Small is beautiful
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63
“It has been said by someone that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not dispute the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of every Christian is the Godhead, The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the greatest God whom he calls his Father.” C. H. Spurgeon
“A right understanding of God is a panacea for millions of evils in the world” A. W. Tozer
One of the greatest and chief maladies plaguing the people of God today is the lack of right understanding of God. In my knowledge the last book written, substantially on God and meant for the average Christian was, ‘Knowing God’ by James I. Packer, published in 1973. There is a great dearth of good preaching and books on God and his attributes. The effect of such a lack is all around us to see.
A right understanding of God, especially his tri-personality, is crucial to understanding about the nature of being, world, human life, individual, marriage, family, society, church, missions, tolerance, economics, global peace, reconciliation and a host of other issues pertinent to life and existence.
The contemplation of God, said Charles Spurgeon preaching to his congregation at the age of 20 in 1855, humbles the mind, it expands the mind and is consolatory to the mind. I think nothing is more healing, redemptory, expanding and consolatory to the soul than a consistent and persistent contemplation of the Trinity. If this has not happened or is not happening around us it is because of the increased preoccupation with our needs, our problems and ourselves. We seem to putter around this globe lost within ourselves in pursuit of our self-interests. It is no wonder that we remain impoverished. There is a great need for robust preaching from our pulpits. A preaching that is imbued with God – his name and nature, alone can bring back the much-needed health and empowering.
One of the major ways the enemy of our souls has distracted us from our pursuit of God and discipleship unto Christ is by creating ways and means of living which seem very legitimate. First, our Christian faith has been relegated to mere forgiveness from sin, escape from hell and a ticket to go to heaven. Once those are guaranteed, our middle-class pursuits of worldly success and material affluence got ‘baptised’ as God’s will through a faulty interpretation of scripture. We, then accepted uncritically the compartmentalisation of life as sacred and secular, public and private and work and worship. We had already created convenient systems and structures to organise our worship and ministry so that we can follow Christ and pursue the world! Hasn’t capitalism made the pursuit of material prosperity easier? And isn’t capitalism the result of Christian thinking? We have thus begun to get cosy with the world. We even seek God’s help through sincere prayer to help us to ride two horses! Isn’t our God, the God of impossibilities? Isn’t he all-powerful? Did he not say, “Whatsoever you will ask in my name…”? Has he not promised to give us the hidden treasures of the earth! Why can’t our desire for God and discipleship of Christ go on side by side with our middle class pursuits! We even began to interpret scripture to justify our pursuit of the world and God!
So our middle class pursuits and the way we do our worship and ministry together have actually become our idols and have supplanted God from our lives. Our pursuit of God has been replaced by the pursuit of the world. We seek what the world has to offer, thinking these are blessings from God rather than seeking the God who created us and for whom we have been made. We seek the gifts rather than the Giver or we seek the Giver in the gifts. This is how our worship, ministry and even churches have become idols, since our pursuit is for the gifts not the Giver himself. Whenever the creature replaces the Creator or the gifts the Giver it becomes idolatry. In many cases it appears that churches and pastors have become facilitators of this illegitimate pursuit!
In my previous article we have discussed about how capitalism made the middle class dream possible and explained why it cannot be the model for the people of God to follow. In this article we shall look at why the structures and systems we created for our worship and ministry and the governing patterns we have followed in them are not of the Lord and how they lead us into idolatry and enslavement.
A few questions to raise by way of clarifying the issues – why do we build sanctuaries, prayer houses, chapels, cathedrals and call them church? How far is it right to call them churches? And how far is it right to build such large structures focusing our passion and finances upon them? Do these really represent the body of Christ? How far do they facilitate the expression of the body of Christ in our neighbourhoods? Then there is the question of the national and international efforts for evangelism and missions, forming large global structures and ministries – is this the right way to take the gospel to the whole world? Or are we aping the world, in its penchant to define success by the criteria of largeness? What is the way of the Kingdom of God in all these matters? Then there is the question of conserving our efforts and of bringing in unity while maintaining diversity. How can this be achieved without sacrificing unity for the sake of diversity or vice versa? What about the governing systems of the world – democracy, autocracy, theocracy? Many scholars read into the New Testament records three forms of church government – Presbyterian, Episcopal or Congregational? We shall not go into a detailed debate on all the questions above in this article, but we shall indicate a general direction towards finding an answer.
