When Paul was at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry (Act 17:16). Livy said that Athens “was full of the images of gods and men, adorned with every variety of material, and with all the skill of art.” Another ancient writer humorously stated of the city, that “it was easier to find a god than a man there.”
Surely the sight Paul beheld would distress any true minister of God. Their devotion and worship was in vain, for no idol could take away their sins, lead them into all truth, or help them through the trials of life. Polytheism (many gods) was a failure. Even some of their own philosophers had little regard for their gods. The very fact that the ancient pagans made their own gods with their own hands, named them, and gave them their attributes, ought to have jarred someone’s thinking. Worship something created by man, whether in their imaginations or in stone? No wonder most of their gods had such carnal attributes!
Or could it be that perhaps that is what they liked about it–gods of their own devising that they could control; place where they would have them, and define the very bounds of authority they would allow these humanly-imagined gods to have over them? If one were not to their liking, they could just choose another. They had gods who were no better than their sinful selves, and, most certainly, gods who could not deliver them from the human malady of sin.
Maybe that’s where the ancient schools of philosophy came in. How did these ancient pagans deal with the guilt of the sins they committed? Their gods were powerless. Did the voice of their scholars with their humanistic philosophies assuage their guilt-laden consciences (for all in every generation have the gift of a God-given conscience; that monitor of right and wrong)? At their best, what could these philosophers offer their hearers as they sat upon the beautiful stoa, so near the very temple site where the apostle Paul made his famous address concerning the altar to the unknown god–“No one can help sinning, just do your human best and try to improve”? Those of the Epicurean school of philosophy, for one, were given even less reason to be concerned about their sin. They did not believe in an afterlife nor that man had a soul.
Many philosophies, many gods, but no deliverance from committing sin. Such religion is vain.
The voice of (true) wisdom declared that “there is nothing new under the sun.” The spirit of polytheism has revived; not clothed in a toga, but wearing the fashion of today. And the heart of today’s “Paul” is stirred, seeing the cities wholly given over to sect idolatry!
There are numberless religious entities and “Christian” denominations everywhere (I wish this problem was only at Athens!) complete with multitudes of devoted worshippers. “Join the church of your choice” (There they go making gods again)–Contemporary or conservative? Mega church or home church? Catholic, Baptist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, or…?
The World Council of Churches have their multiplicity of denominations, reminiscent of the ancient pagans’ pantheon for their gods. Both tolerated other beliefs…except the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ. Here persecution ignites.
The terminology used now sounds much more enlightened than that of the pagans of old–”Jesus is our Saviour,” “born again,” “church”–but are the results really any better? Just like the ancient polytheists at their altars, the “Christians” at their denominations are still in their sin. “No one can live free from sin” is their message. “Just try your best.”
Beware, dear ones, it’s just a dragon dressed in lamb’s clothing, and it speaks as a dragon, too (Rev. 13:11).
Many “Christians,” many denominations, but no deliverance from committing sin. Such religion is vain. And such religion is not the gospel of Jesus Christ nor the testimony of His holy church.