the weblog of Alan Knox

Considering Mutuality – Introduction

Posted by on Dec 14, 2009 in community, discipleship, edification, fellowship, service, unity, worship | 2 comments

According to one definition, mutuality is “a reciprocal relation between interdependent entities.” In fact, mutuality is directly related to a state of interdependency. For mutuality to exist between two or more individuals, the individuals involved must recognize that they depend upon one another.

Beginning a 1985 article, Leonard Swidler said:

What is the fundamental matrix within which humans must live if they are to lead mature lives? A simple, but momentous, question to which everyone has an answer, even if it is inarticulate or unconscious. In the contemporary world there are two very dominant but extremist answers abroad: individualism and collectivism. There are other, better, answers and in these reflections I want to put forward one that takes the best insights of the two extremes and puts them together in, I believe, a truly creative, humanizing way: mutuality. (“Mutuality: The Matrix for Mature Living,” Religion and Intellectual Life 3.1, Fall 1985, p. 105)

For the remainder of the article, Swidler considers mutuality from various perspectives: metaphysical, epistemological, psychological, and ethical. He concludes as follows:

How these principles of mutuality, relationality and dialogue, which are at the very foundation of our human existence, understanding and action, and hence at the core of our religiousness, are to be applied to the further building of the community of men and women is a matter of hard thinking, work and experience by many individuals and groups. Simply knowing these principles will not solve specific problems; they are myriad and unending. But knowing them should keep us from unconsciously resisting them – always to our distortion and destruction – and also provide us with starting points which orient us in the direction we need to move… (p. 119)

While Swidler’s article considers mutuality from the perspectives of metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, and ethics, for the past few years, I have been considering mutuality from a different perspective: Scripture. I have become convinced (as has Swidler according to the title of his article) that mutuality is the matrix through which Christians grow toward maturity in Jesus Christ.

In this short series that I’m calling “Considering Mutuality,” I will be considering what it would mean for the church to lead mutual lives, as opposed to independent or collectivist lives. Note, as Swidler says in the quote above, all of us relate to one another in some way, whether we are aware of it or not. For those who desire to mature in Jesus Christ, and if the way we interact with one another affects our maturity in Christ, then it is important for us to consider how we relate to one another instead of relying on our culture or personality to form our default manner of interaction.

Again, as Swidler says, this is a “a matter of hard thinking, work and experience by many individuals and groups.” I certainly don’t intend to answer all of my (or my readers’) questions concerning mutuality in this short series of posts. Instead, I hope that this series can help us all begin to ask questions concerning mutuality, and how our lives either demonstrate or hinder mutuality.

Furthermore, if you conclude – as I have – that mutuality should be a characteristic of both the individual believer and the church, I hope that this series will also help us begin to consider our own manners of interactions, and how we – individually and as a church – can begin to relate in a manner that better demonstrates our mutual relationships – our interdependence.


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  1. 12-14-2009

    John 15: 9 – 12
    “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

    The command to love “each other” is optimal mutuality. This call to mutuality flows from the godhead, “as the Father has loved me…”. Mutuality is a supernatural relationship designed by God. And we can do it!! (With His help.)

    Institutionalized faith has many substitutes for mutuality, specially in it’s pyramid orientation to leadership. The folks on the offering plate payroll are shepherds and the rest are sheep. This differentiation functions as a spiritual caste system somewhat like the Hindu’s have but with no reincarnation. God “calls” you into one caste or another. There is no mutuality from intelligent shepherd to wandering sheep. Shepherds can only have mutuality with other shepherds, etc.

    Leading by example is the most powerful teaching dynamic.
    Jesus: 1Peter 2:21 “leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
    Overseers: 1 Peter 5:3 “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

    Once a shepherd will not set an example of mutuality among the sheep, the sheep will not learn mutuality, no matter how much he preaches about “love one another”. You reap what you sow.

    The institutionalized form of preaching, which says that preaching is always a lecture or one-way communication, is the foundation of non-mutuality in the church. Mutuality can never be one-way communication. It is the exact opposite. Enough said for now.

  2. 12-15-2009


    Thanks for adding to this discussion!



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