I am against the pagan traditions and whirly compromise people bring into churches and homes
To be clear I am not against the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which should be done daily in our lives, I am against the pagan traditions and whirly compromise people bring into churches and homes.
In their 2008 book Pagan Christianity, authors Frank Viola and George Barna present the surprising origins of many of the practices commonly found in churches today. The authors of Pagan Christianity claim that many common church practices/traditions actually have their roots in paganism (non-Christian religions), not in the Bible. But is it accurate to claim that the practices of modern Christianity are pagan? Is what typically occurs in a church-supported by what the Bible teaches about the church?
Many Christians recognize that some pagan ideas and practices have infiltrated the Christian church. Sadly, much of what Jesus Christ abolished by His death and resurrection, the early Christians re-established. Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled God’s requirements, ending the need for any further sacrifices (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18). The early church, due to pagan influences, warped the celebration of the Lord’s Supper into a re-sacrifice / re-offering of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice abolished the need of a formal priesthood (Hebrews 10:12-14), creating instead a “kingdom of priests” (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). The early church, again influenced by paganism, re-established a priesthood that added a barrier between the “ordinary” believer and God (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15). These are just two of many possible examples.
Most Christians wholeheartedly agree that beliefs/practices such as these need to be rejected and the biblical truth upheld. Following are the primary issues Pagan Christianity raises.
(1) The Church Building. The New Testament records the early Christians meeting in homes (Acts 2:46; 5:42; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Neither Jesus nor the Apostles encourage Christians to build temples/church buildings. In John 4:21-24, Jesus declares that a time is coming where worship will not be tied to any particular location or building. For the first few hundred years of the Christian faith, church buildings were very rare. It was not until Constantine and his succeeding Roman Emperors made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire that Christians began to build temples. In some instances, Christians, with the aid of Roman soldiers, took over pagan temples and “Christianized” them into churches.
Christians building church buildings resulted in multiple problems. First, people began to think of a church building as “sacred space.” This resulted in a separation between what goes on inside a church building, and what takes place outside of a church building. Among some, blatant evil and immorality were tolerated outside of the church as long as behavior inside the church was proper. Second, some people lost the idea of God’s omnipresence. The biblical fact that fellowship with God could be had anywhere was lost, and replaced with the idea that a church building and/or the altar inside a church building was the only place one could connect with God. Third, some people lost sight of the fact that believers in Christ are the church, and instead began to think of the church as the building.
But is the idea of a church building pagan? Since the Bible does not instruct Christians to build church buildings, does that mean it is wrong to have a church building? The fact that the Bible does not command something does not mean the Bible is opposed to that something. The Bible neither encourages nor discourages the idea of Christians meeting in buildings that are specifically designed for corporate worship. The question of a church building is one where it is crucially important to recognize the difference between description and prescription. The New Testament describes the early Christians meeting in homes. The New Testament does not prescribe that Christians should only meet in homes. A church building in which the biblical truth about the church is declared is in no sense unbiblical. The building is not what is unbiblical. It is the beliefs that are often attached to the building that are unbiblical.
(2) The structure of the church. In many churches today, there is a “set in stone” structure for how a service will proceed. The structure changes somewhat from church to church, but the core items remain the same: announcements, corporate worship, meeting and greeting, prayer, the sermon, a closing song. In some churches, the order of service is absolutely unbendable. In other churches, there is some flexibility. Whatever the case, the idea of a church meeting having such a rigid structure is not presented in the New Testament. When a church has such a rigid structure, it can stifle, rather than promote, true worship and fellowship.
First Corinthians 14:40 teaches, “but everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Order and structure are not unbiblical. Rigidity and legalism are unbiblical. While a church should ensure that its services are reasonably organized, it is unbiblical for a church service to be so structured that it prevents any participation, freedom, or moving of the Spirit.
(3) Church leadership. The Bible undeniably teaches that the church is to have godly leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-20; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Sadly, the early church took the concept of church leadership, and due to pagan influences, molded it into a priesthood. While most Protestant and Evangelical churches do not refer to its leadership as priests, in some instances, the pastor/preacher serves in much the same role as a priest. Pastors are expected to do all, or nearly all, of the ministry work. In some churches, the re-introduction of the idea of a priest into Christianity resulted in the biblical identity of all believers being saints, ministers, and priests, being lost. In church leadership, the result can be burnt-out pastors or overly authoritative pastors. The result in the congregation can be passivity and inactivity.
