Last week I wrote an article about certain Christians questioning the validity of other Christians celebrating Easter because of the claim that Easter has its origins in paganism. (Maybe you should take another look at that blog just to refresh your memory.) The main thrust of my argument centered on the freedom that we have to contextualize the gospel in ways that our target culture will understand. Thus the fact that we use an Easter egg hunt as an outreach to the community so we can share the gospel of the Resurrected Christ is a case in point. Our intent is to share the gospel not to celebrate paganism.
The issue of intent raised a few red flags with some of my readers, so I want to revisit that. In the Chicago Tribune yesterday there was an article about gun-rights advocates calling Mark Kelly (the husband of Gabrielle Giffords) a hypocrite for buying a AR-15 assault weapon in Arizona. As you remember, since Giffords was shot and nearly killed she and Kelly have engaged in a high profile campaign to curb military-style weapon ownership. His intent in buying the weapon was to show how easy it was to obtain one with a minimal background check. So, is the charge of hypocrisy accurate given his intent? Even in Old Testament, Israel recognized the difference between murder and manslaughter as one of intent. Also, the key to the sacrificial system was not the bulls and goats, but the heart (the intent) of the worshipper. There is a very interesting example of intent in 1 Kings 5:18, 19. A converted Naaman asked Elisha if he would be forgiven when he had to accompany his king to the temple of Rimmon and there help the old man bow in worship, “and [consequently] I bow there also.” Elisha, usually very sensitive to idolatry, simply told him to “go in peace.” Elisha knew Naaman’s action of bowing, even in pagan temple, did not carry with it the intent of worship.
As well-reasoned as I think my arguments are, I know they will not be sufficient to convince those who have a strong conviction to the contrary. In the same way, they could not produce sufficient data on Easter and paganism to change my mind either. OK, so we have a standoff. Let’s solve the disagreement the good old fashioned American-Christian way; break fellowship and go start your own church. I think the tragedy in all of this is that in our attempt to love the Lord Jesus and to be faithful to His Word, we end up not loving each other and, therefore, being unfaithful to His Word. If we really desire to be biblical in our approach to dealing with disagreements on non-essentials (things not having to do with the centrality of the gospel), then we need to read Romans 14. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.”
This entire passage deals with disagreements between Christians in the church at Rome who were going after each other because of “disputable matters.” Luther called them “pebble in the shoe” issues; annoying disputes which cannot be settled because each person is convinced in their own conscience that they hold the correct position. There were those whose consciences were “strong” and were convinced that they had the freedom to eat the meat sold at the temple meat-market (the only one in town), even though the animals from which the meat came were first sacrificed to a pagan deity. There were others in the church, however, who became vegetarians because they had a “weak” conscience— they believed that eating meat sacrificed to idols would make them participants in the pagan worship from which they had been converted. Although Paul identified more with the carnivores, he believed they were both right as long as they were acting according to their conscience. Where they were wrong, however, were in their attitudes toward each another. “The one who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him… Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another… Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification… So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”
According to the Scripture, then, being right about Easter and paganism takes a back seat to the love and unity which should be displayed by those who are in disagreement over the issue. If someone is fully convinced in his own mind on a disputable matter, even if we do not share that conviction, then God forbid that s/he should go against that conscience. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).