Full Text for A Place for Humility in the Search for Unity (Text)

A Place for Humility in The Search for Unity T HE THESIS IVHICH this brief offering presents is that in seek- ing unity of belief and profession and practice in the church, elsewhere, human beings must humbly examinc the p~ychol~~~~l forces behind their own positions. The danger is that we forget ollr own human dilemma. As human beings we are all subject to subtle pressures and forces which produce responses beyond our control. For this reason we pra!J for the corrective and clarif\~ing influence of the Holy Spirit. In seeking unity n7hel-c therc is disturbing divers it^, lye must find a chink in the armor. The assumption that we are always acting with deliberate anc{ conscious rationalitv and that our responses are free from predetcr- mining f;ictors can lead to rigid polarization. If a man is presumed to bc acting and speaking in an independently rational manner, I call judge his clisagree~~lent urit11 mv position in one of two ways. He is either a fool or a scounclrc.1. Other~visc I must conclude that I am ;I fool or i1 scoundrel. If jve both assumc that we have faced objectilr. evidencc in a ~vhollv objective manner, a great and impassable gulf is estnblishetl bctween*us. The impasse is resol\:able only by someone ad- mitting deliberate rejection of clear c\.idencc or lack of inteIlectira1 capacity. Ncither admission is likely. One way out of the dilemnla, of course, is to deny the possibilit\ of objective evidence. The path of hopeless relativity has been adoptctl by man!. It stops arguments. It also stops any kind of agreement other than an agreement to disagree. If truth for nie is only that which has been screened through niv unique perceptive processes, I can haw no hope of achieving the beauty of brotherly unity. I am alonc and un- co~nforted forever. I can then only settle for simplv respecting thr. unique and non-repeatable perceptions of others in return for having my own unique perceptions respected. It's a different \vorld for 311 of us and who knows which is real, or if any is real. If I cannot live n'ith this, I can search out those who, through some psychic accident, per- ceivc truth in a way coimpatible to my perception-and, of course. avoid tl~ose whom I find incompatible. Depending upon my person- ality, I will practice frigid aloofness from those who make me uncolll- fortable, or I can engage in a running battle to rationalize my position No matter 210~ smug this makes me feel, I am forced to the unsettlin: conclusion that truth is relative to the perceiver. I may perform some emotional abracadabra to makc myself feel surc, but the core of 111) being cringes in uncertainty in the lonely nights. Such a position with reference to God's truths revealed in Scri17- ture is unthinkable, of course. The multitude of Scriptural references t(i the universal intention of God's re\lelations are sufficient e\-idencc A Piar:~ fol- Hztn~ility ir~ The Seurch for Unit) 2 5 -_ . _- that God offers His truths as being equall! understandable and mu- tual]!' b! different minds. "God will have all men to br sared and come to the knowledge of the truth." Our sturd\l protesta- tion of the perspicacit) and trustrr.ort1iiness of Scripture is basic to the practice of theology and to the sharing of God's precious revelations. )loreover, all of human experience testifies to the fact that an in&- ,idual man's perception is 170t innately sui generis. \ire do percei~ie lllany things in coin~lloil. \\'e are confrontecl with a solemn query. If Christian brothers disagree in matters of doctrine (which is so important that it has eternal reverberations for all mankind), wkcre shall we seek the cause and cure of disagreement? I17e are not ready, except in our nastier nloods, to ascribe differences to intcllcctual obliquity or lack of moral integri ty. I\'e cannot SLI bscribe to a chaos-producing principle of ro]ipsis~ic perceptivity. \\Illere there is honest concern about differ- elices and sincere desire to establish and maintain unity of faith and confession, we inust find soiile acceptable point of flexibility. Another possible "explanation" of variant stances might be found in innately differing personalit? structures. By nature some of us might be inclincd tolvard a certain thematic approach to Scriptural revelations, \vhile others just as "naturall!"' take another approach. If this is true and we are somehow at birth frown into attitudinal stances, we can at lcast begin to understand and sympathize with each other and excuse each other. The difficultb here is that we are thrown directly into the iniclst of the old and unresol~ed nature-nurture con- flict. \ire Christians readily admit that by nature we are all sinful and unclean. \\iitho~it entering into the old dispute about the inheritabilit! of personality structure and such qualities