A little while ago I came across a You Tube upload discussing a recent fad of atheist congregations popping up in the UK and a few in the USA. They emulate standard evangelic and even Pentecostal churches in that their services include: singing, clapping their hands, some swaying, announcements and a message. The latter focuses on believing in yourself not a non-existent God, celebrating your life which lasts only for a brief moment and getting the most you can out it before you die.
I watched the presentation carefully and sure enough, if the sound was turned off you would be convinced that you were in a regular Pentecostal assembly. With the sound on, a very different pictures emerges. The message is humanist, self centered, motivation to some degree but deliberately absent of God. I even noted a little bit of mocking and smugness in the congregation as they raised their hands "to the heaven" and worshiped....nothing.
It was a boisterous, raucous affair. The social element was very sincere. The spirit, if you can call it that, was uplifting. Wow. I had to confess to myself this meeting was, at least on the surface, no different than they meeting held by evangelical. So I was compelled to ask the question. What makes us believers different from them ? If the primary role of church is to gather, be inspired and feel good at the end of the service, not to mention love and accepted, these atheists have achieved their purpose. They have succeeded in providing their members a "God experience" from an atheist perspective. They have done it pretty well. The fact that they mimic us effectively is a testament that our gatherings are no more powerful, no more like affirming, no more effective than ours. Furthermore they have done it, like us, without God.
The whole premise of this is clear. The warmth, support and community offered by churches has nothing to do with God at all. It is a result of human beings getting together to celebrate life and one another. It is the power of the human spirit that is at work here not any Holy Spirit. Since the atheist church has been able to reproduce the same atmosphere as we do without any reference to God, it is clear God does not exist.
This is the message I got. Well what makes us different ? What if anything distinguishes our church services from theirs. I had to think about that long and hard. I came to a bitter conclusion. Nothing distinguishes us. Nothing at all. The mechanics of the service are identical. The flow and the structure are the same. The effect on the people participating is similar. Or is it ?
One can conclude there is no distinction between the two if indeed God does not exist. In the case of the atheist church these are the wise and enlightened. They have come to terms with the fact that this life is all there is; that there is no supernatural world and we might as well accept and celebrate that to the fullest while providing for social needs.
But if God does exist what then. The evaluation now goes beyond the externals. It transcends the pure mechanics of the service and its human elements. The atheist church would be a form of blatant blasphemy of the highest order; a mockery of everything sacred and an insult to the one true God who has commanded " Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul strength and mind" It is an evil, misguided and sacrilegious exercised designed to embarrass and vilify people of faith claiming a lie that this life is a result of a closed naturalistic system in which all that is real is what can be scientifically measured.
The Bible declares in Heb 11 : 1-3 and vs 6
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible........6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
The church service held be believers contains an unseen element that goes beyond the simple mechanics of singing, clapping and preaching. God is present. He is real and he is an active though unseen part of every service. Jesus confirms this when he says, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst" Indeed to anyone who knows about true worship, one can testify the presence of God in a gathering is real and tangible although unseen through the operation of the Holy Spirit.
There is a marked and significant distinction in that case. As our hearts are prepared to enter into that presence and our minds saturated with the Word of the Lord to such a degree that we are convinced by faith Jesus in amongst us, to that degree will He manifest himself. In other words, he makes himself real to those who know that he is real, because he is real.
If we have become so dull and unbelieving that our church services have become mechanical to the point where the presence of God is not felt by those presence then shame on us. The atheist church is an indicator that this is precisely the case. When believers begin to truly believe then the distinction between atheist churches and our own will be obvious. Jesus Christ will be present ( he always is anyway ) but passion and faith will compel to manifest himself in the service and everyone in the house will know he is real. That's something the atheist church, no matter how hard they try will never manufacture.