Oh Wow! A Pow-Wow or And Now for Q. 96?

Now that Q. 80 is marginalized in the CRC perhaps question 96 is next? I ask because of this press release just received today (thanks to WSC student Mark Vander Pol) from the CRC. The lead paragraphs say:

Planners for the inaugural meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches are inviting local and regional Native Americans to participate in a special Pow Wow planned for Tuesday, June 22, 2010, at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Pow Wow, considered by some Native Americans as a sacred dance, is one of several activities planned for the global meeting to be held at Calvin College, June 18-28, 2010. During the conference, Native Americans will provide exhibits and workshops. A prominent Native American will be invited to present a keynote address at one of the plenary sessions.

Coming, as I do, from a part of the country (the lower midwest) where there are sizable but largely invisible “reservations” I can see the value in bringing to the attention of missionaries and church planters and others more or less hidden people groups. What one might find a little troubling is the apparent attempt to integrate native American cultic (religious) practices into Christian religious practices. Understanding is one thing by naked syncretism is another.

The press release says the goals of the inclusion of the pow-wow include:

  • increasing the international profile and visibility of Native American peoples, culture, and traditional spirituality;
  • providing information for the delegates as they deal with indigenous rights and social justice issues; and,
  • providing opportunities for people of the Grand Rapids community to join in this international celebration of indigenous culture.

Here’s a where a distinction between “cult” (worship) and “culture” (e.g. language) would be most useful. The merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council into the World Council of Reformed Churches makes this meeting ecclesiastical in character, does it not? Are not these gatherings of ecclesiastical delegates? The business of the visible institutional church is to address ecclesiastical matters (see the “Jack” post below). Does not the inclusion of Native American cultic practices and religion in an ostensibly Reformed gathering suggest the value and necessity of distinguishing culture and cult?

Though it is probably inappropriate to ask what Paul would say about how or whether to rescue hostages in Afghanistan, it seems quite appropriate to ask whether the Apostle Paul would have appreciated an attempt to synthesize or include a native religions into apostolic worship.

Consider his teaching in 1 Cor 8 and 10. In ch. 8 he carves out a clear doctrine of Christian liberty. The idols are not. They don’t exist. The pagan deities invoked in Native American spirituality are not. Thus we are free, all things being equal, to eat meat offered to idols, but our freedom has boundaries and he was just as clear about that in ch. 10.

What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

The press release does not stipulate that this Native American ritual has been “redeemed” or “transformed” and so we are left to suppose that it is an authentic expression of “Native American spirituality.” If that is indeed the case, it is highly problematic for anyone confessing the Reformed faith. Indeed I would be so bold as to suggest that my brothers consult Heidelberg Catechism Q. 96 before they execute this plan.

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  1. When I started reading this article I assumed that the CRC was trying to get some of its “Red Mesa Classis” churches involved, but no – they are not in the picture. What they are asking for is a flat-out pagan ritual to be performed in the presence of “Reformed” church delegates with no redeeming value that I can see. Peter Jones would have a field day with this!

  2. Grand Rapidians know that one can get plenty of culture at Festival every year downtown. Or there’s always the Festival of the Arts in Ann Arbor. Or go north to Sutton’s Bay and Leelanau County. And Michael Moore has just made his offices permanant in Traverse City, putting on the Summer Film Festival in July (I think it’s July). I doubt it’s what it used to be when I was a kid, but there’s the Renaissance Center in Detroit, or Greenfield Village.

    Of course, one has to leave Michigan to get even better culture. But…isn’t that way better than turning idolatrous?

  3. My dad was a missionary to the Navajo’s for almost ten years. Many of the Navajo believers would have a fit knowing that a church was sponsoring a pow-wow. The Navajo believers understood that there was no communion between darkness and light. The dancing at these ceremonies is designed for one thing only: to get in touch with spirits or anscestors. The Navajo believers would consider this demonic activity that ought to be avoided. I hate to to think about what the CRC is teaching the Navajos at Rehoboth.

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