A good friend asked me about the practice of Yoga.  Should Christians engage in it?  Should we warn others about it?  Yoga stands out because it is eastern in origin and so isn’t part of our western cultural heritage.  Yet much of our culture is pagan in origin but so much a part of who we are that we don’t notice.  Are there pagan influences in our churches as well?   How deep do these roots go and what can we do to get clear of them?  What can we say about paganism to those within and outside of the church?   It would be wise to examine the pagan influences in our own life, sacred and secular before looking at  any particular practice.  I will specifically look at Yoga in a second essay.

Enlightenment in natureTo make the situation even more confusing, churches and clergy have a wide range of opinions on what pagan practices should be accepted and what should be rejected.  Anyone sincerely looking for guidance will quickly become confused by the diversity of opinions and practices among the ‘Christian’ church.  Some  reject Halloween pumpkins but embrace the Christmas tree.  Others may reject both but practice unBiblical meditation rituals and make pagan circles.  What can a sincere Christian wanting to witness to the world say in the midst of all this confusion?  Where can we go for advice?

We are blessed with a great deal of Biblical advice on how to live in a pagan world and deal with its influences.  Does the existence of hidden pagan roots and remnant practices hinder our Christian maturity and witness?  What can we do about them. And more importantly what does the Bible say God is doing about the paganism rooted deeply in us?

Our world is filled with non-Christian influences and practices that we have come to accept as normal and even Christian.  We can find idolatry in the names of the days  of our week.  Sunday is named from an ancient Roman pagan holiday, Monday comes from  the Anglo-Saxon moon goddess’ day,  Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are named after the Norse deities –  Tyr , Thor and Frig (Encyclopedia Mythica).   Does our practice of using these names for the days of the week affect our faith or Christian witness?

We have just celebrated Christmas and many of us  put up Christmas trees in our living rooms. We even decorate our churches with them.  The practice of venerating a tree is very pagan.  Truth and Light Ministries writes: “Many Christians today believe that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The fact is that people have been celebrating Christmas, long before the birth of Christ. The festivity was known then, as Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a festival in which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of the god Saturn. As winter approached, they were losing harvest & were in need of the sun in order for their harvest to grow & bear fruit. Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture and harvest.”   The Christmas season itself has an antecedent that is pagan.  Does that take away from our celebration of His coming?

Does having a Christmas tree in your living room and at the front of your church where you worship constitute veneration?  For me the Christmas tree brings back memories of my childhood and my mothers love for the holiday.  She taught me about Jesus and read scripture to me.    But does the fact that the pagans venerated trees before the Christmas tree came into being condemn the practice?  I will not even discuss the celebration and practice of letting our children go out on ‘Halloween’ because it is so obviously pagan that nothing more needs to be said.

As I sit here typing this reflection I notice my wedding band on my left hand.   A ring as important sign of status also has its roots in paganism.  Samuele  Bacchiocchii states:  “The Romans were also the first to use finger rings to “tie” people not only to their social classes, but also to their marital partners. During the betrothal ceremony the bridegroom gave a plain iron finger ring to the family of the bride as a symbol of his commitment and financial ability to support the bride. Marriages were not made in heaven but over a negotiating table. Originally the betrothal ceremony was more elaborate and important than the marriage rite, which was a simple fulfillment of the betrothal commitment. It was only much later in Christian history that the ring was made part of the wedding ceremony.”  Even the sign of this most important relationship in my life, second only to Jesus, is stained with paganism.  Do I remove my wedding ring?picture71353272706518

The architecture of our most sacred spaces, our churches arose out of pagan temples.  J. Powell points out that not only did the architecture of the church come from pagan roots but also the order of worship; “It was Constantine who first constructed buildings to be named churches, built after the pattern of pagan basilicas. It was Constantine who decided that Christians should have books available to instruct Romans how to be Christians; so he ordered Eusebius to gather Christian gospels, letters, and other literature, evaluate them for authenticity, and compile canonical documents into a book to be called the ‘Holy Bible.’ Constantine suggested all Romans should attend church services every Sunday (Until then, Christians were not accustomed to attending a structured weekly religious service). Clerics would continue to follow the pagan order of worship, including song services with robed choirs and sermons about ethics and morality. But clerics would add everything devout Christians felt should be included in the services, especially Christian communion.” Even our most sacred spaces and experiences have been influenced by paganism?  Does this block the presence of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings?

We Christians, whether we know it or not, are surrounded  by pagan traditions and influences.  Our sacred places, practices and even the signs of our most intimate relationships have been influenced by paganism.  What can we do about it?  Some seek to purge themselves and urge others to abandon certain customs like the Christmas tree but they do not purge all pagan influences.  Yet, they judge others for not following their example.  They fall into the trap of legalism and  do to themselves what they claim the devil’s paganism does to others.  They become corrupted; “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:5)

0f39c7954a2d5ffa59b453c76c9937feWhat can we do about  paganism?  Nothing on our own, we are steeped in it?  Paganism pervades and influences everything in our lives.  There is only one way out of the pit of paganism (John 14:6) and it isn’t by our own efforts (Ephesians 2:8,9). If we can’t rescue ourselves how can we rescue others?   Convicting others of the true spiritual condition of their soul isn’t our job; it’s the Holy Spirit’s.  Jesus told us very clearly that He had to leave to make way for the Holy Spirit to work in this world; “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (John 16:7-11)  And how does this work in an individual? Jesus explains; “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.”  (John 6:44,45)  There is no talk of the work of any human intermediaries and we are saved in the filth we stand in; “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

How are we and others cleaned up?  Again it isn’t our job to clean others up because we can’t even clean up ourselves.   When we try it always ends up badly; “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:3) How are we cleaned up?   Jesus tells us; “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. ‘Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me'” (John 15:3)  His Word when we accept it makes us clean and when we stick with Jesus we are continually cleaned up of the daily grime of living.  This cleaning goes deep; “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”  (John 17:17) God’s Word cuts deep exposing and convicting us of our paganism; “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)  Instead of warning people away from pagan practices we must point people to God’s Word made flesh – Jesus!  We must have faith to believe Jesus when He says the Holy Spirit is up to the heavy lifting required to clean up a person. This is the Work of God; “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29)l909646777

So what do we do living in a pagan world, steeped as we are in paganism which has worked its way into our most sacred spaces and intimate relationships?  How do we witness to each other and others?  Point to Jesus!  Jesus tells us; “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”  (John 12:32)  This is not easy because the world hates Jesus and hates those who point to Him.  It is far more tempting to point people away from something we don’t agree with or feel doesn’t measure up to our standards of holiness because the world can deal with that.  For the world it’s ‘OK’ to be holy as long as you don’t mention Jesus because everybody has a right to be their own kind of holy.  The trouble starts when Jesus is high and lifted up – the devil hates that.

Jesus tells us that holiness that can be seen by the world is expressed in the love people in the church have for each other; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)  Holiness is expressed in how we, the church treat outsiders; “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Holiness is loving Jesus; “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever . . . ”  Through that love we receive His Holy Spirit.

Our greatest witness to a world living in darkness – to people steeped in paganism even to ourselves – is to show that we truly have come to Jesus; “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrew 12:22-24)

God will do the rest: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrew 12:28,29)

Thank you Jesus!