Tuesday, August 07, 2007
The Rule of Paul
I just finished my first John Howard Yoder book called Body Politics. He focuses on five New Testament practices that were central in the life of the early Christian community. Binding and loosing, baptism, eucharist, multiplicity of gifts and the open meeting. He believes the original intent of these practices is important to recover in the church today.
For today, I am only going to focus on the Rule of Paul, the last practice Yoder writes about, although all of the topics could be discussed in a lengthy fashion. The question posed is how should a meeting of the church proceed? Paul discusses this in depth in Corinthians, chapter 14. There is no reference or mention to a single moderator, such as a priest or minister, as is the practice in Christian circles today. There appears a pattern of decision making based in open conversation. God's will is made known through discussion where all voices are heard. First Corinthians points out that it should be moderated only to keep it orderly and the conclusions reached should be recorded.
A great example is given of the Quakers using this forum today in their church meetings. They wait in expected silence until someone is moved to speak. This is considered worship. I especially like the example that the "...Friends bring together warring parties to foster the potential for dialogue among individuals even when their institutional loyalties are in conflict."
My favorite quote referenced is by Gandhi when he says, "The reason one renounces violence in social conflict, is not (not only, not merely) that bloodshed is morally forbidden; it is that the adversary is part of my truth-finding process. I need to act nonviolently in order to get the adversary to hear me, but I need as well to hear the adversary."
The bottom line of the chapter is that conversation is the setting for truth- finding. This is so counter-cultural to the way churches and secular institutions are run today. My first thoughts are that it is very time consuming. In today's world we want everything instantly. Products and results need to be produced as quickly as possible. We are an impatient people with our own selfish agendas. Listening to people who think differently than we do can be for some, like nails running down a chalkboard. If we can become more comfortable with a practice like this, perhaps instead of just getting quick fixes and decision, we could actually begin to solve problems.
A positive by-product of this practice is that minority voices can be heard. So much can be learned from the voices of people in a minority group or of a different opinion than the masses. This connects briefly to the third practice of the multiplicity of gifts. Every person has a gift to share with the world. We should indeed work as teams, each using his "grace-given" gifts and when this is done, much more can be accomplished than by a few elite trying to do everything on their own.
I like seeing some of the Emergent churches taking this kind of approach with their services. Oftentimes, they mention that the pastor lecturing is one of the least beneficial parts of the service and as they attempt to create meaningful worship, this means for some to create an atmosphere conducive for everyone to participate. Some of the churches sit the congregation in a circle and have a dialogue with the pastor and each other.
Change never comes easy so the question I find myself asking is how can I adopt this practice more in my own personal life? I think for me, this means trying to make sure that voices and opinions are shared in meetings and conversations that I participate in at work, at church, at social gatherings or even in my own home. Also, speaking up myself, when my opinion differs from another. Gently and humbly trying to conduct open conversations, which is actually something I already value a great deal. The trick is doing this in an orderly fashion. The question I often ask myself when in the presence of someone very different from myself (and aren't we all quite unique?) is what can I learn from this person? Really listening takes time and putting down one's own walls of defense.
It often feels like an uphill climb- and it is. It is the work of the Kingdom.