Transformed by the Renewing of the Mind
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
According to management consultant Peter Drucker, an organization’s “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This principle applies to organizations of all sizes and types, both for profit and not-for-profit. If an organization’s internal culture largely dictates its overall effectiveness and future viability, then attending to the culture of a place is of primary importance, perhaps even more so than developing sophisticated strategies for success.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Put in simpler terms, an organization’s culture is “the way things are done around here.”
Throughout the pages of the New Testament, we get the picture that St. Paul and the other biblical writers were encouraging the people of the Church to strive toward one ultimate goal, namely, to become the unified body of Christ on earth, a diverse group of people unified by a distinct culture.
Writing to the church in Philippi, St. Paul said, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2).
Through a series of exhortations, St. Paul appealed for the body of Christ to become one body, a people sharing common attitudes, values, goals and practices. One people group with a common culture.
Paul and the other biblical writers knew this was a tremendous challenge in their own day and certainly must have suspected the body of Christ would always face challenges to oneness.
And so, St. Paul marked the path toward unity by issuing an exhortation: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2).
An exhortation is far stronger than an encouragement or recommendation, both of which appeal to one’s sense of collaboration. An exhortation is nothing less than a summons for obedience.
Writing to the Church in Rome, St. Paul issued his exhortations into a polytheistic culture. Romans citizens were free to believe in and follow as many gods as they desired as long as they also worshipped the Emperor, also known as the Imperial Cult, and left everyone else alone.
The ultimate sin in polytheism is exclusivity, especially the exclusive religious claims of Monotheism, or the worship of one God. The young Church in Rome met in houses around the city and faced the external cultural pressures of a polytheistic society.
There were also internal challenges that plagued the Church.
As the Church first formed, most Christians were Jewish Christians, who made up the leadership of the church. Thus, inherited Jewish customs largely shaped the culture of the early Church, which proved a challenge as Gentile Christians increasingly joined the Church’s ranks.
When Jews were banished from Rome in A.D. 49 by Emperor Claudius, the Church experienced an internal culture change as Gentile Christians filled the leadership vacuum left by departing Jewish Christian leaders. For a period of five years, the new Gentile leaders shaped the emerging culture of the Church.
When Jewish Christians returned, they found a Church steeped in an unfamiliar culture, one with different priorities, values and goals. Suddenly, the young Church now faced both external and internal challenges to its cultural identity.
In light of these changes, St. Paul frequently reminded the young Church of their shared “sacred ID” as baptized members of the body of Christ. Christ was at the center of their shared identification as members of One body, as those baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The way forward was to press on toward a transformation into One body through the transformation of the mind.
Transformation and renewal of the mind happens over time through the application of grace and truth. According to Strong’s Greek Concordance, “For the believer, the mind (vous) is the organ of receiving God’s thoughts, through faith.”
Thus, in order to discern God’s good, pleasing and divine will, the Church in St. Paul’s day, and in our day, must engage in a continuous act of transformation of the mind, of reason, both individually and corporately.
How does transformation of the mind happen? Principally, via three disciplines.
1. Reading. Sound theology and doctrine is extremely important in order to form the mind of Christ in individuals and groups. As the mind goes, so go the affections and so go behaviors. For this reason, St. Paul exhorted Timothy to keep to what he had learned from Paul “as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).
2. Listening. Ancient and contemporary voices in the world clamber for the attention of listening ears and open minds. Since listening is one way people take into themselves the thoughts, opinions and ideas of others, vetting the voices one allows to fill one’s ears is important. Check them out. What do they believe? What are their sources? Why should you listen to them?
3. Praying. In essence, prayer is being still before God in a posture of listening and speaking. Thus, through prayer, the Christian mind integrates with the indwelling Holy Spirit leading to the transformation of the reason, the affections and the heart.
As individual Christians are transformed over time through grace and truth, the Church, as both a living organism and dynamic organization, is molded into a culture of Oneness in Christ.