The Boundary of Community: White Picket Fence or Razor Wire?

One of the topics that I think about fairly regularly is the struggle to resist the constant allure of “greener grass.”  We live in a culture that is highly mobile, presented with myriad options, and, generally speaking, the affluence to pursue those different options.  While it’s true that what’s billed as contentment may actually be complacency, I think the greater danger is confusing restlessness with the pursuit of excellence.

With this in mind, I have great appreciation for a recent 9Marks blog post that highlights the writing of Wendell Berry as “portray[ing] the beauty of a bounded life, a death to the options of Elsewhere, the embrace of a concrete place and its people.”

The author of the post explains that true community is “more than the welcome and affirmation typically communicated by the word today. To belong to a community is to be at its disposal, to have given over all you have to be used for whatever your community needs. … It is a submission of yourself—your identity, your interests, your ambitions—to the needs of those to whom you’re bound.”

This self-sacrifice for the sake of the community is a good thing, a biblical thing, especially when the community in view is the local church.  However, this absolute submission for the benefit of the community is also at the very heart of the scandal surrounding the potential cover-up of sexual abuse within churches associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Like other stories of high-control groups, the allegations are that members were expected to submit to the wishes of their leaders, ostensibly for the protection of their community.

There are those who would have you believe that calls for submission to a community, such as those expressed in the 9Marks blog above, are major red flags, indicators of abusive leaders who demand total obedience from their followers.  However, the lesson we should learn from SGM (whether the allegations are true or not), is not the avoidance of commitment to a community, but the importance of the community as a whole (not just the individuals who make up the community) laying down its self-protectiveness.  In the same way that unchecked personal ambition is incompatible with true community, a church body that is overly worried about protecting their image, their identity, their ministry, is incompatible with the true Church.

Bizarre ritual

Yesterday afternoon as I was driving home on a county road outside of town, I passed a field and noticed four people standing in the middle of the field, apparently wrestling with a cow. This seemed rather strange, so I pulled off the road onto a nearby driveway behind a barn, and observed them for a while. After struggling with the cow for a while, and apparently tying it up, it suddenly went limp. I happened to have a pair of binoculars in my car, so I pulled them out for a closer look at what was going on. There were four men, all dressed in robes. They had slit the cow’s throat, and were collecting it’s blood in a container. Then they smeared the blood on their faces, hands, and feet, and sprinkled some on their clothing. They cut the cow open and removed some of its internal organs, then began dismembering it, cutting off its head and legs. Certain parts they would wave in the air, and then place on a fire that they had started. I was pretty sick to my stomach, so I didn’t stick around to see what else they did. Does anybody know if this is a ritual that a particular group has, or was it most likely just four twisted individuals? Should I have told somebody about this?

Perhaps you would respond like some of these people responded:

“From my extensive study of many of the worlds religions, it seems you witnessed the act of four very messed up kids. This doesn’t sound like anything more than someone who has watched one too many gore movies.”

“Almost sounds like an OT sacrifice. Please note the word ALMOST. It also seems a little ‘dark lordish.'”

“It does sound like some kind of sacrifice…not OT though.”

“That’s disgusting. Sounds satantic to me.”

“My, this sound like some Old Testament ritual.”

“I would not have thought twice to call the cops…”

“It sounds a lot like a satanic ritual.”

What if I replaced “yesterday” with “3,500 years ago,” and replaced rural Indiana with the Sinai Desert; would that change your response?

“…they smeared the blood on their faces, hands, and feet, and sprinkled some on their clothing.”
Exodus 29:20-21 “…take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. …sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments.”

“They cut the cow open and removed some of its internal organs, then began dismembering it, cutting off its head and legs.”
Exodus 29:17 “Cut the ram into pieces and wash the inner parts and the legs, putting them with the head and the other pieces.”

“Certain parts they would wave in the air, and then place on a fire that they had started.”
Exodus 29:24-25 “Put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and wave them before the LORD as a wave offering. Then take them from their hands and burn them on the altar along with the burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the LORD, an offering made to the LORD by fire.”

I think sometimes when people (including me) read the Bible, we read some pretty bizarre things without batting an eye. You’ve probably heard comments before to the effect that if the Bible were made into a movie, and Christians weren’t told that the script came straight from the Bible, many would think it should be banned. Why is it that our perception of the same stories is so much different depending on the source? How is it that something holy and righteous 3,500 years ago, would be viewed as satanic if it were observed today? Is there anything we should learn from this about ourselves or how we view God?

Some people believe that the last nine chapters of Ezekiel refer to the millennial reign of Christ, and that sacrifices will again be offered in the temple at that time. (There may be other passages that are used to support this idea, but this is the one I’m aware of.) The religious leaders of the day did not accept Jesus when he came the first time, because his ideas and practices were not consistent with the context in which they expected the Messiah to operate. How will we respond when Jesus returns, if he institutes practices that are unfamiliar to us, possibly even bizarre and shocking?

In thinking about this topic, I was reminded that evil is not the opposite of good, but rather a perversion of something good. We’re so used to the concept of “good vs. evil” that we tend to think of them as opposites, with good forces and evil forces struggling for superiority. However, Evil cannot exist by itself; without a knowledge of what is Good, Evil is undefined. The fact that evil is not the polar opposite of good can make it harder to identify. Since evil is in fact a twisted version of something good, our ability to recognize it depends on how twisted it is, and how familiar we are with the standard for Good.

originally posted 2/4/2005 on