As mentioned above, the answer to all these questions lies in our understanding of the triune God and his incarnation in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ – his life and teaching as recorded in the gospels and expounded by the early Apostles. Is it wrong to say that this must remain the sole model for the way we live and the things we do in the world? Is it heretical to call us back to the ways of the Kingdom of God as represented in Christ’s incarnation and his life and teaching? Why no one seems to understand or pay attention? Is it because of our condition similar to the Laodicean church – “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…”?
Two deviations that have gone unnoticed to a large extent on this point – first, as mentioned earlier, rather than seeking and knowing God our pursuit of him has been hijacked by the pursuit of the world. The second is, we have not paid enough attention to the life of the Son of God as man on earth. I do not find much teaching on his life as man – a meditation on Jesus, the Man and drawing lessons for life and work. This dearth is possibly a major cause why we have adopted the ways of the world practically in every area of life and work.
Do you still wonder why I believe that God is saying to us, “…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water”?
Small as a mustard seed
The ways of the kingdom of God are different from the ways of the world. Jesus taught in his kingdom parables,
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”(Matthew 13: 31-32)
The incarnation of God in Christ teaches us much more than what we seem to learn from it. It teaches us a way of life. God’s way of working is simple, small, personal and unobtrusive. While it does spread and become larger – the way it spreads is not by any human or world’s ways. It is not by the way of money power. It does not happen through political means. Nor is it at all by military might. It is not by human ingenuity either? The way of Jesus is not the way of the world. It is totally different.
Incarnation, and by implication condescension, vulnerability, submission, service, self-sacrifice are at the heart of the nature of the triune God. The act of creation, revelation, redemption are all aspects of God’s nature of making himself vulnerable. It is man, the fallen man, who is self-conscious and suffers from insecurity and identity crisis finds it hard to condescend. But not God, the complete, and self-sufficient One. Those who do not understand the triune God find it hard to understand how God can become a man, suffer and die for sinners. How can God die is a major question for many. Man cannot have it that way. If he had his way he would have a God who is God and not a man. The way of God to deal with man is through incarnation. Hence Paul writing to the Philippian Church says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” God’s way in dealing with man through incarnation is to teach us that his way is not the political way, nor the financial way nor is it the way of military might or by the wisdom of the world. This is the offense of the gospel. Unfortunately we don’t seem to learn this and seem to be trying to remove the offense from the gospel! We don’t need to occupy political spaces in order to reach the politicians nor to be rich in order to reach the rich, or be wise in order to reach the wise. This is what the way of incarnation teaches. Today we seem to have acquired all the above – the political power, financial backing, wisdom of the world and in some cases even military power but we seem to have lost the presence of God. Alas, this kind of mind set among us betrays how far removed we are from the ways of the God of the Bible and how little we know him. Unless we are willing to say as Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you”, I do not think we can challenge the power structures of the world. The mind-set that brought us salvation is the only mind-set that can bring salvation to others even today! Any other way is a short-cut introduced by the devil to subvert the gospel. I wonder if many of us in the fore front of evangelism and church planting have been complicit, if unwittingly, in this act of subversion! I shudder to think what the Lord would say to us at the final judgment!
One area where we have moved away from the incarnational model and the way of the kingdom of God is in the area of missions and evangelism. The trend to start national and international organisations for missions and evangelism began with what is generally known as the Missionary movement in the history of the church. The movement began in the 18th Century and became a global phenomenon in the 20th. The desire to preach the gospel and to reach more people for Christ is a valid and a laudable one and cannot be faulted. But the commission to take the gospel to the whole world is just that. It is about taking the gospel not our organisations or structures. We cannot make organisations on the lines of the corporate (commercial) world and take them global much like the multi-national companies of the globalisation era. The great commission is about taking the message of the gospel global and not our organisations. I guess in this the leaders in the forefront of worldwide evangelism have missed the way the Kingdom of God works.
