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Dealing with generalizations and the church

Posted by on Apr 4, 2013 in discipleship | 11 comments

Dealing with generalizations and the church

Yesterday, in response to my post “Defining and describing organic church life,” there were a few very good comments. And, for the most part, the comments revolved around the question of generalizations.

For example, in the post, I quoted Nathan from “Joined to Him.” Scott suggested that Nathan had overgeneralized with his statement, “By ‘organic church,’ I mean a non-traditional church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs.” Instead, Scott shared how the church he is part of was born out of spiritual life.

I think Nathan responded very well, and admitted that his statements were generalizations based on his own experiences. Arthur also commented saying it is hard not to get caught up in generalizations and even hyperbole.

These comments kick started my brain into thinking about generalizations in general. :)

Seriously… as I asked a few time in my own comment responses… Why would Nathan generalize that “non-traditional church is born out spiritual life” while traditional church is “held together by religious programs”? Or, to ask from a different perspective, why would many generalize that “organic” or “simple” church is insular (or even insulated)?

Obviously, before anyway states this, generalizations can always be proven wrong by specific examples. (Yes, that is a generalization…)

But, here’s the thing I think we need to think about: There is a reason that people come to these general opinions about either more traditional/institutional church or more simple/organic church. In other words, while the generalizations may not be true in all instances, there are usually reasons that people come to those generalizations.

I think it would be beneficial to consider those reasons.

For example, why would many people generalize that more traditional/institutional churches are not Spirit-led but are instead program driven?

Or, why would many people generalize that more simple/organic churches are not interested in others but are instead insular?

Obviously, there are many generalizations that we could consider. But, if we listen to people’s generalizations, we may learn more about ourselves and how people perceive us. If we know how people perceive us – and if we care about those people – then we can learn more about how we are or are not presenting ourselves as we would like to and how we need to change.


11 Comments

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  1. 4-4-2013

    Good points about generalizations and exceptions that we all need to keep in mind.
    One big example of being program driven relates to divorce in the church. No doubt programs can have good aspects but they ‘paper over’ the lack of teaching on Bible basics. The world distorts key things like ‘love’ and their is no clear teaching to clarify the Christian view. Instead, churches look to pastors as ‘counselors’ more than as pastor teachers and start programs like ‘divorce recovery’ rather than church discipline.
    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/love-prayer-and-forgiveness-now-also-in-ebook-format/

  2. 4-4-2013

    Definition of “Generalization”:
    Logic:
    a proposition asserting something to be true either of all members of a certain class or of an indefinite part of that class.
    Psychology:
    Generalization is a phenomenon in psychology where conditioned subjects respond to stimuli similar to those they were conditioned to respond to.

    As per vulgar language, we say put everything into one basket.

    Fundamentally, this kind of attitude puts Christian on the wrong path. It is wrong because within it there is prejudice (i.e. they are all the same), pride (i.e. we are the best, or we are right and they are wrong), building up boundaries (i.e. within here is safe, out there is dangerous), ignorance (i.e. fail to consider the omnipotence of the Creator), and indifference (i.e. lack of love for one another).

    Whether “Organic”, or “Simple”, or “Traditional”, it is a matter of organisational structure of a community. Faith is the spiritual state of a person (individual). The organisational structure may or may not help the individual, but God, being the Creator has the control of everyone’s life both spiritual and physical. Each person has been created in God’s image, therefore the person is under the care of God at all time.

    The commandment for all Christian is “Love one another as I have love you (single)”. God judge the heart of the person, He doesn’t make judgement by category, group, doctrine, church, race, nation, tradition, etc.

    May the following statement of the holy scripture help us to live together in one BODY, the Body of Christ:

    Proverbs 21:1-3 ESV
    The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
    Luke 6:37 ESV
    “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
    Matthew 7:1-5 ESV
    “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
    John 8:7 ESV
    And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
    Acts 10:34 ESV
    So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,
    Romans 14:1-23 ESV
    As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. …
    1 Corinthians 4:1-21 ESV
    This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. …
    Galatians 6:1 ESV
    Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
    Colossians 2:8 ESV
    See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
    2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV
    For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
    2 Peter 2:9 ESV
    Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,
    1 John 3:16 ESV
    By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

  3. 4-4-2013

    Alan,

    Generalisations are an indication of the fact that we are not peas in a pod, but very unique individuals, who respond to to a stimulus (something seen,read, experienced, learned),pleasant or unpleasant, from which we come to a conclusion, sometimes reasonable and sometimes the exact opposite.

    One factor we more often than not leave out of our assessment is our own imperfection in all things to do with life and knowledge.

    I guess I’m saying something along the lines of what Duc Minh Bui has already very well said.

  4. 4-4-2013

    Here’s another generalisation to add to the collection :-)

    Most people in most churches focus far more on the great commandment (loving one another) than they do on the great commission (reaching others).

    As with all generalisations it pays to look closely at the exceptions. In this case the exceptions tend to be those who live in danger and face serious risk, and those who choose to take risks in places where life can be comfortable and easy.

    So in countries where there is persecution of believers we see fast growth (China, many Muslim countries) and in Western nations we are beginning to see growth where individuals and groups are prepared to leave their comfort zones to search out the lost, the hurting, the hungry etc.

    Alan Hirsch argues that where we face uncertainty or danger and are willing to leave our comfort zones we will discover a new kind of togetherness, the comradeship of shared risk. He uses the terms ‘liminality’ and ‘communitas’ for these concepts.

