Theology: SOCIOLOGY

WE ARE A SOCIAL PEOPLE

 

In this section sociology will be examined, then we will look at sociology as it relates to the believer, the pastor, and the missionary.

 

SOCIOLOGY EXAMINED

 

In college sociology, our textbook was “A Sociology Of The Absurd” or something very near that. The purpose of the author was to present a model of sociology that fit the evidence that he was able to observe. I do not know if he ever became famous for his work because I do not know what his name was. His thought went along the line that all of society is made up of different little games people play.

 

To illustrate his thought I will use the situation I was in as a teacher on the faculty of a Bible Institute. I was a part of the faculty, the students were a part of the student body, the men were part of the men’s dorm, the women were part of the women’s dorm and the married students were part of the married student’s group.

 

Now to illustrate the games that this author believed in, we would explain the situation thusly: I as part of the faculty am expected to come every morning, and wax eloquent about the subject at hand. I am to act pious and important. I am to have all the answers to all of the questions presented. I am above you “students” and as such should be treated with respect. As long as I play the game and obey the rules, I can remain a part of the game. If I break the rules then I must be removed from the faculty student game and enter the janitor game.

 

The student on the other hand was expected to act as students act. The student is to be loud, unintelligent, and in general, disgusting. As a married student, you were expected to have all the answers, and you were expected to be the model students. As a married student you were expected to have other married students over and “have fun.” You were to talk about all the problems of the school and your immediate, easy remedy for those problems. You then turn your discussion to the faculty members, their problems and how you would solve their problems. You would have them join the ditch digger game, right?

 

 

Within the dorms there are certain rules to the games as well. The boys act like nuts and talk about girls. The girls act very proper and talk about boys.

 

As this author develops his thoughts he would state that we are all playing the game we have chosen at this point in life, and we are expected to obey the rules of that particular game.

 

To further illustrate, I as a faculty member was not allowed anger, I was not allowed self indulgence, I was not allowed swearing, I was not allowed fun activities, yet if I were to move out of this game into the game of janitor, I would be expected to have a different set of items as part of my game. I would not dress in a suit for work, I would not be overly friendly with the other people at work, I would clean up the messes of other people, and in general act like a janitor acts.

 

He believed that we choose a game and lock ourselves into it. The further application of his theory would deal with how the different games interact. Example: How does the faculty/student game interact with the Wyoming ranch worker game? How do I as a right and proper “faculty member” relate to a ranch hand when we are in two different games?

 

I do not believe what the man said in particular however it is a good way of looking at interpersonal relationships and beginning to understand how society works, how communities work etc.

 

Sociology, as any field of study is by its very nature limited to one extent, or another. To look at our own system of study, Theology, we know the limits are the study of God, and things relating to God. We break it down into the ten different areas and go to work in that study. Within theology we have the section we are working on now, Anthropology, or the study of man. Within anthropology we will deal with a number of subjects. Sociology is at best, at the outer limits of the study of anthropology, however anthropology and sociology are loosely related.

 

Within “theology” today we now have many other areas being brought into the picture. Some are not really theology at all. We have books that discuss the theology of missions, and the theology of Christian Education.

These are not really theology and should be renamed. We do have the different systems of theology which are valid studies (Valid, in that people study these subjects in relation to God. Some of them are, however false teaching). Liberation theology, Dominion theology, Biblical theology, Reconstruction theology, Systematic theology etc.

 

(Alex Inkeles, “What Is Sociology? An Introduction To The Discipline And Profession,” Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964, is a good introduction to the subject if you have a desire to do further study.)

 

Sociology: “1:the science of society, social institutions, and social relationships; specif: the systematic study of the development, structure, interaction, and collective behavior of organized groups of human beings 2: the scientific analysis of a social institution as a functioning whole and as it relates to the rest of society…..” (By permission. From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.)

 

Notice that there are two concepts here that will be important to our study of sociology.

 

a. The study of society in general and how it develops, organizes and interacts.

 

b. The study of a society in specific and how it relates to the whole social order.

 

Let me illustrate the first concept: I will take just a small portion of our own history to do this. The USA has always been called the melting pot of the world. We have, from the beginning, brought in anyone that wanted to come, and we melted everyone together into one great society.

