The Order of Things and the Church’s Welcome

This book postures an important idea that has great implications for the church’s ministry. Bass argues that “for the last few centuries, Western Christianity ordered faith in a particular way. Catholics and Protestants taught that belief came first, behavior came next, and finally belonging resulted, depending on how you answered the first two questions…thus, for several centuries, Western people have generally assumed that religious commitment begins when one assents to a body of organized doctrines.” (p. 201-202).

Bass goes on to reflect on the way of Jesus as being the reverse; community first, practices second, and belief as a result of the first two — and that we must reverse the order. Instead of believing, behaving, and then belonging, the Jesus way is belonging, behaving, then believing. Jesus meets people and says, “Follow Me.” He could of walked along the sea and said, “Have Faith!” but instead he asked them to do something: “Follow Me.” First is an invitation to friendship, relationship, to a shared journey. Finally, and last comes believing. Peter’s confession of faith grew out of his friendship with Jesus and all the things they had done together–praying, eating, preaching, healing, giving, and feeding.

Bass concludes thus: “In the biblical pattern of faith, believing comes last. Indeed, this pattern repeats in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. From the calling of Abraham and Sarah through the great prophets and heroes of Israel to Jesus and the early church, those who walked with faith started by following, by becoming part of God’s community, by enacting the practices of God’s way, and finally by recognizing and proclaiming the glory of God.” (209).

What do you think of her analysis and reflection?

And what are the implications for the church in what many are calling a post-christian context? It seems hopeful to me when considering that SBNRS (spiritual but not religious) and NONES (religiously unaffiliated) are the two fastest growing categories of folks in our culture. It seems that a posture of “welcome just as you are” can be a gift. Maybe Belonging before anything else gives someone a chance to experience the love of Christ in community before they can or are ready to articulate that. And maybe Behaving — coming along on a mission trip, or a bible study, or to serve at the soup kitchen — maybe behaving gives someone a chance to act out the love of Jesus in a transformative way. Maybe, at least for most people, Belief comes from experiences of welcome and opportunities to belong in the first place.

This order of things calls us as the church to welcome others AND commit to include them in community. It calls us to patience — to time and space, to a longer than a shorter view of discipleship. And it calls us to trust that relationships matter deeply, and that the Spirit is at work In and through us.

Good book! Much to wrestle with here. Grace and peace to you today, wherever you are!

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