A few years ago I went to an Australia Day prayer meeting attended by several thousand people. Christians from a variety of different denominations had come together to pray for ‘The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit!’ and from all directions they streamed into the building.
As I approached, I saw in one corner a group of people clearly staging a low key demonstration of some sort. As I got closer I saw that they had several placards with pro-atheism slogans and several copies of Richard Dawkins The God Delusion on their table. I was so excited. I thought it was one of the greatest things ever. Atheist evangelists! People who were so passionate about their world view that they were willing to come to us to talk about it. Fantastic!
‘Brilliant and Insightful Comments’
I crossed the street and immediately struck up a pleasant and friendly conversation with the organiser about what the group believed and why they were there. He seemed genuinely surprised that someone had actually stopped to talk to them and I soon discovered why. Within minutes I heard Christians on their way to pray for the souls of Australia utter such brilliant and insightful comments as ‘I think you’re a delusion’ to my new atheist friend. One particularly bold man with a cross around his neck declared something along the lines of ‘Do you want to fight? I’m a holy warrior! The Spirit of God is in me.’ I actually had to ‘lay hands’ on the man to encourage him to move along and share his clearly erudite declarations elsewhere.
I returned to the atheist group’s table where I apologised for my so-called brother in Christ and tried to continue our conversation. I felt as though we both made some valid points in our discussion and I got some information on their gatherings before I departed to go to the prayer meeting.
“too intimidated or too condescending”
Once inside I deeply struggled to focus on prayer. The hypocrisy of seeing so many people willing to pray for the nation and yet too intimidated or too condescending to stop and talk to the apparently equally committed and passionate people outside grated at my soul. What was the point in crying out to heaven if we were unwilling to act ourselves?
Please do not think that I am trying to undercut or dismiss prayer as a means of reaching the lost. I believe it to be of vital importance and that ultimately it is God who saves, not us. However God’s chosen method to reach the world is His word spoken by us (Romans 10:14-15). Few things annoy me more than when atheists are arrogant, braggadocios, dismissive and mocking; one of them is when Christians act the same way.
As the world view of atheism continues to grow in the West we as the church need to recognise that we are in a cultural war. But we cannot wage this war in the same way that the most predominant atheists have chosen to fight it.
Peter appeals to us in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to always be ‘prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.’
It is not uncommon at all these days to be slandered or reviled by atheists in the media or even personally by those we know. At these times we are to give a defence of our faith but we are to do so in a manner that puts those who slander us to shame. Mocking atheists in a vindictive or condescending manner, challenging them to a fight or ignoring them all together does no such thing. Let us instead ‘keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.’ (Phil 3:16 NASB) So go be nice to an atheist!