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Beware of embracing syncretism
"Study the holy theology in true universities and be on your guard for syncretists for they look only at the here and now and are faithful neither to God nor people."
— hymnist Paul Gerhardt in the 1676 testimony addresseed to his son[1]
Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile different schools of thought, most notably religions. Syncretism takes place when foreign beliefs are introduced into an indigenous belief system.

Syncretism can be also defined as the union of two opposite forces, beliefs, systems or tenets so that the united form is a new thing, neither one nor other.[2]

In the modern world, religions such as Unitarianism could be considered syncretic in that it is a blending of differing belief systems that are constantly evolving.

Syncretism should not be confused with the adoption of formal elements of other religions into Christianity for missionary reasons.[note 1] It is not just simultaneous practice of two unrelated religions motivated either by external pressure or inner anxiety but it rather equates heterogeneous religious elements and thereby changes their original meaning without admitting such change.

An attempt to penetrate deeply into the heart of the Christian doctrine by applying the process of syncretistic assimilation was performed by gnosticism.[2] In many countries around the world today we find religious syncretism – a fusion of Christianity and pagan religions.[3]

Semantic Origin

The Word ‘syncretism’ does not explicitly occur in the Bible. Still, the reality of it was an ever-present phenomenon throughout the biblical history. According to Plutarch, the semantic origin of the term relates to the island of Crete. The rivalling Greek tribes there were usually involved in minor warfare against each other. However, as soon as the island was attacked by a common enemy from outside, they suddenly were able to agree on formation of military alliance. Since then the word ‘syncretism’ carries a note of an opportunistic fraternization without a deeper conviction.[2]

Forms of Syncretism

Hendrick Kraemer, the late missiologist, distinguished between two forms of syncretism that could be found in biblical times as well:[2]

  • spontaneous primitive syncretism as a popular religious tendency and
  • conscious, philosophical construction of syncretism attempted typically by religious thinkers or by political rulers.[note 2]

Unmasking Syncretism

The objective criteria to recognize the pseudo-Christian syncretism are:[2]

  • the falseness of prophets is identified by their behavior violating Christian ethics
  • lack of genuine Christian love
  • pseudo-spiritual arrogance leading to strife and hatred in the Christian community
  • promoting and defending the open indulgence in sin
  • the person of Christ is the chief target of the heretical attack
  • God is replaced by other object(s) of worship

Christ vs. Syncretism

When talking about certain teachers as "false prophets," Jesus clearly showed that he was not a syncretist, i.e. a combiner of contradictory lines of thought, who would teach that opposing opinions are in fact just complementary views of the same truth. On the contrary, he held that the truth and the lie are mutually exclusive, and that those who proclaim a lie in God's name are in reality false prophets whom His followers must beware of.[4]

Syncretism in the Old Testament

They worshiped the Lord but...
“The men from Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men from Cuthah made Nergal, and the men from Hamath made Ashima; the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. They worshiped the Lord but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the Lord but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought ... Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is He who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies. They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.”
— 2 Kings 17:30-33, 39-41 NIV

Changes imposed by sinful syncretism are subtle and usually occur slowly and insidiously. Little by little the culture drifts away from God and His standards. This is exactly what happened in the 8th century B.C. when the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. People of Israel “sold themselves” to the worship of golden calves, became involved in astrology, sorcery and other occult practices. They even practiced the horrible pagan ritual of sacrificing their children “in the fire” to pagan gods. In 2 Kings 17:24-41 we read that the Assyrians not only took some of the people of Israel away to Assyria as captives, but they re-populated the land with peoples from other areas of the Assyrian Empire. Intermarriage took place, and this mixed race became known as the “Samaritans.” This was the origin of the Samaritan people, who are mentioned in the New Testament at the time of Christ and the apostles.[3]

