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Do you Believe What You Believe? Part 3: The Church - Am I In or Out?

Today, I’d like to address those of you who attend a Christian Church. (If you don’t, you’re still more than welcome to follow along, and I think you’ll benefit from hearing me out, but a lot of this may not directly apply to you).

Here’s my question for the day:

What is your church’s process for determining who’s a member of that church? In other words: How does your church decide who’s “in” and who’s “out?”



Does your church have a procedure for that? Some don’t, but I know that most churches do. In my experience, here’s some examples of how certain churches answer that question:

To become a member of a particular church, one must:

  • Be Baptized

  • Be confirmed (Go through a series of classes called “Confirmation”)

  • Sign a document

  • Take an Alpha, or 101 Class (similar to Confirmation, but usually found in less traditional church settings)

  • Public Declaration: Profess or Announce to the church of which you are trying to become a member that your beliefs are in line with theirs (Some churches call it “Confirmation Sunday”)

A few select churches even have requirements for how someone, once they become a member, maintains that membership:

  • Faithful attendance at Sunday Worship

  • Consistent giving/tithing

  • Actively serving the church or volunteering in some way

  • Attends “Business” functions (voters meetings, town hall meetings, etc)

Now, please let me state this clearly: In no way am I suggesting that any of these church practices are inherently wrong. Is it wrong to be baptized? Certainly not. Our Lord commands it. Is it bad to learn the core tenants of the Christian Faith? By no means. God desires us to learn how to live in His Kingdom. And is it detrimental to attend worship, give generously to your local congregation, or provide help in making vital decisions that need to be made? I hope you’ll trust me when I say that is not my conviction.

The problem I have noticed (and I think it’s a massive one) is when we associate these wonderful gifts with Church Membership.


When we tell someone that they can only be considered a member of our little club if they adhere to these requirements/qualifications, we have immediately drawn the line between who is “in” and who is “out.” For those who are “out” this can isolate them further, and for those who are “in” this can create a sense of complacency or, worse, entitlement.

BOUNDED CHURCH

This kind of “line-drawing” is what Author Mark Baker would call a Bounded Set Church. A Bounded group of any kind, according to Baker,

“…creates a list of essential characteristics that determine whether a person belongs to that group. For example, a league soccer team is a bounded group. Such a team has limited number of players. There are tryouts. Ability matters. A team also has other requirements, such as having a uniform, attending practices, paying dues to the league, and so on. Coaches draw a clear line to determine which players have the ability and meet the requirements to be on the team. Everyone who is not part of the team is on the other side of the line.”1

Does this sound familiar?

What Baker is describing is how many of our churches are currently set up, whether explicitly or implicitly. The boundaries are established, and the designations of who’s in and who’s out are clearly defined. “Did you get baptized? If yes, then you’re IN. Enjoy all the rights and privileges of membership in our local church. Did you take the 101 Class? Great! Welcome to the club. Did you go through a few weeks of confirmation and then stand in front of the church and tell them you intellectually agree with their beliefs? Awesome! See you at the next voters meeting!

If it sounds like I’m over-simplifying church membership, I apologize. And this is not a discussion about Salvation or How to “Get to Heaven when you die.”

But here’s the point:

The main doorway that we have created to get “in” and become a member seems to mostly center around two main themes:

  • Attending sessions where you will receive a lot of content and information about what your potential church believes

  • Deciding whether or not you agree with these things and then, when the time comes, being willing to stand in front of the church and assure them that you do, in fact, concur with their beliefs.

In other words, most churches send the message that you must believe what they believe PRIOR to becoming a member.

And there’s the problem: This process is out of order.

Why?

Remember what we’ve been talking about the last few weeks.

Remember what “Belief” turns out to be. (For a refresher, see Part 1 and Part 2)

Belief, as we discovered, is not something I say, something I think, or something I agree with.


Belief is something I subconsciously live.

So if it’s true that the only way for me to be considered a member of a church is to “Believe” what that church professes to believe, then can we really imagine that I would have enough time to develop these beliefs so thoroughly that they would become evident in every corner of my life by the time I am called upon to qualify for church membership?

When you were 16, how long did it take you to “believe” that the freeway truly was a safe place to drive on? I’m guessing longer than a few weeks of Driver's Ed.

What likely happened is that you were presented with truths, facts, “beliefs” and instruction about driving, and then you ventured into a season of life where you were challenged to see whether those facts held up out on the road. How silly would it have been for your Driving School Instructor, after a week in the classroom, to ask you to stand up and state that you agree with all you’ve been taught that week, and then you can officially be considered a “DRIVER?”

Now, why is that considered silly?

Because we would all be able to see that you’d be professing things that you have not come to actually know, experience, or believe yet. Essentially, you’d have to “fake it ‘til you make it” just to be called a “DRIVER,” and then hopefully, over time, you could figure out whether or not your beliefs about driving aligned with those of your instructors.

And we all know that this isn’t how we allow drivers out on the road.

The reality is that, yes, instruction and information is vital, but ultimately what prepares you to become a member of the “driver’s club” is experience out on the road, (satisfying the required hours spent driving while holding your driver’s permit).

And then the ultimate “test” of whether or not you “get it,” is not with pen and paper, nor on a computer screen, but it’s in an actual car, out on the road.

Dallas Willard says,

“…Genuine beliefs are made obvious by what people do. We always live up to our beliefs—or down to them, as the case may be. Nothing else is possible. It is the nature of belief. And the reason why clergy and others have to invest so much effort into getting people to do things is that they are working against the actual beliefs of the people they trying to lead.”2

So, at best, for me to become a member of a church, I essentially must stand up in front of the congregation and announce that I believe certain things that maybe I haven’t truly experienced yet in my life. I must “fake it ‘til I make it.” And without adequate discipleship training to help me experience and verify that these beliefs are true, the church I attend will never hold me accountable to ensure I can grow into the kind of person whose life proves his beliefs. I won’t accumulate enough “driving hours” to make those beliefs a natural part of my life.

So imagine this: a church body could be made up of 100 individuals who took the classes, signed the documents, got dunked or sprinkled, and prayed the prayers, and now can confidently call themselves “members” of that church. And yet, the parish they have yoked themselves to may not be a place that has plans and pathways to ensure that each person will become someone whose heart and life will eventually prove those beliefs. Their “membership” will only be based on church attendance, tithing, voting, and occasional audible profession of belief.

Does this sound complicated?

It doesn’t have to be.

There is another way. The simple way of Jesus.

Next week, I’ll finish this series of thoughts by offering a Vision of what it could look like to be a “member” of a Christian Community.

But for now, I’ll leave you with this thought…

When Jesus first called his twelve students, it fascinates me that he never said “Before you can be my disciple, believe in me FIRST, then….” Or “Agree with what I say FIRST, then…”

What was Jesus’s invitation? What did Jesus require to be his apprentice?

“Come to Me”

“Follow Me.”

“Learn from Me”

“Walk with Me”

“Rest with Me”

“Abide in Me”

“Trust Me”

Or….

“Let’s get out on the freeway and drive a bit. I’ll teach you how to put all your confidence in Me.”

No statement of faith required.

No mandatory agreements with specific theological tenants or doctrine.

No requirement to have Jesus “figured out,” prior to signing on with him.

Just an encounter with the Living Jesus, and then a decision: Are you in or out?

See you next week, friends.

-Andrew

टिप्पणियां


टिप्पणी करना बंद कर दिया गया है।

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~ Andrew

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