Weekly Reflections: A theology of non-conformity


“Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God – what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.” — Romans 12:1-2

A great contradiction

To claim as the only Christian nation in Asia, yet the second most corrupt in the region is a great contradiction. Thus, many Filipino Christians felt disillusioned by this startling reality. Why is it that there seem to be a big gap between Christian faith and practice in our country today? Where have we failed as believers in Christ? Perhaps, it is not that we are too much involved in social issues as some people are saying rather we are involved too little.

Or, to put it in another way, perhaps our social involvement does not really address seriously the issues affecting the lives of our people, or worse still, our social participation is perhaps supportive directly or indirectly to the system of corruption in our country. Actually, the issue is not whether or not we are involved in social issues, for we cannot really do away with it as social beings. Social involvement is very much part of our life. Rather the more important issue is what kind of social involvement we have. Apparently, our Christian values, principles and practice have not really permeated our social life as a nation. Rather, we have allowed the system of greed, selfishness and evils of this world to shape our life and destiny as a people.

Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans (12:1-2) would give us timely reminders on how we should involve ourselves in the world in which we live. He seems to be talking about what we may call a theology of non-conformity. What are the basic elements of this kind of this theology?

Living sacrifices

Apostle Paul would suggest first of all that we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. The practice of offering sacrifices to the gods has a pagan origin. In the ancient fertility cults, animals and even infants were killed and sacrificed as burnt offerings to appease the gods and goddesses in order to have plentiful harvest.

Offering sacrifices to the gods and goddesses is still practiced even today albeit in a different form. For instance, the crimes and killings committed everyday throughout the land are actually dead sacrifices offered at the modern altars of the idols of death.

What Apostle Paul is saying to us is that we should offer ourselves, not other people, as living, not as dead, sacrifices to the Living God, and not to the idols of death. It is quite easy to offer sacrifices as long as we are not the ones being sacrificed. But Apostle Paul is telling us that to be living sacrifices to God, we have to dedicate ourselves to God’s service and live a life pleasing to Him.

Perhaps, we still remember Sajid Tansi Bulig, that boy who dove again and again into the dead Bocaue River sometime ago to save other boys and girls like him from drowning, after the Pagoda that carried a horde of devotees of the Virgin Mary turned on its side and fell into the water. About a hundred died that day. Among them would have been six more boys and girls, had there not been a boy named Sajid Tansi Bulig. As it was, among the dead was Sajid Tansi Bulig himself. In the end, the boy who tried to save others was too tired to save himself.

Now, we would never know exactly what made Sajid Tansi Bulig do it. Maybe it was the instinct to fly to the side of the wounded. Maybe it was the cry of the dying which rang in his ears as deafening as the voice of God Himself. Maybe it was nobility humanity always dreams about but seldom ever achieve. Whatever it may be, it is no accident that Sajid Tansi Bulig’s life is a living sacrifice. His act of utter selflessness is all the more dazzling for rising out of a land reeking with selfishness and cynicism. As one writer says, Sajid Tansi Bulig did not just take the road not taken. He took the road from which no one returns. And for at least six boys and girls, if not a forgetful nation, he has made all the difference. Apostle Paul says, “Offer yourselves a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him” (v.1). Indeed, what a big difference would be, if we would take seriously Apostle Paul’s suggestion.

Be not conformed

Moreover, Apostle Paul is also saying to us, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The French philosopher and writer, Voltaire, once remarked that humankind generally speaking tends to fall into two classes – those who make history and those who are made by history, those who are creators of fact and those who are creatures of circumstances, those who put color to their environment and those who take color from their environment.

To which class of people do we belong? Is society molding us more than we are molding society? Are we conforming to the world and its ways or are we being transformed by the renewing of our mind?

One of the social issues being discussed today is the graft and corruption in the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). Former BIR Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato said onetime that it is quite impossible to clean up the BIR of graft and corruption without serious formation of Christian life and values among the BIR employees.

In other words, Commissioner Chato was, in effect, saying that in order to eliminate or even minimize graft and corruption in the BIR, the employees must not be conformed to this world and its ways, but be transformed by the renewing of their mind. This, I believe, can be said not only of BIR, but also of Philippine society as a whole.

Natural history tells us that the animals that became vertebrates, that acquired a spinal column and a backbone, were the non-conformists. The rest continued as jellyfish or became clams – a static species. Also, human history tells us the same. No one ever became a truly great person by running along with life, accommodating himself to his environment, yielding to social pressures.

One of the lessons taught in the chapter after chapter of Arnold Toynbee’s Study of History is that those civilizations that survive and endure do so because they have leaders who step out into the wind and accept the challenge of the storm. One of the most masterly speeches ever delivered by the late Bishop William Temple was from first to last a plea for non-conformity, an appeal to the members of the Christian church not to take their character from their environment, but to put character into it.

Perhaps, one of the best commentaries of non-conformity recorded in the Bible is the story of the three Hebrew young people by the name of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel (chapter 3). Emperor Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian Empire was a dictator. He set up a huge golden image on the plains of Dura, and commanded all his subjects to prostrate themselves before it. The people flocked out to do his bidding, but not Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

From these three young people came words of moral idealism and spiritual defiance that has a living message to this day, “Your Majesty,” they said, “we will not defend ourselves. If the God whom we serve is able to save us… then he will. But even if he does not… we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up” (Dan. 3:15-18). They were non-conformists. They would neither bow nor bend. Why? Because their lives were organized around a strong conviction, and their strength and stamina were derived from God.

If we want not to take our character from our environment, but to put character into it as Bishop Temple says, we need to draw on spiritual resources greater than our own. God can strengthen us in our inner life if we open it daily to His influence. And so, Apostle Paul reminds us, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This is a theology of non-conformity. # nordis.net


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