April 2, 2003
In his fourth Inaugural Address, delivered January 20, 1945 in Washington, DC, Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd President of the United States, challenged the citizens of this great nation to "live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger." Rather than hiding our heads in the sand from the many responsibilities our privileges call us to assume, or savagely assailing all who come too near our sacred shores, we must learn "to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."
In essence, FDR issued a call to rise above arrogant isolationism and vicious exclusivism, and develop a sense of community---a sense of oneness with our fellow man. Throughout history great men have issued the challenge to abandon the chaos of the factional spirit, and to work together to achieve the joys of a united community. James Madison, our 4th President of the United States, bemoaned this misguided "zeal for different opinions concerning religion.....as well as speculation of practice.....which has divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good." He described such men as "adverse.....to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community" (The Federalist, 1787).
It is time for the people of God to begin recognizing, as have countless secular leaders down through the ages, the importance of developing a sense of Community! Indeed, it is we, not they, who should have taken the lead! On the night of His betrayal and arrest, Jesus went to His Father in prayer on behalf of His disciples. In this High Priestly prayer our Lord asked that we might all be one, even as He and the Father are one; that we might be perfected in unity, and our joy made full (John 17). It was a plea for Christian community. "Brothers all, in honor, as in one community, scholars and gentlemen. Like harmony in music.....that reconciles discordant elements, making them cling together in one society" (William Wordsworth, The Prelude, written 1799 - 1805).
The call to the disciples of Jesus Christ today is to lay aside the ostrich and dog-in-the-manger mentalities, which only foster factions, and begin promoting the precious peace of Christian community. It is only in developing community that we will ever truly realize the joys of the oneness for which our Lord prayed prior to the cross.
In this quest toward community we owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. M. Scott Peck, a noted psychiatrist, for the insights provided in his book The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace (Simon & Schuster, 1987). The author enumerates the various developmental stages a group must pass through before achieving a genuine sense of oneness: Pseudo Community, Chaos, Emptiness, and then Community. He also discusses the stages of our transformation from out of chaos into community: Antisocial (Chaotic), Institutional (Formal), Individual (Skeptic), and Communal (Mystic). By understanding these patterns and stages of transformation, we become better equipped to proclaim, promote, and proceed toward the goal of community.
Most groups begin, observes Dr. Peck, as Pseudo Community. Their goal is to quickly achieve perfect unity and complete harmony with one another, however they find themselves unwilling to acknowledge their immediate failure to attain it. Thus.....they fake it! "The members attempt to be an instant community by being extremely pleasant with one another and avoiding all disagreement." Anything which might be perceived as controversial, anything new or challenging, any change, is to be avoided at all cost. The appearance of harmony and oneness must be maintained. It is a state of denial. Although a surface pleasantness may indeed be attained, it is at the sacrifice of intimacy and depth in the group's interpersonal relationships. Pseudo communities are shallow, they are built upon illusions, and they are destined to fail.
Many of God's people have never progressed beyond the "pleasantries" stage in their development toward community, and, thus, they have yet to arrive. A genuine oneness can only be achieved when relationships become intimate. However, there is a hidden reef in this voyage into the deep waters of intimacy: We begin to see one another as we really are. This is the developmental stage known as Chaos. As we move beyond the surface pleasantries into the deeper waters of intimacy, we quickly come to the realization "we are not all the same; we have differences." Such differences, or diversity among the members, are viewed as destructive by those in Pseudo Communities. Unity is perceived to be the result of absolute uniformity in all areas. To be different is to be divisive, and all deviations from the "norm" are to be dealt with decisively!
By promoting a "community" based upon uniformity to some accepted religious form or pattern or tradition, a group becomes fixated in a pseudo state which is far removed from the reality for which our Lord prayed. "This is the stage," observes Dr. Peck, "of the majority of churchgoers and believers." It is characterized as Institutional or Formal, and is evidenced by an "attachment to the forms (as opposed to the essence) of their religion." The apostle Paul spoke of those who "hold to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power" (II Tim. 3:5). Form becomes so central to their belief system that they actually perceive it to be the essence of their spiritual experience! As a result, when any of the forms or the traditional "order of things" are altered or challenged, these religionists become aggressive, even contentious, contenders for their "faith."
"Stage Two people need simple, clear-cut dogmatic structures and have little taste for the unknown." Those fixated in this stage need "a legalistic religion for their governance," and they view God primarily as Punitive Power who somehow finds satisfaction in the endless, merciless torture of any and all who dare to violate, knowingly or unknowingly, the tiniest tenet or tradition of their institutionalized religious system upon which they rely so heavily for salvation. This is where the concept of Militant Ignorance comes in. The more one lacks insight into what is truly essential to the development of genuine community, the more aggressive they seem to become in the binding of their misconceptions upon others. Paul, for a time, was a perfect example of those caught up in this religious militancy: "I was a violent aggressor.....and yet I acted ignorantly" (I Tim. 1:13). Militant ignorance, and the enforced uniformity of the institutional mindset, are hurdles which God's people must clear before they can continue their journey to the substantive joys of community.
The stage of Emptiness is the final developmental phase prior to the realization of true oneness in the Body of Christ. This is where the members of a group empty themselves of all personal preferences, perceptions, practices, expectations, and traditions which bar the way to the achievement of community. These are characterized as "Stage Four" Christians: Those who have progressed far enough in the faith of our Lord Jesus, and who have matured enough spiritually, to "empty themselves of preconceived notions and prejudices;" who thus seek not to isolate, exclude, and divide over forms, but rather who have perceived the essence of their faith and promote unity based solely on that Truth. Their goal is to become a community of believers unified "in Christ," rather than an institution of religionists uniform "in form." "My way, or no way" is the philosophy of failure. For the community to live, self must die!
Stage Four believers are unafraid to reexamine their beliefs and practices in light of the Word---and, if necessary, embrace change! The Bereans (Acts 17) were stage four believers, whereas those of Thessalonica (in the same passage) were obviously fixated in a far less noble stage, and thus were less "noble-minded."
If the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is to achieve its goal of Community, we must accept the freedom from form which is integral to the New Covenant. We must forever shed the shackles of institutionalized religion, and embrace the true power of a Spirit-filled relationship with the Father through the Son. We must, further, develop deep interpersonal relationships, rejoice in our diversity, promote unity of purpose rather than uniformity of practice, and oppose all efforts to militantly impose a state of shallow stagnation upon the One Body.
May God help each of us to rise to the challenge issued by our Lord in His prayer on that night so many years ago: "That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me" (John 17:21).
From a Reader in Oregon:
Kudos and Kudos for issue #26 regarding the inaccuracy of translating the Greek word "monogenes" as "only begotten" instead of "only" or as otherwise described in the aforementioned issue of Reflections. I looked up the six passages, in the NASB (updated edition), where you mentioned "monogenes" is incorrectly translated, and it is translated incorrectly in each verse. I then looked up the same verses in the English Standard Version, and in every verse mentioned "monogenes" is translated correctly, that is without the word "begotten" in each of the verses.
I have believed for a very long time that the verses of John 1:1-3 were in dire conflict with John 3:16 and with John 1:14, because deity cannot be "begotten." And though I have always believed that to be true, I now know the reason -- the incorrect translation of "monogenes." Somehow the words in John 3:16, "His only begotten son," have always left me with the sense that if Jesus was begotten of God, then Jesus could not therefore completely be deity. Those words have also always given me the sense that they are not in harmony with the verses mentioned above from the first chapter of John. I have always known He is completely deity from John 1:1-3 and from Colossians 1:15-20, but the explanation was not there until I read Reflections #26. Thank you again. Keep up the good work, Al.
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