Paul, Silas and Timothy met many idol worshippers during their journey and won many of them to Christ. Idol worship was an important part of cultic practices in 1st century Macedonia and Greece. Idols were cult images, made by hand, that idolaters worshipped for the god the image embodied or represented. This was not the first time Paul had dealt with idol worshippers. Here’s what happened to him during a visit to the region of Lycaonia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).
“And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, ‘Stand up straight on your feet!’ And he leaped and walked. Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.’ And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.” Acts 14:8-18
The people of Lystra were part of the cult of Zeus and Hermes and thought that Paul and Barnabas were the gods because of their supernatural ability to heal a crippled man. These cults were centuries old. Zeus was the father of the gods and of men. He ruled from Mount Olympus and was god of the sky and thunder. Hermes, believed to be the god of commerce and social intercourse, was special messenger to Zeus. Hermes guided the dreams of Zeus to humans and carried the souls of dead people to Hades. Cult worship involved special ceremonies and animal sacrifices. Sexual perversion was often practiced during worship.
It’s not surprising that the first Jerusalem Council sent this decree to Gentile believers in Antioch of Syria:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” Acts 15:28-29
Ancient cult worship focused on the degradation of the body, mind and soul of the worshipper. It bothered Paul deeply and he confronted it everywhere he preached.
“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” Acts 17:16-17
Paul knew it was vital for Christians who had converted from cult worship to protect their body, mind and soul from those pagan practices, but he also knew that Christ had commanded all believers to preach the Gospel to the lost. How could they do both – protect themselves from idolatry and share the Gospel with idolaters? Here are some insights from Paul, beginning with advice to the Corinthians who needed to deal with a church member who had committed sexual sins with his father’s wife.
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11
Paul reminded the Corinthians that idol worship was not part of the Kingdom of God.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Paul warned them about eating animals that had been offered to idols because of the impact it may have on other believers. As you read this, think about how these insights might impact a new Christian who had come out of Scientology or other cult.
“Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat itas a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
An important key to helping cultists who become Christians is this sentence: “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.” We should approach helping former cultists with humility and love.
In closing our study about Scientology, I thought it might be helpful to read the testimony of someone who spent many years in Scientology, then became a Christian. Our prayers are with you as you share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people in your family and community.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”