The Drift Into Paganism

The Drift into Paganism

 In 2006 Jonathan Skinner published a book with the scary title, “The Rise of Paganism.” [1] This book is a well-researched exposé of the re-emergence of paganism in society as a whole.  What I am concerned about in this paper is rather the more focused subject of the drift into pagan practices among professing Christians.

 The word ‘drift’ is important.  The gradual adoption of pagan practices among Christians is not usually deliberate.  More often than not it is an unthinking adoption of the ways of society around them. A person may be fishing from a small boat on the sea, intent on trying to get a ‘bite’ but unaware that they are steadily drifting out to sea.  Or someone may be laying peacefully in a boat on a lake, either reading or sleeping, but suddenly they look around them and find that the landmarks have changed; they have drifted away from where they were at first.

 Is there any evidence for this drift among Christians?  I believe there is.

Fifty years ago tattoos were quite rare, at least among civilized people.  As a boy I remember black and white films featuring ‘heathen’ tribesmen dancing round a fire, heavily tattooed.  But very, very few British people sported tattoos then.  Recently, however, a survey was carried out in various large cities in Britain and it revealed a huge increase in the practice of tattooing various parts of the body.  For example, the survey revealed that almost fifty percent of people in Birmingham have a tattoo!

 Similarly, decades ago hardly anyone in Britain had a ‘body piercing’ apart from ladies who had earrings.  Body piercing was generally observed in semi-naked savages in far off uncivilized countries.  Bones and metallic pieces were thrust through, not only ears, but cheeks, noses and lips.

 Today an astonishing number of apparently sane people have studs, and sometimes larger objects, thrust through various parts of their bodies.  What is alarming is that some professing Christians are, seemingly,  unthinkingly following this pagan trend.

 There at least two reasons why this is not only questionable but positively wrong for Christians.  First, Scripture forbids these practices. “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves” (Lev. 19:28, cf. 21:5).  John MacArthur comments: “Tattoos … were connected to names of idols, and were permanent signs of apostasy.”  Also in Deuteronomy 14:1 we read, “…you shall not cut yourselves…”  Again MacArthur comments, “ Though the actions could in themselves appear to be innocent, they were associated with practices and beliefs reprehensible to the Lord.” (cf. I Kings 18:28).

The second reason to avoid such practices is that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and we should not deface them as First Corinthians 3:16, 17 warns us.

 There are many other signs of the drift into paganism, but one more example may suffice to illustrate this trend.  It used to be considered impolite for men to keep their hats on when entering someone’s house.  Even more so, was it considered irreverent when entering a place of worship.  Yet a well-known songwriter and ‘worship leader’ deliberately wears a hat when he is leading worship.  This is not merely ignoring social convention; it is deliberately going against the Word of God, which states, in the context of worship, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head (i.e. Christ)… for a man ought not to cover his head…” (I Cor. 11:3, 4, 7).

 Why does he do that?  It could be that he is either ignorant of the Scripture (unlikely) or that he considers it unimportant.  How any Christian can consider that a lengthy passage in a major New Testament epistle is unimportant I do not know.  It is worth observing that First Corinthians chapter eleven divides into two more or less equal parts.  Half (sixteen verses) deals with head covering, and the other half (eighteen verses) with the Lord’s Supper. But I rather think that the brother concerned does it because he is strongly influenced by the world of pop music in which instrumentalists often wear hats.  It is well known that he considers that every kind of music can be used to worship God.  In I John 2:15-17 we are warned not to be influenced by the world.

 But why is there this drift into paganism among some Christians?  Apart from general backsliding and coldness of heart there are two related reasons.  First, there is a general ignorance of the word of God.  When we went on holiday in the Lake District this year we found and attended a local ‘evangelical’ church.  Although there were some things to commend, such as warmth of welcome, refreshments after the service and attractive premises, there were serious lacks, the most glaring of which was, there was no Bible reading. The preacher did read four verses when he came to preach, but there was no serious reading of a passage of Scripture.  This is quite common today.  Once in our church in Dunstable a preacher did not read the Scriptures but only read the text he preached from.  I raised the matter at the elders’ meeting and from then on we had two reading, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament in every service.

 But it is not only knowledge of the Bible that is lacking; it is the application.  Many Christians, especially older believers, know their Bibles, but do not put what they know into practice.  Let me put it like this: you may read, hear, study memorise and meditate upon the Scriptures, but if you do not apply them you are doomed!  Jesus made this clear in His parable of the two builders (Matthew 7:24-27).  The two houses may have looked exactly alike, but one lacked true foundation and ultimately collapsed.  Jesus reiterated this truth when He gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.  The Apostles were to teach the new disciples to observe everything that Jesus taught.  That this is an ever present danger is seen in the fact that James in his Epistle warns, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your selves.” (James 1:22).  How many professing Christians look fine outwardly. But are actually deceiving, not only others, but themselves, because they do not carefully obey, practise and observe the Word?

 So we can stem this drift into paganism only by examining ourselves and our practices, being watchful against worldliness, and seeking to   obey the Word from the heart.

 


[1] Skinner, Jonathan, The Rise of Paganism (Darlington, Evangelical Press, 2006).

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