Following on from earlier references to Richard Rohr‘s writings, here is another excerpt from his book On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men which is worth considering:
Early-stage religion is more about belonging and believing than about transformation. When belonging and believing are the primary concerns, people don’t see their need for growth, healing, or basic spiritual curiosity. Once we let the group substitute for an inner life or our own faith journey, all we need to do is “attend.” For several centuries, church has been more a matter of attendance at aservice than an observably different lifestyle. Membership requirements and penalties predominated, not the change-your-life message that Jesus so clearly preached.
Membership questions lead to endless arguments about who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong, who is worthy of our God, and who is not. Such distinctions appeal to our ego and its need to feel worthy and superior and to be part of a group that defines itself by exclusion. The church ends up a gated country club, giving people a false sense of superiority. This is why Jesus walks to those on the edges: the handicapped, the sinners, the excluded ones. (p. 276)
This way of thinking has implications for the type of church for which modernity is famous: the one whose message is “Come, join us.” Rather, the followers of Jesus are commanded to be those who go out into the community, live amongst the crowd, being the hands and feet of the Master and loving as he loved. This and this alone is the antithesis of exclusivism.
I am excited about many congregations that are embracing the life of Jesus enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, realising the importance of moving outside of the conventional stage-centred church and towards an open, inclusive and community-centred focus. Their aim is not to preach a set of beliefs, but to genuinely care and reach out in love to heal the brokenness in our world. This is not to say that beliefs have become unnecessary, but that actions and attitudes have superseded them in importance.