Syn­cretism is an activ­i­ty by which ele­ments of dif­fer­ent reli­gions that are often in con­flict are com­bined, mixed and blend­ed.  In Sub-Saha­ran Africa, the dev­il has used syn­cretism to weak­en the faith of many pro­fess­ing Chris­tians.  Africans are born adher­ents to the African Tra­di­tion­al Reli­gion (ATR).  The ATR is so per­va­sive that prob­a­bly many Africans are not even aware of its impact on them even after embrac­ing a new reli­gion.  Nde­manu (2018) says, “… Africans are first and fore­most mem­bers of tra­di­tion­al reli­gions before any oth­er reli­gion” (p. 71). When a for­eign reli­gion comes into African com­mu­ni­ties, the host peo­ple do not aban­don the ATR.  Instead, they sim­ply com­bine, mix and blend the two.  Because of igno­rance of the Word of God and the appar­ent sim­i­lar­i­ties between African Tra­di­tion­al Reli­gion and some branch­es of the Chris­t­ian faith such as Pen­te­costal­ism and the Charis­mat­ic move­ment, many pro­fess­ing Chris­tians in Sub-Saha­ran Africa have fall­en prey to syn­cretism.  In this arti­cle, I will dis­cuss some of the ele­ments of the ATR that the major­i­ty of Chris­tians in Sub-Saha­ran Africa has import­ed into Chris­tian­i­ty often even with­out know­ing it.

A key belief of the African Tra­di­tion­al Reli­gion is that the Supreme Being is far from his cre­ation. Thus, he is not involved in the dai­ly affairs of his cre­ation.  Ukpong (1983) argues that accord­ing to the ATR, God with­drew to heav­en after cre­at­ing the world, and is not involved in the dai­ly affairs of the world.  Instead, he del­e­gat­ed divini­ties to run the dai­ly affairs of the world on his behalf. In order to approach him, peo­ple go through human medi­ums.  There is a sys­tem of hier­ar­chy of pow­er. Peo­ple are ranked accord­ing to their pow­er in the soci­ety. Top on the lad­der are witch doc­tors, sooth­say­ers, kings and oth­ers. Con­se­quent­ly, these are human links to the world of ances­tral spir­its, divini­ties and the Supreme Being.

Many pro­fess­ing Chris­tians have import­ed this belief into Chris­tian­i­ty. The prac­tice among many pro­fess­ing Chris­tians sug­gests that they believe that God is far from them, but he is clos­er to their reli­gious lead­ers pop­u­lar­ly called men or women of God.  Mod­ern day prophets are the most com­mon of these. Like medi­ums in ATR, these “men and women of God” act as the human links between God and man.  In extreme bizarre cas­es, some even lit­er­al­ly “talk” to God on the phone, ask­ing Him about His will to His peo­ple in the pres­ence of a gath­er­ing to the cheers of the audi­ence. If you are not yet “anoint­ed”, you are not as close to God as they are. They are at the top of the lad­der, and you are at the bot­tom. They are the way to God. To sup­port their prac­tices, they mis­in­ter­pret such vers­es as Amos 3:7, “For the Lord God does noth­ing with­out reveal­ing His secret to His ser­vants the prophets”.

The Bible con­tra­dicts this belief.  First­ly, God is not far. Emmanuel means God is with us. He is with His peo­ple in a real sense. He is very much near and involved in human affairs par­tic­u­lar­ly His chil­dren’s affairs. His Holy Spir­it indwells them. We do not even need to shout our prayers for God to hear us. We may mum­ble our prayers like Han­na, He hears us, and He will answer us if it is accord­ing to His will. If it is not in His will, He will not give us what we ask for even if we gath­er a thou­sand “men and women of God”. God is very involved in our dai­ly affairs. He did not cre­ate the world and aban­doned it for us to fig­ure out for our­selves.

Sec­ond­ly, there is no oth­er medi­a­tor between God and man except Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). God hears a Chris­tian’s prayers because of His Son Jesus Christ.  More­over, Jesus does not need deputy medi­a­tors.  Christ is enough! While God com­mands believ­ers to pray for one anoth­er, it does not mean that a cer­tain class of Chris­tians is clos­er to God than oth­ers are. There is no first class and sec­ond class Chris­tians. You do not need “men and women of God” to get favors from God. All of God’s chil­dren have the same access to God. In Christ, all Chris­tians are priests. The pas­tor has no spe­cial access to God than a 10-year-old mem­ber who was born again yes­ter­day. Because of Christ, you do not need to have pil­grim­ages to far away coun­tries to get answers from God through “a man of God”. Spare your fare! There is no spe­cial hotspot in “men and women of God”. Jesus is our hotspot.

African Chris­tians must beware of the ATR, which seam­less­ly blends with the Chris­t­ian faith unno­ticed by igno­rant Chris­tians and weak­ens their faith.  One way of deal­ing with the key false belief that God is far and unin­volved in the affairs of His cre­ation espe­cial­ly His peo­ple is to under­stand the attrib­ut­es of the Tri­une God.  In this case, the attribute of God accord­ing to Scrip­ture is that even though He exists above and inde­pen­dent of His cre­ation, He is very near and very involved in the dai­ly affairs of His chil­dren and His cre­ation.  As a result, every Chris­t­ian, not just the “men and women of God” have access to Him.  Through Christ, all Chris­tians have equal access to Him.

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1 Michael T. Nde­mau, “Tra­di­tion­al African reli­gions and their influ­ences on the worlds of Bang­wa peo­ple of
Cameroon: Expand­ing the cul­tur­al hori­zons of study abroad stu­dents and pro­fes­sion­als” The Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary
Jour­nal of Study Abroad 1, no. XXX (2018): 70
2 Just­ing S. Ukpong, “The Prob­lem of God and sac­ri­fice in African tra­di­tion­al reli­gion”, Jour­nal of Reli­gion in
Africa 14, no. 3 (1983): 187

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