Belong Then Believe or Believe Then Belong? Martin Luther Weighs In

Many years ago, the exponential growth of the internet along with an increasing disenchantment with traditional church led to the rise of the Emerging Church movement. Unfortuntely, many valid and helpful criticisms were lost when the movement was co-opted by the “Emergent” group, which turned out to be just another institution peddling religious liberalism for financial gain.

In the midst of this progression, one of the questions oft-raised questions encompassed what could be called an ecclesiological ordo salutis. Essentially, the question was, “Can a person belong to the community of believers before they believe in Christ?” Or, “Must a person believe in Christ before they can be fully welcomed into the community of believers?”

Many people who hold a high view of Scripture and for whom I have a degree of respect disagree on the answer to these questions. Below, I’ve linked to three pretty good articles which summarize differering viewpoints on the issue. Each are short, concise and easy to read. Each is definitely worth reading:

Do Pre-Christians Need to Belong Before they Believe and Become?

Our Problem With the Belong Than Believe Approach to Evangelism

The Church: A Place to Belong For Sinners

I’ve not invested a lot of energy in this debate for many years. I do think it is not a black and white issue, but one which requires us to recognize the importance of both belonging and believing. Perhaps a linear approach is not the best way to think of this issue, as such an approach smells a little like the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction and regeneration can be set aside as a result not the cause in salvation.


But today, I came across this interesting quote by Martin Luther (the 95 theses guy who really enjoyed his wife’s beer). In this quote at least, he seems to be clearly in the Belong then Believe camp. I don’t know if this is a good summary of his lifelong writing on the topic, but it’s interesting at least. It’s also sobering to think that a church’s welcoming nature (or lack thereof) can have a significant impact on the spiritual journey of those seeking Christ. Here’s the quote:
Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?
What do you think? Should one belong before they believe? Or must they believe before they can truly belong? All comments are welcome. Gracious interaction is expected. Let each of us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

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