Apostolic Thought

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I have come to believe that it is time for the church to let go of right or wrong, true or false, good and evil.

What do I mean by that?

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree in paradise, they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

While we cannot go back to the innocence of unconscious living that was before, we can let go of the wrong categorization that since has dominated our thinking.

We since have divided people into haves and have-nots. Different dividers have been used to separate the two, be it family ties or belonging to the tribe as in the early years of Israel, or the right of the stronger as in the time in Egypt and so many times before and after. Another divider is saved and lost based on the adherence to the law or believing in Christ or not.

All this is the expression of our belief that we fundamentally lack something to be good with God again.

And there it is: the category of good and evil.

I heard somebody ask today: how do we treat the other? Who was the other in ancient Israel? The heathen, the weak, the one that did not follow the law, the one that was not circumcised. Today it is the one that does not believe as we do, the one that lives in sin. It is the member of the LGBTQIA . It is the Democrat (or the Republican).

As long as we hold fast to our dualistic categorisation of good and evil, we will always have those that are in and those that are out.

Why not forget about these categories?

But God seems to tell us that they are important. Just read Revelation, for example.

There is a time in each of our lives when we need the certainty of absolute truth to grow. When we come out of a foundational crisis, we need something that gives us clear guidelines and security. What better than having a guide in the Holy Spirit, Jesus in our hearts, and the certainty of the law written on our hearts as well as absolute truth, plus a good portion of fear of going to hell.

All this will help us grow out of the insecurity and rebellion of teenage years and overcome crisis like sickness, poverty, loss of fulfilment of our basic needs.

But God is so much more, and even more importantly, we are so much more. God knew that we would, and maybe had to go through those dualistic phases in order to grow into what he wants us to become: one with him, as we already are, but then consciously.

So let’s say that the categories of good and evil are important. Are they important to us? We are not to judge, and therefore what purpose do the categories serve? Even if we think that we just use the categories for teaching, somehow we already judge that one way is better than the other.

Personally, I believe that God never categorised as we do. He has allowed us to grow with the help of those categories as long as we needed, and, for some, still need.

Today, I was told of an impression somebody had that we are called on a pilgrimage back in time, seeing a clock that rewound time faster and faster. My impression was this: go back and revisit the Gospel from the beginning. Was the fall about sin? Was the creation story about actual happenings? Are those absolute true recounts of the past that just have to be believed to be on the right side of history, or are these stories archetypal in giving us deep advice in how to deal with life?

The biblical authors redacted the books of Moses, the Pentateuch, from a certain mindset, one that was formed by two things:

  • Israel had been deported to the Babylonian exile. While all other tribes at the time would have abandoned their God for the Babylonian gods, because they were obviously stronger, the Israelites came up with another explanation: they were being punished for all their wrong doings.
  • This was possible because Israel was living under the law, in mere categorization of good and evil, and had been imprinted with this worldview for centuries.

No wonder they retold the creation story as a fall into sin, even though when we look at the story itself, it can well have a different meaning. There are many Jews and Eastern Christians that would never see the eating of the fruit as sinful.

But Israel was in Egypt. In the promised land, they had enemies. And now they were defeated by the Babylonians. All around them was the law of the jungle. They way to grow: have an absolute truth that could not be toppled by someone stronger, coming from the one and only God, for whom there is by definition no higher or stronger. Plus having a way to secure God’s blessings.

But once we have learned that order and stability is beneficial, that the weak are not worth less, that relationships can be built outside of our kin because we believe in some unifying rules, we can grow individually and become more tolerant.

Some of the rules were limiting, while others were just exclusionary. How about refining the ruleset, growing the mindset as a first step, while still holding on to the knowledge of good and evil?

But at some point we need to embrace the tree of life. There is no duality in the tree of life. Just life.

What the story tells us clearly: there is no way to live from both trees. We cannot categorise the world into good and evil and at the same time say that we live from the tree of life. As long as we categorise according to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we will be kept from the tree of life by a sword swinging angel.

For me, the pilgrimage back in time to have another look at the beginning is the starting point for growing up.

Many would interpret the vision differently: we got to go back to some arbitrary time when people still followed Christian values and the world was OK. Those times never existed.

By going back, I do not mean to go back to old thinking or previous behaviour. I do mean what Yoda expressed when he said: You must unlearn what you have learned.

I think that we are in a special phase of transformation. Will the church be transformed? Probably not yet. Will those be transformed that God has appointed to be leaders in his church? I sure hope so.

Leaders today have a twofold ministry: first, they have to unlearn and relearn, reform and search. It is the privilege of the kings to search. And then, they have to pass on and guide the people into the new. In the meantime, we do what we should always do: reflect the Christ, reflect God into this world.

Just being there for the poor and the weak is biblical, but not enough. Just investing into those that are entrusted to me is biblical, but not enough. Just growing myself is biblical but not enough.

When leaders gather, they can talk about application and form: how do you serve the poor and needy, how do your meetings look? That is important and has its time.

But in times like these, when leaders gather, they are to look at themselves and see where they hinder the growth of others. And in my humble opinion, God seems to point to our doctrine as a hinderance, doctrine on how to interpret the bible as much as how to organise a church.

Will all leaders grow into what I call an integral theology? Will they then still be leaders, or will leadership be totally redefined? There will always be people that need absolute truth, order and stability, because of the life circumstances they are in. And there will always be leaders that provide this to them, and thank God there will be those.

But how about those that are not sick, that are not living through a divorce, have not just lost their job, or in all that, feel secure and cared for?

Paradoxically enough, going back in time to the beginning will propel us into the post-institutional, post-categorical future. It will provide the answers that people today are longing for.

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By Ralph Rickenbach

Accompanyist | Pastor in Exile | Iconoclast — I am a Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach and a Spiral Dynamics practitioner.