Church Doctrine: We All Got It

December 6, 2013 § 3 Comments

Interestingly, Atheist “churches” are getting more popular. These are not churches in the traditional sense, but congregations of atheists gathering in a church-like setting to fellowship, sing, hear messages about celebrating life, and go out and serve their community.

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The Sunday Assembly, started by two British comedians, is now an international network of atheist churches with US locations in New York and Portland, also listing 4 UK assemblies and one in Australia. The Sunday Assembly calls themselves “a godless congregation that celebrate life.”… “the one life we know we have.” The About page at SundayAssembly.com contains a “public charter” including 10 points of what we should certainly call doctrine. Ironically, point number 2 states that the Sunday Assembly: “Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.”

The obvious contradiction here is that excluding yourself as a rule from an allegiance to doctrine is itself a point of doctrine. This is the first most significant mistake many atheists makes about doctrine; atheism attempts to distance itself from it by saying it has none. If you are going to say anything, you are adhering to a set of principals which comprise your doctrine. Like any religion, atheism has a set of dogmatic principals too.

Making use of “wisdom from all sources” sounds inclusive but is dishonest. Would an atheist assembly allow the teaching of any text that was expressly theistic? They may be cordial and tolerate a certain amount of Biblical teaching. They are, after all, “radically inclusive” according to rule number 4. But how does a group remain “godless” and allow God in at all? Being “Godless” is a core tenet of atheism and therefore inviolable doctrine. And if Sunday Assembly were to somehow manage teaching “wisdom from all sources,” such a mixed bag of philosophy inevitably results in self-contradiction, since “all sources” will bring many opposing truths. Preaching everything means preaching nothing.

Maybe the first mistake atheists generally make about doctrine is assuming that it’s a bad thing, hence the perceived need to avoid it. Doctrine is defined as “a principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.” A group that outlaws doctrine is relying on doctrine to do so. The reason any group needs a “public charter” (a document outlining the principles, functions, and organization of a corporate body; a constitution) is because you can’t outline your purpose without some kind of doctrine. This makes doctrine good and necessary!

Addendum 1-12-14: Furthermore, churches split when they develop distinctions that the congregation can no longer tolerate. That’s exactly what happened with the New York Sunday Assembly in this recent report, which is splitting over “ideological differences.” Some members have decided that Sunday Assembly was not atheist enough. Thus, a new denomination of the atheist church is born. But of course, you can’t have differences and distinctions without doctrine.

According to Christianity, we are made to assemble in worship, evidenced by the fact that, historically, humans were doing this long before the church age (see Genesis 4:26, Deuteronomy 16:8, 1 Chronicles 29). Sunday Assembly and other atheist congregations are after much of the same things theistic congregations are supposed to be doing (zero points for originality). Along with this inevitably comes some sort of man-made purpose and a set of rules for assembling. And of course the object of worship in a “godless” church is something other than God, something inherently human like autonomy, wonder or logic—but atheists nonetheless worship.

“The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrate life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.”

This group espouses love, good deeds, inclusiveness, and growth. All great things, but all doctrinal teaching. They try to exclude themselves from doctrine, purpose, and worship but cannot because they are not leading, but following higher doctrine than their own. Made in the image of God, we all can’t help but recognize God-given moral and intellectual intuition, even if we reject the God-given part. When we try, it’s often comedic—but there’s really nothing funny about wasting this one life in worship of ourselves.

“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

“…what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being…” (Romans 1:19-23)

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