November 28th, 2003

A Pocket Full of Murder

(no subject)

Blogback to sff_corgi's recent posting of a link to the essay "A Christian Speaks of Wicca and Witchcraft" by James Clement Taylor.

Firstly, I would agree with the author of this piece that a spirit of love is important in any discussion of religious matters; I would also agree with him that Wicca is not synonymous with Satanism, and that Christians ought not to misunderstand or carelessly misrepresent it as such.

Unfortunately, although the rest of the essay sounds very thoughtful and positive, the author has taken out of context many of the verses and passages he quotes to support his views, and has not mentioned all the other verses and passages in the Bible which would argue against the interpretation he wants to make.

For instance, Taylor's assertion that the Roman centurion commended by Christ in Matthew chapter 5 was a Pagan is simply not true. The gospel of Luke tells us that this particular centurion was a convert to Judaism -- he had even helped the Jews of Capernaum build their synagogue (Luke 7:3-5). But even in Matthew's gospel, the text indicates quite clearly that the centurion was not pagan in his beliefs. Here's the whole story:

Matthew 8:5-10
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralysed and in terrible suffering." 7 Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." 8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith."

The reason Jesus was impressed by this man's faith was that the centurion believed in and confessed Jesus as Lord (see Romans 10:9), and had complete faith in both Jesus's power and His authority -- something that the "sons of the kingdom", the religious Jews of that day (the term does not refer to Christians, as Taylor claims -- at that time there were no Christians yet!), were still struggling with.

In short, there was nothing pagan about the centurion's faith. His faith was not in the Roman pantheon, or Mithras, but in the Lord Jesus Christ -- and it was for that he was commended, not for being a conscientious, morally upstanding pagan as Taylor implies.

Later in his essay, James Clement Taylor quotes from Acts 17:22-23 to support his argument that Wiccans believe in the same God as Christians do. What he fails to mention, however, is that Paul was not standing up to tell the Athenians that they were all worshippers of the same God and that paganism was just as pleasing to God as Christianity -- quite the opposite, in fact. Here's the climax of that very same sermon, which Taylor doesn't quote:

Acts 17:29-31
29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-- an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the Man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

The point of Paul's sermon, in fact, was to tell the Athenians that they needed to put away their pagan idols and believe in Jesus Christ, because God was going to judge them if they didn't. And that's the very opposite of the argument Taylor tries to make with this passage.

Earlier in the same book of Acts, the apostle Peter speaks to a large audience of religious Jews and Gentile proselytes who had gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feasts -- a devout and conscientious group who, unlike the pagans Paul was addressing, did profess to worship the God described in the Bible. And yet Peter's message to these sincerely religious people is the same as Paul's to the Athenians: "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." (Acts 2:38) In the next chapter, when speaking to the Jewish priests and religious leaders, Peter says, "Salvation is found in no-one else [but Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

Should Christians persecute Wiccans, treat them with contempt, or try to convert them by force? Absolutely not -- that would be completely out of line with the teachings of Christ and indeed of the New Testament as a whole. Regardless of whether people share our beliefs or not, we are called to be gracious and compassionate toward them, and when speaking of spiritual matters to respond "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:5) at all times.

Nevertheless, the message of both the Old and New Testament is that "the gods of the [pagan] nations are idols" (Psalms 96:5) and that "the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God" (1 Corinthians 10:20). Each and every one of us is called to repent of -- that is, be grieved by and desire to be free from -- our worship of people and things that are not the true God. Whether we've been worshiping the forces of nature, a pagan god and/or goddess, or merely our own enlightened intellect, we are guilty sinners in need of a Saviour. And there is only one Saviour.

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men..." (1 Timothy 2:5-6)