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.