When the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22), 1 was this a mandate for contextualization of worship? Was Paul saying mystical, pagan-style worship is pleasing in the eyes of the Lord as long as the worship is directed towards the one true God of the Bible (Elohim) instead of their former pagan gods? In this paper, we will examine the history of contextualization; how Christian worship has been infected with mystical, pagan rituals–especially since Vatican II; and finally, how our worship should be fashioned after the methods of the early church.
Background: Acculturation or Enculturation?
As one studies the way Paul addresses the Jews, pagans, and Athenians, it is clear he employs different techniques based upon his knowledge of the culture at hand. In Acts 13:16+, for example, Paul addresses the Jews in the synagogue by identifying himself as an insider as he incorporates history, Scripture, and culturally accepted methods of interpretation. He also explains the Resurrection in the terms and context of fulfilled prophecy. When addressing the pagans at Lystra in Acts 14:8+, he starts with what they already know and convinces them to turn from vain things to the one Creator God of all nations. While in front of the Athenians in Acts 17:18+, he uses a Hellenistic style of Epicurean and Stoic philosophy to reach his listeners, but he never sanctions the beliefs or philosophical systems to which they belong.2
The Catholic Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuit Order, has been contextualizing the Gospel since at least the sixteenth century when Francis Xavier (1506-1552), Spanish priest and founding member of the order, travelled to China. However, the Italian Matteo Ricci was the first Jesuit to reach the Chinese for Christ successfully. However, Ricci and his successors did not object to the continuation of their ceremonial, Confucian rites and ancestor worship and stated these were primarily social and political in nature. 3 Would the Apostle Paul have approved of this?
Elsewhere during the sixteenth century, another Jesuit by the name of Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656) travelled to India to reach the Hindus for Christ, but he allowed his converts to continue to practice their pagan worship methods. For instance, the Hindu festival of Pongal was a culturally important festival to Nobili’s converts, and it would have been a disgrace not to participate; however, it involved sacrificing the new rice to the gods. Nobili compromised by allowing them to sacrifice the rice at the foot of a cross. 4 Nobili viewed these practices as an opportunity to “purify harmless customs of any superstitious taint and, wherever possible, redirect them towards the true God” and, thus, they became known as the “Malabar rites.” 5 Additionally, he chose the Hindu, pantheistic concept of “bhakti-marga” to identify Christianity as the path of devotion. 6 Nonetheless, did Nobili’s followers understand the goal was not to become god, but rather to commune with God?
Nobili used the discussions by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as an apologetic for this compromise in worship style; 7 however, his apologetic was a mischaracterization of Paul’s argument. Paul never argued for the acculturation of Christianity, which risks having worship appear to be other than that which is associated with Christ. Rather, Paul believed in the enculturation of Christianity, adapted his teaching methods to the various cultures in which he found himself, and never sanctioned syncretistic idol worship to any degree.
Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church condemned both the Confucian and Malabar rites; 8 and the teachings of the Jesuit Order, as a whole, were suppressed for much of the eighteenth century. In 1814, Pope Pius VII (1742-1823) restored the order, but much of its missionary work had been greatly damaged. However, by the mid-twentieth century, the Jesuit order had more men working in the mission fields–especially Asia and Africa–than any other religious order. 9 This was mainly due to the “Princeps Pastorum” decree of Pope John XXIII (1881-1963), which proposed that Ricci become “the model of missionaries.” 10 Pope John XXIII was also the pope who called the Second Vatican Council (Jan. 25, 1959), which passed the Roman Catholic Church’s “Decree on Missionary Activity, Ad gentes (Latin=to the nations).”
Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) released his encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” on December 7, 1990, which defined “enculturation” as “The intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, [sic] and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.” 11 Frencesco Follo (1946-), the Vatican’s Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, explains this to mean the following:
Inculturation [sic] is characterized by a dual movement, i.e. a dialogic movement towards cultures via the incarnation of the Gospel and the transmission of its values, and a movement towards the Church that involves the incorporation of values that come from cultures the latter encounters. Therefore, a fruitful cross-fertilization can follow. … culture is the set of means used by mankind to become more virtuous and reasonable in order to become more fully human. 12
Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church is abandoning the Apostle Paul’s concept of enculturation in favor of interfaith dialogue and interculturality. But does God redeem cultures? If so, what is the need for Christ’s redemptive work? Have the pagan cultures always known the one true God, Elohim, via their supreme beings? 13
Mystical Worship: Do the Gentiles Know Elohim?
