In last week’s blog, Changing Laws or Changing Hearts?, we addressed the issue of our changing culture. We pointed out that political action does not seem able to stem the rising tide of pagan thought that is sweeping our nation and, indeed, the world. We also pointed out that paganism, while it may seem novel, is really nothing new on the world scene at all. It is indeed very old. So why does it seem to be getting so much traction in our world, especially among the young?
Well, at some point as the world turns, everything old is new again. I remember my mother remarking during my teenage years that the “new shoes” I was wearing were just like the shoes she wore when she was young. Yet, to me, that shoe style was something completely new – different and trendy. The world turned – the “old” was “new” again. Seems like human perspective begins with one’s own life. Since then, I have watched the fashions of my era go out of style – and come back in again!
It’s precisely because human beings have a very limited historical perspective that so many people are currently embracing the “new” and shiny paganism. Up until recent times, our culture was deeply Christian-based, infused with Christian ideas. Christian morality, ethics, and values were deeply ingrained in our culture and held sway for centuries. Precisely because of that deep influence, today people have no idea what a pagan culture is or would look like if paganism “held the reins,” so to speak. Paganism is viewed as something “new” and exciting. Christianity seems to them to be the “old thing” now.
As we have often pointed out Christianity was birthed in a Greco-Roman culture that was quite the opposite – deeply pagan and Christianity was “the new thing.” That culture did not value caring for the weak or children or women but indeed disdained the weak and powerless. As Christianity: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Women notes:
In ancient Greece, a respectable woman was not allowed to leave the house unless she was accompanied by a trustworthy male escort. A wife was not permitted to eat or interact with male guests in her husband’s home; she had to retire to her woman’s quarters. Men kept their wives under lock and key, and women had the social status of a slave. Girls were not allowed to go to school, and when they grew up they were not allowed to speak in public. Women were considered inferior to men. The Greek poets equated women with evil. Remember Pandora and her box? Woman was responsible for unleashing evil on the world.
The status of Roman women was also very low. Roman law placed a wife under the absolute control of her husband, who had ownership of her and all her possessions. He could divorce her if she went out in public without a veil. A husband had the power of life and death over his wife, just as he did his children. As with the Greeks, women were not allowed to speak in public.
If the Christians of earlier centuries had not changed that world by living out their faith, caring for people (especially those who could not care for themselves), and elevating the value and status of children and women, we would likely all be living under an oppressive system pretty much like Islam, but with many competing gods. Christians also out-thought and out-debated competing worldviews, making a credible defense for the faith in the public square in a compelling and winsome way.
Christians are still deeply engaged in charity and caring for those who cannot care for themselves. That compassionate concern can be seen clearly in most missionary efforts as well as in natural catastrophes. Churches and individual Christians pour into devastated areas to help and to give, both here and around the world. Yet Christian charity is not given much notice these days. Why? Because Christian charity and its positive effects on society are now part of the air that we all breathe. Much like a fish doesn’t know he’s only breathing because he is in water (we all take the air in our lungs for granted); people do not realize that the “compassionate bent” in our society is completely rooted in Christian “values,” if you will. People can’t see it because they are swimming in it! And if Christianity and its influence were to disappear, as some anti-Christian detractors indeed hope will happen, our culture would be a very different and colder place than it is now.
We are not saying that non-Christians are not compassionate. They are. It’s the air that they breathe, and it’s the way they were taught – but they have no idea from whence it comes, or how fast things could and would change if the Christian underpinnings of such ideals were to be discarded. Feeding and caring for the poor is a Christian ideal. If the poor or weak are unable to survive in a Pagan world, then they just won’t survive. Should women be highly valued? That would be a Christian notion. Women were greatly elevated in all the places where Christianity spread.
We cannot assume that the foundations laid down by our Christian forebearers would stand for very long without the Christian love, biblical teaching and defense upon which it stands.
This slide away from sound Christian teaching and towards paganism should not really take us by surprise. The Bible warns us that this will happen in future days. As the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy,
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.( 2 Timothy 4:3-5; ESV)
Evil is very strong in our day. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that our battle is not against flesh-and-blood people but against powerful spiritual entities that he refers to as “cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.” He tells us to “take up the armor of God, that you might be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
Christians cannot destroy evil spiritual forces or evil itself – that is God’s area. Christians can and should be equipped to make a defense to human beings, giving an answer for what we believe, doing so for the sake of the very people who have been taken captive by the enemy to do his will. Individual churches are to do the equipping. The early Christians did not shrink back from defending and living out their faith, and neither should we. We should also pray for and with each other, encouraging each other as we face these evil days.
And when we have done all that we can do, we are to stand firm.Ω
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