AROUND the world, people would answer that question in many different ways. The apostle Paul observed: “There are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords,’” and today the gods worshiped number into the millions. (1 Corinthians 8:5) Did you know, however, that many people worship a different god from the one they think they are worshiping? And did you realize that many atheists are more devout than those who believe in a god? In what way?
Well, one meaning of worship is “to regard with great, even extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.” In the original Bible languages, the words for worship carry the thought of service or bowing down before someone. With this in mind, let us see how people can be mistaken as to whom or what they are really worshiping.
Something similar happened when missionaries introduced Roman Catholicism into South America. They converted most of the populace, but like the ancient Samaritans, the populace did not forget their former gods. Thus, in Brazil the pagan rites of voodoo are still observed by “Christians,” as are celebrations honoring ancient deities, such as the goddess Iemanjá. Similar things occur in other South American lands.
Moreover, the religion that those missionaries introduced into South America was itself a fusion religion.
Many of its doctrines, such as the Trinity, hellfire, and the immortality of the soul, came from ancient pagan religions and philosophies. They were certainly not found in the Bible. Similarly, its feasts—including Christmas and Easter—were of non-Christian origin. Is it possible to observe such pagan festivals and believe in such non-Christian doctrines and still worship the God of the Bible, who said: “You must not have any other gods against my face”? (Exodus 20:3) Surely not!
There are other subtle forms of idolatry. In the year 44 C.E., King Herod Agrippa delivered a public speech, and the people became so excited that they shouted: “A god’s voice, and not a man’s!” (Acts 12:21, 22) Yes, they idolized Herod, making a god of him. Similar things happen today. In the heady days when Nazism was rising to power in Europe, the cry “Heil Hitler!” was really a shout of adoration. Many were willing to fight and die for the Führer as if he were a god, the savior of the nation. Yet, most of those rendering such homage were members of Christendom’s churches!
Before and after Hitler, other political leaders have similarly promoted themselves as savior figures and demanded exclusive devotion. Those who succumbed made gods of these men, no matter what formal religion the “worshipers” belonged to or even if they claimed to be atheists. The homage that charismatic sports stars, movie stars, and other entertainers receive from their fans also is akin to worship.
The apostle Paul explained a similar principle when he wrote: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5) If we covet something so strongly that we expend all our efforts toward gaining it, perhaps even breaking the law in the process, then to us that thing is an idol, a god. (Ephesians 5:5) In another letter, Paul wrote of certain wrongdoers: “Their god is their belly.” (Philippians 3:19) If our whole purpose in life is pleasing ourselves, filling our belly as it were, then we are our own god. How many do you know who worship this kind of god?
Yes, as the apostle Paul wrote: “There are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords.’” And in many cases, their worshipers are like the ancient Samaritans, serving one god by their words and another by their actions. In fact, though, there is only one God who deserves our worship.