Please read Eric Bryant on Reaching the “Hard to Reach” for the background on this post. I hope that what follows does more to build off of what Bryant has written than to tear it down. I read his blog, his books, and have heard him speak on several occasions. I appreciate the evangelistic thrust of his writing and his continued emphasis on xenos; while we do differ at points I hope this post conveys that appreciation.
Principle #1: Christ Creates Community. (Bryant’s 1st Principle)
I mean this in two ways. First, Christ creates all things and all things are a reflection of His, i.e. God’s, attributes. So in this sense all community is a reflection of the intertrinitarian community. Second, as we are specifically speaking of the church we must also understand that Christ has created the church as His body to physically bear witness to Himself. Bryant argues that “cause creates community” and this is true; however, various causes create various communities which reflect the nature of the cause. Here we are forced to be more specific and focus upon the creator of community and subsequently the giver of cause, Jesus Christ.
Principle #2: Christ Transforms Humanity. (Bryant’s 2nd-5th Principles)
I appreciate Bryant’s 2nd-5th principles and my only critique is that, once understood within the biblical framework of the imago Dei, they become the same principle. Man was created in the image of the triune God this image was marred in the fall and now redeemed humanity is being transformed into the image of Christ. We must “develop authentic friendships with those [we] know” (Principle 4) because we were created in the image of a relational God and are being transformed into the image of a relational Christ. We must “meet the needs of those around us” (Principle 2) because we have been made in the image of a God who provided for those needs in the garden and are being transformed into the image of a Christ who met those very needs during his earthly ministry. Finally, we must “reach out to Xenos” (Principle 3 and 5) because we have been made in the image of a missional God and are being transformed into the image of a missional Christ who came to seek and save the lost. I think it is important to remember that these things take place within the context of relationship, not a “Christian” welfare system or environmental agency. We meet the needs of those whom we have relationships with as those needs become apparent to us and as we understand the context in which those needs can be properly met. Furthermore, we must understand that changed individuals create changed culture and so our approach to environmental and social issues comes through engaging individuals with the gospel and not through engaging social policymakers through legislative process.
For a further explanation of the imago Dei I recommend reading this essay.
Principle #3: Christ Leads His Church. (Bryant’s 6th and 7th Principles)
And we are His disciples whom He commanded, with the Great Commission, to make other disciples who will in turn make disciples who will do likewise. This process will not be complete until Christ calls a people from every tribe and language and people and nation. We must not be prone to self-centered spiritual myopia, but must look beyond ourselves and our circumstances toward what God is doing and is going to do among the nations. Then we must live and work towards the fulfillment of this great vision. Bryant’s 6th and 7th principles have a similar thrust; however, I want to focus beyond what God is doing in your particular locale to what God is doing throughout history and around the globe.
Extended Critique―Principle #5: Allow people to belong before they believe.
Under this principle Bryant writes, “We should never allow our convictions to become a litmus test for friendship. In fact, we should actively pursue friendships with people – even people with whom we may disagree. Go to www.mosaic.org/faq for more on the staff process at Mosaic.” In a sense this is redundant and simply expounds what is means to “reach out to Xenos.” Furthermore, I thoroughly agree that “we should never allow our convictions to become a litmus test for friendship” and that “we should actively pursue friendships with people – even people with whom we may disagree.”
Eric has commented below and I think his comments thoroughly clarify this point. Also I would recommend reading The Suicidal Missionary where in a comment following the post he exclaims, “I am calling for the proclaiming of the gospel AND embracing of all those who need to repent.” I think that is the heart of what it means to allow people to belong before they believe.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these posts.
If you or anyone reading your posts would like more of the free notes from these breakouts, send me an email at email@example.com with “Catalyzing Community” in the subject. I was interviewed on the subject of belonging before believing. The video is available at http://ericbryant.org/2009/03/18/belonging-before-believing/.
This conversation is really important. To help our communities allow people to belong before they believe, we need to ask ourselves: Do we personally have relationships with people who do not follow Jesus? Are there people who do not follow Jesus connecting to our local church community? If not, then what should we do about this?
When we define the church as the Sunday gatherings or the buildings in which we meet, we miss our calling. Those of us who have a relationship with Jesus = the Church. The Church should be “set apart” in our behavior and “sent out” into our relationships. Too often those of us who follow Christ are set apart in our relationships – not developing friendships with others who do not yet believe that Jesus is God. Allowing people to belong to our lives and belong within our communities gives them the opportunity to see how real God is and how He transforms our lives and can transform theirs.
Paul even refers to the unbeliever who comes to one of the Corinthians’ gatherings (I Cor. 14:24). Unfortunately, too many churches are not seeing that happen because we only allow people to belong if they first believe as we do.
Hope this helps clarify the point of these seminars.
Even more of what I am trying to communicate can be found in my book: “Peppermint-Filled Pinatas.”
Thanks for the feedback and I appreciate your clarification of allowing people to belong before they believe. I was a little confused by the use of “member” on the Mosaic FAQ due to its use in most church circles; I thought I knew what you meant but was a little apprehensive. I will check out the videos. Thanks again.
I would also commend Peppermint-Filled Piñatas: Breaking Through Tolerance and Embracing Love to all reading. I read it back in 2007 and greatly enjoyed his humorous down-to-earth writing style and he offers a much needed challenge to the church.