The reality of paganism in Wales today and how the church should respond
Paganism appears to be on the rise in Wales today. It can take many forms – Celtic spirituality, return to nature, wholeness, New Age theories, etc. along with aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism. A visit to the spirituality section of any major bookstore confirms this. A visit to the local branch of a well-known bookstore chain enabled me to come across books such as ‘Spells for Teenage Witches’. When I visited an independent bookshop in a small town the assistant on duty said that most of the books sold were from the New Age/Spirituality section, and confessed that some of the titles frightened her.
It’s not just bookshops that show this trend. Across mid-Wales there are stores which openly proclaim New Age spirituality. Here in Machynlleth, a shop has opened that advertises the sale of potions.
Paganism shows itself outside shops as well. Circle dancing, drum evenings, Native American wholeness, yoga, etc. are now widely accepted as normal. At the time of writing this article plans are in hand in Machynlleth for a Celtic celebration of summer, culminating with processing the ‘green man’ through the streets of the town. Thousands of people are expected to visit the town for this spectacle.
Pagan thinking, closely associated with the New Age movement and Wicca, has become accepted in much mainstream thought. One example of this is the growing belief in reincarnation. Everything and everyone is seen as part of the circle of life.
Paganism is not something new to our age. However, it is a long time since it has had the positive exposure that it now enjoys. There are a number of characteristics that are found in much of paganism. Here are a few of these:
- It is pragmatic – a religion that meets our needs and fulfils our wishes
- It is more felt than understood
- It accepts impersonal mystical powers, spirit beings, many divinities and a hierarchy of all these
- It is a religion of power
- It believes that words have innate power
- Magic can be used to manipulate the world and spirits around us
Further, paganism has its own meaning for terms that we think we understand. For example, God is a verb (an action) not a noun (a person). For Christians, God is not seen as creativity but as creator. Another term often used is awakening – a shift in consciousness in which thinking and awareness separate.
Underlying all forms of paganism is a teaching called Monism. This is a belief that everything and everyone is one. God, the world and ourselves are one. Everything and everyone is divine.
How should we respond to this resurgent paganism?
It is important that we are aware of the nature of this enemy to the gospel. The devil has many strategies, which can change their shape. Our gospel applications must be relevant to our age. To do this effectively we need to be clear as to the teaching of paganism. What is Monism? How does it challenge biblical Christianity? What gospel truths are particularly relevant in rebutting this error?
Firstly, we can emphasise our belief that there is only one God, and that He is the creator. God had no beginning but creation did. He created everything, but is separate from His creation. He is the sovereign God, and we will never become Him. We are not rocks or trees, but beings created in the image of God to glorify and enjoy Him.
Secondly, though God has created all mankind, there is a distinction between people. This distinction is not based on race, education or wealth. Rather the distinction is seen in that some are not only God’s creatures, but His children. True unity can only come in the Lord Jesus Christ. History shows the futility of seeking to create any unity outside of Christ. In his booklet True or False, Peter Jones writes:
God divides the world into two categories: those who believe in his Son Jesus Christ, for whom there is no condemnation; and those who are condemned by their lack of belief (John 3:18). Those who belong to Jesus will live in perfect harmony for ever in the kingdom he is preparing. Christians are not one with pagans for each serves a different master.
Thirdly, we must be clear that there is only one true religion – Christianity. This is revealed by God, and all other religions are man-made. There can be no compromise over the uniqueness of Jesus Christ – ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). All this is revealed in the Bible and nowhere else.
Fourthly, we must recognise that a work of God is needed in people’s hearts for them to believe the gospel. By nature we are all ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1). Divine grace is all that can awaken us from this dreadful state.
Fifthly, be clear that only the death of the Lord Jesus Christ pays the penalty for human sin. His death alone reconciles sinners to God. So it is not a question of looking within but of looking to God. Subjective mystical experiences must never be allowed to take our attention away from a crucified Saviour. This is the way of redemption and eventual glorification.
How should we respond to the reality of paganism in Wales today?
Surely we must start with prayer. Pray the great prayers of the Bible: that God would vindicate His name and His gospel in our age; that all the purposes of evil would be frustrated. Pray specifically about events in your locality, and for individuals you know who are involved with paganism.
Also we must proclaim the gospel in a relevant way. Remember that we are to declare the whole counsel of God and not just be engaged in an anti-pagan rant.
Further, we must be welcoming and people-friendly in our approach. Most people that I have met, who are engaged with some form of paganism, are looking for something. They are searching for some form of spirituality. We have the Bread of Life to hold out to them. If our message alienates people, that is one thing, but if we put people off then there is something wrong with us.
Make use of opportunities to speak with pagans. Don’t view them as a threat, but as people in need of the gospel. Tell them of how in Christ we have so much more than they have. For example, the belief in reincarnation condemns people to be reborn again and again, to indefinitely experience physical and emotional pain along with death. The Bible’s teaching on that which awaits us is far more glorious (Rev. 21:4):
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Paganism and Christianity are incompatible. As Christians there are things we will not do, e.g. Wiccan activities, yoga, pre-Christian Celtic activities, Native American spirituality, circle dancing, drum wheels, etc. But there is also the clear need of what we should do – witness to the increasing paganism in our society. May God grant us His leading and empowering as we seek to make Him known in the darkest areas of our land.
Richard Davies pastors the English Presbyterian Church in Machynlleth.