Belonging vs. believing

Over at the thinkerup blog, a quote from Francis Schaeffer was posted that caused provocative ponderings that I’d propose you peruse as well…

“The liberal theologians in their stress on community speak and act as though we become Christians when we enter the horizontal relationship of community. But this is totally the wrong starting-point. If this were so, Christianity would have no more final value than the humanistic community.”

–Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the 20th Century, 1970

Perhaps one reason my cerebellum was significantly stunned by this sentence is simply because of my own spiritual surroundings.

You see, Journey Church is all about community. We sincerely seek to include rather than exclude. We want to allow people to belong before they believe. Many other churches are the exact opposite in their approach, demanding adherence or profession of a “faith” that many times is verbal only.

That doesn’t mean that we allow folks without a loyalty and belief in Jesus Christ as Lord to serve in positions of spiritual leadership. It does mean that we welcome the sincere contributions of anyone, regardless of where they are in their own spiritual journey. If someone wants to help with a service project, go on a mission trip, organize an event, etc., and they’re not members, then that’s fine and dandy. We sincerely feel that the glorious nature and Christ-DNA of a committed disciple (especially a community of committed disciples) will be a witness and aroma of life to a person who is earnestly seeking God. In reality, there is no such thing as a human seeker of God.

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3.10-12

Yet in a seeming paradox, scripture also affirms that when God begins to call a person, they begin to seek Him. Consider these two verses;

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6.44

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11.10

Only community that is founded upon the life-altering search of a Creator for humanity is true community. All the church’s best attempts at gathering a crowd or creating a movement will fall flat if based upon warm fuzzies, blurry theology, and worship “preferences.”

I affirm with Schaeffer that there is danger of emphasizing community. There are too many new churches, parachurch agencies, and loosely-organized “Christian” movements in our midst today that are creating belonging and never encouraging believing. However, I also affirm that it’s essential that we allow people to belong to and experience the joy of authentic Christian community prior to their heart and mental allegiance to Christ. It is in the midst of love that Christ walks again.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4.12

The gathering of believers that is Christ-centered and saturated will intentionally and then unconsciously love each other and its neighbors. It will not only witness but experience the transforming power of Christ drawing “seekers” from the periphery to the center.

How is your community doing? Is it more horizontal or more vertical?

On this day...


  1. Neal Nelson says:

    Thanks for the thoughts on believing and belonging. You remind of the great theolgian Forrest Gump, “I think it’s both.” You are so much my earthly hero!


  2. Richard says:
    I guess that we need to see Schaeffer in the context in which he was writing. It’s been a long time since I read any of his books, but I suspect that his point is to do with the “goal”. In his time, evangelical and liberal were polarised to the extent that anything that smelt slightly of social action was anathema to most evangelicals.
    We’ve come a long way since those days and we use community in quite a different way. We now have recovered a greater social awareness and this, I think, has set us free to explore sharing community as part of the journey of faith we are making.
    I think Schaeffer would be comfortable with what we’re trying to do as we seek to integrate being a community of God’s people with being part of the wider community of people.
    I think he would agree that we need to engage our community with community in order to share the vertical relationship which is the heart of our community of faith.
    Just a thought.
  3. Mark W says:
    I’d have to agree with Richard on this one. I have read a bit of Schaeffer, and I’m sure that he isn’t condemning those who would (what we call nowadays) “network” within a community, as long as there was a genuine teaching of the gospel, not just community for free-love and hippie naturalism, which is a form of the ultimately meaningless humanism of which he speaks.

    I’m also not sure I agree with the way you’ve compared the Romans 3 passage and the Luke 11 passage. In the Romans verse, I always thought the idea was that men don’t know how to seek God perfectly (meaning successfully without help) because man is fallen and corrupt. That’s not the same as saying that men don’t ever try to seek God in good faith (even though we fail). I think that most (if not all) men have a natural desire to seek truth and meaning in life. With humans, seeking for “God” only comes after the (logical?) realization that an extant God must be the embodiment of truth, which is exactly how Jesus describes God in John 14:6. What do you think?

  4. Jeff says:
    Richard and Mark,
    I understand where Schaeffer was coming from. I’m a fan of his. I also think that his observation is just as relevant today as it was then.

    The larger movement of which we have to be sensitive is truly one away from commitment to a type of “community” that is really not an expression of biblical community. It’s another post for another day, but I see the following elements present in biblical community but absent from some of our contemporary movements today:

    • Submission to spiritual authority
    • Accountability to the corporate gathering of believers
    • Ready identification with a set, but growing group of believers
    • Commitment to regular gatherings for instruction, worship, prayer, and ministry
    • Reverence for the Body of Christ world-wide
  5. Jeff says:
    Neal, if I’m a hero, then it must be one like Captain Underpants…

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