Science in Christian Perspective



R. Heddendorf, M.A.
The Christian's Role: The Frame of Universalism

Part III

In the previous articles on this topic of the role of the Christian, it has been stated that deviancy, relative to the cultural values, is a necessary requisite on occasion. It is necessary when one's Christian responsibility conflicts with that of a secular role in a concrete situation. The college instructor sees the need to present the truth as he understands it as a requisite for the continued performance of his role. The imposition of certain limitations on academic freedom would require him to deviate from the imposed restrictions in order to maintain the necessary responsibilities of his status. Similarly, the Christian must know what responsibilities circumscribe his modern Christian status and deviate from behavior patterns which would not permit fulfillment of these responsibilities.

Deviancy, therefore, is seen as a derived requirement for the -Christian status. Similarly, the Christian Church must be organized in such a way that it provides for possible deviancy on the part of its members. If not, the tension accruing from conflict with cultural values may cause a strain pattern which could not he resolved. Such religious deviancy usually stems from the general concept of universalism, which is based upon the primary sociological question of how a group goes about recruiting its members. A religion may do this by either limiting membership to a specific group such as a class or society or, at the other end of the continuum, by opening membership to all. Universalism is of the latter type and would include Christianity.

Hence, the fact that Christ said, "Go ye into all the world. . . " is of sociological as well as missionary, consequence. A religion which makes salvation available to all must transcend all social systems and, as a result, finds itself dissatisfied with traditional, provincial views of the world. Instead of being based on national goals and values, the universalistic religion must be founded upon spatially and temporally universal goals if It is to have a common denominator for all. Though usually founded upon some aspect of the divine, this is not always a requirement for a very general form of a "universalistic religion." Communism has often been referred to as a religion and, in this sense of world-wide membership, would have a characteristic of universalism.

Universalism does not imply a mere separation of church and state with an attendant criticism of the latter by the former.* Indeed, it is a Christian responsibility to submit to the state. (I Peter 2:13.) If the political structure is such that the Christian Church cannot agree with its social views the individual is still obligated to fulfill his requirements to the state in his status as citizen. In his status as Christian, however, and, perhaps in a larger sense, in fulfilling his obligations as a human being, he is obligated to deviate from the expected pattern of social behavior imposed upon him by the state. On occasion, the state will be in complete agreement with the prevailing universal religion of the society. In this case, deviancy may not be a necessary requirement for religious role performance.

Such a compatibility,of state and religion, however, is an inherent threat to the continued existence of universalism. It is at this point that both the church and the individual may lose sight of their missionary goals and concern themselves with the secular goals of the state. The transfer of such secular goals to a position of ends motivating religious behavior is the next possible step in the sequence of events. The secularization of Puritanism in America developed in such a manner. Ultimately, the process of secularization may reach the absolute bases of the religion which are the source of universalism, thereby shutting off attempts to spread beyond the immediate social group. The resulting provincialism can only intensify the de-emphasis of a universalistic religion, since there is no longer requisite evangelism.

Hence, the greatest security for universalism lies in constant deviancy. It is only by opposing secular thought and action patterns that the universal religion may be confident of remaining true to its religious bases. It is not implied here, however, that the deviancy be militant. This form of deviancy will occur only when the secular majority stimulates such a reaction by its attitudes toward the religion. Nor should this deviancy be largely sponsored by the religious group. An organized deviancy of the church will require it to include the limited goals necessary for such action within its value system, thereby restricting the achievement of the universal goals. Rather, such deviancy should be manifested through individual social action. For this reason, a universalistic religion must support a belief in the value and freedom of the individual.

This last statement implies that the individual may be not only an instrument of universalism but also an end. It is necessary that the universal religion see the individual as the -object of salvation and devoid of cultural and social significance. The history of Protestantism has shown that the Socia I Gospel movement arose when society, not the individual, was considered to be in need of salvation. Such a view frames the religion within a cultural context, thereby weakening the universalistic basis. Indeed, universafism needs to cultivate an atmosphere conducive to the development of leaders who will rise above the mechanism of organization. When a universal religion loses sight of the original deviancy of its charismatie leader and relies upon an administration of its affairs by means of a bureaucratic organization, its primary goals are again going to be supplanted by the secondary goals of the bureaucracy.

The basic problem before a universalistic religion, therefore, is the question of how to maintain its deviant nature. Any movement having charismatic origins and attempting to prevent bureaucratic routinization faces the same dilemma. In the case of universalism, its greatest hope seems to lie in its method of member recruitment, for it is this which provides its peculiarity and is a need which must be met. As long as there are some in the world needing salvation, the religion is concerned with them, not in terms of their social positions, but because of their spiritual need. In order to reach them, the religion must resist an attempt from any earthly power to prohibit the achievement of this goal. If it weakens and conforms, then its basic functional requirement is not met and universalism, as a unique religious entity, is no longer able to exist.


*See Yinger, Religion, Society and the Individual. New York: Macmillan, 1957, pp. 230-75. Though developing much fruitful material in this area, the author is too limited on this point.