Monday, January 6, 2014

Atheist 'Churches'

I've been watching the "Sunday Assembly" movement from afar for a while now.  If you haven't heard of it, basically, it is a movement designed to being atheists together on a large-scale level, and mimicks the typical evangelically-oriented church with its Sunday "assemblies" - just, without God.

If you are a Jesus disciple and think that this isn't something quite serious, that we really don't need to pay much attention to, or that won't be a problem for the Church in the near future (if it isn't already), you are mistaken.

We should not regard atheists, or agnostics for that matter, as "enemies" - but rather, like all people, including you and I, they are people in need of the transformational power of Jesus' gospel of the Kingdom of God.  I have friends who are atheistic (although probably not "hard core"), and many more who lean agnostic.  They are not the enemy to be vanquished.  Nor are they another number waiting to be converted.  They are people, with real lives, real problems, real joys, real hopes, real families, real jobs, and real questions.  Jesus disciples need to treat atheists and agnostics with the utmost respect, as well we should anyone and everyone.  It should be (and in fact, is) a hallmark of what it means to be a Jesus disciple, that we love and respect all people.

But as a movement, and a "religion of non-religion," atheism coming together to attempt to "evangelize" more people into their way of thinking, non-believing, and living, is a dangerous thing to those of us who are giving our lives for the cause of Christ.

And so as I came across another article about this movement, this one actually discussing a "split" within it (they really are trying to be like evangelically-oriented churches, aren't they?)...I couldn't help but notice how the article, without a trace of second-guessing, consistently referred to these groups as "atheist churches."

But of course...that would be impossible.  Not just an oxymoron, mind you.  But a literal impossibility.

The Church is the body of Christ, and no other body, and no other's body.  The Church are those who have or are on the journey towards expressly and explicitly having faith in, believing, proclaiming, practicing, and living out the implications that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Jewish Messiah, and the Son of the one true God, Jehovah.  The Church not only has faith in God, but it has faith that Jesus Christ is God, and that He is alive today, is present on earth with us through Holy Spirit, and will return to earth in His resurrected 'physical' form one day.

You cannot be a church, or the Church, without this faith, and belief, in God.

And you cannot be an atheist with such a faith, and belief, in God.

The two are quite mutually exclusive.

The danger, then, in this atheist movement is just that - that as a movement it will be confused and conflated with the one true, real, actual Church - the body of Christ - all those who have faith in, believe, and confess that Jesus Christ is God, who worship Him as God, and who are Jesus disciples working to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth more and more with each passing day.

So today I have both a warning and an encouragement for the Church.

The warning is, don't dismiss this or any movement as inconsequential.  You may one day have to spiritually battle with them for the hearts and lives of your children and grandchildren.  Make sure there is a clear difference between the Church and the so-called atheist 'church.'  If we cannot see a clear difference, neither will anyone else.  So don't just do church.  Anyone, even atheists, apparently, can do that.  Be the Church.  Beginning in your own family, and then to all with whom you have relationships and influence.

The encouragement is just that:  You have the power, through Holy Spirit, to make not just a spiritual but a holistic difference in the lives of your family, friends, co-workers, community, and Church.  Do it.  Show the world what a real Church is.  The body of Christ.  The people of God.  The communion of saints.  Church:  Be the Church!  So much so, that no one else can possibly lay claim to her, that no impostor will ever be able to come remotely close to being who she is:  The bride of Christ.

Amen.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Seasons

It's snowing.  Again.  In the part of the world where I live, that's no surprise - given that it is January.  The upper and industrial midwest areas of the United States get this kind of weather, at this time of year, often.

But even for someone who has experienced many long, harsh, cold winters...this one seems to be particularly...well...unkind.

It's New Year's Day.  Again.  Seems to happen every year just about this time.  The ball drops on New Year's Eve, we cheer, we kiss, we celebrate.  But on New Year's Day...at least in the part of the world where I live...we typically awake to cold...snow...wind...or all three.

In our lives, as we are spiritually formed (and make no mistake, we all are being spiritually formed...no matter what our 'religion' our lack thereof...no matter how old or young...whether we are the brightest bulb on the tree or...not so much...regardless of how much wealth we have...or don't), there will be seasons.  Lazy summer days.  Bitter winter nights.  Chilly fall sunsets.  Warm spring sunrises.  And everything in between.  Some will last seemingly much longer than others.  Some will feel as if they are here and gone as if in the blink of an eye.  But all will be times in which we are shaped, formed, and transformed - either increasingly into the people God has created us to be and become, or...less so.

There's a place in the Scriptures where someone says of Jesus, "He must become greater.  I must become less."  That doesn't mean God wants to stomp out our image.  It means that God wants us to be formed in God's image; rather than us, as humans, trying to forge a god out of our own image.  I don't think most humans would do the latter intentionally; I also don't think most humans allow God to do the former with any sense of intentionality, either.

Sometimes when Jesus is becoming greater in us, and we are becoming less, it may not seem that way, even to us.  But there is always so, so much that God has yet to do in us.  And God may choose to do it in some on the most surprising, bewildering, frustrating, or downright inconceivable ways.  Are you open to that, in your own life?  Are you open to God deconstructing and reconstructing even parts of your heart and life that have long sense, in your own mind, been settled? 

As you begin the New Year, don't get too settled.  And don't settle.  And most of all, don't think that God might not surprise you and change your whole view on what being settled - and settling - actually means.  There is firm ground and a firm foundation to stand on.  He is Jesus.  But He is always on the move, doing something new. 

Have a blessed New Year!