Syncretism in the historical literature

In his book Itinerarium (Travel diary from 1708 — 1709) written in Latin, Lutheran theologian Daniel Krman described the Lutheran seminary in Königsberg as being infiltrated by theologians siding with syncretism. He pointed out that if doctors of theology would honor values expressed by the Latin phrase Diligite veritatem et pacem (love truth and peace), there would be not so many syncretists in academia, who were enlisted and criticized also by the chief orthodox opponent of syncretism[5] and doctor of theology Abraham Calovius in his work Examen theologiae novaturientium. According to Krman, syncretists attack faith in the Virgin Birth of Christ and the Creation of the world ex Nihilo that are beyond human comprehension, thus, in more general terms, syncretism makes an effort to replace God's wisdom revealed in the Bible with human rationalizations.[6] Many years later G.K. Chesterton maintained that these human “rational” solutions are less satisfying than the riddles of God.[note 3] Still, it is perhaps not a wonder that the syncretistic atmosphere in the academic institutions of Königsberg formed the worldview of Immanuel Kant, a forerunner of evolutionism[note 4] with Protestant roots, who was born in this town and who in 1740, aged 16, enrolled at the University of Königsberg, where he spent his whole career and where he, on March 31, 1770, aged 45, was appointed Full Professor of Logic and Metaphysics.[7] Among Kant's syncretistic works are The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God (German: Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes) where he attacks the ontological argument for God and the argument from design. In his neognostic assimilation of the Biblical message he argues that matter itself contains the principles which give rise to an ordered universe, hence for him God as Creator is reduced only to an idea.[note 5] The empiricist Alfred Nobel found Kant's metaphysics hard to digest and ironically concluded that "Kant's style is so heavy that after his pure reason the reader longs for unreasonableness."[8]

Historical examples of syncretism

Syncretistic attempts of Calvinists for union with the Lutheran church

The Brandenburg Kurfürst Johann Sigismund converted to the Reformed aka Calvinist faith on 25 December 1613. This developed a gap between his Hohenzollern house and their subjects, especially the Mark Brandenburg population which remained Lutheran. The Reformed faith became the court and official religion and the next Kurfürst, Friedrich Wilhelm, who had been brought up in the Reformed Niederlanden, i.e. Netherlands, demanded the acceptance of his own (Reformed) minority faith and its followers who were mostly foreigners, brought into the Mark Brandenburg from abroad after the Thirty Years' War. Kurürst attacked the Lutheran church and its clergy by repealing of the so-called Formula Concordiae at ordination and by imposing further restrictive measures through his edict of 2 June 1662. That caused the Wittenberg University to publish a paper entitled "Epikrisis de Colloquio Casselano Rintelino-Marpurgensium" which declared any union with Reformed members to be impossible, since in their opinion, the Reformed doctrine had a tendency to minimalise, to think in relative terms[note 6] and for agnosticism in questions of faith.[note 7] The orthodox-Lutheran clergy saw in every concession to the Reformed members the introduction of Syncretism that would lead to the rule of Calvinism, and to be suspected of being a Syncretist was about the most severe reproach one could give to a 17th-century Lutheran theologian.[1][9]

The 19th century Superintendent Büchsel described in his book Erinnerungen the situation in Prussia where union between Calvinists and the Lutheran church was imposed by state power. He portrays this union as a flag of liberalism in the church that caused an inner schism. The priest in the town of Stettin, Ehrenström, was arrested due to his secession from the official church and encouraging people to escape the union by emigration into America. Separatists refused the new state agenda and new Songbook, and State Police had to force Lutheran children against the will of their parents into the State schools which aimed to indoctrinate them with Calvinism.[10]


  1. cf. Acts 17:23
  2. cf. Attempts to manipulate (edit) the Scripture by Nazis and by proponents of LGBT/gender ideology described in section Gnosticism Today.
  3. See notes and references in: Singularity
  4. cf. Philosopher of Evolutionary thought
  5. cf. Docetism
  6. e.g. in his declaration of 4th May 1665, Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm referred to "the Godly truth" as to "whatever it may be"[1]
  7. cf. Genesis 3:1


