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A largely Christian community of Native North Americans in Quebec has banned a spiritual practice traditional to their people, the Cree. The decision has disappointed some ministers in native communities in the United States and Canada.

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Displaying 1–13 of 13 comments

E J Wynne

April 19, 2011  11:42am

"It is finnished", Jesus said. His shed life blood is sufficient. He doesn't need gimmicks or other artifacts, smoke or anything else for that matter. Since more of this religion is spreading among our people there has been a vast increase of suicide among our young people. This is a spiritual battle and it's taking it's toll among our young and it's not about power struggle among our First Nation Christian famillies but rather we need to remember "What sayeth the LORD. It's only by HIS life saving BLOOD can we be saved, healed, delivered. We must worship HIM in Spirit and in TRUTH and in no other way. "Be ye Holy as I AM HOLY", He said. Let's not go back to the old way we used to worship but go back further than that....back to the CROSS of Calvary. Will the real (sold out) Christian bow down HUMBLY and pray for my people. I love them and all my brothers and sisters in Christ. Tear down strongholds the BIBLE says. Where the Spirit of the Lord is........there is FREEDOM.

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Marcus Toole

April 16, 2011  12:50am

I totally agree with your statement KT. But those on the other side believe that they are holding to Scripture. It’s one thing to exegete Scripture and quite another thing to apply its principles. The matter of sweats in Cree culture is easy in comparison to the question of the drum. In traditional Cree culture the drum is a sacred object. It is understood to have a spirit which must be honored at all times. Tribal elders insist that whenever a drum is played that those coming in contact with the drum must undergo a cleansing ritual with sweat grass first, and a special honor song must be played first to honor the spirit in the drum. Many Native Christians, especially second generation Christians, want to brig the drum into Christian worship. Many first generation Christians, see this as the ultimate sacrilege. A drum shoul be redeemable, but I know of no examples where Cree Christians embraced the drum without eventually embracing cerimonies like sweats and sundances.

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T B

April 15, 2011  2:11pm

This particular debate has been going on for ethnic peoples for years and I know that a lot of these questions return to what we embrace as our starting points, and I'm convinced that beginning with the Word of God gives us a clearer path to how to navigate these waters. If our starting point is something other than the truth of the Word of God being absolute and immutable, then we are inviting problems that will inevitably bring us closer to either religious licentiousness or Pharisiac judgmentalism, both of which have been found wanting throughout history, regardless of the culture the gospel is being presented in....

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Marcus Toole

April 14, 2011  2:37pm

I’m using this article to teach about some of the issues a ministry person has to consider when dealing with these sorts of issues in a native community. Given my experience in working in Native communities in Canada, I would be surprised if the destruction of this lodge was just about religion. It’s important to realize that many of these communities are very small and composed of just a few family groups or sometimes only one family group. Leaders like the chief are often and uncle or aunty to the lowest person in the community. Often when events like the forced destruction of a sweat lodge take place, it is often as much about relationship issues between the people involved as it is about religion. The destruction of the sweat lodge could well have been the outcome of a power struggle or quarrel within a family or between two families. It could well have been about protecting the established leadership structure in the family or tribe. These things are usually quite complex.

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Marcus Toole

April 14, 2011  12:14pm

There was no reference in this article to the background dynamics taking place when the tribe decided to dismantle the sweat lodge. One thing that may well be in the background was fear that the sweat lodge was being used to put bad medicine (curses through black magic) on the community or on people in the community. As the article indicated, sweats are often associated with interaction with the spirit world. Sometimes sweats are done to send spirits on missions to bring harm to people on behalf of the medicine man. There is a lot of fear associated with these sorts of things both on the part of many native Christians and native traditionalists. We don’t know the full story behind the destruction of the sweat lodge, and this is a very important point for all sides in this debate to realize.

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Marcus Toole

April 14, 2011  11:06am

As for the comment regarding Paul’s reference to the “altar of the unknown God” in Acts 19:22-34, Paul mention’s it only as an example of the Greeks witnessing against themselves that even they understood that there is a God that they are missing in their pantheon. However, when read in context it immediately becomes evident that Paul disqualified the altar as a legitimate means for worshiping the God of the Bible when he said that God does not live in temples made of stone nor is he served by human hands. So while Paul is willing to refer to pagan beliefs and practices as a means of connecting for the sake of communication, this does not mean he approves of such practices and objects or intends for them to be brought into Christian worship. I doubt that Paul would have approved of converts continuing in sacrifices at the altar to the unknown God.

