Promises and Secrets

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A website for those not afraid to examine their beliefs, compare them to the real world, and make sure they fit.

Pagan Christianity?


Pagan Christianity? Not a contradiction in terms, but a phrase that describes the practices of a vast majority of the modern churches.


"Many Christians take for granted that their church's practices are rooted in Scripture."

- from the dust cover of Pagan Christianity?, by Frank Viola and George Barna


Are we really following the Word of God, or the whims of someone else?

The other day a book, Pagan Christianity?, caught my attention. Authors Frank Viola and George Barna collaborated on this work, published in 2002 and revised in 2008. As you probably know by now, titles like this stimulate my interest and curiosity. All it took was to read the first paragraphs on the inside of the dust cover and bam! - they had me hooked:

Many Christians take for granted that their church's practices are rooted in Scripture. Yet those practices look very different from those of the first-century church. The New Testament is not silent on how the early church freely expressed the reality of Christ's indwelling in ways that rocked the first-century world.

Times have changed.

        - excerpt from the dust cover of Pagan Christianity?
          by Frank Viola and George Barna

"Here he goes again..."

You have seen this kind of thinking on this site, and this is more of the same. Rather than go through the rationale of the authors, just a listing of the chapter titles will give you the idea of the scope of their task:

1. Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book?
2. The Church Building
3. The Order of Worship
4. The Sermon
5. The Pastor
6. Sunday Morning Costumes
7. Ministers of Music
8. Tithing and Clergy Salaries
9. Baptism and The Lord's Supper
10. Christian Education
11. Reapproaching the New Testament
12. A Second Glance at the Savior

Surprised? We shouldn't be...

You will find many surprises when you get into the origin of things that you were sure were right from the apostles and the word of God. Nope, most are not even close to the practices of the first-century church. In fact, they are closer to the Catholic Church, starting in the second century and formalizing in the fourth century and later. And, literally, a large part of what you see in church, even most of it, came from paganism. Don't think so? Ok, go ahead and doubt, but when you get over yourself, check it out. You will be shocked.

"Who thinks of this stuff?"

Here is an example of the way the authors view the subject. A character in the beginning of the book starts asking himself questions while sitting in church one Sunday morning:

Winchester's mind continued to race in this direction as he watched Pastor Farley pound the pulpit for emphasis and raise his Bible with his right hand. "We at First Bible New Testament Community Church do everything by this Book! Everything! This is the Word of God, and we cannot stray from it . . . not even one millimeter!"

Suddenly Winchester had another new thought: I don't remember reading anywhere in the Bible that Christians are supposed to dress up to go to church. Is that by the Book?

This single thought unleashed a torrent of other barbed questions. As scores of frozen pew sitters filled his horizon, Winchester continued to ponder similar new questions. Questions that no Christian is supposed to ask. Questions like:

Is sitting in this uncushioned pew, staring at the back of twelve rows of heads for forty-five minutes, doing things by the Book? Why do we spend so much money to maintain this building when we're here only twice a week for a few hours? Why is half the congregation barely awake when Pastor Farley preaches? Why do my kids hate Sunday school? Why do we go through this same predictable, yawn-inspiring ritual every Sunday morning? Why am I going to church when it bores me to tears and does nothing for me spiritually? Why do I wear this uncomfortable necktie every Sunday morning when all it seems to do is cut off blood circulation to my brain?

Winchester felt unclean and sacrilegious to ask such things. Yet something was happening inside of him that compelled him to doubt his entire church experience. These thoughts had been lying dormant in Winchester's subconscious for years. Today, they surfaced.

Interestingly, the questions Winchester had that day are questions that never enter the conscious thinking of most Christians. Yet the sober reality is that Winchester's eyes had been opened.

As startling as it may sound, almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible. As pastors preach from their pulpits about being "biblical" and following the "pure Word of God," their words betray them. The truth is that precious little that is observed today in contemporary Christianity maps to anything found in the first-century church.

"Our church is different..." No, it's not!

I don't know about you, but these are the same sorts of questions I started asking about church practices. Once you start looking, you just can't stop finding practices that violate Exodus 20:8-11
8"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

, Deuteronomy 12:3-4,30-31
3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. 4 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. (Deut 12:3-4)

30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deut 12:30-31)

, Deuteronomy 18:9
9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.

