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“If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his natural response?  Revenge.  If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his penalty be by Christian Example?  Why Revenge!  The villainy you teach me, I will carry out.” – Shylock (The Merchant of Venice)

“In a divided society, only the Church can model unity.” – John Perkins

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34  

 

Earlier this month, something very simple and yet significant took place in Washington regarding racial reconciliation.  A former KKK member repented of violence he committed against civil rights protesters forty eight years ago, and senator John Lewis was one of the men subjected to this violence.  In the video below we see the two men officially meet for the first time forty eight later.  

Though this is great news, I do at times find myself wondering about gestures like these.  Though it is significant (obviously for the persons involved), many of us are “removed” from the crimes of the Civil Rights era.  We did not experience these horrors personally, and gestures like these now feel more symbolic.  It’s easier for me to forgive sins of the past that I was not personally subjected to.  But what about present, more immediate offenses where the pain still cuts deep, where revenge, and all of it’s subtle forms of retaliation, seem justifiable?  Nevertheless, I was glad to see this.

As I watched this video where forgiveness is asked for, given, and received, I asked myself:  How can I more authentically live out the “ministry of reconciliation”?  What would it look like for me personally to walk this out in my own life?  What would it look like for the Body of Christ, in our churches, to go beyond “symbolic” gestures of corporate repentance, and practically live this out in our communities and relationships?  And most importantly, who are those I must now forgive, as well as go to and ask for forgiveness?  I have much to consider.  What steps toward forgiving, and loving your “enemies” will you consider taking? 

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:27-31, 35-36

Roc

In previous posts on groupthink (this is the last) I’ve tried to show it’s potential dangers, but that isn’t to say that I think that groups or teams are bad.  Just the opposite!  As one of my graduate school professors said to me (who was very much into groups),  “Yes, Ron, community is necessary for spiritual growth, but only if the group is healthy.”  Healthy or not, people do gather, and because of the relational baggage we carry, or the emotional wounds from our past, our stories often collide as we experience one another.  Nevertheless, good things can come out of these collisions if there are those within the group who are committed to Christ-like solutions.  Groupthink methods can certainly help control these collisions but there is a better way.  Teamthink.  Neck and Manz (1994), coined the term, but it’s characteristics can be seen in scripture.  They defined it as, “effective synergistic thinking within the group.”  Unlike groupthink, teamthink is characterized by these traits:  

  • Encouragement of divergent views 
  • Open expression of concerns/ideas
  • Awareness of limitations/threats
  • Recognition of member’s uniqueness
  • Discussion of collective doubts  

Acts 15 offers us an example of these characteristics at work.  A conflict arose in the church of Antioch because the more traditional Jewish believers wanted the Gentile followers to obey the law of circumcision.  I won’t get into the theological implications of law and grace, but instead consider the way the group resolved the conflict by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and each other to reach a decision on the matter. 

  “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”- Acts 15:1-3 

First notice the phrase “sharp dispute and debate”.  Though it is rare that you’ll ever “convert” anyone by arguing with them (though it does happen), there are times when such debates are necessary.  Labeling as divisive those who are contending for core issues of faith is misguided.  Paul and Barnabas were not being divisive.  Those promoting wrong doctrine and encroaching on the liberty of the non-traditional Antioch church were the cause of the division.  Elsewhere, Paul actually speaks of “Those who cause division because of their wrong doctrine”, but encourages Timothy to rebuke them sharply and to correct them. 

  “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.  After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’  The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.  When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.'” -vv. 5-14 

Notice that the concerns of all parties were heard.  There was “much discussion”, and there was no attempt by the apostles to pull rank or distance themselves from the less powerful, least represented Gentile members of their group.  “God who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinctions between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  What is amazing to me is how we today, who do not have the credibility or authority of the early apostles, lack their humility when we try to wield more authority over people in our faith communities than they were willing to force upon their own in their day.  

  “It is my judgment therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.” – vv. 19-22  

Here we see the “us” in consensus.  They did not dismiss the concerns of the more established or powerful group.  They acknowledge the legitimate threat to the faith and their standing within the religious traditional Jewish community, but addressed them biblically, appealing to cultural sensitivity.  Love, even under the pretense of liberty, does not needlessly cause others to stumble.    

  “Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:  You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.” -vv. 27-29 

 Once again we see an appeal to be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of the other group, concerns that were rooted in both scripture and culture.  It was with this in mind that they set reasonable limitations on the Gentile community that did not place on them unnecessary religious burdens or violate their liberty in Christ. 
 
In making these decisions, the group and their approach was no less “spiritual” because they did not have a “Word” from God, though they would have responded to one if the Spirit had chosen to direct them in that manner (which, ironically, was common in the Antioch church).  Nor did the leader come down from the mountaintop, having heard from God for all the others, while they all compliantly obeyed (though God does speak through others, the “word” is still judged for authenticity).  Nor was it less relational because they disagreed sharply.  Peter and Paul were not subversively undermining the church because they broke with the status quo of the more influential majority group.  They took a stand on biblical grounds regarding what they understood to be essential.  Though their experiences among the Gentiles were unique, they were recognized as credible, and rather than being dismissed as “just another opinion”, it added to the realization of a new harmony and, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”.  Wait a minute!  The Holy Spirit?  How did He get in there?  When did He show up?  You mean with all these leaders fighting for their view of what is right, all these people with all their stories and experiences, their opinions, their traditions, their liberty, their you name it; with all this religious testosterone in the room, the Holy Spirit was there the whole time helping, leading, and trusting them to work it out according to His heart and mind?  Yep. 
 
So, here in scripture we see a positive example of decision-making in a group context.  Not just another technique or opinion of man, but a lived out, New Testament example from those who came before us.  
 
When it comes to team work and decision-making, a thinking team is better than groupthink, and… “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit”.  Let me know what you think.
 
Roc 

“Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.”
-Donald McGavran, missionary to India

I will continue my posts on Groupthink later this week, but today I’m posting a couple of news updates, one (a bit late on my part) regarding the mock lynching of Barack Obama by students at George Fox University (Church, I really don’t make this stuff up)http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/09/four_george_fox_students_confe.html.

On a positive note, another Christian institution, Bob Jones University, published a statement apologizing for their history regarding race relations:

“For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.

In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.”

God is truly good.  You can read Edward Gilbreath’s post at http://edwardg.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/bob-jones-universitys-statement-on-race/ where you can link onto the entire statement.

Peace,

Roc    

I know that a couple of weeks ago in my post titled [G]Race and Politics I said that I would start posting on an article from the Reconciliation Blog, but I fell behind due to a new job and schedule.  Though I may touch on some of those issues at a later time, in light of last night’s election I would like to post a link to this post from Anthony Carter.  It speaks redemptively of Obama’s victory, being pro-life, and the providence of God http://epointchurch.org/2008/11/05/poetic-providence/.  Be at peace, for all is well.

Roc

  • What does the McCain/Palin slogan “Country First” suggest to you? 
  • When Sarah Palin says things like, ”[Obama] is not a man who sees America as you and I see America. We see America as a force for good in this world,” what does she mean by “we”?                                                                                                                                                                         These are some of the questions Edward Gilbreath is asking at Reconciliation Blog: http://edwardg.wordpress.com/2008/10/24/race-politics-roundtable-part-2/.  I’ll post my answers over the next two weeks.

Roc

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