Living Community

Here are some thoughts regarding the relational church vs institutionalized church, I want to challenge notions of what society is supposed to look like, what church or school is “supposed to be.”  I have written this to continue our dialogue in hopes of better understanding the way in which to implement the abstract ideas, to realize the ideal, and manifest the Spirit in practice.

 

Over and over again, I feel the tension between the way Jesus taught and lived and the way that our society operates.  The difference seems quite simple, most of Jesus’ parables have to do with life, with living organisms.  The vine and branches, the seeds taking root,  the harvest of chaff and grain, the shepherd and sheep, just to name a few.  The Church itself is the Body of Christ, one system with many organs, as Paul describes. 

Yet it seems that the modern world is shaped by mechanistic, inanimate systems.  Our cities operate less like bodies and more like machines, forour primary energy is no longer biological, it is industrial.  We can drive a mile a minute, fly a the spend of sound, communicate at the speed of light, while neglecting the speed of life. 

The anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner, who lived with and studied the Aborigines of Australia, observed that while Western Civilization progressed onward ever faster, it had to pay for it with ever increasing sacrifices.   The cost of western progress, Stanner wrote, “is instability and inequity, which is proving very heavy.”  He continues, “Aboriginal life has endured feeling that continuity, not man, is the measure of all.  The cost, in the world of power and change, is extinction.” 

Man has always sought glory in structures, such as the Tower of Babel, an attempt to build a way to heaven.  Man’s obsession for power, according to the philosopher George Grant, is the motive force behind technology itself, which he defines as the endeavor to turn the world into mere potential raw material at the disposal of our wills.  The emphasis is on the will of man controlling the world.  Of course, technology, or structures, are not intrinsically bad, Noah’s ark did glorify God, because it bore within it the life created by God.  The ark illustrates how we can use structures, institutions, and technology; as  man-made tools, they are useful as a means to an end.  The problem comes when we forget the end, forget to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.

Why does man seem doomed to confuse the means (technology) with the end (the Kingdom)?  It seems that this is at the heart of the fall of man; the simple struggle between the flesh and the spirit, “not my will by thy will be done.”  As Augustine put it “The city of man lifts its head in is own glory; the city of God says to the Lord “You are my glory and the one who raises my head,’ the city of man is dominated by the lust to dominate; in the City of God, all serve one another in love. .  .” 

Ever since man fell, he has devoted his life to control his environment, but he has been made for something beyond his control, man has been made to follow the Spirit of God himself.  Jesus explains that the Spirit is a living, transcendent power: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

Such unpredictability may seem scary because it seems so unorganized, so impulsive!  Although we usually associate impulsive behavior with the flesh (one more bite!) we must not forget the “impulsive” nature of the Spirit, as it led to the Eunuch’s baptism, as it led to spontaneous miracles, healings, and preaching.  The Spirit demand that man not worry about tomorrow, not store up in barns, and be ready at the blast of a trumpet to abandon his work in the field.  The Spirit demands that we drop everything for something we cannot see, even giving up the know for the unknown: for “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Man cannot control or even predict the Spirit, it will blow wherever it wishes, it controls man.  But man’s way to is to control all things, to have man’s will be done.  René Descartes, considered a father of modern science, famously said that the development of modern physics (science) will allow us to “render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature.”  It is true that God granted Adam dominion in the garden, though man’s dominion was legitimate only insofar as it reflected God’s dominion.  Yet man has fallen, and insofar as he has fallen he has lost his dominion.  Much of modern thought has been an obsession with regaining that dominion. 

Francis Bacon, another father of modern science, claimed that:

"Man by the Fall, fell at the same time from his state of innocency and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses can in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and science.”

 

Bacon’s view clearly illustrates the confusion of modern man.  He assumes he can separate dominion from innocence, or power from justice.  Gandhi speaks to this false dichotomy in his list of seven blunders of mankind: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principles.

If we keep religion and faith separate from arts and science, we blunder.  One of my favorite historians, Christopher Dawson, wrote volumes concerning this theme; here is a summary of his main ideas:

“Religion is the soul of a culture, and a society that has lost its spiritual roots is a dying society, however prosperous it may appear externally. The fate of our civilization was endangered not only by the fading of the vision of faith that originally formed it, namely Christianity, but the failure to integrate the world of reason and science with the world of the soul, which has lost the power to express itself through culture.

            In his book, The Crisis of Western Education, Dawson warns of the tendency to separate spiritual life from industrial progress, calling our own era the age of Frankenstein, in which we have become ‘the hero who creates a mechanical monster and then found it had got out of control and threatened his own existence.’  He had in mind atomic warfare and he argued that if Western society were to gain control over these forces there would have to be a reintegration of faith and culture, and that there is an absolute limit to the progress that can be achieved by perfecting scientific techniques detached from spiritual aims and moral values. This is similar to Einstein assessment of our era as one characterized by perfection of means and confusion of goals.”

            As the Classical Christian tradition continues to develop and grow, we must remember that the tradition is alive; the motive force is the same spiritual power that has led men for thousands of years, a power that is at once incredibly constant and enduring, and yet, like the wind, “blows where it wishes.”  In our efforts to promote Christian education, we may understand institutions and technology as a sort of trellis, a framework used as a support for a growing organism.  Yet we must never confuse the means with the end by sacrificing the living organism for the structure that supports it.