In Jesus is Redemption Realized

For many, Romans and Galatians form the heart of the New Testament. In a very definitive way, Paul sets forth the central theme of the gospel: In Jesus, God has revealed a salvation that is received by faith. Romans is an epistle that some have viewed as a systematic theology.

In an orderly fashion, it affirms the universality of man’s lost condition and states that Jesus Christ has provided necessary redemption. With respect to the Law of Moses, the work of Christ has superseded it. The author shows that “righteousness” is of God and, furthermore, that those who come to righteousness must do so through faith in Jesus Christ.

Justification before God is a matter of faith and not of works. Paul cites Abraham as a prototype of justification by faith. God provides the means; man responds in faith. Although God does not predetermine man’s actions, God’s determined will makes salvation possible. He has acted in a way that brings assurance of salvation, provided the recipient lives in faith. The consequent life is a living sacrifice, displayed in constant array to God for all to see.

The “new” man bears testimony to his newly found righteousness. Through unwavering faith, godly behavior, and a servant attitude, one becomes a living demonstration of the character of his Lord. Galatians addresses a particular problem. Following Paul’s teaching, there came teachers who did not understand the relationship between law keeping and faith. Since many references are made to the Law of Moses, one detects that the audience was heavily Jewish in background. Persons who felt that a right relationship with God was based on how well one observed the Law of Moses created the specific problem. Without diminishing the importance of right actions, Paul set forth a different basis for justification.

The important dimension of justification is faith expressing itself through love. Understanding the meaning of “faith” as used by Paul in Romans and Galatians is critical to interpreting his thought. As one approaches the texts of Romans and Galatians, one should be aware of a variety of meanings associated with the word throughout the New Testament. In the context of Romans and Galatians, “faith” is generally equated with the channel, means, or location of righteousness.

Righteousness is not found in law, but in Christ. It is not attained by human effort, but by God’s initiative in Jesus. The basis or ground of “righteousness” is the atonement. Faith is the channel through which righteous comes to us, the means by which we receive it. In this context, Paul’s injunction to “serve one another in love” and “live by the Spirit” (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:13-14, 16) implies that faith carries responsibility. For Paul, “faith” embodies commitment and trust. It also assumes obedience, for in Christ one ceases being a slave to law and becomes a slave to God.

James uses language similar to Paul when talking of the proper response of faith (see Jas. 5:16). But in the context of the Epistle of James, the claim to faith is empty if one neglects to perform the duties of a Christian. James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (Jas. 2:14). When James says faith without works is dead, he is challenging those who claim to be Christians, but who act contrary to that claim. In favoring the rich, they despise the poor.

By their behavior, they deny the very faith they claim to hold. James is not denying the tenets of Paul’s teaching about where or how one is justified. He is showing the implication of that justification. For Luther to call James an epistle of straw hinders the complete picture of what faith is and what it calls us to be as justified people. “Faith” has other nuances as well. The apostle John favors the verbal form of the word, and uses it mean assent to a truth. Following the report that Jesus had been seen in a post-resurrection appearance, Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later, Jesus appeared to him, showing him the signs he had requested. Jesus added, “Stop doubting and believe.” In this instance, to believe is to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a fact. Jesus continued with the statement, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Then John adds his own note as to the purpose of his writing: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:24-31).

Having life is contingent upon accepting the fact of the resurrection. But elsewhere, we also know that acceptance of the fact of the resurrection is not sufficient for justification. There were many in Jerusalem who could not deny that Jesus had been resurrected. They had seen him. But this did not translate into a relationship with him.

When the people gathered to hear the apostles speak at the first Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection, they became convinced of the resurrection, ascension, and placement of Jesus at the right hand of God. It was at this point that they cried out, “What shall we do?” The apostolic response was simple, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).

These people were now convinced that Jesus had been raised, as were the Pharisees and Sadducees. But like the Pharisees, they remained captive to their sin, being condemned by the law they could not keep. Repentance would be a necessary step on the way to finding justification in Christ. As Paul explains in Romans, baptism would then be the act that portrayed their participation in the death of Christ, who alone can justify one before God. Still further, faith is used to express unwavering dedication.

This is especially apparent in the book of Hebrews. Faith is “defined” in the following way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command” (Heb. 11:3). “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings” (Heb. 11:4). “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice” (Heb. 11:17). Whether used by John, Paul, James, or the words of the author of Hebrews, the word “faith” is a powerful word. It expresses belief in a fact, the location of salvation, the performance of obligations, and long-term commitment.

