Setting Ablaze Paraphernalia Of False Belief Not The Best Outreach Strategy

In a video posted on Facebook, a legalistic evangelist set a flame of a pair of Mormon ceremonial undergarments. The evangelist claimed that the action was Biblically justified.

Acts 19:18-20 reads, “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.... In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”

From the text, readers can deduce a couple of things. To set down such a decree regarding such requires the believer to look at both the context and content of the passage. Only then can a more definitive policy be put in place.

Because of this account, those figuratively on fire for God insist taking the flame to any doctrinally dubious object is not only permissible under Scripture but actually required.

These items were not snatched by authorities out of the hands of those wanting to keep them.

Rather, it is emphasized that those bringing the occultic works forward for destruction were those once owning them that no longer wanted this dark influence in their lives.

Furthermore, what we see in the passage of Acts is an historical account of how a specific set of believers decided to implement a particular set of Christian principles.

Though in particular circumstances their example would be a noble one to emulate, the account is not presented as that of a command that must be adhered to in every circumstance where the Christian finds himself confronted by religious paraphernalia with which they are at doctrinal odds.

For others, it may simply be enough to dispose of the object if they are its owner without raising considerable hoopla or fanfare.

It is usually admonished that Christians hold to the principle that Paul is to serve as the Christian's example in terms of ministry. As such, though the customs and traditions of unbelievers troubled him, it is debatable whether or not he would be that deliberately abrasive in attempting to persuade in regards to matters of error and truth.

The approach used by Paul in dealing with competing belief systems is found in Acts 17:16-34. In this passage, the Apostle is disturbed by the amount of idolatry he sees around him in the city of Athens.

To confront this distressing situation, Paul sets out to present the saving knowledge of Christ in those places in the foremost city of the Western world whose very name is synonymous with discussion and argumentation. In verse 17, we learn that Paul did not shy away from controversy as he took the Gospel into the very hearts of Mediterranean cultural life such as the synagogues, marketplaces, and forums.

We are not privileged to have a comprehensive transcript of the exact dialog that took places in those learned circles. However, we are given a summary with quotes of what Paul talked about and the response of the Athenians to it.

Upon hearing Paul's message, a number of Epicureans and Stoics inquired, “What is this babbler trying to say?... He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” Scripture then clarifies, “They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.”

From what the Holy Spirit decided to preserve of that encounter in the pages of redemptive history, one does not get the impression that all that much time was spent criticizing (at least in a condescending way) the shortcomings of Greco-Roman mythology. Instead, the Apostle to the Gentiles emphasized the distinctive particulars of the Christian faith.

However, Paul's homiletical approach did not avoid the beliefs he hoped to persuade as to the error and insufficiency of. If anything, Paul actually utilized aspects of Classical thought to show how all truths that humans might deduce or stumble upon are ultimately God's truths.

One might dispute this from the way in which Paul began his oration before the learned gathered on the Aereopagus. Paul pronounces in Acts 17:22, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.”

From where we stand along history's unfolding drama, both the triumph of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Scientific Revolution are behind us in terms of being events that have forever altered the way entire civilizations perceive reality.

As such, to our ears, to be labeled “too superstitious” sounds almost like an insult. However, a number of other versions translate the text as Paul commenting on the religious nature of the Athenian intellectual class. Irrespective of where numerous exegetes come down on this interpretative issue, from that point forward there is virtually no debate as to the approach Paul takes.

Those whose missiological approach consists of literally setting ablaze whatever paraphernalia offends their religious sensibilities would have had Paul rip to shreds the inconsistencies and shortcomings inherent to paganism in general and polytheism in particular. There is certainly Biblical precedent for such a strategy where, in Romans 1, Paul holds nothing back regarding how forsaking worship of the one true God to worship nature rather than nature's Creator leads to the most pronounced of carnal sins.

Yet in Acts 17, the Apostle shows that the message can be tailored to fit the nature of the audience addressed. Paul went about this by pointing out the commonalities between Biblical beliefs and Greek philosophy. In terms of apologetics, this phenomena is known as a point of contact.

Paul shares in Acts 17:23, “For as I passed by ... I found an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown God'. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you.” From that point, Paul proceeded to point out other commonalities between Judeo-Christian and Greek thought.

In verse 26, Paul declares, “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell upon the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation...:” He emphasized that this simply wasn't the ramblings of a crazed Hebrew babbler Rather, as we are told in verse 28, “For in him (God) we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his offspring.'.”

As such, in his conclusion Paul does not ridicule the Greeks into capitulation and compliance. Instead Paul commends what the Greeks got right in their philosophy as a reflection of the law written across the heart as spelled out in Romans 2 as to what the Greeks ought to set aside of their pre-Christian thought as they come to Jesus in repentance.

The act of setting ablaze the revered and venerated object of a faith outside the parameters of Biblical Christianity is without question a very provocative act. Even if one opposes the faith, worldview, or creed that the object represents, only the most fanatic would fail or refuse to admit how such a deed does more to alienate rather than woo those one is taking such a course of action to gain the attention of.

For example, it is doubtful many Christians are convinced to the alleged doctrinal error within their own positions of faith when ACLU lawyers descend upon nativities across America and abscond with the ceramic baby Jesus.

Often many a Scripture verse is invoked to justify all kinds of shocking actions.

For once, it would be edifying to hear a minister of solid reputation to go out on a limb emphasizing those passages extolling individual conscience and determining for oneself those things not quite so clearly spelled out in stone.

By Frederick Meekins

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