The Tekakwitha Conference is named after Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) who was an Algonquin-Mohawk laywoman, and is a religious, non-profit organization that advocates for evangelization among the Indigenous Catholics of North America. 14 Within their recommended reading list is a book entitled, Sacraments and Shamans: A Priest Journeys Among Native Peopleby Reverend Cornelius Scott McCarthy (1947-) of the Jesuit Diocese of Monterrey, California.15 Rev. McCarthy is the Director of Native American Ministry 16 and has travelled extensively to various Native American and First Nations reservations as well as to various places within Central and South America.
Within his book, Rev. McCarthy shares intimate details of how he embraced every aspect of indigenous life including participating in various types of rituals involving the ingestion of the psychedelic drugs like peyote, chicha, and ayahuasca. He argues that by participating in these rituals, he and his followers are becoming closer to God; but is this the God of the Bible or an ancient, lifeless, pagan idol or, worse yet, a fallen angel? Ancient Mesoamerican sorcerer shamans used peyote to enter into altered states of consciousness in order to shapeshift into jaguars with the intent to tap into the power of their creator deity, Tezcatlipoca. 17 According to Charles Phillips, author of the “Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztec and Maya,” “All Aztec gods had one or more animal forms. Tezcatlipoca was associated particularly with the jaguar, which was like the god in that it was fierce, unpredictable, and favored the night.”18 Tezcatlipoca was also known as the great deceiver, sorcerer, and sower of discord. 19 He was blood hungry and required a constant diet of wars and blood sacrifices in order to maintain the power of the Aztec Empire. Finally, at night, Tezcatlipoca sometimes would take the form of a headless demon called Night Axe, who would spread malevolence and the black wind of death and destruction.20 Does the Bible not say intoxicating drink is the tool of false prophets (Isa. 28:7, Mic. 2:11)? Does it not say we are to love the LORD our God with all our mind (Luke 10:27) and to pray with our mind (1 Cor. 14:15)? How is taking mind-altering drugs pleasing to the Lord?
Does this sound like the ancient Mesoamericans knew Elohim? Was Tezcatlipoca worthy of the same worship as Elohim? When Christians worship, we must worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) for “the primary object of worship is not the subjective experience but the ascription of glory to God.”21 We worship the Lord as Creator and Redeemer of life, as the Creator and Sustainer of life, and the Source of our total being.22 Tezcatlipoca was none of these, for he was the antagonist and destroyer of life.
An examination of Scripture will show that gentiles do not know Elohim (Gal 4:8, 1 Cor. 1:21, 1 John 3:1, Rom. 1:28, 1 Thess. 4:5, Eph. 2: 12-13, 2 Thess. 1:8),23 and the only culture God redeems is the Jewish culture (Ps. 130:8, Zech. 13:1, John 3:3, Rev. 7:3-4, 9, Rev. 14:3).24 Interculturality removes the necessity of the Jewish people from the salvation narrative. If all cultures have the opportunity for redemption, then there was no reason for God to single out the Jews as his chosen race through whom Jesus Christ (Messiah) came into the world.25 Without the Jews, there is no way to know Christ; and without the true Christ, there is no truth in our worship.
True Worship for the True God
When examining the Englishman’s Greek Concordance for the use of ἔκστασις [ekstasis: a displacement (of the mind), i.e. bewilderment, ecstasy] in the Bible, there is not one time indicating a reference to someone inducing his or her altered state of mind in order to worship God. In fact, it was the Lord’s prerogative alone if one’s mind was to be displaced.26 God used an ecstatic-trance state, ἔκστασις, in both Acts 10:10 and Acts 11:5 to instruct Peter to preach to the gentiles. In Acts 22:17, God used an ecstatic-trance state again to warn Paul to get out of Jerusalem. Trances were never used in worship practices as early Christians most likely knew they were associated with pagan rituals.
