There are many folk who believe in God and who even believe that Jesus died for their sins but who are not into church going. Their problem is not with God, their problem is church.
There is a new brand of person in our society today who do not believe in God and don’t accept that Jesus died for them but who are into church going. Their problem is not with church, their problem is God.
I became aware of this when my daughter sent me a clipping from their local newspaper. It appeared in the public notices column along with advertisements for local churches and read as follows:
There are many churches in and around Kenmore, but what if you are not a believer? A need to belong to a community is something that many people share, even atheists! That’s why we formed the Kenmore Atheist Community. We are respectful, ethical, and friendly atheists who want to build connections with other like-minded people in our local area. (Details of meeting place and time then followed.) We will have short talk from a guest speaker before breaking for a social coffee and chat.
While this particular advert did not speak of their community as a church there are those who do. The atheist church movement began some years ago in Britain. One of the founders commented, “The Sunday Assembly has been called the atheist church, but we prefer to think of it as all the best bits of church but with no religion and awesome songs.” I have since discovered however that there are some of these “assemblies” that also include singing. They argue, “Why should Christians sing when they get together and not atheists?”
I wondered whether this is a case of unbelievers teaching some believers a lesson. They are highlighting how important communal life is for human beings and how important it is to be part of a community in which we can encourage and support one another. Atheists have recognised that the church has some things to offer that are worthwhile and helpful. As one supporter of the atheist church said, “We sometimes cop flack from people who are religious so we need to support one another in our atheism.” I guess that’s why they have a guest speaker – for much the same reason that Christian churches have preachers.
All this flies in the face of those who think they can be Christians and ignore the church. That, of course, has never really been an acceptable option for Christians. The Bible calls the Church, the Bride of Christ. How can you accept the Bridegroom but not the Bride? I understand that some have distanced themselves from the church because they have been badly hurt by the church. That’s sad. We need to help people through that difficulty so that they can be restored to the church and enjoy the blessings of belonging to a community.
At the same time one wonders about this modern phenomenon. For starters this kind of assembly is simply not “the best bits of church but without religion”. Atheists repeatedly fail to understand that atheism is as much a religious outlook on life as Christianity. Some atheists may like to argue that science disproves God – but it doesn’t. The reality is that the atheist’s position is as much a faith position as that of any other religion. They simply believe that God does not exist – they cannot prove that because as someone once said, “To prove that God does not exist, you would have to look under every rock in the universe at exactly the same time.”
One other tongue-in-cheek comment: I suspect too that this Atheist church will one day split into different denominations. Because the reality is that that there are different kinds of atheistic belief. For example there are the “ordinary atheists” who simply believe that atheism is a personal matter for each individual. They accept that for some people “God” is real, but just not for them. There are also the “ornery atheists” who insist that no one can experience God and that everyone ought to be an atheist. Time will tell whether these two kinds of atheists can co-exist in the same church.
Meanwhile the true church has something that the atheist church will never have: the hope of life beyond this present existence because of the saving work of Jesus. That’s something atheists don’t even dare to dream about.