The context in which the term is used must be taken into account to sense the full and true meaning of the word. It would be a mistake to put Paul against James or to read into Paul something he was not advocating. Surely, faith in Christ eliminates the possibility that human activity can merit the grace of God. But to eliminate appropriate deeds from the life of the Christian is to deny the very faith by which one may claim his salvation. As in Romans, Galatians emphasizes that man can find righteousness only through faith in Jesus Christ.

In both books, Paul insists, however, that acts of a sinful nature are to be set aside so spiritual fruit that reflects the Holy Spirit at work in one’s life may be produced. Together, Romans and Galatians establish the rationale for the gospel. Man cannot find this through meditation, self-denial, self-mutilation, observance of rules, or cult teachings. He cannot find it even through submission to regulations that are divinely derived. Only in and through Jesus Christ is righteousness attained and reconciliation realized.

Reference:

Introduction to Pauline Epistles I by Nations University. If you would like to explore scriptures further, we highly recommend enrolling online at Nations University and pursuing a distance education certificate or degree in a curriculum of your choice. As of this date, the costs are only $100.00 per year plus books but many classes provide the textbook content online at no cost to you. Enjoy!

Christianity and the Charge of Pagan, Hellenistic, and Gnostic Syncretism

The internet and popular literature are awash in false charges that Christianity is the result of pagan, Hellenistic, and/or Gnostic syncretism.

A simple internet search and cursory perusal of public sharing sites yield manifold examples of profound error and many are being misled today as a result. A growing body of atheists and people adhering to neopaganism or false religious systems are propagating this information usually due to their own misunderstanding and deception but some are propigating the error knowingly on purpose. 

During a period roughly spanning 1890 to 1940, scholars often alleged that New Testament Christianity was heavily influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, the pagan mystery religions, and other movements in the Hellenistic world. Other scholars carefully qualified these assertions and, as a result of their careful research, a large body of scholarly books and articles were written firmly rebutting these allegations as false assertions.

It is understood among the world’s theologians and scholars that Christianity was not influenced by these other worldviews. Yet even though it is commonly understood in Biblical and classical studies how weak the old case for Christian dependence is upon Greco-Roman paganism, Hellenism, and gnosticism, some modern revisionists and a host of misinformed and deceived people, for reasons other than truth seeking, continue to circulate the false assertions.

Examples include information based on texts such as the late E. A. Burtt’s argument that the theology of Paul was dependent on ideas borrowed from the Hellenistic world, Thomas W. Mrica’s work, and W. T. Jones’s textbook ‘The Medieval Mind’ in which Jones spends the first two chapters reiterating many of the old arguments about Christian dependence on the pagan mystery religions or on Hellenistic philosophy in a one sided discussion which completely ignores the fact that 19th and 20th century scholars already settled the discussion against assertions of Christian syncretism.

Because of this and the large accumulating body of popular literature asserting inaccurate information on the internet, both the public at large and the contemporary student need to be reminded of the older debate and the conclusion reached by almost all scholars, past and present, that these assertions are patently false.

Nash (2003) points out that while Christianity and Greek philosophies, as systems; have no elements in common, the Christians, as people, often held pagan ideas. Being converted from paganism it took time for them to shed their previous thinking styles. So it is no surprise that some engaged in apologetics making use of the Platonism or Stoicism they had been raised with. However, this they did accomplish and a purely Christian Nicene Creed came into being.

That creed has been consistently reinforced by subsequent creeds right up to the present. When revisionist scholars looking to undermine Christianity or make a name for themselves come along and assert gross untruths based on supposed parallels, they do a disservice to authentic history. When untrained people perpetuate the false assertions, they do as well.

As Gordon Clark (1940) explains:

“Since the New Testament was written in Greek, it uses words found in pagan writings …. But the point in question is not the use of words but the occurrence of ideas. … One cannot forbid Christian writers to use common words on pain of becoming pagans.”

He points out that when revisionist scholars assert that because a New Testament writer used terminology prominent in some pagan philosophy or religion this somehow proves his dependence on the pagan usage they are setting up a straw man argument that is simply incorrect. Even the presence of real parallels between the New Testament and pagan literature never proves dependence. From an authentic systematic theological examination perspective, these assertions of pagan influence are patently false.

