A Response to Dual Allegiance

by Bruce L. Bauer

The author investigates the underlying causes of dual allegiance—and offers biblical responses to eight situations where dual allegiance is commonplace.

Dual allegiance is not a recent mission problem. Christians in all parts of the world dabble in syncretism by constantly looking for the latest power source or by allowing their culture to mix with biblical Christianity. In more recent mission history dual allegiance has become widespread among those who call themselves Christian. What are the causes, and how can the Church effectively intervene? Christian leaders have a growing awareness and concern about

the persistence of a two-tiered Christianity around the world, despite centuries of instruction and condemnation by missionaries and church leaders. Deeply committed Christians faithfully attend church services and pray to God in times of need, but feel compelled during the week to go to a local shaman for healing, a diviner for guidance, and an exorcist for deliverance from spirit oppression. (Hiebert, Shaw, and Tiénou 1999, 15)

Dual allegiance occurs when adherents of Christianity find “little or none of the spiritual power they crave for the meeting of their needs for healing, blessing, guidance, even deliverance from demons” with the result that they continue in “their pre-Christian practice of going to shamans, priests, diviners, temples, shrines, and the like for spiritual power” (Kraft 2005, 361), or, “when people add to their Christian commitment a dependence on occult powers (e.g., Freemasonry, New Age, Eastern martial arts, fortune-telling, astrology, horoscopes, psychic healing)” (Kraft and Kraft 1993, 349). This article will briefly describe some of the underlying causes of dual allegiance, followed by suggestions on how the Church can effectively and appropriately respond in biblical ways.

There are at least five underlying causes of dual allegiance.

1. Cultural baggage from the Enlightenment. There are many causes for the development of dual religious systems, but an underlying problem has been the very different worldview of those who brought Christianity as compared to those who received Christianity. Two hundred years ago, when Christian mission was just gearing up and beginning to take Protestant Christianity to Africa and Asia, missionaries were largely coming out of cultures that had been influenced by the Enlightenment, by optimistic humanism, by the concept of the white person’s burden, and by the belief that the old animistic ways of the people they encountered were “primitive” superstitions that could be ignored or easily brushed aside. Early missionaries did not have many of the social science tools that modern-day missionaries have. Insights concerning worldview values, premises, and assumptions were largely unknown. Missionaries viewed much of what they encountered in the culture as pagan and unfit to carry the gospel message (Hiebert 1985, 184), so they set about to “Westernize” before they could “Christianize.” They substituted English, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese for the languages of the people, believing that through the process of teaching them a “superior” culture, they would also produce Christians in the mold of Western Christianity.

However, in attempting to give the peoples of Africa, the Americas, and Asia a new language, culture, and religion, the missionaries, more often than not, did not take seriously the old animistic practices. They felt that if people dressed like them, worshipped like them, sang the same songs, read the Bible, and prayed like them, then the old ways had disappeared. But too often, the missionaries only succeeded in driving the old ways underground where they were practiced in secret (Hiebert 1985, 184).

2. The excluded middle. Paul Hiebert, in his article on the flaw of the excluded middle (1994, 189-201), points out that missionaries and church leaders often do not talk about Christian responses to local gods, ancestors, ghosts, spirits, demons, evil spirits, magic, astrology, mana, charms, amulets, magical rites, the evil eye, or the evil tongue. Instead of openly discussing these items and sharing biblical ways of dealing with the issues, too often these subjects have been ignored in the hope that they would disappear. According to Charles Kraft and Marguerite Kraft,

Christianity has been presented as the answer to the quest for eternal life, but offers little to provide protection, healing, and guidance for the present. This contrasts with the great concern for such things in the people’s pre-Christian faith, leaving voids in areas of great importance to them. (1993, 349)

