A New Kind of Christian: Getting Beyond Righteousness

“’Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’  [Jesus] said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’” —excerpts from John 8

One of the greatest advantages I’ve observed among St. Paul’s parishioners is that no one I’ve talked to is quick to condemn. As a convert from mass-culture, it’s one of the things I like best about the Episcopal Church. I observe behavior, what is good and what is bad, yet my reaction says something about me more than it says something about the person who performed the act.

Neo and Dan discuss sin on their way to a soccer game in the eleventh chapter. With church-mates worshiping side by side yet often following different moral compasses with different levels of rigor, many rush to condemn. Neo says that a lot of energy in modern Christian culture is directed at the condemnation of sexual behaviors. In his view, this does not capture the ancient or medieval view of sin, which he says is more about the failure and breakdown of the whole community.

He gives an example that a poor teenager’s behavior in turning to crime is at least in part the fault of the community he did not have to show him the correct way. While I understand what Neo means and believe his beliefs have value – as indeed, those blessed with community surely have an easier time in life on the aggregate – I assert the equal truth that, in seeking to reform ourselves, it helps to not explain away our behavior by the actions of others. But I’ll take it back around and say that, while a person who is failing ought to concentrate on personal responsibility, a community who he failed under ought to concentrate on community responsibility. Who is truly responsible? Both community and individual are responsible most of the time. An individual alone has the will to choose actions, but a community can open options up to an individual. Again, in most of these conservative-versus-liberal philosophical questions, both sides have merit, and when we examine them we will not see a spectrum but two or more ideas that may undermine but do not debunk each other.

smellyfedele
Jon Fedele

In Neo’s view, this sort of postmodern approach toward solving problems does not jive with modern evangelical Christians. He and Dan discuss the coming age, and Dan suggests that, while Neo’s views would predominate society, modern evangelicals “’will be like the Amish of tomorrow, but instead of maintaining 1850s German culture, they’ll perpetuate 1950s American culture. They’ll be thriving, or at least surviving, but as a kind of separate society.” Neo says that that wouldn’t be a bad future because the Amish play an important role in society. I certainly agree that they do.

“If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”
– 1 Corinthians 12:15-18

People within a community will have different roles. A club does not have all members be the president, or that word would lose its meaning. Accordingly, if an individual has many appendages with different functions, and if a community has many individuals with different functions, then it may follow that society would have different communities with different functions. Now, Dan and Neo do not have a grasp on demography, yet the Amish serve as a reminder of simple life in line with pastoral values. Amish communities are functional, they contribute to society, and they speak strongly of their traditions. They can be inspirations; they can be blessings to the world, as can evangelicals, as can we.

I pose another dichotomy: although we are a tolerant community – and I pray we may be slow to condemn and quick to forgive – we are a community who ought to build one another up. As a family, brothers and sisters in faith, we ought to respect each other’s choices but still mind eagerly each other’s benefit. It is a true community that will mind the happiness of fellow people. A false community will not. We all ought to eagerly seek the role that God has for us. At the end of the day, two sides of the same coin are true, that you do not know the contents of the mind of another. You never know who is judging you, but you also never know who is inspired by you, who is blessed by your example. So, be a blessing!

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