The Unknown God and the Unknown Church – Lester Kamp

Lester Kamp

When Paul arrived in Athens on his second mission trip, he was distressed the “the city was wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16). Athens was the “intellectual capital” of the world and yet their ignorance of the true and living God was obvious. With their own hands they had fashioned two to three thousand idols to worship. To prevent the possibility of offending any other deity by omitting one, they had inscribed under one idol “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23). Paul’s words to Rome also apply appropriately to the Athenians, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:22-23). In Athens there was an abundance of religion resulting in much confusion—and God was unknown.

To these people Paul was given the opportunity to set forth the reality of God, the God of the Bible, and to refute their false notions about Him. His sermon on Mars’ Hill powerfully exposes the foolishness of their current conceptions of deity.

First, the Athenians believed that deity is man-made. They thought that they could make their gods to look like they wanted them to look and to be what they wanted them to be. Paul proclaimed that in reality, God made the world and all things therein” and is not dependent on man for His existence (Acts 17:24-25, 29). Second, the Athenians believed deity was a multitude of idols. These gods varied in number and kind from one to another. Paul proclaimed that God is one and that His sovereignty is over all people, all nations (Acts 17:26). Third, Paul observed that their ignorance which was even self-acknowledged by the inscription “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD,” was primarily responsible for their false concepts of God and for their evil practices (Acts 17:23, 30).

Many in the world today are plagued by the same conceptual problems which have been observed among the Athenians. The modern, popular concept of the “church of God” is so muddled that the church of the New Testament is virtually unknown. In the world there continues to be an abundance of religion resulting in confusion. Because of this, many do not know nor recognize the true church, the blood bought body of Christ. Let us note, therefore, how modern thinking about the church parallels the Athenians erroneous concepts about deity.

Today most people believe the church is man-made. We hear such statements as “Join the church of your choice” and “It doesn’t matter what we believe and practice.” Both of these statements reflect the notion that the church can be anything and everything that man wants it to be. If we can’t find a church that is to our liking, it is suggested that we just start one that does reflect our thinking and desires.

But the truth is that the church is God-made and not man-made. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). This church was built on Pentecost in Acts 2 and respects the sole authority of Christ (Matt. 28:18) and the preeminence of Christ alone (Col. 1:18). The church of God was “purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). According to the Bible, it does matter what we believe and practice. To accept as “doctrines the commandments of men” makes our worship vain (Matt. 15:9). God has written, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8). The church does not belong to us to change it as we please to please ourselves, but the church belongs to God and it must remain as He made it.

Another popular concept of the church is that it is made up of all denominations. For these people there are many churches—all equally acceptable. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia there are at least 33,000 Christian denominations in the United States. According to the popular conception, all 33,000 would be considered just different representations of the church. But, God states emphatically that this concept—though popular—is false. According to Ephesians 4:4, “There is one body.” That one body is the one church as defined in Ephesians 1:22-23. Jesus built “my church” (Matt. 16:18)—not “my churches.” Jesus also prayed fervently for the unity (oneness) of His disciples (John 17:20-21). The presence of a multiplicity of churches claiming to be the church (or part of it) is in direct opposition to the truth. The conflicting, contradictory doctrines and practices of these religious groups conflict the clear Biblical instruction “that ye speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Clearly, the church is not many, but one.

Ignorance of spiritual matters in the “enlightened age” in which we live is obvious and inexcusable. God has revealed the truth which can free us from sin (John 8:32). We can know it! The word of God (truth, John 17:17) “is profitable for doctrine” and provides that which is necessary that we “may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Copies of the Bible are abundant, but many are unwilling to study and obey it. They remain ignorant. To be saved we must know the truth and obey it (1 Pet. 1:22). God will not excuse ignorance (Acts 17:30). Those who were saved in the First century were taught the truth (Acts 2:38), were obedient to it (Acts 2:41), and were added by the Lord to the church (Acts 2:47). We must do the same.

Paul’s declaration of the truth about God in Athens received mixed responses. Some ridiculed it, some desired to hear more, and others became obedient believers (Acts 17:32, 34). Those hear the truth about the church will react in similar ways. What is your response?

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