Photograph by Mohamed Amin in Portraits
by Peter Moll (London: Harvill Press, 1983)
Topics in Chapter:
I was preaching one of my first lessons in the Kipsigis language. "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," I proclaimed. To emphasize universal human sinfulness I asked, "How many of you have sinned?" All was quiet for a few moments. I could detect an uneasiness in the audience--a feeling of disagreement.
Finally the old man in whose house we were meeting responded, "I have not sinned!" (literally, "I have not done `tengekto'"). I was stunned! Adding insult to injury, all in the room, following the old man's lead, testified that they also had never sinned! I had preached this sermon in both English and Swahili in various East African contexts, and the audience had always responded, "We have all sinned."
Feeling confused and a little hurt that my lesson was not accepted, I asked, "What is sin (tengekto)?"
The old man, proud to assume the role of teacher, said, "Tengekto means four things. Stealing from a Kipsigis is tengekto."
"What about stealing from a Kisii or a Masai (other tribes in Kenya)?" I interjected.
He hesitated, knowing that I was not a Kipsigis and might not understand his logic. "We would not classify stealing from the Kisii or Masai as sin but as war," he sheepishly replied. I was puzzled. Did the Kipsigis believe that sin occurs only in their own cultural group?
"Killing a Kipsigis is also a tengekto," the old man continued.
"But killing a Kisii or a Masai is not tengekto?" I asked, testing my hypothesis.
He responded indignantly, "Of course not! That's also war! We sin against Kipsigis; we make war with the enemy." Pausing only briefly, he continued, "Tengekto" encompasses two other things: immorality and bewitching. Bewitching is the worst of sins because it is malevolently directed against the living."
"Sin is understood as an action in this context," I deduced. "And the same action may not be sin in a different situation."
New words! New categories! New definitions! What an eye-opener! I realized that all peoples have their own understanding of sin and corresponding beliefs of salvation from sin. Missionaries, as cultural outsiders, must emically understand the host culture's categories of sin and salvation before they can effectively communicate the Christian message.
I soon learned that the Kipsigis language has four distinct words for sin: (1) lelutiet, a broad, general category of faults which might easily be translated into English as "mistake"; (2) kwekyenet, willful, premeditated sin which one does even when he knows it is wrong (Heb. 10:26); (3) sogornatet, the most hideous types of sin, like incest and witchcraft (Used in 1 Cor. 5:13); and (4) tengekto.
Which of these was the church of Christ to use as the primary term for "sin" in Christian proclamation? Lelutiet was too general and lacked the strength to convict of guilt; to say that "people have made mistakes" would not lead to conversion. Kwekyenet, on the other hand, was too strong and sogornatet too specific. The only alternative was to use tengekto (or the synonymous term chalwokto) and broaden its meaning by re-definition and application. In recent years I have been able to use the above story as a starting point to broaden the indigenous meaning of "tengekto." This humorous story of an old pagan Kipsigis teaching a young American missionary enthralls the people because traditional meanings are clarified and contrasted to Christian meanings.
As the story about sin in Kipsigis illustrates, concepts of sin are universal although the nature of offenses classified as sins varies from society to society. All people understand teachings about sin through the grid of their own religious categories. While in America it would be considered theft to pick fruit while passing through a neighbor's orchard, such a practice was permissible in ancient Israel. Allowing disinterested third parties to care for parents would be considered a grievous sin in Papua New Guinea, although such a practice is acceptable to Americans. To many Congolese a woman naked to the waist would not be considered immodest, but a missionary's wife with uncovered legs is judged to be seductive (Fortosis 1990, 165, 166). To some early Christians eating meats offered to idols was a sin because they could not eat such meat without giving allegiance to the gods who they believed stood behind the idols; others having greater knowledge of the sovereignty of God over all gods could rightly eat the meat without breaking their allegiance with God (1 Cor. 8:4-8). When the missionary enters a new context, he tends to project his own perspectives of sin onto his host culture assuming they conceptualize theft, filial respect, and modesty as he does. The recipient culture, in turn, interprets the missionary's teachings on sin through its distinctive cultural categories. The new missionary must humbly realize that neither his conception of sin nor that of the recipient culture perfectly reflects sin as God sees it.
Since conceptions of sin vary, the new missionary must enter his host culture as a learner. He must learn how people of his adopted culture understand sin and how they typically respond to it. As he is learning, he should compare these perceptions to his own cultural concepts and to those of the Bible. Hopefully, his sensitivity to the strengths and weaknesses of both his and the host culture's beliefs about sin will overcome any ethnocentric myopia which would distort his understandings. Only after learning emic conceptions of sin is the missionary able to adequately contextualize a relevant Christian message of sin and salvation (Dye 1976, 38).
Alan R. Tippett's ground-breaking work on Animism, Solomon Islands Christianity, first divided Melanesian conceptions of sin into three categories: (1) antisocial sins, (2) theological sins, and (3) extra-communal sins (1967, 16-19). Other missiologists have generalized this classificatory system of sin and applied it to all animistic contexts (Burnett 1988, 85-87). Paul Hiebert distinguished between social sins and theological sins, the organizational framework adopted in this section (1978, 23-24). All societies have sins which are socially and theologically derived. The relationship and overlapping of these categories determine how a culture understands sin and the strength of the concept within the culture.
Socially Defined Sins
Socially defined sins are violations of culturally defined norms and laws which destroy social harmony. These sins are offenses committed against individuals or groups within the culture rather than wrongs committed against gods and spirits. For example, among the Japanese the primary word for sin is tsumi, which conceptualizes a criminal caught in a net and is similar to the English "imprudent." The Japanese feel little moral guilt as a result of tsumi. They rather fear losing face when caught in some anti-social act, which creates social disharmony. Hesselgrave says that "this fear of being out of harmony with society and nature is very much a part of Japanese cultural understanding" (1978, 269). E. R. Dodds writes that such conceptions of sin were also prevalent among the ancient Greeks: "The strongest moral force which Homeric man knows is not the fear of God but respect for public opinion. . . . In such a society anything which exposes a man to the contempt or ridicule of his fellows, which causes him to `lose face', is felt as unbearable." (1951, 17-18)
John Taylor, in his ground-breaking work on African modes of thought, depicts the sin as "destruction"--"the attitude of heart and mind which destroys or spoils the life-force of another, and especially the life-force of the family group" (1963, 175). Africans believe that the wrongness of immorality is not in its sensuality but "in the fact that the dangerous intensity of the act is channelled against the proper structure of the family and becomes an attack against its members" (1963, 174). A husband's immorality thus endangers the fertility and well-being of his family, as David's escapade with Bethsheba led to disastrous social repercussions: The child born in iniquity died, and the sword did not leave his house (2 Sam. 12:10-14). The greatest social sin in animistic society is sorcery since someone in the community is covertly seeking to kill, maim, or destroy by ritual means. Socially defined sins can even become a part of Christianity when loyalty to church with an accompanying fear of social ostracism is emphasized over loyalty to God.