Nash (2003) shows that Christians assert instead that God dictated His revelation to human authors whose writings merely reflect their distinctive backgrounds and education stating:

“It is one thing to discover that a New Testament writer like the anonymous author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was familiar with Hellenistic philosophy. But this interesting bit of biographical information does not prove that the writer was actually influenced by some alien system or terminology.” (p. 7).

Furthermore, it is important to discern between different senses of the vocabulary influence and dependence. As Nash states, “A casual disregard of these distinctions is responsible for much of the misinformation and faulty reasoning present in many discussions of the alleged Christian dependence on pagan sources” (p. 8).

He explains one tactic revisionists use when they take B is dependent on A so therefore A is a necessary condition for B meaning that if a writer had not first known or believed A, he would never have come to know or believe B. Completely disregarding everything that doesn’t support their error they then use this theory of dependence to extrapolate that Paul would never have thought of making up a dying and rising savior-god such as Jesus had he not first become aware of similar thought in pagan religion.

This sort of faulty reasoning combines with a bias that Geisler (2003) describes as follows to perpetuate the false view that New Testament revelation could not have come from God and must have derived from other sources:

“Unmistakably, however, is the commonality of a consistent and persistent anti-supernaturalism that attacks orthodox Christianity at its core. If miracles do not occur, then the Bible is unreliable and historic Christianity is not credible. On this unjustified premise modern liberalism is based. Its view of Scripture, then, is as faulty as its view of miracles. Of course, the Bible cannot be a supernatural revelation of God if there are no supernatural events. Some form of negative biblical criticism thus becomes necessary” (p. 348).

The Greco-Roman culture was mostly Hellenistic at the time of Christ and peoples and nations of the Mediterranean world were united by a common government, law, language (e.g. Greek) and an increasingly common culture enabling trade, travel, and communication. But individualism was present in ways it had not been prior to Alexander. While it is true that a trait of the Hellenistic world was syncretism, it is not true that Christianity was a result of it (Nash, 2003).

Nash (2003) points out that:

“Christianity began in a world in which the spirit of syncretism was king. Students of the history of philosophy know that gradually, during the Hellenistic age, most of the walls between the major philosophical systems began to break down. This is especially true in the case of Platonism and Stoicism from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 100. There was little to prevent an especially religious person from worshiping any number of gods that belonged to an equally large number of religions” (p. 12).

The problem arises when some revisionists uncritically assert the general eclecticism of the age is proof that early Christianity was a syncretistic faith. Christianity was exclusive teaching only one true God with all others false and those who worship them lost. It taught there is only one mediator between God and man and that is Jesus Christ God’s son whom any seeking to approach God must go through with all other ways closed and those who attempt any other way lost.  Christianity was an exception to the syncretism and inclusiveness of the Hellenistic age.

Nash (2003) notes that:

“Christ appeared at the time when all the striving and hopes of all peoples were converging to a focus, when the vast majority of mankind were hungering for religious support, when East and West had been wedded, when men were expecting a new era, when the philosophy of Greece and the religious consciousness of the Hebrew were pointing toward a new revelation. Christ came at the one time in history when all civilized nations lived, as it were, under one roof, when the happiness of mankind depended on the will of one, when all were able to communicate in one language, when men were unanimous as to the perils and needs of the world, when there was peace on earth” (p. 12).

Christianity was exclusive offering one way of salvation and it is irresponsible for proponents of an early Christian syncretism to dismiss disliked portions of the Gospels on the grounds that they result from a Hellenistic influence on the Gospel writer.

For example, if one approaches the New Testament with a worldview of atheism, the presence of a miracle in the text then is easily dismissed as Hellenistic myth; if they dislike the Christian exclusiveness regarding atonement, they write it off to an intrusion of Hellenism into the text; and so on and so forth recklessly mistreating every aspect of the text that offends them.

The author has personally had these types explain to him that Paul must have been a homosexual struggling with a homosexual “thorn in the flesh”, using similar reasoning, and all sorts of nonsense erroneously impressing their own prejudices and biases onto the text. The author recommends reading Samples (2007) ‘A World of Difference: Putting Christian truth-claims to the worldview test’ paying attention to part one for more information on how formal reasoning is used amongst scholars to derive accurate and proper conclusions.