We have actually gone the way of the world by forming global or international organisations for evangelism and missions. As the second millennium came to a close, the motivation for missions began to be the year 2000, rather than our worship of the Lord. A strange and uncalled for haste crept into our global missions. Our focus shifted from knowing God and worshipping him to ministry and mission as urgent and therefore primary. In fact worship must lead to missions. But since we allowed our clocks and calendars to determine our missions, we began to go the way of the world – of international ministries, busy schedules, busy calendars, and busy lifestyles. We began to think that the busier we are, the bigger we are considered, much like the politicians of the world! None of the Apostles in the New Testament formed such structures with national, regional or global administrative and financial powers. What authority they wielded, it was moral and spiritual and not administrative. They did not form monolithic, autocratic or hegemonic structures. We shall see below how worship of the triune God pre-empts such tendencies.
The vision of the kingdom of God is global. But the way of the kingdom of God is local. The penchant even among Christians to start big organisations, big structures is not of the Lord but is of the world. I believe there are two main reasons why we all fall into the trap of bigness, and wider influence. One is our inherent insecurity and identity crisis as a result of the fall which constantly snaps at our heels to seek these in the work we do or in the structures we build. The itch for greatness or the desire to go higher and higher is too strong to resist for almost all of us. We must remember that the ones who make history never know that they are making one. But the ones who want to make history often end up on the side lines of God’s story!
The second reason why we fall into this trap of greatness is because of world’s influence over us. The world defines success in measurements of numbers, size, budgets, and popularity. And we have borrowed it from the world. Then the ‘great commission’ to go into all the world came in handy to justify and spiritualise our pursuit for greatness. Isn’t the world right there before us to be harvested for the Lord? The modern world has given us, as Os Guinness reminds us, the equivalent of the ancient Roman roads and the Greek language to make it easier to reach the world. It has made travelling across the globe easier and faster. The telecommunication revolution and financial contributions from Christians who have done so well in pursuing the world, make it so much easier to reach the world for Christ!
Listen to Eugene Peterson’s lament in his book The Jesus Way, “More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practised by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus. Christians today are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides as charismatic, successful, influential…hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. Doesn’t anybody notice that the ways and means taken up, often enthusiastically, are blasphemously at odds with the way Jesus leads his followers? Why doesn’t anyone notice?”
When we begin to think according to the ways of the Kingdom of God, knowledge garnered form the world will be employed in a manner commensurate with the ways of the Kingdom of God. Science, technology, management and organisational systems and methods, research in the fields of human psychology, sociology and other fields of human knowledge and endeavour can certainly be learnt, understood and employed in the cause of the Kingdom of God. As Os Guinness writes, “Origen, in the third century A.D. taught that Christians are free to “plunder the Egyptians” but forbidden to “set up a golden calf” from the spoils.” Thus suggesting that we may use the wisdom from all these fields of knowledge in the service of the Kingdom of God but not to make idols of them. But we must also remember that while God may have told Israelites to plunder the Egyptians, he expressly forbade them from touching anything that belonged to Jericho. It therefore requires a lot of wisdom that comes from knowing God to discern what is acceptable and what is not and where to draw the line of difference. Keeping distance and detachment from the world and nearness to God by a constant soaking in his Word, is the key to discernment.
The one who learns and strives to walk in the ways of the Kingdom of God will of necessity keep everything small and simple. When we think about the church as local, the structures and organising will be local, small and simple. Since it is the message of the gospel which is global and not our names or influence we would be careful not to form global, monolithic, impersonal and mega corporations to spread the gospel. Since our economies are Trinitarian, they would be small and simple as well to meet needs of those around us. Thus even the technologies we employ would be simple. The people of the Kingdom of God do not establish or promote any enslaving systems or structures. They are discerning about the use of technology. They shun any technique or technology which enslaves or undermines the human and is detrimental to human health and nature.
