Often in churches like ours (uh, whatever that means), the mainstream view of “believe, then belong” is turned upside down. That’s because doctrine was often seen as the gatekeeper for who can enter the community. As a result, churches were often seen as dogmatic, unwelcoming places…instead of a place where people might explore the faith. A friend told me last week that a co-worker told them they didn’t like Easter at their church because “all these casually religious” people show up. Obviously, something’s wrong with that picture.
And so in emergent or even user-friendly circles, we’ll say, “Belong, then believe”, and the community becomes a place to discover faith. It’s really about simply creating safe places for people to check out Christianity…and inevitably, the nature of weekend celebrations begins to morph.
But there is a caveat.
If the process of exploring the faith becomes prolonged, the seeker may get frustrated with the level of relational connection he or she can realistically have with the community. And that’s the conundrum: we all want to belong, to be connected, but what you believe affects the depth of relationship you can have. I talked about that this weekend, but would have loved to have parked there a little more.
Let me personalize this.
Suppose I worked a civilian job and had two co-workers who were dyed-in-the-wool Scientologists. I enjoy having drinks with these guys; they’re funny, personable, and we share a common love of movies. But they are sincerely committed to the Church of Scientology. I could kid them about a dubious religion launched by a hack science-fiction writer who once said, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion,” but that would hurt their feelings and I like them too much for that. Or I could joke about the upper levels of Scientology where it’s believed seventy-five million years ago the Earth was part of a seventy-six planet Galactic Federation ruled by a malevolent overlord named Xenu who fixed the population problem on other planets by bringing people to earth and strategically placing them around volcanoes that were then blown up with hydrogen bombs. Hence the exploding volcano on the cover of Dianetics. But that would hurt their feelings because they deeply believe it’s true.
So how could I ever become a part of their community at the deepest level? Or share what they feel so intensely about? There would always be a gap in the level of intimacy we could have. It’s a bit of overstatement to say we can belong before we believe, at least to the degree that we may want to belong.
That’s one of the reasons a common creed is so powerful. Certainly it’s not the only thing that creates real community (try transparency, vulnerability, kindness, servanthood, honesty, etc.), but it is certainly the final barrier.
Do you believe that?
Off subject, this stuff got me thinking about a Top 10 list we once did in a series on Toxic Religion. It made me laugh when we wrote it. Maybe we need a break…
TOP TEN WAYS TO KNOW YOU’RE IN A TOXIC CHURCH
10. When people raise their hands during worship, it’s for permission to go to the bathroom.
9. Water fountains only dispense Kool-Aid.
8. Doctrine includes story of Xenu, a galactic ruler who brought billions of people to earth 95 million years ago, stacked them around volcanoes, blew them up with hydrogen bombs and…oh wait, that’s Scientology.
7. Services are B.Y.O.S.—“Bring Your Own Snake”
6. Front door of the church has a peephole.
5. Church motto is: "Small Things Done With A Lot Of Guilt Won’t Help You Out, Sleazebag."
4. Sign in lobby reads: “Line forms here for comet rides.”
3. Two words: pat downs.
2. The church bus has gun racks.
1. They're closed on Christmas. Hey…that’s not funny.