Thursday, April 19, 2018

“Pick Your Pet Paganism” or “Raising Middle-Aged Teenagers”

What do the following have in common?

Christmas Trees
Days of Week
Cultural customs
Religious symbols

The answer is Paganism. Everything is steeped in paganism.

Some of the items on the list you might have been aware of, but perhaps some may surprise you, and yet there are still plenty not even mentioned that could have been. When you research almost everything, down to even plants, places, products, and processes, you find disconcerting links, ties, or outright origins in pagan practices or beliefs. What is a Christian to do when they find out that clothing has been worn and used in occultic rituals for millennia? Go naked, of course!

Paganism has been called the oldest religion by it’s modern practitioners. That’s partly true. It is the oldest false religion, dating right back to Genesis. In truth, all others religions but Biblical Yahweh worship are paganism. A Pagan is best defined broadly as someone who worships anyone or thing other than Yahweh.  A Saint is someone who has been accredited with righteousness through faith in Yahweh. Abraham was a pagan who became a saint. So was Job. So was Tamar. And Rahab. And Ruth. And Uriah the Hittite. And the people of Ninevah. And the Syrian leaper.  And the widow of Zarephath. And King Darius of the Meades. And all the New Testament Gentiles who became Christians, including myself.

What of those born of Abraham, called Jews? Are they Pagans or Saints? If “pagan” refers to a worshiper of false gods and “saint” refers to those made righteous by faith in Yahweh, then it would appear that while God designed Israel to be a nation of saints, individual Jews could and would still choose whom they would serve. All of the God-fearing Jews from BC to AD times would, as such, be saints, and the idolatrous Jews would, by the same rule, be pagans- though highly accountable ones. Paganism isn't a bloodline. It’s a practice. It’s our default as sinners. Jews are a bloodline of sinners chosen by God to be enlightened with truth and to be pursued by God with blessings and cursings based on their response to that enlightenment. Simply put, a Jew has a choice to be a pagan or a saint, same as a Gentile, only they are more accountable for their choice, having not just an inner witness of conscience but also God’s very Word. Romans 2 speaks to that. Jew or Gentile, we all have to make a choice for or against God.

Most of Western Christianity is Biblically illiterate and historically uneducated. This is a tragedy of enormous proportions, given we are the most information saturated culture and generation on the face of the earth.  Bibles are everywhere- free online and in every hotel room! Access to the world's best teachers and literature is one click away. We have NO excuse for our ignorance.
Some believers, thankfully, become aware of their lack of education, often by attending an expository Bible teaching church and becoming exposed to true Biblical education. A hunger soon develops and very quickly you have a self-feeding Christian heading into a stage of spiritual growth. This is wonderful!
But if you've ever had a teenager, you will know that maturing is not without it’s drawbacks and difficulties. As a child matures into an adult mindset, questioning everything, seeking identity and purpose, gathering knowledge often without discernment of it’s accuracy or wisdom in its application, there often develops a friction between younger an older generations. The young adult is passionate in their newly acquired knowledge, not heeding the wisdom of the apostle John that “knowledge puffs up but love edifies.”
Argumentative, dogmatic, and disrespectful, the “adolescent” Christian of any age is a test to the patience of older saints who've been there themselves and yet gone on to maturity. If the teenage believer happens to be correct in their doctrine, they will likely cut off a few ears, not unlike Peter in the garden, in their unskilled attempt to wield the sword of truth, but will hopefully learn from their mistakes over time and grow in grace, eventually becoming balanced Christians skilled in the Word of righteousness. Grace shown from the rest of the body is what is needed for these “young” headstrong believers, just as wise adults have always waited patiently through the tumultuous season of youth for the next generation of adults to take their place in society.

But what of those who have gotten their doctrines wrong, yet who are just as zealous in their promotion? This takes not just grace on the part of the “older” saints, but also great wisdom. With wrong doctrine comes wrong application, and wrong application leads to wrong results. An adolescent behind the wheel of a 3,000 lb vehicle who lacks both the self control to operate it with moderation, and the basic knowledge of road rules and regulations, is a frightening danger to both himself and everyone on the road!  It’s one thing to drive over the speed limit, it’s quite another to drive over the centre median line into oncoming traffic or to fail to stop at a red light!  One may lead to a speeding ticket, while the other leads to jail time or death.
The frustration of dealing with teenagers lies in their pride and ignorance- the terrible twins. Their ignorance could be corrected with instruction, but alas! their pride prevents them from receiving it! Wisdom rolls off their backs like water on duck feathers, failing to penetrate past the slick surface quills. Alternatively infuriating and grieving for those who seek to impart real treasures of life experience and spiritual truth, the foolishness of youth is never more clearly seen than in the hot headed arguments of a teenager.

