The Actual and the Ideal: Tips for Relational Survival

hfeelingsMany years ago, a poem of sorts called “The Actual and the Ideal” caught my attention while visiting a friend’s home. I cannot give original credit to the author as I do not know who wrote it, and different sources attribute it to different people. Its profound implications on all of life, within and without the Church, are worth considering. The terms “incarnate and incarnation” used in this article mean: to give flesh to, to embody, to manifest or demonstrate. Put commonly: “Let’s see it, not just talk about it.”

THE ACTUAL AND THE IDEAL

Maturity Sees the Ideal, But Lives with the Actual

Failure Accepts Only the Actual and Rejects the Ideal

Accepting Only the Ideal, and Refusing the Actual is Immaturity

Do Not Condemn the Actual Because You Have Seen the Ideal

Do Not Reject the Ideal Because You Have Seen the Actual

Maturity is to Live With the Actual But to Hold on to the Ideal

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Maturity Sees the Ideal, But Lives with the Actual

Christianity can develop a cancerous quality foreign to its essence: intolerance for weakness and deficiency in others–the opposite of grace. Believers’ memories are notoriously short term. Forgetting the pit from which we, without merit, have been delivered, we expect others to deliver themselves. We separate from others out of a misguided sense of holiness or pursuit of biblical maturity, as if our new found “sanctity” is somehow corrupted by contact with another’s actuality. The Church can become an “introspective fruit inspection center” where chronic measurement of others’ actualities becomes the norm, and interpersonal relationship is determined by mutual agreement and adherence to behavioral standards rather than “in Christ.” Religious moral perfectionism is a counterfeit Gospel.

 Failure Accepts Only the Actual and Rejects the Ideal

We have all seen the image of a donkey pulling a cart with a never attainable carrot hanging in front of its nose. The donkey keeps moving, but its spirit is broken. Unrealized ideals (in any organization, spiritual or secular) result in emotional exhaustion and passive resignation. A status quo spirit, a false spiritual conservatism, creeps in that settles for “what is” rather than “what could be.” Abandoning the ideal is often the malady of the older generation and institutions, which, having “fought their wars,” have simply run out of energy. The ideal is deemed eternally unattainable and simply not worth the effort any more. The donkey sits down. The rocking chair and hearth is preferred over the dust and toil of the arena.

Accepting Only the Ideal, and Refusing the Actual is Immaturity

On the other hand, the inclination in youth is toward idealism. The failures, hypocrisies, and status quo passivity of their elders provide ample fuel. Unfortunately, rather than being progressive or reforming, idealism, is immature and destructive. In America, the term for a second year high school or college student is sophomore: literally, a wise fool—aptly chosen. Ability to see the ideal and the deficiencies of the actual is not a spiritual virtue. It does not require genius to notice what is wrong. Condemnation is not the gift of discernment! Do not merely point out deficiency—become the answer for what you see. If you cannot endure the rigors of the process of reform in the context of a covenant community, through giving your life for those you feel need enlightening or reforming, you are not a “specially illumined one,” but rather just another one of millions of no-kingdom-value, fault-finding voices.

Do Not Condemn the Actual Because You Have Seen the Ideal

Jesus, contrary to much commentary otherwise, was not a revolutionary, as we would describe it. He was not about tearing down an old order because He possessed a better idea for a new one. He was the better idea. Revolutionaries and reactionaries for centuries have used criticism of the actual as fuel for idealist overthrow. The problem is that when the usurper prince overthrows the king, he becomes the king who is victim to the next usurping prince: deficiency is ever present in changing form. The separatist’s cry is ever: “We are just trying to reform,” “We are just concerned about purity and truth!” The problem is there is no end to that pursuit. In the American experience, Roger Wiiliams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, pursued “purity” to the point where no one was “pure enough” to fellowship with him, except his wife, and he viewed her with some suspicion. He was the proud member of a church of one. Many de-contextualized and isolated believers are pursuing this destructive, and delusional path.

Separating or breaking off relationship, for myriad minor reasons, offenses, and hurts resulting more from a pathetically fragile psychological state rather than any pressing truth or doctrinal issue, is not the pursuit of Biblical purity and Truth. It is the offense and heartache of an immature believer and a fractured Church. In a Kingdom context, separation is biblically justifiable only after one has genuinely laid down one’s life for those with whom he/she has found deficiency, when entreaty, grace, and self-sacrificing love have failed. Most just separate because “we don;t agree any more and we can;t walk together if we are not agreed.” I have written elsewhere of that mistaken of view of Amos 3:3.

Do Not Reject the Ideal Because You Have Seen the Actual

 Fear and exhaustion combine to promote the abandonment of the pursuit of an ideal. It is impossible to pursue an ideal if one wants to live in accommodating coexistence with the actual. Sacrificing the ideal on the altar of accommodation results in false unity and false peace. Peace makers, not peace lovers are blessed. Conflict lays the foundation for the pathway to genuine peace and communal unity. Jesus’ conflict on the cross and His shed blood bought our spiritual peace. The price tag of Europe’s peace hangs on the beaches of Normandy. The ideal is worth it. It just must be paid for incarnationally, not philosophically.

Maturity is to Live With the Actual But to Hold on to the Ideal

Jesus did not come to present a philosophical ideal. He incarnated Truth–He did not just present a standard of behavioral conformity. Christian maturity is not necessarily found in the one who most efficiently executes articulated expectations–who most closely models adherence to biblical morality. That person may be an offensive and obnoxious religious idealist who cannot live with the tension between pursuing a high Christian call and accommodating personal weakness, failure, and inefficiency in others. A mature Christian has capacity to absorb the offenses and weaknesses of others, not just demand they perform up to a code of ideals.