Philosophy immediately preceding the life and death of Jesus was transitional. Platonism and stoicism, for example, of this period are just a transition from a more important past to a more important future. Aristotelianism, Epicureanism, and even Pythagoreanism had relatively minor followings. These systems are all very different from Christianity and alleged parallels are easily explained (Nash, 2003).

For example, it is often claimed that the writings of the apostle Paul show Platonic dualism. They do not. The scholars that asserted Pauline dependence on Platonism all claim this. Paul never taught that his body was evil or the source of his sinning claiming instead that people are born with a sinful nature in need of redemption and bodily resurrection to glory in an environment where all matter is not inherently evil and all spirits are not inherently good. This has no parallel in pagan usage being derived from Hebrew scripture (Nash, 2003).

The same goes for Stoic influence. Though only late stoic manuscripts remain, the stoics were pantheists who believed God has no personality, free-will does not exist, the world keeps repeating itself (a cosmological error similar to that in Hinduism), etc… It is important to note that phrases such as “the will of God” meant something very different to a pantheistic Stoic than it does in the context of New Testament theism (Nash, 2003).

While Paul quoted from Stoic writers in his famous sermon on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17) in attempting to communicate to them, using language they understood something of the one true God, it is an exaggeration to assert anything more. Seneca’s ethic is repulsive to Pauline Christianity as it is totally devoid of genuine human emotion and compassion and there is no place for love or pity or contrition lacking repentance, conversion, and faith in God. When Stoic writers use phrases like “imitation of God” they have nothing in mind resembling the New Testament God and the New Testament, and when viewed properly do not appropriate any Stoic ideas.

A number of scholars have claimed that the New Testament concept of Logos, prominent in the Fourth Gospel and other Johannine literature, was borrowed from either Philo or Alexandrian Judaism. They mistake its usage in the New Testament.

As the Original Catholic Encyclopedia states:

“The word Logos is the term by which Christian theology in the Greek language designates the Word of God, or Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Before St. John had consecrated this term by adopting it, the Greeks and the Jews had used it to express religious conceptions. The Logos has not for him the Stoic meaning that it so often had for Philo: it is not the impersonal power that sustains the world, nor the law that regulates it; neither do we find in St. John the Platonistic concept of the Logos as the ideal model of the world; the Word is for him the Word of God, and thereby he holds with Jewish tradition, the theology of the Book of Wisdom, of the Psalms, of the Prophetical Books, and of Genesis; he perfects the idea and transforms it by showing that this creative Word, which from all eternity was in God and was God, took flesh and dwelt among men. This difference is not the only one which distinguishes the Johannine theology of the Logos from the concept of Philo, to which not a few have sought to liken it. The Logos of Philo is impersonal, it is an idea, a power, a law; at most it may be likened to those half-abstract, half-concrete entities, to which the Stoic mythology had lent a certain personal form” (para. 1, 11, and 12).

Regarding the mystery religions themselves, comparative mythology which finds casual connections between everything while tearing down solid barriers, bridging unbridgeable chasms, making spurious claims from disparate combinations, etc…. are simply bad scholarship that must be rejected.

As Nash (2003) states:

“By such methods one can turn Christ into a sun god in the twinkling of an eye, or one can bring up the legends attending the birth of every conceivable god, or one can catch all sorts of mythological doves to keep company with the baptismal dove; and find any number of celebrated asses to follow the ass on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem; etc… ” (p. 108).

The magic wand of comparative religion wielded by revisionist atheists triumphantly eliminates every spontaneous trait in any religion while scholars who understand them far better asserting the mystery religions exercised little if any substantive influences on early Christianity are simply ignored. For authentic modern scholars, the subject was settled in the 19th century and considered a dead issue. Despite the issue being settled in the favor of authentic Christianity, deceived modern atheists and neo-pagans today are attempting any length to revive a discussion that was long since settled posting erroneous information and making spurious claims in popular, not to be confused with scholarly, publications and all over the internet deceiving many.

The worst simply run false assertions out of context together in a linear timeline presenting a completely false presentation of both history and Christianity claiming Christianity is, in fact, simply another mystery religion built from pieces of other mystery religions which amounts to nothing more than a fanciful invention. Other’s then repeat them and as a final act of reckless madness they cosign each other’s falsehoods. Unscholarly people deceived by their own or other’s misinformation and their own prejudice are completely out of step with the tide of relevant contemporary scholarship.

