Being a Christian is more than just doing good deeds. After all, atheists are generous and kind people too. I recently read an article in the Huffington Post entitled, “Atheist ‘Megachurches’ Crop Up Around The World” The article begins.

LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES (AP) — It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.

On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

The article goes on to say the following,

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago.

“There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “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?”

So these atheist “churches” now live under the motto,

Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More

Christians have long lived under the delusion that somehow by doing good deeds, we can show the world we are “different” that our Gospel makes us “better” and “more moral” people. These particular atheists shine a light on that error which G.K. Chesterton pointed out more than a century ago. He writes,

It is commonly the loose and latitudinarian Christians who pay quite indefensible compliments to Christianity. They talk as if there had never been any piety or pity until Christianity came, a point on which any mediaeval would have been eager to correct them. They represent that the remarkable thing about Christianity was that it was the first to preach simplicity or self-restraint, or inwardness and sincerity. They will think me very narrow (whatever that means) if I say that the remarkable thing about Christianity was that it was the first to preach Christianity. Its peculiarity was that it was peculiar, and simplicity and sincerity are not peculiar, but obvious ideals for all mankind. Christianity was the answer to a riddle, not the last truism uttered after a long talk.

Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. (New York: John Lane Company, 1909), 136-37.

The age is showing us that even atheists are generous and kind, so what sets Christianity apart? As Chesterton says, what makes Christianity unique is that we are the first to proclaim Christianity.

Kazimierz Bem makes a similar observation in his article titled, “Christianity Cannot Survive the Decline in Worship“.  He writes,

In one way or another, the refrain I constantly hear is: “The Church of the future is the Church of service.” It takes all shapes and forms, but it always boils down to the same thing: Don’t focus on worship — “do stuff” instead! So, a denominational leader blogs that the vocation of churches is to be local community centers, food banks, day cares, or places for diaper drives. New church plants are tailored for terribly busy people, giving them a brief moment of worship (with the stress on brief) “on the run.”

He goes on to make this important observation about the very essence of our worship.

I deeply believe that when we say, “The future of the Church is service,” we are allowing our culture, once again, to get the best of us. We so desperately want to be popular that we are sacrificing our distinctiveness as church. So we create worship where our prayers are innocuous, so as not to scare busy people away. Or we devise a little prayer before or after a meal and pretend it is worship. Let’s be the ACLU, Sierra Club, United Way or YouTube at prayer. You know: let’s be spiritual and a little — but only a little — religious.

If that is the Church’s future some see for us, then we are committing suicide.

So what will keep the church alive? What will set us apart as the people of God? The answer lies in the simple observation that we are the first to proclaim the Good News that God has brought us salvation from our sin. Any person can do good deeds. We don’t need Jesus to feed a homeless person. So what is the point of our faith? Jesus died and rose to new life, not to make bad people good, but to make dead people live. The peculiar thing about our faith is not that it makes us able to do good works, it is that in Jesus Christ we are remade new, given life, and live with an eternal hope!

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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