Butler Bass belonging
“Instead of believing, behaving, and belonging, we need to reverse the order to belonging, behaving, and believing. Jesus did not begin with questions of belief. Jesus’ public ministry started when he formed a community.”
Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Harper One, pp. 11-64, 2011.
Diana Butler Bass tries to help us understand what is happening in the present day changing Christian landscape where religion is now no longer the center of a member’s life. She reminds us that our religion started with community, not confession. Thomas Watkins from Wilson, North Carolina also tries to explain how our church might change using the South’s love of football in an article in Journal of Preacher (“Game Day: Becoming a New church in an Old South”, Pentecost 2017, volume 40, no. 4) “They (fans) are not asked to show their diplomas at the stadium gate. Perhaps congregations should begin to nurture relationships with those individuals who claim connections to congregations but never join.”
One of the most frequent questions of those coming for spiritual direction is “I don’t know if I believe or what I believe anymore. Maybe I am no longer a Christian.” If the person belongs to a confessional denomination or a church of orthodoxy where he or she must believe a certain set of doctrines, this can sometimes be a problem. There are denominations that are churches of orthopraxy where its members are held together because of a way they worship or practice their faith. In that circumstance, a changing belief is considered at times an asset, a sign of growth. Our relationship to God will change as our God becomes larger, as we come to see the Christ in more and more people, people who are very different from ourselves. I often quote that line I first heard from Alan Jones at a Trinity Wall Street conference at Kanuga in the early 2000’s: “the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” Doubting is a sign that God is working in us; our relationship is changing. Sometimes this change in relationship can feel like the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates. Sometimes it can be like a volcano erupting. If we can just take it as a “good” and not a “bad” thing and try to stay steady; a new relationship, a new life will arise. I remember a quote attributed to Catherine Marshall, “ Those who never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered God at all.”
This is also where community is so important. In a church that is alive with the spirit, there will be many others who have experienced this as well who can walk and hold a steady hand when the foundations that we thought were our beliefs are threatened. We come to see that these beliefs are not threatened, but enlarged, and we learn this because of belonging in a community.