Imitating Church: Atheists Engage in the Sincerest Form of Flattery

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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” wrote Charles Colton in 1824. Today, Colton’s words are possibly being lived out in the most ironic fashion – Atheist ‘mega-churches’ take root across US, world reports Gillian Flaccus in the AP.

The AP reports that “several hundred people” attended or, more specifically, USA Today‘s version of the story states “more than 400 attendees.” The problem is that 400 people does is not enough to meet the definition of a megachurch. The numbers to qualify as a megachurch is attendance between 1,600 to 2,000 plus.

But it is a catchy headline.

Not A Church

Next, the biblical definition of church is not a building. However, the word “church” has become used to mean “a building used for public Christian worship” as Oxford Dictionaries states. The same dictionary defines an atheist as “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.”

So far, we have a megachurch that does not meet the definition of mega nor of church put together and attended by atheists. Basically, there are a group of atheists gathering for fun and fellowship – not a church of any kind.

They actually call themselves the Sunday Assembly identifying as a “godless congregation” offering the “best bits of church, but with no religion, and super pop tunes.”

Not all atheists are excited about this new venture as the AP story notes.

“The idea that you’re building an entire organization based on what you don’t believe, to me, sounds like an offense against sensibility,” said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist who was raised Roman Catholic but left when he became disillusioned.

“There’s something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism,” said Luciano, who blogged about the movement at the site policymic.com.

Mr. Luciano makes some good points though I have not read his blog.

Why Church?

But why steal Christian vocabulary? Why not call their organization a club or shrine or temple or mosque or synagogue and meet on another day besides Sunday?

Apparently, there is something about Christianity that moves these atheists to try to imitate the church. Of course, they do not want Jesus. Instead, they exalt themselves through good music and fellowship trying to help each other live life to its fullest.

I get what they want to do – I worshiped myself for years before becoming a Christian. When I was my own god I had no one to turn to, but myself. And I didn’t have much to offer, especially, during hard times. It was like looking at the mirror expecting the image to change.

Despite all of the issues within Christianity, there is something attractive about the church. Whether in church, work, or personal relationships, people tend to imitate that which they admire. When people see desirable traits in a person, or group of people, they often seek out those traits through some form of imitation.

If these atheists truly understood the Christian community, they would grasp that there is nothing good in us. Christian motivation comes through faith in Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit working through us. Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and one with Christ are things that cannot be imitated.

Of course, people can try to live a life of good deeds outside of Christ.

The Spoken Gospel

One takeaway for Christians on this issue is the shortfall of the “good deeds” approach to sharing the Christ. The motivation for such an approach, attributed to Francis of Assisi, is stated as,”Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

This atheist “church” has essentially taken their own good works as their gospel and are organizing to live them out. This group could go out and do good deeds in their towns and neighborhoods while telling people they are from “Sunday Assembly” which actually sounds like a church.

Yet, they don’t actually have a gospel to share other than their good works. Where do they go when these good deeds run dry? Their position is they “won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can.” What happens when someone wants help living out a situation to which the Sunday Assembly leaders are opposed?

They have no objective standard other than self – no Bible, no Christ. Christians must not simply rely on good works to do something they were never mean to do. Rather, we must seek to share – to speak – the gospel every chance we get.

Evangelism

One good thing about these atheist Sunday Assembly groups they are a captive audience for Christian evangelism. If one of these branches opens in your town, you will know where there is a building full of people who want to act like followers of Jesus, need Jesus, but don’t want Jesus.

A local Sunday Assembly could provide a great evangelistic opportunity. It certainly could lead to more open dialogue as some atheists might feel they would have a more visible place at the table to promote their godless worldview.

Keep in mind, my fellow Christians: the atheist offers no hope, while Christians offer Christ so all might know hope.

Here I blog…

Mark

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The above article was posted on November 11, 2013 by Mark Lamprecht.
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