And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. - Colossians 4: 5-6 (NIV) There is an article out this week regarding the growing trend of atheist churches forming across this country. The founders of this movement, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans are on a 40 day tour trying to raise $800,000 to help fund the start up congregations. So far three dozen "atheist mega churches" have already taken root as God-defying people from Los Angeles to New York are now waking up on Sundays and getting their own version of church on. So what is the big difference between these new ventures and traditional churches? Apparently, not much really. "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?" There is nothing not to like about that description but of course that is not what church is supposed to be. This is a direct quote from Sanderson Jones when interviewed recently about this project and it should give us pause as Christians. You see the key verses today are instructions from God to us about how we are supposed to approach the lost. Pray for God to open the doors to share Christ with the unbeliever. Be wise in how we act towards those in the world. Do not allow opportunities to pass us by. The very way that we speak is supposed to be different! Seasoned and full of grace so that we may always know how to answer everyone. I would venture that these instructions are pretty straightforward. In this age of nonsensical "direct revelations" when it comes to Bible interpretations it is nice when we come across passages that interpret themselves. So how we doing? Well, if the quote above is indicative of the opinion of churches from non-believers I would say we are failing pretty miserably. Now, I know many are already reeling and thinking that their outreach and evangelism ministries do follow the urging from the key verses. They do pray and make the most of opportunities. They are careful with their conversations. They approach evangelism wisely. The problem of course is in the compartmentalization of the Christian experience. You cannot approach evangelism correctly and church incorrectly if we are to see success in bringing people to the foot of the cross. Incorrectly preacher? Well let us take a look at the perception from the quote and see if it has any truth. The first perception from Sanderson Jones is that church experience is about singing awesome songs. Guilty as charged, no? The new way of doing church makes what was once holy and turns it into a concert. The entire concept of worship is supposed to be for God but we have turned it into entertainment. We always have to have the best musicians, saved or otherwise. The best and most talented voices to dazzle the audience, I mean congregation. There is a new breed of worship that is not worship at all. It pays lip service to Christ instead of exalting His name. It is man centered on what blessings God wants to provide, things that we are entitled to, and directs God's people away from His Lordship in their lives. What does the Bible say? Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;bring an offering and come into his courts.Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;he will judge the peoples with equity. - Psalm 96: 7-10 (NIV) Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness and tremble! You won't hear that in many new worship songs. Is it any wonder that Mr. Jones views the church as singing awesome songs? What are you saying preacher? Are we supposed to have substandard musicians and singers? Well yes if that would get us to focus on God again! But no - what I am saying is that if we are in the exalting God business and the impression we give people about our worship of our mighty God is that our music is awesome - maybe we need to tighten that up? But if that doesn't seem problematic, let's see the next observation. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” - Acts 10: 39-43 (NIV) Hearing interesting talks. That is how Mr. Jones described the preaching of God's Word. Now, I do not expect an unbeliever to view the things of God as anything except foolishness but this seems to indicate a somewhat less serious tone than I would have expected. I would be OK if the atheist said that we are nuts because we listen to talks about the blood, people being raised from the dead, and the soon coming judgment. Not, "interesting talks." These verses from Acts are how Peter preached the Gospel. It is also how Paul preached the Gospel. It is how we are supposed to preach the Gospel. Not three topical self help sermon points and a cloud of dust. I cannot blame Sanderson Jones for having this impression. When I hear Joel Osteen I hear an interesting talk. I don't hear about Christ, but it is interesting from a human perspective. When you turn on Christian television and you hear the huckster parade it is obvious they are focused on the things of this world and not heavenly minded. The final observations from Mr. Jones surround relationships. The impression he has of the church is that it is about two things relationally: 1) Improving yourself. Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? - Luke 9: 23-25 (NIV) 2) Helping other people. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. - Matthew 9: 16 (NIV) Christians improve themselves by denying themselves. Remember, this is the impressions of what church represents beloved. What is missing from all of these observations is God. We do not improve ourselves or help others apart from God. Even in this verse from Matthew we see that the goal is not charity in and of itself but in relation to others seeing our good deeds to give glory to God! Sanderson Jones sees it only in a capacity of horizontal relationships. It should be heartbreaking to us that an unbeliever would walk away from observing church and provide not one mention of the God we believe exists! Thus he thinks that replicating the very vehicle God created for saving the lost can be done without God! Once again, I cannot blame someone walking in darkness for failing to be able to discern the things of God that only the Holy Spirit can explain. I was not expecting a exegetical dissertation on grace and sin but somewhere I would hope that he would have seen that we at least were following God. But he apparently didn't. He looked at the church landscape and saw awesome music, interesting talks and a community of people apparently existing only for each other. Sometimes when I look at the church landscape, I can understand how he came to those conclusions. We simply have to do a better job. We have to get back to exalting Christ, preaching Christ and making it plain that all relationships pass through the Lordship of Christ. Then when non-believers seek to copy the church they will have no choice but to realize they cannot without coming to Christ. Rev. Anthony.