So today we went to church. It’s been a while, for obvious reasons (we’re atheists). We’ve decided to start going from time to time, for a number of reasons. First, we’re interested in what people believe and why, and we want to keep up with the current state of religion. One of the best ways to do this is to go to church. It’s partly just for entertainment, and it’s also harder for Christians to criticize us for being closed mined if we’re going to church. And who knows, we may learn something new.
Our basic rules for ourselves are that we will dress appropriately and be respectful. We aren’t trying to be disruptive or stand out. We’re going to their house. We will blend in as best we can, shake hands, etc, but if asked questions regarding our beliefs we will be honest. We will sit in the service, stand when appropriate, and be respectful for prayer or whatever else. We won’t participate in prayer; that would be dishonest of us.
So for our first church service since deconverting a little over a year and a half ago, we chose Riverpark Bible Church, a member of the Conservative Baptist Association of America. No special reason; the church is near our house, it’s a good time in the morning, and Baptist is kind of middle of the road for Christianity.
We attended service at 10:30 am, Sunday the 29th of June, 2014. We’ve driven by this church a million times, but hadn’t realized how big it was. It’s a nice modern facility. We went in and did the usual awkward hand shaking that visitors do, got our bulletins, and found a seat in the back. Interestingly, nobody really tried to engage us. I suppose it’s because it’s a large-ish church and nobody really knows who the visitors are.
The music was good. They had a small orchestra and a choir, lead by a director. The choir robes were maybe a little outdated, but it’s church, so what do you expect? I would have killed for a setup like that when I was involved in church. The usual song service went on, interspersed with offering and announcements. The presentation was well planned and slick.
One of the announcements was about a “matter of church discipline” to be part of the evening service tonight. That concept always seemed bizarre to me in today’s world, and I’m tempted to go see what that’s all about, but one church service is enough today.
The sermon was titled “Fireproofing”, based on 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (KJV):
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
1 Corinthians was written by Paul as a letter to the church at Corinth, which he had founded, and was going astray. The particular verse is a metaphor talking about how Jesus is the foundation of the church. The pastor made a point that many churches are departing from Jesus as the foundation, in favor of a fluffier message for today’s society.
I always find it curious when Christians pick on each other. They essentially all say “we have it right and if you’re not doing it our way you’re wrong”. The point was that as long as Jesus is the foundation, then whatever else is built on that is okay, but then he still went on to say that others were doing it wrong. Other churches are church in name only, but we’re going it right.
The metaphor continues with the selection of building materials. Among the selections are “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble [or straw in the NIV]”. Then the day will come when the building will be tested by fire.
Despite the impracticality of building an actual building with gold, silver, and/or precious stones, and the contrast of using obscenely expensive materials with the poverty message elsewhere in the Bible, the point stands. Quality materials will survive and inferior ones will not. Okay, so now what?
The inferior building materials were compared to “education, grades, a good job, and the American dream”. The point wasn’t that those things are bad, but that the emphasis should be on following Jesus. As an atheist I obviously think it insane to put priority on the feelings of an imaginary being that can’t be proven, over quality of life (for ourselves and others) for the one life we do know we have, but if you buy into Christianity I suppose this is valid. So build with the superior materials of glorying Jesus above all.
Okay, so far so good with regard to Christianity and the message of the Bible. Then it took a truly bizarre turn.
There are a number of verses in the Bible referring to the judgement seat of Christ. Without going too much into it (because this is already more of a Bible study than I meant to do), there seems to be consensus that the judgement seat is for Christians only. I guess the rest of us will be dead already (the modern concept of hell is not from the Bible). So now Christians will be judged.
The assertion in the sermon was that everyone who has made it that far is already saved and will spend an eternity in heaven. So what’s the judgement? It’s not how bad you were, but how good you weren’t. Yes, I’m confused too. Apparently those who did really really good things (and the right kind of really really good things) will get great rewards. Those who weren’t as good will get the cheap seats, or as the pastor put it (and he did say this was just his opinion) they will suffer embarrassment.
The problem is that there isn’t supposed to be suffering in heaven. If some get better rewards, then those who don’t would be in a lower position. What is the point of better rewards? To elevate those who receive them. If some are elevated, others are lowered by comparison. Those who are lowered will suffer to some degree by being in a lower position. If there is no meaningful difference between different positions, then there is no point.
Verse 15 says the builder will suffer loss but still be saved. But there cannot be suffering in heaven. Revelation 21:4 (KJV):
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
If there can be no sorrow or crying or pain, then there can be no “suffering loss”.
So for those who have asked why we are going to church, this is one of the major reasons. Our first time out and we discovered a major contradiction that we weren’t aware of before.
But it was a good experience. We learned something new, had a great discussion after, and just had fun. Hit the “follow” button to get updates on our adventures, and other articles.