 

As the emigrants came to this country they found work and places to live. The fact that these peoples from many lands congregated into small pockets not only in our cities, but in our land is of interest. In New York city there are black sections, Irish sections, Chinese sections, Latin sections, white sections, etc. Within our country are communities that were started by a particular ethnic group.

 

We lived in a small town in Nebraska for a while that was founded by Swedes and their business community was so tightly controlled that outsiders could not come in and start a business. One man tried to start a television repair business. Work was very slow for him, yet other shops were running two and three months behind on their service calls. The newcomer made a deal with one of the established businesses to make their service calls for them and then carry the shop jobs to their shop. The men were excited about the possibility and called some of their customers. The customers would not allow the newcomer to touch their sets. He closed up his business within a few months.

 

This phenomena of division within the collective is not hard to understand, and indeed it is probably normal. We like to be with people like us, don’t we.

 

Indeed, as believers we tend to do this. Moody Monthly mentioned several years ago that they had a pole that showed that within two years of salvation over 90% of new believers had no non-christian friends. We gather together within our own little circles, because we enjoy one another and have things in common.

 

Now the second point of the definition. The study of a society in specific and how it relates to the whole social order. This might well relate to the idea that the CHURCH is a society within the collective social order within the USA. We could also say that the American society is a part of the collective world social order.

 

We divide the world into first world, second world, third world and I think we have other newer divisions as well. All of these are terms and concepts attempting to explain, study and understand the social order in which we live as a world community.

 

One might wonder what the difference is between Anthropology and sociology. In the first place anthropology deals with man as he came to the earth, whether from creation or evolution. We as believers deal with man as we see him revealed in the Word of God, while the lost often deal with

man as he is supposedly revealed in the fossils.

 

Anthropology usually considers the ancient man, the primitive, while sociology deals with more recent man. Anthropology deals with the makeup of man and how he existed in the primitive state, while sociology deals with how he exists in more recent time. Anthropology deals with the fossils, and archaeological evidence while sociology deals with the history books and visible evidence.

 

 

SOCIOLOGY AND THE BELIEVER

 

Carl Henry calls believers in this age to a balanced view of our own country. We are trying to understand what is going on in our nation with its spiritual decline, yet we really don’t know what is going on. The thought of “sociology” in a Bible Institute would horrify many people, yet how can we understand our nation, our world before God, until we understand what is going on in our nation and our world.

 

Henry mentions the fact that the American people are committed to a twentieth century idol — materialism — while we are boasting that there are forty million evangelicals in the country. The two facts are both true, yet a balance between the two really tells the story of America. (Carl F. H. Henry, “The Christian Mindset In A Secular Society,” Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1984, p 9-10)

 

We don’t understand our own nation and that lack of understanding comes from a basic lack of knowledge of what is going on in our nation. We need to understand that we may well be part of the problem.

 

The believer must understand that he or she is an integrated part of the world society, the free world society, the American society, the regional society (east coast, mid-west, west coast), the state society, the county society, the city society, the neighborhood society, the church society, and the family society. If we do not understand these relationships, then we understand not the ministry that God has set before us.

 

Within all of these different societies, we have responsibilities as part of those societies. If we are part of these societies, and if we are a part of the problem within these societies, then we are also a part of the remedy needed by these societies. Indeed, isn’t that what we are all here for, to learn what God has to say to us so that we may in turn teach those societies.. If We Are Not About This Christian, Then We Are Not About Our Fathers Business.

 

Before we move on, I want to warn you that what I am going to be talking about, may well sound like Secular Humanism, but I assure you that it is not. Secular Humanism has some good points to which we as Christians react negatively because we reject all of their teachings rather than realize that they might have something to say to us.

 

 

We tend to reject all that anyone says even if we disagree only with a part of their thought. How many of you support Greenpeace the environmental group? Very few, but they are trying to do something that all of society should be involved in. We reject their message quite often because they act illegally at times, and most of them look like leftovers from the 60’s hippie generation.

 

Let’s take a look at all this: Let’s look at this section through the eyes of the great commission.

 

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:19-20

 

In light of the Lord’s command we need to view society and all of its subdivisions.

 

World Society: We are responsible to assist nations that are in need of help. If we neglect that, we neglect the teaching of the Lord in the concept of compassion and love for our neighbor. We as an individual can do little, yet we can do what we can, and that is the responsibility.

