Why the Question of Easter Paganism Is Irrelevant

A few years ago I was introduced to the idea that Easter is a pagan holiday.






I don't remember where I first heard or read it, but the implications of the idea stuck with me:


-God does not approve of how we celebrate Easter (or that we celebrate it at all).
-We are all ignorant Christians serving false gods.
-If I hide eggs for my kids on Easter I am sinning against God.


To borrow an Oklahoma phrase, “Do what?”

He who makes these claims seems sadly confused.

My God looks at the intent of the heart, not on outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). My Lord boiled down the entire law to two: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

These arguments against Easter amount to modern-day Judaizing, judging others based on the skeptic’s notion of truth. Instead of focusing on what really matters, these Pharisees spend their time and energy on triviality.

Now, if you have studied these matters and through prayer and meditation have decided in your heart that eggs, bunnies, and lent are not of God and should have no part of your celebration of the resurrection of Christ, more power to you. That is perfectly acceptable. But do not judge others in that decision. That is when you become a Pharisee, forcing your beliefs upon others and using man-made rules to judge them.

It is sad that we are still struggling with this issue when Paul tried to put it to rest centuries ago:

Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. Colossians 2:16

Paul knew this kind of stuff was going on, but he says to ignore the judgment from others regarding how you celebrate a religious festival.

Part of this discussion for some is that we should not celebrate Easter at all, because Jesus did not really rise or that we should celebrate his death instead and various other reasons. I will not address that here, because I consider Christ’s resurrection fundamental to Christianity—if you are celebrating Easter, you most likely believe in the resurrection. That is not to say that this topic does not merit discussion, it is just not the focus here.

So is Easter rooted in pagan customs?

I hate to burst your bubble, but it does not matter.

That’s right. It does not matter. If bunnies, eggs, sunrise services, lent, and every other custom one does on Easter are directly derived from pagan traditions, it does not matter.


But isn’t it a sin to follow pagan customs?

Only if in doing so it goes against God’s—not man’s—Word. I don't remember any passage in the Bible where it reads, “Thou shall not dye eggs, neither on the vernal equinox nor thereafter.” It’s not in there—I checked.

One might argue that following pagan customs violates the first commandment by having gods other than the LORD. This is the crucial question in the whole argument.

Take a look at a passage from Deuteronomy. God is giving instructions to Israel (through Moses) as they are about to cross into the Promised Land:

Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. Deuteronomy 12:30-31

What more evidence do we need that God does not want us to color eggs if false gods were worshiped via the same method!?!

One cannot argue against this passage, right?

Maybe not—that is, if the passage ended there. A critic might conveniently only give you that part of the verse. Instead let us read the whole statement:

Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:30-32 (emphasis mine).

That word “because” is a biggie.

Why must one not worship the LORD in the way of the pagan?

Because the pagans referenced in this passage worship by way of horrible practices—practices that never even crossed God’s mind (Jeremiah 7:31 et al).

So lets think this through logically.

God did not want the Jews to worship Him like the nations they were about to drive out because these nations worshiped their gods using detestable practices.

Let's pretend that they worshiped their gods by giving one month’s pay to the poor on the vernal equinox. Would God oppose Christians adopting that practice in the name of Christ? I think not.

You see giving money to the poor fits with the character of God. He cares about the needy and commands us to be generous towards them (Matthew 19:21, Deuteronomy 15:11, Proverbs 14:31).

Whoa . . . wait! Giving money to the poor is not the same as using a bunny to celebrate Easter.
 
You're right, but it's not exactly child sacrifice is it?

That is why it is important to evaluate the custom to determine if it aligns with God’s law. Is it intrinsically good or bad based upon what we know about God? There is nothing inherently good or bad about dying eggs or about rabbits. These are, therefore, amoral things. What makes them bad or good is the purpose behind them.


An Assumption

Let's assume that every single tradition practiced on Easter are pagan derivatives as the detractors would have you to believe. Eggs, bunny, the works.

