Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paul's unknown God

Some of you will remember the story about the Apostle Paul in Athens, having a conversation with people about the "unknown God" they were worshiping.  The story is in Acts 17, and I've always thought it was interesting.  Here Paul sees all of the worship of other gods in the city, and he gets upset.  So he's wandering around talking about Jesus to anyone who will listen.  Eventually, the people become curious enough to bring him to the place where things like this are discussed, and he's invited to speak.  And instead of criticizing their belief system, Paul looks for the truth in it.  He sees that they have an alter to an unknown God.  And Paul names Yahweh as this unknown God and speaks to them about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

Why didn't Paul tell them that the other gods weren't alive?  The Jewish belief system was strongly monotheistic, having no room for any God but Yahweh.  Why didn't he tell them that their worship of idols was worthless and that to have salvation they had to give up their own gods and follow his?  Why didn't he try to change their whole culture and belief system first?

Instead, Paul explained the resurrection and introduced the person of Jesus and Yahweh and invited people to follow.  And I think we can learn a lot from this.  I often feel the message that I get from churches or from the Christian community is that a person has to become culturally Christian before they can follow Jesus.  They have to believe everything I do about morality and theology in order to take that step into the kingdom.  But I don't think this is true.  Jesus took people where they were, invited them to follow, and then he gave them teaching so that they could grow into believing who he actually is.  Even the disciples believed that he was a political (rather than spiritual) savior when they first followed Christ.  But what was important was that they followed him--they learned to hear his voice and to obey and follow, and all the rest of it came later.  I would argue that morality and theology are a result of following Jesus not a prerequisite to it.

What do you think?  Is your invitation for others to follow Jesus normally cluttered with expectations about what they believe or how they behave?  What would happen if you just introduced people to Jesus and then let Jesus and his teachings challenge their morality and theology?

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