There is no individualized Christianity.
Yet you wouldn’t know it, especially in today’s Evangelicalism. Your own “personal Jesus” rules still. It’s the Church about Me, not about Us.
Almost all the language of the NT books following the Gospels accounts for a group, rather than individuals. Paul writes primarily to churches, and when he does write to individuals (such as Timothy), it’s mostly on how to care for a group of people. In Revelation, the Lord addresses churches when He reveals His praise and His correction. Consistently, the language of the NT possesses a bent toward the group.
There are some who would claim that the great difference between the Old Testament and New is that God’s power rested on Israel, a nation, in the Old Testament, but now that power dwells in individuals. However, this is a faulty interpretation. Today, God’s sufficient power dwells in the whole of the Body of Christ. First Corinthians 12 gives us the context for Body life:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
—1 Corinthians 12:14-19 ESV
Built on the idea of the power of the individual, America has fashioned an ideal lifestyle that says, “I can have what I want as long as I work for it.” The American Dream has little place for others, though, just my dream at the expense of anyone who should get in my way. Sadly, this American rugged individualism is at the core of everything we do. We abide by that unwritten rule, living with an understanding that cooperation will get us our basic needs, but if we truly want the best stuff, it’s every man for himself.
The Bible says this:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
—Isaiah 53:6 ESV
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.
—Proverbs 21:2 ESV
We are in love with our own way. Unfortunately, the Isaiah passage equates going one’s own way with going astray.
Mix the American Dream with modern Evangelicalism and you get a Christianity designed for individuals, not community. Well intentioned Christians advocate that we find God’s will for “my life.” We are told to insert our name into God’s promises to claim our destiny (even if those promises were to groups, not individuals). We receive a pseudo-Gospel focused on the individual, rather than the group.
As a result, we become a loose collection of body parts. It doesn’t take a visit to an abattoir to show the foolishness of that position, though. There is no life in a liver here, an ear there, and a box full of feet mixed in with disconnected hands.
When we were dead in our sins, we were individuals. But the whole point of dying to self at the cross is that we die to self. When we’re born again, we’re born into a community. Dead to sin—individual. Alive in Christ—community.
What if we start reading the Bible with an eye toward Us rather than Me?
Take a verse like Romans 8:28. We all know it, but I’ll include it in context anyway:
And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
—Romans 8:27-34 ESV
Note the language. It’s not about individuals here. It’s about the whole, the saints, the elect, many brothers, us—not self, not me.
Now how do you read Romans 8:28? Take a look at that word “those”. Isn’t the good supposed to exist within the group? Doesn’t it also make the “work” mentioned there something that operates within a group through a process, rather than to an individual through loosely connected happenstance?
When you read the Bible at your next quiet time, read with the intent of the Author. That intent is toward community, not individualism. If we’ve committed eisegesis here, it’s by reading American rugged individualism into everything the Bible says. When we do that, though, we miss God’s best, His radically great intentions for us all.
Our failure to understand the community language of faith has had devastating results:
- 1. We’ve lost entirely the idea of corporate sin, the kind of sin that OT Israel understood implicitly.2. We are unable to care for our own within our body because we have become too self-focused.
3. We’ve missed the entire point that God has chosen to work His will on Earth through the Body of Christ.
Israel comprehended “sin in the camp” but we have no clue how that applies today. When the concept of corporate sin is eliminated, we no longer account for the sins of the collective body of Christ. Another believer’s sin becomes his issue alone, and not mine. However, as the Bride of Christ, should we not ensure the purity of all our parts? When we don’t care about other churchgoers’ sin and the lifestyles they lead, we dishonor the whole Body, ourselves included.
Because we modern Christians fail to grasp the concept of corporate sin, we also absolve ourselves of the sins of systems. We rarely question systems for this reason, and that is not God’s intent that their sheer size and power should cow us into ignoring their sins. Think the corrupt Roman Catholic Church of Martin Luther’s day. Think ungodly business practices and governmental injustice in ours.
Is your church struggling? Start dealing with corporate sin.
Do you have life insurance? Health insurance? Does it cost a lot of money? Have you ever asked yourself why you have it?
The reason you have it is because you’ve been taught you can’t count on anyone but yourself to provide should disaster come. Certainly you can’t count on the church to provide for you. But that is not how the Bible reads:
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
—Acts 4:33-35 ESV
That’s the second most neglected passage in the Scriptures, folks. We Americans gloss over it instinctively. Remember, too, that the Early Church was getting this direction from the Holy Spirit and the words of the Scriptures as found in the Old Testament. If we are to provide for our families, and Christ has given us a new family in the Body of Christ, then we are worse than unbelievers when we fail to provide for that new family, the Church.