Socially defined sins are thus understood as anything which disrupts the cohesiveness of an ordered world causing disharmony. Such perspectives toward harmony and disharmony of an interrelated universe are prevalent in animistic contexts. Animists believe that humans must synchronize their actions with all forces controlling their world--whether it be the alignment of the stars, the actions of animals, other aspects of nature, or the flow of life energy defined as "god" by New Age practitioners. When disharmony occurs, rituals such as sacrifices and offerings must be performed to restore order in the universe.
Among many African and Asian peoples socially defined sins are infractions against not only those who are living but also those who have passed into the realm of the dead. Although dead, they are understood to be part of the extended family. Mbiti, the African theologian, writes: "What we call Sin has first and foremost to do with relationships in the community. In the African framework the community consists of the departed, the living and those yet to be born. Any breach which punctuates this communal relationship amounts to Sin, whatever words may be used for this concept." (Mbiti 1989, 4-5) Within this context sin is "a breach of the individual against the corporate community" (Mbiti 1989, 4-5). Chinese, with a Confucian heritage, are also likely to view ancestors as an intimate part of their social circle. Daniel Hung wrote, "To the Chinese, it is a great sin and an unforgivable breach of filial piety to fail to offer incense and food sacrifices periodically to the deceased ancestors" (1983, 32). Ancestors in such contexts are considered part of the social agenda (rather than the theological agenda). Thus when Baganda Christian leaders of Uganda were asked what a man could do to please God, an elder responded, "I have never heard a Christian here ask such a question. . . . [People's] fear is for this life, not the next" (Taylor 1963, 167).
Punishment for socially defined sins occurs in two ways. First, socio-religious leaders administer justice for the community and call for sacrifices if the infraction is against an ancestor. Among the Kipsigis the kiptaiyat ab kokwet, the village leader chosen by consensus, calls the men of the village together to discuss who has sinned and what restitution must be made to restore harmony in the community. The kiptaiyat ab kokwet has little official authority but works with the men of the community to mediate wrongs which have occurred. Shamans are contacted if the sin is thought to be related to the realm of the ancestors. Second, sins are understood to carry within themselves the seeds of destruction. The sinner is automatically destroyed by the sin which he has committed. A Kipsigis saying, "Amech tengek" ("Our sins are eating us"), succinctly communicates this conception. Some believers will go to great length to prove that this cultural conception is Christian. One evangelist used numerous Bible references (Obad. 1:15; Gal. 6:7-8; Rom. 6:23) to support his belief that sin itself has power to punish the transgressor. His maxim was, "If you do good, you do it to yourself; if you do bad, you do it to yourself." From this perspective the world is a self-contained system in which sins are autocratically punished.
When it is socially defined, sin is almost always morally relative and ambiguous, lacking the objective standards that accompany sin as defined by moral Creator God. This ambiguity is reflected by the same act (like stealing or murder among the Kipsigis) being considered sin in one context but not in another. Thus when the concept of sin was explained to a Zande youth of Zaire, he replied, "My heart has no eyes" (Blakeslee 1959, 28). If caught doing some antisocial act, he could feel shame but little guilt that the act was wrong in and of itself because a moral God sovereignly rules over the universe. A socially deduced sense of sin does not reflect heavenly ethics and morality.
Theologically Defined Sins
While socially defined sins are defined by culture, theologically defined sins are determined by spiritual beings. Theologically defined sins are offenses which disrupt human relationships with God, gods, and spirits. These spiritual personalities, thought to be more powerful than humans, call their followers into accountability when sins disrupt the human/divine relationship. For example, when Yoruban blacksmiths of Nigeria forsake sacrifices to Ogun, the god of iron, they expect his retribution and punishment. Likewise, Creator God, who made a special covenant with Israel after delivering her from Egyptian captivity (Exod. 19), angrily decided to disown and destroy her when she rejected him by acknowledging a golden calf as the god who brought her out of Egypt (Exod. 32:1-8). Theologically defined sins thus create rifts in relationships between humanity and divinity.
The biblical concept of sin is primarily theological. Although David's sin with Bathsheba had significant social consequences, David recognized that his sin was primarily against God. In anguish he prayed to God, "Against you, only you, have I sinned" (Ps. 51:4). Paul was called by God to be an apostle in order to reconcile humanity to God (Acts 26:17-18).
Punishment for theological sins is not administered by human practitioners but by spiritual beings against whom the sins were committed. For example, when Achan kept for himself some of the plunder of Jericho, which was all to be dedicated to the Lord, God angrily allowed the small army of Ai to defeat her (Josh. 7:1-15). When Israel sinned by following other gods, Creator God gave his covenant people into the hands of the Assyrians (2 Kgs. 17:16-18) and Babylonians (Jer. 25:9).
In a discussion of theologically defined sins, a distinction must be made between sinning against lower gods and spirits and sinning against Creator God. Although a few higher gods are understood to reflect the nature of supreme God, most gods and spirits are almost always morally ambivalent; their benevolence or malevolence depends upon their current disposition, sins which humans have committed against them, and sacrifices which have been made or not made to appease them. Since lower gods and spirits have not been accorded absolute power, many animists seek to manipulate them by rituals of magic. These gods seldom reflect an objective ethical standard of right or wrong. Creator God, on the other hand, is typically thought of as morally pure and too majestic to be manipulated by human ritual. In many animistic contexts he is considered benevolent although distant. The Bible pictures him as holy and just--"too pure to look on evil" (Hab. 1:13) and as compassionate and gracious--full of steadfast love (Exod. 34:6-7). Only when allegiance to him has been violated does he seek to punish and only then out of love as a father disciplines his child so that he might return to him (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-11). When allegiance to him has been violated, he punishes, but lovingly as a father disciplines his child.
