Summary: Humans were designed to operate in the context of family. American culture has abandoned this mindset. Until family (physical and spiritual) is once again first priority, we’ll have tremendous difficulty understanding and practicing the Christian life.
In the last post, we talked about how Kingdom community is the soil in which discipleship should take place. Because we live in an individualistic culture, it’s hard to find Kingdom community. But if we catch the vision for how we are meant to live collectively, we can be instruments that bring back a Kingdom community way of life to our culture.
Is this good for the group?
In strong-group cultures, seeing individuals sacrifice their own personal dreams and goals for the good of the groups they’re a part of is a normal, everyday occurrence. In our culture, stories like this make the news. In fact, the New Testament gives us a great example of this mindset in Romans 9:3 where the apostle Paul says “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race…”
Admit it, you think he’s crazy. You wouldn’t give yourself over to be cursed for the sake of others’ salvation, would you?
- Career. What do I do?
- Spouse. Who will I marry? Will I stay married to them? Will I have children?
- Location. Where will I live?
What will make ME happy?
The primary factor in all 3 of these life decision areas is…what is going to make me as an individual happy and comfortable? Also, the answer to the question “Who am I?” is first and foremost filled in by the answers to these questions, not by the groups we’re a part of.
Because of this, our personal identities and whether we are successful or not have become dependent on how these areas play out. In general, if you enjoy your job, make good money, are happy in marriage and live in a nice safe place, you’re perceived as successful. The problem is this type of self-reliance is not how humans were designed to operate. When they do, the weight of these decisions and the consequences that come with them can be unnecessarily painful.
It’s said that the average person changes jobs 7 times in their working life (after they’ve changed college majors 7 times!). This is unheard of in collectivist societies. You usually just did what your father or ancestors did. If your father was a fisherman, you had a net in your hands as soon as you could lift one. Not only that, your last name likely mirrored what you did for a living. If you know someone whose last name is “Smith,” it’s likely their ancestors were blacksmiths.
To an American, this is oppressive. It squashes individual freedom and limits self-expression.
Divorce is at unprecedented levels in cultures where individual dating is the norm. In collectivist cultures, the statistics are much better. The community helps decide what is best for each person, sparing the individual from the stress involved with the most important decision of a person’s life.
To an American, this is oppressive. We expect and desire to decide on our own the “right” person for us. We watch movies where fate brings people together (usually in a couple days) and dream of finding “the one.” We’ve even reached the point now where we can customize our mates to our specifications online before we ever interact with them.
Vast separation between family members in America is very common. In a growing number of cases, the distance between immediate family members is hundreds or thousands of miles. It’s the only culture in which the goal of raising a child is for them to “leave home.” In collectivist cultures, people don’t leave home. They may occupy their own residence with a new immediate family, but they stay in close proximity to one another (typically until death). This kind of set up provides relational and economic security that individuals can’t have when they live independently of one another.
To an American, this is oppressive. Careers and spouses (and sometimes weather) decide where we will live. Individual dreams and goals take us where they take us and we adjust our family relationships to them.
Where has this gotten us?
The result of using our individual freedoms to exercise independence in our lives is a society with more people relying on strangers in therapy and inserting chemicals into their bodies to deal with emotional issues than ever before in the history of the world.
Just like church operates as a business, so does individual counseling. Instead of relying on the natural workings of a healthy community, we use the artificial patient-client relationship to deal with our issues. Even the self-help methods used are counterproductive as they teach people to chart their own individualistic courses.
Now let me balance this out a bit. Can there be oppression within a collectivist society because a family forces a person to do something that’s not healthy? Absolutely. Collectivists societies carry with them a whole other set of issues. Maybe a person is forced into a marriage for greedy reasons by the family. Maybe they are forced to do a particular job when another would be even better for the family. But in our culture, we tend to know very little of these issues.
The Church is a family
Individual freedom is important and ordained. But, it’s not a license to be independent. When people use their freedom to live independently, isolation and instability rule over their lives.
The gospel is trans-cultural. This means that no matter what the culture, the principles are the same. They shape the expectations and behaviors that signify the Church’s presence in the culture. Above all comes the principle that the church is a family that is expected to be first priority to the Christian. This results in behaviors that signify this standing in the Christian’s life, such as holding everything in common as healthy families do. Therein lies the power of the Church, which isn’t found in sermons, programs, service or all of the other “its” we attempt to find it in.
The rest of the posts in the Collectivist Community series are here.