The three ‘B’sBy Jane Yoder-Short
When it comes to your faith journey, which of the three “B”s came first — believing, behaving or belonging?
Most children sense they belong before they believe. In the days of tent meetings and evangelistic crusades, believing was pushed in hopes that behavior and belonging would follow. Some Amish assume misbehaving (rumspringa) leads to belief and resoluteness about belonging.
Diana Butler Bass in Christianity After Religion proposes that first belonging, then behaving and finally believing is the sensible order. Jesus did not begin with questions of belief but formed a community. Disciples were invited to belong. As they hung around Jesus, they learned to see differently and behave differently. Out of this grew Peter’s belief, his confession that Jesus is the Messiah.
Sometimes separating belonging, behaving and believing can be like untangling colored threads from a tightly knitted tapestry. Beliefs not anchored in community (belonging) easily become pale and susceptible to the changing winds. Believing separated from behaving becomes a nice head trip without practical implications. Separating belonging from believing or behaving produces a group that no longer knows its purpose.
Part of our confusion may come from seeing beliefs as a list of ideas about God and the Bible that we hold to be true. Butler Bass says that in previous centuries, belief was not an intellectual choice but more like a pledge of faithfulness.
Jesus lived before sociologists and theologians began dissecting the three “B”s. But with a little imagination, a couple of his parables reveal their interconnectedness.
We see that belonging entails behavior in the parable of midnight friends (Luke 11:5-7). Jesus’ audience knew that belonging to the same community obligated one to hospitality and sharing. When your friend asks for bread, it is unthinkable not to give. How much more should God’s people, who belong to the same community of love, give to their neighbors in need? Belonging connects with behavior.
Jesus contrasts believing without behaving and behaving without believing in the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21:28-32). One son says the words but his actions do not follow. The other son says no but behaves in an appropriate manner. Which one really believes — the one who recites the orthodox position or the one who behaves in a righteous way?
Belonging, behaving and believing are all important parts of biblical faith. But where do we start? What do we emphasize? Recently I heard someone tired of all the missional talk wishing for more focus on our relationship with God. She thought if we focus on that, being missional (behavior) will naturally follow. Others say doing mission will shape our relationship with God and our beliefs. Reaching out to our diverse neighbors moves us beyond our usual ways of thinking and acting. We become new people.
In a time when people seem more open to being spiritual and less excited by institutional religion, we may need to become flexible in our ordering of the three “B”s. People may need to experience belonging before they understand the message. Youth may need a welcoming space to raise hard belief questions, hopefully stopping short of wild rumspringa.
Communities of faith weave a tangled but beautiful tapestry of belonging, behaving and believing. In different patterns, the message of Jesus radiates to those around us.
Jane Yoder-Short lives in Kalona, Iowa.
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