When the nature of God has been internalized by his followers, they feel guilt when they sin. This guilt is different from the shame a Japanese feels as a result of tsumi. While shame is "the response to disapproval of one's own peers," guilt is the "self-condemnation resulting from the violation of internalized convictions of right and wrong" (Loewen 1975, 315). Guilt, however, is not always based on true premises. People groups or individuals may be wrongly induced to believe that they are inferior or guilty. For example, illegitimate children have sometimes been shunned by their peers because they are "products of sin" and develop "an acute sense of guilt about their origin" (Loewen 1975, 314). While some psychologists would call all types of guilt inauthentic because they are products of one's cultural upbringing, Tournier rightly differentiates true guilt as "estrangement from God" and false guilt as "the feeling of condemnation that arises out of violation of cultural mores" (1962, 129; Loewen 1975, 314-315). Like the prophet Daniel who knew Jews were continuing in their sins despite seventy years of discipline in Babylonian captivity, sinners must admit their guilt before holy God and confess their sins pleading for forgiveness. Daniel prayed:
O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his
covenant of love
Daniel's realization that Judah was truly guilty before a righteous and holy God led him to confess the sins of his nation and plead to God for forgiveness.
The Relationship between Socially Defined and Theologically Defined Sins
In every culture socially and theologically defined sins are intertwined and overlapping. Hiebert has clearly delineated the relationship between these two types of sin. His understandings serve as a model for deciphering the degree to which sin is relative or absolute, the strength of sin within culture, and how biblical principles are introduced into culture (1978, 24-25).
Contrasting Theological Absolutes and Social Relatives. While socially defined sins are relative to the social climate, always changing as the culture changes, theologically defined sins are absolute. In the mid-1950s my family's conservative religious fellowship in Iowa believed that wearing lipstick and earrings was wrong, the pool hall was a place of sin, and all movies and most television shows were worldly. The fact that each of these items is today accepted in Christian contexts reflects changing perceptions of sin. The social sins of yesteryear are accepted today.
The relativity of socially defined sins can be seen not only over time but also across cultures. Americans fall in love and get married; traditional Africans get married and build love. These are socially defined activities. In America singles date to find their mates; in traditional Africa asking a girl out for a date has sexual connotations. Although socially discouraged in the United States, elopement is not considered a sin. Since marriage in Africa is considered a family affair, elopement is a rejection of the family, a severe social sin.
These changes in Christian perceptions of sin and differences in marriage customs bring a smile to the face but little concern to the conscience. However, some modern-day teenagers tell adults, "Having premarital sex was a sin in your generation, but it is all right in our generation." The Christian responds, "God is a God of holiness! Purity cannot change just like the nature of God cannot change! We must be holy as our God in heaven is holy!" In many animistic cultures venerating ancestors is not considered sin. Venerating ancestors is showing respect to the elders of the family who have gone on to the realms of the dead. However, any "respect" given to ancestors which borders on worship or bestows sovereignty is a rejection of God. All glory and honor must be given to God and God alone. While culturally accepted, such devotion is an ultimate rejection of God--a theologically defined sin. Thus while social customs ebb and flow as the currents of culture shift, theologically defined sins are eternal, rooted in the very nature of God who is sovereign over all cultures.
Wayne Dye in a formative article on the concept of sin makes little differentiation between the social and the theological. He maintains that God accepts whatever conceptions of sin exist in a culture and judges people on the basis of their own perceptions and that the only transcultural conception of sin found in the scriptures is failing to measure up to God's standard of love. This standard is negatively defined in the ten commandments. With no other absolutes, the human conscience is left free to be shaped by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (1976, 29-33). Dye writes: "Every person has an awareness of what is right, though that awareness is strongly affected by his culture. In the final judgment, God will judge him on the basis of his own culturally conditioned conscience. . . . In other words, God judges according to each one's own limited understanding." (1976, 31) This conception puts too much emphasis on the human conscience, ignoring the fact that it can be contorted by Satan as well as guided by the Holy Spirit. Those given "over to a depraved mind," having darkened hearts and thinking futilely, do not conceive of sin as God conceives of it (Rom. 1:28, 21). Throughout the scriptures God never judges humankind on the basis of their "own culturally conditioned conscience" but upon their allegiance to his sovereignty. Dye's conception of sin leads to syncretism because it assumes that the Holy Spirit alone works in a believer's life, slowly leading him to a mature knowledge of God. This conception ignores the demonic strongholds in both society and the individual conscience, which must be confronted and remolded into the image of God.
Upholding Social Mores with Theological Sanctions. Socially defined and theologically defined sins are also related in a second way. When theological sanctions are given to social norms, the religious provides legitimacy to the cultural. This overlapping of the social and the theological strengthens the cultural sense of sin. For example, in the United States homosexuality was once considered a social sin reinforced by theological sanctions. Today many of the social prohibitions have fallen away and homosexuals have come out of the closet into the light. Religionists who believe homosexuality is a sin are confronted by culturalists who contend that homosexuality is merely an alternative lifestyle.
As Christianity takes root among the traditionally animistic Kipsigis of Kenya, the theological has also begun to reinforce the social. Traditionally the Kipsigis have had a strong social conception of sin. A young woman who became pregnant before marriage would never be allowed to marry. Only old men drank beer, usually in moderation. The extended family decided whom the young would marry. The encroachment of Western ideas has broken these mores creating cultural disorientation. Disrespect for elders, elopement, immorality, drunkenness of both young and old have created societal disequilibrium resulting in extreme cultural anomie. As Kipsigis become Christians and accept the will of God, their traditional mores are frequently reaffirmed but given a theological as well as a social rationale. The introduction of Christianity into animistic contexts provides legitimacy to purity, new directives toward marriage, and ethics for human relationships. In contexts where capricious gods and spirits operate without ethics and morality, animists are drawn to a holy and just God, who desires righteousness.
Sinners come to Christ when they acknowledge their sins before God and, as broken, repentant people, ask for forgiveness. For example, C.S. Lewis came to Christianity because he was forced to deal with the issues of morality (Hooper 1986, 395). However, when a culture's sense of sin is weakened, the culture becomes less receptive to the gospel. Edwin Orr, who has written extensively on religious revivals around the world, infers that this generation lacks the ingredients for revival because they have lost their sense of sin (1971, 229-234). Menninger speaks of the demise of the concept of theological sin in Western society. He rightly poses the questions: "Where did sin go? What became of it?" He writes that even the prophets who critique Western society have lost a sense of sin in their vocabulary: "In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of "sin," a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everyone's mind, but now rarely if ever heard." (1973, 13) There is much hesitancy today to use the word "sin." People are "maladjusted," they make "errors" or "mistakes," but seldom are they declared to be sinners. God is no longer seen by the secular American or the pantheistic New Age follower as standing above human cultures and calling them into account. When a culture loses its sense of theological sin, it becomes less responsive to the proclamation of the Christian message.
