Proven Truth: How Paganism and Idolatry Started in the Church

As I continue tracking where church leaders strayed from the Gospel Truth or God’s Word, we have to look at the Roman Catholic Church in two lights: Pre-Reformation and Post-Reformation. I started with Infant Baptism because that didn’t seem to have a specific start date. But, it stemmed back to even pre-Constantine times. When Roman Emperor Constantine came on the scene, that’s where we find an unholy blending of pagan rituals and traditions.

“The least that a study of this kind could contribute to all Christians is to direct our attention back to the days of a purer, unencrusted, tradition-free Christianity.”1

William Stewart McBirnie, Ph.D.

1-590 – Early Church Times

When you look at church history, God’s timing was and is perfect. He sent Jesus into the world at just the right time. He gave us the Holy Spirit and birthed the church age in an era where the apostles could take advantage of…

The Jewish-Greek-Roman New Testament World:

  • Roman Empire – covered the whole Mediterranean region
  • Citizenship – Paul was a citizen of Rome
  • Law – Jewish law and Roman law
  • Language – Greek (common) and Latin (legal)
  • Pax Romana – peace throughout the empire
  • Transportation – the Roman roads and shipping lanes – made it easy for Paul to travel
  • Moral Decline – the need of a savior3

30-100 AD – Apostolic Age – through the death of John of Patmos

Amazon Affiliate

The Book of Acts tells of how the church grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire, but many of the apostles went further. For example, Thomas went to India and James, son of Zebedee, went to Spain. I recommend, “The Search for the Twelve Apostles” (Amazon Link), 1973, by William Stewart McBirnie, Ph.D. which goes into details of not just the 12 but of other apostles who helped spread the Good News.

McBirnie also traces where the apostles ended up — where their bodies are buried and/or where their relics ended up. (I’ll get into relics in a bit.)

However, the spread of the church also led to its persecution by the Romans.

50-313 AD – The Time of the Martyrs

Several Roman emperors contributed to the persecution of the church: Nero, Trajan, and Decius. Diocletian, was the worst. He in 10 years, almost wiped out the whole church. He killed all pastors, burned church buildings and Bibles. Portions of bibles survived because people would tear them apart and distribute them. There are no complete Bibles dating earlier than 313 — only remnants.

“The blood of the saints is the seed of the church.”

Tertullian

That’s how the church grew so quickly. Roman soldiers who were killing mass groups of Christians would see how they were not afraid. They sang. They looked up with longing to see Jesus. Many of the soldiers converted.

The Difference between Romans and Christians

Romans

  • Rome loved power.
  • Rome loved powerful gods.
  • They considered Caesar their lord.

Christians

  • Christians valued meekness.
  • Their God died on a Roman cross.
  • Christ is Lord.

So, how did they come together?

313-590 AD – The Christian Rulers – the Byzantine Era

This is start of the “Romanism” of Jesus’ church.

313 AD – The Edict of Milan

Constantine, the Christian emperor, legalized the Christian church stopping persecution. Still there was paganism. But, this is the first “freedom of religion”.

There were 2 Emperors: Constantine and Licinius. They met in Milan “concerning the welfare and security of the realm”. They decided that “of the things that are of profit to all mankind, the worship of God ought to be our first and chiefest care, and that it was right that Christians and all others should have freedom to follow the kind of religion they favored; so that God who dwells in heaven might be propitious (show favor) to us and to all under our rule.” 2

Go Deeper:


Converting the Roman Empire to Christianity

Converting the whole Roman Empire to Christianity did not happen overnight. There was no mass conversion of pagans. (Source: the video embedded above.)

  • Churches were free of certain taxation and legal actions against them.
  • Bishops take a more secular authority based on their relationship with Constantine.
  • Dioceses: Regional governance – secular at first, but eventually the church took over.
  • Bishop of Rome starts to get more authority.
  • Starts blurring where religious authority starts and secular authority begins. Increasingly, you needed to be a Christian to hold a government office. (I’ll be getting into the question of authority in a later post.)

In 325 AD, at The Council of Nicaea – Constantine brought together all the Bishops from around the Empire and they came up with the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed.

However, Constantine, in attempts to unify the people who were used to pagan worship and the Christians, he added a lot of pagan traditions to the church. (This included the celebration of Jesus’ birthday.)

