Believing and Belonging
By John Johnson
Stuart Murray has recently written an insightful book on the contemporary church, the church in a post-Christian context; hence the title, Church After Christendom. It’s an important book, and though it addresses the church in the UK, it has important applications for us. In England today, the largest church movement today is people moving away from the church (approximately 2000 a week!). The statistics are not much more encouraging in our country.
Murray talks about believing and belonging, and in this simple language, he paints a picture of where things are. Before Christianity became legitimate, became the official religion of Rome (Christendom), believers needed to both believe and belong to survive. As a persecuted sect, it was critical to hold to core beliefs, and it was essential to be in community. In Christendom, believing and belonging were still necessary, but it was less about survival—more about requirement. To be part of the empire, you had to believe and you had to belong.
But now we live in this period “after Christendom”, and believing and belonging are all over the map. It breaks down into categories something like this—
-some believe and belong. It’s not so much about survival or mandate, as it is about faithfulness. They follow Jesus and recognize the responsibility of being part of the body of Christ. God bless them!
-some simply belong—but don’t necessarily believe. They represent social church goers I sometimes see, who come mainly for cultural or traditional reasons, or belong merely out of habit. If they carry a Bible, it is more about being proper than engaging in the text. In our culture, they are a dying, diminishing group.
-others believe but don’t belong. They claim to be followers of Jesus, interested in spiritual things, but have little interest in belonging to a church. For some of them, not belonging is considered a virtue. But this is unsustainable over time. Many stop believing, or end up far off the reservation of credible, accountable belief.
-somewhere in between are a lot of others. Some belong but partially believe. They pick and choose what looks good, sort of like a menu. Others believe but partially belong. They come on occasion, sit towards the back, and find exhortations to community applicable to someone else. They move easily between different believing communities, come when it is winter and football is over, when there aren’t three day weekends. Some belong but are not yet believing. They are exploring, see themselves on a long journey in which belief may one day be possible. Some believe but are not yet ready to belong. They like the feel of a church family but are not ready to be adopted. They want to keep dating, but find it hard to go down the altar and sign a certificate.
-and then there is a large proportion of our culture today, who neither believe nor belong, and sadly, this may the largest growing group.
Obviously, the church has a mandate to reach those who neither believe nor belong. But it is going to take a church that is paying attention to its own make up of believers and belongers. Those who radically believe—and radically belong—are the most compelling witnesses.
Until the church takes this seriously—reminds people that Scripture nowhere encourages individualism, consumerism, easy believism—the fasting growing movement may be those leaving our doors. For those who believe and belong—we will need to encourage and bless and keep challenging them. For those who simply want to belong—we will need to help people see that Jesus never endorsed this (cf John 6). For those who believe but don’t want to belong, hopefully we will so celebrate one another’s gifts, so demonstrate the value of shepherding and accountability, so model what happens when people mobilize together to advance the kingdom, that individualism will seem very thin. And for those who neither believe nor belong (a number of whom I see every Christmas Eve), we will have to learn to how to belong in some of their worlds, in order to win them to Jesus.
This post was reproduced from here.