But unfortunately we do not seem to learn the ways of the Kingdom of God. We go back again and again to the ways of Babel. The Babel syndrome dogs the path of man through history. And I guess even the people of the Bible never learnt their lesson. Both the man in the world and the man who claims to follow Christ goes the way of Babelites. We want everything big. We want to make a name for ourselves. We like to find comfort in numbers. So we go big – big projects, big budgets, big industries, big dams, big aeroplanes, big cars, big computers, bigger televisions, bigger churches – everything has got to be big in order to mollify our big egos. Our insecurity and identity crisis as a result of the fall cannot have anything less, even among those who claim to be redeemed and healed! Who wants to remain small, unknown, unsung, unheralded! I guess only prophets like John the Baptiser do not mind being small. “He must increase and I must decrease” He says. I guess it takes a big mind to make things big but it takes a big heart to remain small!
I have said in my earlier book, ‘How Then Should We Live’, “The only structure that Paul taught for the churches to have was the simplest – of elders and deacons with oversight confined to the immediately local and not regional, national or global. The church government was to remain essentially and functionally local and personal. I believe, wherever and whenever the structure exceeds the local, it lapses into an enslaving system of idolatry. And wherever and whenever they lapse into idolatry, the Holy Spirit of God withdraws and their effectiveness for God is lost. The history of the Church is littered with such structures. But sadly, we do neither see nor learn from history and so even the best among us continue to trip and fall into the same lure of bigness, greatness and power offered by the evil one in the name of larger influence and greater effectiveness. And lose all influence and effectiveness in the bargain! I believe this is true with so many great and godly men and women in history. Those who began so well, both in the ministry, the business and governments of the world, men and women who were simple and modest in their beginnings but as they grew they fell into the same lure of getting bigger for the sake of greater effectiveness, influence or power. This is the ‘Babel syndrome’, to make a name and reach the skies. Quite often as Paul writes, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.”(Phil 2: 21)
The one who spends too much time with men lives by comparing himself with other men. Such men cannot but try to be big and build big. The one who spends time with God and in pursuing him cannot but be small. Not even medium sized! He knows that he is, but of yesterday and that he is of dust, only a creature and cannot be the Creator. Ever! Not even a demi-god! Neither the devil nor the world can ever delude him to believe otherwise. Unfortunately we have many demi-gods even among Christians! The ancient temptation ‘you shall be like gods’ is as modern as today! Never ancient!
Eugene Peterson writes, “The ways employed in much of the Western culture are conspicuously impersonal: programs, organisations, techniques, general guidelines, information detached from place. In matters of ways and means, the vocabulary of numbers is preferred over names, ideologies, crowd our ideas, the gray fog of abstraction absorbs the sharp particularities of recognisable face and the familiar street.
My concern is provoked by the observation that so many who understand themselves to be followers of Jesus, without hesitation and apparently without thinking, embrace the ways and means of the cultures as they go about their living “in Jesus name.” But the ways that dominate our culture have been developed either in ignorance or in defiance of the ways that Jesus uses to lead us as we walk the streets and alleys, hike the trails, and drive the roads in this God-created, and God-saved, God-blessed, God-ruled world in which we find ourselves. They seem to suppose that “getting on in the world” means getting on in the world on the world’s terms, and that the ways of Jesus are useful only in a compartmentalised area of life labelled “religious.”
This is wrong thinking, and wrong living. Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them. We cannot use impersonal means to do or say a personal thing – and the gospel is personal or it is nothing.”
Disjointed or dynamic!
The church in the New Testament mostly gathered in homes. This not only made them accessible to the neighbourhood but also vulnerable. When you throw open your homes for other believers to come and fellowship together, you become vulnerable. Incarnation of Christ teaches us that vulnerability is at the heart of service, sacrifice and bringing salvation to others. When the church as a worshipping community meets in homes, they bring the presence of God into the neighbourhood. By building separate structures and going there to ‘worship’ we move God and his presence away from the community. We have thus adopted practises alien to the teaching of the New Testament and to the model given to us in the incarnation. This is true especially in urban societies today. Eastern cultures have the practise of having a separate room for gods in their homes and a temple outside the home for the community.
As mentioned earlier, human nature would rather have God outside safely ensconced in a show-case or a sanctuary. Let God be God, far away and above. Not near and immediate. Not as a man, a servant and vulnerable to the point of dying for man. This was Peter’s objection to Christ. How can the Son of God, the Messiah become a servant and wash man’s feet? How can the Son of God, die? He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” And he would see to it that he will not die! And he did try to object to his arrest. Jesus’ answer was, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Or, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” By removing our gathering and worship into structures outside and far from our homes we have removed worship from our lifestyles. Thus losing our role as salt and light to our neighbourhoods. I wonder if we have thus lost our part with the Lord as well!
