From the cults of ancient Rome to the hippie movement of the 60s, or where east meets west, or positive psychology exchanges ideas with mystical spirituality, the result is paganism. We see it on the rise today.
So what does this mean for the Christian? Here are a few thoughts.
When contemplating God the Son, that is the person of Jesus, Paul writes: ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col 1:19-20).
Here, in a single statement, Paul emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, countering the likes of what became known as the Arian heresy and in fact all forms of paganism that deny the divinity of Christ, and lead to creaturely worship. In relation to worship, paganism offers us only creatures or inanimate creations of God, a call to search within, and a smorgasbord of illegitimate pathways to fulfilment and salvation.
As seekers of ultimate truth and wisdom, we who have faith in Christ are to stay alert to the ever-present attempts of the world to make Christianity more palatable through the infiltration of paganism in its various forms.
Recognizing the interchangeability of the terms ‘paganism’ and ‘worldliness’ will be helpful as we consider Paul’s words: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rom 12:2).
As we look to decipher the many patterns of this world, and untangle the seemingly complex web of ideas on offer, we find, finally, the world, the flesh, and the original lie: god is within. The root of all worldly wisdom is paganism.
‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’’ (Gen 3:5).
At the heart of all paganism is the rejection of the otherness of God, the transcendent creator who exists above and apart from all creation. Paganism consists of wrong answers and wrong questions. It is to ask, ‘Who made God?’ in ignorance of his eternal, transcendent existence. Most importantly and distinctively, it is to see everything that exists as one. It is to conclude that truth can be found within, simultaneously denying that ultimate truth has its origins in the one who exists apart from the entire cosmos: God who is other.
Paganism’s influence on society and even within pockets of Christianity, may seem easy to recognise but the truth is, it’s often like blue ink on black paper. It is a hidden, cancerous network of tentacles winding through its host. Hidden it may be, but paganism in its many forms is everywhere we turn.
Ultimately, to see paganism for what it is, is to comprehend the truth about who God is in relation to who we are as human creations. It is to finally see all material matter as brought into existence through the Word of God in the beginning.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being (Jn 1:1-3).
Wrestling with the truth about God and humanity, studying the nature of God, will surely distinguish biblical thinking from a pagan mindset. As Peter Jones in his book, ‘The Other Worldview,’ suggests: ‘If God is “other,” or distinct from us, then his qualities of lordship, sovereignty, transcendence…make sense, though these are offensive to the modern mind…brainwashed into the “god within.”’
To live a Christian life while under constant pressure to conform to the ways of the world is no easy task. Thankfully, as promised in God’s word, we have all that is needed to recognise paganism for what it is. We can have courage that in Christ we have true wisdom and the ability to rest from the futile task of trying to save ourselves.
In the words of Jesus as he encouraged his disciples, ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (Jn 16:33).
– Ben Swift