Have you ever had an experience like this?
Your new at St Michael’s, and the 7pm gathering has finished for another week. The lights go off, and your “strongly encouraged” to head over to the hall for Supper. When you get there music is playing, food is served and most people are standing around talking. This seems like a nice place. As your eyes adjust to the light, you feel your heart racing… Where do I go? Who do I talk to?
You try the first group of people. Deep breath… You introduce yourself and they are friendly enough. They tell you their names, ask about you, but quickly return to talking about their weekends or some sport called “Football”. You try again with a different group… same thing, different topic.
That’s it! I am out of here. This place is way to Cliquee!
Or maybe this?
Every Saturday afternoon a group of people meet at the local park to play sport. You want to join them but you don’t know where it is or how to get invited. You know somehow, that you can’t invite yourself. But you also know you can’t ask to join in, especially because of what people might say about you…
Two experiences of the same thing, what many of us call a “clique”.
As C.S. Lewis has written, cliques are not ‘…evil [and] certainly unavoidable, [for] there must be confidential discussions and personal friendships’. But ‘..the desire which draws us into Inner Rings (or cliques) is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous’.
What is a clique?
A clique can be defined as, ‘…a small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them’. Some important things to note:
- A clique is a “close-knit group”. As Lewis notes above, there is nothing wrong with having a close-knit group of friends. Even Jesus himself had three close friends amongst the twelve disciples (Mark 9:2).
- “who do not readily allow others to join them”. Nevertheless when a clique forms they are generally, by their nature, closed to others joining them. A number of reasons maybe given for excluding others such as; the loss of intimacy between the group, the groups dynamics, the “history” of the group or even fear of change.
As Christians though how should we think about cliques? Is there an appropriate place for cliques in our community life and even in our personal relationships?
We start by thinking about God as “Trinity”.
As Christians we believe in one God (Duet. 6:4) who has revealed himself in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Each person of the Trinity is a genuine person who relates to the other. Significantly, this means that the God who creates, is also a God who is personal and relational.
As we read the New Testament we see that the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity is so intimate and strong that each understands the thinking and values of the other two, and therefore commits themselves to achieving the plans and purposes of the other.
This means that the community between the Trinity is of one mind and one heart. And their love for each other is understood as a commitment to please the other (cf. John 14) which embodies graciousness and humility.
We see God’s love in its final and total expression in the love of Jesus. Jesus humbled himself and was obedient even to death (Phil. 2:5-11) dying to save his enemies (Rom. 5:1-11). The essential pattern of personal relationships established within the Trinity, is best described and understood then as a ‘mutual love relationship’.
We are made in God’s image yet affected by sin.
As human beings made in the image of God, we to are personal and relational beings. As we see in the garden of Eden, before the fall in Genesis 3, God’s creatures delight in Him, delight in their fellow beings and delight in the created order. This is a model for us of a “community of mutual love”. To love our neighbour as God intended then, is to be committed to their good and to strive to satisfy their needs and desires.
However, when sin enters the world through Adam it affects all our relationships. As Paul reminds us in Romans 1, by our sin we reject God’s rule over us (ungodliness) and also His order within creation (wickedness). As we think about our human relationships and the place and affect of sin, it can be described like this:
Humans will not graciously commit themselves utterly and totally to the good of others. They may be willing to do good at points, but not in the total way required by God. God must set about redeeming the situation.
In the Old Testament we see God working for redemption through His establishment of a covenant with Abraham and through the Law of Moses. Ultimately though, we see the affects of sin and the fall reversed in the new covenant through our Lord and Saviour Jesus.
Jesus’ love transforms.
Through his life and death on the cross, Jesus restores sinners to a relationship with God the Father (Rom. 3:21-26, 1 Peter 3:18) and teaches us again what true love is (1 John 3:16). This eternal and steadfast love is ultimately the basis for our justification and righteousness.
Additionally, our new identity and salvation “in Christ” affects our relationship with our neighbour. Through our baptism in Christ (Rom. 6), and our putting off the old self (Col. 3), we put on the new self and ultimately “the love of Christ” (Col. 3:14). As Christians then our love is to imitate God’s love in Christ. We are to do good to all people, especially to other Christians (Gal. 6:10). Moreover, we are to be patient and kind (1 Cor. 13:4) as well as humble (Matt. 18:1-4). Within the Christian community, where all have been transformed, love is to be mutual (Rom. 12:10).
Thinking again about cliques.
Our heavenly Father’s desire is for his people to live and worship together in what I have called “communities of mutual love”. The model for this love, comes from the mutual love relationships between the Trinity. This love expresses itself in a commitment to the good of the other, to please them and to embody grace and humility. In this way, we learn that love towards God is expressed in love towards our neighbour. We must remember though, that mutual love relationships are not something that we can do ourselves. Sin has corrupted the possibility to do “the good” for others. It is only through our redemption in Jesus, and the ongoing work of the Spirit, that mutual love relationships can become a reality.
As we think about our church community and personal relationships this has some important implications:
- We are created in God’s image as personal and relational beings. It is entirely appropriate to have close friends whom we associate with and have common interests.
- However, when these relationships become “closed” they can create alienation and division, which is neither God’s desire or plan. To create a clique and therefore to exclude another person, is to effectively disobey God and his purposes for his people. Which, in the context of Romans 1 is ungodliness and wickedness.
- As Christians then we are to consider our neighbour and securing their “good” above our own, this ultimately pleases God the Father and gives glory to Jesus as we follow his example.
- Mutual love binds us to each other and forms our community. Knowing that someone is personally committed to your good in an unconditional way brings joy that is greater than all other goods. It is through this love and joy together, that Gospel community is created.
- Finally, sin will continue to affect our relationships and our ability to love as we should. Consequently, our relationships will only be sustained through the practices of repentance and forgiveness as we love each other as Christ has loved us.
Thinking about this for yourself:
- When have you experienced both the good and the bad side of a clique? How have these experiences shaped you as a Christian person?
- Jesus is our example of mutual love. What do you find most confronting about Jesus’ life and teaching, especially regrading love for our neighbors?
- Do you think it is important to be friends (not in a Facebook way) with everyone from your church gathering? What makes you think this?
- What does it mean for you to be a part of our community of “mutual love”?