 

Free World Society: We have a responsibility to see to it that the freedoms that we enjoy continue for ourselves, but also for everyone to which we can extend those freedoms. We should also be a part of seeing to it that others do not loose those freedoms.

 

If the different countries do not remain free, there normally is no Gospel witness. The early church was able to spread so easily to the known world due to the fact that there was freedom of movement and communication of the believers. They could go anywhere they wanted with their message.

 

American Society: We are responsible to the federal government for obedience, support and participation. We as believers have not been active enough in government in past years. We have assumed that separation of church and state meant no participation in government by believers. That

is wrong. Believers are to be a part of their government in more than voting and paying taxes.

 

 

We are not to be, as some of the reconstructionists are attempting to do, set up the millennial kingdom here in the USA. We are to be light and salt

in whatever walk of life we enter into. If you become a government official, then be a Christian official and be light and salt in your position.

 

Regional Society: There may not be much to do in this section other than participate in any way that you can. While living in the Northwest in the 70’s the economic crunch hit the USA but it translated into fewer homes being built, which translated into less lumber being purchased which translated into disaster for Oregon which had an economy that was based almost totally on lumber. There was little I could do as a believer other than to be supportive of those that were hurting due to the layoffs etc.

The church needed to be sensitive to the needs physical of those that were around them.

 

State Society: Again we deal with the government and the part that the believer ought to be playing in it.

 

County Society: You might have county government as well as the helping of people in need. You need to be sensitive to the lost people of that area, an area that you personally could easily evangelize yourself.

 

City Society: There may be city government, PTA etc. that you can get involved in. You certainly have the evangelistic responsibility. You may have business or employee relationships that need to be understood.

 

Neighborhood Society: You should be involved in peoples lives that are this near to you. Helping them, witnessing to them, being friends to them and all these are answered in being friends.

 

Church Society: Realize that there is church government and you are responsible before God for how you respond to it. You have your gift/gifts that you should be using within the local church. You should receive the encouragement and strength that you need from this community. You also should be sharing in these areas, as well as the financial area to edify the body of believers, of which you are a part.

 

So often when I talk to people that have left a church, their reasons are that they are getting nothing from the church. The real question is what have they been doing for the church. If they are totally involved in the church, and working with their gifts their own needs quite often are met via their involvement. Lack of involvement can often result in lack of the church ministering to the individual.

 

Family Society: We know that there is a government of types in the family. That structure is important for the proper functioning of the family. There is the caring for, the support of, the encouragement of, and all those things that are a part of the family society.

 

If you look at the Bible for ideas in society you will find that It presents the family as the basic unit from which all of the other societies develop. Abraham was the foundation for the whole of the Jewish nation and actually was to be the foundation of the whole of society. If the Jews had done their job properly, and if the Christians were doing their job correctly, then the world would be much more toward the society that God envisioned, a society of Godly people. Yes, that is idealistic to say that the world should be Godly, but that was what God had in mind when He gave Adam and Eve the command to go out and be fruitful.

 

It is man’s self-centeredness that has brought the world to where it is today. We all are doing our own thing, rather than the Lord’s thing, and many people are dieing in their lost state because of our failure.

 

SOCIOLOGY AND THE PASTOR

 

Just how can the concept of sociology help the pastor? Mark Henry in his first chapter has two sentences, which to me, sum up a whole bunch of the problem with our nation, our church, and our families. “Man’s lack of commitment to God means his inevitable spiritual enslavement to the world….” (P 10) “The Fact that human liberty is divorced increasingly from supernatural accountability may well become our national undoing.” (P 11)

 

Please Write Those Down. They Are Important For You To Be Able To Understand Our Nation And Our Church And Our Families. If you miss this you will not understand what is going on in your church. We as believers are not committed to God. We as believers are enslaved to the world. We as believers are free to do as we please — we have our rights. We as believers reject the thought that we owe anything to God.

 

 

Understand these items and you understand why pastors are moving every 18 months to find better paying churches. I recently picked up a financial statement in a church of about 125 and their pastor was receiving a total of over $31,000 a year. This was in Wyoming. Their pastor is new. The last one only lasted about 16 months.

 

Understand these items and you understand why missionaries are taking longer to raise their support than to gain their education. Understand these items and you understand why fundamental churches are dead today.

