Do You Attend an Atheist Church – And How Would You Know?
A while back I read an article that was entitled “Atheist Mega-Churches.” The article claims that humanist gatherings that look like church but disavow any belief in God are popping up throughout the U.S., Australia and Great Britain. When I did a Google search, I found dozens of articles on the subject, including a link to a CNN video which profiled one of these atheist assemblies.
These “unbeliever assemblies” are the brainchild of a British couple, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. Their goal, apparently, is to offer the best of church without the God part.
Here's a quote from Mr. Jones as he reflects on his experience at Christian churches: "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. 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?"
So the "atheist assembly" is basically the "good parts" (according to Mr. Jones) of church: "singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping others."
I hope this isn’t too personal, but I have to ask: if you were looking for a church, and you found a popular one called “The Sunday Assembly,” how would you know if it was a Christian church? Could it actually be an atheist assembly? Consider again what the co-founder of “atheist assemblies” said about the good parts of church:
Improving yourself and helping others
A community of wonderful relationships
Plenty of churches today describe themselves in just that way. Some of the largest “churches” in the world fit that brief description exactly. An atheist would likely feel very much at home there. No uncomfortable truth from the Bible, no expectation of personal change, affirmation and acceptance of whatever your lifestyle might be. And if God is mentioned, He is just a benevolent force always committed to help you become your best you.
Someone might say, “Well, the moment I realized that they don’t believe in God, I’m outa there.” And if you are a true Christ-follower, I’m sure you wouldn’t stick around.
But assuming you wouldn’t stay in a “church” that didn’t believe in God, would you stay in one that claimed to believe in God, but was no different than an atheist assembly? (Remember: awesome songs, interesting talks, self-improvement…)
Let’s say you were looking for a biblical church, a real, true, Christian assembly. What would you focus on first? Well, to answer in the negative, you would not make “awesome songs,” and “interesting talks” your top criteria.
Since the Reformation, the question of “what defines an authentic Christian church” has been an important topic of discussion. Though the answers vary considerably, among Reformed churches, at least three marks of authenticity are usually identified:
faithful preaching of the Word,
faithful administration of the sacraments,
and faithful exercise of discipline.
For the last 25 years, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, under the leadership of Dr. Mark Dever, has been developing a ministry called “9 Marks” – and you can read their list at https://www.9marks.org/about/the-nine-marks/.
But let’s not overly complicated this. If you’re looking for a biblical church, start by asking how the church treats the Bible. Is it front and center in the worship service? Does the preaching focus on the systematic teaching of the Scriptures? Does it exalt Christ, as opposed to exalting human potential? Is it obvious the preacher has spent hours studying the actual text, and do his “points” reflect that text? Do you learn about God and His ways through His word through the preaching? Are you challenged to obey the God of the Bible and to change your lifestyle to reflect God’s will? Are you comforted, encouraged, and strengthened by God’s word?
Many other things are important in finding a biblical church, but the foundation on which a true church’s ministry is built must be God’s word.