The Practical Atheist, part 1

“The organized church is torn with strife and distrust. Ultimately, the battle is not so much between conservatives and liberals, evangelicals and activists, or fundamentalists and modernists. The issue now is between belief and unbelief: Is Christianity true or false, real or unreal?” —R.C. Sproul, American theologian, pastor, and author.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him… (Acts 7:55-58 NLT)

PRAYER FOCUS: The Experience of Practical Christianity

Practical Atheist, n., Someone who believes in God but lives as if He doesn’t exist.

A recent study conducted by ChristianMingle.com, one of the Web’s biggest Christian dating networks, surveyed its participants, asking, “Would you have sex before marriage?” Sixty-three percent of single Christian respondents answered “yes.”

This is bad news, Christian. Really bad news.

Such demonstrations of behavior strike to the very heart of what we believe. They reveal the broad acceptance of a false doctrine, a twisted theology, that has no support in Scripture, and is therefore not of the God we claim to believe in. While it is possible for the church to believe the right things and fail to live up to them, it is simply not possible for the church to believe the wrong things and still do the right things.

Sexuality affords merely one example of the dangerously corrosive nature of unbelief:

Disagreements about human sexuality threaten to divide the church; and while there will be differing understandings, the bishops are called to be bishops of the whole church and to lead the church through such challenges. The residential bishops had conversations about how they could carry out the Book of Discipline and lead during this time. The conversation involved listening and forthright discussion in a covenant of grace-filled hospitality and truth-telling. No decisions or agreements were reached during these conversations.

Now this unsettling announcement comes directly from a large Protestant Denomination’s official communications agency. This is not the language of truth. This is the language of concession and compromise—moral compromise.

“Conversations…involv(ing) listening and forthright discussion in a covenant of grace-filled hospitality and truth-telling…”?

How utterly tragic. Ordained ministers—bishops, no less—come together and cannot agree on the simplest foundational truths of Scripture. Worse, it seems we have church leaders (and entire church agencies) encouraging young people to become practical atheists, not practicing followers of Jesus Christ.

No wonder two-thirds of the sample of dating Christians think it’s OK to have sex before marriage–they aren’t getting the truth. What, then, shapes their understanding of marriage, divorce and abortion? Is there any distinction between these nominally Christian relationships and those of the unbelievers around them?

Perhaps it has ever been thus…

In today’s Lectionary Epistle, Peter compares Jesus Christ to a living stone. He writes that we will either trip over it (a stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall…because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do) or we will build our spiritual house on it (come to him, a living stone…and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood). Peter doesn’t mince his words, nor does he afford room for “different understandings”.

False teachers promote different understandings. They would blur the boundaries between right and wrong, obscuring the truth. They undermine biblical doctrine. They promote untrue beliefs, which, in turn, compel bad behaviors that lead people even deeper to sin and destruction. In a word, false teachers promote heresy.

It is one thing to disentangle the sinner from his or her sin. It is quite another to divorce the heretic from his or her heresy. And yet, once we are clear that heresy exists, then we must vehemently oppose it. Souls are at stake.

The false prophets of the Old Testament gave Israel a message of peace and prosperity. But it was an illusion. They prophesied “smooth things” that would flatter the priests and reassure the people to feel good about their unbelief and their sin. Martin Luther called this Carnal Peace, a false peace.

The true prophets of Israel spoke, and contended for, the truth. Controversy followed them like a shadow. Most of them paid for that with their lives, as did Stephen in our Lectionary Scripture from the Book of Acts.

Sooner or later, Christian, belief collides with unbelief. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Yes, it is true that Jesus came to bring peace between the believer and Almighty God. It is also true that there is an eternal conflict between light and darkness, between Christ and antichrist, between belief and unbelief. There are no neutral parties. We can’t truly believe one way and live another.

Truth cannot be relative and still be true. Truth is dogmatic. It has boundaries. God’s grace cannot be simultaneously sufficient and subjective. God cannot be both holy and compromised.

Neither can the church.

In the uncertain times we live in, we can still be sure of God’s Word of Truth. But if we aren’t living lives that conform to what we claim to believe in, we impeach our witness and invalidate the good works for which we labor. The difference between Practical Christianity and Practical Atheism is the difference between what we believe and what we live.

It’s Monday Morning. This week, we pray to “so perfectly know Jesus Christ…that we may steadfastly follow his steps.” How much difference will that prayer make in the living of your day-to-day life?

Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV)

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One Response to The Practical Atheist, part 1

  1. This runs along the lines of things I’ve been chewing on for a while now. Good stuff!

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