Sefer Shpiel - "When the Church Was a Family" (Chapter One) - Jack, Rose, and a Titanic Problem

January 8, 2020

Hellerman names his Chapter One "The Group Comes First," which he contends is a fundamental worldview assumption of the first century home group model.

To examine this contention, he first discusses the movie Titanic, highlighting its appeal to individualistic assumptions. He reminds us how a Western audience sympathizes with Rose and her quest for self-actualization instead of holding her accountable to put her family first by embracing an upwardly mobile marriage to a man she does not really love. Her mother explains to Rose how this marriage is a life-saver to elevate her family’s tottering social status.

In contrast to us and with our popcorn, rooting for Rose, first century viewers would have viewed Rose’s choosing self-actualization to be selfish and disgraceful, because for them, as for other cultures in our day, the “of course” assumption is that the group comes first. Only putting the needs of the group before our own is honorable.

The first century collectivist strong-group mindset accords with that of Spock, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” And as much as we admire it, Americans do not live by JFK’s credo, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Our assumption is that government is there to guarantee that our needs will be met.

Hellerman views collectivism as not only a matter of divine original intent, as in the first century, but as God’s currently desired norm. He urges us to once again embody a strong-group culture where decisions about what we do for a living, who we partner with in marriage, and where we live are familial and communal decisions. Instead, having defined maturation as individuation, we too often make unwise individualist choices in each of these areas.

Bible people naturally perceived personal identity as a subset of group identity. This is apparent in names, where people identified themselves by who they were descended from, as in the case of “Mordecai, the son of Yair, son of Shimei, son of Kish.”

Again, issues of identity, of marriage, and of domicile are “naturally” personal decisions in our culture, but they were “naturally” group decision in Scripture, and remain so in various cultures around the world, such as Asian and Muslim cultures. And because we put the weight of these decisions on the individual, great stress and uncertainty results, evident in the surging numbers of those seeking therapy in our postmodern cultures where therapists provide the sense of connectedness absent from a context which validates its parenting by seeing to it that their children individuate and even leave the home at age eighteen as evidence that they are maturing. In this context, “maturing” means “separating.” This model fails to account for how maturation is coordinate with ever-deepening relational bonding. Hellerman also insists it fails to accord with the model Scripture commends.

We will be discussing all of this at greater length as we examine succeeding chapters. For now, remember Jack and Rose, JFK, and Spock. And while you're at it, live long and prosper.

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2 comments on “Sefer Shpiel - "When the Church Was a Family" (Chapter One) - Jack, Rose, and a Titanic Problem”

  1. It seems to me that the notion of "collectivist strong-group mindset" is also the one that has been abused to produce every tyranny that ever has existed. I wonder if we must keep an eye on where Hellerman is going with this notion. Jewish society comprises a balance between community responsibility and respect for each individual, particularly vis-a-vis property and personal rights. Consider the prophetic view of ultimate goals in that each individual shall dwell under his own vine and fig-tree, and none shall make him afraid.

  2. You are right on target that this model is fraught with dangers. In one of his later chapters he deals with this head on and cautions that the model can give way to cultic control. He offers two safeguards: plural leadership and servant leadership. Here is how I reflect on what he says.

    "He opens describing a strong-group community which turned out to be deeply cultic, indicating that strong-group communities are easily prey to this danger in the absence of two safeguards: plurality of leadership, and a servant-leader culture. He argues for plural leadership both biblically and historically, while easily demonstrating that Yeshua insisted on servant leadership. He presents four arguments for plural leadership as a benefit to the flock, and two arguments for plural leadership as a benefit to leaders. Along the way he says where we used to have heroes, we now have celebrities. While people seek to imitate heroes, they seek to live vicariously through celebrities. However, the church is a family and not a show, and the nature and quality of relationship are the key metrics of spiritual growth and maturity. While cult leaders seek to retain and expand power, God’s leaders extend power in acts of service. He holds forth Philippians two as a model of the godly leader’s perspective on power. "

    Thanks as always for your interaction. There is more I could say, and there always is! But later. Shalom uv'racha.

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