3. Lack of emphasis on spiritual power. Charles Kraft also suggests that another cause of dual allegiance is an unbalanced emphasis on truth and allegiance to the exclusion of God’s power. In the early 1990s Kraft wrote “What Kind of Encounters Do We Need in Our Christian Witness?” (1991) and “Allegiance, Truth, and Power Encounters in Christian Witness” (1992). He suggested that there needs to be a balance between an emphasis on truth, allegiance, and power. Many evangelical churches stress the importance of giving allegiance to Jesus Christ and the importance of being grounded in biblical truth. Yet these same churches often present little on biblical power. About this, Kraft and Kraft write, “A Christianity that talks about and promises spiritual power but leaves out the experiencing in this area…is a great disappointment to many. Such Christianity leaves itself open to the problem of dual allegiance” (1993, 350). Yet power that protects from evil spiritual forces is one of the greatest felt needs in many animistic societies. When churches present a powerless Christianity, members continue to seek out the old power sources to satisfy their fears and needs.

4. Fear and unwillingness to discuss dual allegiance. Another factor that underlies dual allegiance is that many missionaries trained for ministry never received instruction in dealing with witchcraft, evil spirits, curses, and the power of the evil one. I remember the first time I came face to face with a demonized person. It happened early in my ministry in Japan when a troubled young girl, with eyes that looked demonic, hissed at me. “I am Satan,” came the voice. I didn’t know what to do. I had never taken a course or heard a lecture on how to deal with demonized people. So I did what came naturally—I ducked and ran. As I backed away from the girl who needed to experience the freeing power of Jesus Christ, I said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

Too many pastors are ill-equipped to deal with the witchcraft, the curses, the fetishes, and the fear new members bring with them into the church. Too many leaders tolerate a dual allegiance among members because they do not know how to deal with the demonic in biblical ways. As a result, the issue of dual allegiance is allowed to fester and grow until today it is becoming an almost accepted part of Christian culture and church life in some parts of the world.

5. Cultural void. Many missionaries and church leaders do not realize that when they forbid certain practices that are important in the old scheme of things—but do not work equally as hard to replace the ceremonies, practices, and customs with Christian functional substitutes—they create a vacuum or cultural void (Hiebert 1985, 184). It is this void that is a primary factor leading to dual allegiance.

The rapid spread of African Indigenous Churches (AIC) is largely the result of a reaction against the cultural void created by Christian missions (Kraft and Kraft 1993, 351). Alan Tippett explains,

The movement frequently is led by a prophet and may be messianic. Its motivation is to regain something believed to have been lost—taken away by the white man….Maybe some Christian elements are retained, but the traditional will be uppermost. The result will be syncretistic; the very thing the missionaries tried to avoid. (1987, 200)

The same cause that led to the rapid growth of AIC has also caused dual allegiance. Tippett has written extensively on the relationship between the cultural void and dual allegiance. Whenever Christian mission did not replace the pagan elements with Christian functional substitutes, a void was created—and the void led to split-level Christianity. Tippett writes, “The failure to provide adequate functional substitutes in the newly-planted church leaves a void. Voids create longings. Longings lead to unrest and unrest in time to violent reaction” (1987, 201). He goes on to say,

The cultural void, like the intellectual and spiritual voids, is a danger spot because it always has room for the “wrong thing” if the “right thing” is denied….I suggest that, in the newly planted church of animist converts, a direct relationship exists between the effectiveness of the functional substitutes and the possibilities of reaction against cultural voids. Cultural voids might be reduced by paying greater attention to any cultural institution rejected upon the acceptance of Christianity: what are its functions in society and what kind of Christian substitutes might be advocated? (1987, 201)

Bronislaw Malinowski suggests that societies organize their institutions, beliefs, and customs so as to permit the individuals in the group to cope with the everyday problems they face (1945, 42). The changing of any of the institutions in a society causes ramifications in other aspects of social life. However, one way to reduce the impact of the loss of an institution is to work at replacing its function in society with a new institution. One kind of institution can be replaced by another, which fills a similar function (1945, 52). Christian mission has not worked hard enough at such replacements. The result has been that cultural voids have been created in the area of how to deal with the questions of everyday life—issues that were of extreme importance to people with an animistic worldview.

How should the Church respond to the conditions found today? How can the weaknesses caused by the factors listed above be overcome? A starting point would be to engage leaders and scholars in open discussions and analysis of the situation. The issue needs to be placed on the table and candidly talked about. Rodney Henry writes, “Unless the Church provides clear teaching on the subject of the spirit world and its practitioners, as well as providing alternatives to going to such practitioners, the problem will continue as it has in the past” (1986, 94).

