Monday, November 18, 2013

Pagan Christianity? Critique by Teresa Beem Part II

(Here's the link to PART ONE)

My younger second cousin has brown hair and brown eyes. She comes from Texas and sings. She even writes and loves children. Her chromosomes are very similar to mine. Therefore, since I have done extensive research on my cousin--extensive research--in fact, I am an expert on my cousin, I can write without any doubt at all, that my cousin comes from me. I am her direct mother. 

That conclusion is the problem with the authors' research. Christianity and paganism are similar--they worship alike with prayers and rituals and offerings. But that doesn't prove that they are directly linked or that since Christianity is the younger that it was born from paganism. The direct link is between Judaism and Christianity. In a sense Christianity's mother is Judaism and paganism is a second cousin. (That might make Islam a first cousin.) These religions are connected in that they sprang from the ancient human need to worship. Kind of like the French and Romanian languages have roots in Latin.

The authors' of Pagan Christianity researched paganism, but it seems, they either didn't research Catholicism or they simply ignored the claims of where Catholicism got its rites and rituals. If you believe Catholicism is evil and can't be trusted, then you will ignore its history and its evidence. So, the authors looked at the similarity between Christian traditions and paganism and seemed to research no further. 

Catholics are aware of many similarities between their religion and others. Ancient man worshipped with prayers, sermons, incense, special robes, priests, death rituals, exorcisms, special holy days, 
holy places, offerings, sacrifices, prophecies, moral laws and marriage ceremonies. All these were expressions of humanity's struggle to find God. It was a good struggle. Until God revealed Himself through the Jews, that's all we had. In each human heart there was a deep, primitive yearning for spiritual meaning and understanding of the world. Ancient man worshipped his ancestors with sacrifices and that tradition was passed on all the way back from Cain and Abel's sacrifice. They ancients worshipped, they just didn't know who to worship. The very beginnings of the mysteries of God had been given to the world and
legends of a god-man dying for our sins was retold until it had become Zeus and prophecies of miraculous virgin birth from a great woman had become Ishtar or Astarte. All the legends and worship practices of the pagans developed wrongly out of the most ancient true knowledge of God. Into this ignorance Israel was chosen to reveal the next epoch of the gospel mystery. Later, the fullness of time had been reached and our Savior was born.

So, we cannot see ancient paganism as examples of evil worship, but of ignorant worship. Once humanity was introduced to the true God paganism slowly dissipated, even though it never totally disappeared. Only now it would be evil to reject God to follow a false god. For the light has been fully revealed and a true choice given.

Protestants today look at the practices of ancient worship and assumes Christianity dipped into the pagan spices to enhance the flavoring of our worship to make it more palatable in our evangelization. The truth is that God made the spices and we all have used them! 

There is a lot of evidence in the writings of the early Church Fathers that show us their rejection of the false teaching of paganism and devotion to the worship taught to them by God. They retained a lot of Judaism. That is where the authors need to criticize if they dislike rituals and robes and candles and incense. 
[W]e do not reverence the same gods as you do, nor offer to the dead libations and the savour of fat, and crowns for their statues, and sacrifices. For you very well know that the same animals are with some esteemed gods, with others wild beasts, and with others sacrificial victims. And, secondly, because we— who, out of every race of men, used to worship Bacchus the son of Semele, and Apollo the son of Latona…or some one or other of those who are called gods— have now, through Jesus Christ, learned to despise these, though we be threatened with death for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impossible God; of whom we are persuaded that never was he goaded by lust of Antiope, or such other women, or of Ganymede, nor was rescued by that hundred-handed giant whose aid was obtained through Thetis, nor was anxious on this account that her son Achilles should destroy many of the Greeks because of his concubine Briseis. Those who believe these things we pity, and those who invented them we know to be devils. (Justin Martyr, First Apology)
Did some pagan rituals slip into Christianity? Absolutely. When bishops and priests bravely took the gospel message into a distant and dark area, they allowed the converts to continue doing the good they found in paganism, but gave it a new Christian context.  If there was a well-loved local celebration of the seasons, the priests retained the good idea of a celebration of the harvest and turned it into a type of thanksgiving to God. Just as King David took the plunder from the Canaanite nations and put them through fire and placed them in the holy of holies, Christianity took the good  baptized it and redeemed it for God. Truth and beauty and goodness are intrinsically good things. They should be 
redeemed for God rather than discarded or destroyed. Where pagan rites and beliefs were intrinsically evil, the Church would rather have gone to their deaths than adopt them. And often, they did and became martyrs when they refused to engage in idolatry.
Let me give you some examples of how the authors misapply the historical facts:
They argue that since there are ancient pagan symbols of the cross and since the
symbol of the cross is extra biblical (has no direct text to use the symbol) therefore Christians should stop using it. 

