Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

The Assembly of the Good People

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Nov• 15•13

The Aquila Report brought my attention to yet another article written about an atheist church. Apparently, the atheist mega-church is on the rise. In this article there were several hundred unbelievers in attendance, including families with small children.

It seems that atheists are feeling a little homesick from their upbringing in the church. So they are assembling together on Sunday mornings to sing songs such as one of my favorites, “Here Comes the Sun.” (I’m not being sarcastic, that is the song I danced to with my father at my wedding.) Sanderson Jones, one of the founders of this movement that is spreading through Great Britain, major cities in the US, and Australia, shares how he came up with this idea after attending a Christmas caroling event:

“There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “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?

What’s not to like? And so, with almost 40 atheist mega-churches under their belt, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans are on a mission, raising money to establish more atheist gatherings that involve singing, inspirational talks, reflection, “get-to-know-one-another” games, hand clapping, and even your coffee and donut corner. This article was focusing on a recent gathering in the new LA atheist church:

Sunday Assembly — whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More — taps into that universe of people who left their faith but now miss the community church provided, said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont…

I think a lot of secular people say, “Hey, wait a minute. We are charitable, we are good people, we’re good parents and we are just as good citizens as you and we’re going to start a church to prove it,” said Zuckerman.

Because that’s what church is, a place where the good people assemble.

It’s sad isn’t it? This group of confessing unbelievers is being called out by a leader to assemble together on a Sunday of all days. It’s like there is some kind of longing within them to respond, some kind of knowledge of something more. But they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and make themselves the object of worship.

This Sunday Assembly sounds exactly like J. Gresham Machen’s description of the liberal Christian church gatherings in his book Christianity and Liberalism:

The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in an impossible task—she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the Church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid their conviction of sin. The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows: “You people are very good,” he says; “you respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. Now we have in the Bible—especially in the life of Jesus—something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people.” (58)

Machen, of course, discusses how futile this is, and reminds us that Jesus didn’t come preaching repentance to the righteous. Christianity and Liberalism was published in 1923, and in reading this now, I can see why many would confess unbelief and leave this kind of church. In Machen’s words, “Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale” (57). Why not just take out the whole repentance and Savior part since they’re already good people? I’m not blaming atheism on liberal churches, but I am noticing an eerie similarity between these new atheist churches and Machen’s description of the liberal assembly. The assembly of good people.

But enough picking on liberal Christianity. I’ll close with a question for all those who confess the gospel message of salvation for sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but don’t bother to be a part of the church. The atheists are assembling on Sundays for church now in the droves. Are you offended? Are you convicted that you are called out to worship the true God, to receive the means of grace, and yet you find better things to do with your time? Even the unbelievers are sending us a message that the good people should gather together on Sunday mornings. How much more should a sinner who has been saved by grace?

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6 Comments

  1. Tim says:

    Wow, Aimee, that’s a very challenging question there at the end.

    Those without Christ know they are looking for something, and like everyone else who has looked but not quite found it they will come up short. It is only in him that we find what we’re really looking for. of course, it’s him finding us in the first place that makes this happen.

    So what does that mean for me on a Sunday morning? A couple years ago we realized we needed to see if there was someplace else to attend than the church we’d been at for decades. We never contemplated staying home, though. The gathering of God’s people is a powerful work of God’s grace.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      It’s just so sad to think of how empty it would be to gather together on Resurrection Day without the presence, worship, service, and fellowship of the Lord.

  2. Laura says:

    Wow, what a great post!! LOVE that you challenge believers at the end, not atheists. And, absolutely agree about what you describe as “liberal Christianity” – I am interested in this Machen guy!

    That was the perfect way to describe these gatherings, as coming from a “longing within them to respond.”

    Great article from beginning to end.

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