Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Proclaiming the Gospel amidst 21st century paganism/witchcraft/occult

1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

Brief definition of paganism
What is paganism?  According to Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner: "Paganism may be referred to as a religion of spirituality without any reference to an authoritative, revealed revelation.  It emphasizes the adoration and appeasement of also generally involves superstitious folk rituals and other elements that attempt to charm and to acquire power for the Pagan or Wiccan."1

The Church, then an now, called to proclaim the Gospel amidst a Pagan culture
When we consider the background of the Corinthian church to which Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, paganism was rampant.   According to the great Biblical commentator R.C.H Lenski, Corinth had the temple of the Roman goddess Venus (Greek equivalent Apophrodite) and several other temples devoted to Egyptian Deities.2  The Corinthians were a people of culture, of art and of education - but also of deep seated pagan superstitions and excessive immorality.  The church of Corinth was small and young, with converts saved directly out of the pagan background. 

The Paganism of ancient Corinth and the Paganism in 21st century, though different in form and detail, nonetheless have these 5 common traits:

1. Belief in multiple gods or impersonal forces that are limited in power and easily influenced by human beings or

2. Denial of an Ultimate all powerful, all knowing God

3. Denial of a centralized body of Divine revelation.  Authority resides more within the person or in a scattered collection of myths

4. No basis for objective right and wrong, hence a perfect atmosphere for increased immorality over time

5. Superstitious and fear based belief system that opens itself up to the demonic realm

No doubt Paul's word to the Church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8 goes beyond merely dealing with food.  His issue is ultimately equipping his readers and present day Christians with the tools for combatting Paganism and asserting the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a Pagan Culture.

The Gospel that must be affirmed in 21st century paganized culture
We can note how Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 the key points the church of today must communicate if she is to not only survive but thrive amidst an increasingly paganized culture.  Note how the three-fold emphasis of 1 Corinthians 8 answers the five traits mentioned earlier concerning the worldview of paganism/witchcraft:

1. Affirming that God is Personal and that knowing Him means knowing His Love. 1 Corinthians 8:1-5
This answers to point #3 above regarding paganism's denial of Divine Revelation or the need for centralized Divine authority.  Another name often assigned to paganism is the term "occult".  The term "occult" comes from the Latin "occultus" meaning "hidden".  When we describe Paganism as as being Occult in its understanding of things - we are chiefly describing how the Pagan or Wiccan acquires their knowledge.  Any survey of the literature tells us that an occultic worldview views knowledge as hidden, needing to be discovered by subtle means by select human beings operating apart from God.  Therefore knowledge and understanding is by nature hidden, with the discovery of it leading the pagan to possess power.

Occultism's manner of pursuit of "secret" knowledge leads to self-sufficiency, pride and incompleteness, since the person is viewed on an endless journey of trying to fulfill their drives and desires.  Generally, in paganism, power is valued more than love.  The Gospel on the other hand tells me that the only fulfilling pursuit is knowing God, and that God through scripture reveals Jesus Christ.  The end result is the discovery of God's great love poured out on the cross.  Paul reveals the Christian emphasis on knowledge and love in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him."

2. Affirmation of God's Sovereignty. 1 Corinthians 8:6
This answers to points #1 and #2 above regarding Paganism's/Witchcraft's belief in various deities or impersonal force that can be controlled by people. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:6 "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."   The Bible affirms the existence and identity of the God of Revelation, while denying the interpretation assigned by paganism to the existence of multiple gods and goddesses.  Later on in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20 we see the true identity of the idols and deities worshipped by paganism - demons in disguise.  God and God alone is in control and on the throne.

3. Affirming objective morality being rooted in God's character and reinforced in the conscience. 1 Corinthians 8:7-13
This answers to points #4 and #5 above regarding paganism's views on morality and its vulnerability to the demonic realm.  Three times do we see reference to concern over ruining another fellow believer's "conscience".  When we speak of the conscience, the way I have described it is that it is like a superhighway between the mind and the heart.  The heart is the causal center of the human being, the sum of all the emotions and convictions.  The mind of course is the thinker of the soul.  In order for thoughts to become convictions of the heart, they have to travel by way of the conscience.  Conversely, in order for the heart to receive direction on which way to act in motivating the human will to choose, the conscience must link it to the human mind. 

Whenever a conscience is weakened by repeated overt violation of moral norms, the ability of the heart to act rightly is impaired and hardened.  In unbelievers, though they have a conscience and a heart, their mind thinks in a selfward direction.  Likewise the heart is inclined in a direction that aims to please self, even in people who are otherwise outstanding citizens.  Only conversion of the person by grace through faith in Christ can change a person from being self-ward to Godward in their outlook. 

Paul's point is to not to do anything that would hurt the conscience.  When a Christian harms the conscience, it will be very difficult to receive or apply spiritual truth from God's Word.3  It is in the conscience that we also see God's Law written, meaning that human beings possess an innate understanding of God's existence and judgment. (Romans 2:15) By suppressing that testimony, the person falls into greater levels of darkness and greater vulnerability to the kingdom of darkness. (Ephesians 2:1-2, 12)

Paganism insists that the person determines their own value of right and wrong.  Hence in the Pagan worldview there is a far greater opportunity to violate one's conscience.4  This is why the system is so hostile to the Gospel, since it denies the existence of an all powerful Creator, objective morality and need for Biblical revelation.  Furthermore, by denying objective right and wrong, Paganism denies the reality of sin and final judgment. 

More than ever the Gospel must be proclaimed, emphasizing God's Personal Revelation of Himself in loving redemption through His Son and His Word, His Sovereignty and how He alone is the Ground for objective morality - thus obligating human beings to repent and believe on Jesus Christ in order to escape the judgment to come. (Romans 5:6-10)

End Notes_____________
1. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Harvest House Publishers. 2008 

2. R.C.H Lenski.  Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Page 11

3.  Paganism asserts among other things the one rule of their moral system summarized by what is termed "The Wiccan Rede": "An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will". 

4.  A more thorough treatment of this subject is found in "The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics", edited by Norm Geisler.  For sake of simplicity in today's post I used the term "paganism", even though the technical term is "neo-paganism". 

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