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Hans-Joachim Beeskow (2006). Paul Gerhardt 1607 - 1676 An Illustrated Biography. Heimat-Verlag Lübben, 45–71, 75, 93. ISBN 3-929600-33-1. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Peter Beyerhaus (1975). "6:Possesio and Syncretism in Biblical Perspective", Christopaganism or Indigenous Christianity?. South Pasadena, California: William-Carey Library, 17, 126–127. ISBN 0-87808-423-1. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 David R. Reid (Feb 2007). "BEWARE The Sin of Syncretism". Grace & Truth (Danville, IL., USA: GTPRESS). 
  4. John R.W. Stott (1992). Kázání na hoře: Poselství Bible pro dnešní svět (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, Christian Counter-culture) (in Czech). Praha (Prague): Návrat, Creativpress, 152. ISBN 80-85495-01-5. “Když mluví o některých učitelích jako o „falešných prorocích“, Ježiš jasně ukazuje, že není synkretistou, t.j. slučovatelem protichůdných směrů, který by učil, že protichůdné názory jsou ve skutečnosti doplňujícími pohledy na tutéž pravdu. Nikoli, zastával, že pravda a lež se navzájem vylučují a že ti, kdo rozhlašují lži v Božím jménu, jsou falešní proroci na které si jeho následovníci musí dát pozor.” 
  5. Timothy R. Schmeling. Lutheran Orthodoxy Under Fire: An Exploratory Study Of The Syncretistic Controversy And The Consensus Repetitus Fidei Vere Lutheranae. Retrieved on 11 June 2016. “It is fairly safe to assume that Abraham Calov(ius) (1612-1686), the Consensus Repetitus Fidei Vere Lutheranae (hereafter CRFVL), and Georg Calixt(us) (1586-1656) are not household vocabulary in much of contemporary Lutheranism. Yet, all played a prominent and important role in the 17th century syncretist controversy. History has hardly been kind to Abraham Calov, the chief orthodox opponent of syncretism.”
  6. Daniel Krman (1708 — 1709). Itinerarium (in Latin (original), Slovak (translation)). “Najprv sa však treba vrátiť k mestu Kráľovcu, skutočne kráľovskému. … Je tu luteránska akadémia, ale niektorí na nej žičia synkretizmu. Rektorom magnifikom bol vtedy verejný profesor matematiky ... Pri tejto príležitosti sa onen profesor pustil do rozhovoru. Medziiným povedal, že reformovaní[93] nemusia veriť to, čo je proti rozumu, ale že veria to, čo je nad rozum. Rozprávali sme sa totiž o sviatostnej prítomnosti Kristovej, z čoho som vyrozumel, že on sám spolu s reformovanými nadŕža synkretizmu, a povedal som, že takto nemusia reformovaní veriť ani v narodenie Kristovo z panny, ani v stvorenie sveta z ničoho, lebo toto je nielen nad, ale aj proti všetkému ľudskému rozumu. … Keď som teda bol navštívil pána doktora von Sandeho, vyzvedal som sa na pomery na akadémii a v cirkvi, a čo sa týka onej večere Pánovej, porozumel som, že tohto synkretizmu sa nedopustilo nijaké veľké zhromaždenie, ale len niekoľko osôb, vari pätnásť z každej stránky, a viacej si cenili lásku k blížnym ako vieru. Od iných som sa potom dozvedel, že doktor Deutsch, prvý teológ tejto akadémie, súhlasil s týmto synkretistickým prisluhovaním sviatosti večere a že doktor Pesarovič pre obranu ortodoxie upadol do nenávisti u ostatných kolegov teológov a radšej odišiel inde. Na kazateľnici však je nápis zlatými literami: Diligite veritatem et pacem. Anno 1595.[102] Kiežby veru všetci doktori na tento nápis pamätali, nemali by sme na tejto akadémii toľkých synkretistov, ktorých v Examen theologiae novaturientium doktor Calovius[103] menuje a karhá.” 
  7. Карль (1924, 1991). Кант и старый Кёнигсберг (Kant and old Königsberg) (in German (original), Russian (translation)). Битекар, 7+. “Кант...отклонил все приглашения в другие университы...крепко держался он за своих кенигсбержцев...” 
  8. Åke Erlandsson (23 July 1997). Alfred Nobel and his interest in literature.; The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize. “However, like the empiricist he was, he found Kant's metaphysics harder to digest: "Kant's style is so heavy that after his pure reason the reader longs for unreasonableness."”
  9. (2011) Misia, Charizmatické hnutia, Teologická konferencia ECAV na Slovensku 2011 (in Slovak, German). ISBN 9788071403807. “Der Pfarrer Paul Gerhardt weigerte sich jedoch. Er geriet deshalb in öffentlichen Streit mit dem Kurfürsten. Das Hauptargument gegen den Kurfürsten war, er leiste damit dem Synkretismus Vorschub.” 
  10. Miloslav Hvožďara (2008). Jozef Miloslav Hurban a jeho zápas o pravé hodnoty cirkvi a národa (in Slovak). Tranoscius, 83–7. ISBN 978-807140-288-6. 

See also