Introducing the Theological in Terms of the Social. When the Christian messenger enters an animistic culture, he must work out theological principles concerning sin in terms of social categories. The difficulty of rooting God's eternal message in a contemporary cultural context is illustrated by such marital issues as levirate relationships, polygamy, and concubinage. For example, many Africans believe that marriage is a relationship between families which extends beyond the grave. Therefore, a widow who remarries would be considered an adulteress. Because a widow is still part of the family into which she has been married, the husband's brother, or other designated relative, ministers to her in order to raise up seed to the deceased. One Kipsigis Christian even asked if James 1:27 obligated him to minister to his deceased brother's wife! More mature Christian men frequently ask to be released from such conjugal responsibilities. While culturally accepted as moral, the church views such levirate relationships as sin. A missionary in such societies must struggle with how to reconcile the biblical--"`till death do us part" (1 Cor. 7:39)--with the African belief that marriage is unending. A new definition of marriage is needed for Africa. The difficulty of communicating the theological in terms of the social is apparent.
The biblical model of marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman under God. Christ designated that marriage occurs when a man leaves his father and mother and "the two become one flesh" (Matt. 19:5). "Each man (sing.) should have his own wife (sing.), and each woman her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2). However, for a missionary to proclaim the message of monogamy as the marching orders of the kingdom negates the centrality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The missionary must rather communicate the nature of the love of God in sending Jesus--the love that led Jesus to die for us--and proclaim this love in every human relationship (Eph. 5:25). The motivations for polygamy--economic advantage, social status, and physical fulfillment--can be displaced only by a theology of love. In a lesson at a large meeting in Kipsigis I asked my wife what she would do if I asked her to bring home a second wife. (In Kipsigis the first wife brings the second wife into the compound as a sign of acceptance.) My wife's response was, "I would think that you didn't love me." The impact on the audience was visible: They realized that Christian love in marriage is particularistic. If Christian husbands and wives love each other, there is no room for other relationships. If polygamy is merely mandated by the church, it is a socially defined sin; however, if the roots of marriage are in God and the nature of his love, polygamy also becomes a theologically based sin. Only through a theology of love can the church make a strong case for monogamy in polygamous societies.
The theological has not always been effectively communicated in terms of social realities. When Christianity was introduced into Africa during the colonial period, European missionaries understood their task as both Christianizing and civilizing the pagans of the dark continent. Frequently they rejected indigenous names for God as too pagan. The Kipsigis Asis was changed to "Jehovah," and the Bantu Ruhanga of Southern Uganda was superimposed upon the non-Bantu Acholi of Northern Uganda. Rites of passage from childhood into adulthood were frequently rejected as pagan without understanding their functions within society and working with the people to develop alternative Christian rites. Traditional marriage was totally rejected; and Western marriage, complete with veils and rings, was introduced as "Christian" marriage. African believers were expected to learn an entire range of church dogma by completing a year-long catechism class and to show signs of living faithful Christian lives before baptism and full acceptance into church membership. The missionaries implied that the culture was too pagan to be redeemed and that Christians must acculturate to a Western way of life. For example, Livingstone Boiyon, the recognized leader of one African Inland village church, had neither been baptized nor ordained because he and his wife had not taken Christian wedding vows in the church. Their socially accepted marriage which had produced five children was not recognized as valid by the church. Conversion was not understood as accepting the Lordship of Christ but as accommodating to a Western way of life superimposed by a colonial church.
Today the pendulum has swung in the other direction. African theologians, such as Mbiti and Idowu, attempt to prove that African traditional religion is preparatory for Christianity. Christianity, they propose, fulfills the grand designs of African traditional religion. Although there is some truth in this perspective, it naively glamorizes the traditional, projects Christian beliefs about Creator God into the past, and de-emphasizes fears which permeated African Animism.
Steps in Learning a Cultural Conception of Sins
Steve Fortosis has outlined a five-step model for evaluating moral behaviors on the basis of biblical and development principles (1990, 165-168). An adapted version of this model will be presented here to aid the missionary in analyzing various conceptions of sin and how God reshapes these conceptions.
First, the missionary contrasts the moral behavior of his host culture with American standards. Likely he will find different definitions of theft, murder, sexual immorality, disrespect for parents, and bewitching. The missionary must not project the American system of morals upon the indigenous culture assuming that "sin is sin"; he must rather realize that definitions of moral attributes vary from culture to culture. Second, the missionary must seek to learn cultural rationale for moral behavior. Is the behavior based upon a social or theological rationale? What ideological presuppositions cause people to believe as they do about the nature of sin? Third, the missionary must relate the cultural rationale to biblical principles. He critiques the sins of the culture to see how they align with God's definition of sin. Fourth, according to Fortosis, the missionary and the local people must connect their moral behavior to a particular level of moral development. Fortosis cites Kohlberg's six stages of moral development, from individual response to family-group response to conscience-based response, and attempts to apply this humanistic, secular model to the missionary's understanding of developing morality. A more biblical model is necessary at this point: God, who is above culture, reveals his holiness, justice and ethics so that humans reflecting on God grasp a perspective of morality beyond themselves. As humans reflect on God, social categories regarding sin are redefined by theological perceptions. Fifth, the missionary must work with the developing national church to formulate how God's perception of sin must be understood in terms of the cultural.
Because many animistic societies define sin socially rather than theologically. Thus sin is determined by the culture rather than by God who stands above the culture. In these animistic contexts conversion requires a shift of reference from the cultural to the supercultural (Kraft 1980, 78). The animist begins to define sin as God sees it--redefining the social in terms of the theological.
Ultimately sin is not relative, defined differently from culture to culture, but determined by God, who stands above culture. Culturally defined sin and God's perception of sin seldom match up point by point. Christian communicators, therefore, must begin with already existing perceptions of sin and salvation and redefine these indigenous terminologies to conform to biblical categories.
Sin and Salvation
Concepts of sin and salvation are interrelated. "`Salvation' presupposes a `lostness' or a crisis situation for which deliverance, liberation, or rescue is sought" (Adeyemo 1979, 51). Perspectives toward salvation vary according to how sin is defined.
When sin is viewed primarily from a theological perspective, salvation is the righting of relationships between humanity and divinity. The Old Testament Jews realized that sin had separated them from God (Isa. 59:2). Their God was too pure to look on evil (Hab. 1:13). Atonement for sins was necessary to reunite sinful man with holy God. Each year on the Day of Atonement the high priest, after confession of sins and calling upon the name of the Lord, sacrificed a bullock to atone for his own sins and a he-goat for the sins of the people. The high priest then took a second goat, laid his hands on its head, confessed the sins of the people, and drove it into the desert. This second goat, called the scapegoat, symbolically carried away the sins of the people (Lev. 16:3-10). These rites were never to become empty rituals but were always to be performed in the context of prayer and confession (Isa. 1:11-17). God granted forgiveness when sacrifices were made with a contrite, worshipful heart. From a theological perspective salvation is the mending of a broken relationship between humanity and divinity.
