Redeeming the Profane…..
I had a discussion with a good friend of mine yesterday about the various traditions we have in our church and how these traditions were pagan. He talked about how the traditions we have around Christmas and Easter were pagan practices and were ‘Christianised’ by the Roman Catholic Church. And he is right. However whilst these festivals may not originally be Christian, I saw the redemption of pagan festivals as okay.
For Christians, when God created the world, He saw that it was good. The whole realm (created and uncreated) was sacred. However when sin entered the world, the whole of creation became ‘profane’. The word ‘profane’ means common and refers to the everyday, ordinary world of time and space. For Christians this is the fallen world we live in. Since then, ancient people viewed the world as existing in two domains, the sacred and the profane. The uncreated world where God exists continued to be sacred. God’s goal was to transform the profane and make it sacred again. There will come a time when the whole created world will be sacred. There will be a new heaven and earth. People sought the sacred space of God and right through history, we see that pursuit of bringing the sacred space into a profane world.
For Christians it was God who entered the profane world by starting his work of redemption. He called a man Abraham to follow Him and that God would bless Abraham and his descendants and through them bless the nations of the world. To set Abraham and his descendants apart to do this sacred work, God redeemed a profane practice done by the Egyptians and gave it a new meaning which Jews continue practicing to this day. It was the practice of circumcision.
God created a sacred ‘beachhead’ in a profane world. We see God engaging in this fallen world time and time again in the Bible. In the Old Testament, when Jacob fell asleep on his way to his uncle Laban’s, he has a vision of a ladder reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending it. When he awoke he renamed that place Bethel or the house of God.
God gave the Jews the Law so that they can live the sacred life in a profane world. He also gave them festivals to follow, because these festivals were to prepare them for the coming Messiah who would be their final sacrifice and pay the penalty for sin. The Jews also developed other festivals that was not stated in the Scriptures but represented key moments in their history. Take for example Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which wasn’t given by God but it became a common practice because it reminded them of a deliverance that God gave them during what we call the inter-testamental period, those 400 years between Malachi and Jesus. It reminds the Jewish people year to year of God’s faithfulness and His goodness.
When Jesus came into the profane world, He chose to get baptised. Baptism was a practice that was done in the pagan world before Christians redeemed it. John the Baptist was baptizing people. In many pagan religions there was a belief in the purifying properties of water. So in ancient Babylon, water was used as a cleansing agent in the cult of Enke. In Egypt, the water in the Nile was believed to have regenerative powers, and was used to baptize the dead in a ritual based on the Osiris myth. Hindus would bathe in the Ganges to get their sins forgiven. When Jesus chose to get baptised, He was redeeming baptism. As He was about to ascend to Heaven, He told His disciple to go out and make disciples and to baptise them.
Even when Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples, He gave a whole new meaning to the Passover meal and asked His disciples to continue this new practice. It would have been repulsive to the Jews when Jesus talked about the bread being His body and the wine being His blood. Yet Jesus was prepared to make this major change to a custom that was practiced for thousands of years.
So is it wrong to redeem the ‘profane’? If God and Jesus did that, then it must be okay as long as we turn the focus from the original intent to a Christ-focussed intent. We don’t become pagan by redeeming the profane, What we are doing is bring the sacred into a profane world. This conversation I had with my friend yesterday has made me rethink my views on other practices that we as Christians have redeemed.
In writing this blog, my mind has started reflecting on the difference between morality and Christlikeness. I think morality leads us towards legalism and Christlikeness leads us to servanthood. But thats for another blog.