    So is this generalisation true? Yes, I think so. And it’s a sign that we need to wake up. Perhaps we are often neither hot nor cold, if so we are in danger even in our places of comfort and ease. Our lampstand may be taken from us.

  5. 4-4-2013

    Michael,

    I’m not sure I understood the “generalization” in our example. Could you explain it?

    Duc,

    I agree with most of what you said. However, I don’t think that “Faith is the spiritual state of a person (individual).” Instead, I’d say that the spiritual state of a person (individual) affects how that person does or does not trust God (faith). Also, this is important to the church (community) because the community affects the spiritual state of the individual.

    Aussie John,

    I think this is very important for us to remember: “One factor we more often than not leave out of our assessment is our own imperfection in all things to do with life and knowledge.” This affect us both when we generalize, and when others make generalizations about us.

    Chris,

    If someone made that generalization about you and the believers in your life (“focus far more on the great commandment than they do on the great commission”) what would you learn from that generalization?

    -Alan

  6. 4-5-2013

    “Why would Nathan generalize that “non-traditional church is born out [of] spiritual life” while traditional church is “held together by religious programs”? Or, to ask from a different perspective, why would many generalize that “organic” or “simple” church is insular (or even insulated)?”
    I don’t know if it will clarify generalizations in general, but these can be cleared up by dropping the labels and using the descriptive language. i.e. Some churches are ‘born out [of] spiritual life’, and other churches are ‘held together by religious programs’. Or, Some churches are ‘insular (or even insulated)’.
    One could press the issue this way. “Some churches (usually the ‘non-traditional’) are born out [of] spiritual life, and other churches (usually the ‘traditional’) are held together by religious programs.”
    Step one, Determine that the statement is accurate enough to warrant consideration. If it is, discuss why this may be.

  7. 4-5-2013

    Alan,
    I agree with your expression. It is your language so you write it correctly. I have never learn English from school.

    When I discover the Organic Church (some people call movement), I can see the work of God to save His people. I don’t question about the way the community organize itself in worshipping and sharing faith. I only see the beauty of God’s work and I praise Him, and thank Him.

    When I listen to a sermon of a pastor on Youtube, I also thank God; because many people need that pastor in their journey of faith.

    Jesus has marvelous ways to gather His sheep and lambs into his fold. Let us not lock the door or close the gate of our hearts.

    Joh 10:16 “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd.”

  8. 4-5-2013

    Nelson,

    You said, “Step one, Determine that the statement is accurate enough to warrant consideration. If it is, discuss why this may be.” Exactly!

    Duc,

    I agree that God’s people gather together in many different manners, forms, organizations, etc. I think it’s beneficial for us to consider how and why we gather, in order to determine if we are gathering in a mutually beneficial way – that is, a way that helps us grow in maturity in Christ.

    -Alan

  9. 4-5-2013

    Thank you Duc for your remarks.
    I especially like this part. “Jesus has marvelous ways to gather His sheep and lambs into his fold. Let us not lock the door or close the gate of our hearts.”

    This is important and it makes these discussions interesting and enjoyable.

  10. 4-5-2013

    Dear Alan,
    If you remember the following parables of Jesus, then all issues will be resolved. There will remain only one question: “How to prosper the Organic Church?”

    Mat 9:16 “No one patches an old garment with a piece of unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results.
    Mat 9:17 Nor do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will spill out, and the skins will be ruined. Instead, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

    Mat 13:52 Then he told them, “That is why every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom from heaven is like the master of a household who brings both new and old things out of his treasure chest.”

    Mat 20:1 “The kingdom from heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
    Mat 20:2 After agreeing to pay the workers one denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
    Mat 20:3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing in the marketplace without work.
    Mat 20:4 He told them, ‘You go into the vineyard, too, and I will pay you whatever is right.’
    Mat 20:5 So off they went. He went out again about noon and about three o’clock and did the same thing.
    Mat 20:6 About five o’clock he went out and found some others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why are you standing here all day long without work?’
    Mat 20:7 They told him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He told them, ‘You go into the vineyard as well.’
    Mat 20:8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
    Mat 20:9 Those who were hired at five o’clock came, and each received a denarius.
    Mat 20:10 “When the first came, they thought they would receive more, but each received a denarius as well.
    Mat 20:11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner,
    Mat 20:12 ‘These last fellows worked only one hour, but you paid them the same as us, and we’ve been working all day, enduring the scorching heat!’
    Mat 20:13 “But he told one of them, ‘Friend, I’m not treating you unfairly. You did agree with me for a denarius, didn’t you?
    Mat 20:14 Take what is yours and go. I want to give this last man as much as I gave you.
    Mat 20:15 I am allowed to do what I want with my own money, am I not? Or are you envious because I’m generous?’
    Mat 20:16 “In the same way, the last will be first, and the first will be last, because many are called, but few are chosen.”

    Concerning individual journey of faith, let everyone of us take up our cross and follow Jesus to the Calvary (Mat 10:38), there we also offer our “Only Son” (SELF) to God as a sacrifice just like Abraham has done (Gen 22:2) and God the Father has also done. Only by such sacrifice we can glorify our God and bring forth His Kingdom to earth.
    God bless.

  11. 4-8-2013

    Nelson and Duc,

    Thanks for continuing this discussion!

    -Alan