While many Christians do understand that ‘church’ does not mean a building and that it is the people of God who are constituted to be the body of Christ. Yet every Sunday morning practically all Christians, everywhere talk about going to church or attending church. Clearly such language betrays the fact that we have reduced the church to a physical edifice and to a service or a programme. Church as a place or a meeting is alien to the New Testament both in language and concept. It is completely odious to the teaching of the apostles. Such an idea of church as a place or a meeting, dislocates the people of God from the contexts of their living. It divests them of their responsibility from living the life of Christ as his body. Besides going to a place and attending a service gives us a false sense of satisfaction that we have done our duty. And that we are now free to live our lives according to the agenda set by the world, of course as good ‘Christians’. Moreover these physical structures and the patterns of worship and ministry invariably enslave us over time. Since we associate them with God and his worship we begin to seek security and identity in them and not in the God we worship. A church that is removed from the neighbourhoods where God’s people live and takes them to gather and worship away from their contexts of living is a dislocated and disjointed church! Today almost everywhere we see only such churches – disjointed and dislocated and no one seems to even notice it!
Jesus very clearly said to the Samaritan woman at the well that worship is not related to a place. We do not find worship being reduced to a service in the New Testament. Jesus taught that worship was a matter of truth and spirit. Worship is a lifestyle. It happens when those living in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit live lives of faith and obedience unto him. Such people gather together giving expression to the body of Christ in the context of a neighbourhood or a community. These are the people of God called out of the world to belong to God and constitute the church, the body of Christ. They adopt lifestyles of worship, totally different from the rest of the world. Lifestyles of ‘Trinitarian economics’ of sharing, serving and sacrificing for the welfare of others. Could this be the reason why the genius of Jesus and his apostles did not teach nor try to program or budget such a dynamic nor endeavour to confine it to buildings? Could this be the reason why we do not read about such structures in the New Testament? Nor do we read in history about any such structures surviving from New Testament times? While we do read about the Church, the body of Christ surviving and spreading until this day! This does not mean that we cannot have a functional place to gather but we certainly cannot build edifices and call them as churches. But history reveals that the only thing that is perpetual in time is the Church. Scripture teaches us that the only one eternal is the Lord and His kingdom and those who do his will. Everyone else and everything else is only short lived.
For such dynamic local churches to exist, living and reaching out to the community around them, I believe they do not need large structures – whether physical or administrative. They must of necessity, remain small. The dynamic of small groups is that their focus remains personal, immediate and spontaneous. Eugene Peterson writes, “The local congregation is the primary place for dealing with particulars and people we live with. As created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, it is insistently local and personal.” In such groups being transparent and accountable would be easier and simpler. Any scope for hypocrisy, duplicity and compromise would be reduced and could be easily detected. And since they do not have large power structures – whether administrative or financial, there is hardly any room for autocracy or bossing over. Since the emphasis is on their identity as God’s people and their security is in him – they no more seek these in anything or anyone other than their Lord. Their worship of him prevents them from seeking these even in their possessions, in fact they do not even claim anything as their own – ‘…no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own’ (Acts 4:32). This is the ideal and we are expected to move towards this ideal.
On the other hand, cathedrals, church building, prayer houses, chapels and even organisations made in order to serve God invariably become sources of security and identity over time. This is true practically in every case in history. In the beginning they all seem to be so useful and functional but later in almost all cases these replace God and become the focus of our devotion. We fight to preserve them. We go to courts over them. We treat them as sacred to the point of venerating them as divine. Why, we still make such structures when in the first place we do not even need them in order to worship God? Second, when we know that these invariably lead people away from God rather than bring them near to him, why we still do it? Is it our vanity? Is it for our identity? Whose name we want perpetuated, ours or God’s? What is our motive? And after knowing both scripture and history, if our leaders insist on doing it, what can we say about them? And worse still, are they not inadvertently leading people away from the Lord?! And what can we say about the people who contribute for such purposes? Sometimes you wonder if the leaders are really blind or something else!