The idea that a Christian can unenthusiastically sing a few songs, lackadaisically shake a few hands, inattentively listen to a sermon, and reluctantly give an offering – and thereby fulfill his/her role in the church – is completely unbiblical. The church is intended to be a place of healthy fellowship, active participation, and mutual edification. First Corinthians chapter 12 likens the church to a human body. All of the parts of the body must be functioning for the body to do what it is intended to do. In some churches today, only the “head” is functioning. And as physiology teaches us, ahead cannot survive on its own.
(4) The sermon. The Bible clearly declares that God’s Word is to be taught (1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:2). There is undeniably a place for a godly man teaching other believers in a sermonic / oratory format. One problem is that many churches fall into the trap of one man being the sole teacher. Another problem is when churches, whether intentionally or unintentionally, convey the idea that passively listening to a sermon is all that God expects. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul encourages Timothy to entrust teaching to others who are gifted by the Holy Spirit for teaching. The presence of a non-participatory sermon is not the problem. The lack of opportunities for others to teach and/or the lack of willingness to teach can be a problem. One of the goals of the church is to make disciples, not pew-warmers. Many churches could do a much better job at recognizing the gift of teaching in others and training and encouraging them to use that gift. At the same time, no one should seek the position of the teacher unless he really has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, a fact which can be verified by the testimony of others who can give witness to the presence of this gift. In fact, James 3:1 warns us, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
For other issues raised by Pagan Christianity, please read the following articles:
It is undeniable that pagan ideas and practices have crept their way into the Christian church. To varying degrees, every church has practices that are not completely based in Scripture, either in the practice itself or in the understanding of the practice. But again, this does not mean these practices are pagan or wrong. Churches would do well to continually re-evaluate their methods and motivations, to make sure they are biblically solid. While no church practice should contradict Scripture, a church practice does not have to be explicitly biblical to be a viable choice. Nor does a practice not being taught in the Bible make it pagan. A practice having a pagan origin does not necessarily make it unbiblical. The key to avoiding “pagan Christianity” is comparing every belief and practice with Scripture and removing anything that contradicts what the Bible prescribes for the church. For those issues on which the Bible is silent, the church leadership should prayerfully consider whether or not to continue them.
Recommended Resource: Pagan Christianity: Exposing the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola
Through all of history the Church has suffered a tremendous amount of persecution yet it has still continued to stand strong. In my last post we looked at the persecution she faced under the Roman terror. We saw that during those dark centuries the church grew and strengthened and spread. Christianity was for the most part, kept pure and free from hypocrisy and compromise. However, in 313 AD a document was signed that would change Christianity and the world forever.
Constantine, I became co-emperor of Rome in 306 and sole emperor in 324. In 313, he and his co-ruler Maxentius signed the Edict of Milan, an empire-wide toleration of the Christian faith. On the outside, this looked like a tremendous victory for the Church. She had survived the worst of the terrors Rome had inflicted upon her and had come out stronger than ever. It showed that the power of Rome was not able to conquer the church of Jesus Christ. Instead of Rome defeating the church, the church had defeated Rome. Christianity was secured in the western world and Christendom was truly begun. The word of God became the foundation for western culture and remained that way until the 20th century. Also, the legalization of Christianity caused the gospel to spread further to the four corners of the earth with the blessing of the Roman Emperor. Now Christians were finally allowed to worship God and share their faith without being killed for it.
Theologian R.J. Rushdoony said, “Rome, in persecuting the early church, was trying to preserve its law order; the Emperors clearly saw the issue: Christ or Caesar. Their moral and religious premise was false, but their civil intelligence was sound; either the pagan empire or the church had to die. They failed to see that the empire was already dying and that the death of Christians would not save Rome’s failing life. It was Constantine’s grasp of this fact, that led to the recognition of Christianity.”[i]
However, the legalization of Christianity also had many negative results. When Constantine became a “Christian,” people started coming to Christ in huge numbers. We might look back at this and say, “Well that’s wonderful!” however, in many respects, it wasn’t wonderful at all. You see, during the persecution, the church flourished and grew. It remained holy and pure from worldly influences. Each member was truly converted in his heart and knew that becoming a Christian meant laying aside everything to follow Christ. Now, this was no longer the case. In the first place, the legalization of Christianity meant that it was no longer a risk to be a Christian. It was no longer a life or death matter. This meant that people who were not truly converted could come into the church and pervert it. Second, because the Emperor was a Christian, it became fashionable to be one. If you wanted to get on the emperor’s good side, for instance, you would become a “Christian” just to get favors from him. This brought further impurities into the church.