 

If the pastor does not understand the progression of society then he won’t understand the goings on of his church. Example: Cliques. If the rich

people begin to gather unto themselves and the middle class and the poor do the same, then there will be natural divisions that will occur in the church. This is not necessarily bad, but it can be very bad.

 

How do you overcome these growing divisions Pastor? Teaching the principle of equality within the believers. Holding area Bible studies instead of Sunday evening or Wed. evening services, and be sure there is a good mixture of rich, middle, and poor in each group.

 

As society changes, so changes the church today. We follow along with the changes of society very nicely. This is not a correct view to hold, but it is an observable fact that you need to realize. The truth of the Word, however holds forth a different concept. The Bible seems to show, As The Church Changes, So Changes The Society. As we get our act together, we will affect the society.

 

That is about the exact opposite of what we see today in most fundamental churches. If a new fad or custom hits the USA, the church will soon have incorporated it into their activities.

 

The charismatic movement got into the “chorus” craze and the fundamentalists and evangelicals are now right in the middle of it. The world tells our women that they must be beautiful and so the church has spawned aerobics that use the music we condemn in the sanctuary. The church has brought in the color tests to develop your “true” beauty. etc.

 

There is another aspect to understanding society that we need to look at briefly in the context of a pastor/pastor’s wife. You may not know it, but within our own country there are many subsocieties and cultures. You may move to a different part of the country to pastor a church. You may wake up the first morning in your new town to find that you don’t know anything about the people that have called you to minister to them.

 

Don’t blunder into a new church and think that you know everything about what the people need. You may not. You may run headlong into problems that you have never imagined. One example that might help you understand this. My wife and I went to North Carolina to visit her sister and husband. We noticed tobacco growing everywhere. Almost every property had little patches. We went to church on Sunday morning and found that the Christian society in which we were, saw nothing wrong with tobacco. Most of the people in the church grew it and from the smell of the church most of them used it as well. Tobacco smoke smell was throughout the church building and as people were leaving after the services they were also lighting up.

 

Now, if you take a Southern Baptist Church to pastor, you may well have many transplanted southerners in your church, even if it is in Oregon. Faith and I attended a Southern Baptist Church in Hawaii and the southerners were the majority. Between Sunday School and church the outside of the church had so much smoke rolling up from the sides that you would think that the building was on fire. You will have to be careful how you deal with the problem of smoking. I am not saying don’t deal

with the problem, but I am saying be very careful how you attempt to deal with it. You do not want to offend, you do not want to drive away, and you do not want to look for a new church.

 

SOCIOLOGY AND THE MISSIONARY

 

I guess the classic story of the missionary that had just arrived in his new country of ministry, and his first visit with church people will suffice to illustrate the importance of understanding the society that you are going to.

 

A missionary had arrived, and one of the veteran workers was taking the man around to meet the people of the church. As the new arrival would enter a home he would want to talk to the people so he would say something complimentary about their home. He would pick out some item and mention, “Oh that is beautiful.” or “That is very nice.” When he did this, the people would give him the item. Finally after several incidents of this sort the new worker became confused. He asked the veteran missionary why the people were giving him gifts, but not giving the older worker gifts. The older man explained that the unknowing arrival had been asking for the gifts. In the society they were in, if someone complimented you on something it is your duty to give that item to them. Understand The Society That You Minister To.

 

We could invest an entire book on this topic, and how we could improve the church and our personal witness, but we do not have a semester. I trust that this will suffice to interest you in getting to know the society that you are getting involved in.

 

One final illustration to prove to you that the society that you live in may differ greatly from the one that you want to interact with.

 

It is quite obvious that males and females are different in social and mental ways. Surveys have been done that prove this. Emory S. Bogardus, “Sociology,” New York: The Macmillan Co., 1954, pp 74-74 did a survey of 869 10th, 11th, 12th graders in 1950’s. The students were asked to rate items of desirability in their friend of the opposite sex.

 

The girls desired the boy to be a good conversationalist, but the boys did not care about that point. The girls did not rate looks in their top ten, but the boys rated it number three. Differences exist.

 

We need to understand that all people are different, both sexes are different, and that the sexes are different in different parts of the world.

 

To properly minister in your future years you must Understand Those That You Would Minister To.[1]

 


[1] Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. (n.d.). DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.

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