Science in Christian Perspective



Russell Heddendorf, M.A.

The Christian's Role: The Social Action Frame

Part I

In order for any society to exist, there must be maximum training of individuals in the efficient performance of their roles. This is particularly important for the more critical roles. Consider, for instance, the training given to a doctor not only in the technique of his profession but also in the administrative and social relationships involved. The precision of training in these areas indicates the high value we attach to the profession. Too often, however, we ignore the intrinsic importance of a role and do not adequately train an individual for its efficient performance. Unfortunately, the role of parent in our society holds relatively little value. This is reflected in the fact that, despite the knowledge that most children will assume the role of parent at some time in their lives, society provides little training in the correct performance of the role before the actual achievement of the role.

As in the case of family roles, too often the only training afforded the Christian for performance of his role is the observation of role behavior by others. Since much of Christian behavior may only be observed in the church, the role of Christian has been strongly identified with performance of church activities. The Christian, however, "acts" in many different times and places and a true training for a Christian's role would have -to take into consideration the various types of acts. The basic social act may be understood by an analysis of its basic components of the individual, ends, conditions, means, and norms.*

Any training of the individual must take into consideration the subjective being. The two most important factors here would probably be the Christian's salvation experience and his ego orientation. The individual's perception of his role may be molded by his interpretation of the meaning of his experience. It could be viewed as a call to service following a life of sin, -or as a rather apparent consequence of seeking for truth requiring little additional action. In addition, the individual's ego orientation may be variously modified by his experience. This could fluctuate among the strong relationships of individual to self, society, or God. A large part of the individual's cognition of his responsibility to the Christian or nonChristian environment would be determined here.

The great emphasis in any training for a Christian role should be on its ultimate end. The value to be stressed here is twofold and includes the fact that it is not completed upon death, nor should it find completion on earth, for once an end is achieved, there is no longer need for the role which brought it to pass. The strength of the Christian role, therefore, should be understood in terms of its inherent incompleteness. This fact would assume the establishment of new ends upon completion of others. The proper motivation for role performance may best be achieved when -the concomitant ends are seen -to be relatively absolute in nature. A problem may arise when such ends are not consistent with those of the prevailing culture. The need for deviancy in a person in such a situation may not be adequately manifested because of a conflicting ego orientation.

Additional training for the Christian's role would have to stress the conditions or obstacles hindering maximum performance. These will vary in their significance, partially as a result of the individual's con-

* For the original presentation, see Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1937), or the derivative versions by Kingsley Davis, Human Society (New York: Macmillan Company, 1948), and Marion Levy, The Structure of Society, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952).

ceptualized ends and ego orientation. In fact, these factors themselves may constitute conditions limiting the individual. A choice of ends not in keeping with the Christian's role might require compromising the role. Similarly, an ego orientation which is not highly sensitive to God might be there as on for this choice of ends.

Probably the largest area of conditions, however, will be the general class of secular obstacles. It is necessary for the Christian :to see such conditions as surmountable by supernatural means. Yet there should be keen perception on the individual's part of those conditions which might limit role performance despite the fact that they may be overcome. So much time might be lost or compromise made with the world in order to conquer the condition that performance of the role might be seriously hampered.

In order to reach some end, a means is used. The Christian must realize that the means he may use to overcome most conditions blocking his achievement of ends are both spiritual and secular. He has the choice of which will be used. Strengthening of the Christian's role, will result when constant use of spiritual means is used in preference to the secular. This is particularly important since some conditions may be overcome only by spiritual means and inefficiency of role performance may result if secular means are chosen in situations calling for spiritual means. Nor should the individual neglect the possibility that conditions may be means when dealt with by spiritual means. Training in spiritual insight is needed here to provide a proper perceptive focus. In addition, the Christian must realize that means are not meant to be ends. Such a view could result -in lack of growth since the accomplishment of such means would stifle the motivation for gaining ultimate ends.

The entire process of action takes place within a structure of norms. These constitute the ethical basis for role performance. The individual must be aware that here, as in the case with ends and means, both secular and religiously oriented action must take place within a frame of Christian norms. It is also necessary not to confuse a norm with a means since norms do not help to achieve ends. Much of the secularization of modern religion has resulted from this basic confusion. The idea of doing "social good" is seen as a means to an end which is not, however, within the Christian frame of ultimate ends.

The previous discussion assumes that the individual acts within a sphere devoid of social relationships. This is, of course, not a true situation. Daily interacting with others constitutes a condition-means variable which poses special problems. These will be considered in a subsequent column.