, and Jeremiah 10:2
2 This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them.

, and all of Leviticus 11. The more you look, the scarier it gets.

"What does it hurt?"

My son told me the other day, "I don't see anything wrong with doing this, as long as we are worshiping the Lord and not pagan gods." The gist of what he is saying is that it is OK to disobey God, if we do it for the right reason. Because so many are doing the same, the truth is buried in complacency. Merriam-Webster defines complacency as:

Definition of complacency

1 :self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies
        - "When it comes to safety, complacency can be dangerous."

2 :an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction

Is there a "right reason" to ever disobey God?

To listen to many (most?) Christians, they see no "danger" in disobeying God. It has become so commonplace that they no longer have respect for His will as specified clearly in His word. I guess they have never read Ezekiel 22:26
26Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.

, or Jeremiah 23:14
14And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that not one of them turns from their wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.

. While most people say, "Those quotes are to the Israelites!", why does He mention the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? Those cities were Gentile and pagan, not "Jewish". Their fate is our fate if we act like them.

The trouble is, if we don't look closely and see the problem, then the consequences of ignoring the truth are scarier yet. That is going to matter when we stand before the Lord, seeking the salvation we all so desperately need. If He looks at us and says, "I don't know you.", it will be too late to change anything. Unless, of course, you believe that we can disobey God, follow the path your pastor has set, and trust that he has already checked it out. Based on one-on-one discussions with many pastors, I'm not that trusting.

Claims with foundation

All this information in the book is followed by an appendix containing the facts and history of the claims the authors make. In fact, if you travel from your home to "go to church" at a building that is not the home of a friend for an impromptu gathering, then you are mixing paganism, Judaism, and Christianity. It matters not if it is a synagogue, chapel, temple, or even a warehouse. If you have a scheduled time for singing, class, giving, even for the sermon, and other items in a scripted session, then you are not following the first-century church of Christ.

A quick comparison to pretty much any denomination we see around us should cause an uneasy feeling about participation in these practices that Jesus hated
6But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:6)

14Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)

. If it does not, then by all means, turn your back on the warning, but remember what you have learned here when you realize the truth. This is not about being right or wrong, it is about salvation.

Ever wonder how we got so lost?

On the page called The Nicolaitans, elsewhere on this site, there is a lot of discussion about the beliefs of the so-called "early church fathers" with regard to the Nicolatians. This was a group mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3
6But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:6)

14Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)

that were doing things that Jesus hated. While it is hard to find out exactly what the Nicolaitans were doing, the most common understanding was a mixing of paganism and Christianity.

Based on the subject matter of Pagan Christianity?, and the substantial evidence that our "churches" are doing that very thing today, we should make sure that we find a way to end this immediately before winding up on the wrong end of the sword of His mouth
16Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

. The first thing we need to accomplish is to convince the "churches" of today that they have wandered down the wrong path. Surely, there's nothing too hard about that, right? I mean, people always listen to reason and respond to the truth...right?

Finding the right path

Notice that on the menu in the middle column at the top of this page there is a poem that was included right before the first chapter of Pagan Christianity? called The Calf Path. It was written over a hundred years ago by a man who opened his eyes and saw something that can benefit all of us to know. Amazingly, it explains exactly how we got to where we are today - following a path made by someone else who had a different goal in mind.

Just like in the poem, most followed the path suggested by another and merely accepted where it took them, assuming that it was the right place or not even caring where it took them. Now that they have arrived, few seem to want to question whether it is where they really wanted to go. By the time most people find out that it is not where they thought it was, few will even try to find the path to the right place. That is the dangerous part. Most people are not where the Bible instructs them to go. Not only that, but they don't seem to care even when it is pointed out to them. They have become too comfortable where they are. (See Comfortable With Sin? for some examples of this.)

You can ignore this whole concept, but then again, you will be like the followers of the calf in the poem. Have you reached the wrong destination and don't even realize how you got there? Maybe you don't even realize that you are not at the place where you thought you were heading. The first part of the solution is to realize that you are not where you intended to go.

To do that, you have to open your eyes and ears to the truth. Then next step is to make sure you get back on the right path. You can't do that by following an unknown path, or even by following the Pagan Christianity? crowd.

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