as artistic ability, we kno\\ that in relation to the things of God \vc. are all hopeless and helpless t)y nature. By our baptism in Christ we are alive and newborn unto God. The natural man does not perceive the things of God. Our per- ception of God's truth is a lvork of the Holy Spirit and is a fresh and shining quality of the new man in Christ. It is not encuinbered \\-it11 inherited weakness. Nevertheless, we do find Christian brothers in.c,olved in serious rlitferences of perception of doctrine. This writer 11-oulcl propose that before Christians get ennleshcd in discussions of ho~r~ they differ, the) l\ould do well to ask ~i~h?; they differ. \Ire need humility in the search for unity. Compared to our vehemence in doctrinal differences, are generally gentle and understanding and forgiving about our failures in ]lying the faith. Sin, we agree, does still easily beset the newborn Christian. Fleshly vestiges will trouble us to the grave. We are suspi- cious only of the man \\rho boasts complete consistency in his confes- sion and his life. It is at this point that flexibility is found. The flesh is weak even 1~11ilc the spirit is strong. None of us denies his fleshly encumbrance. If then, a significant part of this en- ulmbrance is unconscious submission to ego-centered and socially- generated pressures, we have good reason for humble allalysis of our own responses even in the holiest of matters. There has been and astute experimentation in the discipline of social psycholog to demonstrate that we are all potential victims of such pressures.'~, recognize and admit them is often sufficient therapy to unfreeze from our entrenched positions long enough SO that we may establish lvarm and open rapport. This is not a sufficient condition for fruitful for unity, but it seems to be a necessary condition. T~ explicate all of the factors which can isolate and insulate U, would require a book. The point of this brief exploration can be made by citing a few examples. These are' best proffered in the form of questions which we ask in humility. To what extent for instance, do our attitudes reflect the expet- tations of others? Our own hearts tell us that we trim our sails to tht nrinds prevailing. Rather solid evidence exists that dramatic and in- credible shifts of attitude and action lx+tterils occur with changes social environment. Self-concept may be another trap. 111 our actions and response! from day to day, we display a persistent drive toward self-consistent\. Yet, Lve must ask how our seIf image is formed. It is formed by reflrc- tion fro111 significant others. Self-consistenc)i pressures can orerritle judgment and logical processes. Once again we see that our responses are largclv determined by the group n-ithin which we find our sensr of 1%-orth. self protection demands that rve act and speak so that \re w- tain our places of regard in the group to which nTe are committed ant1 to whose emanations of approval or disapproval Ire arc keenly attuncd \\'hich very human drives operate dynamically in our lives7 T11c drive to be accepted, to be admired, to be looked up to arc extren~el\ powerful nlotivations. Again we are led to self-examination to find thc why of our behavior. It is submission to these forces which must often be confessed as sin rather than devastatingly immoral actions. The ~~sychological tendency is toward patterning of experience Thus, Ire tend to hnd the same kinds of patterns in all experience? Moreo~~er, we tend to impose patterns upon our experiences \rith other people. Having determined an expected pattern from anothc~ person, we tcnd to pre-establish that pattern upon subsequent rn counters. Having ears to hear, we hear what we hare clecidcd to hcar Here, too, is where our penchant to attach labels upon people d[l(l institutions and geographical areas arises. One need not hold a brief for particular theories or doctrines 01 social psychology. Enough is known, honlevcr, to makc us painfull\ aware that the differences we seek to dissol\rc often lla~le their sourcc in someone's defensive reactions. The identification of such rcspollsc? may not solve real cognitive differences. To confess that \re arc 311 subject to them does admit the grace of hulnilitv into the arena allow for the kind of self-suspicion which leads t; humble sub~lli~sioll to the \\lord of God. The search for unity may takc us into long alld /1 Place for Jizk?mility ill The Search far Unity 27 - - difficult ~nd serious study. Its fruits will not come to those who main- tain rigid ~valls of self \vlrich cannot be breached. They \\rill come to tl,osc \f,ho see that in our colllmoll sinfulness and weakness we may jirst success full^ probe for weak spots. For it is not the Word of ~~d ,,hich is weak. It is we who are So poor that nothing less than the blood of God's own Son could rescue us from our futility.