Proper worship should be fashioned after that of the early church at Antioch and Jerusalem, which was a fusion of worship between that of the synagogue and that of the Upper Room.27. Time in the synagogue involved corporate praise, prayers, charity for the poor, and most importantly, devotion to the expository study of Scripture (Old Testament). They were not looking for extra-biblical revelation.28 Conversation and communion with God was never through pagan, mystical practices, but rather, it was through His Word alone. Within the hymns, doxologies, and creeds repeated over and over at each meeting were the truths needed to be instilled in the hearts of God’s children. The ordinance of the Upper Room, i.e. the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16, 11:23, Matt 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20), was performed periodically and included The Prayer of Consecration giving thanks (Luke 22: 19, 1 Cor. 11:23, 14:16,) in remembrance of our Lord’s death and Resurrection (Acts 2:42, Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:23, 25, 26), intercession (John 17), and possibly, the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13, Luke 11: 2-4).29
It is very unfortunate that Pope John Paul II re-defined enculturation the way he did in his “Redemptoris Missio” encyclical, because it is not an accurate portrayal of how the Apostle Paul adapted his ministry techniques while in different mission fields. The Roman Catholic Church was correct in condemning the Confucian and Malabar rites during the eighteenth century, for these were gross examples of the contextualization of worship. Elohim did not live on the earth, as Confucian ancestor worship would suggest. Moreover, Elohim is not creation, and creation is not Elohim as the Hindu concept of “bhakti marga” would suggest. Vatican II has now opened the door to even more mystical, if not satanic, forms of worship in the church by equating Elohim with ancient Mesoamerican gods like Tezcatlipoca. False prophets have ingested intoxicants in the past according to the Bible. Why does the Roman Catholic Church now believe this is no longer a threat, and that the consumption of substances likes peyote, chicha, and ayahuasca are pathways to devotion to God? An expository study of Scripture shows there is no evidence for this type of contextualization of worship, and that worship in the early church was a fusion of that of the synagogue and the Upper Room.30
1.New King James Version throughout document. Accessed March 12, 2019, https://biblehub.com.
2. Neville Carr, review of Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission, by Dean Flemming,” Christianity Today (December 2006, Cached), accessed March 12, 2019, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:X4JAWfqnr64J:www.christianitytoday.com/assets/10279.doc+&cd=17&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us.
3. New World Encyclopedia, s.v. “Jesuit China missions,” accessed March 12, 2019, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Jesuit_China_missions.
4. Vincent Cronin, A Pearl to India: The Life of Roberto De Nobili, cited by Todd M. Johnson, Ph.D., “Contextualization: A New-Old Idea Illustrations from the Life of an Italian Jesuit in17th Century India,” International Journal of Frontier Missions, Vol 4, 15, accessed March 12, 2019, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237309171_Contextualization_A_New-Old_Idea_Illustrations_from_the_Life_of_an_Italian_Jesuit_in_17th-Century_India.
5. Ibid., 16.
6. Ibid., 18.
7. Ibid., 17.
8. New World Encyclopedia, “Jesuit China missions;” Todd M. Johnson, Ph.D., “Contextualization,” 18.
9.Encyclopedia Britannica, “Jesuit Religious Order,” accessed March 12, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Jesuits.
10.New World Encyclopedia, “Jesuit China missions.”
11. Pope John Paul II, cited by Francesco Follo, “Inculturation and interculturality in John Paul II and Benedict XVI,” Oasis, March 29 2010, accessed March 12, 2019, https://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/inculturation-and-interculturality-in-john-paul-ii-and-benedict-xvi.
12. Francesco Follo, “Inculturation.”
13. Adapted from Mike Oppenheimer and Sandy Simpson, The First Nations Movement. Deceiving the Nations! “11 Reasons to Reject This Movement,” DVD-ROM (Deception in the Church, 2006), disc 1.
14. Tekakwitha Conference, accessed March 12, 2019, https://tekconf.org.
15. “Item Listing,” Tekakwitha Conference, last modified May 4, 2018, accessed March 12, 2019, https://ecatholic-sites.s3.amazonaws.com/20283/documents/2018/5/InventoryList_Website5.pdf.
16. “Native American Ministry,” Diocese of Monterey, accessed March 12, 2019, https://dioceseofmonterey.org/native-american-ministry.
17. Charles Phillips, Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztec and Maya (Leicestershire: Anness Press, 2012), 74-5.
18. Phillips, “Illustrated Encyclopedia,” 181.
20. Ibid., 169.
21. Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1972), Kindle edition, 3666.
23. Oppenheimer and Simpson, The First Nations Movement, Deceiving the Nations! (2013), disc 4.
24. Oppenheimer and Simpson, The First Nations Movement, disc 1.
25. Ibid.26.The Englishman’s Greek Concordance, “1611.ekstasis,” accessed March 12, 2019, https://biblehub.com/greek/1611.htm.
27. W. D. Maxwell, An Outline of Christian Worship (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), 5.
28. Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program, 3798.
29. W. D. Maxwell, An Outline, 4-5.
30. Ibid., 5.