Archive | May, 2013

Of church, community and monopoly

1 May

One of the arguments frequently used by atheists in their attempts to undermine the truth and distinctiveness of Christianity is that we Christians don’t have a monopoly on [insert half-understood view of a cherished Christian belief, characteristic or practice here].

Apparently we don’t have a monopoly on decency, on good citizenship, or on love. I can’t think of many Christians I know who claim that we do have a monopoly on the milk of human kindness, yet I think we should be pointing out that one of the hallmarks of our faith is that it makes us grow those characteristics in increasing measure, and often in ways which the world cannot match. Besides, we possess other very real distinctives such as holiness, godliness, redemption and transformation into Christ’s likeness, attributes for which atheists don’t even have a vocabulary, much less a rival claim.

Yet many of us believers are increasingly being swayed by this kind of criticism, to the point that we are forgetting what makes us distinct, what makes us salt and light in a dark world. Liberal Christians are quick to fall for this kind of deception, and where liberal Christians lead, those of us in the evangelical church who don’t know who we are in Christ may quickly follow.

The pearl of ignorance that plopped onto my screen this week was formed from the idea that Christians don’t have a monopoly on community. It followed a forum discussion of a BBC News article on an “atheist church“. Again, it is true in one sense that we don’t have a monopoly on community – you can see community taking place in any pub, sports team or special interest group in the land – but what followed truly astounded me, for some of those contributing to the discussion were convinced that God is among these atheists in their atheist “church” – and any other grouping of generally like-minded people – just as much as He is among committed Christians in a real church. One contributor was asked if that meant that God was also present amongst a gathering of Satanists. Her response? A firm and unequivocal “Yes.”

Surely being Christians must bring something else besides togetherness, or else what is there to differentiate us from atheists or any other group?

We really have to start questioning what kind of faith we are of if we claim that there is little to no difference between a gathering of pleasant but deeply anti-Christian people and a gathering of people who are there to worship and revere God.

If God is amongst Satanists, was He also present and blessing the sense of community felt by all of those fine, athletic and committed young German men and women who gathered to sing rousing patriotic songs, heard Adolf Hitler preach his message of hatred, and then put their hands to the locks on the doors of the gas chambers, or who marched young teenage boys in their thousands out onto the battlefield, never to return?

Is God amongst Islamic terrorists as they shout “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great!) and then strap on suicide bombs, before going out to shred the flesh from unsuspecting people’s bones in a high street or a station?

Is God so weak, so diluted in our thinking, that He cares not what we think of Him, as long as we’re having fun? And if people are being transformed by their experience of community, but not into the likeness of Jesus Christ, then what are they being transformed into? And how can that be good for us – in the sense of ultimate good; the kind that results from genuine salvation – since it would only be transformation into man’s image rather than God’s?

The truth is that Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) It is God’s special promise that He is willing and available to dwell amongst His people. He makes no such guarantees for those who hate Him.

When we gather as Christians, we should make sure that God is amongst us, if He was truly amongst us in the first place, for He says that He has judgment in store for those who honour God with their lips, but whose hearts are actually far from Him. (Isaiah 29:13) Many of us have adopted a faith that makes excuses for our sins: we go to church and claim to love Jesus, but it’s business as usual all week whilst we continue to do what we please rather than allowing God to bring us to repentance.

If we lose or forfeit our godliness – whether in our godly lives or in the presence of God with us – what would be left to show that we know Him?

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