When sin is primarily understood as social, salvation is perceived as the resolution of cultural violations which have created social disharmony. Thus salvation reestablishes communal relationships. While socially defined sin excludes one from the social group, salvation reincorporates the estranged into the group. In contexts where the dead are understood as the invisible part of the family, salvation is also considered as reconciliation of the living with the dead. Kato describes salvation among the Jaba of Northern Nigeria:
Acceptance is equated with salvation. . . . To be
accepted is first
For acceptance among the dead ancestors, the
relatives of the
In contexts where socially defined sin is prevalent, salvation represents resolution of social conflict.
Animistic cultures have both theological and social definitions of salvation, although the social is dominant. While theological salvation is present where beliefs in higher gods exist, Animism is principally concerned with social redemption. The social aspects of salvation are shown by the purposes of sacrificial rituals in animistic contexts: "to cure illness, increase fertility, defeat enemies, change people's social status, remove impurity, and reveal the future" (Ray 1976, 78). Adeyemo writes that "salvation in the thought of traditional African peoples . . . implies acceptance in the community of the living and the living-dead, deliverance from the power of the evil spirits, and a possession of life force" (1979, 94).
Salvation and Sacrifice
The Meaning of "Sacrifice." In most world cultures people seek salvation through sacrifice. Sacrifice is based on the presupposition that a costly gift to a spiritual being will elicit some reciprocal response. This premise is affirmed by the ancient Roman epigram, "I give, so that you may give" (Brown 1986, 415). Sacrifices are ritual offerings of humans, animals, or plants performed to influence God, gods, spirits, or ancestors to change curses into blessings, evil into good, and defeat into victory. Sacrifices thus are mediating symbols which tie together the visible and invisible worlds (Ray 1976, 78-79).
Animal sacrifices are considered more powerful in effecting spirit response than libations of milk and beer and offerings of products of the field. These animal sacrifices are especially efficacious because blood, the vehicle of life, is being offered to change the mind of deity. According to Levitic law, "The life of a creature is in the blood," and this blood was to be offered on the altar to "make atonement for one's life" (Lev. 17:11). Thus "the blood of the sacrificial animal atones by means of and by power of the life contained in the sacrificial animal" (Daly 1978, 32). In these Old Testament sacrificial rites "there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood" (Heb. 9:22). This sacrificial motif is also expressed in the Lord's supper as Christians remember the "blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28). Yerkes writes that the use of blood in sacrificial rites is so widespread that the only way it might be accounted for is by the fact that "blood, the vehicle of life, becomes the best prophylactic against unknown dangers which threaten men" (1953, 48). Throughout the world animal sacrifices are understood as more powerful than libations and offerings which do not entail the shedding of blood.
Westerners have difficulty understanding sacrifice used in a religious sense. In Western contexts the concept, like many religious metaphors, has become secularized. Sacrifice today is understood in terms of personal renunciation: "One may sacrifice duty for pleasure or pleasure for duty, or honesty for gain or gain for honesty" (Yerkes 1953, 2). This use of "sacrifice" has little to do with humanity's relationship with deity. In this sense sacrifice is "by somebody, of something, and for something, but never to anybody" (Yerkes 1953, 2). The Westerner's tendency to secularize the religious hinders his ability to understand and appreciate the animistic perspective of sacrifice. Thus missionaries going into animistic contexts would benefit from thoroughly studying the types of sacrifices performed, the spiritual beings to whom sacrifices are directed, and the sacrificial motifs employed.
Types of Sacrifices. Most animistic cultures offer more than one type of sacrifice. For example, Evans-Pritchard gives two broad classifications of Nuer sacrifice. First, personal sacrifices are made to ward off ever-present danger. These sacrifices are offered to appease angry spirits before they punish for sin or to curtail misfortune, especially sickness and plague. Personal sacrifices to ward off evil are the most prevalent among animistic peoples. Second, communal sacrifices are offered to invoke blessings upon social activities, especially rites of passage from one stage of life to another (like initiation, marriage, and death). The primary purpose of collective sacrifices is to confirm, establish, and strengthen "a change of social status--boy to man, maiden to wife, living man to ghost" (1956, 198-199). Evans-Pritchard's distinction between personal sacrifice to ward off danger and collective sacrifice accompanying rites of transition can aptly be applied to the study of sacrifice in many animistic contexts.
Sacrifices can also be categorized according the spiritual beings worshipped or appeased. For example, among the Kipsigis of Kenya sacrifices were traditionally made to both ancestral spirits and supreme God. Most sacrifices, in both traditional and contemporary culture, are directed to ancestral spirits, the beings with whom Kipsigis are most intimately involved. These sacrifices may be either personally used to ward off danger or communally employed during rites of transition. Traditionally, a sacrifice called Kapkorosut was also made to Asis, the Kipsigis' supreme God, who was considered the arbiter of all things. For generations this sacrifice was performed annually to offer Asis the firstfruits of harvest, to seek his forgiveness, and to beseech him for favors. Later this sacrifice ceased to be offered annually but was resurrected in times of despair when severe drought threatened the land. In other animistic contexts sacrifices might be directed to God, gods, spirits, and ancestors all in the same culture.
Religious Motifs Emphasized in Sacrifice. Hiebert has very effectively classified religious motifs emphasized in various types of sacrifice. Some reflect Christian perspectives of relating to God while others reflect the animistic orientation of using ritual to force deity to act. Various cultures picture sacrifice as homage to deity, as reciprocal gift-giving, as restitution, propitiation, or expiation, as communion with gods and spirits, and as rejuvenation (1978, 26-28).
Sacrifice as Homage to Deity. Some cultures view sacrifices as giving homage to deity, either God or some spiritual being considered worthy of human praise. This homage metaphor infers a vertical relationship between a spiritual being and the humans making the sacrifice. The spiritual being is like a king, father, or master; the one making the sacrifice is like a vassal, son, or servant. For example, in the Judeo-Christian heritage God is understood as the Lord of lords and the King of kings. The tone of the sacrificial rites is one of worship, praise, and thanksgiving.
