Science in Christian Perspective




R. Heddendorf, M.A.

From: JASA 13 (June 1961):

The Christian's Role: The Pattern Variable Frame

There is not a Christian who would deny that the role of the Christian begins with the new birth. When viewed in this way, however, it should be seen that an individual is initiated into the Christian's role by means of a creative act of God in the same way that the process of physical birth is a creative act. For this reason, the role of Christian is unique because it cannot be completely anticipated as a future social role by the actor. Thus it is not always possible to "train" for the correct performance of the role.

The two general classes of status recognized by the sociologist are the ascribed, which is mandatory and assigned to the individual such as age and sex, and the achieved, which is the culmination of a person's striving and effort such as an educational or occupational status. Apparently the Christian's status doesn't clearly fit into either of these categories.

Rather, the "new birth" implies that the Christian role is a unique experience for the individual, one which may completely cut into his normal pattern of social development. The new Christian, therefore, finds that the new behavioral patterns expected of him are quite different from those for which he has be is referred to as a discontinuity.

The role of Christian, therefore, must be viewed as one which is not only incompatible with the roles in society with which the individual must come into contact, but also as one which may be contradictory to the previous roles which the new Christian has experienoed. Not only are many new Christians without "training" for their new role, but they are hindered by their experiences in previous secular roles. The testimony of Paul in Philippians 3:5-7 is vivid evidence of God's power to overcome such a background. Nevertheless, the resultant tensions of this discontinuity are real and must be understood as a potential source of role strain.

Some of the most glaring contradictions between expected Christian role behavior and the behavioral patterns of contemporary American society may be seen by comparing what are generally referred to as the pattern variables of social behavior.

When individuals interact, their relationships will vary between a very general interest in one another to a rather limited concern. The former is referred to as the diffuse variable and the latter, the specific. Our society motivates the individual to stress the specific form of role such as the contractual agreements into which we enter every day. There is little concern for the individual in this relationship. What is important is the status or position which is represented. The salesman is concerned only with his client as a potential buyer of his product. The relationship is relatively superficial and temporary and often directed toward the achievement of some ulterior purpose. Such a value is not in agreement with the Christian's role.

Rather, the Christian is oriented toward a more diffuse role. He should become more interested in the general attributes of the individual. There must be a concern with the person's spiritual and other personal needs, regardless of his particular social position. Since there is little training for such a pattern of behavior in our society, the new Christian must seek to overcome this discontinuity.

It should be noted here, however, that the diffuse role has an inherent weakness. The characteristic generality -of the role may be stressed to such an extent that the role becomes meaningless with a lack of purpose and direction. Either there would no longer be a compulsion to relate to others in accordance with the role requirements, or else the expected role performance might become so vague as to result in severe inefficiency of role performance.

The affectivity-neutrality pattern variable has to do with the amount of "feeling" or affect which may be permissible in performing the role. There are many signs in our current society which would indi-cate that we are strongly oriented toward "neutral" relationships which require us to control our feelings and suppress them. This trend is particularly evident in our patterns of child rearing.

The role of Christian probably relies more heav ily on an affective response than a neutral. There is, undoubtedly, a need to suppress feelings in maintaining the discipline which the Christian requires. Nevertheless, in interpersonal relationships, there is a greater need for sincerity and committed affective concern for the individual than would be manifested by the non-Christian. While the existence of neutrality in the Christian's role is relative to the amount of secular learning which must be suppressed, the affective response is more inherent and demanding,

Quite similar to the diffuseness- specificity pattern is the variable of universalism-particularism. This concept centers in the obligations an individual has toward another based upon group memberships. In our society, many relationships accrue from the obligations one has with members of his social class, political party, or social groups. Such obligations are particularistic. They are necessary for training social members to conform to social patterns, but they often restrict the individual, particularly in the transfer of such obligations to a more general social grouping.

The Christian, however, must concern himself with any unsaved person, whomever he might be. This emphasis on the individual, regardless of social position, is the peculiarity of the variable of universalism. It refers to all people of all times. Hence, the Christian must have sufficient flexibility to see beyond his narrow social group. Nor is this a requirement only for the missionary who must deal with members of an unfamiliar culture. "Social myopia"' of the Christian, causing him to relate only to the secular groups with which he comes in contact, may result in weakening his role performance.

The quality-performance pattern variable stresses the particular personal characteristics of an individual which may form a basis for a relationship. The quality pattern emphasizes objective characteristics such as age and sex, previously referred to as ascribed. A relationship concerned with performance pays particular attention to what a person can do, or the achieved characteristic.

Our society has traditionally been oriented to the performance variable. The great emphasis -on competition and success has filtered into every aspect of our social life. Again, however, the Christian, in order to maximize his role performance, must minimize the importance of such a behavioral pattern. It is necessary that he realize that his achievements have been directed by God. He must view others as stripped of their social statuses and see their objective need of salvation.

Previous articles in this series have stressed the point that the Christian role must he deviant. It should be noted, however, that the discontinuities discussed here are the result -of such deviancy. When he differs from the standards of the world, the Christian must realize that he must adjust to new behavioral patterns, These are necessary requirements for adequate role performance.