europe (and the world) back to the old ways — back to the Bible and back to the gospel.  Tennent sounds like a sociologist trying to present an “objective” view of things, not a theologian who takes the Bible seriously.  I want to ask him two questions:  1) Was the Reformation necessary or not?  2) Is there still a good reason for us to “protest” against the teachings of Rome today?

Thankfully, there really is a Reformation taking place in Latin America.  Pentecostals and Roman Catholics are discovering the gospel of grace in Brazil and elsewhere.  They are abandoning their Pentecostal and Roman Catholic beliefs and finding comfort in the biblical gospel of Christ.  More and more of them are reading the Reformed confessions and finding that these are faithful summaries of God’s Word.  The Holy Spirit is opening their eyes to biblical truths like sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria.  The living Spirit of Christ is producing a true Reformation and I just pray that missiologists like Tim Tennent could see that.


Contextualization (1)

Revised text of a lecture for the Grade 11 Bible class at Credo Christian High School, Langley, BC in 2007.

As most of you know, for the first few years of my ministry, I served as a missionary in Fort Babine, BC, north of Smithers.  There were many difficult issues to work through as a missionary.  One of these was the relationship between native culture and the Christian faith.  There were some native Christians who said, for instance, that when you became a Christian you could no longer go to potlatch feasts.  They said the potlatch was all tied up with native spirituality.  Others said that potlatch feasts were okay for Christians or at least some potlatches were okay and others weren’t.  These sorts of issues not only come up in Fort Babine – they come up all over the globe.  In what follows, I want to look at this relationship between Christianity and culture.

I’m going to speak about something called contextualization.  I know that’s a word you may not have heard of before.  But if you ever doing any reading in the area of missions, you’ll soon come across it.  It’s probably the subject that gets the most discussion by people who study mission.

So, what is contextualization?  We can define it like this:

Contextualization is taking the gospel of Christ to a new context and finding appropriate and effective ways to communicate it so the people in that context can understand it best.  It also includes developing a church life that is biblically faithful and culturally appropriate.

There is a lot there in that definition.  But it can be boiled down to two things:  communication and identity.  First, when we bring the gospel to people from another culture, how can we effectively tell them about Christ?  Second, there’s identity.  How do people from another culture take the gospel and make it their own?  What does accepting the gospel do to their cultural identity?  When we take these two things together, we’re looking at the interaction between culture and faith, particularly a new faith that comes from outside the culture.

Before we go any further, we have to think for a few moments on the definitions of communication and culture.  First, let’s define communication:

Communication is transmitting information that influences and/or informs the behaviour and thinking of other creatures.

We sometimes think communication is just a simple matter of using words to get something across to somebody else.  But the reality is that communication is a very complicated thing.  It’s not just about words.  Whether we realize it or not, a lot of our communication is non-verbal.  We send messages with our body language.  When we communicate with one another, we also work with a shared understanding of what the world is like, or worldview.  Coming from the same culture, we share the same understanding of the various social structures – so we know that talking to our parents or teachers is different than speaking to our friends and so on.  Communication is a complicated thing.  When we’re in our own culture, we can take it for granted.  But when you go to another culture, if you want to be effective as a missionary, you have to be sensitive to the complexities of communication.

Culture is also complex.  What is culture?  There are dozens of definitions floating around.  For our purposes, we can use this one:

Culture is the complex, dynamic whole of human existence which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs, and the resulting artifacts.

The two key words I want you to note there are complex and dynamicComplex means it’s made up of many parts.  Dynamic means it’s constantly changing.  Someone once said that culture is like a lava lamp – very true.

So, it’s these two things that contextualization is concerned with:  culture (identity) and communication.  Up till now that sounds a bit abstract and theoretical, but we need to get a bit of background before we move into the more concrete side of things.  Let’s do that now.

Sometimes in our churches collections will be taken for Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF).  This is an organization that does mission work primarily among people in the Middle East who are Muslims, followers of Islam.  Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of discussion among missionaries and mission scholars about missions to Muslims.  The hot issue is contextualization.  How can Christian missionaries effectively communicate the gospel to Muslims, people who have their own unique culture?  What does it look like for a person with a Muslim background to become a Christian?  To help in discussing and answering these questions, one missionary who goes by the name of John Travis (not his real name) came up with what he called the C-spectrum.

The C-spectrum gives a framework of different ways of being a so-called Muslim Background Believer (MBB) – this is related to the question of identity. The framework looks like this:

C1 refers to a traditional Western church that uses a language foreign to the people (English, for example).  The people in this church are trying to be culturally Western and the believers there openly refer to themselves as Christians.

C2 is a traditional Western church using the language of the people (Arabic, for instance).  The believers found here refer to themselves as Christians, but some of their language reflects their Muslim background.  However, their most important religious vocabulary is definitely Christian.

C3 is used to describe churches that use the language of the people but also other cultural forms (music, dress, artwork, etc.) that these believers consider to be neutral.  They still refer to themselves openly as Christians.

C4 is similar to C3.  However, it includes more Islamic practices that are considered to be biblically permissible.  For instance, C4 believers will pray with raised hands, avoid pork and alcohol and they will use more Islamic language.  Also, C4 believers do not refer to themselves as Christians.  Instead, they will say that they are followers of Isa the Messiah (Isa is the Arabic name of Jesus).

When we come to C5, we’re speaking about Messianic Muslims.  Legally and socially, they remain within the Islamic community.  Parts of Islamic theology that go against the Bible are rejected or reinterpreted if possible.  Others in their community regard them as Muslims and they refer to themselves as Muslims who follow Isa the Messiah.

Finally, C6 refers to small communities of underground believers.  They typically live under totalitarian governments in closed countries.  For fear of persecution, they worship Christ entirely in secret.  As opposed to C5 and the other groups, C6 MBBs are silent about their faith.  They are regarded as Muslims by those around them and they simply identify themselves as Muslims without adding anything or qualifying that further.

The C-spectrum provides a helpful framework for debate and discussion about contextualization with Muslim background believers.  Some believe that only C1 and C2 are valid forms of contextualization.  Others say that C4 to C6 are equally valid.  From this you can concretely see the kinds of issues that are at stake here.

If we bring those issues down to one main concern for those who take the Bible seriously, it is the matter of syncretism.  Syncretism is what happens when two belief systems are brought together and then the resulting combined system is a dangerous compromise.  With the example above of the C-Spectrum some people are concerned about mixing Christianity and Islam.  If you want a clear example of syncretism, we could look at the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.  Roman Catholics around the world worship the Virgin Mary, but in Mexico and other places in Latin America it gets very extreme.  This is because when the Roman Catholic Church came into Latin America, the native inhabitants had a pagan nature goddess named Cihuacoatl.  The Roman Catholic Church replaced this pagan nature goddess with Mary, whom they call our Lady of Guadeloupe.  This has taken place in other places in the world as well.  The Roman Catholics have always very easily incorporated pagan elements into their worship.  This is what we call syncretism and this is one of the biggest concerns when we discuss contextualization.  We want to avoid syncretism because that means compromise and possibly losing the gospel message itself.

Click here to read Part 2.