The System Is No Better Than the People Using It

The System Is No Better Than the People Using It

Some of this is half-baked, but I need the discipline of writing it down to get greater clarity. So here are thoughts on a tangent of the #MeToo moment.

Ours is a day of applied technology in the broadest sense. Simultaneous with the expansion of individual human rights, there’s been a dramatic decrease in moral expectations placed on individuals. The burden is now on methods, systems, technologies. God is no longer revered, but the autonomous individual is nearly sacrosanct in the sense that he is rarely considered the problem. This is so much the case that individual failings are ascribed to faulty systems or methods. It’s especially apparent in the #MeToo movement where some women who have been victims assume the solution to the moral failings of individual men is in the structure in which they live and work, rather than in the men themselves. The most extreme version of this, held by some, is that masculinity itself, as a system and social construct, must be done away with.

The Church has long made the same mistake. Think of E.M. Bounds’ famous line, written in the 19th century: “the Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.” There’s always been a reluctance, on the part of believers and non-believers alike, to own up to the fact that the problem with the system may well be the people using it. Bounds goes on to say that God’s way is to make much of the individual, and makes the wise point that the Holy Spirit does not indwell methods, but men. What he means is we cannot separate the history of Redemption from the stories of individuals. It’s impossible to think of the Covenant apart from Abraham, the Exodus apart from Moses, the conquest of Canaan apart from Joshua, the monarchy apart from David, the birth of the Lord apart from Mary, and so on.

Scripture teaches the opposite of the current cultural trend. The Church—God’s “system” for embodying Christ on Earth—pivots on individuals. So Paul warned leaders, “keep a close watch on yourself” (1 Tim 4:16); the first officers chosen by the Church were admired men “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5); elders were chosen with even greater care (1 Tim 3:1-7), a scrupulousness that was then applied to deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13); and one that Paul applied to himself (“…lest I myself should be disqualified” 1 Cor 9:27). Rather than the quality of the individual deriving from the system, the system derives its quality from the individual.