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Paul on Mars Hill
In the days of the early church, we can see another example of the issue of worship, and of what people worship—this time in the ministry of the apostle Paul when he was in Athens, the place where three of the world’s most influential philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) once lived.
What a different audience Paul had to deal with here than did Peter years earlier before all those devout Jews in Jerusalem!
Read Acts 17:15–34, the account of Paul’s preaching in Athens. How different was Paul’s witness to these people from that of Peter’s to the audience on the Day of Pentecost?
One of the most obvious differences is that, unlike Peter, Paul does not quote the Bible here. In fact, he quotes a pagan author instead. At the same time, notice how Paul appeals to logic and reason: look around at the created world, he is saying, and you will see powerful evidence of the Creator God. He is starting out, using a kind of natural theology and pointing to the natural world as a reason to believe in the Creator God.
It is interesting to note the issue of worship here. These people were worshiping something that they did not understand. Paul sought to take that devotion and worship and turn it away from idols and other vain things and toward the living God. Humans seem to have an innate need to worship something, anything, and here Paul seeks to point them to the only thing truly worthy of their worship.
On what point did some of these people have a real problem, and why?
In the end, appeals to logic and reason and natural theology can take us only so far. Paul, in his witness, then sought to teach them about repentance, judgment, and the resurrection, teachings that need to be taken on faith. Hence, he did not have that much success with them. Though he had a few converts, most seemed to have gone back to their worship of what is vain, useless, and unable to save.
In what ways can our worship services better reach out to those who do not have a biblical background, who do not start with the same premises as we do? How can we make our worship services more seeker-friendly?
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