Machen: Definition of Paganism

From Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen defines paganism as the following:

Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature, whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.

Machen is not saying that Christianity ends with a broken heart, but that it starts with a broken heart because those who become Christians have a consciousness of sin, whereas pagans do not. We can see paganism all around us. We see it in the exaltation of the human spirit, and the self. We see the priests of it everywhere, from Joel Osteen, to Zig Ziglar, to Oprah, all proclaiming the goodness of man. It’s in our schools, universities, work places, entertainment, and homes. And in the midst of it all, we cover it up with our prosperity.

Machen continues:

The trouble with paganism of Ancient Greece, as with the paganism of modern times, was not in the superstructure, which was glorious, but in the foundation, which was rotten. There was always something to be covered up; the enthusiasm of the architect was maintained only by ignoring the disturbing fact of sin. In Christianity, on the other hand, nothing needs to be covered up. The fact of sin is faced squarely once for all, and is dealt with by the grace of God.

The wealth in our country helps hide the sin we have, just as the architecture of Greece helped hide the sin of the ancients as well.

As I sit here writing this, in a Starbucks, inside a Target, in a new city in North Texas, filled with shiny cars, and happy smiles, our sin is covered. We hide behind the worlds we create. We cover up the need, thinking that we have achieved heaven on earth. But it is all a facade. It’s all part of Satan’s plan to make us think we have arrived when we have not. It’s a false view of heaven, a counterfeit, a delusion.

Sin still rules and no matter how much our great economy purrs along, the sin problem remains. We may make America great again, but for the Christian, a great America is not the destination nor the goal.

Our goal is holiness. We must use the consciousness of sin to our advantage by recognizing our need for the gospel. Don’t fall for the paganism of our world, whether that paganism is found in the architecture, the games, the politics, or the wealth of the world. We are not home. The home the Christian is heading for is far more glorious, far more splendid, for it is a home made not by human hands, but by God Himself.

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