The other day I took a few moments to look at one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. Romans is a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Rome. Romans 12:2 reads as follows in most english translations…
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed but the renewing of your mind that you might be able to tell that which is the good and perfect will of God.”
When I stopped to take a moment and look at the original greek, it was different. It didn’t say “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world…” It said, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this aeon.”
Who cares, right? World or aeon. These are just simple words.
Yes, they are words, but words carry meaning… And meaning carries massive implications.
In the New Testament, especially in the letters we have from the apostle John, “world” is an interesting term. Most commonly, he uses “world” to include anything that is against the rule of God or in opposition to God directly. To carry such a meaning over to Paul isn’t necessarily bad. To be encouraged to “not be conformed to the habits of those who are against God” certainly sounds as good and pious advice.
But again, that is not what it says… A better translation would say aeon, not world.
Aeon is where we get the word eon. It infers an “age” or “era,” and in a startling way, it calls more into question than just John’s understanding of “the world.”
Social theories state that there is something known as group-think. That when there is a collection of individuals together, sometimes a few may make decisions that the rest may follow because they do not want to be left out. This then can gather traction, can snowball into a giant movement that is difficult to stop or defy. But the fact that Paul says aeon, leads me to question if there is such a thing a aeon-think. This is much larger than group-think and even has further implications beyond that.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this aeon,” sounds very much like “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this era.” What fascinates me is that era includes not merely “the world” that acts against God, but perhaps also the Church that says “we are doing the work of God.”
Group-think in a church is still group-think. Perhaps that is why Paul talks about aeons of time rather than social spheres.
It may be the Christian calling to be the oddity. To be the one on the fringes. To be the fool or the idiot who doesn’t follow the thinking, the habits or the patterns of their day and age. The world needs people who do not think like it, just as the church needs people who do not think like it.
Personally, I am always skeptical of movements with large numbers of people, whether in or outside of the church. Group-think, Church-think, aeon-think can each have the ability to become avalanches if left unchecked or left without critique.
A number of years ago I heard of a Mennonite church that had a board of elders who would gather to make decisions for their community. It was a small church, so the board only had 10 individuals on it. However, whenever they came to a vote and the first 9 voted in solidarity on an issue, the 10th was bound by pious obligation to vote against the majority. This was then taken as a “tabling motion” whether they would delay that vote until the 10th member would go and do a sufficient amount of research to support their opposing vote. This 10th member would then return in a week’s time and present their findings and supports for the dissenting vote. Ultimately, they may still have the majority vote the second time around, but at least they did their due diligence to make certain they were not falling into group-think.
So, if anything, may I encourage you to not think like everyone else, do not dress like everyone else, do not have the same habits as everyone else… It may just be your holy duty to do so.