Experimental Theology: A Review by Richard Beck of Living Into Community

So I’ve been disagreeing with some materials quoted by Richard Beck on sexuality. But as I’ve said before, I’m a fan of Beck’s blog and read it avidly.

Just the other day, he reviewed a book by Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, and he said something that bears some serious reflection.

This quote needs to be discussed in every small group and Bible class —

Specifically, one of the questions I often ask myself about my church, which is reflective of most churches I suspect, is this: What binds us together as a community?

As best I can tell what binds us together is liking. We’re at our church because we like it. Because we like the sermons. Or like the worship. Or like the programs. Or like the bible classes. Or like the people.

We are there–we are a “church,” a gathering–because we like the same things.

Obviously, this is a very thin web of support–our liking, our preferences–that is holding us together. What happens when we get a new preacher and we don’t like the sermons as much anymore? Or what if the worship style changes and we stop liking it?

What happens when the going gets tough? When sin needs to be confronted, when discipleship gets costly, when love gets sacrificial or when deep disagreements are aired? What happens when doubts deepen and faith grows cold?

Will liking be enough to bind us together during these seasons?

There needs to be something more than liking. So what might it look like if a church was bound together by promises rather than preferences?

Because love, it seems to me, is less about liking than it is about promising. 

I can’t express how close this hits to my heart. Why do our churches struggle to grow? Why do our churches so easily split? Why are leaders afraid to take chances? Why is change so incredibly hard? Why have tens of thousands of Churches of Christ closed their doors in the last 40 years? Why is our denomination in accelerating numerical decline?

Well, because we define church in terms of what we like. It’s same reason our divorce rate is too high, why we’re raising undisciplined children, and why sin is running rampant in many of our congregations.

We are Americans and therefore consumers. We shop. We buy. And if we don’t like it, we return it within 30 days, no questions asked. We base our decisions on what we like. And, no, liking doesn’t hold us together in the tough seasons — because we don’t like the tough seasons. When the going gets tough, we go somewhere we like better.

Catch his last quoted line: “Because love, it seems to me, is less about liking than it is about promising.” Do we think of joining a congregation as making a promise? If so, a promise to do what?

Do we promise to  follow the leaders? To support the congregation’s ministries? To treat our fellow members as family rather than servants — you know, people you have to get along with even when you don’t like them?

Or do we promise to enjoy the sermons as long as we fill “fed” and to be regular in attendance so long as the services give us an emotional lift?

It’s not that the church shouldn’t have good sermons and worship services. It should. And my wife should never be in a bad mood or have a bad day. The difference is that when she is in a foul mood, I don’t leave. I made a promise. In fact, I try to make her day better. It’s about keeping my word. Having integrity. And what it means to truly love someone. Because I don’t just like her. Love is different. Love lasts.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to Experimental Theology: A Review by Richard Beck of Living Into Community

  1. Dwight says:

    Jay, While I agree that most congregations are bound together by likes, they are not secured by likes, because I do not like everything that goes on in my congregation, nor all of the sermons, nor everything my brother likes, but I like enough and I love the people.
    I John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
    So our fellowship with others is built upon our fellowship in Christ. Saints during the early church were persecuted and spread afar & yet they were still saints & still in the church. They may have met with others in one town one day & then met with others in another town another day. The apostles did this. They were fluid in location, but not in thier Christianity. So I would argue we don’t and shouldn’t make promises to “churches” or people, but to God. We are in a covenant relationship with God, which puts us automatically in relationship with others. We have general prime directives given to us upon our conversion, including loving, giving, sharing with others.

  2. Dwight says:

    But I would agree that we as people are often fickle and easily moved upon our likes or dislikes. I think this is because we often view the church as a convenience store and not a group of people. We go in get what we want and then leave with it, be it lifting up, a good sermon, the Lord’s Supper, social association, our quota of God, etc. We go in ready to get…not give.
    Rom.12 “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” The saints were never told to leave one assembly for another to get better things or better teachings or better singing…they were told to give to and aid their fellow saints in their spirituality and growth in love and caring and sharing.

  3. Mark says:

    That is all provided that the Chrsitians were accepted. Too often, the local religion club is not really accepting of certain people and while they are not prohibited from entering for the service and the table is no longer fenced, they never are accepted as a full member and never feel welcome.

  4. That which is held together by likes is not true community, but a club. Which is fine, but let us not fool ourselves as to what we have built.

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