November 11, 2013
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
That was the opinion of Charles Caleb Colton, long-dead British cleric, writer and collector, who was well known for his eccentricities. I guess we can feel good… right?
His observation comes to mind as I see the headline over a story syndicated by the Associated Press, and bouncing around on-line, on Veterans Day. The headline: “Atheist ‘Megachurch’ Finds a Home in L.A.” The lead: “It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any megachurch. The only thing missing was God…”
Only in America: in a companion story – posted on website AlterNet – they aren’t hiding their source of creative genius: “Atheists and non-believers are taking cues from Bible readers: convening large gatherings filled with music, inspiration and reflection… On Sunday, hundreds of people (400) attended such an assembly in Los Angeles. Similar assemblies have been held around the country, including San Diego, Nashville and New York…”
The Gallup Research Organization regularly asks Americans if they attended church last weekend; the answer – in multiple surveys – hovers around 40% (118 million). But, Americans tend to overstate their performance sometimes; more rigorous sampling suggests that 20% (60 million) may be more accurate. And, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a church is not a megachurch until it has a sustained weekly average attendance of 2000 adults in its weekend services.
So, the national press spots 400 people together – once – on a Sunday morning under the banner of atheism, and they grant them “megachurch” status (I guess the atheists have a handicap of 1600 on the Sunday morning golf god course). A few thousand atheists is newsworthy; tens of millions of Christians is not.
What are those godless people doing when they get together? One of the founders of the atheist church movement, British comedian Sanderson Jones, says, “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?”
Apparently, it’s the God part that’s not to like. Paul saw this day coming: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
the “form of godliness” means the search for the effects of knowing God – the distinctives that mark the church, the Body of Christ – but the rejection of the power it takes to replicate it. The atheists can duplicate the activities that they observe in a church building, but if they reject the supernatural power of the indwelling Spirit of God in the people inside, they’ll be wasting their efforts…
While the atheists are trying to imitate the Christians, the Christians are living to imitate the Son: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Romans 5:1-2)
Interesting: while growing numbers of younger Americans say they are abandoning “organized religion,” but maintaining their “spirituality,” I wonder: what’s going to happen now that the other side is regrouping as “organized non-religion?”
I’m sticking with the flawed church that’s following the scarred Savior; it’s still the best meeting on Sunday morning…