While Christian paganism may seem to be a contradiction in terms, it sadly is not. Indeed, there are growing segments of the church which may be better described as pagan than as Christian. Many churches have abandoned biblical truth, and have instead simply latched onto the latest secular trends and fads.
Because belief in truth has been undermined in the surrounding culture, it is not surprising that truth is under attack within the churches as well. Unfortunately almost any non-biblical belief or agenda can now be found in various circles calling themselves Christian.
Want to introduce homosexuality into the churches? No problem. There are plenty of churches which have long ago given up on the biblical position on that issue. Want divorce to be just as easy as it is in the surrounding secular culture? Easy, that is well under way as well.
Want to try to combine New Age teaching with biblical beliefs? Yep, that too is being done in many churches. Want to argue that all religious traditions are more or less equal, and we must not be too exclusive in our beliefs? All sorts of church groups are running with that one. Sadly, much of the church today has simply succumbed to the spirit of the age.
Consider the words of one leading pastor: “There is an amazing ignorance of Scripture among many, and a consequent want of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14). There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true. There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity.”
Powerful words. But they were actually written by the great English evangelical J. C. Ryle back in 1877! So this paganisation of the churches is not exactly new, but it seems to be getting more pronounced with each passing year. And I am not the only one to be greatly concerned about such trends. One of the fathers of modern evangelicalism, J.I. Packer is equally concerned, and has just penned a new volume in order to turn things around.
Called Grounded in the Gospel (Baker, 2010), Packer and Gary Parrett seek to stop the rot by calling Christians to return to sound biblical instruction, including the systematic teaching of Christian doctrine. A recent article in Christianity Today explains their concerns:
“Influential theologian J I Packer wants evangelical churches to recover catechesis, or systematic instruction in the essentials of the Christian faith. Packer believes the idea is an alien concept to most evangelicals. ‘We are drifting back into paganism, that’s the truth,’ he said in a lecture last Saturday at St Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, according to The Living Church News Service.
“The 83-year-old Anglican priest has co-authored a new book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, in which he makes the case that catechesis is a non-negotiable practice of churches and is of no less value than Bible study and expository preaching.
“During Saturday’s lecture, he said he yearns for ‘Bible-based, Christ-centred, declarative in style’. But recovering catechesis in churches will be a challenge, he added. Earlier, he called it the greatest challenge for the 21st century church.”
Packer said it’s “ridiculous to think that no more learning of the faith is necessary after confirmation has taken place. Ongoing learning is part of the calling of the church. It has to be taught in all churches at all times.”
To which I offer a hearty ‘Amen’. I have been continually dismayed and astonished over recent years at just what a dismal understanding so many Christians have of even the most basic of Christian teachings. Many believers could not explain key biblical doctrines, or probably even recite five of the Ten Commandments.
Indeed, how many believers even read their Bibles on a regular basis, let alone study it thoroughly and consistently? And how many are getting sound teaching and biblical exposition in their own pulpits? I suspect that only a small minority of believers today are exposed to regular, systematic biblical teaching.
What many believers are getting today of course is plenty of entertainment. They are getting all sorts of mushy, feel-good pep talks, therapy sessions, how-to-courses (how to feel good about yourself, how to lose weight for Jesus, etc), and lots of bubblegum teaching.
But where is the solid book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter exposition of the Word of God? Where is the systematic teaching of basic Bible doctrines? Where is the emphasis on Bible memorisation and the daily study of Christian truths?
In a society which emphasises image over content, entertainment over teaching, superficiality over substance, and emotions over thought, it is no wonder that the churches have been floundering. They have simply bought into the surrounding culture.
They have thought that a parade of celebrities will do the trick. They have thought that making people feel good is all that is needed. They have thought that telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear will suffice.
No wonder our churches are having so little impact, and so many in the world simply yawn – or laugh – at Christianity. No wonder we are making so little headway, and having so little influence. Why would the world want to come into the churches when all they find there is much of the same? If entertainment and amusement is all we can offer, well, the world can usually do a better job of such things.
Will a renewal of catechesis solve all of our problems? No, but it is surely part of a much-needed makeover of the church today. The importance of doctrine and teaching is splashed all over the pages of the New Testament. If the early disciples needed such systematic training and teaching in biblical truth, then we today certainly do as well.
I for one applaud the call of Packer to revitalise a dying, and increasingly pagan, church. The question is, will his call fall on deaf ears? Time will tell, but unless the Western churches decide to start getting serious about their faith – including the importance of biblical doctrine – then the future is looking rather grim indeed.