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Animism and the Sinner's Prayer

OMF Blog Thailand

This post was excerpted from an article by Karl Dahlfred, OMF missionary in Thailand. Read the full article HERE.
While the sinner’s prayer is designed to help people become Christians, here in Thailand (as in other places) it many times has the opposite effect of confirming people in a fundamentally animistic worldview.
At its core, animism is the using of religious rituals and ceremonies to manipulate the spirit world into doing what the animist wants it to do, whether that be warding off evil or inviting blessing. Thai Buddhism is a mix of pure Buddhism and local animistic beliefs in spirits, omens, relics, sacred objects, fortune telling, astrology, sorcery and so on. This mix of spirit beliefs and Buddhism forms an important part of the worldview and belief system of Thai people, and it is this understanding of spiritual reality that Thai people bring to the table when they come to an evangelistic rally or hear a gospel presentation.
Animism is not a heart religion where it is important that you really believe something from the depth of your being. Animism is not about devotion or love for a particular deity or spirit. Animism is not about conforming your life to some external moral standard which has come down from heaven. Animism does not require you to change your life or to repent of your sins. All it requires is the performance of some religious rituals in order to cause the spiritual powers that be to bring about the desired blessings in your life. It is all about external things that you do in order to get what you want.
But the gospel of Jesus Christ is about a change in allegiance from self to God. It is a change of priorities from our own priorities to God’s priorities. It is about God’s plan for what my life should be like, not about using religious ceremonies to manipulate God into helping me accomplish my own ideas of what a happy life should be like. Animism at its core is pragmatic and utilitarian. Whatever gets the job done to help me achieve my idea of the good life is what I’ll do.

I am sure that the majority of Christians who lead Thai Buddhists to say the sinner’s prayer are genuinely trying to help them, but it is a misguided effort. It takes a long time for people from a completely non-Christian background to understand the true nature of the gospel and to come to point where they can truly put their faith in Christ.
We are not saved by how much we know, however, there is a certain amount of knowledge about God, the world, and self that needs to be in place for someone to truly trust in Christ.
-Karl Dahlfred

Ways to pray:
  • Pray that Christian workers would have patience, diligence and wisdom in building relationships and sharing the gospel with Thai folk Buddhists.
  • Ask God to help Thai folk Buddhists understand the difference between religious rituals and a relationship with Jesus Christ. May they see Jesus as the Savior of their souls, not simply an entity who can help lessen their suffering.
  • Pray for God’s Spirit to move powerfully in Thailand, that we would see a culturally relevant and biblically faithful church rise up in worship of Christ.

Learn more about Thailand’s culture and missionary history HERE.

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