Tainted Meat and Chocolate Bunnies
(this is a longer post than usual, and it is a write-up of the basic content of our adult Sunday School class from this past week)
The Bible doesn't talk about Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, or even the holiday "Easter" by name. Christmas, too, is a later innovation, and with it came the addition of Christmas trees, wreaths, etc. What's worse, some (if not all) of these practices have pagan origins and were part of the worship of false gods.
I would suggest that all of that is not as big a problem as we may fear.
First, a bit of fact-checking is in order. Many of these claims are not supported by research and yet are still widely spread from one webpage to another in a spirit of judgment or alarmism. (For example, there is no historical evidence of the worship of a pre-Christian goddess named Eostre in ancient England) But even if it is true, what is the real problem?
In most cases, I don't believe any Christians are using such things in their actual worship of the true God, and they certainly are not using them to worship any pagan deities. But that's not the issue, is it? The issue is the perceived danger of doing something that has a connection to paganism. Let us see in Scripture what the apostle Paul says regarding the danger of food associated with idols. In short, he says there is no danger.
The church in first century Corinth had a problem - much of the meat in their market was sacrificed to idols before it was sold. Buying and eating that meat would be taking part in pagan worship, wouldn't it? In addressing this problem, Paul had several things to say that would seem to relate to the problem of chocolate bunnies and colored eggs.
In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 he argues that those idols are not real gods. In 10:19-20, he even says that such sacrifices are made to demons. Yet his conclusion on the matter in 8:8 is: "Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do." In 10:25 he declares, "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience."
In other words, sure, those things in the market had a direct connection to idolatry - a more direct connection than a colorful egg hundred or thousands of years removed from its association with a fertility deity. But we know that such gods are false, and so to eat the meat is of no consequence to the Christian. If a Christian fails to understand that, it is because they are "lacking in knowledge."
That, in fact, is the real issue at stake for Paul. Some believers, because they don't grasp the power and extent of the gospel, are still immature in their understanding and still attribute power to such idols. For them to eat the meat would be a violation of their conscience - it would be sin. Not because the eating is sin, but because violating their conscience (which still lacks knowledge of the power of the gospel) would be sin. And so Paul's instruction is: 1) if your own heart does not connect the act to idolatry, you are free to partake; your conscience is not bound by another's weakness; however 2) if you are in the presence of one with a weaker conscience, don't use your freedom in a way that would cause them to sin.
Now in the 21st century, being "in the presence" of another person is more complicated - we have an online presence, too. Because our “private” actions become “public” the moment we post them, we must weigh carefully how we present ourselves to others. But also worth considering is that scarcely anyone in our culture today views egg dying, bunny pictures, or evergreen trees as elements of pagan worship. They have become, in our culture, non-religious acts, of no more spiritual consequence than setting off fireworks on Independence Day or using the word "Thursday" (“Thor's Day” after the Nordic god). The only ones I hear making claims of pagan worship in relation to Easter eggs are Christians who must reconsider those claims in light of 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. So long as we are not using these things in worship, the regulative principle does not apply.
This is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. Allowing cultural practices, even harmless ones, to take our focus away from Christ is a serious issue that we must not overlook. The question of how to respond to those whose consciences are disturbed by claims of pagan history also goes beyond the scope of this post. My hope here has been to demonstrate that Scripture urges us to not be concerned by such associations, but to instead remember that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." I pray that those worried by the possible pagan origins of cultural practices (and indeed, we are talking about cultural acts, not Christian practices established by God's Word) would grasp the true sovereignty of God over false worship. Such practices have no spiritual power over us and are not in themselves sinful for those who know that they worship the only true God.