By Pastor David M. Choi
Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. -Psalm 12:1
Group settings are always a dangerous place to be, as individuals often conform themselves to the larger group’s behavior. This is what social psychologists call a herd mentality, that is, when an individual’s behavior is largely driven by unchecked emotions rather than reason or logic.
Reinhold Niebuhr, a twentieth century theologian, speaks to this in his early magnum opus, Moral Man and Immoral Society. There he observes how Christians are most inclined to sin and spiritual compromise once they come together as a group. Why? Because it’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, and to fall back on the group’s – or church’s – behavior as an excuse for their own (e.g. “Well everyone else is [or isn’t] doing it!”)
Indeed, we tend to view the church as a place of spiritual safety. Yet this insight tells us something different, namely, that the church can be a place of deep spiritual hazard as well. How so?
By allowing the current spiritual temperature of the church to dictate the spiritual temperature of our own individual lives. For instance, when we don’t show up to prayer meetings because no one else does; when we don’t desire to lift our hands in worship because no one else is raising their hands; when we don’t read scripture because we are without assurance that other people are doing so; and when we don’t care to become baptized because everyone else seems to be complacent with where they’re at. (Though it can also be the reverse, that is, when we do all these things simply because everyone else is doing them.)
Be honest. Is this what your faith looks like? That is, are you the sort of Christian whose walk with Christ solely depends on what everyone else is, or isn’t, doing? If so, either your faith is nonexistent or you desperately need to grow up.
For when we slip into this sort of herd mentality, the faithful begin to vanish. What we end up with is a church whose faith is based upon emotions and crowd conformity rather than Christ’s love and our obedience to Him. Here discipleship is premised on social acceptance and/or apathy, as opposed to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts. And the reason why this is so dangerous is because we often can’t tell the difference, especially when things seem good on the surface: we may think we’re on the road to life when in reality we’re on the road to death.
Thus, joining the Psalmist, we ask God to save us. We ask God to help us become the sort of people who will choose to be faithful instead of crowd-conforming, while knowing the difference. Indeed, we want to be Christians who lead by way of prayer and obedience; who follow Christ in steadfastness, especially when it is inconvenient, unpopular, or hidden from view; who boldly risk our social standing for the sake of the cross; who forsake our pride in order to embody Christ’s love, knowing full well that we will not be appreciated nor understood.
Let us not forget that it was the mob, caught up in the herd mentality, that ended up killing Jesus. Pilate asked the crowd what he should do with Jesus. They shouted, “Crucify him!” Perplexed by this, he asked them why, for Jesus had done no evil. But without having any reason, the crowd kept shouting, “Crucify him!”
Resisting the crowd may at times mean we also resist the church and its aberrant forms of behavior, or any attitude or practice that is spiritually and biblically disingenuous. For we must remember that we are not called to look like the church; we are first and foremost called to look like Christ, as we carry our cross and follow Him. So, will you pray when no one else prays? Will you serve when no one else serves? Will you love when no one else loves? Will you worship when no one else worships?
Ask yourself whether you’ve been crowd-conforming more than you’ve been Christ-conforming. Then consider what you specifically need to repent of (perhaps apathy, laziness, or complacency) so that you can be taken to greater heights of faithfulness and trust.