The introduction of pagan beliefs into mainstream Christianity began in the first and second centuries A.D. when many early Christians, under pressure from the Roman Empire, began to abandon the observance of the biblical Sabbath and annual festivals, replacing or combining them with pagan practices.
At sunrise every Easter Sunday, millions of people assemble to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ who — according to what they have been taught — was raised from the dead at that exact time almost 2,000 years ago.
Yet very few of them will realize that associating Christ’s resurrection with the rising of the sun on that morning is not supported by the Bible. The scriptural texts state explicitly that Christ had already risen from the dead and was already gone from the tomb before the sun began to rise — "while it was still dark" (John 20:1) — on that first day of the week.
The departure from understanding what actually occurred on that Sunday morning to what so many believe today is rooted in changes in Christianity that began not long after its founding. Initially Christianity was viewed as simply a sect of Judaism, a protected religion in the Roman Empire. However, after Jewish revolts in Judea in A.D. 67-70 and 132-135, Jewish practices — many of which continued in the early Church — came to be viewed with hostility throughout the Roman Empire. Many early Church members began to abandon these practices, including observance of the biblical Sabbath and festivals.
When Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the process accelerated. In trying to create a universal —i.e., catholic— church, church leaders started making concessions to the pagans who were being forced to accept belief in Jesus Christ by the Roman government. Those concessions established a precedent for introducing into the Christian religion a multitude of nonbiblical traditions and practices.
Over time these trends transformed the celebrations and ceremonies of Christianity. Biblically ordained festivals were either demoted in importance or dropped altogether. Nonbiblical traditions, such as the association of Christ’s resurrection with a Sunday morning sunrise service, gained widespread acceptance and replaced the biblical festivals formerly observed.
Celebrations related to sun worship were some of the most popular festive occasions in the Roman Empire before Christianity became the official state religion. To placate these former sun worshippers, who refused to abandon completely their pagan ceremonies, church bishops decided to permit the celebrations to continue by merely changing their names and then linking “Christian” events or personalities to them.
This massive acceptance of nonbiblical traditions is a historical fact that can be verified in almost any encyclopedia of general knowledge. One only has to look up the names of today’s popular celebrations or traditions.
Regrettably, this dilution of biblical teachings with nonbiblical tradition has obscured much of what Jesus actually has done and is doing for us to make salvation available. The Easter sunrise service is just such an example. It diverts attention away from what really happened on that first Sunday following Jesus’ crucifixion.
The Good News Magazine