Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Lingering Influence of Collective Totalitarianism

The 20th century has been described as the age of Totalitarianism as marked by the rise of communism and the national socialism of the Nazi or Fascist variety. The ideological struggles that came to climax with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire were a struggle between the all inclusive demands of the state on the individual versus basic fundamental individual freedoms. It’s not my purpose in making this connection to make any kind of a “political” statement. What I want to do is share some thoughts regarding how this can relate to spiritual abuse in the Christian church.

In our former church, one of the pastors who was involved in helping sister churches in our western states, commented several times regarding how the concept of rugged individualism "infected" those churches in the west. As I see it now, people in those churches asked questions and expressed their opinions on things in a way that went against the concept of what “elder rule” had come to mean in a large part of this particular movement. That pastor’s comments need to be seen in light of the fact that Western republican democracy was not totally immune from the collective mentality that dominated the ideological struggle of the 20th century. (Again, my point is not to make a political statement, but a comparison and link.)

The rise of principled individualism had its roots in Christianity and the Bible. The 1st century was faced with a religion teaching there was no difference in God’s eyes between Greek and Jew, male and female, rich or poor. This religion also taught there were times when the demands of individual conscience before God had priority over community concerns. With the Reformation came the emphasis on education so people could read, and in so doing, could read the Bible for themselves. This implied the concept of private judgment, that each person individually was to search the Scriptures to see and be convinced of the truth in their own heart.

It is in that light that Christian churches ought to be the one place where community demands are balanced with individuality in a way that enhances both without detriment to either. I believe the theological underpinning of that is found in the concept of the priesthood of all believers.

The influence of the 20th century collectivist spirit is seen when demands of community (church) are emphasized to the detriment of principled individualism (the priesthood of all believers). As I read stories of spiritual abuse, all to often “community demands” are really not legitimate community demands, but really the whims of a leader who uses the language of “community demands” as a cover for their own selfish ambitions. If you want to read a parabolic picture of how that happens, read “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. For you “youngsters”, Animal Farm was written as a parody of the hypocrisy of the totalitarian collectivism of the 20th century. Scary isn’t it?

In absolute monarchies, the King was the state. Caesar was Rome. Henry III was England. Louis V was France. Alexander II was Russia. An attack on their person was an attack on the state.

With the advent of the ideological impulses that drove the majority of the history of the 20th century, the same principle was brought into the Totalitarian regimes. Stalin alone was the heir of “real” Marxist-Leninism” revolutionary thought so Trotsky had to be assassinated as an “enemy of the state”. Hitler embodied the Third Reich. Mao was China. Ideology became the pretext for maintaining party or personal power.

Now, substitute “theology” for ideology. Put it in the context of a church that puts primary emphasis on its distinctive theology, practices, or ministry instead of its common roots with the rest of the Evangelical church. Add a view of leadership that is not servant leadership but “gentile” leadership. The “defense of the faith” becomes the rally cry to protect the abusive leaders. “Submission” to the leader or leaders becomes an issue of submission to the “truth”. Once again we ask where have we seen that before? Again the answer comes, in the collectivist mentality that ravaged the 20th century.

The winds of past or current thought will often find a subltle way to influence the best of us. The answer is in continually striving to maintain the Biblical balance and emphasis on servant leadership set in the midst of the priesthood of all beleivers.

~ The Billy Goat ~

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