If you don't believe in God, why go to church?
IN 2013, comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones started up ‘The Sunday Assembly’. The idea grew from their realisation that they wanted something “like church, but totally secular and inclusive of all”*. Since then, they have grown and there are congregations in over 70 towns and cities in the UK. They get together every Sunday, sing songs, eat food together and listen to talks. On their website they have a charter; the first point is that The Sunday Assembly “is 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.” They also talk on their website about the importance of creating community.
The language of “community” is everywhere in our secular culture. From team building activities, workplaces, charities, activist groups, street parties,
there seems to be a growing desire to belong, to be part of something bigger.
So maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising that people are interested in atheist church. Over the summer, Revd Canon Dr Tim Bull visited The Sunday Assembly, and noticed the similarities to church.
In an article on Premier Christianity’s website, he says: “there were several things that struck me as having more than a surface similarity to Christian faith. Intriguingly, The Sunday Assembly had a time of prayer, although it was called the weekly ‘Moment of Reflection’ and we all kept quiet for sixty seconds. […] We had a testimony, as Siobhan told us about a time when she had tried her best.”
He went on to say “But at its heart I found a gaping hole where God should have been.”
It’s interesting to see how even secular culture recognises the need for community and gathering together, but it’s also a challenge for Christians to remember the true meaning of church. It’s not just a social time or a meeting, but it consists of us, a group of believers, with Jesus at the head and centre of all we do.
We know that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25) – the church is precious to Jesus and, as it says in Matthew 5, the church is “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt 5:14).
We are meant to be clear, visible, a display of the light of Jesus to the watching world, and yet we mess up. A body made up of flawed humans, we aren’t always the best demonstrators of how Jesus’ kingdom is meant to be, especially when we rely on our own efforts and ‘achievements’ instead of falling on Jesus completely.
The church is a work in progress and as we look to our head, Jesus, we “build [ourselves] up in love” (Eph 4:16). As Christian rapper Lecrae sings, in his song ‘The Bride’, we are simply “a building of beings being constructed”.