326 AD – Julian on Christianity

One of the “Apostolic Fathers”, Emperor Julian of the Western Empire, had a problem with the worship of the martyrs — those who died because of the prior persecution. They were raising them to the level of Jesus. He noted that people were worshiping the tombs of the Peter and Paul in Rome. He quotes Jesus where he said in Matthew 23:27…

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭23:27‬ ‭NLT

He was basically saying that tombs are unclean. Stop worshiping them!2

The worship of saints and martyrs still goes on.

Relics

Relics are things – bones, blood, items of clothing, crosses, even skulls of saints and martyrs that are worshiped.

Relics are considered holy objects associated with holy people such as Jesus or the saints. The use of relics was by no means a new phenomenon, it existed previously in Judaism, Buddhism and several other religions. In a world where people believed that evil and the Devil existed all around in the natural world, it was comforting to believe that good was also something that could be seen and touched. The motivation for most pilgrimages was to see and touch something holy and consequently benefit from being in contact with good.

http://internationalschooltoulouse.net/vs/pilgrims/relics.htm

There are 2 types of relics: brandea – where someone could rub a cloth on a tomb of a saint, thus rendering the cloth “holy”. Gee, that brings to mind tearing clothing off a celebrity. Then there are bodily relics — actual body parts. In Naples, they worship a vial of blood of San Gennaro, in hopes that he’ll keep the volcano, Vesuvius, from erupting again.

You can go visit these relics and take a tour of Roman Catholic Churches of Europe. That’s called a Pilgrimage. Relics were sold, bodies were exhumed and bones were separated. There were counterfeit relics. Seriously, how can you know that it’s the real thing? I go into more detail here covering where Jesus admonishes the church in Pergamum for their idolatry (And that was in 95 AD).

Eventually, however, we see the church start to elevate tradition over the Word of God.

The church in the 4th century (300s) embraced many of the traditions of the priests of the pagan religions of the times.

The biggest and worst sin is idolatry — which is paganism. God hates the worship of idols, images, statues, icons, Mary and the saints. The Roman Catholic Church is a blend of nearly all the major elements of the world religions. Robes, beads, candles, images, relics, orders of priests, hierarchy of bishops, cardinals, and popes. The use of incense was a very pagan worship practice (Note the top picture). Many Christians died during the persecution years because they wouldn’t even burn incense to any of the Roman gods or emperors. They chose death before disobeying two of God’s commandments. (Exodus 20:3-6)

Paganism also extends to celebrating the “Day of” a particular saint or the patron saint of a city. Another reason to party.

Where do you Worship?

Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. Adoration of the holy crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the Passion. Seriously, how does anyone know that that is the REAL crown of thorns that Jesus wore?

So, the next time you are in a Catholic church, take a look around. What do you see? Statues? Candles? A priest shaking the incense burner? Robotic rituals? People kissing inanimate objects? Are you rubbing a saint’s foot to be “blessed” or to knock off some purgatory-time?

People, doing all that is a sin! And Jesus wants us to stop sinning! To repent! Walk away from the Catholic Church! You won’t lose a salvation you didn’t have in the first place!

Here are some other articles and podcasts to make you think…


Go Deeper: What is Romanism?


If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven and that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, this is what you have to do…

Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.

Pray this prayer humbly and wholeheartedly…

“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins. Please forgive me. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and my life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. I surrender my whole life to you and I will follow you for the rest of my life. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Jesus Christ is coming back soon! Are you ready?

Next Steps in Your New Walk with Jesus…

  1. Start reading the Bible daily. If you don’t have one, I recommend the YouVersion, Bible.app and Through the Word app — both are free and have a lot of great daily devotionals and Bible studies.
  2. Pray every day. Talk to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you daily.
  3. Find and join a Bible-believing church — preferably a non-denominational one and be baptized!

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone Be the Glory!


Sources, with Amazon Affiliate Links:

  1. The Search for the Twelve Apostles, 1973, by William Stewart McBirnie, Ph.D.
  2. Documents of the Christian Church, 1999, 3rd edition, Edited by Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder
  3. John Barnett

13 comments

  1. […] Jesus didn’t die so we could have religion! He died so we could have a relationship with God directly! That’s why the curtain was torn in the temple. We no longer needed a priest to be intermediary between us and God. We can go directly to Him! By the way, we don’t need to pray to Mary or any of the saints either! (I’ll be getting into that more deeply soon, but that’s paganism.) […]

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