Acts 17:22 ¶ Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
Though I’ve only been a missionary for a short time (seven years) how missions is done has changed a lot since 2007. One of the biggest changes is an interesting reversal from going from a religious country (America) to a non-religious one (mission field).
Missions in past generations involved going to places where people had no knowledge of God, and never heard the Gospel. Today in most cases missionaries go to places filled with Churches, and people who can quote the Romans road by heart.
The truly frightening thing is the roles seem to have been reversed; now the formerly religious nation (America) is becoming more and more pagan, while the formerly pagan nations are becoming more and more religious.
Because mission fields are becoming more religious it’s important for all of us (not just missionaries) to know how to approach them Biblically. Few passages are better for this than Acts 17.
After unbelieving Jews stirred up Churches where Paul had been preaching in Athens (17:12-13) he was immediately taken to Athens to wait in safety for Timothy and Silas (17:14-15). While waiting in Athens however Paul was burdened over the idolatry (worship of other Gods) he saw (17:16) and began sharing the Gospel (17:17).
It’s interesting to notice how the people of Athens responded.
- The message of the Gospel created discussion (17:18)
- So they ASKED PAUL TO EXPLAIN THE GOSPEL (17:19)
- Confessing they didn’t understand the Gospel and wanted to know more (17:20)
- And even gathered the whole town to hear Paul preach Christ at the Areopagus (Mars Hill)
All of this leads to Paul in 17:22 saying that they were very “religious” (editors note-I prefer this translation which is held by most Bible versions to the KJV translation of “superstitious” because it fits better in the context).
This Biblical picture of religious unsaved is helpful because it allows us to understand those in mission fields will probably respond to our presentation of the Gospel with respect and genuine interest instead of disgust or violent rejection. In fact they could respond with a testimony of Salvation like a young lady who told me a few weeks ago she was going to Heaven because she was “God’s child” (even though she didn’t know how to become one).
There is a danger in this because we can easily mistake religion for genuine belief in God….and there is obviously a HUGE difference.
In the case of Acts 17 the people of Athens were only interested in learning about a new religion not really believing in God (17:21). With the religious mission field emphasis is placed on having knowledge of the Gospel instead of genuine belief. In other words people have the right Bible answers and believe that head-knowledge is enough to save them.
Thankfully missionaries rarely encounter mission fields where people respond to the Gospel with hatred and persecution…but we do encounter ones where people respond with just head knowledge which is just as dangerous