How are we, as older Christians in the Lord, to relate to believers who have just entered into spiritual adolescence and suddenly think they know more that everyone around them, including church leadership? The same way we deal with a natural teenager- with grace, patience, and wisdom: Keeping relationship with them, regardless of their behaviour; Treating them with respect they may not have earned and may not show in return; Continuing to patiently seek opportunity to impart truth and wisdom; Demonstrating for them love and maturity in action; Correcting them in humility; Letting them experience some of the natural consequences of their choices, and being there for them without judgment when they do; Warning them day and night of the dangers they face in choosing certain paths; Praying for them continuously.
Character is where true maturity is seen, not in a perfected doctrinal thesis. Being “right” on a issue is not the real battle, but being right in heart in the midst of disagreement is. You could win the argument, but if you lose the heart, you've lost everything.

So coming back to paganism. One of the most popular doctrines that adolescent believers of all ages get hung up on is “pagan origins”. I have known believers who won’t even say the names of the days of the week because of their connection to the gods of Norse mythologies. There are countless Christians who damn the use of Christmas trees or even the observance of Christmas itself because of it’s pagan/Catholic origins. “Easter” is a word hated by some believers for it’s dubious origins in an ancient goddess of fertility, and there are those who can point to the occultic origins of medieval Jewish Kabbalah practices for the Israeli Star of David. Everything from Sunday Football to America’s Statue of Liberty has an entanglement in the dark history of paganism. If intellectual Christian legalism was an ice-cream store, it would have 20,000 flavours!

Yet, please understand that I’m not attacking those who have diligently looked into these subjects and have chosen to abstain from them for reasons of conscience, or to inform others out of a sense of responsibility. I totally understand where they are coming from! I’ve been there myself. When I first began to seek the Lord in earnest at 17 years old, after a casual Christian childhood in the church, I was inflamed to zeal about these untaught “truths” that had been neglected by the compromised western church! I was horrified that I had never been told about the pagan origins of most Catholic instituted holidays, as well as the Roman Catholic church itself- a defiled hybridization of paganism and Christianity! The whore of Babylon! The mother of all harlots and a continuation of the the idolatry at the tower of Babel.
I learned about the ancient near east gods and the deities of pre-Christian Europe. I discovered the roots of the Americanization of pagan traditions and ceremonies that now pervade popular culture. I personally outlawed Christmas trees in my house, damned those sexual easter bunnies, druidic halloween activities, and every other “pagan" holiday tradition celebrated in our culture. I eventually even questioned the timing, and hence celebration, of Christmas, as it’s very unlikely that He was actually born on December 25th, whereas there was a known pagan celebration on the same date in ancient Rome. When JW’s would come to the door “revealing the pagan origins of Christianity” by pointing to our holidays, I could smugly reassure them that I wasn't one those ignorant Christians, and would then assault them with the dubious origins of their own cult. Yes. I had knowledge and I knew how to use it. My sword was sharp and true.

Or so I thought. As the years went by, and God slowly matured me into spiritual adulthood, my rash sword fights over words, dates, histories, and holiday traditions happened less and less, and I found myself ministering grace, Biblical counsel, and spiritual encouragement to believers more and more. I didn’t set aside doctrine, but I became more focused on its practical application to real life struggles and daily trials. The fertility rites of the Phoenicians faded into the background as I found myself dealing more in the realm of broken marriages, eating disorders, sickness, self loathing, sexual sin, depression, anxiety, parenting woes, drugs and alcohol use, physical abuse, and cult legalism. Being able to define the influence of the Catholic church on modern evangelicalism became a rarely utilized knowledge set, whereas the practical and accurate application of regular scripture to every day lives, (including my own!), became the priority of my ministry within the body. Jesus said “feed my sheep and tend my lambs”, not “beat my sheep over the head with facts and shove peripheral information down the throats of my lambs”!
Western Christianity’s greatest battle is not that we decorate a fir tree in December with baubles or that we have little to no knowledge about the Feast of Trumpets. Our greatest battle as a society is with the so-called “thorns in our soil” that Jesus spoke of in the Parable of the Sower. The love of, the distractions of, and the anxieties about the world are our greatest threat as the Western church. We are in danger of becoming the Laodicean Christians of Revelation 4, and not because we colour our eggs in the Spring time, but because we fill our days, minds, and lives with temporal pursuits rather than pursuing first the kingdom of God.

But you know what I learned too, in recent years? My information back in my spiritual adolescence was contaminated by error. Much of the supposed scholarship I had based my zealous opinions upon have since that time been shown to be faulty. Poor linguistic studies, ungrounded assumptions, proven bias, and inaccurate historic facts all fed a zeal that was without understanding. I thought I had the truth and thrust my sword around in self righteous passion, but all I succeeded in doing was to spread inaccuracies! Easter is not Ashteroth, and I am so thankful for the patient, gracious older saints who endured my foolishness with compassion and hope, no doubt praying for me to grow up! into a wise and discerning woman of God. I hope to one day be able to see their prayers fully answered.
In the meantime, I’m still learning and growing in the grace of God. My current testing is in this season of raising teens, both physically and spiritually. I confess to employing the same technique I have always used in life- winging it each day by grace, and failure, and then more grace. I don't know what I am doing, but I am learning as I go. Eventually, I might have something more to share. Until then, may God bless you on your journey, wherever you are in it. And remember, humility will never serve you wrong. Blessings.

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