Gathering Without God

In large bold type, such was the headline in a recent front-page article in the Grand Rapids Press. The subtitle was ‘Church without religion forms in Michigan’s Bible belt.’

Before I write any farther, allow me to remark that the comments I will make are not narrow and provincial. They are not directed only to those who live in the Grand Rapids area. I am well aware that Beacon Lights goes to you, young people, who live throughout America and beyond, even to the ends of the earth. But I think that this subject is relevant to all who read.

As you can easily imagine, these headlines caught my eye and aroused my curiosity, as no doubt they were intended to do. Now there is nothing unusual about a gathering without God. Such gatherings occur every day in the workplace, sports arenas, government offices, and a thousand other places. The difference is that this gathering without God is supposed to be a church. Nowhere in the newspaper article did any of the participants refer to themselves as a church, but spoke instead of “Sunday Assembly.” The purpose of those who gather on Sunday is “to celebrate their faith—or rather, their lack thereof.”

One of the members of the group says, “We like to say we ripped off the best stuff of church, but we do it without the religious dogma. We will not tell you what to believe and what book to get your rules from. You are free to make your own decisions.”

The article continues: “At the monthly meetings, there’s a welcome, a lecture that can relate to life’s moments—good and bad—and music to speak to the soul…But there are no hymns, prayers, or doctrine as traditional worship services emphasize.”

The expression “ripping off the church” shows complete disrespect to the body of Christ. “Ripping off” is, of course, a colloquial term that refers to stealing. There is here an implied lesson as to how we speak about the church. Always we must speak reverently and respectfully concerning the church that God loves and saves through Christ. We do not rip off the church for our own reasons and purposes.

“Religious dogma” has no place in the Sunday Assembly. I would ask, religious as opposed to what? Apparently as opposed to secular dogma. This is reinforced by the further comment that there are no hymns, prayers, or doctrine. So what is left? A welcome, a lecture, no doubt of a secular nature, and some music for the soul.

What a horrific corruption of the scriptures, of the church, and of the worship of God! The worst of it is that these Sunday Assembly people are not ashamed of what they are doing. One would almost expect that they would practice their wickedness in private, hiding it from the general public. But this is not happening in a dark corner somewhere. No, they are not at all ashamed of what they are doing. They are proud of what they are doing, and encourage others to join them. And the secular media gives them front page publicity, making themselves complicit in this evil endeavor.

Besides, all of this is taking place in Grand Rapids, MI, a city long known for its conservative, religious character and many churches. Often in the past it was referred to as “Jerusalem.”  This sobriquet was often used sarcastically, but there was also a good deal of truth in it. To think that the Sunday Assembly can take place in this historically Reformed environment boggles the mind.

What must we say about this blatant rejection of the church?

Paul instructs us in 2 Timothy 3. In this chapter he writes to Timothy about the last days and the perilous times that will come. In so doing he describes in detail the nature and character of men during those times. In verses 2–4 he uses many terms to express the wicked nature of these men. In verse 5 we find a precisely correct portrayal of the Sunday Assembly people. They have a form of godliness (I hardly dare even use the word), but denying the power thereof. In verse 7 they are depicted as “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” How can they, when all they have is a man-centered false religion? In verse 8 they are said to resist the truth; they are men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.

Young people, do not be deceived by such false religion and those who purvey and promote it. Things will only become worse, so be aware of Paul’s words in verse 13: “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

What is our calling (especially yours, young people, you who must face an increasingly wicked world)? Paul gives a two-fold answer. He gives a short, sharp, precise, and unmistakable command in verse 5, when speaking of these wicked people: “from such turn away.” And in verse 14 Paul gives the antidote to this corruption and a positive admonition to God’s people: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of.”

Young people, turn away from evil and continue in what you have learned.