Gary Swisher

Posts Tagged ‘Luther’

Reformation: A Road Without End

In Christianity, church, evangelical, Theology on February 12, 2011 at 12:20 am

In an earlier post, Glossing Over Paganism, I wrote that the United States is a worldly nation, founded on a mixture of Christian precepts and pagan influence. This thought runs counter to the beliefs of most mainstream Christians, who often equate Christianity with American Patriotism. Their view, that our nation and the church are closely intertwined, has validity. But the common thread between them is very surprising and unsettling.

When Christianity first dawned on western civilization it was initially persecuted at the hands of an empire that enforced the worship of its emperor and the pagan gods. But key figures like Constantine eventually brought Christianity into the mainstream of society. The Christians who were formerly criminals in the eyes of Rome became its favored citizens. Pagan temples were converted into Christian cathedrals. Pagan holidays were “Christianized” to make it an easy transition for the people who had long enjoyed the rituals and revelry of pagan celebrations.

The church became a protected institution, but at great cost. it also became a state-controlled religion, syncretized with pagan beliefs and practices. By the time the Roman Catholic Church was firmly entrenched, corruptions to the true, pure church were profuse. The Catholic Church was formed out of syncretism; a mixing of pagan customs with Christian content. The idols of old became patron saints. The Festival of the Dead became All Souls Day. The Winter Solstice became Christmas (both involve a nativity of a divine figure). Many more things crept into institutional Christianity, none of which belonged to the true faith.

Because these things have been all around us since we were born, we take little notice of them. Our months and days are named for pagan gods, as are the planets of our solar system. Most everyone realizes this, but rarely gives much thought to how deep the roots of paganism run in our society. An enormous statue of Neptune (analogous with Poseidon) stands prominently on a walk at Virginia Beach. Does anyone raise an eyebrow in this “Christian Nation” when they encounter this pagan idol? Fewer still ever ponder or even realize that paganism is also infused into Christianity.

When celebrating Easter, we observe the Roman calendar, not the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew calendar is the key to the true timing of the Passover season. How many Christians, who each year remember Christ’s sacrifice, realize they are commemorating a day on the Roman calendar which honored a pagan fertility goddess? If t is imperative to have an observance of Christ’s atonement, why do Christians hold to a date other than when Christ was actually crucified? How is it that sunrise services are actually old pagan traditions? And for that matter, why celebrate Christ’s birth each December 25th? Do Christians really know the roots of that date?

The corruption which manifested in the Catholic church grew until the time of the reformation. To most Protestants the reformation is past-tense. But in reality, we are on a centuries-old path which still stretches ages before us, on the journey out of darkness. In other words, every church in existence today still shares many corruptions derived from the mother church that sits in Rome.

Before we point all our fingers and toes at the oldest denominations it’s important to realize that there are un-sanctified elements in all churches which are far more subtle, even in movements that developed much later. The reformed churches are not at all free from pagan influence. Babylon has her daughters, and as long as denominations give rise to new movements they carry with them the forms of their mother. Even more recent church movements that aimed to remove doctrinal error have retained age-old practices which are not sourced in scripture. Yet all such corruptions do not take the form of overt pagan symbols, names and celebrations.  Even the seemingly benign and secular forms we use today are not derived from scripture. In his book, “Pagan Christianity”, Frank Viola identifies many basic conventions of the church which can be traced back to Greek and Roman practices.

The most simplistic and fundamental movements in Christendom today still maintain corrupted views of Biblical concepts in their practices. It’s fairly clear that nearly every denomination, old or new, utilizes the same elements and format in their “services”. The very concept of pastors, pulpit ministers or preachers, whichever terminology you choose (I will use the term pastor since it is the most popular), has more in common with Greco-Roman conventions than Biblical truth.

Viola sees the modern pastor role as having evolved from the Master of Ceremonies of ancient practice. This would, of course, apply as well to the priest role as seen in Catholic churches. No, we’re not talking Pat Sajak here, the Master of Ceremonies was no game show host! Just as the term implies, this man was the chief of rituals, the director of the service. The term obviously implies a performance-oriented, liturgical program set before an audience.

Nothing could be further from the Biblical concept of pastors than this Master of Ceremonies. So why does this role seem so similar to that of the Sunday morning pastor? No matter how informal a church might be, all things that take place on a Sunday morning have to be approved by the pastor. He sets the tone and oversees all the pieces and players of the Sunday service, from the sermon to the final announcements.

No, he may not control all these things directly, but in most cases he has the ultimate say on what goes. All those who are in charge of various aspects of the service answer to him. In some churches the pastor is very laid back and hands-off, yet if there is something he dislikes it would never last long because he holds ultimate sway. In other churches the pastors are much more obsessive about managing and dictating every detail of the service. In any case the pastor holds a place of great prominence, both visibly and behind the scenery while those in the pews are passive spectators.

Our churches are largely human institutions steeped in traditions that do not come from God, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They rely on human conventions. They revolve around buildings and budgets, committees and business meetings, salaries, programs, bulletins, systems, methods, checklists, media, operating expenses, hierarchies and oligarchies. They closely mirror the corporate structure, having an organization of members, a board of directors (elders) and a senior pastor (CEO). Some of the heavy-handed power plays I have seen in the most fundamental churches rival the drama you might expect to find on Wall Street.

Much like our governmental systems the church as we see it today has made only slight improvements over many long centuries. We may realize the reformation is not over, but every generation sees only so far down this very long road. The radical truth is that we should give up the remodeling project because the fundamental form of the church is un-biblical. Perhaps we should learn our lesson and realize that continuing down the road of reformation may lead us no closer to New Testament Christianity in the next hundred years. So rather than continue on this road and look for the next movement or big development to come along, we should take the nearest exit.

© 2011 Gary Swisher. All Rights Reserved

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