03/12/2012 by Chris Green
The argument goes that in our day, with less knowledge of the gospel and with clear evidence of the importance of relationships, belonging is a much more important value – it comes first in most people’s experience of conversions, and puts belief, and precision of content, way back
Is it time to rearrange the carriages?
And where does Behaviour fit in to that? Take a couple, interested in the gospel but unconverted, not married but with a young child. Your church runs an evangelistic course, involving a residential weekend. Do you give them a room with a double bed in it?
If you do, then you run the risk of colluding with sin.
If you don’t, you run the risk of encouraging the lie that Christianity is actually about behaving morally. The Behaviour carriage must always follow Believing – if it comes first, we’ve made a train wreck of the gospel.
You could draw the circle very closely, of course and run against the cultural trend. I read a church leaflet this week (‘welcome’ leaflet is too generous a term) in which it was made clear first, that only members of other churches in their denominations were welcome at their meetings, and second that the custom was to inform the minister that you would be visiting, in advance. These were for reasons of maintaining the doctrinal purity of the congregation. In that church Belief comes strongly before Belonging. And Behaving means acquiescing to some sub cultural norms.
To think ourselves clear, we need to distinguish two kinds of churches.
The heavenly assembly, gathered around Christ, includes all believers, living and dead. We are all, permanently, in that church. And entry to that clearly has only one doorway: believing. Faith alone is the way in. Behaviour is the obedient working out of Belief and Belonging.
Our earthly, visible churches are where that heavenly one becomes visible. But it is always messier, because there will be people turning up who are not yet believers, or merely external Christians, or struggling Christians, or doubting Christians.
So we might need to have a double pattern. Some people Belong, in the sense that they Belong to Christ, are ‘in’ him, and therefore can and should take on the full responsibilities of being members of his church. Others belong in different sense: we know them, and they know us, they feel at ease with us and have got to know us, they like hanging around the things we do. They are making up their minds in a context if relationships. In a sociological sense they belong- but not in a heavenly, or theological sense.
How does your church put the three carriages in the gospel train?