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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Christianity and Paganism

300px-UmbrellaCorporation3When the Christian church emerged out of Judaism most of the world was pagan. The two faiths had much in common. They shared a belief in a universe possessing a material world and a spirit world. Adherents of both faiths believed that what happened in the spirit world had a powerful influence on what happens in the material world. But there were also significant differences, and for centuries the two faith systems battled for the hearts and minds of human beings.
Paganism had the early advantage. West and East were dominated by the Roman Empire, and the official state religion was pagan. While political unity was symbolized by the public worship of the Roman and Greek pantheons, paganism was extremely tolerant. Peoples and nations were welcome to retain their own gods and goddesses, as long as they honored the gods of the conquerors as well. Even eastern mystery religions, although held in contempt by many of the elite, were tolerated. There was room under the pagan umbrella for the widest range of beliefs and practices. Even Jews, who claimed an exclusive relationship with their deity, and who were ready to die rather than worship pagan deities, won the right to practice Judaism in the Empire, a victory based on the fact that Judaism was an ancient religion and thus in the eyes of the Romans a valid religion.

Christianity was different. Christians too claimed an exclusive relationship, this with a God who had become a human being and died on a cross to deliver them. But unlike Jews, Christians actively promoted their Gospel and urged their pagan neighbors to abandon their old religious allegiances and commit to Jesus. Those who became Christians then refused to participate in the rites of the official state religion. Christians even refused to serve in the Legions, for legionnaires venerated the Eagle standards that symbolized their units.

This behavior puzzled and infuriated pagans. It was unpatriotic! Why couldn't these Christians worship their Jesus and offer sacrifices to Jupiter or to the Emperor as well? As Christianity spread the government increasingly viewed the new faith as a threat to the unity of the Empire. Rome began to take steps to suppress it. Many Christians, upon refusing to offer incense to a pagan deity, were executed, or sent into arenas to face wild animals for the entertainment of the crowd, or dipped in pitch and set ablaze to serve as torches at the Emperor's banquets But despite the threat of death, more and more people converted to the new faith.
Why were the Christians so unwilling to compromise? Why make an issue of something the government could not understand?

The Conflict in views
While Christians and pagans both believed in a spirit world, their visions of this world were in serious conflict. Adherents of pagan religions imagined the spirit world was filled with gods and goddesses, spirits of the dead, unborn spirits, demigods and demons. These spirits were basically indifferent to human beings, even though they had – and used! -- their powers to aid or to harm them. In fact, in the first century the inhabitants of the spirit world were referred to using "power" words, such as ":rulers," "principalities," "authorities," "powers," etc..

Because the powers could and did influence their lives, people were anxious not to offend them. They also tried to manipulate the spirits through magic and sorcery. Many writings and inscriptions from the centuries just before and after Christ document the fear of spirits felt by the pagan population. Archaeologists have recovered hundreds if not thousands of curses fashioned to move some spirit or other to harm or hinder an enemy or competitor. And sorcerers were reputed to have supernatural abilities because they had a supernatural "assistant," a spirit they were able to control.

The Christian view of the spirit world differed dramatically. Unlike pagans, Christians believed in a Creator God who was the source of both the material and the spiritual universes. This God had first created angels, powerful spirit beings who served the Creator. But one of these angels, Lucifer, led a rebellion against their Maker. This rebellion turned Lucifer and all those angels who followed him against the Creator. Lucifer became Satan, and the angels who followed him became demons.
Christians then saw the inhabitants of the spirit world as God and his angels, with Satan and his demons. Who then were those capricious gods, goddesses, and other spirits the pagans worshipped?
The Christians answer, derived from the Old Testament and from Christian teachers like the Apostle Paul, was that the pagans deities and other spirits were in fact demons. They were evil spirits, enemies of the Creator, and were hostile to humans because God showed his love for human beings by sending his Son to die to reclaim them. For a Christian to sprinkle incense on a pagan altar not only was a betrayal of his God, but would also mean worshipping a evil demon. And this was something for a Christian would rather die than submit to.

Today we're seeing a resurgence of paganism. A number of pagan paths [religions] are emerging, and becoming increasingly popular. Like ancient paganism, neopaganism appeals to the spiritual nature of human beings, with the added "green" appeal of concern for ecology and our earth. But one thing sets modern and ancient paganism apart. The ancient pagan viewed the spirit world with trepidation. To the ancient pagan, the spirits were indifferent if not actively hostile, and their actions were capricious, more likely to harm him than to help. The modern pagan views the spirits as basically benevolent, eager to come to the aid of anyone who calls on them. So modern pagans do not hesitate to invite a "spirit guide" into their lives, or to consult spirits through Tarot or Ouija board or a Medium.
Christians are concerned about the resurgence of paganism, but not because we're ready to launch a modern witch hunt. The Christian's concern is rooted in the conviction that the Bible's picture of the spirit world is more reliable than the pagan picture. And if the Bible is right, the spirits so many seek to contact are demons in disguise. Demons, who ultimately intend to harm rather than to help those who are eager to experience the spiritual realities that our hearts tell us must exist.

Pastor Jochem’s book “The Spirit Universe: A Christian View” is available in the Amazon Bookstore. His book is an invaluable resource to have on hand if you are interested in general information needed for investigating the paranormal, deliverance ministry, or counseling those hypersensitive to the spirit universe or those who are dealing with the occult and negative spirits. The book contains reorganized content from the blog, expanded information, and new content which will not be published in this blog. For more information and to order the book, click Here

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