Seminaries and Bible colleges should teach a course on biblical responses to evil spiritual forces so that the next generation of pastors will have the ability to deal biblically with the issue. But the bigger challenge remains the creation of functional substitutes for the areas where church members feel compelled to go to a local shaman for healing, seek out a diviner for guidance, or consult an exorcist for deliverance from spirit oppression. These are areas where Christianity must work out biblically appropriate responses to people’s felt needs.

Biblically appropriate functional substitutes. In those areas of the world where dual allegiance is practiced, many church members seek spiritual power and help in at least nine areas. Unless and until the Church responds with clear teaching in these areas, there will be very little change. People seek help from the old system because of the cultural void created by the destruction of the old ways. When Christianity failed to provide biblical answers in response to the needs and fears that were widespread in many societies, people continued to revert to the old patterns of life, leading to dual allegiance and split-level Christianity. Kraft and Kraft explain,

Marriage problems, barrenness, sickness, business or crop failure, accidents, broken relationships are all seen as involving spirit activity. In addition, success, health, fertility of fields, animals and people, protection from danger, and the like are seen as requiring supernatural activity. (1993, 349-350)

Below I suggest possible responses to these areas.

1. Protection from evil spiritual powers. In an animistic setting people are always looking for ways to ward off evil. In Cambodia, most children wear a string around their neck, belly, or wrist with some charm or talisman to protect them from evil. When the pastors make a conscious effort to teach about the indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s power to protect, and teach about guardian angels and their role and function, people are more willing to trust God’s power instead of the old ways.

2. Healing of diseases. Prayer for the sick should become commonplace so that those who are sick may experience the healing power of Jesus Christ and feel the concern and compassion of fellow believers. One church in Cambodia developed the practice of having a time immediately after the worship service each week when members could have others lay hands on them and pray for them.

3. Blessings for crops, finance, and success. People in many societies follow the practice of appeasing the spirits or offering sacrifices to the spirits in order to ensure good crops and financial success. God’s word says to

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Mal. 3:10-11)

As the pastors taught these concepts in Cambodia, they encouraged their members to be faithful in tithing. Since the people were rice farmers and had little cash income, the people were encouraged to tithe their rice harvest, with the deacons selling the rice in the market and turning the money in to the church. Just one year after Mr. Ee had started tithing his rice crop, the cut worms invaded the rice paddies and whole fields started to wither and turn yellow. Mr. Ee prayed for his rice fields, claiming God’s protection from the worms. His neighbors started coming to ask what kind of medicine he had put on his fields, because his fields were green and lush and untouched by the worms. He just pointed up and said that his God was protecting his fields.

4. Happiness and harmony in marriage (children). Barrenness is a major cause of disharmony in societies where children are the greatest wealth one can have. The biblical record is clear that God is in the business of opening barren wombs and blessing families with children (see Gen. 18:10-14; Judg. 13:2-3; 1 Sam. 1:2-20; 2 Kings 4:14-17; Luke 1:7-15). How many pastors are trained to pray for barrenness? Does the Church encourage special prayers for childless couples? Some churches do, but many do not. As a result, some church members revert to the old cultural practices in this area.

5. Death, funerals, and the next life. Roy Shearer discusses the challenges Christian missionaries faced in Korea in connection with funeral ceremonies and the struggle in knowing how to deal with dead ancestors. Most missionaries had demanded that the people make a clear-cut break with the old ways of ancestor worship, but gave no biblical functional replacement for the old practices. Later, Korean pastors developed Christian memorial services that treated in biblical ways the heritage and blessing of previous generations (1967, 258-260).

6. The control of “bad” spirits. In animistic contexts, the spirit world is real and people expend much energy, time, and money to ensure that evil spirits do not cause trouble or disruption in the family. How is a Christian to deal with evil spirits? What functional substitutes does the Church teach as a means for new Christians to control evil spirit activity? Have we taught new Christians about who they are in Jesus Christ? Have we carefully taught on the indwelling Holy Spirit as a powerful protector? Have we taught that Christians have authority over evil spirits (Luke 9:1-2; 10:9, 17; Mark 3:14-15), not only for personal protection, but also authority in Christ to drive out evil spirits and set people free?