James puts it succinctly:
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
—James 2:15-16 ESV
That idea in James transitions into a final idea. Because we have eschewed the concept of a truly functioning whole body Church, we’ve forced God’s providential hand. How does God provide for people since the Ascension of the Lord? Through the Body of Christ. He has called us to a ministry, His ministry, to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and to work His work on the Earth. We are fellow laborers with Him as Paul writes in his letters to the Corinthians:
For we are God’s fellow workers.
—1 Corinthians 3:9a ESV
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
—2 Corinthians 6:1 ESV
Again, the Lord speaks through James:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
—James 1:27 ESV
Read all of Matthew 25, too.
Much like Satan tempted Christ to hurl himself off the temple spire, we tempt the Lord when we ignore our role in serving others within His Body and those who are yet to know Him. When the Lord has so ably equipped us to do His work and meet the needs of others, we’re wrong to expect Him to rain manna down on the hungry when He has charged us to feed them. Unmet needs within the Body of Christ are unmet because God told us to meet them with the riches He has already provided us, but we instead chose to expect Him to do it Himself. This is not to say that God does not provide supernaturally, but more often than not the provision is right in our own hands; we are simply unwilling to part with it.
We must eliminate this devilish idea that the Church is Me alone. It’s Us and always has been. When we finally burn our self-centeredness perhaps we will see Christ work in His Body the way He has always wanted, so that
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
—1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV
20 thoughts on “No “I” in “Church””
I’m feeling the neglect of dealing with corporate sin, there’s a heaviness in community when people aren’t able to show repentance of sins, (not everyone needs to know the details, but everyone needs to be able to support the strength of conviction in the decision to repent).
“Unmet needs within the Body of Christ are unmet because God told us to meet them with the riches He has already provided us, but we instead chose to expect Him to do it Himself.” – This speaks to me of single parent families in the local church without a father figure; mentoring all generations younger in the faith than ourselves; and missions work around the world.
But how do we as a church turn from our selfish individualistic ways without first repenting of our neglect and sinful calous hearts?
I think that’s the step that stings the most.
Sorry that was me (dcypl) not dcyp
What are the implications of this topic vs. a “personal relationship” with Christ?
re Doug: It’s the “personal relationship” that brings us into the community of the body of Christ as members.
Great Post. Amen and Amen. The past several months I’ve been developing a relationship with a woman who is, in her own words, a “mental health consumer”. She is a strong believer, but it is not the church that meets her physical and emotional and medical needs, it’s the government. It’s a major chore for her to even get a ride to a church service, let alone to any mid week small groups or Bible studies or retreats, etc. It’s the State that takes her grocery shopping and the State that counsels her and the State that helps her find housing and the State that provides her with a social outlet and activities to keep her out of mischief.
Where is the Church? My husband and I are as guilty as anyone else, but the Lord has been calling us out of our self-satisfied apathy and we’ve been slowly changing.
Oh that the Spirit of God would wake us up and bring a revival of repentance! We are now praying for that faithfully.
This is a wonderful topic for we believers to ponder because each of us are so individualistic – whether by nature or influence.
Because my area of ministry discipline is in music and worship, I see this issue from a slightly different angle but with the same underlying problem…
One of the most common excuses (and I do view it as an excuse) for gathered worshipers NOT to become involved in the demonstrative expressions of praise and worship is the sentence, “Worship is a personal thing – I worship God my own way.” On the surface this sounds reasonable. But if any of the readers of this blog have said that then I challenge you to go thru the Bible and find as many examples as you can of God actually commending or condoning us to worship our own way…
I happen to believe there is ONE way (with various expressions) to worship God – Whether it is corporate or individual, our worship of God, and HOW we ARE to worship God (according to God) is clearly laid out for us in the pages of scripture. But because, as this post indicates, we are so “self-fixated” – we have elected to even worship God in a way that appeals to US and OUR needs…
Do you have life insurance? Health insurance? Does it cost a lot of money? Have you ever asked yourself why you have it?
It doesn’t cost me a lot of money, but it does cost my employer.
why do I have it (or are you asking if it should be needed for a Christian in a church?)