As Nash (2003) states:

“We must analyze the biblical writing to see if the author’s Christian beliefs have been shaped by, or derived from, the non-Christian parallel. Hugo Rahner declares that even if early Christians like Paul did borrow ”words, images, and gestures from the mysteries, they did so not as seekers but as possessors of a religious substance; what they borrowed was not the substance but a dress wherein to display it. Commitment to a high view of Scripture is not at all inconsistent with saying that biblical writers could have adapted language and ideas from their culture for the specific purpose of explaining and communicating the Christian message. Contemporary missionaries do this all the time” (p. 112).

A Christian missionary to a tropical island population, for example, which has no knowledge of snow might explain Isaiah 1:18 by reframing “white as snow” as white as the inside of a coconut. Does this mean the Book of Isaiah is dependent on polytheistic pagan Polynesian indigenous pantheism? Of course not! But this is an example of the sort of logic being employed by those who wrongly assert a dependence of the unique Christian revelation on paganism.

Although Roman gods like Jupiter and Vesta drew many followers, it was the mystery religions (like those of Bacchus and Isis which originated with wine making, involved plays, and phallic processions) with all their darkness and perversion that captivated the empire. The mystery religions themselves were distinct religions in the first century which often included drunkenness and orgies seeking deep symbolic significance in the natural process of growth, death, decay, and rebirth. They stressed a “higher knowledge” associated with their secret ceremonies. The mysteries had little if any use for doctrine or correct belief. They were primarily concerned with the emotional state of their followers (Nash, 2003).

Many of the publications that purport to find signs of an early Christian dependence on the mystery religions repeat a number of fundamental errors. In many cases they ignore important differences between different cults or between different stages of the same religion so as to suggest too great an agreement among the mysteries. Sometimes they go so far as to imply that the Hellenistic world contained but one basic mystery religion. They often misinterpret accurate archaeology. Often they use careless language first using Christian terminology to describe pagan beliefs and practices and then marveling at the awesome parallels that they think they have discovered. Oversimplifications and exaggerations (especially regarding the notion of rebirth in certain mysteries) in this literature are in error.

For example, we never find Christianity borrowing from a mystery religion but we find the opposite sometimes is true. This cannot be used to show Christianity was influenced by the mystey religions. The chief rival of Christianity in the second century AD, the pagan mystery cult Mithras in Rome, copied sacred Christian rites and perverted them.

Martin, Rische, and Van Gordon (2008) quote Justin Martyr in 150 AD stating:

“For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He ahad given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn” (P. 107).

Consider the myth of the Isis cult concerning Osiris where Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth who then sank the coffin containing Osiris’s body in the Nile. Isis discovers the body and returns it to Egypt. But Seth gains access to the body of Osiris dismembering it into fourteen pieces which he scatters widely. Following a long search, Isis recovers each part of the body and Osiris comes back to life. That’s the myth in a nutshell.  But along comes the revisionist and begins projecting their bias into the story choosing words than never existed in the original story calling it a “resurrection “even rewriting the myth to incorporate a “resurrection” after a “baptism” in the Nile and then hijacking history to attempt to tie it to Christianity.

The early Christian church met and skillfully refuted these “rising savior myths” arguing that they had no relation to Jesus Christ, even as an archtype, since most of them died and did not rise again. They are from multiple cultures and seldom have much at all in common. Unfortunately, Christians today regularly encounter a resurrected form of this argument without any primary sources to support their claim. The eyewitness testimony of the apostles to the person and teaching of Jesus Christ provide a rock solid foundation for the defense of the Christian faith in the face of rampant pagan license. It is important to first separate the historical Jesus from the pagan saviors. Jesus is a historical person whose life is detailed in authentic accounts such as the gospel of John whereas the pagan saviors are myths.

It’s grievous scholarship to fabricate falsehood and then propagate it and that’s exactly what we see these revisionists engaging in as they actively seek parallels that don’t exist in the cult of Cybele and Attis, The cult of Mithra, etc… As the author has shown, the mere fact that Christianity has a sacred meal (or baptism) is no proof of pagan dependence whatsoever. Ceremonial washings that antedate the New Testament have a different meaning from New Testament baptism. Etc… Martin, Rische, and Van Gordon (2008) do an excellent job of refuting any Christian dependence on pagan mystery religions chapter four titled ‘Ancient Paganism.”