They claim the crucifix is pagan, church buildings have pagan elements in their architecture and artwork and music. That to dress up for church, for  priests to dress up in robes, to use incense,  to receive the Eucharist (communion bread), use pulpits, have sermons and even have carpeting--cannot be found explicitly in the scriptures. So, since we cannot find any direct scriptural commands to do these things, we need to "re-imagine church" without them. Here's more:

  • “The message of the steeple is one that contradicts the message of the New Testament. Christians do not have to reach into heaven to find God.” p. 32
I don't even have the words this argument is so patently…. out there. Is pointing to heaven against God? If so, then we need to refrain from even
talking of heaven up in the sky or read about Christ's throne in Revelation and think of it as up there? Is looking into a telescope against scripture? Why not point to ourselves when we describe heaven and God? Was Jesus evil when he was recorded prophesying about the last days, "Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28) An architectural element that draws your eye to heaven isn't any worse than looking up at the moon and stars at night and praying towards God.

  • The pulpit has roots in Judaism's ambo in the synagogue, but we shouldn't have them because the pagans had a similar reading desk. Also it gives the clergy a place of prominence because often pulpits are elevated. In fact the church building is wrong because it is "based on the benighted idea that worship is removed from everyday life." 
So, we should jettison Church buildings and meet in homes. The authors softens and concede at the end that each congregation should decide for themselves. (Which is illogical because the

Protestant premise is: "If it isn't in scripture it needs to be discarded." This doesn't allow for a matter of personal opinion. Would the authors extend that decision to Catholics when it comes to extra biblical traditions?)

They argue that physical elevation of pastors or pulpits or anything that delineates the clergy from the people isn't Biblical. Pews should be removed because it keeps us from looking into each other's faces and inhibits fellowship.
  • "The Protestant order of worship strangles the headship of Jesus Christ. The entire service is directed by one person. You are limited to the knowledge, gifting, and experience of one member of the body-the pastor. Where is the freedom for our Lord Jesus to speak through His body at will?"

I would agree that there is no Biblical basis for a worship team coming out and leading contemporary music, or altar calls, or a long sermon. But writing that the early Christian service was fluid and sponteneous and not ritualistic is a profound misunderstanding of Israel. The early church was Jewish and held to most of the Jewish rituals. 

The authors have a real burden for spontaneity. They believe God is not the central leader of the church service if people do not feel free to stand and share what the Lord is telling them. They argue that there is a real quenching of the Spirit when the formalities of worship keep the worshippers silent without spontaneous prayers and exhortations and testimonies. 

They propose that since the Bible doesn't explicitly command these elements, Protestants might consider beginning a new type of worship service based upon the most simplistic of ancient Christian worship instead of paganism. 
The problem is that the authors need to find a place in scripture that says the first century church is the one we need to go back to and that we must find everything in the Bible in order to do it. They will find that their ideas are man-made traditions themselves.

My suggestion for those who have read Pagan Christianity? is to study the first couple of centuries of Christianity and you will find a very ritualistic, liturgical worship services with an altar in front, incense, candles, priestly robes, chanting, formalities like men standing in the front, women standing in the back and a very ritualistic order. And this was drawn from Judaism, not paganism.

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