What do atheists possibly have to offer the church?
As ridiculous as this may sound, the spring 2013 Leadership Journal editors tentatively suggested taking advice from an atheists “church” in London, England. The “Sunday Assembly” was begun by Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, two British comedians. They are serious about being atheists. They say the “church” is a “friendly community gathering for like-minded people that meets once a month in a deconsecrated church.” Over 200 came for the first service and 300 the second.
What is “worship” like in a church that preaches “there is no God”? They start with a welcome and announcements, sing songs by Queen and Stevie Wonder with a live “praise” band, they have guest speakers and “readings are shared.”
All this is intended to say, “we don’t have faith, but [here’s] what we do have.” Since God is not central to the message or mission of an atheist church what do “worshippers” hear at the Sunday Assembly beside their favorite tunes? They hear a message that encourages them to “live better, help often, and wonder more.”
Moralistic, therapeutic, non-deism?
Here’s what I wonder: what am I as a Baptist pastor supposed to learn from an atheist church? What does the article offer as the “take away” for Christians? Only these three things: remember that people long for community; people long to live for a bigger purpose and old ideas can have fresh packaging and energetic execution to attract people.
Really? That’s all you got? Bottom line – church is about the longings of people? Not God? Not the gospel? Please, I’ve heard enough.
Why does the church of Christ have to gain by looking to an atheist model for the measurement of community life? Do the editors presume that the church in America has forgotten that we are the community of Christ? What about a bigger purpose? Isn’t the mission of Christ through the spreading of the gospel itself a fairly big purpose? If pastors are not preaching Christ and his gospel at their Sunday gatherings, not wonder we have to look to the atheists! But what is so big and purposeful in “live better”? That’s not big, that’s small and self-defeating.
Frankly, I admit that I simply did not understand the insights about the “power of an old idea with a fresh expression and energetic execution.” I suppose that must mean that churches need to offer “high energy, high impact” worship services, as opposed to “low energy, durge-like impact”? I saw a “high energy” service offered in a local church in the Denver area. I admit; that did make me wonder — about the goal. Sounds more cathartic than Christ-worshiping. And really, if I want to sing “We are the Champions,” I’ll take in a Broncos game at the NFL Sunday gathering.
The evangelical church has been looking around for new “models” of “doing church” for a long time. Have we hit the bottom by looking to the fools (i.e., atheists) who say in their hearts “there is no God”? (Ps 14:1). As long as the church keeps up this practice of looking everywhere except at God’s word for “doing church,” we will be caught in the revolving door of confusion about who we are in Christ. We will mute the message and make our congregations dizzy from imbibing the poisonous concoctions of the world’s remedies.
Staying faithful to the Word,