If this is true then the Christians who practice these traditions fall into two categories.

First are those who are ignorant that the customs are of pagan origin. I tend to believe that the majority of Christians would fall into this category.

The second are those who know that eggs and bunnies are stuff of pagans and do not care; they still follow these customs.


Ignorant Christians

Let’s look at the ignorant group first. Would they be in sin?

The answer is "no" unless they are violating God’s commands.

But aren't practices like sunrise services and coloring eggs violating the first commandment because they are acts of worshiping other Gods?

No, because these Christians are ignorant of what they are doing! How could they possibly be worshiping gods other than the one true God if they don’t know they are worshiping?

Now, I do believe you can be in sin and be ignorant of the sin.

For example, maybe in a certain culture adultery is acceptable. A man has never read or heard the gospel and is following an accepted practice of adultery. Is he sinning? Absolutely!

So what's the difference?

Let's take the case of the sunrise service. Some say that a sunrise service is nothing more than a gathering for which to worship the sun.

But if a group of believers gather to watch the sun rise as a symbol of Jesus rising from the dead, how does that constitute worshiping false gods? Did the sun create itself?

I posit that it is impossible to ignorantly worship false gods if one has heard the gospel. 


Except

The exception to this is when someone puts other things before God by making it the focus of his thoughts, time, energy, and desire. Almost anything can be a false god: alcohol, family, and money are just three examples.

That said, how many Christians in this first category are consumed with Easter eggs? How many dwell on it year round, salivate at the thought of them?

Zero.

The answer is none.

So this is my point: if you are worshiping a false god that someone else created, it is pretty obvious; it is intentional. The pagans who supposedly began these customs were KNOWINGLY worshiping gods other than Yahweh. That's an important distinction to make between them and this first group of Christians.


The Second Group

This leads us to the second group, Christians celebrating Easter with traditions they know come from pagans (remember, we are assuming that these claims are true). Isn't that a sin? We are to be set apart, holy as children of God, right?

The answer is actually the same as for the first group.

A person in this second group could sin if he made these customs the focus of Easter. Does he make sure and buy extra eggs and food dye for his children, yet mentions not a word to them about Christ? This would be a grave error.


Is it a sin? 

Basically it all boils down to this:

Do you believe that Jesus was who He said He was? That He was crucified and resurrected? Do you believe that God the father as part of the holy trinity is the one and only God?

That’s the meat and potatoes. Everything else is gravy.

God would much rather us be circumcised of heart than of flesh (Romans 2:29, Leviticus 26:41, Acts 7:51, Jeremiah 9:26, Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4).

What does that mean? It means that our customs and traditions, our clothing, what we eat, our outward appearance is not as important as the intent of our hearts. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Do you treasure Jesus or do you treasure bunnies?
 
Trust me in this: God is not mad at you if you dye eggs or if you tell your children that the Easter bunny left them candy—even if these practices were lifted from pagans—as long as your heart is in the right place.

You might disagree with me and think that it is not proper to follow pagan customs (again, I am conceding for the sake of argument that these claims are true), but next week I will demonstrate through a few passages of scripture why I believe this way.


Do you agree or disagree that it matters not if Easter traditions are of pagan origin? Let me know in the comments.

--

Check back next week for the second part of this post. Or you can always subscribe by email.

2 comments:

  1. Neil (land50man@gmail.comMarch 13, 2013 at 6:13 AM

    Too often Christians have been caught up in worrying about the external. It still comes down towhat is in the heart. My sons did their fair share of hunting for Easter eggs...but we never told them the Easter Bunny left the eggs. They knew early on that the eggs were hidden by mom and dad and that it was simply a fun game for them to do. If you knowingly placing the pagan act over the importance of what the day represents...the Resurrection, then yes I think it is wrong. But if your worship and praise is for what Jesus did and why it is important, than I think looking for colored lima beans or bland rocks as a game makes no difference. Where is your heart is what is important.

    ReplyDelete