Jesus is the one unconventional god of freedom and therefore of truth, love, and vitality. In dreadful contrast, the gods of Olympianity—of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption—are the six conventional gods of power and therefore of falsehood, indifference, and death.
Early Christians lived as faithful witnesses to Jesus. Here and there, Jesus has persistently enabled other Christians to live as faithful witnesses to him from that time to our own.
For the most part, however, Christians and the Church have been subverted by Olympian powers. They have abandoned the anarchy of Jesus for the power of the Olympian gods.
How did and does this happen? “First, and unquestionably, is [by] an alliance with the powers” (Ellul, 20). This happened with Constantine, certainly, but before and after him as well. Christians and churches sought alliances with Olympian individuals and organizations exercising control in all six spheres of the gods and life: political, military, technological, sexual, economic, and prodigal.
The Olympian gods, who hated and feared Christians and churches, enticed, threatened, and deceived them into make these alliances. These gods wanted to take control of them whether by open or secret means.
Christians and churches fell into the trap by imagining that such alliances made them more effective witnesses. They made loyalty to Jesus less important than effectiveness. That made loyalty to the gods more important than to Jesus. In that way Christians and the churches enabled the gods to subvert them.
The churches also fell into this trap because an increasing number of Olympian middle-class managers were joining the Church without having first understood clearly what repentance of their loyalty to the gods meant. As more became members and leaders, they brought with them “a legal spirit (Roman), a philosophical interpretation of the world (Greek), a mode of action (political), and an aggregate of interests” (21).
This pleased the Olympian gods and did the churches no good. “Progressively, then, the church…refused to enter into open warfare with the religious, intellectual, and social trends within the [Roman] empire. It abandoned the radicalism of Jesus and the prophets” (21).
Worse, beginning in the 300s, “there took place what some have called the paganizing [Olympianizing] of the church. It adopted beliefs and customs alien to the gospel…It changed the pagan emperor cult into a veritable Christian ‘cult,’ chiefly at Byzantium. It took in popular beliefs, adopted…pagan  myths, confiscated pagan temples and made them into churches…And as the church still had a very strong sense that it held the one and only truth, and had a kind of obsession with unity—a spiritual unity corresponding with the visible unity of the empire—it could not tolerate diversity in the expression of faith. It had to establish unity at all costs (hence the persecution of heretics)” (21-2).
“At the same time the church felt it incumbent to absorb everything that seemed to be of intellectual or religious value in past societies. This explains the tendency toward syncretism that began in the third century and continues to this day in all the churches” (22).
We still see all this in our Olympian churches today. Regarding alliances, churches, for example, continue to take money from states. Sometimes they receive these always compromising payments directly as with established churches or in the form of monetary grants for construction of seminary buildings. Other times they receive payments indirectly as when donations to churches can be deducted from the taxable income of members.
Regarding unrepentant Olympians becoming members, this happens perpetually. Churches are desperate for members. Anyone who is friendly, prosperous, and has children living at home is enthusiastically welcomed. Wealthier members then serve as gatekeepers. They carefully weed out any witnesses to Jesus that might question the Olympian status quo of society, churches, or Christians. If anyone resists, the wealthy threaten to pull out their money. That's always enough.
Regarding syncretism, Christians and churches continue to bless beliefs, values, norms, goals, and narratives from every imaginable source. They dismiss anyone who questions the practice as rigid, narrow-minded, and judgmental. At the same time, they refuse to read the Bible.
As people Jesus is sending as prophetic witnesses to his churches, we will face challenges.
(Today we continued our reflections on The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul [trans. Geoffrey Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1986].)