The Problem of Paganism

It never fails to amaze me how some Christians want to make issues over the most ridiculous things. For example, I can always count on a number of individuals to complain loudly about their refusal to observe certain holidays, because they are based on “pagan traditions.” I’m sure most readers know at least one or two of these people themselves, perhaps you even are one. And even though I have no desire of being respectful to actual pagan traditions, fighting this holiday war is a misguided—despite being well-intentioned—waste of time, and misses the fact that God is at work, reconciling the world to Himself.

From its earliest beginnings, Christianity has always presented a problem for paganism. In fact, the confrontation between covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers has a long history, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. We must keep in mind that paganism is always a perversion of the truth. Just as Satan is nothing more than a copycat of the One True God, so paganism is nothing more than a copycat religion of the One True Faith. God owns it all, nothing belonged to Satan in the first place. The dominion that he holds has been granted by God. Consider Jesus’ response when Pilate claimed that he had the authority to have Him crucified. “Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above'” (John 19:11). Just as Pilate’s authority was given to him by God, so is Satan’s. Although it comes in all shapes and sizes, paganism is nothing new or novel, it is simply a man-made corruption of God’s revealed truth.

In Acts 17, we read of the apostle Paul sending word to Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens. As he waited for their arrival, Paul walked through the city and observed that it was full of idols. His response to the academics of the day at the Areopagus (an area for public discussion) is instructive for us in our own day:

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)

Rather than condemning and accusing the Athenians of blasphemy, Paul reveals to them that they are ignorant. After pointing out that they “worshiped in ignorance,” Paul further informs them that God will no longer overlook such ignorance; God is now declaring to them—through Paul himself—that they should repent and believe on the One True God. Paul concludes by telling them that this very same God has fixed a day of divine judgment, the proof of this being the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection.

Paul could just as easily have spent his time in Athens knocking over statues or pretending like they didn’t exist or praying quietly on a park bench. Paul didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he spoke boldly about how the Sovereign God of creation is the True God. Paul wasn’t bothered that the Athenians were “religious in all respects,” in fact, he viewed their religious beliefs as a way to tell them about the One True God. Their paganism was no threat to the Sovereign God Who “made the world and all things in it.” Paul conceded no ground to the pagans. Rather, he informed them that they were the ones who had the problem—they were worshiping the creature instead of the Creator.

Christianity, by its very nature, is a religion of redemption. Christ came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and through Christ, God is “reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Remembering that God created everything, Christianity should not shrink from using everything to praise and honor God. If Christ can reconcile sinful people to Himself, surely He can redeem days of the year. Just because pagans worshiped the sun on Sunday should never preclude Christianity from worshiping the True Son on Sunday. Rather than simply handing over these days to the pagans, Christians need to be taking them back, for the glory of God. Easter and Christmas may very well have been pagan holidays that the medieval church co-opted for the worship of God, but what of it? How many people, other than a few disgruntled complainers in the church, even know what the pagan roots of these holidays are? We should be rejoicing that the majority of the world actually associates these holidays with Jesus, rather than pagan deities. The pagan origins of these holidays have been all but forgotten, and for that we should be grateful. God is actively reconciling the world to Himself, and if we miss this fact because we are more concerned with what days, months, or times of the year the church has decided to celebrate, we will have missed the entire point of redemption.