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Considering Mutuality – Individualism and Collectivism

Posted by on Dec 15, 2009 in community, discipleship, edification, fellowship | 10 comments

In this short series on “mutuality,” I’m considering the concept of mutuality and how living as the church “mutually” might affect our maturity in Christ. Remember that “mutuality” is related to our concept of interdependence, and that mutuality stands apart from both individualism and collectivism.

In an individualistic lifestyle, the person reigns supreme. From what to believe to how to act, everything begins and ends with the desires of the individual. The desires of the group are considered only when it is beneficial to the individual.

Why would someone with an individualistic mindset be interested in the church? Because there are benefits to the individual for being part of the church. In fact, the church often trumpets its benefits to the tune of individualism: a personal relationship with God, personal salvation, personal growth, etc.

Meanwhile, collectivism is at the other extreme of the spectrum. In a collectivist society, people are told what to do and what to believe. Everyone in the group must do and believe (or at least profess) the same thing. Questions, disagreements, and diversity are not allowed.

For an extreme example of a collectivist society, think of George Orwell’s 1984 (i.e. “group think”). However, churches can become collectivist groups as well. Phrases such as “What does your church believe?” or “What does your pastor say about X?” demonstrates (at least the beginning of) collectivist thought and action.

In the introductory post in this series, I suggested that mutuality is important for maturity in Christ. (I will continue to unwrap this idea in the following posts.) For now, consider both individualistic and collectivist groups – or those who tend towards individualism or collectivism.

In either case, maturity is stifled. Without mutuality, a group of believers will not grow (as intended) toward maturity in Christ.

Agree or disagree? Why or why not?


10 Comments

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  1. 12-15-2009

    Could not agree with you more….Ephesians 5:21 (New King James Version)
    “submitting to one another in the fear of God”

    Mutual subjection seems to be the model given to us in Scripture………….anything else seems to quickly lead to Despotism or Individual Consumerism…..

  2. 12-15-2009

    Alan,

    This is a profound, yet simple, Biblical, yet neglected truth! We need it. I need it, the church needs it. I cannot grow in my Christian walk without other believers. I cannot serve others with the gifts God has given me apart from the body, and visa versa.

    I’m really just rambling on, but I’m so desperately seeking a “mutual” Christianity. Mutual discipleship–I need your discipleship as much as you need mine–how else could Paul genuine seek to be edified by the churches he ministered to, as an Apostle even! (Rom 1:11-12, and many other places). This has profound implications for missions too. Too often we envision ourselves as the “great white hope” to the world. We bring our money, our personnel, our expertise to the world. There are thousands times more non-western missionaries than Western missionaries. They may not call themselves missionaries, but they live life as mission. As we should also!

    I think western organizations are coming around, and individual missionaries are looking for partners on the field, however, are we doing enough? Are we treating each other not just as equals, but as brothers and sisters–brothers and sisters that we NEED not just to fulfill the Great Commission, as if we could separate discipleship from that, but that we NEED for our growth in godliness and for the spread of the kingdom.

    How are we loving each other? How are we building each other up? How are we working alongside one another, for one another? How are we theologizing together? How are we making the church beautiful for one another?

  3. 12-15-2009

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! This is certainly the mentality that the church desperately needs. But, not just the Western church. I see imbalance on the field where I serve in Central Asia (mainly through what we have taught, but also coming from other locations as well). It’s an outgrowth of poor ecclesiology and a lack of understanding that the church truly is a “called out” separate community.

  4. 12-15-2009

    Alan, I agree that both can stifle maturity. In addition, collectivism (i.e. communalism) can wrongly identify dissenters as guilty of individualism when in reality they may just want the community to have a more correct belief. I posted about this a few months ago:

    http://fromthepew.blogspot.com/2009/07/individualism-as-by-product-of.html

    I think the reason that both extremes don’t work well, is that we grow in maturity by iron sharpening iron; each extreme limits that sharpening by asserting its own superiority.

    In fact, true community is a reflection of the essence of the Trinity. I am a staunch trinitarian as a result of knowing this. Neither God as godhead, nor God as individual persons is exalted above the other construct.

  5. 12-15-2009

    Thank you for initiating this series. Thank you for exposing the bogus substitutes of individualism and collectivism. I look forward to participating with other saints in throwing off the basket that covers the light of God’s revelation about the life giving DNA, genetic setup, and cellular structures of the organism which is the body of Christ.

    There have been several points in church history where God has awakened a few men to bring up this reality, only to be repressed and rejected by men chained to their institutional habits. I think of one recent point in Ray Stedman and his book “Body Life”. Millions have read and studied this book but could not find the spiritual power to put it into action. It requires a radical, angry “throwing off”. “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb. 12:1

  6. 12-15-2009

    Great thoughts on mutuality everyone! So, how do we help people who are individualistic or collectivistic thinkers when it comes to church to move toward being mutual thinkers?

    -Alan

  7. 12-15-2009

    Alan,

    Another great question! I think the first way of answering it, and them, is through living mutually. Its not about moving people’s conception, focusing only on rationality and reason. It must first flow out of a life, which means first of all being open towards others. Not hiding, not secluding oneself away from honesty, away from weakness, really. I don’t mean weakness in a negative sense, though weakness means revealing one’s faults and failures, but weakness also means not being strong in oneself but trusting in the strength of the gospel over one’s own life as well as others. And this includes one-on-one, as well as within a community. Its living like we are all family! Matthew 12:46-50

    Part of this life as community means encouraging one another daily to live within God’s world, the one he has created, redeemed and one day will reconcile to himself. We all live together as participants in God’s mission, broadly, in reconciling all things in Christ. So, we immerse ourselves in the Bible, front to back, and live the gospel revealed therein as lights to each other, to our neighbors, to our culture, to the world.

  8. 12-15-2009

    Though it may compromise with neither, what you refer to as ‘mutuality’ may, I suppose, be thought of as some middle ground between Individualism and Collectivism. As such, it need not abandon all characteristics of either extreme nor must it necessarily seek perfect balance between the two. For example, an authority structure is by no means representative of Collectivism, though it will likely be present in such an environment. In fact, authority is more necessary for ‘mutuality’ than for either extreme.

    All it must do is be grounded in scripture. If I understand your point as Biblically accurate, then it is supported quite thoroughly (though not exclusively) by Ephesians 4 and 1Corinthians 12. God is glorified by our diversity immediately as well as increasingly as we mature, which, by God’s design, can only occur in concert. The common goal toward which we serve each other is the likeness of Christ.

    To answer your question, I must agree because God said so.

    The ‘mutuality’ to which the Bible refers consists of our diversity (variety of spiritual gifts, e.g.) and our common submission to the lordship and aspiration to the image of the Christ. What God described through Paul has often been called unity in Christ.

    And “in Christ” must not be overlooked and is the requisite authority that makes possible the the God-glorifying unity of diversity. Unity itself is not our goal. Rather, it must be considered with whom and to what end we are unified. Also, ‘mutuality’ with unbelievers, or even believers gifted differently, is useless. After all, scripture does not say, “If it is serving, let him serve and contribute equally to the teaching”.

  9. 12-16-2009

    is there a difference between defendinging individual belief and self interest? because individual beliefs can be strengthened and sharpened by what you are calling mutuality where as self interest is obviously hindered by any kind of mutual thinking.

  10. 12-16-2009

    Mark,

    I’m abstained from calling mutuality a middle ground between individualism and collectivism. I haven’t decided if that works for me or not. :)

    dan,

    I guess it depends on why and how someone defends their “individual belief”. I do agree with you last statement though.

    -Alan

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