Saturday, December 5, 2009

Not an Island

I grew up in a very independent culture where Christians (especially men) were encouraged to have a strong moral compass and to do whatever they felt was right no matter what anyone else thought. Stubbornness was often called conviction, and being swayed by others was decried as being wishy-washy. Everyone was supposed to have the answer to all of life's difficult questions and to proclaim that answer boldly and unswervingly as if absolutely certain it was correct. Engaging in conversation with others was frequently about firmly stating one's own position while not really listening to the other person's point of view. Asking for advice was often considered a weakness, and it seemed admirable to be strong and self-assured enough to make decisions unilaterally and without compromise.

I don't really want to subject myself to that system because I'm smart enough to realize that I don't have all the answers. My moral compass is very important to me, but I realize that it might not always point true north. Sometimes I need help recalibrating it. That's why I benefit from actively listening to what other people believe in. Even if I end up disagreeing with someone, hearing that person's point of view can help me refine my own opinion.

I have friends and family members who believe that belonging to the body of Christ isn't really all that important. Their one-on-one connection to God is what they care about, and they feel perfectly capable of navigating their faith journey with no one but Jesus for company. They think it's a good idea for them to set a good example by behaving morally, but they don't seem to be looking at anyone else's choices for guidance. Perhaps these people are less corruptible than I am, but I don't have enough confidence in my my ability to effectively listen to the Holy Spirit, wisely interpret Scripture, and make consistently sound judgments to think that going it alone is the best course for me. I do feel that I am relatively attuned to God's voice and reasonably gifted at applying the lessons in the Bible to my life, but I know that there will still be times when someone else will have a better idea of what God is saying about a particular issue than I do. When those times come, I need to listen to the thoughts of those who know things that I don't so that I can refine my beliefs and my opinions in order to better follow God.

I think it's important to note that God spoke directly to the prophets, but then He used the prophets to communicate with the wider population. Today, God still speaks to us directly through the Holy Spirit, but He also speaks to us through other people. If we aren't listening to our neighbors with an expectation that they might have something valuable to say to us, then we might miss those messages. God does not deliver complete and thorough wisdom to all people. Instead he blesses each of us with unique insights and then bids us to go out and share that knowledge with each other. We can only make use of the insights that others provide if we admit we haven't got everything figured out yet. We need to be open to new information and willing to adjust our beliefs as new evidence arises.

I'm not suggesting that Christians should blindly follow the crowd. Like Joshua, I am ready to declare before all people that no matter whom they choose to serve, my household and I will serve the Lord. Still, I am ready to admit that I don't have a comprehensive understanding of what serving the Lord entails for me. Making myself an active member of a larger body of believers does not mean that I am not giving away my ability to choose my own moral values. Rather it means that I am choosing to take the knowledge and beliefs of others into account when I choose which way I will go. No one can persuade me to abandon my loyalty from God, but others can help me understand how best to live out that allegiance.

I am capable of being a good Christian on my own, but I am an even better Christian when I am an active part of a Christian community. I may have a strong moral compass, but it isn't infallible, and when I go astray others may be able to help me see the adjustments I should make. I will not try to be an island because I think I'm stronger when I place more value on others' ability to help me make good choices.

1 comment:

Anand Claudius Peter said...
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