Paganism and the Wrath of God
Taking Seriously Our Need to Evangelize
Paganism as a word comes from a Latin term which roughly translates to redneck. It was a way for the city folk to sound superior to the great unwashed out in the country. The history of how it became known as a way to describe those men and women who believe not in the God of the Bible is a little convoluted. However, it will be worth our time to learn a bit of it as it teaches us much about the worth of continuing to use it for our purposes today.
Early Christianity was a faith which began to spread first in the cities of the Mediterranean, as told to us in the Book of Acts. The main reason was because that is where the synagogues were. As Paul notes the gospel was for the Jews first, and then the Greeks. As the community of faith grew it was largely confined in the population centers as the folks out in the hollers surrounding Ephesus held on to the old ways. Partly that came from the fact for many there was such a tight connection between Jupiter and Mars and their identity as Romans. To attack the strong gods was to delegitimize the patriotic spirit of the nation. The cult was the culture. Ties to the past matter, at least they should matter. In our talk on the eighth commandment last Thursday there was commentary on the warning given in Proverbs 22:28 about the removing of ancient landmarks. Our fathers placed monuments to help their grandchildren to remember the hard-fought victories of the past and to honor the sacrifices of those who came before.
For a “new” religion to come and try and overthrow what these people had received as an inheritance was no small ask. It is central to why care and consideration, to listen, to what the unbeliever has to say is important in the work of evangelism. To make pagans into Christians is desiring not just that a person would go from one belief system to another, but to move them to abandon everything which made them who they were before. Those of us born into the faith can sometimes underestimate the totality of what Jesus asks in Luke 9:62. Even for the Jews of the first century that meant giving up the ceremonies of which they had grown accustomed, yet they had an advantage on the pagans in that they were keeping the same God. The first commandment is complete in its ask. The reason why this is important to understanding the word pagan is that when we use it, we are not attempting to belittle or be rude in any way. It is a helpful way to honor that as those who rest in body and soul we are bringing to bare not a competing way of thinking, but an entirely different world and life view. As someone who would have been a pagan in the days of Irenaeus there is a personal desire on my end to in a sense stand up for those who may be looked at as outside the normal bounds of safe society.
There is a lot of talk in contemporary outreach books about reaching people where they are. Jesus as He went around teaching, admonishing, and healing the sick never once treated people as if they were stupid. Even the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were criticized not because they were ignorant, but for the fact they took what they knew and foolishly ignored it for their own benefit. Christ’s interactions with gentile women are especially apropos. Whether it was the Samaritan woman at the well or the young lady who called herself a dog there is an insistence on our Lord’s part that the whole of their person be taken into account when confronting them with who He was and what He came to do as their redeemer. It wasn’t just that the woman had a bunch of dudes who were not her husband. It was that she was a pagan who looked at the world as a pagan would. Jesus didn’t consider her to just be misinformed. All her prior beliefs were based on a false conception of reality. To bring this lady into the kingdom meant challenging her very identity. So much of what passes for evangelism today is merely offering a Christ who is “better” than the materialistic idolatry many are tied into. Even in reformed circles it is common to hear apologetic pitches which offer Justification by Faith Alone as a means to live your best life now. The only difference between Joel Osteen and this argument is the vocabulary, not the substance.
What this means for the definition of Paganism for our purposes is that when we talk about the differences between Christianity and false religions, we cannot find ourselves piecemealing what exactly we are doing in bringing the gospel to bear on their lives. How they understand the moon affects the soul is as much about their personhood as how they conceptualize the need for atonement. It is here that another part of the contemporary Reformed world also misses the boat. Not to go to the full 11 at this point, but when we discuss abortion for example, we are not getting into a conversation about family planning. It is a question of the sixth commandment and human sacrifice. Your local Planned Parenthood is no different than an Aztec temple. Merely chastising them for ending a life (which they are certainly doing) is to act as if Hitler was just reorganizing European territory. It minimizes the magnitude of the problem. All ethics begins and ends in how we understand God. When the Israelites began to worship Molech the prophet Amos has this to say on how that is going to terminate:
“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring wine, let us drink!’ The Lord God has sworn by His holiness: ‘Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. You will go out through broken walls, each one straight ahead of her, and you will be cast into Harmon,’ Says the Lord.” – Amos 4:1-3
Talk like that today and the evangelical complex would immolate you. Yet, what we read there is the seriousness by which God takes His word and His law. Sin is a serious matter. To break the commandments of Jehovah means His wrath will come down upon you. Here we see why it is when we are discussing this question of paganism and how the church is to respond that we take seriously what it is we are doing. This isn’t a philosophical competition between different ideas on what works. We are telling the pagans to give up their false gods, to destroy their ancient landmarks, and come to the place of safety and rest. For if they don’t? Then they will face the same end as the cows of Bashan.
The church evangelizes because she loves, and that means being honest and up front with the stakes.
Here is a word:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church
Thanks for reading Thoughts From Parson Farms! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.