Early Christianity is an exclusive historical monotheistic religion (deriving from an earlier Hebrew belief system) with a definitive body of doctrine asserting that the death and resurrection of Christ happened to a historical person at a particular time and has absolutely no parallel in any of the pagan mystery religions. Alleged parallels between Christianity and the mysteries are imaginary or exaggerated and the genuine parallels that remain are not synergetic except as the Christian influences later pagan systems.

Trendy fads among atheists, neo-pagans, and revisionist scholars regarding supposed New Testament dependence on mystery religions are patently false with the issue being settled amongst 19th century scholars. As that issue was settled, certain scholars shifted their attention to a supposed New Testament dependence on Gnosticism erring again in the process. The cycle repeated with the consensus of relevant scholars concluding Gnosticism was never a dependency for Christianity.

Geisler (2002) concludes his discussion noting:

“A survey of the history of the Christian church from the Reformation to recent times reveals that there is virtually unanimous consent that the Bible is the divinely inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God. This follows the basic view of the early church and deviations from this view were extremely rare before the late nineteenth century, when liberalism and neo-orthodoxy challenged the longstanding position of the Christian church, both East and west, Catholic and Protestant” (p. 500).

Nash (2003) encourages each person to ask the following when confronted with dependency theories and claims regarding the New Testament:

1. What is the evidence for the claim? Even recognized authorities have made unsupported and ill supported claims. Ask for exact specifics and qualify them.

2. What are the dates for the evidence?

3. What literature pro and con has already been published about this theory? Usually, new claims and theories are discussed in journals first.

4. Is the language used to describe the evidence faithful to the original source material, or does it include interpretive material such as Christian language, themes, or imagery? As we have seen, it is a lot easier to surmise the dependence of some Christian belief on a Hellenistic source if the pagan practice or belief is incorrectly described in Christian language.

5. Are the alleged parallels really similar, or are the likenesses a result of either exaggeration, oversimplification, inattention to detail, or-once again-the use of Christian language in the description?

6. In the case of any genuine parallel, is the point of analogy significant? Does it relate to an essential Christian belief or practice? Or does it refer to something incidental, such as the late Christian adoption of December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth?

7. Is the parallel the sort of thing that could have arisen independently in several different movements? For example, could it have arisen from common language?

8. Is the claim consistent with the historical information we have about the first-century church?

9. Even if you discover something prior to, or contemporaneous with, early Christianity with a significant parallel to an essential Christian belief does the fact that some New Testament writer knew of a pagan belief or term prove that what he knew had a formative or genetic influence on his own essential beliefs?  We’ve already discussed how early Christianity was exclusive and not syncretistic borrowing from Greco-Roman mystery religions, Hellenism, or Gnosticism.

Christianity, Christian revelation, Christian doctrine, and the New Testament is a unique revelation from God, not a product of nor in any way dependent on mystery pagan religions, Hellenism, or Gnosticism. Martin, Rische, and Van Gordon’s ‘The Kingdom of the Occult” is an excellent resource for further information on this topic and the topic of ancient paganism.

In a future article we will examine a completely separate issue of how pagan ritual and organizational structure influenced church practice after the church was legitimized by the pagan Greco-Roman empire from Constantine in the fourth century until roughly the reformation. Understand that the early Christians were all Jewish converts and Christian revelation/doctrine is a unique revelation from God given from Him and is completely separate from the worldviews of paganism, Hellenism, and Gnosticism.

 

Christian Assemblies That Incorporate

Chrisitans assemble around the world in a variety of ways and means. They contend with various governmental systems ranging from the tyrannical to the helpful. In the United States, Christians assemble informally and formally. Their assemblies range from organic informal meetings to formal assemblies that have incorporated.

Unfortunately, some people are spreading mistruth regarding the Christian assembly that incorporates.

Lie #1: 501(c)(3) “churches” attempt to serve two masters, but their true and legal head (or “lord”) is the State, not Jesus Christ.

Lie #2: 501(c)(3) “churches” cannot legally teach or preach the Word of God.

A Christian assembly is not a government created entity. It is an assembly of Christian people. The New Testament teaches that Christians have certain responsibilities to government (Romans 13:1-4 and Titus 3:1) especially in regard to financial matters (Matthew 22:20-22 and Matthew 17:27). As Acts 5:29 shows; however, we are to obey God and not men in the exercise of spreading the Gospel and living Godly lives.

