As Christians, how should we approach an activity, tradition or object that has pagan origins? God’s Word gives us a clear path forward.
That thing you love? It has pagan origins.
Pretty much everything has pagan origins.
What does God expect you to do about it?
“Do not inquire about their gods”
Just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land to claim their inheritance, God gave them a warning:
“When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’
“You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, English Standard Version).
The Promised Land was filled with pagan nations who served false gods, and in the names of those gods, the people had done “every abominable thing that the LORD hates”—up to and including the ritual sacrifice of their own flesh and blood. In no uncertain terms, God was letting the Israelites know that foreign religious practices were utterly incompatible with the worship of the one true God.
Worshipping God means worshipping Him the way He wants us to do it. “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (verse 32, ESV).
The problem with Christmas and Easter
It’s fairly common knowledge that these holidays are built around a smorgasbord of pagan religious customs. The trees, the lights, the rabbits, the eggs—they’re all pagan practices with a new coat of paint.
The argument in favor of these days is almost always that they’ve been repurposed—that, yes, those customs were pagan once, but now they glorify Jesus Christ.
But God does not accept repurposed worship. He does not accept a new coat of paint on “every abominable thing that the LORD hates.” If we worship Him by willfully adopting repurposed pagan customs, He rejects that worship.
If we persist, He rejects us.
Does God hate groves? What about raisin cakes?
But it’s easy to wonder how far that prohibition extends. Historically, God’s people have always been in the minority—which means that just about everything around us could have a pagan origin.
There are two important principles to extract from God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 12:
- Do not incorporate pagan customs of worship into your life.
- The worship is the problem. The objects involved might not be.
God said, “Do not inquire about their gods,” and “you shall not worship the LORD your God in that way” (verses 30-31, ESV). Those are the boundary lines. God isn’t telling us to throw out everything pagans have ever touched. He’s telling us to throw out their methods of worship. For example:
Pagans often used groves of trees as sacred sites for the worship of their gods, which often included ritual prostitution (Hosea 4:13-14). Does that mean Christians should avoid orchards or never plant trees of their own? No. God gave His people groves (Joshua 24:13). The trees aren’t the problem—the problem is what the pagans were doing among the trees.
Pagans also baked raisin cakes and gave them as offerings to their gods (Hosea 3:1). Should Christians avoid adding raisins to their baked goods? Again, no. There’s nothing spiritually wrong with adding raisins to cakes. There is something wrong with baking a raisin cake as an offering to God. It’s not the way He tells us to worship Him.
Should Christians avoid yoga or not?
But those are ancient examples. Here’s a more modern one:
Yoga is an incredibly contentious topic in Christian circles. It originated in India and plays an important role in Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Practitioners of these religions believe they can use yoga to expand their consciousness, bring their spiritual energies into alignment, overcome suffering, and attain enlightenment and oneness with the ultimate reality of the universe. Many times, these goals are pursued through various stretches.
These are, without a doubt, pagan spiritual practices that Christians should absolutely avoid.
But what about the stretches themselves? Is stretching a problem? Are yoga stretches something Christians should avoid?
The difference between forbidden and acceptable
It’s the same principle as the groves and the raisin cakes:
God has no problem with you stretching your muscles.
He does have a problem with you doing stretches to try and realign your spiritual energy or tap into a cosmic consciousness.
And there’s the dividing line:
Are you including forms of pagan worship in your life, or aren’t you?
Groves are fine. Raisin cakes are fine. Stretching is fine. We don’t avoid eggs just because they play a role in Easter traditions. We don’t avoid gingerbread just because it’s a common part of Christmas.
(Of course, the Bible tells us to be careful not to “wound” or “defile” our consciences. If we’re uncomfortable with something or feel it will send the wrong message to others, we should stay away from it—see 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14:23.)
What God does have a problem with and, in fact, forbids is taking those individual pieces and using them the way the pagans did. We don’t worship in the groves. We don’t bake the raisin cakes as offerings to God. We don’t stretch to align our chakras. We don’t paint eggs and try to find them during Easter. And we don’t decorate gingerbread houses for Christmas.
God doesn’t tolerate using those pagan symbols to worship Him.
Next time you discover that something in your life has pagan origins, ask yourself: “Does this thing have its roots in a form of worship God forbids? And if so, am I allowing it to have spiritual influence in my own life?”
If the answer is yes, then our only option is to get rid of it. When it comes to worshipping God, even a little pagan is too much pagan.
(Read more about this subject in our article “History of Wedding Rings.”)
This article was written at a reader’s suggestion. If you’d like to suggest a topic for future editions of “Christianity in Progress,” you can do so anonymously at lifehopeandtruth.com/ideas. We look forward to hearing from you!