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Can atheists have “church?”

Angel McCurdy March 13, 2015
students worshipping in a classroom

I was, as usual, running late for the 8:30 a.m. church service.

There was a coffee stain on the front of my dress and I was having a terrible hair day.

But as the lights faded and the backlit screen showed the words to “Amazing Grace,” I forgot about all the baggage I took to church. My focus turned on God, on His majesty and on the moment of worship I joined with other believers.

Coming to church is like coming home to me. I see familiar faces, get hugs freely and always find an open place to sit among loved ones. On the surface, it could almost seem routine.

I was recently challenged on how I view church when I came across an article about a former minister who became an atheist. She missed church, so she started her own non-church church.

She says it’s simple: Sunday gathering, music, a talk and lunch afterwards with your community group is what makes a church, whether you’re a Christian or a nontheist.

“At the core we all need a place to connect, a place to serve, a place to love and a place to call home,” Teresa MacBain said in the November article.

Nonreligious churches like MacBain’s are popping up throughout the United States. They gather together, sing songs like “Lean on Me” and hear talks on positive ways to influence the world in an attempt to recreate what religious organizations do without the supernatural element of God.

And I understand how church can seem like just a formula – gathering, music, talk, community. But something is lost in translation. Yes, they got the formula right – but they’re missing the thing that makes the church the Church: Christ.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” Hebrews 10:24-25.

We gather together because that is what God calls us to. In 1 John 1:3, he tells us that we are to fellowship with the Father and with fellow believers.

We, as the body of Christ – the church – are united not by a song or by a gathering place, but by our belief that Jesus came and rose again. Once we accepted Him into our lives we were filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s when I became a member of the Church.

I will always be grateful for the members who cook food for their fellow church members in times of grief, for the meetings for those who are going through difficulties and for the opportunities to reach out to the community to share the love of Christ. But that’s not the church.

The church is more than a feeling, more than a song. The church is the body of believers who have dedicated their lives to something more than what this earth has to offer. Our center, our glue, is Christ.

I can sing “Lean on Me” with my friends all day long and be inspired by the words of someone encouraging me to do more and live bigger, but the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and in the times of worship and gathering cannot be replicated outside of the Christian life.

True, these groups are doing humanitarian efforts, but what they are showing is a  desire for something more. They meet because what they really want is the hope, grace and peace found in churches throughout the world.  But that can only truly be found in communion with the One who is hope, grace and peace: Jesus Christ.

So ask yourself this today: Why do you attend church? Are you there to socialize and feel good about your community or are you being reminded of your utter need for the gospel? What would you suggest to someone who is struggling with this? Comment below.

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