Relation Wisdom for the ChurchMany years ago, a poem of sorts called “The Actual and the Ideal” caught my attention while visiting a friend’s home. I cannot give original credit to the author as I do not know who wrote it, and different sources attribute it to different people. Its profound implications on all of life, within and without the Church, are worth considering. The terms “incarnate and incarnation” used in this article mean: to give flesh to, to embody, to manifest or demonstrate. Put commonly: “Let’s see it, not just talk about it.”

 

 

 

THE ACTUAL AND THE IDEAL

Maturity Sees the Ideal, But Lives with the Actual

Failure Accepts Only the Actual and Rejects the Ideal

Accepting Only the Ideal, and Refusing the Actual is Immaturity

Do Not Condemn the Actual Because You Have Seen the Ideal

Do Not Reject the Ideal Because You Have Seen the Actual

Maturity is to Live With the Actual But to Hold on to the Ideal

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Relational Wisdom for the Ekklesia

Maturity Sees the Ideal, But Lives with the Actual

Christianity can develop a cancerous quality foreign to its essence: intolerance for weakness and deficiency in others–the opposite of grace. Believers’ memories are notoriously short term. Forgetting the pit from which we, without merit, have been delivered, we expect others to deliver themselves. We separate from others out of a misguided sense of holiness or pursuit of biblical maturity, as if our new found “sanctity” is somehow corrupted by contact with another’s actuality. The Church can become an “introspective fruit inspection center” where chronic measurement of others’ actualities becomes the norm, and interpersonal relationship is determined by mutual agreement and adherence to behavioral standards rather than “in Christ.” Religious moral perfectionism is a counterfeit Gospel.

 Failure Accepts Only the Actual and Rejects the Ideal

We have all seen the image of a donkey pulling a cart with a never attainable carrot hanging in front of its nose. The donkey keeps moving, but its spirit is broken. Unrealized ideals (in any organization, spiritual or secular) result in emotional exhaustion and passive resignation. A status quo spirit, a false spiritual conservatism, creeps in that settles for “what is” rather than “what could be.” Abandoning the ideal is often the malady of the older generation and institutions, which, having “fought their wars,” have simply run out of energy. The ideal is deemed eternally unattainable and simply not worth the effort any more. The donkey sits down. The rocking chair and hearth is preferred over the dust and toil of the arena.

Accepting Only the Ideal, and Refusing the Actual is Immaturity

On the other hand, the inclination in youth is toward idealism. The failures, hypocrisies, and status quo passivity of their elders provide ample fuel. Unfortunately, rather than being progressive or reforming, idealism, is immature and destructive. In America, the term for a second year high school or college student is sophomore: literally, a wise fool—aptly chosen. Ability to see the ideal and the deficiencies of the actual is not a spiritual virtue. It does not require genius to notice what is wrong. Condemnation is not the gift of discernment! Do not merely point out deficiency—become the answer for what you see. If you cannot endure the rigors of the process of reform in the context of a covenant community, through giving your life for those you feel need enlightening or reforming, you are not a “specially illumined one,” but rather just another one of millions of no-kingdom-value, fault-finding voices.

Do Not Condemn the Actual Because You Have Seen the Ideal

Jesus, contrary to much commentary otherwise, was not a revolutionary, as we would describe it. He was not about tearing down an old order because He possessed a better idea for a new one. He was the better idea. Revolutionaries and reactionaries for centuries have used criticism of the actual as fuel for idealist overthrow. The problem is that when the usurper prince overthrows the king, he becomes the king who is victim to the next usurping prince: deficiency is ever present in changing form. The separatist’s cry is ever: “We are just trying to reform,” “We are just concerned about purity and truth!” The problem is there is no end to that pursuit. In the American experience, Roger Wiiliams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, pursued “purity” to the point where no one was “pure enough” to fellowship with him, except his wife, and he viewed her with some suspicion. He was the proud member of a church of one. Many de-contextualized and isolated believers are pursuing this destructive, and delusional path.

Separating or breaking off relationship, for myriad minor reasons, offenses, and hurts resulting more from a pathetically fragile psychological state rather than any pressing truth or doctrinal issue, is not the pursuit of Biblical purity and Truth. It is the offense and heartache of an immature believer and a fractured Church. In a Kingdom context, separation is biblically justifiable only after one has genuinely laid down one’s life for those with whom he/she has found deficiency, when entreaty, grace, and self-sacrificing love have failed. Most just separate because “we don;t agree any more and we can;t walk together if we are not agreed.” I have written elsewhere of that mistaken of view of Amos 3:3.

Do Not Reject the Ideal Because You Have Seen the Actual

 Fear and exhaustion combine to promote the abandonment of the pursuit of an ideal. It is impossible to pursue an ideal if one wants to live in accommodating coexistence with the actual. Sacrificing the ideal on the altar of accommodation results in false unity and false peace. Peace makersnot peace loversare blessed. Conflict lays the foundation for the pathway to genuine peace and communal unity. Jesus’ conflict on the cross and His shed blood bought our spiritual peace. The price tag of Europe’s peace hangs on the beaches of Normandy. The ideal is worth it. It just must be paid for incarnationally, not philosophically.

Maturity is to Live With the Actual But to Hold on to the Ideal

Jesus did not come to present a philosophical ideal. He incarnated Truth–He did not just present a standard of behavioral conformity. Christian maturity is not necessarily found in the one who most efficiently executes articulated expectations–who most closely models adherence to biblical morality. That person may be an offensive and obnoxious religious idealist who cannot live with the tension between pursuing a high Christian call and accommodating personal weakness, failure, and inefficiency in others. A mature Christian has capacity to absorb the offenses and weaknesses of others, not just demand they perform up to a code of ideals.

Christian maturity is defined by the relationships we maintain (loving God and loving others) not the rules we keep.

Editor’s Note: Here is what I found for the above poem.

“There are two things, the actual and the ideal.

To be mature is to see the ideal and live the actual.

To fail to accept only that which is ideal and refuse the actual is immature.

Do not criticize the actual because you have seen the ideal.

Do not reject the ideal because you have seen the actual.

Maturity is to live the actual and hold on to the ideal.”

(Derek Prince)

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