I have heard that Christianity has a lot of pagan influence, can you comment on this?
Believe it or not, this is actually a fairly complicated question. There are several aspects of how to answer the question. First, how much Pagan influence was there in the original Christianity taught by Jesus and the apostles. Second, how much Pagan influence crept into the way Christianity was practiced by the primitive church–even when it was still more or less faithful to the apostolic influence. Third, how much Pagan influence came into the more or less apostate Roman or Byzantine Church in the late Roman or Medieval period. Fourth, and this is perhaps an even harder question to think about. Is there a distinction between "Pagan" practices which were incorporated by the church in its practice which were harmless and Pagan practices which were incorporated which were very harmful and definitely never should have been incorporated into the Church? Some have used the label "Pagan" as a way to condemn any practice they find in the early church which they do not agree with, but perhaps we should not assume that just because the Church used some of the social customs of their neighbors it is automatically sinful. This makes the implications of your question difficult to work out.
Let me answer the first question. Those who say that the original teaching of Jesus and the practices of the apostles was inspired by Paganism are simply wrong. I believe that a study of Church history will show that this claim is spurious. However, let me make a distinction. I am sure that Pagans met in groups and the church met in groups. I am sure that Pagans had ceremonies, and the Church had a "ceremony" we call the Lord’s Supper. Obviously, Jesus and his apostles incorporated things done by the culture around them to some extent. How could they not have done so? Just because Jesus followed customs such as how to eat or how to greet a neighbor which was common among Pagans does not mean that he was incorporating evil Pagan practices into Christianity. What I will say is this. The Gospel is in absolutely no way borrowed from Pagan beliefs. Period. Scholars who say differently are wrong. I cannot address all their claims here. If you have a specific question under this heading, feel free to send it to me. Christianity is NOT Pagan.
A more complicated question is how much Paganism influenced Christianity even during a time that most of us will recognize that the Church was still nearly fully faithful to the Gospel–let us say in the first three centuries of church history. The answer is compicated. Justin Martyr used much of Plato and Greek philosophy in his defense of Christianity. By the third century, the Lords Supper had begun to morph into a ceremonial sacrifice, rather than the simple remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus as it was orignially. Greek philosophy had a rather strong influence on Church theologians such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria. By the third century, Christians began to worship in cemetaries, showing influence from Pagan ideas about honoring the dead.
By the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries there was a LOT of evidence of Pagan influence in Church practices. Although it was not yet Church dogma, worship of Mary had begun, which was rather suspiciously similar to Mother Goddess religion. A rather well-developed "priesthood" similar to that of Roman Pagan practice had also developed. I could go on for many paragraphs. Let it suffice to say that by the early Medieval period, Paganism had come to have a shockingly great influence on Christianity as practiced by both the Greek and Roman churches. The Church thought it had defeated Paganism after Constantine, but one can make a strong argument that Paganism got the last laugh. This is to the shame of Christianity.
I suppose the most relevant question is whether Paganism still has an influence on you and on the Christian group with which you worship. You will have to answer that question for yourself. Bottom line, although sinful, non-Christian Pagan practice did not influence the teachings of Jesus or his apostles, it has crept into Christianity as it is practiced by many today. I believe that the Reformation corrected much of this and even the Roman Catholic Church has repudiated much of its Pagan practices. But that is beside the point. All of us as individual Christians must look at our own practice and that of the fellowship with which we worship, compare it to biblical teaching, look at Church history to see where Paganism came in in ways which violate the spirit of biblical Christianity, and steer the ship in the right direction. Remember that just because a Pagan did some particular thing does not make that practice sinful per se. It is those practices which, if we follow them, cause us to behave in ways which violate Christian teaching in the Bible, which we need to throw off.
John Oakes, PhD