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    “See to it no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

    « The Full Good News | Plea to Women Concerning Porn »
    Sunday
    Dec252011

    "In the World but Not of It": Recognizing Pagan Practices (and Not Doing Them)

    We are supposed to be a “holy people” (1 Peter 1:16), “in the world but not of it” (John 17:14-16). To be holy is to be set apart, to act differently than those who do not love Jesus. To do otherwise restates the already popular notion that Christianity is no different from any other religious belief.

     

    One prominent idea in the Church is that Christians must be in tune with the culture in order to connect with and minister or witness to non-Christians.

     

    This is the argument for allowing ourselves and encouraging others to read books and watch movies that are wildly popular. I am in no way suggesting Christians turn hermit and abandon their neighbors and coworkers.

     

    I would ask however, what is the real motivation behind reading, listening, and watching popular media? Is it to understand what draws people to them?

     

    Is it so that we may critically analyze such media in order to argue points with others how loving and living for Jesus is the only, true way to eternal life? Is it to better understand the culture and where it is heading so we may be aware and pray? Or is it because we secretly enjoy them?

     

    “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8)


    In my own life, I have certainly succumbed to the “spirit of entertainment” as some call it. I have seen and experienced first-hand how easy and how quickly the road towards “the dark side” is.

     

    A few years ago I was introduced to a computer game unlike any I had ever seen before. I am not a hardcore “gamer” by any means, but I have a bit of a competitive side in me.

     

    Before long, I was totally wrapped up in the details of the game. The characters, towns, even the countryside were completely interactive. A person could (and I did) spend hours and hours exploring, fighting bad guys, helping other characters in the game, etc.

     

    I loved the puzzles, the action, the surprises, and the detail. I became so engrossed in this game I neglected my children, my home, my pets, and my spouse. I neglected my health by not eating or sleeping. Mine was a classic case of gaming addiction.

     

    After about a year had passed, I acquired a part-time job certain evenings, and it was in the quiet clean-up time that I began to pray again. I held this job for about one year and at some point during my prayer-cleaning time, God told me to begin researching the occult. It did not take long for me to realize the game I had been playing was rife with occult references.

     

    I began to notice similar themes in popular TV shows, movies, songs, music videos, and books. I read and watched the news, seeing an increase in articles relating to the occult. Most frighteningly, I listened to discerning Christian friends’ enthusiasm for blatantly occultic popular media.

     

    I have seen occult symbols and names on jewelry featured in Christian catalogs; I have witnessed pagan motifs and occult rituals on the grounds of Christian retreat centers (look up "labyrinths" and their full history, don't stop with the Chartres Cathedral).

     

    Individual churches as well as whole denominations have openly embraced, endorsed, taught, and performed occult rituals, practices, and beliefs in the name of "spiritual discipline" or just something "new".

     

    My goal in writing this is not to shame anyone, but to create awareness. The Bible does not endorse ignorance, and people are hurting as a direct result. “My people die for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6 and Isaiah 5:13).

     

    There appear to be three categories in which a person places themselves in regards to the occult. Some are enticed to become part of “the enlightened”. Some laugh it off as a joke or harmless fun. Some speak out against it, but many of them come across as too harsh, uninformed, or fail to provide adequate background or explanations.  

     

    I am not an ex-Wiccan or Satanist, but I do understand the human temptation for power; the excitement and curiosity provoked by special effects, which makes one wonder, “could I do that too”?

     

    Not only are they cool to watch, but the desire to possess fantastic talents in order to help others, fight bad guys, or just make life a little easier seems natural.

     

    Folk heroes, super-heroes, mutants, aliens, good wizards, elves, fairies, vampires, and witches are all presented in this happy light in modern media, with the exception of a certain minority “gone bad” out of a desire for ultimate power over normal humans (but they always lose in the end).

     

    “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:7)


    It is good to want to relieve the immense suffering around us. It can be very frustrating and unnerving to feel powerless in a chaotic world (anyone seen or read, "Faust"?). We want to DO something, anything! We do not naturally want to wait on a God we cannot see, do not hear, and who appears not to act.

     

    In the film, “Bruce Almighty”, God gives Bruce (a regular guy) His powers for a time. Bruce discovers that the world and all the people in it are far more complicated than he had ever imagined. In one instance, he answers “Yes” to everyone’s prayers (without really reading them), and throws the earth into literal chaos.  

     

    “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend helps him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up…a cord of three strands is not quickly broken”. (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12)

     

    People want and need to feel needed. Not in a prideful way (though it can certainly go into that), but people need to feel like they belong, like they can contribute something unique to their family, community, and culture.  

     

    When natural families are so dysfunctional and out-of-touch, the stability, unity, and closeness of gangs, covens, wolf-packs, etc. are understandably appealing. It is shameful in fact that churches do not offer the same level of comfort and community that pagan groups do (see the Book of Acts for more details on how the first Christian churches looked).

     

    Why is it important to recognize pagan practices? Isn’t the Christian walk just about the heart? If Christians participate in these things ignorantly or sincerely thinking they are good, doesn’t that make them innocent?

     

    While God does extend a certain amount of grace for ignorance, He expects us to seek His will through prayer and the reading of His word (the Bible). “My people die for lack of knowledge” says Hosea 4:6. Isaiah 5:13 echoes this sentiment as well.

     

    It is also important to recognize pagan practices for witnessing purposes. Those who truly do practice pagan religions make fun of Christians for their ignorance in honoring pagan deities. To them, it is another proof that pagan practices really are more powerful than any “supposed” God of the Bible.

     

    We are supposed to honor God only. Even if in ignorance, we give honor to false gods by practicing pagan traditions and rituals. It is our job as Christians to be diligent in abstaining from “every thought of evil” (1 Thess 5:22).

    “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

     

    James 1:26-27 admonishes us to “keep…from being polluted by the world”,

     

    Ezra 10:11 says, “Now make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives."

     

    “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”, exhorts 1 John 2:15 while

     

    1 Peter 1:14 states, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.”

     

    Finally Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

     

    You might ask, “But it's EVERYWHERE! I’m so discouraged; there is no way to ebb the incredible tide. Why bother trying?”  The Bible reminds us,

    There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

     

    These things have been going on since the creation of man. In fact, all these pagan beliefs and practices boil down to the Lie from Original Sin, that people can be/are gods.


    Once a Christian begins purging pagan items from their lives, how far should they go? It runs so deep, do we get rid of crosses and Christmas too? This is a question only God can answer for you. For me, it has been a continual process in which I often protest, justify, rationalize, and back-track, only to see eventually that God was right all along (duh).


    It is difficult to maintain abstinence of things our culture finds acceptable, but in honoring God’s commandments fully (and thereby trusting Him totally with our lives and how we live them), He provides peace, joy, ministry opportunities, and an abundance of ways to entertain and occupy my "free" time. 


    *Note:
    This is not a promotion for asceticism (extreme self-denial for the purpose of spiritual discipline) which is also un-Biblical and a topic for another post.

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