Monday, 24 November 2008

belonging, believing, behaving

Believing, belonging, behaving …. not surprisingly this three way conundrum arose again on our Leaders Day with Stuart. Stuart seems to have done more thinking about the relationship between these three than most people, but I guess most folk hadn’t read ‘Church after Christendom’ which gives a fair few variations on the inter-play between these. I always find discussion around these fascinating, but invariably find two things are missing:

Firstly, most of us approach them as if we can find a one-answer-fits-all’ scenario. This doesn’t works out in practice, so why do we keep trying to find a solution, which will only ever apply to a particular number? The conversation often splits people into a ‘if they belong before they believe, we’ll water down the truth’ camp versus the ‘if we insist they behave before they belong we’ll remain aloof and distant’ camp. Most existing Churches seem to be incapable of finding an approach everyone can agree on, but we’re content to write off newer experiments as caricatures, one way or the other.

Secondly, we seem to insist on applying something I thought grew up to explain something missiologically, as if it can explain our ecclesiology. Now, I believe in the flow in terms of Christology needs to shape missiology needs to shape ecclesiology, but a wooden application strikes me as rather odd - when we start using descriptions of how people find faith to shape how people might be best helped live by the same faith. Surely (!?), unless we distinguish between ‘without faith’ and ‘with faith’ we shall always remain confused. My awareness (which may, not for the first time be wrong and I’d be glad if anyone can inform me otherwise) is that the phrase ‘believing without belonging’ was first coined by Grace Davie in her book ‘Religion in Britain since 1945’ (1994), which I came across when researching why people leave our Christian Ministry. This was a description of what was becoming a larger slice of institutional UK Christianity. The post-modern conversation then introduced us to the growing awareness of ‘belonging before believing’ as an increasingly common pathway into Christian community. Both are descriptions, but neither necessarily desired ends.

If we’re planting something new – let’s call it a Church – it seems reasonable to ask what we’d like to see it grow into. Whatever shape, style, pattern etc. I believe we need to aim for all three – disciples of Jesus who belong, behave and believe accordingly. That is not to suggest everyone will do so on day 1, or even year 3, but if these are not built into the DNA, they wont be re-produced later without a struggle.  This, I guess, is why I’d favour church membership which is value based (I’m committed to following Jesus in this direction even though I mess up sometimes) over one which is time based (I once made a decision in time, so no one dare ask me how I’m doing now) – forgive another caricature please!  


Simon Woodman said...
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Simon Woodman said...

I've often come back to pondering something Mark G once said, which was that church membership might be based around the old Baptist covenant to seek God in 'ways known and to be known'. In this way, all the rules become secondary to the core basis of belonging. I recognise that it raises all sorts of practical questions about voting rights at church meetings etc, but I still think it has much to commend it!

Nigel Coles said...

Cheers Simon - I agree there's something in this. The absence of clarity around both 'what values' and 'how do we hold ourselves accountable to them' in the majority of our churches is what makes the practicalities seemingly unworkable for many.