Friday, February 5, 2010

Belong, Behave, Believe?

Last Sunday, Christy Scarborough Edwards preached at Second Baptist Church, and I agree with many others that it was a good sermon well delivered. We are blessed to have her in our church, along with her husband Jason, our pastor.
Christy preached on the story of the woman at the well as recorded in the fourth chapter of John, and the title of her sermon was “You Belong.” She said rather than the traditional evangelical emphasis on “believe, behave, belong,” we should reverse that order and emphasize “belong, behave, believe.” (The latter is the emphasis of many “emergent churches,” such as Jacob’s Well, one of the most vibrant churches in the Kansas City area; The Christian Century published an article about about that church and that idea in 2006, and here is a link to that article.)
On the Internet I found a blog posting by a young pastor in Memphis who wrote how he prefers the idea of “belong, believe, behave” to “behave, believe, belong,” and I am inclined to think that the emphasis on belief before behavior is important. But I fully agree with this pastor, and with Christy, that correct behavior should not be a prerequisite to belonging.
Still, I am not satisfied with a tripartite division. I would like to suggest that perhaps the best position for a local church would be emphasis on (1) belonging to the community of love, (2) believing the Gospel of and about Jesus Christ, (3) belonging to the community of faith, and (4) behaving increasingly in a way that brings glory to God and the church, which would also be in a way that is healthiest for the individual and his or her relationships.
The church should be both a community of love and a community of faith, and it is important to recognize that belonging to the latter is different from belonging to the former.
We need to take seriously Christy’s point and the book she introduced, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again (2000). George G. Hunter III, the author, emphasizes that evangelism is now about “helping people to belong so that they can believe” (p. 43). That is a good emphasis. 
As Christy said, we should be willing to say to everyone, “You belong.” And we should be able to say to all with whom we come in contact, “If you wish to join with us, we will accept you as you are into this community of love.”
But then let’s help all who do come to belong to our community of love to move on to commit themselves to Christ in order to belong to the community of faith. 


  1. I agree with your four levels -- makes sense to me. I like the way you designated the levels as "community of love" and "community of faith". Then we continue to develop on the fourth level for a lifetime . . .

  2. The idea of belonging to a group has stimulated a number of thoughts related the individual and the group. Many groups that we are a part of we have little or no choice of belonging (e.g. family, clan, citizen, and even religious groupings for most religions including a significant number of Christians). Each group has its expectations on the members of the group with varying degrees and means of enforcing these expectations (orthodoxy and orthopraxy).

    The primal reasons for belonging to groups is for security and for being able to obtain more (material and emotional) by being a party of many instead of a party of one. When the group is functional it is able to do far more than any one individual is able to do alone.

    When the group is dysfunctional to some degree, however, then the individual becomes subservient to the group. The most important point for the dysfunctional group is for the group to survive at the expense of the individual. This to me sums of Jesus' comment about man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man.

    The hardest point about belonging to any group is that the group in some form or another will enforce hegemony upon its members which then challenges individuals as individuals. Many of the posts over the months have been written to try to encourage conformity in thought or belief and ultimately in action. The ultimate rub is this for the group--if group allows absolute diversity, does it endanger itself with irrelancy in that it holds no position and everything is relative and negotiable (potentially disengrates and no longer functions as a group)? On the other hand, if it allows no diversity, then the individuals are denigrated to the point of no personal worth or dignity. From a political standpoint these extremes are viewed as totalitarianism (which the world has seen many times) and absolute democracy (which some have described in places like Lebanon as nightmare also).

    Leroy, any thoughts about the third way here.

  3. DHJ, thanks for your comments.

    It seems you are talking about belonging on a larger scale than what I was writing about. I was talking more about belonging to a local group, such as a church fellowship.

    While sometimes there can be a type of totalitarianism even in a local fellowship, that doesn't happen often, perhaps. And I don't know on that level if absolute democracy is usually a problem--although it perhaps is seldom practiced.

    It may be too idealistic, but it seems to me that the church community should initially be a community of love to which all can freely belong, which is what Christy was advocating in her sermon. That seems like a good place to begin, although as I wrote above, I don't think that should be the only stage of belonging.

    As to broader society, I am not sure what can even be dreamed of there. At the least, I guess, I would hope for civility in society, and it seems often that the U.S. is a long ways from being there.