First, the short answer: No. Now, the long one:Let me begin with a quote from Jerome (found at the beginning of his rebuttal against Helvidius on defending the doctrine of the Pepetual Virginity of Mary) who wrote far more elloquently than I could:
I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating.
I share a similar attitude on the current topic. There are some among Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, & Mormons who teach certain things which I'm going to spend a little time (but way more time than its worth) refuting in case you run across this stuff. There is also a small but (apparently) growing movement calling themselves "Torah Observant Believers" probably not too dissimilar from Messianic Jews (which I don't know very much about). This is how I was introduced to these ideas by running across one of these "believers" and watching a couple videos he gave me. The most recognized name in this sect is probably the late Reggie White of the NFL who apparently got the whole thing started or at least popularized it.
I wrote a six page rebuttal to the "believer" who shared the videos with me explaining how they were so historically baseless that they weren't even worth considering. It was hard to find 'high level' apologetics defending against these accusations on the internet mainly because... it's demeaning to an apologist to even address such baseless claims. However, I'm no apologist so I have no qualms laying the 'smack down' on these ignorant ideas.
I wrote a rebuttal to these videos and wasn't sure of the author's name so I used "Mr. Smith".
Begin original rebuttal:
Mr. Smith’s hypothesis is apparently shared by a small but growing sect of believers in the modern world as I have encountered them on rare occasion before. His statement is basically that virtually all liturgical practices which distinguish Christianity from Judaism are pagan in origin and therefore are contrary to God’s law. I will be arguing that this hypothesis is wholly incorrect and incompatible with known history. I will argue from a Catholic perspective but virtually all of what I will say can be argued just as easily from another Protestant perspective.
First, we should discuss a very important spiritual matter that I believe is probably key to understanding this entire issue. Mr. Smith (that I recall) never mentioned the Holy Spirit unless he did so in reading one of the New Testament verses he quoted. I am assuming that he does not believe in the Trinity (though I don’t know his stance). I make this assumption based on three things in order of least significance to greatest: 1. He never mentions the Holy Spirit outside of Scripture (if even then) 2. He appears to reject the virgin birth based on his association of the mother & child with some former pagan iconography (again, this is speculation he may very well believe in the virgin birth) and 3. (And this one is not an assumption) His theory leaves no room for the role of a perpetually active third member of the Trinity that Christians refer to as the Holy Spirit.
The reason why this is so important, is that (as the Catholic Church teaches) the Holy Spirit did indeed fill the promises of Christ.(1)
St. John Chrysostom said it very eloquently:
That the apostles “did not come down from the mountain carrying, like Moses, tablets of stone in their hands; but they came down carrying the Holy Spirit in their hearts… having become by his grace a living law, a living book.”(2)
This summarizes some of the early thought on apostolic succession. I will not get into the defense of apostolic succession but my basic premise is this: God used apostolic succession through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (which is still active today) in order to establish His church with Peter as it’s head thus fulfilling the prophecies of Christ.(3) Christ, of course, also said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.(3) Furthermore, he gave the apostles authority(4). What purpose would that authority have if not for succession?
So the first general error of his I am stating is the rejection of the working of the Holy Spirit in the church. Even a small amount of research will quickly reveal that the Apostles authoritatively rejected several of the precepts outlined in this video and their successors rejected others, while still the remaining precepts have never been refuted simply because they haven’t the sufficient merit to receive a rebuttal being so historically baseless.
Another consistent error made throughout the video is the lack of sources. He makes generalized statements and only gives sources to those statements which even his opponents would agree with. On the controversial subjects he makes little or no attempt at adding credibility to what he says by quoting legitimate sources. The few times that he does actually quote someone (such as Flavius Josephus), he doesn’t give the title of the work much less chapter or page number. (Not that their quotes proved anything anyway). He often makes general statements like “all of this can be verified by looking in any encyclopedia” which I’m sure that some of what he says could be verified in some encyclopedia but that proves little.
He makes frequent reference to the idea that “first century Christianity did this or that” and of course never makes any references. Why doesn’t he make any references there? Because there aren’t any to be made! There is very little extra biblical (Christian) writings that pre-date 100 AD so it would be hard to make the sweeping statements that he made without some very specific references.
The Didache is believed by most biblical scholars to be among if not the earliest surviving Christian document outside the canonical New Testament. (5) Ironically, this document (6) (along with all of the New Testament) attests to the fact that early Christians most certainly participated in the Eucharist in the very same manner in which Catholics participate in it to this very day. Mr. Smith claims that the Eucharist (among other things) had pagan origins and was not practiced until the 4th century. This is a glaring error and a prime example of revisionist history. Even outside the New Testament we have innumerable saints who spoke of the Eucharist prior to the conversion of Constantine when this ‘paganization’ of Christianity supposedly took place.
