Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Dominant Paradigm: Belong or Believe?

(Originally printed as an ecumenical column for The News Herald of Franklin, PA) 

Which is more important: to believe or to belong? If you’re reading this blog post from a piece of paper someone gave you that was hanging on a bulletin board you probably will say ‘believe then belong.’

If you’re reading this article on your smart phone, from a link someone "pinned" on Pinterest, a QR code you snapped on your smart phone from a paper bulletin, or someone '#tweeted' the headline or made it his/her status on Facebook, you probably say ‘belong then believe.’ This is the great debate of today’s mission church as she seeks to practice discipleship. The dominant model--or paradigm-- is still believe (behave) belong. 

(Wo)men new to the faith are asked first to believe the Christian propositions as they are presented. After they come to believe as they are asked/strongly suggested/told to believe, then they will be taught how to behave in line with the Christian propositions they have learned.  And finally, when they have come to believe, learned to behave, and things are going relatively well with their education (does that sound as subjective as it can be?)—then they will be welcome to be members of the Christian faith tradition. They will be invited to belong.

Does anyone else think there might be something wrong with this picture? If you are a teacher—especially of adult learners—you are already eight steps ahead of me. In recent years the mission church has begun looking at a new, alternative method.

New and alternative? Um... no. This is not new or alternative. In fact, my Jewish brothers and sisters would say, “Oh no… that’s the way of Jesus. The model of belong, behave, believe is Jewish.” (After all, Jesus was a Jew). Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, an early 20th century Jewish educator, wrote, “One cannot be a Jew without actively belonging to the Jewish people." Judaism begins not with an idea, but with a community. When we look at the story of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we find a story of communal experience.

Out of this shared experience, and an explosive encounter with God at Mount Sinai, comes a religion, a belief—rituals and celebrations of the communal events of the history of a people; prayers and Holy Scripture that spell out exactly how people understand their relationship with God. Throughout all of this the people are defined by participation in a community; belief is secondary.

Belong, behave, believe; better yet--I think the correct theological and pastoral paradigm is "belong, believe, become," as God is calling us (as we already belong to creation), to walk as people of faith (believe) and become the best we are intended--"fully fulfilled" in our identity as children of God, if you will.

Those who (most often) seek to belong, (believe), become don’t perfectly understand the details of the Way of Jesus Christ, and often (we) don’t perfectly follow what we do understand. Yes, I said “we.” If you guessed from the first paragraph that this might be generational, I confess. I am Gen X. My closest friends are Millennials and Gen Z.

If you seek understanding of us, here it is: we find ourselves walking the Way of Jesus. We're right there with you! We may not be certain why, or how, and we may continue to find ourselves falling short. But we can’t help seeking belonging because belonging comes first to us.

We want to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples. We seek the ancient. We seek identity. We’re not looking for something new, quick, painless, easy. We want to follow Jesus. We want to belong.

Join us in worship at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings as we strive to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as his disciples in all we do, growing more and more into people of faith, hope and love, nourished by God's Word and Sacraments.

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