When my son was born, his first hospital stay was over $17,000. Then he had to go back.
When my husband had cancer, I have no idea what the bills were – but he was in the hospital for nearly a month, and then all the rest of the stuff that he had to have.
That kind of cost would decimate a church.
The reason you have it is because you’ve been taught you can’t count on anyone but yourself to provide should disaster come.
It that wrong? I am the widow. And the church has helped in very tangible ways, but very few that are financial (there were some wonderful people in the church that saved me money and the church has given my kids scholarships for youth trips, etc.)
What I don’t see, and I’ve been very saddened about this: men of God stepping up to mentor fatherless boys.
My son needs a man in his life who is willing to be there very consistently, helping him into manhood. My family is far away and the church is largely absent. One man said that he would call, but never did.
Ephesians 4:3 “…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” ESV The NSAB uses “preserve.” We cannot “maintain” or “preserve” something we do not have. In other words, when we accept Christ individually, we are included in the Body and we have unity. The American lack of this understanding is very evident and has given rise to the “self-help” “me-centered” faith that is so powerless in our time. We will do almost anything not to bow our individualism and everyone has an opinion (including me — obviously). The Holy Spirit has made us one. When we understand that our unity is in the Spirit and because of the Spirit, we will begin to humbly bow to a “corporate” revelation of His truth.
Thank you for your excellent insights.
Sorry Dan. I got stuck on the word “abattoir” and had to leave to go look it up.
Have you read any writings of Congregationalist ministers from the 18th century? They have a whole ‘nother take on the issue of a “personal relationship” with Christ than the one we do. I would encourage you to read them simply because I know I will do a terrible job of summing them up because their points are subtle.
As for me, I believe that the individual must always shoulder the responsibility for pursuing God. In many ways, we choose how deep we want to go. God is always ready to pour out His blessing on the one who pursues Him. However, we make that infinitely more difficult when the Church as a whole is not shouldering its responsibilities. There’s a synergy that God Himself set into place: God, Individual, Church. Those three interact in a way that brings growth in the individual and in the Church. God is never lacking, but when the other two parts are, things break down.
There are Christian health co-ops that exist on the same level as an insurance company, though they aren’t one. You pay into a pool and when you need funds, you have them. These organizations are growing and can carry the burden of huge payments.
Right now, we have a single friend who has cancer and is self-employed. Her insurance company is refusing to pay for some of her treatment, though none of it is extraordinary. If not the Church, then who will help her? When one suffers, we all suffer. When one has a need, it is our need, too. If God has given us the provision, then we know how we must use it. And if He has not given us the provision, then we know how we must pray.
I think all of us need to memorize this proverb:
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
—Proverbs 3:27-28 ESV
Dan, I agree with your result, but I’m a little shaky as to how you got there.
Groovyoldlady touched on it above. Christianity is about the individual. Christianity is also about the community. To neglect either one is foolish.
Your conclusions about what happens when we neglect the community aspect of our faith are dead on. But don’t let anyone be confused that our faith has no individual component. We are not saved by joining a church. I know you know that, but your introduction leaves that rather vague.
Anyway, if we are Christian we MUST be looking for community to express our faith through. Barna’s latest book really drops the ball on that concept.
I’m giving the other side. We don’t hear enough about the communal side—in fact, almost nothing at all. However, we hear about the individual side of Christianity all the time. My lack of discussion of the individual component of it is solely to get us thinking in other directions and should not be seen as an indictment of the personal component of faith.
This is funny, because I’ve been thinking about how odd it is when someone talks about their ministry to the church. It’s not what they’re participating in as the body, it’s specifically what they are doing.
Furthermore, I find what people define as a ministry to the church as a bit on the vain side. Is playing in the worship band or working on the sound board fulfilling one’s obligation to the Great Commission? Yes, it’s a sacrifice of time, but I’m under the impression it’s something one does in addition to stepping into a Biblical role within the body. I find it funny that, in most churches, finding someone to fill a role on stage is never so difficult as finding someone to teach the 3rd graders for three months.
I don’t feel so bad offering this type of criticism with a little bit of venom because I’ve walked with that mentality before. “Oh, I’m on the worship team and prayer team. I don’t need to help pack grocery bags or deliver food for our outreach program. I’m not obligated to clean up after church or do much of anything. I’m already at my maximum level of commitment. God doesn’t ask anything else of me.”