Now 501(c)(3) status is a government category of the tax code which an assembly can incorporate and apply for if they wish to. Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 501(c)), provides for 26 types of nonprofit organizations that are exempt from some federal income taxes. A minority of Christian assemblies in the U.S. as well as nonprofit religious charities and businesses often file with the government to take advantage of this category of tax code.*

The author is not an attorney and this in no way should be construed as legal advice. With that stated, it is our understanding that there are some restrictions currently associated with this category of tax code and are rooted in financial ethics and accountability.

For example, taking in donations and then gifting them all over to an individual member of an assembly would be unethical and so is not permitted. An assembly creating a lawful program to fairly help members in times of distress is perfectly fine, however. 501(3)(c) assemblies have programs to meet the spiritual and physical needs of their members. 

Individual members of both informal and formal incorporated assemblies are free, of course, to both individually and together assist each other with their own earned after tax income.

Another restriction has to do with blatently conducting political campaigns and financing specific candidates as well as uncontrolled lobbying to influence legislation. Understand this is for all 501(3)(c) organizations including atheist and all religious organizations. This is in line with the desire of our founding fathers to ensure that no particular religious or metaphysical worldview seize the government and enforce a religious theocracy or state atheism upon the population. They desired a measure of secularism to allow for religious freedom.

This does not mean; however, that incorporated Christian assemblies cannot engage in political activities. For more information on the many political activities incorporated religious assemblies can engage in read the Pacific Justice Institute’s ‘The Church and Politics: What ministers and churches can do to affect public policy with Christian principles’.

Individual members, of course, are free to support specific political candidates and engage in politics like every other citizen in society according to national law which governs all citizens.

Because some of the people wrongfully propagating the above two lies attempt to apply Mosaic Law in the Old Testament upon Christians around the world today as proof a local Christian assembly cannot incorporate without falling into error, it is important to address it. The Church of Jesus Christ is not a geo-political state theocracy like ancient Israel, under Mosaic law in an old covenant relationship, before Christ. The New covenant is the fullfillment of the old manifesting as a worldwide spiritual kingdom that scripture refers to as “the church.”

Christians who are reborn into the kingdom of God together are the church (John 3:3 and John 3:5). As Luke 17:21 states, “Nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” And as Hebrews 12:28 states; it is an unshakable kingdom. These people fail to realize that the Christian church is not a geographically bound religious theocracy under Mosaic law.

Simply because Christians assemble into local groups with some taking advantage of a category of tax code to make donations go farther which has some financial accountability and political responsibility associated with it does not mean they have “left their first love” and become “adulterers” “serving two masters.”     

And incorporation does have certain benefits in our society like providing legal protection for assembly officers, etc… The churches the author was affiliated with that were 501(c)(3)s never once were given trouble by state or federal government who instead gave tax-exempt status while at the same time doing absolutely nothing to interfere with New Testament church activities and the free preaching of the gospel. 501(c)(3) churches can read all of scripture and the Bible cover-to-cover in their assembly in the U.S.A. at this time without losing their tax exempt status.

It’s possible the time may come in the U.S.A. when authentic Christian assemblies will no longer be able to and when that day comes, will need to forgo incorporation but presently that is not the case.

Lie #3: People can’t give money to fund ministry if church workers pay their taxes because it is an unclean offering before God.

Everyone who earns money must pay taxes, both by governmental law and scriptural exhortation (Matthew 22:20-22). If the government uses this money to fund ungody activities, like abortion for example, Christians should be involved in seeking to change the ungodly laws. This does not translate; however, that all donations to ministries and church workers who pays taxes must cease or that the donations themselves cannot be given. Jesus instructs everyone to pay their taxes and the New Testament instructs Christians to give to the Lord’s work without breaking the law by not paying their taxes (Luke 10:7-8). Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13, serving two masters talks about a person’s love for money over God.

Consider the Salvation Army. A Salvation Army Church does not need to register for 501(c)(3), because they are a house of worship. On the other hand, a Salvation Army homeless shelter must file for 501(c)(3) exemption because, while it operates on a religious premise, it is not a church, but a religious and charitable not-for-profit entity. So we see most churches are not 501(c)(3) but their non-profit charities often are.