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Volume 7, Issue 6: Doctrine 101

Christianity and the Pagan Gods

Chris Schlect

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:5-6)

We live in a culture of materialistic superstition. We are taught to think that ancient beliefs about spiritual forces directing nature were nonsense, and that our modern "enlightened" conversion from this "backward" way of thinking has enabled science to advance. When we explain natural phenomena solely in terms of matter and its properties, we think we have explained nature in full. But the fact that many happenings can be explained in material terms does not mean that matter is the only relevant factor.
Trendy materialistic presuppositions prompt many to wholly discredit pagan worship. "There was nothing behind it," some say. But we must remember that there are indeed many gods and many lords. Didn't Pharaoh's magicians really perform miracles (Ex. 7:22, 8:7)? Did not our Lord punish Bel Marduk, god of Babylon (Jer. 51:44)? Did not the angels Gabriel and Michael contend with "the prince of Persia" and the "prince of Greece" (Dan. 10:12-14, 20-21)? While many forms of paganism are man-made, clearly not all of them are. The Scriptures affirm the existence of gods (e.g., Ps. 86:8,138:1,136:2, 1 Cor. 8:5). And, of course, the Most High rules over them all. These lesser deities are creations of the one true God; none of them can stand before their maker, the God of gods. Though they are impressive, these so-called gods were not to be worshipped.
Yet while they do not deserve our worship, pagan gods may not be treated lightly. One of the dangerous errors committed in Christian circles today is the flippant treatment of things that are of greater splendor than we. One popular contemporary Christian singer performs a number of songs that purpose to tell off the devil and make him look like a wimpish idiot. In reality, the singer comes across as a little man who hunts a great whale with a toy squirt gun. He doesn't know what he is up against.
The attitude of this artist, and many like him, meets a sharp rebuke from Jude: "Likewise, indeed also, these dreamers even defile the flesh, reject lordship, and speak evil of glorious ones" (v. 8). The context of this verse shows clearly that these lords and "glorious ones" are celestial, not human, principalities. The opening words "likewise . . . also" add a special sting to the rebuke, for the preceding verse discusses the sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah. In other words, the sin of those who "reject lordship" and "speak evil of glorious ones" is as egregious and unnatural as sodomy! "Woe to them!" Jude continues, "For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the insolent rebellion of Korah" (v. 11).
As his discussion continues, Jude sets before us a good example in the archangel Michael. In disputing with the devil over Moses' body, Michael refused to bring judgment of blasphemy against him (v. 9). If even the archangel Michael did not have the rightful authority to bring judgment against the devil, then how much more is that true of us? Michael is exemplary because he knew his place, unlike those who "speak evil of whatever they do not know" (v. 10).
What about the prophets? Are not Isaiah and Elijah renowned for their devastating jabs at the pagan deities? These jabs were appropriate to their prophetic office, for they spoke the very words of God. We today do not prophetically utter the very words of God as they did. In looking for an example of how to contend with glorious ones, we are taught to imitate Michael the archangel, not Elijah on Mt. Carmel.
Many Christians make great sport of devil-rebuking. We carry on with our presumptuous prayers and hand-laying, reviling one whose splendor is far greater than ours. True, the devil is evil, the father of lies, and was publicly disarmed in the cross. Jude's instruction still applies to us. We should have no part in flippant jokes and arrogant judgments toward the evil one, and we must distance ourselves from dopey caricatures of him in red tights and horns. Such attitudes toward paganism are not fitting for Christians.
Though it may seem somewhat odd, the doctrines regarding pagan deities and the devil deserve our attention. The great old pagan religions are not all merely fabrications of fallen man's corrupt imagination. Many of them have their source in spiritual realities that lie well beyond man's dominion, so we may not treat them with arrogant flippancy. However, none of these powers lies outside God's dominion. Hence, the God of gods alone deserves our worship.

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