Scripture and You

Living in a World - And Churches - In the Grip of Paganism

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
A recent news article declared that "thanks to cultural corrosion and a lack of Biblical literacy" a new "fake Christianity" is now the sad hallmark of the organized church.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 1 of a series

A recent news article declared that "thanks to cultural corrosion and a lack of Biblical literacy" a new "fake Christianity" is now the sad hallmark of the organized church.

Virtually everything the Apostle Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit follows a particular pattern. There is order, structure, and logic in all of Paul's epistles. Everything that he says prepares the way for that which follows.

The book of Colossians exemplifies this. Paul was putting a framework of knowledge and understanding in place for the Colossian believers of the first century, and for Christians two thousand years later.

As he began the epistle, Paul reminded the Colossian believers that he wrote to them as an apostle, with the authority of Jesus Christ. He then reminded them that the Gospel of Christ had changed everything for them: they had been lifted up out of paganism and brought into new life in Christ. He observed that the Gospel was bearing fruit among them in the form of their love for all the saints. They knew and were experiencing the grace of God in truth. He further reminded them of the hope laid up in Heaven for them: the settled certainty of eternal life with Jesus Christ.

And then, in verses nine through twelve, Paul encouraged them by informing them that he was praying for them, and it was prayer with a purpose: that they might conduct their lives in a way that is worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians Surrounded by Paganism - Then and Now

The Colossian believers were surrounded by paganism and humanism, just as Christians are today. In those days, the pagans considered it important to render worship that was worthy of the deities to whom they were devoted. Archaeologists have found inscriptions on pagan temples that spoke of this, and exhorted the people to do it. Much of the pagan worship was corrupt and immoral, but the pagans' excuse for their corruption and immorality was that it honored their gods.

It is the same in our own time. Christians throughout the world, even in formerly "Christian" Europe and North America, find themselves immersed in an environment in which the pagans around us engage in all sorts of corruption, immorality, and even violence - but label these things as virtues.

Why do they do this? Because their actions honor the demonic gods they worship. Whether they call them gods or not, the radical environmentalists are worshippers of Gaia the earth-goddess; those who murder the unborn give honor to the bloodthirsty god Molech; evolutionists give god-like honor to Darwin, and communists to Marx. The paganism of our day may appear to be more subtle and sophisticated - or to use a favorite liberal term, more nuanced. But it is just as vile and demonic.

Paganism In the Visible Church

In our time such paganism is not merely in the world outside the visible church. It has become the shameful hallmark of most of the visible organized church in our day. Recent surveys confirm this, although the evidence has been clear for more than a generation to any Christian with "ears to hear" what the Spirit through the Scriptures declares about the church in our time (Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:9 and 23).

A recent news article titled "The American Church Has Fallen" [1] declared that "thanks to cultural corrosion and a lack of Biblical literacy" a new "fake Christianity" is now the sad hallmark of the organized church. "Simply and objectively stated," the authors of this article said, "Christianity in this nation is rotting from the inside out." They gave this "fake Christianity" the name "moralistic therapeutic deism" (MTD) as though it were something new. But "MTD" is nothing more than the latest iteration of the "social gospel" first preached by men like Fenton John Anthony Hort, Brooke Foss Westcott, and other influential theologians in Britain and on the European continent in the middle 1800s and carried forward in later generations by men like Harry Emerson Fosdick, Norman Vincent Peale, Joel Osteen, and Rick Warren.

The writers went on to say that the "moralistic" aspect of MTD is the perspective that self-described Christians are "here to be good people and to try to do good." The "therapeutic" aspect of MTD, they said, is that "everything is supposed to be geared to making me feel good about myself, ultimately to make me happy." The "deistic" aspect of MTD asserts, echoing the deists of the 18th century, that although God created the world He has no direct involvement in it. "God" is merely a distant being or force who "wants everyone to be nice, and the purpose of life is to be happy."