He erroneously claims that Constantine instituted Sunday worship. Constantine made it a law throughout the Roman Empire that everyone should observe what the Christians had already been observing: a day of rest on the day known to them as the day of the sun. (7) There is some debate as to whether Sunday was considered the “new Sabbath” or whether it was simply the day that Christians worshipped on. The Catholic Church, however, does maintain that it is the fulfilment of the OT Sabbath. Here is what the Catechism says:
Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ(18)
How do we know that Christians celebrated on Sunday before the 4th century? First of all, the Scriptures themselves say so! (8) Secondly, we have early verification from fathers such as St. Barnabas (100 AD), St. Justin Martyr (150AD) St. Clement of Alexandria (190 AD) and Tertullian (200AD) just to name a few. (9) A final point on this particular error, is that Mr. Smith placed high emphasis on the law of the Sabbath, while it is the only one of the ten commandments not reaffirmed in the New Testament.
Mr. Smith claims that Easter has pagan origins. However, Easter is celebrated on the First Sunday following the new moon which occurs after the vernal or Spring equinox. There is no other holiday in history that was celebrated on or even close to that date. The confusion arises with the word Easter (as even Mr. Smith unwittingly admitted). In Latin it is called Pascha (which is where we get the ‘paschal mystery’ from). So if we were merely talking about the holiday in the language which it was likely originally instituted in (at the council of Nicaea 325 AD), then Mr. Smith wouldn’t be making these claims. The title “Easter” originated much later in the 8th century AD according to St. Bede. The word is derived from ‘Eoster’ who was the Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and Spring.(10) So this is by no means changing a pagan holiday into a Christian one since A) there was no pagan holiday B) the confusion lies with the English word for the date that has pagan origins but the English language and it’s sources have nothing whatsoever to do with the council of Nicaea. English wasn’t even a language at the time of Nicaea. Furthermore, if a word having pagan origins is something bad, we’re in a lot of trouble since English is derived almost entirely from pagan sources. English is a Germanic language with heavy influence from both Greek & Latin. All three of these sources are pagan. Even the days of the week have pagan origin. Wednesday was formerly Odin’s Day & Thursday was of course Thor’s Day.
It is claimed that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday.
Update - while I originally conceded most of the factual parts of this charge, it has since been brought to my attention that the first Christian mention of using December 25th as the birthday of Christ actually pre-dates the pagan usage of the date as a holiday. See this post for details.
Mr. Smith claims that because Christians make statues that they are breaking the law of God. But what does the Law say?
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. - Exodus 20:4
Did the Jews understand this to mean not to make any sculpture of anything at all? Of course not! The Ark of the Covenant had graven Cheribum on the mercy seat! Furthermore the verse clearly speaks of worshipping false idols not merely creating images. If it meant not to create any images, then photographs & paintings would also be evil.
The Council of Jerusalem
Mr. Smith’s postulations also ignore the verdict pronounced at the council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15. The idea that Christians need to keep the Mosaic law is not a new one. This was a big issue in the first century. However, the council decided that no, they needn’t become Jewish before becoming Christian. (Also see Acts 10:44-48)
Burning of Scripture
Mr. Smith correctly states that emperor Diocletian burned Scripture during his infamous widespread persecution of Christians in 303 AD. However, Mr. Smith uses this well known fact as a spring board into unverifiable ‘conspiracy theory’ type concepts that we have supposedly lost what may have been original Scriptures and only have a few remaining ones or something to that effect. There aren’t any reputable scholars alive that would agree with this kind of reasoning. That's Dan Brown-level research.
Halo’s With Pagan Origins
Mr. Smith claims that halos have pagan origin. (Conveniently there are only Christian images with halos shown). If the halo originated in pagan art, how about some images from the pagans? This claim is unlikely to be completely unfounded however. There are secular sources who make similar claims (and even the Catholic encyclopedia admits it (12) ).
But what does this prove? If it proved much the Catholic encyclopedia wouldn’t admit it.
Did Christians invent every art form? Furthermore, lets remember what we’re talking about: ART! Not doctrine, dogma or theology. If the art was borrowed from Satan himself it wouldn’t undermine the church’s teachings in the least. Furthermore, did pagans invent light? Did they invent the portrayal of light in art? No. Isn’t light a biblical concept? Early Christian converts used familiar methods of portraying biblical concepts:
"the glory of the Lord shone around them" (Lk. 2:9).
The Greek word 'perilampo' used here means ‘to shine around’. (13)
Mother – Child Worship
First: Catholics do not worship Mary or Mary with the child.
