“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?”
These words were not spoken by a Christian pastor. They were, in fact, not spoken by a Christian. These are the words of Sanderson Jones, a British stand-up comic who happens to be an atheist. These words explain why he and his entertaining partner, Pippa Evans, are holding “church” for atheists in the US and Australia, taking up collections during the “fellowship” hour after “church,” in an effort to spark a movement for atheists that includes “church” every Sunday.
Sadly, the words very neatly define what many people believe church attendance means, and it is the reason that our secular culture and our secular government do not fear the existence of church buildings and church organizations that meet for worship. What the culture and the government fears is what happens when Christians burst out of the church building and start acting like Christians everywhere else.
The culture and the government are aghast when a Christian refuses to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, because a Christian knows from biblical teaching that a same-sex couple engaging in sex is an abomination in God’s eyes and that God calls Christians to refrain from approving or participating in sin. When Christian employers refuse to buy insurance packages including as covered services procedures and medications the Christian understands to be sin, the culture and the government accuse the Christian of bad citizenship, rather like the accusation made against first century Christians who refused to worship the emperor of Rome. When Christians advocate starting public meetings and ceremonies with prayer, the culture and the government think the Christians are asking for special privileges.
The culture and the government don’t much like Christians who act like Christians outside the worship sanctuary.
The obverse of worship in the sanctuary is evangelism in the streets. In case you don’t have the definition of obverse on the tip of your tongue, obverse means “the side of a coin or medal that has the more important design on it.” Many Christians believe that “going to church” is synonymous with “being a Christian.” It is not. Going to church is important to Christians, but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing for a Christian is knowing Christ. Everything else grows out of that relationship. Therefore, sharing Christ anywhere and everywhere is the obverse design of Christianity, while worship in the sanctuary is the reverse side.
This is why inviting people to church is not the definition of evangelism. A non-Christian who visits a church worship service will be exposed to the gospel and meet a lot of happy Christians. He (or she) may even respond to the Holy Spirit and receive Christ in the course of a worship service, but that is not the definition of evangelism; it is a subset of evangelism for someone to meet Christ because he was invited to a worship service. If Christians want to bring many people to meet Christ, they will need to do things other than invite people to visit a worship service. In fact, the statement made at the head of this post was made by an atheist who had just visited a worship service. He did not take Christ into his heart while in the worship service. Rather, he heard the prodding of Satan saying, “Isn’t this fun! Wouldn’t it be even more fun if they didn’t keep harping on the God thing?”
I’m not a good evangelist. I want to be. I have always felt completely inadequate to be an evangelist, actually. I have tried in the past to make it be enough that I invited people to church. In the world I see changing around me, I know that such invitations have limited value, especially if atheists are now offering the option to “go to church” without being bothered to recognize that they are sinful, without being asked to submit to the sovereignty of God, without being called to dethrone Self and put Christ on the throne of their hearts.
I have a lot to learn about being an evangelist. I pray I am a fast learner. The world needs more churches, but it only needs more churches that meet God’s definition of a church, not the atheist definition of a church. The world needs more Christians to burst out of their churches and start acting like “little Christs” in the streets.