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Marcus Toole

April 14, 2011  10:31am

Let's look at Scripture. In Hebrews 10 the author warns Jewish Christians that if they return to temple sacrifices as their means of atonement for sin, by so doing they end up rejecting the once and for all atonement of Jesus for sin and end up with no atoning sacrifice at all. The result of this is a fearful prospect of judgment, Hebrews 10:19-31 (when read in context). If this principle is true for atonement rituals expressly commanded in the Old Testament, how much more would the principle apply to atonement rituals of other religions. In Colossians, Paul warns of the possibility of being disqualified on account of ascetic practices which has the effect of not holding fast to the head, Jesus. Note, I'm only opposed to sweats when used as a religious practice. In cultures where it's mostly a hygienic practice or a means for breaking a fever it may be OK.

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Tim N

April 14, 2011  8:56am

When confronting a different culture as Christians, we need to ask ourselves whether practices are in line with Scripture, against scripture (e.g. Ancestor worship) or could be compatible with scripture, given many of our practices are developments from our own culture and are used without question. Following Marcus' description, I'd take the opposite view, in that if the ritual is seen in terms of a self-sacrificial cleansing, then it mirrors the practice of fasting, where we choose to deny ourselves in order to be focussed on the one who denied himself to death on a cross. Given an understanding of how the ritual could then be used to focus on Christ in prayer, it could then be seen as a perfectly acceptable (although clearly inessential) part of a Christian life. If the sweat lodge had a different meaning for other tribes, then clearly it might not be helpful, or even damaging in that context.

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D S

April 14, 2011  2:15am

Paul had no problem speaking of the "unknown" god and the fact of the matter is a specific liturgical prescription of worship does not exist in the NT, so in the spirit of Paul becoming all things for all the people he ministered to, Native Christians need not adopt the watered down culmination of western civilization when taking on Christianity, Christ and doctrine are what matter.

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Marcus Toole

April 14, 2011  12:46am

Maybe I will argue more against the use of sweats as a Christian spiritual practice tomorrow. Despite my negative views on sweats as a Christian practice, I think that tribal governments need to respect the religious freedoms of their citizenry. In more traditional communities the backlash from such an action on this reserve could result in missionaries like me being expelled and church buildings being destroyed or converted into “culture centers" by tribal governments. If the lodge was a public facility of sorts then the community can, as a community, agree to take it down. But if it was a private lodge behinds someone’s home, as most sweat lodges are, then the religious beliefs and practices of the person who put up the lodge should be respected. While I think that it is essential for Christians to abandon spiritual ceremonies of other religions, I believe just as strongly that they should do this out of personal conviction and not on account of coercion by a tribal government.

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Thomas Didymus

April 13, 2011  10:50pm

The Arc was not something new when God gave Moses instruction to build it for carrying the Covenant. Egyptian arcs predate the giving of Mosaic Law. On the center of the Egyptian arc they would carry a god. The Tabernacle design and furniture are similar to what Egyptians had used. The Greco-Roman style building which has been popular with building churches for centuries was a design used to build temples to the Greek and Roman gods, long before Christ's death and resurrection for our sins. The Greco-Roman designs have had influence how Synagogues were constructed. Going up to the Temple in Jerusalem worshippers went through ritual cleansing pools. Worship is not about a building or a ritual. It is about a living, loving relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ. I enjoy a good sweat lodge and find it cathartic which in turn helps me to thank the Lord for such simple joys. If someone is teaching the sweat lodge is removing sins, then that is an afront to our Lord's sacrifice.

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Hugh Hamp

April 13, 2011  7:32pm

There is only one way to the cross, and it is through Jesus Christ, not throught the sweat lodge. John 10:30 "I and my Father are one." There is no middle ground. You either have Christ and Christianity or the sweat lodge and demonism. The two never neet. Christ was totally man and totally God. Christ was not a white man, but a Semite meaning a brown man. He was tribal man of the tribe of Judah, but his Father was God. Your can't have two which is syncretism, and that is what Israel did in the Old Testament and brought on God's judgement and banishment from the Land. Chose you this day who you will serve, "As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. You cannot serve two masters,

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Marcus Toole

April 13, 2011  7:02pm

Participating in sweats is inappropriate for believers whether they are native or not. Here I’m not singling out rituals from native spirituality but holding to the biblical principle that rituals for which there are no example in the Bible should be avoided generally. Sweats mean different things in different native cultures, but in the Cree culture in which I work, part of the idea of a sweat is that it is a sacrifice of self imposed suffering for the purpose of cleansing from “negative energy” accumulating on account of bad deeds. When brought into Christianity this very quickly takes on the nature of being a type of penitence or self atonement for the purposes of getting rid of sin. Such a practice when combined with a belief system of this sort badly undermines the notion of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus.

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