THE MISSING DIMENSION
It is more that likely that you have never heard of a man called Mowrer and probably even less likely that you have heard of his Dynamics of the Moral Perspective. Until 1984 neither had I until a very perceptive friend of mine introduced it to me in a revised form at a time when I was going through a crisis in my faith.
What Mowrer did was to try and make a mathematical formulation to represent a person's religious attitude and behaviour. Over the years as a minister of the Gospel I have found this formula to be true. The formula is:
B = Behaviour
P = Personality
f = a function of
So = Social Relations
F2 = Feelings & Spirituality
Sa = Sacrifices involved
K = Knowledge
In short, a person's religious attitude and behaviour depends on a great number of factors, all of which shape a person's view of God, religion, people and life. It is well that we consider all of these before we pass judgment on anyone and try to minister to those areas of their lives which is most needful for them.
It is an over-simplistic faith to say that "God bore witness to me" of this or that and, as a result, to say, "I know I am right in this matter" or "I know this principle, or religious philosophy, is true".
Recognising this, ministers of the New Covenant Church stress the importance of going beyond what might be called "propositional religion". By this is meant the belief that the truth can be summed up in words or statements (see my article in the New Covenant Witness, No.34, June 1996, p.10-27, Revelation and Scripture). It can't be. Thus, the Biblical revelation, "God is love" will almost certainly mean something different to almost everyone who hears it, even between Christians (and most especially, in my experience, between Christians).
Feelings and Spirituality
Over the twenty years I have been a Christian I have noted time again the dominant position feelings play in people's judgments of truth. They are not, of course, independent entities but linked to all sorts of different things -- our social background, personality, intellectual understanding, temprement, and experiences. Time and time again I have heard people express their perceptions of truth in terms of their "feelings". Two different people can have two totally different feelings about the same truth statement. I, for one, was completely turned off the Bible at one time -- I felt no attraction to read or study it. Certain circumstances forced me to over-ride the feelings of prejudice against Christianity I had and examine it coldly and rationally. Once I had done that, my feelings returned, but in a new and positive way. Feelings are good and necessary for us as humans -- they make us human -- but they are not the measuring rod of truth by any means.
Spirituality is closely related though were I to re-write Mowrer's equation I think I would separate this from feelings for they are not at all the same. Spirituality -- or the sensitivity of our spirits to our envionment -- is of a completely different dimension to the world of feelings. It is, however, not completely unlike feelings because it is subject to change. As the Holy Spirit works on our spirit, transforming it into that which is more and more like Christ by gradual (sometimes dramatic) increments, so our spiritual perceptions change. This process of change is call sanctification in the Bible, or in other words, the process by which we are made holy.
Our mental comprehension of things also affects the way we react to truth statements. There are many people who think of God as a giant ogre in the sky who arbitrarily causing suffering in the world. Such a view is a major blockage to coming to an understanding of the truth. Not until we understand that God is Holy, that His personality is a perfect balance of Love and Judgment, can we open the channels of our mental understanding sufficiently to allow the Holy Spirit to flood into our minds and hearts.
I once thought of "sin" as something like a giant bacteria that one could "catch" as one catches a common cold. My impression of it was that it was a mediaeval superstition. I had no idea what it was. So when I heard ministers talking about it I instantly reacted negatively and thought that they were being judgmental without a cause. Not until later did I understand that, in its simplest conception, it was simply "missing the mark", as an arrow might miss a target. Later I learned that this "missing the mark" was something that we inherited in our carnal nature, and that therefore we were doomed to keep "getting it wrong" without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even later I understood that "missing the mark" had repercussions in social life -- that it left a mark on others and in this way spread like a disease through society -- that sinning was bad not only for me but for others too. Thus my knowledge of what sin was led me to change my lifestyle.
Knowledge is therefore vitally important. Without the Law of Christ to convict us of sin -- reveal to us by contrasts that we are off the mark -- we would never repent because we would be unconscious of having done anything wrong. Therefore we would never grow -- never become more sanctfied, but become damned in our spiritual progression. Thus in time I came to see the Law as a great blessing, because it opened up the door to more and more of God's grace.
New Covenant Christians therefore place a very strong emphasis on spiritual education. Knowledge is power -- with it, we have the power to do good. Without it, we can only stumble along hurting not only ourselves but others too. But you would be surprised how strongly some people react to knowledge -- they would rather remain ignorant in order not to have their consciences disturbed. They "damn" themselves -- deliberately stop their progression in Christ. And here we have another word that once troubled me -- damnation -- which I thought was so arbitrary in the past. It is freeing to know that we damn ourselves by our rebellion against the truth.
The personality is another one of those complex things about human beings. We are not only the sum-product of our experiences, choices and actions, but we have inherited many characteristics through the genes of our parents, as they did from theirs. We have certain "propensities" -- different ways of being. Some are brave and some are cowardly, some introvert, others extrovert. Our personality dictates considerably how we react to truth statements. Even the differences between the sexes counts for alot -- according to the Bible, women are far better endowed to respond to the Gospel than men because they have more faith in their personalities. Scepticism seems to be a male "trait". No wonder the Bible says there will be seven times more women than men in the Millennial Kingdom of God! For men it is harder, though once they have found the true Way they tend to be more stable in it.
Our personality is further complicated by the fact that it has two mutually antagonistic parts -- the one which the Bible calls the "flesh" -- or our carnal nature -- and the other called the spirit -- our our divine nature. Just as stones tend to sink to the bottom of pools, so also do our carnal natures tend to dominate unless they have a restraining force. To restrain carnality requires an act of conscious will -- the resolution, by trusting in the promises of God, to transfer the moral force of gravity from the carnal to the spiritual nature.