From this perspective sin is viewed as insubordination or rebellion against sovereign God. The sinner is like a vassal who refuses to pay homage to his master, a son who defies his father, or a servant who disobeys his master. When the Israelites forsook their God to serve the gods of the nations, God felt betrayed and punished the Israelites with captivity instead of blessing (2 Kgs. 17). Sacrifice is an atonement for sins which caused the human/divine relationship to be broken and an acknowledgement that the spiritual being is sovereign (Hiebert 1978, 27).
Sacrifice as Reciprocal Gift-Giving. Some also picture sacrifice as a mutual exchange of gifts in order to maintain a relationship. While giving homage presupposes a vertical relationship between humanity and divinity, gift-giving assumes a reciprocal, horizonal relationship of people with lower spiritual beings and ancestors. Numerous animistic people throw grain into the corners of houses as gifts to the ancestors. Libations of milk and beer are poured at the foot of ancestral shrines or at grave sites. In return the ancestors are satisfied, realizing that they have not been forgotten, and will not bring harm upon the family. Similarly, among Chinese in Taiwan the living and the dead have a reciprocal arrangement. The living provide food and incense offerings for the dead; the dead, in return, bless the living. Conversely, ancestors curse their living families when forgotten (Hung 1983, 32).
Frequently sacrifices are made to compel spiritual beings to reciprocate by giving appropriate gifts: "By making a gift to the gods, the gods are compelled to give back benefits to man" (Leach 1976, 83). Giving the firstfruits of harvest thus insures an abundant future harvest. Gifts given to Ogun, the god of iron and steel among the Yoruba of Nigeria, in his annual festival are thought to ward off sickness, unexpected accidents, and death. Sacrificial gifts are presented with this invocation:
Ogun, here are the festival kolanuts for you from all
These gifts are offered in order to receive benefits. Of course, the gifts given and the blessings expected are different: physical gifts of produce or dedicated animals are sacrificed in order to receive spiritual, not material blessings.
Within this context sin is understood as the breaking of a relationship. When Hung became a Christian and stopped participating in ancestral rites, his mother said, "Fortunately, I have six other sons to offer food sacrifices to me after I die." To her, refusing to offer incense and food sacrifices periodically to ancestors was "an unforgivable breach of filial piety" (1983, 32-33). Often Chinese Christians are charged with the most grievous sin in their Confucian-influenced society: breaking the filial relationship with elders--in this case, ancestors who have passed on into the next world. Salvation, then, is understood as either maintaining or restoring this relationship.
Sacrifice as Restitution, Expiation, or Propitiation. Many cultures assume that justice is demanded when there is sin. Sin violates another who must be paid if there is to be justice (Hiebert 1978, 27). Justice might be in the form of punishment, unless sacrifice is offered to amend what sin has distorted. Sacrifice is therefore seen as a type of payment for debt, a costly giving to make right what has been wrong.
Using the justice metaphor, sacrifice may be pictured as either restitution or propitiation/expiation. Restitution is payment to another to compensate for losses. When treachery caused war to break out between rival clans of the Sawi tribe of Irian Jaya, a peace child was offered as restitution for one who had been murdered (Richardson 1976). In another context an expensive sacrificial bull may be seen as restitution to spiritual beings for severe human infractions and libations and smaller offerings for less severe infractions. Sometimes restitution is in the form of self-abnegation: The sinner inflicts pain on himself, frequently by fasting or beating (or missionary work?), in order to make restitution for his sins.
Frequently people perceive that they cannot possibly repay the debt of sin. How can humans ever make adequate restitution to heal a broken relationship with deity? Deity must somehow be persuaded to accept sacrifices which do not entirely compensate for the sins of the people. Such acknowledgment of human finiteness under sovereign deity is the basis of the concepts of propitiation and expiation. Humans seek to make amends for wrongdoing or guilt by actions that are not commensurate with the sin. Thus deity accepts sacrifices which appease or satisfy without being understood as total restitution. Propitiatory sacrifices, which attempt to placate or pacify a deity, are common in animistic contexts. Expiatory sacrifice, which "obliterates sin from God's sight," thereby restoring a relationship between worshipper and deity, is the basis of Christian sacrifice (Buttrick 1962a, 200; 1962b, 920).
Sacrifice as Communion. Sacrifice may also be understood as communion with gods and spirits. Priests sometimes eat of the sacrifices to gods and spirits for the purpose of establishing solidarity with them. In some cases such sacrificial communion leads to possession. For example, a medium of Apollo sacrificed a lamb each month and tasted its blood so that she might become possessed by the god and speak his oracles (Yerkes 1953, 43). Among tribal peoples, totemic animals often are ritually sacrificed to gain strength from the totem and ritually reenact the solidarity of the totemic group (Hiebert 1983). However, killing and eating their totem would normally be considered taboo. Such literal interpretation of symbols has frequently led these tribalists to equate the Lord's supper to a sacrifice with the emblems representing the actual body and blood of Jesus.
Sacrifice as Rejuvenation. Sacrifice may also be conceived of as rejuvenation: A rival is killed in order to gain strength; an enfeebled king is sacrificed to facilitate rebirth (Hiebert 1978, 28). The Baganda of Uganda believed that the Kabaka was not only the traditional political leader of the people but also a sacred ruler who symbolized the health and prosperity of the tribe (Mbiti 1969, 184). When he grew old and feeble, the nation also became weak. The Kabaka's absence from his people also was thought to enfeeble the nation. When Kabaka Mutesa was deported by British colonialists in 1957 because he opposed the independence process of his country, many Baganda became sick, and some died. In the midst of an anti-British backlash, a massive reversion to traditional animistic religion occurred despite the fact that the Baganda had been "Christian" for over sixty years. The old Kabaka was traditionally sacrificed to rejuvenate the tribe through the life of his successor.
These motifs of sacrifice demonstrate how people view spiritual powers. Sacrifice is viewed as homage; gift-giving; restitution, propitiation, or expiation; communion; or rejuvenation. While views of homage and expiation are Christian perspectives, those of gift-giving, propitiation, communion, and rejuvenation reflect animistic conceptions.
Sacrifice in Animistic and Christian Perspective. Although animistic sacrifices have some similarity to Judeo-Christian sacrifices, there are significant differences. First, the purpose of animistic sacrifices is to find solutions for problems of everyday life. These sacrifices seek blessings for new beginnings, appease vengeful gods and spirits, induce spiritual beings to turn back evil, and honor ancestral spirits. Only infrequently does the animist appeal to God and make sacrifices to him. The major purpose of Judeo-Christian sacrifice, on the other hand, is to reunite alienated sinners to God. Second, the animist, guided by his diviner, creates his own sacrifice in order to appease deity. In Judeo-Christian contexts God, who created all, designated specific ways in which those who trust him seek atonement for sins. Under Mosaic law atonement was made through guilt (`asam) offerings (Lev. 5-7). However, God has now made his own son Jesus become a guilt (`asam) offering for our sins (Isa. 53:10). The Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ, assumed the role of the animal and became the ultimate sacrifice for sins (Brown 1986, 420). Therefore, Christians "have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). Unlike animistic sacrifices, God's sacrifice was not a creation of human initiative. Third, while animistic sacrifices seek to appease, manipulate, and coerce deity, Christian sacrifice is an accepting of the will of God and his sovereignty over life.
