Just back from preaching on Romans 1 for the second time in a month and really struck by how Paul uses this formula which has been a staple of ‘church growth movement’ and similar for the past however many years I have been in ministry.
The idea of the phrase is something like:
We used to say believe first, then behave and then you can belong (to church), but we need to be more invitational and say belong, believe, then behave… we need to and allow people to journey with us and belong (to church/a course/ a youth group etc) before gradually getting to believe [by osmosis assuming the group generally has faith] and then ultimately to behave [by osmosis assuming the group generally is marked by holiness].
It’s not without merit, but the stark question in Romans 1 is who do we belong to?
Interestingly the answer is not that we ‘belong’ to church/course/youth group, but ‘belong to Christ’.
How does that come about? Through the obedience that comes from faith (NIV), through ‘believing and obeying (NLT), through the ‘obedience of faith’ ESV.
So the end point is belonging to Jesus (as our Lord and Master!) not membership of a church/course/youth group etc…
Belonging to a welcoming loving embracing community may of course take you on a journey towards the obedience that comes from faith, but we must never confuse what we are supposed to be aiming for – obedience to and belonging to Jesus. We’ve not been called to grow the church (Jesus’ job), but to ‘make disciples who will obey everything I have commanded you (Jesus’ charge to his disciples).
As Mike Been used to say: If you aim for the church you will never get discipleship (just a consumer culture)… If you aim for discipleship you will get the church as a by-product, and in Romans 1 language it will be ‘for the sake of Jesus’ name’ and glory that you have made those disciples.