A Voice in the
Wilderness

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" gods of ethnicity "

"take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared ...that you do not inquire after their gods, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' (Deu12:30)

King Ahaz became..unfaithful to the LORD...For he sacrificed to the gods..which had defeated him, saying, "Because the gods of..Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me." ..they were the ruin of him & of Israel (~2Chr28)

'Have the gods of the nations delivered those whom my fathers have destroyed, Gozan.. Haran.. Rezeph.. Eden?'.."Truly, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands; wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. (~2Ki19)

A friend's recent acquisition of a satellite dish has introduced me to "Mysterious Places." As a person "travels" to all sorts of places on the earth, one thing I notice every place has, is a "religious center" of the civilization. When one sees the ruins of mezo-America, Quetzalcoatl the serpent god is well-known, along with pyramid-like structures of the Aztec and Mayan cultures. The ruins beneath Mt.Vesuvius are excavated, revealing a former lifestyle of sexual debauchery and worship of Apollo. Delphi has the "oracle." A female supplicant goes in, and makes ecstatic utterances, which another inter- prets; much like the modern-day charismatic "tongues" and "prophetic words." Throughout Latin America, the results of "christianizing" the natives is evident, as they retained voodoo; as Catholic and voodoo are intermingled. When Japan was defeated in WW2, their "god" was defeated. And yet Shinto retained all its former religious significance in the mind/heart of the Japanese. More "primitive" cultures embrace the witch doctor...the most powerful person in the tribe, to be feared.

So when excavations are done, the primary features that one sees of a civilization is its form of worship of its gods. Egypt has the pyramids. As do the Aztecs and Mayans. The Japanese have their temples and "tori" (arched gateways). British Isles, the Stone Henge, etc. Native Americans their peace pipe, headdresses, totem poles. And many nations, including Washington D.C., have their (totem-pole-like) obelisks.

The relationship of religion to culture became rather poignant in my mind when I did a "paper" in Bible School. Having been born and grow- ing up in Japan, I happened upon the topic "Shinto." A fascinating discovery. As a child, all the things I observed and lived amongst was... "Japanese." It's just the way Japanese people do things. Differences between "American" and "Japanese." As I researched "Shinto" for this paper, however, I was amazed to discover how many of those "things" and "mannerisms" were actually "Shinto." The way a person covers their mouth, sucks in their breath, sweeps in front of their doors. And during the past Winter Olympics, we were all introduced to the religious significance of Sumo (wrestlers). When there was a sumo match in our village, I had viewed it, simply, as two very large men pushing each other around until one fell.

For years, one complaint against missionaries has been that they go into "foreign cultures" and teach them "western ways." Well, this is one of the more difficult aspects of a sinner coming to God in repentance. When a person repents, by definition, there is a "change." If they are coming to revere God "only", their former pagan gods must be totally abandoned. And like we see with Shinto, that would, of necessity, include some changes in daily "cultural" living habits. For the Japanese, this was so difficult that they would often want to "add Jesus" to the rest of what they were. It was well-nigh impossible to "forsake all" to follow Jesus. When Jesus said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Lk14:26) this is very much part of what He was saying.

What we see, typically, is a mixture. Caribbean-Latin America retained voodoo assimilated into Catholicism. When Africans were kidnapped and made slaves, they brought along their native gods; gave them the names of the gods of their white masters; and thus, we have the "typical" Black church with its tribal dancing/swaying, emotional- spiritual aspects harking back to the pagan; but called "Christian." When Promise Keepers invites Native Americans to the platform with full religious-ritual headdress to "pray", they are praying to mother earth, animal spirit guides as they are "one" with their animal guide by the fact of wearing the feather bonnet. And...dare I get really "personal" here? (since I have a past in "Baptist") When a person is invited to the "altar" in a Baptist church, where did that "altar" concept originate? From O.T. law? From heathen paganism? Carry-overs from the Catholics from which they weren't "quite" fully "reformed"?

And there's one group that's "got it all." Permeating just about all denominations. They have their "oracle-like" utterances and dreams with interpretations. More and more they promote female "priestess-like" representatives. They "lay hands" like the Native American and other pagan "medicine men/women" in order to either affect certain results, or to "divine information." And they utter and chant, to cast spells, much like witch doctors; they call it "power of prayer" as they "pray up hedges" and all sorts of things.

When Paul wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal3:28) was he saying that we embrace all people AND THEIR GODS? No! When the people of Lystra (Acts14:8~) tried to do sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, they did not accept their culture's sacrifices in "love, unity and tolerance." But rather, vehe- mently ran in amongst the people shouting, "why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God."(vs15)

You see, Paul makes a distinction between the "person" and the "god/culture." That part of a person's heritage that adheres to paganism is to be rejected, as the "individual" person comes to God. And sometimes this comes at great cost. Jesus said we must "count the cost"(Lk14:28) to follow Him. Sometimes it means separation from family. Sometimes at great financial loss; as those in Ephesus burned up "50 thousand pieces of silver" worth of books of magic.(Acts19:19)

As Christians we accept the "person" of a Native American who comes to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, as he discards his peace pipes, animal guides, feather headdress, etc. We accept a Japanese person, as he forsakes the Shinto shrine, tori, sumo. We accept a Black/Caribbean person, as they renounce voodoo and pagan witch doctors, to follow Christ.

"You know that you were.. carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led."(1Cor12:2) "these times of ignorance God over- looked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, (Acts17:30)


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