Statue of Constantine at York where he was crowned
Constantine was also the great mixer of Christianity and Greco-Roman Paganism. Whether he was truly converted or not is a highly debatable question. He did a tremendous amount of damage to the true church of Christ and laid the foundation for the age-long struggle between the true church, and the false church. Pagan ideas and rituals were brought into the church and “Christianized.” For example, instead of having a god for each area of life, they now had saints. Instead of having vestal virgins vowed to live in celibacy apart from the wickedness of the world for the purpose of serving the gods, the concept of the Nun and Monk was instituted. Instead of having images of the gods, they now had icons of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. Instead of the Roman Emperor is in charge, it was now the Roman Pope. He also brought in the domination of the Church over the state, an idea which dominated the Middle Ages.
Roman Empire divided by Diocletian
Emperor Diocletian, who ruled from 284-305, had split the Roman Empire into two halves: east, and west. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium in Turkey which he renamed Constantinople after himself. The Western Roman Empire began to be ravaged by fierce Barbarian tribes, many of whom were Christians (however they often held to heretical doctrines). It was seriously in decline. However, at the same time, the Eastern Roman Empire was flourishing. Byzantium was a great place to build a city. It became a center for trade and learning for centuries. Culturally it was very Greek, and Christianity had been adopted as the official religion.
In those days each city had one church, and each church was governed by a bishop. There were four bishops who were more important than the other bishops. They were the bishops of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome. Rome was the only one of these cities that were in the west. When the Barbarians finally took Rome and the last emperor was killed in 476 AD, the bishop of Rome found himself to be the most powerful person in the western half of the empire. He was the one the western Christians looked to, and gradually he was able to take on more and more power. Before long he was known as the Pope and the head of the church. So instead of having an Emperor in Rome, we now have the Pope. He basically had the authority to do whatever he wanted. Not only was he the leader of the church, but he was also the military and political leader in the west.
In the east things were quite different. The bishops couldn’t do anything without the emperor giving his approval. Heresies like Arianism, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism ravaged the church and carried many away with it. Men like Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo were raised up by God to combat and refute many of these heresies.
However, compromised Christianity continued to be an issue. The Roman Catholic Church, with its mixed form of Christianity and Greco-Roman paganism, dominated the Middle Ages. Historian Philip Schaff said,
“The medieval church as a visible organization never had greater power over the minds of men. She controlled all departments of life from the cradle to the grave. She monopolized al the learning and made sciences and arts tributary to her. She took the lead in every progressive movement; she founded universities, built lofty cathedrals, stirred up the crusades, made and unmade kings, dispensed blessings and curses to whole nations. It took centuries to raise this imposing Roman Catholic structure and centuries to take it down.”
A compromise was seen in the work of the Scholastics or School Men as they called themselves. These were intellectuals and philosophers in the universities of Europe, who sought to blend Christianity with Greco-Roman paganism, or the doctrines of Augustine with those of Aristotle. They did not hold to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture (what the Reformers would later call Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone), but exalted reason, church tradition, and human ability higher than God’s Word. They then tried to interpret the Bible based on these things. This led them into great error which then led into spiritual and cultural darkness and the need for the Reformation in the 16th century.
Anselm, Archbishop of Canturbury
Erasmus of Rotterdam
Some of the most important and influential of these men were Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), Peter Abelard, professor at the University of Paris (1079-1142), Peter Lombard, teacher at Notre Dame Cathedral (1095-1160), Thomas Aquinas, the most important in influential of the School Men (1225-1274), Duns Scotus of Oxford and Paris (1265-1308), William of Acum (1285-1347), and Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536). Their basic thesis was, and this came through clearly with Thomas Aquinas, that the Bible only speaks to the spiritual areas of life. You see they put a distinction between the spiritual and physical or material. It was called the sacred/secular dichotomy. Aquinas claimed that there were areas of life pertaining to the physical that the Bible doesn’t speak to. That’s because God is leaving it up to us with our smart brains and autonomous reason, to come up with answers ourselves.
By the time the Renaissance came around in the mid/late 15th century, the scholars of that day said, “Mr. Aquinas, if we don’t need the Bible to interpret some areas of life then we don’t need the Bible to interpret any areas of life.” The name Renaissance means “rebirth” and it truly was a re-birth of Greco-Roman thinking and the rejection of Judeo-Christian thinking.
The Enlightenment (which I prefer to call the Endarkenment) of the 18th century saw the complete utter rejection of Christian truth in favor of reason and out and out paganism. The ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau laid the foundation for the French Revolution, which then laid the foundation for many more revolutions of its kind throughout history.
The consequences of compromise are enormous. Every decision comes with a cost. The choices that we make in our lives will not only affect us but those around us, future generations and the body of Christ. In a future post, we will look at the other side of the scale: what happens when Christians refuse to compromise and instead take a stand for truth.
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