What is church? Belonging/Believing/Behaving

This is a challenging section of Stuart Murray-Williams book on being church in a post Christian culture: Church after Christendom.  And especially on the theme we are thinking a lot about at GBC, what is “the church” in a multi-congregational/cell structure?

In [emerging] churches where belonging, believing and behaving are in flux, is there any room for a category of ‘members’? Is there any difference between ‘belonging’ and ‘membership’?

 

As Steven Croft notes, ‘member’ derives from membrum ‘which means “a limb or part of the body”…a very strong and close way of belonging.’ But ‘member’ today sounds institutional and many find this terminology unhelpful. In a post-commitment culture, membership (however defined) is problematic, not only for churches, but for many organisations. Post-Christendom churches will need categories and terminology that are culturally attuned – but also counter-cultural.

 

The single category of membership (differentiating members from non-members) is unwieldy, static and exclusive in centred-set churches, where more nuanced, dynamic and inclusive concepts are operative.

 

Post-Christendom churches may need various categories of belonging:

• Flexible and relational, rather than institutional, categories.
• Categories that encourage expressions of commitment consistent with changing beliefs and behaviour.
• Inclusive rather than exclusive categories that refer to core values rather than boundaries.
• Categories coherent with our identity as pilgrims who respond haltingly but hopefully to Jesus’ call to follow him.

 

John Drane’s proposal was mentioned in Post-Christendom: a ‘stakeholder model, in which there could and would be a place for diverse groups of people, who might be at different stages in their journey of faith, but who would be bound together by their commitment to one another and to the reality of the spiritual search, rather than by inherited definitions of institutional membership.’

 

But [emerging] churches need custodians of their story and values. Inclusivity and open-ended belonging without core maintenance is unsustainable and dangerous, as membership-averse emerging churches are discovering. Other emerging churches are reconfiguring monastic patterns that establish a core community and allow for various stages of commitment to their core values.

 

Nigel Wright, affirming diverse forms of belonging, warns that a church is ‘unlikely to endure unless at its core there are those who commit themselves on a covenantal basis’. He proposes an open ‘community membership’ and a ‘core membership’ open to those who accept its demands.

Church after Christendom: Belonging/Believing/Behaving | The Anabaptist Network

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