Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Syncretism or Redemption?

I have a strong Christian friend who has reservations about celebrating Christmas and Easter because some of the traditions associated with these holidays have historical roots in pagan rituals. For him, the fact that they are now widely considered Christian holidays doesn’t matter. If the root is bad, he reasons, then the whole tree will wither.

But what he sees as syncretism, the dangerous blending of the profane and the sacred, some consider redemption, the metamorphosis of one to the other. Advocates on this side of the debate says that if God can turn sinners into saints and pagans into priests, it logically follows that he can take a days meant for ignoble purposes and use them for his glory.

He’s certainly done it before. The cross, an instrument of death comparable to the guillotine or the electric chair, is now seen as a symbol of hope, reminding us simultaneously of the wrath we deserve and the grace we’ve received.

I’ll concede if we take this premise to an extreme conclusion, we walk a perilous path that could lead is into a place where meaning becomes relative and good becomes indistinct from evil.

But I think we need to put faith in God’s ability to appreciate variant cultural contexts. When Peter exempted from the Gentiles from following the Law, he wasn’t condemning them to eternal unrighteousness. He was recognizing that God’s grace was going to reach them in a different cultural milieu, and that grace would have to be sufficient as God started to move in a new way.

With regard to this debate, I think we should take the Romans 14 approach and allow our individual consciences to decide. As with any activity we undertake, we should use this litmus test for holidays: In light of God’s word and my conscience as monitored by the Holy Spirit, is what I’m doing glorifying God? Anything is permissible as long as the answer to that question remains a firm “yes.”

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