Who will bring a Christian back to church when they are pushed into atheism?
How do we respond when a Christian acknowledges that they have fallen into doubt about the existence of God and their purpose as a Christian?
What about a pastor who struggles to keep up the mask of faithfulness, but isn't convinced there is a God anymore?
We all want to believe there's more to life than "be born, suffer, die," but whether it's Christians, or our conscience, or both, sometimes all we see and hear and experience are variations on a theme: "You're an embarrassment to God and the church."
For the Christian who struggles with disbelief, the message that they must offer sacrifice and behave themselves if they want God to reward (and not punish) them, sounds like one of many similar religious variations.
What do we say when a Christian admits the church has driven them to atheism? And they don't mean that ideologically either. The church has convinced them there is no God, and one religion is about as good as the next. They have noted that in conversation with people of different beliefs, everybody's looking for a greater meaning. They plug into whatever religion offers them meaning, into whatever offers them a place and purpose.
This is the root of many Christians' negativity and animosity toward their church. Their time sitting in a pew, listening, observing, and interacting with other Christians has convinced them Christianity is just another religious movement.
They believe if you scratch another Christian hard enough, and just beneath their skin is a pagan. They know the rituals, rules, and rhetoric that make a Christian' Christian,' but take away the 'Christianese' and many Christians could just as well worship Thor on Sunday morning.
Then there are all the people who didn't grow up in a church. People who walk into a church looking for a way out from the start. They are fighting against their belief that there's a God who orders all things, tests all things, and judges all things. They're troubled, and they've come to find answers.
What do we say to people who join our church because they're alone and don't know where to go with their questions, turbulent feelings, and so on?
How do we respond when another Christian finally admits; today, he is as close to being an atheist as ever?
First, we remind him that it's a good thing our hope isn't in the church, especially not the church this side of the resurrection.
Next, we recognize, as C.S. Lewis writes:
“That is why we... can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality — from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself... That is why faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where they get off,' you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist."
When we can't trust our faith, and we're forced to admit that belief in our ability to believe doesn't save us from unbelief - then we are turned back to trusting God's Word and what it says about Jesus' faithfulness to us.
We can assure new and old Christians: "Don't be worried when you are afflicted by doubt." As Martin Luther writes: "Such a trial is the very best sign of God's grace and love for man."
Who will bring a Christian back to church when they pushed into atheism? Only God can bring them back from unbelief to trust in the faithfulness of Jesus his Savior.
Point a Christian who doubts to God's Word and to Christ and his gifts. Pray for him. Surround him with the love of the saints so that, as Luther writes: "Hands may be joined together, and one may help another."