 

Christian maturity is defined by the relationships we maintain (loving God and loving others) not the rules we keep.

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Copyright 2014,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephrcrosby@gmail.com.

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7 comments on “The Actual and the Ideal: Tips for Relational Survival

  1. Dr. Crosby, I have thoroughly enjoyed your wisdom. I read all you send, and have enjoyed each one of them. You articulate well many things I know but have not put into such succinct words. I ordered your “Authority, Accountability, and the Apostolic Movement” for myself and a close friend (2 books). I have many other assignments, so I haven’t got but about 1/3rd through it, but I intend to read it all. Anyways, you and your ministry are on my prayer list. God bless you!

  2. that’s right–its relationship not rules….and when we are one in relationship with Christ–who needs rules?

  3. Dr. Crosby,
    Recently I read an article of yours in the Fall/Winter 2013 Journal of “Searching Together” by my friend, Jon Zens. The title of your article is, “You Can’t ‘Study’ to Be ‘Approved’ ” … and your immediate comment is, “It is all too common among fundamentalists and evangelicals, who erroneously believe that ‘studying the Bible’ is how one is ‘approved unto God’ based on 2 Timothy 2:14.”
    I was absolutely amazed to read & consider that the literacy rates during the time of Jesus and Paul were roughly 1.5 – 3% of the population, so the population was basically “illiterate.” (And the Jews believed that Holy Scripture could only be handled by holy/anointed prophets, priests, kings, etc.) Furthermore, when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, there was no “Bible” as we know it. (And the printed Bible was NOT affordable to the middle & lower classes until the mid-nineteenth century!)
    Then you pointed out that during Paul’s time, “study” did not mean what the word has come to mean in our day. It meant “diligence, earnestness, eagerness–to make every best effort.” (The KJV “show yourself approved” is unfortunate. The correct meaning of “show” is to stand or present oneself–as for inspection. The word for “approved” means to come through fire like a metal. (The heat treating and tempering of metal through fire makes it fit for use.)
    So, “The image is for a believer to stand up under the fires of adversity–to come through fire like a metal that has been refined. The passage is exhorting believers to be diligent not to fold under pressure..”
    Then your final discussion of Paul’s BASIC proclamation to his followers was that of “Jesus as Messiah…resurrected from the dead.” You compare this to all the other nonsensical doctrines & philosophies that abounded at that time–and also today…”when acquisition of mountains of Bible knowledge w/out it’s transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ is the deceit and the offense of popular evangelicalism.”)
    Dr. Cosby, can you tell me where to locate additional detailed information on the situation you described in this article? … I’m 82 years old and never read anything like your description of Paul’s ORIGINAL sharing of Jesus’ message before…so I’m intrigued! … At the same time, I realize that you are a Bible scholar with impeccable qualifications, and perhaps the level of information I’m looking for is not available.
    Almost 4 years ago I moved from Tampa, FL to a very small town in N.W. Penna., where there is no opportunity for the Christian fellowship I now realize is vital. (But Graham Cooke’s prophetic ministry continues to bless me…and now Jon Zens introduced me to YOUR website!)

    BLESSINGS to you and your Family,
    Marge Porterfield, Ludlow, PA 16333

    • Hello Marge, thank you for your kind thoughts and the post. You are right. It is difficult to condense 40 years of study into a sort of “one stop source!” Any good lexical and grammatical tools will help you on the word “study” in the KJV. You can resource yourself there. IF you are internet savvy, you can simply search literacy rates in first century Rome, or literacy rates in first century Judaism, or literacy rates in first century Palestine and numerous sources will pop up for you, however you will have to dig. Illiteracy was definitely over 90%, conservatively, and more likely 95-97% of the population with exceptions in occasional “pockets” of greater density, but over all, 93-95% illiteracy is a good empire-wide average. They are not necessarily “easy” to read or find. You may have to plow through lots of content to find the nuggets you are looking for. That is the nature of research. I would recommend some good social science commentaries to understand the times, the culture and the worldview at the time of Christ/Paul. Some are better than others. That too, is like a “treasure hunt” you may have to shovel through tons of sand to find one or two nuggets that you are looking for. My personal preference for social science commentaries are works by Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, either partnering or separately. But there are others that are helpful also.

      Paul’s basic proclamation is evident from the scriptures. His last words to Timothy: “My son timothy, remember Jesus Christ of the seed of David, resurrected from the dead.

      Last words are important and there you have the core of Paul’s message. He came in the flesh, he was Messiah fulfilling prophecy, and he rose from the dead. That’s the basic Christian message. I have also categorized every public proclamation of the gospel recorded in the book of Acts by speaker, speaking to whom, and the content of the message. You can do the same and if you do you will be amazed at what was actually preached and what was not. The gospel message was very focused, with 4-5 main elements, not a lot of extraneous themes. It would seem to make sense that if we want apostolic results we should preach what they preached. For the most part . . . we don’t . . . and our results bear the negative fruit of not doing so. We get lost in the “tall weeds” of esoteric Bible speculations rather than focusing on what the apostle’s focused on.

      In the small world category. I spent decades in a small town in north central PA in Bradford county (Sayre, PA) and have spent considerable time in the northern tier of PA, but have never been in Ludlow.

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