parting thoughts

As my time here at Reba Place is coming to an end, I'm feeling the pressure to say or do one last thing before I go. Feeling like it's my last chance.

I'm not sure if that feeling is reliable, though. Maybe I've done and said enough and should just make sure the relationships I have with people here are left in a good place. But there is still something nagging at me, something I feel I should explore. Maybe it won't turn out to be anything worth sharing with others here, but I think it will help me clarify what I have learned anyway.

Probably the most troubling part of what is taught (and lived) here has to do with discerning God's will. Here's a passage from an early pamphlet that describes this important tenet of their common belief:

In another memorable saying ("For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Mt 18:20), [Jesus] pointed to the company of those who gather in his name as the place on earth where he would be present to give guidance.

In our Fellowship we want to unite in this way. We want to support one another in the decisions we are facing. We want to take counsel together in the spirit of a common search for God's will.

We do this in many ways, but this side of our life finds special emphasis among us at the time of our members' meetings. To this meeting we bring those individual and group decisions that are confronting us. Is someone facing a difficult moral question in connection with his/her work? Is another out of a job and looking for a new one? Has a neighbor come to us with a difficult request for help? How can we take our stand against war and other forms of violence in our land? These and many other questions like them are spread out before God and one another and sought through to an answer. Very often we become aware that the solution arrived at is far superior to that which any single one of us could have found alone.

The last sentence really sums it up. And as it is written there's nothing I object to in this, actually. As long as the "very often" is in there. Maybe it would help to add: "But not always." Because, while a community of committed Christians may often see God's will more clearly than any one person, there are also many times when one committed Christian see God's will much more clearly than the group. The history of the church (and Israel) offers many examples of this.

The problem really arises when "the group often sees God's will more clearly" becomes institutionalized, as it is here. Then, this "often" becomes "usually" becomes "we trust the group." And submission to the group consensus becomes the practical expression of this belief.

It is a good thing to encourage people to submit to God's will. To lay down their own ambitions and intentions and obey God's leading. But once God's will becomes equated with a group consensus (since the "the group often sees God's will more clearly") then this is no longer submission of the individual to God. It has become submission of the individual to the group. Just another form of replacing God with ourselves, the collective "We, the people."

I think this has happened here to greater and lesser degrees throughout their history, and many (actually a large majority of the people who have ever joined) have experienced this and eventually left. I ran up against it a few times myself, so I know it's still part of the life here. But I don't know if it can be eliminated without dissolving the institution of the fellowship, since it's so central to what membership means. So I don't know how valuable it would be to challenge this (more than I already have in particular situations).

I do believe that we should be open to the guidance of God through others. But the consensus of a group of elders or the majority of members (even if it's everyone else) cannot be trusted completely.

Remember, Jesus was not killed by some fanatic individual but by the official leaders (and popular outcry) of the religious community he was a part of...