There are those who claim that Easter* should not be celebrated because of its pagan origin. Unfortunately, such teaching is not only semi-historical but creates division in the Church. The basic presupposition of such a view is that anything that is connected with paganism should be eschewed because God wants his people to be separate from the world’s thinking and practices. While this may have especially been true of ancient Israel living among the Canaanites, it does not seem to accurately represent the New Testament’s portrayal of infiltrating the world with the gospel.
What mattered most to the New Testament writers, especially the Apostle Paul, was the issue of intent. Paul used the method of contextualization in his ministry, especially in taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Some of his critics thought he was wishy-washy and inconsistent, but he believed he was exercising the freedom he had in Christ to frame the gospel in an understandable way to his hearers in order to win as many as possible. “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… To those not under the law I became like one not having the law…, so as to win those not having the law… I have become all things to all men so that I might by all possible means save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul had the freedom to do or not to do because his intent was to preach the gospel and save some.
There is certainly a danger that Christians can over- accommodate with culture to the extent that they lose their distinctiveness. In missiological circles this is called syncretism; when the gospel loses its integrity and message because it has been blended into the practices of the dominant culture. Paul warned the Colossians against syncretism because they were being tempted to follow the elementary principles and deceptive philosophy (“Stoicheia”) of their culture rather than Christ (2:8). “If you have died to the elementary principles of the world, why do you submit to their decrees?” (2:20)
When it comes to Easter, the New Testament portrays it as the occasion for celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The time of Christ’s Resurrection is clearly shown in the New Testament to be the Sunday following the Jewish Passover. The fact that in previous and subsequent centuries the celebrations of other pagan spring rites, along with bunnies and eggs, have made their way into our culture’s understanding of Easter in no way makes Easter a pagan event for the Christian. Again, the issue is one of intent. Easter can (and has for many) become idolatrous because the gospel has been pushed into the background. Should our response be to do away with the bunnies and the eggs or should we proclaim the gospel of the Resurrection?
I believe that Christians have the freedom to color eggs and hide baskets of candy for their kids, as long as it is their intent to have fun and not to substitute these activities for the real meaning of Easter. I also believe that we have the freedom to contextualize the gospel by using an Easter Egg Hunt as a way to invite our community to our church so that they can also have fun and hear the message of Jesus.
In summary, since you can find pagan roots in just about everything we do, the issue for us is one of intent. In other words, I am not participating in a pagan ritual just because I use the calendar, even though the months of the year and even some of our days are named after Roman gods. Nor am I a syncretist just because I celebrate birthdays, even though such celebrations find their roots in ancient astrology. We should always be concerned about the danger of becoming like the world and losing our integrity as Christians to the culture. However, I think our materialism, divorce rate, and our divisions pose a greater threat to our distinctiveness than the Easter Bunny.
*”It would seem from the translations of Luther and Tyndale that by 1500, the word oster/ester simply referred to the time of the Passover feast and had no association with the pagan goddess Eostre. Even if the word had an origin in her name, the usage had changed to such a degree that Luther was comfortable referring to Christ as the Osterlamm…. “Resurrection lamb.” Likewise, Tyndale was comfortable referring to Christ as the esterlambe. To suggest these men thought of their Savior in terms of the sacrificial offering of a pagan goddess is quite absurd in light of their writings and translations of other portions of Scripture. Even the translators of the KJV, who relied heavily on Tyndale’s work, chose to use Easter in the post-Resurrection context of Acts 12:4. Using a word that means resurrection would not make sense to describe the Passover festivals prior to the Resurrection of Christ. (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/04/19/name-easter-pagan)