We cannot make conclusions on pagan practices based on similarity
This week I want to conclude on the theme of idolatry, pagan practices and just how does that apply to a believer today. Much has been said about practices that are seemingly "pagan" but in reality do not hold up to a closer look. We cannot make conclusions based on similarity alone. If we did, then the Lord Himself would be pagan. For instance, the woman in Rev 17 has a cup in her hand, so does the Lord in Psalm 75. Pagan gods were pictured with wings, so does the Lord in Psalm 91.
Pagans built high towers, the Lord is described as a high tower. Pagan gods were described as stars, so is the Lord in Rev 22. Pagans worshipped the sun and yet the Lord is called the "Sun of righteousness in Mal 4. Pagan deities sat on thrones and had crowns, so does the Lord and the list goes on and on. Being able to quote a pagan similarity does not necessarily give evidence that something is a forbidden practice.
Some practices are so general that no conclusion can be drawn at all, like the use of bricks, plaster and water. Pagan deities ride chariots, but that doesn’t make chariots pagan. If general practices are pagan, then eating Italian food would be forbidden because the Romans were pagan.
Some practices today are so limited in scope that they could hardly be considered a common custom. For instance, if someone came to America and said there are people there who don’t wear make-up, it would be wrong to go back to their respective country and say "all Christians don’t wear make-up." Most arguments about pagan practices are centered around similarities but without no real connection to paganism.
This is called "superstition" and that is, in many cases, all there is to many objections to some practices of believers. Pagans lit candles, does that mean if we light a candle in a religious ceremony it is pagan? I don’t think so. The number 13 is considered an unlucky number, but where did that come from? Many times we mix fact and fable and come out with superstition. I’ll give another example that may seem silly, but it shows the absurdity of some the comparisons. Babylon had gates and Nebuchadnezzar’s image was made of gold, and many people worshipped the image and many went through the gates to worship in pagan temples. So, based on similarity alone, the Golden Gate Bridge would be pagan and should be avoided. Sweeping statements about denominations is wrong and to throw out all they teach is also wrong just because one thinks they have "pagan" practices.
Again, is there a real connection to what they do to a pagan deity, or are there just similarities in practice and no connection to a pagan deity. The Lord is always against the worship of pagan deities no matter where or how it’s done. The Jewish people went to the Temple itself and worshipped other gods, but that didn’t invalidate the Temple.
It would be better to find areas of agreement and to build on common ground rather than isolate and condemn.
The Lord is a God of compassion and mercy, of understanding and wisdom, not condemnation over some supposed pagan practice that has no connection to the worship of another god. Paul even quotes pagan philosophers in Acts 17.28 to find common ground with the Athenians. Accusing people of pagan practices is not the best way to counter errors in anyone. The best way is to study the Bible itself and let the Lord teach through His Word, energized by the Holy Spirit.
If there is a similarity between a pagan practice and something done by a believer, where does that leave the believer? There are several things to consider. Maybe the believer did the practice first, and the pagan adapted it. Where is the intent of the heart? Does the practice glorify the Lord? Does reciting our prayers just tests of our memories, like the Lord’s Prayer, or are they spontaneous expressions of the heart? Any Biblical practice can be mundane, mechanical and rote and this needs to be guarded against also.
The Lord had more to say about a cold, hard heart than He did about supposed pagan practices. It would acceptable to point out error, of course, but if ones logic includes the statement that it came out of paganism, this could invalidate their contention.
Discussing pagan origins does keep us in mind about such things, but if this anti-pagan attitude is carried too far, then it will stifle real growth and cause some real hurt feelings unnecessarily, which in turn can lead to fruitlessness and anger. The Lord had to admonish the Apostles once for trying to stop someone who was ministering in His name because they weren’t of their particular group, or "denomination." The Lord told them not to reject them, because if they were not against them then they were for Him.
Our focus should be on the Lord and the Bible, not dogmas. Our boast should be in the Lord, our walk should focus on His word and our hearts to what is pleasing to Him, which includes the love of our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jacob made a sacred pillar at Bethel, and Joshua did at Gilgal, a forbidden practice. Moses made images. I can’t begin to tell you what was or was not allowed by God. But, I can tell you, that which is given over to the worship of another god is forbidden and that was the deciding factor. Similarity of and the usage of objects, signs and symbols does not seem to play an aggressive role, as some may say today.
The peddling of forbidden pagan practices sells a lot of books and tapes but is it accurate? The basic things to keep in mind and ask is: "Is it centered on the One, True God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?"; "Does it Glorify Him? "; "Is my heart right before Him?"; "What kind of fruit does it bear?". If you will remember these things and keep them in mind, I think you will do well… and let the Lord guide you from there.