7. Knowledge of the future. In many Asian cultures the day to open a business, the day to be married, and the day on which to become engaged are all carefully researched with the help of a diviner. How do we provide biblical substitutes in this area? It is not complicated. However, when nothing is taught, a void is created that causes fear and concern that can lead new Christians back to their pre-Christian practices. Clear teaching that the creator God makes each and every day a good day, that Christians can rejoice in each day and do not have to fear any day (Ps. 118:24), goes a long way in dealing with this situation.

8. Dedication of houses, businesses, motorcycles, and cars. In the past, Cambodian people followed a custom of calling the shaman to dedicate newly constructed houses. As Cambodians became church members, the church was faced with the choice of either labeling the practice pagan or developing a biblically appropriate functional substitute. I remember participating in the first such ceremony. A group of Christians walked the boundary of the property, singing and stopping at each corner of the lot, pausing to pray that God would make this property a light to the whole community. We proceeded to walk around the house, pausing to read scripture at each corner of the house. Then, we went into the house and prayed a dedication prayer in each room, asking God to guard and protect the family, asking the Holy Spirit to be present, and asking for God’s holy angels to give their constant care to the house, property, and family. The family was extremely grateful for knowing that their new God was so much more powerful than the spirits they had feared in the past. But too often, the Christian response has been to create a cultural void by forbidding a practice that has deep meanings for people without offering a biblical functional substitute.

Greater emphasis on spiritual approaches to life. Christian teaching and evangelistic preaching emphasize biblical truths. However, if those truths are not encapsulated and lived out spiritually in the lives of the presenters and believers in a Christian community, rational propositional statements about faith will rarely stop believers from straying to other power sources. Christian communities must continually demonstrate a living relationship with God. Prayer for the sick, intercessory prayer, anointing services, and teams of people ready and willing to minister to those who are harassed by the evil one are necessary to stop new members from seeking other power sources.

Christians live in a wicked world where sickness, suffering, death, disease, and problems of many types afflict God’s people. When adversity strikes, when prayers and medication do not heal, when crops fail and businesses go under, members need to understand that the solution is not to search out an alternative power source, but to stand clearly on God’s side and say like Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 15:13). Believers need to understand the issues of spiritual warfare so clearly that they will reply like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan. 3:16-18)

Until members have this conviction, the Church’s responsibility to teach, disciple, and nurture is unfinished.

Henry, Rodney L. 1986. Filipino Spirit World: A Challenge to the Church. Manila: OMF.

Hiebert, Paul G. 1985. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

________. 1994. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

Hiebert, Paul G., R. Daniel Shaw, and Tite Tiénou. 1999. Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Response to Popular Beliefs and Practices. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

Kraft, Charles H. 1991. “What Kind of Encounters Do We Need in Our Christian Witness?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 27(3):258-265.

________. 1992. “Allegiance, Truth, and Power Encounters in Christian Witness.” In Pentecost, Mission and Ecumenism: Essays on Intercultural Theology. Ed. Jan A. B. Jongeneel, 215-230. Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang.

________. 2005. “Contextualization in Three Crucial Dimensions.” In Appropriate Christianity. Ed. Charles H. Kraft, 99-115. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Kraft, Charles H. and Marguerite G. Kraft. 1993. “Communicating and Ministering the Power of the Gospel Cross-Culturally: The Power of God for Christians Who Ride Two Horses.” In The Kingdom and the Power. Eds. Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer, 345-356. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1945. The Dynamics of Cultural Change. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Schearer, Roy E. 1967. “A Christian Functional Substitute for Ancestor Worship.” Church Growth Bulletin IV, 2:258-260.

Tippett, Alan R. 1987. Introduction to Missiology. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.


Bruce L. Bauer is professor of world mission at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He and his wife served as missionaries in Japan and Micronesia from 1969-1984 and in Cambodia from 1997-2000.

Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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