I guess people will identify themselves with anything these days, except for maybe Christ and His Church. That, apparently, is an identity that carries with it too much responsibility, awkward conversations, inefficiency, and heartache. Scripture marks the recognition and acquiesence to this new identity as member of the Body of Christ as a sign of maturity. There is no growth and stability in the Christian life, there is no sense of security and assurance without participation in our churches. Here, we can be givers, not just takers. That’s where real growth happens, and deep gospel-drenching, Christ-displaying, resurrection-touting, patience-weilding takes place. Just as God designed a man to be spiritually, physically, and emotionally complemented by a woman — he created us to be complemented spiritually, emotionally, physically, gifted-ly by one another.
Oak trees don’t become oak trees by hanging inside a house away from the elements. Oak trees, the real sturdy kind you used to climb on as a kid, get to be that way by expanding their root system underground during harsh wind, storms, and winters. If you are serious about becoming a stable, weathered Christian that can take metaphorical punches and give Christ’s life to others, you have to be complented by community. You have to grow in grace to deal gently with the cryers and the boorish, the silly and the serious, the babies and the adults. Christians were taken out of their me-first, me-only identitys (not just taken out, but that identity was brutally crucified on the cross with Christ), and given new ones as members of an organization.
Even the greek word for church, ekklessia, means to be “called out,” which insinuates leaving one group for another, or being drawn not only to God Himself, but His people. Ready for this: God made us in Christ to be members (it’s okay, you can shudder) of a community of failures and dullards who have nothing going for them other than the Champion that saved their lowsy patoots. These are the types of people God made us to commune with. Unfortunately, the world’s system was designed by a very shrewed former cheribum that hates God and His people. Satan knows that glorifying God requires Christ’s life being lived out, and he knows you and I can’t grow into Christ unless other members of the Body are working on that same goal together, in tandum. He’s done some crafty work.
Many of us may attend church regularly, but because our identity is in our job, or our children’s sports, or our hobbies, we aren’t able to give. Like the writer of Hebrews chides his readers, many within our ranks should be able to teach — give out Gospel truths — but are simply unavailable or don’t dwell on those truths often enought to teach others. Some know the Word of God, but are simply unreliable and quick to make commitments within the church that they’ll never actually keep.
Not only that, Arthur Farstad notes that parachurch organizations seem to be almost contra- or anti-church in their function, rather than loving and striving to help her to be what the NT says she is meant to be. Maybe if the Church was sound in doctrine and actively participated to promote both evangelism and local church life, there might be no need for parachurch organizations. But the truth is, Christianity today is not in very good shape¹.
All this nonsense we’re seeing stems from, you guessed it, personal metanarratives (worldviews) built upon certain assumptions about the world and the origin of life itself. Let’s just say the theory of evolution hasn’t been friendly to the Western portion of the world, just as animism, the theory that all living organisms have spirits living in them to appease, hasn’t been friendly to the Chimbu people of Papua New Guinea. The former has given us Marxism, Nihilism, abortion, and Postmodernism. The latter produces sorcery killings, witch hunts, and infanticide. The way we see ourselves in History will determine our beliefs, which will pour into our social and political institutions, which will then feed into our behaviors, which only re-affirms our philosophy of life. I mean honestly, nobody should be surprised that all this craziness is happening in our world: it was inevitable.
Reflecting on the invention of the clock and its ripple effects on society, Neil Postman turned out to be correct about many of his predicitons.
With the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God’s supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment.²
This was predictable to anyone who was paying attention. With the clock came an industrial, mechanistic approach to the world — results superceded community, people became machines, some more efficient than others — and soon, working for the good of the larger society gave way to individualism. What is best for community, or as philosophers call it “human flourishing,” no longer gave Westerners meaning to their lives, because social institutions could no longer allow for it with their time-is-money mentality.
In the Chimbu community of Papua New Guinea, where time is rarely a factor in decision-making, a father will draft his son and his nephews to cut wood or grow coffee together. Family connections, not a particular skill, education, or efficiency, is the great determiner for who does what work for whom. Asking a friend to find someone skilled enough to cut down a tree behind your house is a good idea, however, a Chimbu will look for someone he may owe a debt to, or a close relative, whether he is the best person for a job or not.
Paul Hiebert, in his important book Transforming Worldviews, writes,
All people have a perception of their own self. Indians have three selves: personal, social (determined by the caste into which one is born), and cosmic. Societies differ in the priority they give to the group versus the autonomous individual. In group-oriented socienties, people find their idenity in their relationships to others and their place in society. For example, in Japan the related self is most important. The autonomous self should be empty. In contrast, modernity stresses the autonomous self. The individual self is the center of a person’s identity; his or her group self is less important.
Alexis de Tocqueville, in describing American culture after traveling to the US in 1831, writes,
Selfishness is a passionate and exaggerated love of self, which leads a man to connect everything with himself and to prefer himself to everything in the world. Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself…individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition.³
Where has the clock led us? Previous generations valued selfless service, were willing to wait for change over longer periods of time, and authentic communities. Now we are in an age of fake, online communities, free spending, and speed, speed, speed. Instead of selfless service, we ask, “What’s in it for me?”
A study from the University of Michigan looked at 72 studies that gauged empathy among 14,000 students over 30 years. Since 2000, according to these findings, empathy has been in a huge decline. Students display 40% less empathy than students in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Sara Konrath, who spoke on behalf of this study, said one reason students are less empathetic may be that people are having fewer face-to-face interactions due to social media. Finding information now looks drastically different than in, say, my dad’s era. If my dad needed information on a subject, he went to the library, checked out a book, and sat around a bunch of people and read. Later, people went to the Yellow Pages, then dialing 411 was a thing, then, a few years ago, Cha Cha would find you answers when you texted them. Now I just talk to a robot on my phone.
Satan seeks to ruin relationships and community because he hates the Church. The world’s system is the way it is not because Satan wants to get rid of you, but primarily the church. And he hates the church because it is God’s mode of taking the Good News of God’s Redemptive Plan to the ends of the earth. Succincly, the church is God’s mode for bringing glory to Himself and Satan wants to thwart it using any means possible (though he won’t, see Matt. 16:18).
In tribal societies, it’s easy to get clans together for buying brides, paying off debts, or buring the dead, but not around Christ. In America, it’s hard not only to get people together, but to get them to fellowship around someone that isn’t them. We sure love our birthday parties, because that day will be all about celebrating me — I bet I can get you to one of those. To die to myself for someone who’s a little strange, a little too dedicated to walking in holiness, not like me, is much harder. It’s totally counter to every influence around me. It requires a worldview change. In fact, I need the patient discipline of a Savior to get me to the place where I am thinking about the good of the church community, rather than what’s good for me.
- Journal Article D 1992, Topics: Church, Author: Farstad, Arthur L., Title: We Believe In: The Church.
- Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, page 12
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/detoc/ch2_02.htm