Friday, July 23, 2010

The Areopagus and the Synagogue

In Acts 17 Paul gave a sermon in the Areopagus. That is the main market place of Athens. A place where people came to exchange ideas. This is much talked about in evangelical circles. People love the idea of going to the busiest place in the marketplace of ideas and preaching the gospel.

But if you read through the book of Acts you don't find Paul doing this again and again. When he arrives at a new town where did he go first? He went to the local synagogue (see Acts 17:1,10,17). That was his normal procedure.The marketplace was not his first choice. Why? He wanted to argue from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. The Jews accepted the Septuagint as the word of God. He felt he could prove to them that Christianity was the true faith of scripture. The worked produced some very strong converts and also some very dangerous enemies. Then, as now, people either listened to the gospel with pleasure or shouted it down in anger.

Eventually he would get to the point where the synagogue was no longer working. The Jewish leaders would kick him out or worse. Then he typically started working out of somebody's home. Often there was a high profile convert with a large house Paul could hold meetings in. Jews and gentiles came to this house church.

I think about parallels to Catholic evangelicalism. Should we go to the marketplace? Sure. Should that be the main focus? I am not so sure. Where is the synagogue of today? Maybe the closest parallel is protestant fellowships. They accept the scriptures and we should argue from the scripture that the Catholic church is the body of Christ. We will get extreme reactions. Some will get angry and some will become very strong Catholics. We can't be afraid to stir things up. That is what Paul was always accused of. Stirring up dissension among the Jews.

One argument against talking to protestants is the idea that they are already people of faith anyway and they are probably going to heaven anyway so leave them alone. Paul could have said this about Jews. He didn't go there at all. He knew the fullness of the faith was something good that they should have. Something that would mean more of them ended up in heaven. He assumed everyone needed saving.

The other synagogue I see is the luke warm Catholics. They accept the entire faith. Yet so many parishes are crying for someone to stir up some sort of passion. Somebody to challenge them to pursue holiness regardless of the cost. You can see why you are much more likely to get stoned preaching in the synagogue than in the marketplace. The marketplace is used to strange ideas. The synagogue has a lot of spiritual pride.

We need to go everywhere but Acts 1:8 says, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth". That means we start close to home. We move out one step at a time. We need to get to the ends of the earth but we need to start with the low hanging fruit. Why did Paul move from Jews to gentiles. Because the Jews stopped converting. Once he saw a synagogue community become closed to his message he went on to more fertile ground.


  1. This is right on, Randy. I have been thinking the same thing: why aren't we visiting Protestant churches, setting up discussions and talks with them, making friends and starting from the ground up to build unity, by God's grace? If I ever become a diocesan evangelization coordinator, this is what I will focus on: establishing relationships with Protestants and their churches to seek unity and to reach out to lukewarm Catholics (in and out of the pews).

    I had taped discussion (one of my podcasts which you might have heard) with a Bible Christian, and he invited me to come to his church this fall and debate sola Scriptura, so I am considering that.

  2. I've become convinced that the modern day Areopagus is what the latest Pope's have called the "digital continent". The Internet is ripe with un-churched intellects--truth-seekers at their core--who reply to any reasonable presentation of the Catholic faith with either virulent attack or casual dismissal.

    Check out this video from Fr. Barron:

  3. I do think the Areopagus is kind of parallel to today's internet. Or perhaps today's cable news talk shows. That kind of thing. Where a wide variety of ideas are being discussed. Sure we can jump in there. Nuns on Oprah. Christopher West on Nightline. Fr Barron on YouTube. This is all good.

    But we can't neglect those closer to us. I know they are harder to talk to. They have firmly held beliefs. They have some negative opinions about Catholicism. In many ways it is easier to start with people who don't have that baggage.