Thursday, February 16, 2012

What is a Minimalist Understanding of Church Membership?

Yesterday I asked the question:  "What makes one a member of the church of Christ?  I laid out an answer provided by Benjamin Hoadly, an 18th century Anglican bishop, who sought to provide a broad path, one that relied not on adherence to a complex statement of faith, but sincerity of belief in Christ.  Disciples of Christ, as I noted, simply ask one to affirm the Great Confession:  "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  It is a confession that leaves room for different understandings of who Christ is.  

I want to add a possibility offered by Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp in their book The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith.  In this book, as I'll later lay out in a review, they address the continuing dilemma that many face today in regards to traditional claims about God, about Jesus, and about the Trinity.  Suffering and evil, scientific discovery, and religious pluralism, all raise questions, and thus work against belief and joining the community.  So, in response they offer a minimalist alternative, one that may provide a more hospitable context for becoming part of the community.  But what would that look like in terms of church membership?  What would a church look like that had less defined boundaries or that lives without creeds?

They write concerning the way in which many today enter the community.  Rather than start with belief leading to action, this is reversed:

Participating in a church community and beginning to share its values becomes a path toward belief rather than a consequence of what one already believes.  (In one author's pithy expression, "believe, behave, belong" is replaced by "belong, behave, believe.")  A range of people-- those attracted to the Christian proposition, those who clearly affirm it, and those with even more robust affirmations of the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ -- join together in a community associated with Jesus' name.  They seek to live in ways consistent with his life and teachings, even while doubts may remain unresolved and the exact implications of his teachings only gradually become clear.  Out of the evolving practices of worship, study, and discipleship, some degree of shared belief may well emerge, even if complete convergence of belief is unlikely.  (p. 147).

Now, there is more to this discussion than may be apparent here, but as a formulation for gathering as church, is this sufficient?  Is it necessary to have a fairly robust affirmation of the uniqueness of Jesus's relationship to God necessary?  Is there a view of the resurrection that is necessary?  Here the starting point is choosing to be in the community and then discerning what that means in terms of actions and beliefs.  What say ye?


John said...

Makes me think of my question to Mr. Khan last night, what draws you into and keeps committed to your faith tradition? What kindles within you a passion about your faith?

Jeff said...

I rather like the "belong-behave-believe", and not just for it mnemonic qualities. It seems to me to encapsulate people's encounters with Jesus in the Gospels. At each station the previous quality/ies find greater maturation.

Jesus welcomes everyone; he calls all of us to follow him, and those first steps however, faltering are an evidence of grace working within. The point where the disciple reaches that confession of faith -that Jesus is indeed the Messiah is trans-formative for the believer. And it is the substance upon which he established his church -making it therefore evidence for membership.

As for the rest, "Behavior" is well trodden theological soil. It is necessary, though alone it is insufficient for salvation, its potential-its fulfillment is found in sanctification.