If you don't want a stone to fall to the bottom of a pool you have got to do something about it -- like catch it with a net. If you don't make an effort to restrain the carnal self through inner and outer discipline, it will soon exert its baneful authority again. Not until the spirit has become sufficiently sanctified through rigorous spiritual discipleship which involved prayer, scripture study and meditation, and good works to others -- will that "natural gravity" shift from the carnal to the spiritual. Holinesss is not achieved in a day -- it is a life-long labour of love. And it demands something rather demanding:
It is no accident that "sacrifices involved" is inserted into Mowrer's equation. Christianity is a sacrificial faith from beginning to end. It is a Way of self-limitation for the sake of other's salvation. And, of course, Jesus Christ led the way by sacrificing His life for our sins.
Our behaviour is strongly controlled by our willingness -- or not -- to sacrifice. I have met many people who are highly knowledgeable, who are very spiritual, warm and generous in their feelings, but who refuse to change their old pattern of life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ requires nothing less than a total change in lifestyle -- not just in terms of ourward behaviour (habits, speech, manner of dress, etc.) but in the way we think and feel. Indeed, the Way involves repudiating almost everything that would attach us to this world if it gets in the way of our relationship with God -- not just that which is wrong but, at times, that which is lawful too! And, oh, how we rationalise and offer excuses not to sacrifice! We have become expert at it, but our pitiful excuses neither convince God not are they, in reality, in our best interests.
There is nothing wrong in having money. You all remember the rich young man who lived the Law of Moses perfectly -- except weath was his god. He was unwilling to sacrifice it. It was such a millstone around his neck that nothing else he did was of any good to his eternal salvation. And Jesus emphasises this point by saying that one might as well try to force a camel through the eye of a needle.
Finally, we come to social relations. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only about people but about the whole way we relate to people. It demands that we abandon our cliquiness and embrace the whole world -- our enemies as well as our friends, not to mention the millions of unknowns. In fact, it demands that we totally redefine all family relationships.
Because the natural gravity of the personality is centred in the carnal or fleshy nature we usually form strong relationships with out next of kin -- our biological families. If two people have to be praised, or chosen for a job, or some sort of favour, it is the natural tendency of fallen man to favour the one who is in his biological family. We are enormously prejudiced like that.
But Jesus said: No, this way of behaviour has to go, and He made the point when His disciples came an interrupted His preaching because His mother wanted to see Him -- "Who is My mother?" He said, "but she who does the will of God". He did not, of course, mean to be disrespectful to His mother, whom He loved and honoured. Rather, He was teaching the people that those who are not of our biological family who are a part of the family of God now have an equal claim to our biological families. Thus my brother's son is equally as precious to me as my own son. If he is not, then I have missed the whole point of Christianity.
I was reading a book a Muslim friend of mine have to me about Islam the other day and I noticed the great stress that religion places on the extended family. It is a wonderful thing seeing how the family always takes care of its members, even of those who are distantly related. But Jesus says that we are all related by descent from Adam -- we are all a part of an extended family. And those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour become the re-adopted sons and daughters of God.
Personal relationships are vital in approaching the Gospel. I see far too many Christians who continue to perpetuate the biological family boundaries. Family interests are selfishly guarded. We are not, of course, saying we should neglect our families (as we have sometimes been falsely accused of) but of widening our familial embrace. Indeed, we will give better attention to our biological families by teaching them that the love which is possible in a righteous home can also be present in society as a whole.
I hope in this very brief article I have shown just how complex we humans are and why it is different people react differently to the Gospel. There is more to refrom in our lives to make us Christians that we may at first realise, and to neglect any one of them is to put us on the perilous path of self-delusion. Dare we risk claiming to be a Christians when we may have seriously missed the mark on something so fundamentally necessary as, say, the law of sacrifice?
As we have preached time and time again over the years, the Way to the Celestial City is not as wide as most Christians like to think. It's no narrow that two people can't walk on it side-by-side. It's so narrow that we can't carry anything. It's so narrow we have to virtually squeeze through.
We may, in reading tough scriptures like Leviticus 10, for example, that God seems to over-react. There we read that people dropped dead because they simply didn't worship correctly. Priests were threatened with death if they didn't stay well-groomed or if they wandered away from the tabernacle. To modern Christians who like to dress casually and live free, all of this sounds stifling at best or horrendous at worst.
But the aim of such instructions is not to tell us how to dress for Church. It reminds us that God is holy, and He is not to be trifled with. God is not a buddy who just wants us to feel comfortable around Him.
The Scriptures do not merely educate us in morality. God didn't give us the Law and Commandments to teach us how to be good little boys and girls. Rather, He demands that we live respectfully and worshipfully in the awesome presence of the holy God. Without God's holiness, our faith loses its meaning.
British theologian P.T.Forsyth (1848-1921) wrote:
Angels in the presence of God call to one another: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" (Rev.4:8) and unless we include all the factors in the Mowrer's equation of personal behaviour for redemption in Christ we will never be able to join them in that chant.
"Sin is but the defiance of God's holiness, grace is but the action upon sin, the cross is but its victory, and faith is but its worship."
I have chosen the Way and have agreed by covenant with my God to allow Him to make whatever demands on me that He wants. I freely admit that at times I don't like it and resist inwardly until I understand that it's the only way to the Celestial City. I ask you to help me in thay quest. I, in my turn, promise to help you in the same quest for heaven as best I can. Amen.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 14 February 1998
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