At this point, I must record my dissent to what Eugene Peterson says in his book The Jesus Way. His point about the need for institutional structures as support for conserving spirituality is a dark spot on an otherwise excellent work on the way of Jesus for life and work. He writes, “We sometimes say, thoughtlessly I think, that the church is not a building. It’s people. I’m not so sure. Synagogues and temples, cathedrals, chapels, and meeting halls provide continuity in place and community for Jesus to work his will among his people. A place, a building, collects stories and develops associations that give local depth and breadth and continuity to our experience of following Jesus. We must not try to more spiritual than Jesus in this business. Following Jesus means following him into sacred buildings that have a lot of sinners in them, some of them very conspicuous sinners. Jesus doesn’t seem to mind. A spirituality that has no institutional structure or support very soon becomes self-indulgent and subjective and one-generational.” Well, I am not so sure! Does institutional structure and support mean large monolithic and hierarchical structures? Or is it the local structure of elders and deacons as allowed by Apostle Paul? And any structures we make to provide the support any local congregation needs, I believe of necessity must be one-generational and not perpetual. For whether we like it or not all man-made systems and structures have real effectiveness for only a single generation! Anything longer generally degenerates into an idol. History bears out on this. It would be wrong to think that following Jesus means to follow him into synagogues and sacred buildings. Jesus met people in these places because people generally congregated in those places not because he led them there. In fact he led them to sea-shores, to river banks, to hillsides, into homes and not into synagogues. And we would be causing great damage to the idea of ‘church’ if we used the word to refer to buildings and not to the people of God.
Both for its life and mission a local church must remain local. This is how it remains incarnational. It can give true expression to the body of Christ within the context of a neighbourhood community. It cannot be regional or national. And I believe this is the reason why we do not read about regional or national churches in the New Testament.
It must be pointed here that practically all man-made structures, systems and institutions, whether Christian or otherwise eventually end up being oppressive and enslaving. They tend to be of service only for a short period of time. We shall presently, examine why this is so. The genius of the Bible is that it does not offer any such institutions except those given by God – namely the institution of the family and the Church with Christ as their Head. I think this is the reason why the genius of Jesus and the Apostles did not talk about any human structures in order to take the gospel to the whole world, except in obedience to and under the Lordship of Christ.
Certainly for any form of activity we need some form of organising and structuring. I am not in the least arguing against such organising. But any organisation we create in order to conduct our worship or missions, of necessity, must be tentative, temporary, local and immediate. We cannot create structures which become monuments of human ingenuity, achievement and glory like the Babelites. Because any structures we create not only, do they not last long and become oppressive and enslaving but tend to displace God from our lives by becoming false sources of security and identity. And invariably they tend to become monopolistic and totalitarian.
One of the major dilemmas of human existence is the dilemma of control, dominance and monopoly. Because of our inherent insecurity we are suspicious and untrusting of others. We exhibit it in trying to be control freaks and authoritarian. The most extreme among us tend to be dictatorial and megalomaniac. But short of being dictatorial we display our insecurity in many forms of control. Often control is also exhibited to check dissent and disunity. Basically it is the problem of knowing how to handle diversity in order to bring in unity. We tend to swing between being autocratic or anarchic.
What is it that binds us as one and yet gives us the freedom to be distinct as individuals? How to maintain unity while allowing variety or diversity?
Colin Gunton writes in The One The Three and The Many that basically there have been two major views about reality which come to us from pre-Socratic times. The view that everything is one or a unity or that the one pre-exists the many and ultimately all collapse into one, comes from Parmenides (born c. 515 BCE). Such a view is generally known as monistic. Much of western thinking including Christian, has been Parmenidean. This view gives rise to totalitarian, autocratic, monarchic, imperialistic, hierarchical and monopolistic forms. These forms tend to be intolerant, distant, highly structured and impersonal in their ways of working. This explains why to a large extent the western societies have been totalitarian, imperialistic and hegemonic.