Salvation and Harmony
Sin in animistic contexts is understood to destroy the balance and harmony of life. When harmony is disrupted, people experience suffering and misfortune. The need for salvation becomes apparent to the animist when illness occurs, a wife remains barren, or catastrophe strikes one's business or herds. A diviner reveals the personal power or impersonal force which must be appeased or manipulated in order to restore balance. Salvation reestablishes, usually by means of sacrifice, "the "ontological balance . . . between God and man, the spirits and man, the departed and the living" (Mbiti 1969, 59).
For example, Kipsigis believe that the world is harmonious when there is no sin. Sin disrupts society and brings disharmony. Sacrifices are thought to restore harmony by appeasing the ancestral spirits, who bring personal misfortune. According to Kipkorir, who writes about the Marakwet, a brother tribe to the Kipsigis, sacrifices "not only make `sweet' (anyiny) but, more radically, `clean' (tilil)" the people who make them. The need to be made "sweet" or "clean" implies "disturbances in the social or natural orders which can be corrected only by ritual means" (Kipkorir 1973, 42). Such beliefs about sin destroying harmony, which is restored by sacrifice, are also evident in Brazil. Umbanda Spiritists perform special sacrifices called despachos to communicate with the gods. With these sacrifices they seek to restore harmony, turn back evil, or uncross paths (St. Clair 1971, 142).
While studying animistic conceptions of sin, the new missionary must concurrently learn animistic conceptions of salvation. To that end this section has aimed to provide etic categories to decipher emic perspectives of sacrifice.
Missionaries entering animistic contexts must not only learn emic conceptions of sin and salvation but also comprehend worldview reformulations desired by God. This section facilitates understanding these transformations by comparing and contrasting Christian and animistic conceptions of sin and salvation in terms of (1) the place and role of God, (2) the meanings given to the terms sin and salvation, (3) the motivation for seeking salvation, and (4) the nature of the human/divine relationship.
The Place and Role of God
Animists understand God in one of three distinct ways. First, many animists consider God to be too distant and unconcerned about them to hear their prayers or receive their sacrifices. Second, some animists believe that the nature of the supreme being is refracted in lower spiritual beings to whom prayers and sacrifices are made. Thus God hears through intermediaries who reflect his nature. Third, animists in mystical contexts understand God merely as an impersonal force which permeates all nature. Each of these perspectives, however, is a contrast to the true nature of Creator God, the great I Am, who is not very far from any one of us (Acts 17:27), whose relationship with us is motivated by steadfast love (Exod. 34:6-7).
Because animists perceive God to be distant and impersonal, most sacrifices are made to lower gods, spirits, and ancestors. In West Africa temples, altars, and shrines abound with multitudinous priests serving various gods and spirits. However, "Sacrifices offered directly to Supreme God are rare, and even where instances of this are found there are no priests who serve Him at a regular altar" (Sawyerr 1969, 63). Sawyerr lists six main classes of African sacrifices (1969, 64-65), and in all these categories "God is pushed to the background" (Adeyemo 1979, 38). In India greater gods, like Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, as well as lesser spirits, like pret, rakshasa, sayyid, and jogini are worshipped and appeased (McClintock 1990, 38-46), but Creator God, as a distinct spiritual being, is neither worshipped nor honored. Although the gods and spirits of Animism have proliferated, seldom is worship made to God, who initiated it all.
This rejection of God to serve the gods of the nations is reflected in the history of Israel. God's covenant with Israel made her "his treasured possession" (Exod. 19:5). Israel, as God's chosen people, was to have no other gods before him (Exod. 20:2). He frequently described himself as jealous when his people "bowed down and worshipped any other god" (Exod. 20:5; Deut. 32:16). However, the history of Israel is one of disobedience. Soon after accepting God's covenant at Sinai, the Israelites molded a golden calf which they claimed brought them out of Egypt (Exod. 34). The united kingdom of Israel was divided because Solomon's many wives "turned his heart after other gods" so that "his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God" (1 Kgs. 11:4, 11-13). North Israel sinned because she "feared other gods" and, consequently, was removed from the sight of God (2 Kgs. 17:7, 18). Judah, the southern kingdom, was likewise deported because she forsook her God and followed the gods of the nations (Jer. 5:19). Those in animistic contexts around the world who have come to know God understand this struggle for allegiance. Too many desire to "worship the Lord yet serve their own gods" (2 Kgs. 17:33), a classic description of syncretism. They realize that the real issue is allegiance and that the great sin of Animism is worshipping God while continuing to beseech the ancestors, spirits, and gods to settle problems of everyday life.
Reliance on other spiritual powers and their "elementary principles" was a central issue of Paul's correspondence to the church at Colosse. They had accepted the Lordship of Christ with thankfulness (Col. 2:6-7) but were tempted to fall away to follow the rules and regulations, the "elementary principles," of the principalities and powers (Col. 2:8). Paul reminds them that "all fullness of deity lives in Christ," who is the "head over every power and authority" (Col. 2:9-10; 1:19). Some had lost their "connection with the head" because of their participation in the "elementary principles" (Col. 2:19), but people of Christ should not be subject to such "rules" (Col. 2:20). God desires that "all his fullness dwell" in Christ and Christ alone (Col. 1:19).Col. 2:8 and 2:20.
The Meaning of "Sin" and "Salvation"
To the animist sin is typically understood as a breaching of social customs creating disharmony in society. Salvation reestablishes balance, restoring harmony to society.
From a biblical perspective, however, sin is a negation of God, a breaching of the human/divine relationship, a rejection of God's sovereignty and acceptance, either deliberately or unconsciously, of Satan's kingdom. Although defined in terms of God, sin is shown to have social dimensions. Unlike the ambivalent gods of the nations, Creator God is moral and just and expects humankind to reflect his nature. Ethics, justice, and morality are judged according to his standards! Followers of God must be holy because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15)! Thus Old Testament prophets proclaimed a morality based on the nature of God:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
Our God, who is both sovereign and moral, stands above human cultures and judges them according to his nature.