The maternal role of Mary toward people in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. (14)
Second: It is a well known and well accepted fact that various pagan religions used images of a mother with a child. They also used many other various images found in nature: cows, goats, horses, eagles, lions, half men, men, women, birds etc… Now where would we think that Christians got the idea of a mother and child? Pagan sources? Or could it be from Jesus and His mother Mary? Does Mr. Smith contend that Jesus had no mother? Does he deny the virgin birth? I believe it is clear that the early Christians were depicting Christ with His mother because of the miracle of a virgin birth and not because of pagan origins. If that were so, every picture of any man or any animal would have to be considered some form of pagan origination since pagan religions made extensive use of most created things.
Sign of the Cross
Mr. Smith claims that the cross is a pagan symbol. Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross and that is why Christians use the symbol. Scripture itself uses imagery of the cross. (16)
Tertullian wrote around the end of the 2nd century:
In all our travels, in our coming in and going out, in putting on our clothes and our shoes, at table, in going to rest, whatever we are doing we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross(17)
A symbol itself is worth nothing. Only the meaning of the symbol has any significance. The meaning of the Christian cross is the Roman cross which Jesus was crucified on and nothing else.
Mr. Smith makes frequent claims about Mithraism. Yet, researching the topic one finds information almost exclusively from writings dealing with this particular issue only (whether or not Christianity is borrowed from sun god worship).
It is difficult for scholars to reconstruct the daily workings and beliefs of Mithraism, as the rituals were highly secret and limited to initiated men.(15)
Well maybe these guys need to just ask Mr. Smith... he's apparently an expert on it while no one else seems to really have any informaiton about it whatsoever..
I think I have conclusively demonstrated that the claims of Mr. Smith which are true are completely irrelevant and the rest are historically baseless.
Furthermore, on the topic of Sabbath days & keeping the Law, the following verses from the second chapter of Colossians pretty much puts the nail in the coffin:
13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Lastly, I wanted to point out that in Justin Martyr's first apology (written to the emporor of Rome) he does touch on the subject of Christian teachings and their similiarities to pagan religions. (Justin Martyr was very knowledgeable about pagan religion even for his time and I have a strong suspicion that he may have known just a little more than Mr. Smith or any of these people from the 'torah observant believer movement'). Now one would expect that if any of these claims had an inkling of truth to them, you would find them in Justin Martyrs writings... at least a mention of them. In defending the similarities, he never mentions Mithraism or sun god worship in connection with any of the accusations that Mr. Smith hurls at him except for the accusation concerning the Eucharist. Justin Martyr clearly states that the Christians were doing it first and the Mithras perverted it and adopted it as one of their initiation rites.
Furthermore on this topic: where are the official documents of Mithraism? Why is it that early church father documents and Christian Scriptures always stand naked before the world subject to every type of scrutiny known to man while no other religions or beliefs are held to the same standards? Its interesting how atheists and skeptics always require strong extra-biblical evidence for anything Christian, while they will accept even a passing mention in writing by anyone concerning any other thing in history. No one can legitimately say that any other set of documents have ever been so thoroughly scrutinized by every type of scholar and by every immaginable method than the Christian Scriptures. Yet in spite of these double standards, the scriptures have stood up to the test. This is similar to Elijah's sacrifice in comparison to the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Though there was a strong double standard (Elijah's sacrifice was soaked with 12 large jars of water while the other was dry), Elijah's sacrifice was burnt up from heaven and the other wasnt. Even though the world constantly applies bias & double standards against Catholicism, the truth will always prevail in the end because it is inheirantly stronger. The world is at enmity with the truth.
The Church Never Has Nor Never Will Worship the Sun.
Nor think, brethren, that the sun ought to be worshipped by some men, because the sun doth sometimes in the Scriptures signify Christ. For such is the madness of men; as if we said that a creature should be worshipped, when it is said, the sun is an emblem of Christ. Then worship the rock also, for it also is a type of Christ. "He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter:" worship the lamb also, since it is a type of Christ. "The Lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed;" worship the lion also, since it signifieth Christ. Observe how numerous are the types of Christ: all these are Christ in similitude, not in essence. .
- St. Augustine of Hippo
Here are some additional references on the web on this topic:
1 John , 13, John | Acts 2:1-4
3 Matthew 16:18
4 Matthew 16:19, John 20:21-23
6 Didache Chapter 5
7 Eusebius, Vita Constantine, N&PNF. Bk. II, chs. xxiv-xliii
8 Acts 20:7
11 Chambers Encyclopaedia 1970, page 538, article Christmas
13 Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament page 503
17 http://www.trueknights.org/ECFfaq.html#2218 Catholic Catechism Part 3 Section 2