THE THREE B’s
For the first time since the large polling group, Gallop, started looking at the state of Christian and religious belief in America, membership in communities of faith in the US has fallen below 50% of the population. This means that 2021 is the first year in about a century that more Americans claim to have no religious home than those who do claim to have such a home. Today, I just want to ask, “How does that make you feel?”
Beautiful Savior, guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will we might truly discover joy and peace. Amen.
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
“Come Ye Sinners” — Joseph Hart, performed by Sovereign Grace Music (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow’r.
I will arise and go to Jesus;
He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
Come, ye thirsty; come and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify,
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh. Refrain
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all. Refrain
Lo! The incarnate God ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture wholly;
Let no other trust intrude. Refrain
One of my fears as a parent is that my kids will pick up my bad habits. “You know where she gets that from, don’t you?” Sadly, yes, I do. We’re all shaped in good, bad, or even “neutral” ways by the people we’re around the most. Usually, this is our family and friends, but it can include our other relationships as well, like our schools, workplaces, and churches. The communities we’re a part of define who we are, what we do, and how we think. These three categories of “definition” are what we call “The Three B’s:” Belong, Behave, Believe. Our beliefs and our behaviors can in very large measure be traced to the places or groups to which we belong.
I suppose that shouldn’t seem strange to us. It’s how things worked in the early church, after all. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 1:17-19. He’s talking to a community of believers, but they haven’t always been believers, and they have a long way to go still — or so the Apostle Paul seems to think. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,” Paul says, “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”
As Baptists, we have a long tradition that says it is supremely important that each individual person makes his or her own confession of faith in Jesus. This is why we don’t baptize infants, because infants are not able to believe in this way. It’s also why we’re hesitant to baptize young children. If we don’t think they’re old enough to vote on decisions that only last for a short period of time, then why do we think they’re old enough to trust Jesus with their whole entire lives? Believing rightly is important to us.
And yet, the Ephesians seem to have some belief, but not much. Paul even says that he’s praying that they’ll “come to know” God. Apparently, they don’t know him all that well yet! In fact, Paul isn’t even sure the Ephesians have a good handle on what the basic Christian hope is, which tends to be the very hope that we say is such an important first step in believing: “Are you saved? Where have you placed your hope for life after death and all things good and beautiful?” If Paul put things in terms of the three B’s, it would appear that he sees belonging to come first with believing and behaving flowing in large measure out of it.
Why is this important to know? This is where that Gallop poll I mentioned earlier comes in. How many of you were surprised by the discover that 2021 marks the first time that church membership in the US has fallen below 50% of the population? How many of you were fearful or anxious? I think it’s safe to say that we weren’t ready for this, but that doesn’t mean we should feel hopeless or afraid. I think what we have here is a reminder about the way relationships and communities of faith like ours actually work, that we’re here not first because of what we believe but because we belong. The church is our people. That’s who we are.
And so, I think we’re being forced to take stock, and sometimes that is good. We’re starting to realize, once again and like the Ephesians, that we don’t belong somewhere because we believe and behave. We believe and behave because we already belong, because we’re already in some sense one. And honestly, that admission gives me hope, because it suggests that what we’re beginning to learn and lean into now that we’re in this “religionless” age is the fact that relationships are the most important part of good, healthy, and strong communities — not what we think or how we act but to whom and for whom we belong. This means that we’ve got to start building real relationships with others again, because only when we belong together will be start behaving and believing together, too.
God, we pray that you would give us the hope, heart, and humility to belong together first, even before we believe or behave as one. Amen.
For more on the three B’s, check out Diana Butler Bass’s book, Christianity after Religion.