From a biblical perspective salvation is the working of God to reestablish his relationship with an alienated creation. Salvation has been initiated by Creator God; humankind cannot devise a substitute. Paul concisely describes God's distinctive plan of salvation: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). God chose a perfect sacrifice, a divine offering without blemish, to be offered for the sins of humankind, an eternal expression of the love of God (John 3:16). People are saved by accepting this sacrifice of God, not by devising their own ways of propitiation and redemption.
As an animist internalizes the Christian message, his perceptions of sin and salvation change in two significant ways. First, his definitions of sin and salvation are expanded and reformulated. He no longer defines sin only in terms of the social. His definitions are expanded to reflect the ethical and moral nature of God and reformulated to view salvation as the reconciliation with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. In addition, salvation is understood in terms of a longer dimension of time: God's final redemption of his elect at the end of time. Through such reformulations the animist throws off the shackles of Animism and comes under the sovereignty of God. Second, the animist's source of salvation changes. He no longer relies on other personal spiritual beings or impersonal forces for his salvation. He learns to trust in Creator God and wait for him to act (Isa. 8:17-20). He accepts God's salvation, based on a sacrifice ordained by him, rather than on earthly formulations of salvation. Thus, if God is accepted as sovereign, the Christian will ultimately be guided by how God judges society, not by society's critique of itself.
Motivations for Seeking Deity
The motives leading the animist to seek salvation are different from Christian motivations for seeking God. Although the Christian prays for specific blessings in this world, he ultimately seeks God because he is God. He is incomparable, the sovereign Creator of the universe. No other spiritual being is like him--"majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders" (Exod. 15:11). The motives of an animist, on the other hand, are humanistic. He manipulatively employs magic and seeks help from spirits to help overcome physical ailments, determine the cause of death, become successful in business, cause crops to grow, or induce a beautiful girl to marry him. Rarely do his concerns extend beyond earthly needs. Adeyemo writes that animistic Africans "do not seek God for His own sake, but rather they venerate the ancestors, appease the spirits in order that they may receive favor in return" (1979, 93). Animistic salvation is utilitarian, selfish, human-directed, and this-worldly. An animist is chiefly concerned with self: He seeks power to fulfill his own earthly needs. Conversely, Christian salvation is a response to grace, altruistic and self-giving, God-focused, and includes the immediate as well as the eternal. A Christian, unlike the earthly focused animist, seeks to fulfill the purposes of God.
Such utilitarianism has also invaded the church. Prayer has frequently become a magical potion to extract human wants from God. When Christians order God to fulfill his promises, as "We claim the promises which you, God, have already granted us," they superimpose their own will upon God's sovereign will. Such prayers demand that God fulfill human desires. However, prayer should give homage and praise to God and plead with him to act while acknowledging his sovereignty. Christ, while praying about his impending death, qualified his desire by saying, "My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39). Christian prayer, therefore, pleads, asks, begs, even questions but never demands.
The Nature of the Human/Divine Relationship
The animist's relationship with spiritual beings is conceived of in terms of power. Spiritual beings are propitiated, coerced, and placated because they have power. Magic ritual is employed because of its power to influence impersonal spiritual forces and personal spiritual beings. Shamans reveal to the living the source of powers which impact their lives. Various methodologies of divination are employed to determine what power is causing misfortune or illness and what other power(s) must be employed to counter such negative power. Animism is a power religion based upon manipulation and coercion of spiritual powers.
The follower of God must not conceive of God as a power being to be manipulated and coerced. He must relate to God out of love. The first great command is to love: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37). Although God has all power, his relationship with humanity is a negation of that power. Because of his great compassion, he does not immediately punish his people for sin to powerfully demonstrate his displeasure. He is rather patient with man, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). In the death of Christ, God demonstrated his love, gave up his power to punish, and died for his creation. Therefore, the preaching of the triumphal savior who defeated the principalities and powers must be tempered with the preaching of the God who suffers, cries, and finally punishes when humanity sins and breaks her relationship with him. Christianity is a religion of love based on a relationship with sovereign God in Jesus Christ.
This contrast between Animism and Christianity is reflected in their differing beliefs of salvation. While animistic sacrifice is based upon propitiation, Christian sacrifice is based upon expiation. The animist devises rituals to propitiate displeased ancestors, spirits, and gods. Thus he seeks the causes of misfortune by divination and uses a spiritual power to restore harmony so that peace and prosperity return. Animism is based upon human initiative. In Christianity God, who is love, expiates the sins of the people. God atoned for human sins by sending his son "to be sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21), by making us "holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10), and by expiating our sins by Christ's atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:25). Christianity is based upon the initiative of Creator God in reconciling a fallen world, which has been alienated by Satan. Driver summarizes this comparison: "In contrast to the concept of propitiation in which the action is understood as being directed to God by the creature in order to appease or placate God's anger, expiation is an action in which God alone is ultimately the subject or origin and the creatures are the objects of God's action." (1986, 133)
The role of the Christian minister is to point the animist to the cross--the symbol of God's great sacrifice of his son to cleanse of sin and deliver from Satan. The great message to the animist is that God has mightily broken into human history in the ministry and death of Christ to break the chains of Satan. Christ has "disarmed the powers and authorities!" (Col. 2:15). Thus to the Christian in an animistic society the cross signifies liberation--liberation from the demonic forces against which he is fighting, deliverance from the rules and regulations which these powers attempt to project upon society, and freedom from sin which has alienated his people from God and disharmonized society.
However, the message of the cross is more than the triumphal defeat of the principalities and powers. The cross also symbolizes suffering. The animist views his religion as an way to escape from suffering--to overcome evil in the world. However, the Christian realizes that although he is in Christ, suffering continues and frequently has increased because of Satan's attempts to turn him from Christ. God has called his people not only to defeat Satan but also to endure suffering in a world of the unredeemed controlled by Satan. Thus the cross offers a theology of suffering to explain why the Christian suffers even though he is in Christ. Christianity without the message of "the crucified Messiah at the center . . . becomes triumphalistic" (Padilla 1986, 9).
When considering the reality of spiritual powers in the world and their confrontation with the powers of God, the Christian missionary must acknowledge the centrality of spiritual warfare. He is in battle with the spiritual forces of darkness. He must proclaim the sovereignty of God in word and deed. As God's representative, he must have a passion for the purposes of God as he challenges the animist's passion for self. He must proclaim God to be all-sufficient, the focus of all creation, the one for whom we live, the initiator and terminator of time, and the one deserving of all human allegiance. By proclamation of the sovereignty of God and total human allegiance to him, the principalities and powers are being defeated.
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