There’s a little flurry of atheist ‘churches’ at the moment. Meetings of like-minded secularists who listen to some music, hear a talk, reaffirm their views, have a collection, and then afterwards have a cup of coffee and some home-made cake.
It’s very earnest (and therefore very funny), but they are deliberately trying to put into practice what they think: that religion has a number of good outcomes (morality, beauty and good works), and if we are ‘grown-up’ enough we can manage all those without having to invoke the idea of anything supernatural.
It is, as I say, very funny. And deeply ironic that according to today’s Times, one of them can arrange a secular harvest festival to collect food for the homeless, but they have to rely on local churches to distribute it.
But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realise that they are missing not just one key element (God, obviously), but two – and they be missing it because we are not to hot on it either.
It’s obviously futile to do what we do without a living God – we have a weak, foolish, and unpersuasive message of a cross, and we rely totally on the Lord Jesus to win people for himself. We don’t replay the shared values of a metropolitan enlightened elite – we call people to die daily for the sake of a risen saviour.
But the other element these faux ‘churches’ are missing is fellowship. Love of neighbour, love of enemy, love of sister and brother. In these ‘churches’ I’d meet other educated, urban late twentieth century professionals who share the values of our day; in the gospel I meet a Chinese pastor imprisoned for his faith, Syrian Christians who have only their Lord for help, and a billion others from every place on the planet. They are not my like-minded friends. They are my sisters and brothers, closer than my family, in Christ.
As are the fifty people I meet with each Sunday at church. Not a club. Not friends. Not a mutually admiring metropolitan intelligentsia. Family, from the bottom of the heap.
But here’s the thing. I wonder if the ‘churches’ haven’t realised they need to copy that, because we’ve not made it that obvious. Church services are also places where you turn up, isten to some music, hear a talk, reaffirm our views, have a collection, and then afterwards have a cup of coffee and some home-made cake.
Please have a look at what they’re doing – and look hard in the mirror
The Sunday Assembly has a link here
Alain de Botton’s School of Life has a link here
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