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Mock of Ages
Globalism - Ecumenism
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Wendy Wippel

Last Sunday morning, several hundred congregants in Los Angeles christened a brand new church by gathering, singing songs, passing the plate, and listening to an inspiring message. Sounds familiar, right?  But this wasn't a new Baptist or Methodist church. It was a new Atheist church. And all were welcome. Except God.

The Atheist Church was the collective brainchild of two British comedians: Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. But they weren't joking.

Founded in London just last January, the atheist church (whose meetings were dubbed, with a deplorable lack of creativity, the "Sunday Assembly") models the Christian church experience closely by design, with readings, music, singing, and speakers on topics such as "wonder" and "gratitude".

Sanderson Jones thought it up, the idea coming to him at a Christmas Eve service. "There was so much about it that I loved", he explained, but "at the heart of it, it's something I don't believe in."

Jones wanted a gathering that would celebrate life and nature, but that, like Christian worship, would have people excited. (He had tired, he says, of the "dour" gatherings of some fellow atheists (specifically naming the Humanists and the Unitarians.)

Jones wanted a gathering that, like Christian worship would have people "clapping and dancing around and jumping up and down". 

With one big difference. His meetings would not have the purpose of worshipping God.  In the atheist church he envisioned, people would come together to celebrate "the one life humans know they have." They would be meeting to "wonder more at the awesome world we live in". 

That was the church Jones envisioned. Like-minded friend and fellow comedian Pippa Evans agreed to help.  Jones and Evans covered London in fliers ahead of the first meeting, fliers that explained their idea and announced the details of the very first atheist church meeting.

They thought they'd have, with luck, maybe thirty people.  Two hundred showed up. And in the barely ten months since, Jones' and Evans' "Sunday Assemblies" of Atheists have sprung up across England. 

And in the US. More than 130 met in an Irish pub in New York in June. Other atheist churches have been started in Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta, Nashville, and Phoenix.  And now others in Canada. And more recently, Australia.

The smallish atheist congregations have become big ones, and some of the Sunday Assemblies are now being called atheist megachurches, a fact that has attracted a lot of media attention. In interviews, Jones recently justified his vision for atheist assemblies further:

"If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people - and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?" said Jones. "People who go to church are healthier, wealthier, live longer and are happier," he said. "Church is that it is a safe place for everyone."

As long as it's free of that pesky God, apparently.  A Creator God, the source of absolute truth and moral authority.  That's a problem.

Jones says that atheists can do good without God. And he and Pippa Evans serve as co-pastors at the London church, facilitating the Sunday Assembly meetings. "We call ourselves hosts," he said. "We think of it like a host at a party, serving them and making them feel welcome." The audience claps and sings fervently to tunes like "Lean on Me," and ''Here Comes the Sun".  They listen as different members present their ideas for community service projects, and give to those projects when the plate is passed.

Jones and Evans, however, don't really like the name atheist church.

"We prefer to think of it as all the best bits of church but with no religion and awesome songs."

That's their ideal. A church about self-improvement and service projects, but with better songs. Apparently meaning songs without any reference to God.

Think Steven Covey as the minister and Steven Tyler as the worship leader, I guess.  A church with, according to their mission statement:

No deity. No doctrine. No discrimination.

Sounds so open-minded, doesn't it? So accepting? 

Everything is accepted except God. According to their mission statement, the aim of the Sunday Assembly is to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. To help everyone live this one life as fully as possible.

And their ultimate vision?

"A godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one."

And to that end (shocker) fundraising had begun. A crowd-sourcing campaign began in October, with the goal of launching new groups across Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States. James and Evans are currently on a tour of sites with the goal of raising a million dollars to launch more Sunday Assemblies. Jones gloated, in a recent interview, that He was at that moment "doing this phone call from Nashville, Tennessee", "launching a Sunday Assembly in the buckle of the Bible Belt."

Does that sound accepting? Open minded? And with the first small atheist assembly turning into worldwide megachurches in just a few months, is this a picture of what's to come?

Apparently.

Pew studies that show one third of Americans "connected to their faith" do not believe in God. And to be honest, how many Christian churches at this point are much more than assemblies about self-improvement and service projects. How many churches downplay the cross and the blood of Christ?  God's not so much in the mix already.

One reporter of current church apathy in the US pointed that Americans "are ripe for this." "If 1.5 Catholics are not sure there is a god, that's over 500,000 people. There is a mind-boggling potential."

And God told us that this is the future. Wasn't it Jesus that said; "wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it."?

An even more interesting prophecy is in II Timothy:

"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power."

I've always thought that that was an awfully strange thing for Paul to say 200 years ago. But we're seeing its fulfillment right in front of our eyes. The atheist church, holding the form of Christianity but denying its power.

And Romans 1:16 tells us what its power is.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes."

God outlines church history in the letters to the churches in Revelation Chapter 2 and 3.  Jesus has a message for each church addressed.

To Laodicea, the last church, the message is this:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me."

Jesus is outside this church, hoping and pleading to get in. Not willing that any should perish, no matter how delusional.

One of my favorite quotes is by English poet Samuel Johnson.

I've shared it before, but it never applied more exquisitely than it does to the ongoing phenomenon of the atheist church. Johnson once observed that;

"Truth, for these people, is a cow that will yield no more milk, so they are off to milk the bull."

So they are. And there's a whole lot of bull to milk.

I'll follow one of my favorite quotes with one of my favorite jokes: What's on the Atheist's tombstone?

All dressed up and no place to go.

About Wendy Wippel

Last article: Sinai, South of the Border



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