Early in our beginning learning, we learn “to count.” But in fact, we learn “a way to count.” The way we all learned:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
is the way we count in what is called Base 10, or in the “Decimal System.” In Latin, decem means 10, hence the name for counting based on tens. “What!?!” you may say, what other way is there to count? Well, we use lots of other ways.
In carpentry, for example, we use Base 12 counting. 12 inches equal one foot. When you get to 12 inches you don’t continue with inch 13, you usually start over with 12’ 1″, then 12’ 2″, etc. Trying to use decimal thinking in addressing feet and inches is very awkward and doesn’t work very well. In fact, when you try to move between systems, it is usually not seamless. You wind up with awkward things like 4 inches = .333333333333333333333333333333333 (with additional 3’s ad nauseam, still only getting close – never actually reaching an exact depiction of 1/3 of a foot).
People who spend a lifetime in numbers of one system get thoroughly pickled in it. When they have to operate in another system, it is actually easier to function with dualism – that is simultaneously holding two systems, rather than trying to incorporate some kind of mental paradigm that reconciles the two things together. For example, no one speaks of tenths of an hour or tenths of a foot. We either speak of feet and inches, or tens of other things, like dollars.
In England, there used to be a system of Pence, Shillings, and Pounds. In an effort to harmonize things with the metric system on the continent, they moved to a decimal system with 100 Pence in a Pound. The result, was a tremendous rise in prices for two reasons. First, people were so confused they no longer knew how much they were paying for things. They were used to X shillings and X pence (with shillings often referred to as “bob”). When the decimal system was introduced, they were not able to quickly figure out “How much is that really?” I can remember moving back to the States after Seminary in England. For quite a while, I had to convert prices into Pounds and Pence to know how much something actually cost.
The second reason was “rounding.” When something was “three for a Pound,” it was impossible to get things exactly 33.3333 Pence, so they just rounded up, often rounding up tremendously. Something that should have been 33.3333 Pence, wound up being a lot more, in some cases maybe 50 Pence, or 50 P.
The two things caused a good deal of inflation for a number of years, as prices rose but wages didn’t.
What possible relevance does this have to the Kingdom of God, you may well ask. In life, we are faced with descriptors of Kingdom Life and of secular culture. Everyone is born in a fallen state into a fallen culture. We don’t have to go out and learn how to sin. There is a distortion of our “internal navigation gyro” that causes us to miss the mark. Thankfully, some of those who have gone before us have preserved and proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom. When we hear the Good News of Christ and receive Him we can be born of the Kingdom. Following that, we need to be instructed in the way of the Lord. In some cases, of course, we are brought up in the faith, but it can be difficult for children to identify the difference between the values of the Kingdom and the values of the world.
If discipleship is inadequate, then many people simply hold a dualistic approach, simultaneously believing some things of the Kingdom of God and some things of the order of the world. Faced with the challenge of applying Kingdom values to everyday life, they find it challenging, so they live a bifurcated life with some things faithful to the Kingdom and some things following the ways of the world. This is powerfully present in several areas, but perhaps the most significant two are with money and sex. Many people claim fidelity to God and to His Word, and yet treat their money as their own, and spend it without regard to Biblical principles. Others, may be very active in pursuing Christian life in many areas, but when it comes to their sexuality, they follow the rhythms of the world rather than the clear teaching of the Kingdom. As a result we find people who are active in worship, Bible study, and even going on mission trips, but they are also active in sexual intimacy outside marriage.
Dualism also extends to other areas of Church life. Another area has to do with the orientation and purpose of the Church. It is tragically common to find church leaders focusing on maintenance rather than true mission.
What I have found helpful are my older friends in Africa who remember things like the East African Revival which really started to grow in the first half of the 1900’s, or the Biafran Revival which started in the late 1960’s and has spread through much of Nigeria. What they said was, “The way we lived was so empty, when we came to Christ, we set aside the things of the past.” They embraced God’s word as authoritative, repenting from sin, and sharing their faith openly. They didn’t try to hold the culture that they had inherited at the same time they held Kingdom values. They chose the Kingdom. It is far less confusing, and far more satisfying.
In the West, many people attempt a kind of “Christian dualism,” where they pursue home Bible study and Sunday worship, but shape part of their lives to live in concert with the culture. That is particularly true with the area of sexuality. All kinds of studies show that huge and troubling percentages of Mainline Denominational Christians are doing just that. That is true of the leaders as well as the members. The arguments they have believed have been the ones they have heard from the culture. They are not the result of healthy debate testing the assumptions of the culture against the plumb line of Scripture. They are Christians, unformed by the Church, but molded by the culture. Sadly, heterodox practice leads away from the redeeming love of Christ. The consequences of that are eternal and devastating.
Once again, without falling into a false romantic notion of the Global South Church, we in the West should learn from them in how they treat the Bible and culture. It is very simple. When the culture conflicts with Scripture, the faithful ones choose the Biblical way. Sometimes that is costly and painful, but ultimately, it is less painful than going the way of the perishing culture.
Bishop Bill Atwood is Bishop of the ACNA International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author.