The view that everything is many or a plurality or that the many are prior to the one, and that they can never be reconciled or united, comes from Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE). The view that everything is many that there are only particulars and that they can never be united or reconciled leads to absolute tolerance, lack of coherence, and tentativeness. Such thinking leads to ambiguity, instability, chaos, flux and anarchy. Colin Gunton writes that democracy is Heraclitean and was a result of the rebellion against the western totalitarian forms. While eastern societies have been monistic in their beliefs yet Heraclitean thinking prevailed in practise.
But the basic human insecurity resulting from the fall leads us to be control freaks and so we never allow the many their due expression. Lacking in coherence and feeding upon the inherent insecurity those who propound plurality of choice and living, end up being control freaks, regimenting life and behaviour, hegemonic, autocratic, dictatorial and monopolistic. Heraclites is often swallowed up by Parmenides. The many are absorbed into one. Thus homogenising and regimenting lifestyles and cultures.
The reason I bring this up is, the church which should have brought the needed healing into these areas of organising and governance has generally succumbed to the Parmenidean thinking. As I mentioned in my previous article, while we talked about a Trinitarian Deity, yet in practice we have been monistic. Hence, even the organisations and structures we created to do our worship and mission have tended to be of one-man leadership, totalitarian, autocratic and hierarchical.
If our worship had been truly focused on the Trinity, the God who is One yet Three, we would have saved ourselves and the world the confusion, the hatred, and the bloodshed of the last two thousand years. Therefore my plea to the people of God is to restore a right understanding of the God whom we call our heavenly Father, His Son our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ and the blessed Holy Spirit co-existing in eternal communion. Only he gives us the needed understanding of knowing that we are distinct yet relational beings. Our individuality and our relationality flow from the fact that we are made in His image. Therefore our diversity and unity comes not only from our understanding but also from our worship and relationship with Him. In the context of the local church, each individual has the room and place to express his or her gifts in serving others. Yet we acknowledge our unity because of the communion – the life we share in Christ. It is only then we bring the one and the many together. The universal and the particulars, the general and the specific have their room and are held in tension. There is no enforced regimentation or homogenisation here. Any unity and communion that is expressed comes through voluntary submission to one another in Christ. We have already seen how this works in my previous article on Trinitarian economy. Unity through voluntary submission and sharing. Diversity through allowing room, space to each to be and to become.
This is the reason why I say that the Hebrew monarchy was not Trinitarian theocracy. It was only a concession made for the time. The original plan for the people of Israel as we read in the book of Judges, was to live with God as their King. His kingship mediated through His law. There was no enslavement of any kind. There were no taxes to pay except the offerings they brought to the temple. There was no human ruler to control or subjugate them. The role of the judges was not pan-national but localised and primarily a dual role – of providing the people security from external aggression and they were to adjudicate over any matters of dispute regarding the law. They were one people and one nation under God, yet they enjoyed true freedom from any man-made structures and controls. This is true theocracy. Even the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan was cared for by the law of the Lord. The foreigner was not forced into accepting the Hebrew God and if he chose to become a part of Israel he could after being circumcised.
This is the type of government the people of the Kingdom of God are supposed to demonstrate to the world. Any institutions we form must represent this form of government, where people live in true freedom to be and to become yet living in voluntary submission and communion.
To the fallen and finite man this might sound utopian. But for the redeemed people of God who have found healing in Christ and have tasted the Infinite, it is in the realm of the practical through the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit of God. At least they must work towards it. The point is we do not see this happening instead we seem to be comfortable with the ways and means of the world. Hence my charge that we have been cohabiting with the world. This is the reason why we cannot experience the power and the presence of God as we should. I guess we are like the Laodicean church, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Listen to the wise words of Peterson again, “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is King. If Christ is King, everything, quite literally everything and every one has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. This is not easy. It is not accomplished by participating in a prayer meeting or two, or signing up for a course in discipleship at school or church, or attending annual prayer breakfast. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things – what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, “Repent” – is required.”
Otherwise the words of our Lord would come true, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
The Lord said to the church at Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent…The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Amen.
 This is available on my blog as well: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/how-then-should-we-live-part-1/
 For more on this read Colin Gunton’s The One, The Three And The Many – God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity
 Read my article on the ‘The Myth Absolute Tolerance’ at my blog: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/the-myth-of-absolute-tolerance/