Monday, October 14, 2013

What We All Want, Too

A couple of weeks ago our venerable Pastor Dods Pengra delivered an excellent sermon in which he mentioned the launch of an Atheistic Church in London. The local atheists—called the Sunday Assembly—meet in a "deconsecrated" church in London's East Side each Sunday morning for tea, cookies, and fellowship. They hear a sermon, sing some songs, and enjoy fellowship with one another. But I am not concerned with what they are doing; it's the why that speaks volumes about them—about people in general.

This is what the author said:
I don’t think religion should have a monopoly on community. I like the idea of a secular temple, where atheists can enjoy the benefits of an idealized, traditional church—a sense of community, a thought-provoking sermon, a scheduled period of respite, easy access to community service opportunities, group singing, an ethos of self-improvement, free food—without the stinging imposition of God Almighty. Evidently, I was not alone.
Without the stinging imposition of God Almighty. That phrase is telling of what's really going on here. They want the benefits of traditional Christian community without the imposition of a holy God and his righteousness. It's the same upside-down desire system that has plagued us since the Fall.

When God created us, he created us with certain desires that mimic his character and attributes. One of those desires is the desire for community. God exists in community (as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and so we were created to be in community with God and with one another. Our communion with God overflows into our communion with one another. God designed us to want to be together and live life together. But sin, being sin and all, distorts these desires. The town of Babel is a great example—and particularly germane to the Sunday Assembly.

The people of Babel had a word from God: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But the people of Babel had other plans. They wanted to build a tower that displayed man's prowess and reach to the heavens. They wanted to build a name for themselves—and make God irrelevant in the process. They wanted the benefits of God-given desires without the imposition of God. They wanted to be their own god. But God will not be mocked; he dispersed the Babel builders and confused their language. And it came to pass that the tower of Babel became the tower of Babble.

The same mindset lies deep behind the Sunday Assembly. The assemblers want a strong sense of community, which is God-given, but they do not want the imposition of the God who gave them those desires. They want the gifts, but they want to despise the giver. This is nothing new; it's been going on since the beginning. The human heart has not changed: we want it our way, on our terms.

Instead, the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast aside our idol of self and all its manifestations. The condition of craving-the-gift-but-despising-the-giver is not limited to Atheist Church start-ups. It affects every one of us at the core. In many different ways, we place our desires in front of God's desires. We want the cultural benefits of God's grace without having to submit to the God that purchased that grace. This is idolatry, and it affects the real Church too.

The reality is that the Sunday Assembly will not last. Without a unifying vision (and really, without Jesus Christ), the voices of the Assembly will begin to drown one another out. It will become its own version of the Tower of Babel. But it is interesting to see a singular idol affect all of mankind throughout history. Through the story of Babel, we can see our own story. And when we really see, it is a kindness of God that we do. May it lead us to repentance.



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