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Since the Jesus Christians imploded, Cherry and I have had opportunity to form a lot of new relationships, both with individuals and with various groups. And something I have noticed is how casually all of these interactions regard the morality of its members. I can see, on the one hand, how this "acceptance" would be a welcome relief from the constant vigilance of the Jesus Christians, but, on the other hand, I can see how it sounds the death knell to any concept of the kingdom of heaven. And it is that aspect of group memberships that I would like to discuss here.

The Bible says, "If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged," whereas the system says, "If you join our group, you will not be judged." Groups become the replacement for personal integrity. Groups can be families, couples, churches, social clubs, service clubs, employees in a business, sporting bodies, etc. Each group deals with only a limited area of your true self, and so they deliberately choose to close their eyes to what is happening outside their area of expertise.

As long as you are doing your job well, your employer cares little about what goes on at home. As long as you are paying the bills, your wife cares little about what is happening on the job. As long as you play the sport well, the coach/team cares little about your behaviour off the field. And as long as you put something in the offering plate, the church cares little about whether you really believe any of the stuff that you are saying in meetings week after week.

Even when it was business as usual for the Jesus Christians, I felt a constant need to be judging myself, to be sure that I was not abusing my role as leader. I also felt a need not to show favoritism to anyone in the community, and to not slip into silent conspiracies, where I would secretly agree to overlook your sin if you would overlook mine. This was not to say that there was no forgiveness in the community, but just that forgiveness only came when we were able to recognise that there was something that NEEDED to be forgiven.

Such honestly seems to be an essential ingredient in the kingdom of heaven. No group, including the Jesus Christians, could ever become synonymous with the kingdom of heaven; but we could best reflect the ideals of the kingdom of heaven if we could constantly and consistently judge ourselves (individually first, and then corporately as well), rather than giving in to the virtually universal practice of hiding our own vices and those of our friends.

Now, with the Jesus Christians broken up into individuals, there is an even greater need for those same individuals to keep alive this obsession with judging ourselves, if they are to remain true to that most essential ingredient of the kingdom of heaven, which is a desire to know the truth, so that the truth can set us free. Hopefully at least some of the graduates are reading this here.

I have found that the sweetness of such non-judgmental acceptance as exists in relationships where people do not know of my dedication to the teachings of Jesus, can be intoxicating. All these nice people being ever so kind to one another, smiling, nodding in agreement to almost anything I say (so long as I am nodding and smiling in return) can give the impression that out here in the system is where true happiness is found... unconditional love... universal acceptance... people functioning as they were truly intended to function.

But then I look closer, and I see cracks in the veneer. Almost out of sight are the remains of those who have fallen through those cracks. With every in-group comes the recognition of certain out-groups as well. People who are not the right religion, skin colour, gender, political affiliation, or income class are just a few of those who are crushed under the grinding wheel of in-groups. At the same time that the in-group chooses to overlook the vices of its members, it can pass very harsh judgment on the vices (or perceived vices) of those who are not a part of that group.

If you start speaking up for the minorities, then (and pretty much only then) your membership comes under threat. It all becomes exposed for the facade that it really is. The niceness can be very shallow indeed!

And that goes for those who claim to be most liberal as well. Cherry and I experienced that especially in our dealings with Australian Quakers, one of the most "universalist" religions in the world. No official explanation has ever been given for why they excommunicated me, but one Quaker told a third party that it was because we were trying to push Christianity instead of Quakerism, while another said that we had "out-Quakered the Quakers" merely by judging ourselves and practicing the wonderful ideals of Quakerism on a par with the standards that Jesus taught.

Our attraction to Quakerism was always on the basis of the ideals they professed... ideals which were, in our opinions, consistent with the kingdom of heaven. But, because they refused to judge themselves, the organisation had just become one more mutual admiration society. Anyone who did judge themselves within that group became anathema to the reality behind the ideals.

So my rather simple conclusion from all of this has been that judging ourselves is both a distinguishing feature of the kingdom of heaven, and a sure-fire forumula for eventually getting ourselves expelled from just about any other organisation that we choose to associate with. It may not always happen overnight (and generally I see no need to hurry it along), but there will always be that underlying tension. I think it is helpful for our own spiritual sanity to recognise the spiritual dynamics of what happens when we join groups; even though I do not see that total withdrawal is the answer either.

In fact, I have no simple rules at all for how to keep that essential integrity or sincerity alive, but certainly if we keep finding time to stand in front of God's mirror, in that secret place of the heart, we will find him reminding us of ways that we can personally improve, and thus stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life. 

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