‘They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods’ (2 Kings 17:33)
A hybrid is something that is a mixture or combination of two different elements. For example, a mule is a hybrid union of a donkey and a horse. A hybrid car is one that combines the use of both gasoline and electric power to propel the vehicle.
Hybrid religion, in this sense, is one that has elements of Christianity yet also incorporates, sometimes deliberately and sometime inadvertently, elements of surrounding idolatry and pagan culture.
Israel and the nations
A classic example of hybrid religion can be found in the Old Testament when the nation Israel gradually left the pure worship established by God through Moses and introduced customs and rituals derived from the surrounding nations.
Although idolatry had from the beginning been a problem for God’s chosen people whom he called out of Egypt, hybrid religion really accelerated when the nation split after the death of Solomon.
A gifted man who originally served under Solomon, named Jeroboam, the Son of Nebat, led the ten northern tribes away from the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and established his own version of what he claimed was the worship of Jehovah.
He perceived that, if his subjects were always going up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple of Solomon, it would tend to detract from his own goals and dilute his own power. So he set up golden calves at Dan and Bethel, proclaiming to the people that this was still the religion they were used to. He established his own cultic sacrifices and ordained priests to preside over them, although they were not from the tribe of Levi, as were the true priests of God (1 Kings 12:28-31).
As times went on, things got even worse. The northern kingdom especially began to establish ‘high places’ for sacrificial worship, patterned after the religion of Baal, the cultic god of the Philistines. All this was done under the leadership of the kings that succeeded Jeroboam. They established and supported this homage to false gods, all the while claiming that they were worshipping and honouring the true God whose worship was centred at the temple of Jerusalem.
Hybrid religion is the masterpiece of Satan. He is shrewd enough to know that, if blatant and overt idolatry is introduced in places the true God is honoured, it will be too obvious to deceive anyone. When open compromise is advocated, any saint of God with an ounce of discernment will detect it and see that it is dispelled. But when subtle changes in God’s service are gradually obscured or pushed aside by what has the appearance of the real thing even God’s own people are often duped.
Throughout history, true Christianity has had to exist alongside the competing ideologies and morals of surrounding culture. It is a never-ending task for preachers and church leaders to protect divine worship, as instituted in the New Testament, from the intrusion of the deceptions of the great enemy Satan.
Satan’s strategy to destroy the church by outside persecution, as horrible as it is, has proven historically to purify the church and unite it against evil. But, with his head slightly in the tent like the proverbial camel, gullible Christians do not recognize Satan and give him a hearty welcome.
I know that it is impossible in the world to have a perfectly pure church when imperfect people always make it up. But it takes ‘eternal vigilance’ to keep New Testament worship free from the gross compromises that the world always offers.
John F. Thornbury served for many years as a pastor in Baptist churches in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, USA.