Three times in the past week I have been challenged by the passage we find in Acts 17 starting with verse 22. Twice I encountered the passage in books I was reading, and today it was part of a devotion someone shared in a meeting I attended. The apostle Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens when he says, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you."
Most of the time we apply this passage to the unchurched, but I think it has much to say to many of our churches. How many of them are worshiping a god they do not know? I'm thinking of gods like tradition, superstition, power, false doctrine, harmony, control, and many others that prevent our churches from carrying out the mandates of God. None of these churches would admit these are the gods they worship, but how else can we explain their refusal to do the ministry God has called them to do?
I think of the many pastors who struggle to introduce needed change into their churches only to be met with a stone wall. These are pastors who recognize the disparity between what God calls churches to do and what their churches are actually doing. One would think that if a church was truly worshiping God they would seek ways to be obedient to His commands such as the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. If a church is worshiping God it should be concerned about the things that concern Him, things such as social justice, evangelism, compassion, grace, and truth. But, many churches give little more than lip service to these things. Such churches are often more concerned with protecting their rituals, their ways of doing things, their self-righteousness and self-importance, and their current structures that have not served them well in decades. So, what god are these churches worshiping?
Paul used that altar to point the Athenians to the true God; we need to be bold enough to point out to those churches who are worshiping false gods what they are doing. Unless they are challenged about the false gods they worship they will continue to drift further away from God and see their ministries come to an end.