The writers also observed that "American 'Christians' who have adopted this philosophy have borrowed heavily from the modern secular world, which elevates personal definitions of right and wrong above any objective standard of truth - like the Bible." The result of this embrace of an utterly un-Biblical, utterly false view of God, sin, Scripture, and salvation is that growing numbers of so-called Christians today have abandoned objective truth, to the destruction of their own souls and the souls of those they influence. The article continued:

It makes sense that "Christians" who embrace MTD are hesitant to criticize the culture. How can anyone pass judgment if everyone's just trying to be happy? The only sin is getting in the way of someone's personal "truth."

Without a firm foundation in the Truth, increasing numbers of Christians are ill-prepared to fight the moral battles being waged in our country. That's why so many are siding with groups like Black Lives Matter and the LGBT movement. They'll listen to the loudest voice on either side.

Enter the screaming woke mob.

The "screaming woke mob" of the first century was typified by the pagans of Ephesus who staged a riot against the early Christians, repeatedly shouting a single phrase for two hours - "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" - (Acts 19:21ff) whose worship involved ceremonial prostitution and other perversions. In the same manner the communist radicals of Black Lives Matter and the sexual deviants of the LGBTQ movement shout frenzied phrases such as "No justice, No peace!" and "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Homophobia's got to go!" for hours on end, and engage in the most wicked practices and lawless tactics.

The more things seem to change, the more they remain the same. Paganism entering the visible church is not new: witness the long history of Roman Catholicism. The evil is essentially the same; its manifestations are different from generation to generation. But the evils grow worse as the day of the Lord approaches. Jesus himself asked the crucial question: "When the Son of man comes, will He find the faith on the earth?" (a literal rendering of the Greek of Luke 18:8).

Three times the words that first came by the Spirit through the prophet Isaiah are cited in the New Testament, once by Jesus and twice by Paul:

For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them. (Matthew 13:15, see also Isaiah 6:10, Acts 28:27, and Romans 11:8; cf. Jeremiah 5:21, Ezekiel 12:2).

True Christians Are People Delivered From Paganism

In striking contrast, Paul reminds the fledgling Colossian believers of the first century, and through him the Spirit reminds Christians living in the twenty-first, that they have been delivered from such things. Yes, the Colossian believers lived at the very center of a pagan empire in which rulers were often cruel, arbitrary, and lawless despite the supposed sacredness of Roman law. And yes, pagan absolutism is on the rise in our own time. But the eyes of believers have been opened. God "has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Colossians 1:12-13). They were are no longer merely citizens of the Roman Empire; we are no longer mere citizens of today's nations. They - and we - are citizens of the world to come.

Therefore, Paul declares, Christians must walk in a way that is worthy - not of the false pagan deities to which they were once devoted while unregenerated, but worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true and living God who is now their Savior. The mark of the true believer in Christ is a life that is worthy of being identified with Him, no matter the circumstances. The life and thinking of the Christian - about God, Scripture, sin, salvation, this present world, and the world to come - must be completely different from the life and thinking of the unbeliever. The true child of God will render true obedience to Christ in thinking and in conduct.

Paul declares that the key to this is to "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (verse 10) and to "walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (verse 11). Such knowledge is, in the original Greek of the New Testament, not merely gnosis (the general knowledge that the world apart from Christ possesses) but epignosis - the superior knowledge that is accessible only to the Spirit-regenerated believer, who now has that same Spirit, the illuminating Author of the self-interpreting Scriptures, living within.

How is this knowledge superior to the world's? We shall explore that question as we continue.

 

References:

1. "The American Church Has Fallen: Shocking Poll Shows 'Fake Christianity' Has Supplanted the Biblical Worldview" - The Western Journal, July 4, 2021 as viewed at https://www.westernjournal.com/american-church-fallen-shocking-poll-shows-fake-christianity-supplanted-biblical-worldview/

Next: The Christian's Knowledge Is Unique

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