True independence

Independence! How sweet the sound! Each one of the 236 countries listed by the United Nations cherishes the concept of national independence, even when local autonomy is the only practical goal in some of the smaller nations. Through the centuries, millions have given their lives to secure self-government for their homelands. Almost every city of any size in Latin America has a street named Independencia or bears the name of the date when the country gained its independence. Practically every country has a city or a state named after its hero of independence.

Freedom is one of the five basic psychological needs of human beings, along with love and three kinds of approval from others. Especially in the years of adolescence is it important to develop a separate identity. Even churches seek to establish their identities by achieving independence from a larger religious body. I have sat in committees where local Seventh-day Adventist congregations, conferences, and even unions have debated the need for independence, at least in certain matters, from the world church headquarters and its policies.

The academic world values independence when it gives examinations based on the honor system, with the teacher absent from the room. It stresses intellectual independence when theses and dissertations are checked for possible plagiarism, conscious or unconscious. However, it values dependence when researchers are encouraged to provide footnotes and bibliographies acknowledging other sources of information, going back to generations past.

For the Christian, that dependence reaches beyond history. “We can trace the line of the world’s teachers as far back as human records extends; but the Light was before them. As the moon and the stars of our solar system shine by the reflected light of the sun, so, as far as their teaching is true, do the world’s great thinkers reflect the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. Every gleam of thought, every flash of the intellect, is from the Light of the world.”1

Our only secret of survival in a hostile world lies in exercising our freedom to choose the source of genuine power. Christian life is a constant dependence on a power outside our own. Paradoxically, that is the secret of independence, of being free from the control of the world around us. Paul speaks of it in terms of renewal: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good” (Romans 12:2, Phillipps).

Jesus illustrated the independence-dependence motif in the parable of the vine. “‘I am the true vine,’ He says. Instead of choosing the graceful palm, the lofty cedar, or the strong oak, Jesus takes the vine with its clinging tendrils to represent Himself. The palm tree, the cedar, and the oak stand alone. They require no support. But the vine entwines about the trellis, and thus climbs heavenward. So Christ in His humanity was dependent upon divine power.”2

Here is the most important relationship of dependency: “There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, by putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God.”3 “If all were willing, all would be filled with the Spirit. Wherever the need of the Holy Spirit is a matter little thought of, there is seen spiritual drought, spiritual darkness, spiritual declension and death. Whenever minor matters occupy the attention, the divine power which is necessary for the growth and prosperity of the church, and which would bring all other blessings in its train, is lacking, though offered in infinite plenitude.”4

Of John the Baptist we are told, “He could stand erect and fearless in the presence of earthly monarchs, because he had bowed low before the King of kings.”5 His bold independence was derived from his dependence on God’s grace and power. True freedom bows itself in submission to the One who is the Author of life and authentic freedom.

Charles Taylor (Ph.D., University of Maryland), a former director of the General Conference Education Department, serves as a statistician for Adventist Global Mission. His address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, MD 20904; U.S.A.

Notes and references

  1. Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1952), pp. 13, 14.
  2. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1940), pp. 674, 675.
  3. Ibid., pp. 250, 251.
  4. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1911), p. 50.
  5. The Desire of Ages, p. 103.