I balance this with the plea for the Frozen Chosen to get involved, because in most churches, the saying goes, 10 percent work to serve the other 90 percent. What I remind myself is to be conscience of how my team, the Kingdom of God, is doing, and not how much or how little I’m doing. I try to look where we’re fullfiling our objectives and where we’re not, and see if there’s a gap where I can step in.
I confess, I’m not always good at that. But I believe that’s how God asks us to serve, and not run down the laundry list of things as if there’s a quota for doing God’s work each week.
“I find it funny that, in most churches, finding someone to fill a role on stage is never so difficult as finding someone to teach the 3rd graders for three months”
You hit the nail on the head with that one. Our church has no one on stage but the worship team and the pastor. In my hometown church, some of the girls were stepped down from the stage to the first pew and sang from there so that no one could see but their backs. That worked pretty well (how is that for a church quirk?).
Also you said…
“Oh, I’m on the worship team and prayer team…God doesn’t ask anything else of me.”
And I would argue that not too many people take prayer seriously. And sure no one is to say that because one does this, then he is not supposed to do that other thing. There are plenty of opportunities to serve in the local church but willingness and training along with responsability and humility are needed to take them with the purpose of building not ourselves as individuals but to serve the corporate body whether we clean the bathrooms, set up the chairs, sing in the choir, play the drums or lead a bible study.
As we’ve all been Christians a while, we all know the 20/90 rule:
20% of the church members do 90% of the work
In light of this, I find it hard to fault people who do just a couple things. They’re still doing more than the 80% who just show up on Sundays.
Truth be told, by the measure you give here, I’m doing little at my church. I’m on the worship team, I participate in the Men’s Breakfasts, and I’m part of a small group (and hosted it once when the regular leaders were out of town.) Being a small church, there aren’t a ton of ministry opportunities. Many of the things we do at the church are under the radar (aren’t considered “official” ministries), like engaging in some of the things I mention on this blog. Apart from Children’s ministries, there aren’t a lot of teaching opportunities.
Do I have ideas on things we can do? Yes. But our church is literally just getting back on its feet after a series of heartbreakers, so I’m not ramming any ideas down anyone’s throat just yet. I wanted to see if we could start some kind of “rite of passage” for teens and it looks like that will happen after talking with our pastor. We’ll see how that works out.
If 100% of the people in any church did even one or two things, there would not be enough things for them to do (in most churches!)
You’re willing to serve. Maybe God doesn’t always present us 100 opportunities a day, but you show up. You in no way exhibit the attitude I mention.
I think the corporate nature of the church is vital, although not all church teaches or practices it. It has all sorts of applications, even as you say, and will radically affect our faith in many areas.
One area that seems particularly close to us individualists hearts is money. If when we give, we give to a man or team at the front, we will have a very different perspective on our responsibility in giving than if we cheerfully and faithfully give it to God, through his body. If we are all individuals, it can be easy to disobey God on the basis of another man’s bad behaviour and do what we think best. We will also tend to hold on to it after ‘giving’. But if we give to God through his body, we can appeal to God, beyond what we see.
The local body can help sometimes, as if it were a bundch of friendly, co-opted individuals. My brother-in-law and sister were helped by their large church in Florida after he left the Navy and found work difficult. Great to be part a rich congregation! But we have found that those family members, even in small British congregations, who were trusting God directly, and relating faithfully to his body, would find some other, previously unknown, part of the body meeting their needs when in trouble. God recognises the Body of Christ in a way most of us don’t, beyond the local collection of individuals. The Body of Christ is a broader unity than just a local congregation, and is supernaturally linked by the Head, so participating in Christ’s ministry on earth should be broader than just what we see is possible, although it should start there.
This recognising the body as something other than a human administration, also means that dealing with corporate sin can be handled not as an argument between individuals or factions in the church, but by appealing to the Head of the Body. As somone who once would fight my corner in my faction with the best of them, I found that as I spoke the truth carefully under God and then submitted to those who sat in ‘Moses’ seat’ (Matt 23:2). God on several occasions has dealt with individual or corporate sin far more effectively than I ever could and far more thoroughly, quite apart from my efforts or words.
We recieve what we have faith for, let’s believe for a loving spotless Bride, and try to live it, especially as the blessing rests on those who dwell together in unity.
I hate to say it, but it’s an outgrowth of sola fides and a demonization of “works”. I won’t, of course, demonize the doctrine itself, but it’s yet another case of protestnatism throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“Box Full of Feet” would make a great name for a rock band. 😉