Archive for November, 2013

Sunday Assembly

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

In the third post in this series, I included a quote from Dr. Carolyn Parco in which she lamented science’s lack of ecclesiastical benefits. It looks like her prayers wishes might be answered. The Associated Press recently published an article detailing the spread of Atheist “mega-churches” called “Sunday Assemblies.”

Sunday Assembly co-founder and comedian Sanderson Jones is quoted in the article. His perspective is an unintended but stinging indictment of American church priorities.

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.

It is sobering to think that our churches have become so socially conscious in their behavior that leaving God out hardly changes the experience. Is it possible that God is subtly being treated as a “bad part”?

The article continues,

The inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted several hundred people bound by their belief in non-belief.

Notice the implied contradiction in the phrase “belief in non-belief.” This is a key point in my series on natural humanism as religion: everybody has a faith-based belief about the supernatural, even if it’s the belief that no supernatural exists.

Similar gatherings… have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

While numerous humanists have commented on personal satisfaction with the scale and grandeur of the universe and their being a part of it, the attendees of “Sunday Assembly” can tell that something is missing. This missing element is worship. Humans are created to worship, but the universe is a cold, vacuous, and uncomprehending deity. These congregationalist seek ritual as a substitute for worship. The author of the article writes that they seek camaraderie without religion or ritual, but he is mistaken. In the same article he quotes a sociology professor who contradicts him.

‘There’s something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism,’ said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist.

Luciano understands that ritual and religion is exactly what these people are seeking. He’s also right that it won’t help them. Religious ritual is empty without a worthy subject to worship. Without God, it becomes exactly what they accuse it of being; habits for emotional stabilization, devoid of personality. Like an infant’s pacifier, it may give them a temporary sense of comfort, but there’s no real nourishment.

As Christians, our nourishment is based on studying, remembering, and praising the work of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and then imitating that work to others. All of our church behavior should reflect these principles. If not, we risk becoming another “Sunday Assembly.”

Last Words of Murdered Men

There are two surprisingly similar yet startlingly different passages in the Bible that involve the stoning of God’s messengers. The first involves the prophet Zechariah:

Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He also has forsaken you.'” So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, “The LORD look on, and repay!”1

The second involves another prophet of God, Stephen:

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth… Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him… Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”2

Both men addressed the leadership. Both men spoke with conviction from God. Both induced a violent reaction. Both had something to say before they expired. But what they had to say is the startling difference. Zechariah said,  “look on and repay.” Stephen said, “do not charge them with this sin.” What happened to create such a dichotomy of response? Zechariah operated under the dispensation of the law. His example was Moses, communicating the Law of Jehovah God. “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death… you shall give life for life.”3 Stephen operated under the dispensation of grace.  His example was Jesus Christ, communicating the Love of Jehovah God. “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him… Then said Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'”4 Praise God for his Son, whose substitutionary sacrifice both fulfilled the demands of the law and became the archetype of love. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”5  Because of his sacrifice, we too can pray for our enemies, recognizing with pity their blindness even as they seek to injure us.

  1. 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 []
  2. Acts 7:51-60 []
  3. Exodus 21:12, 23 []
  4. Luk 23:33-34 []
  5. Romans 5:8 []

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Works on Fire

There will come a day when the works of believers will be tried with fire. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 states, “If anyone’s work which he has built on [Christ] endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss…”

Fire is seen throughout the Bible as consuming the impure. Fiery swords guarded the entrance to Eden from the sin of Adam. Fire consumed the cities of Sodom and Gomorra. Fire from the Angel of the Lord consumed Gideon’s sacrifice. Fire devoured the offering of Elijah so thoroughly that the altar and surrounding water was consumed as well. In the end, fire will consume the Earth. Most importantly, from the lighting of the sin offering’s fire by God in Leviticus 9:24 until the time of Christ, offering after offering was burned up. No offering was perfect, so all were consumed.

The Bible describes works that are not satisfactory as wood, hay, and stubble. These are works that are performed outside the will of God. “Bondservants, be obedient… with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”1

It is sure that a portion of our works will be destroyed at the seat of reward, less for some, but sadly more for others. Fortunately, this isn’t a question of our eternal security. “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”2

The Bible likewise describes works that are satisfactory as gold, silver, and precious stones. These are works performed in the will of God, and they will last forever.3

There is only one person who had or will have no works burned. Jesus Christ said, “I do nothing of myself,” and, “I always do those things that please Him.”4 Even at the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus stated, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.”5 There was not one action in his life that was selfish or insincere or willful.

His works were flawless.

When Jesus Christ went to the cross and became sin for us (his greatest work), the fire of God’s wrath toward that sin fell on him. Under the cload of darkness, the penalty of our sins was poured out on the Savior… but praise God he was not consumed! Fire consumed the impure, but the perfect Savior was still there. Hebrews 10 records this glorious revelation: “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…”6

We see then, that there is no work of ourselves that can be pleasing to the Father. If we would have works that will be preserved for eternity, monuments to magnify the glory of God, then our works must be done in Christ’s will.

In the words of C. T. Studd,

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

  1. Ephesians 6:5-6 []
  2. 1 Corinthians 3:15 []
  3. 1 John 2:17b – …he who does the will of God abides forever. []
  4. John 8:28-29 []
  5. Luke 22:42 []
  6. Hebrews 10:11-12 []