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What If Christianity Isn’t about Me?

Image: José Manuel Suárez

Image: José Manuel Suárez

We keep ourselves honest by examining the lens through which we see the world. If our lens is dirty or discolored, our ability to accurately examine the world is in jeopardy. The only chance we have at embracing reality as it is—and not just as we see it—is by consistently challenging our perspective. Take, for instance, the way we view Scripture.

Scripture doesn’t tell a story about individuals; it’s a story of God’s development of a people. Even when the story is about an individual, the context is about community. Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets are simply plot devices in a dynamic story of about a chosen people and their amazing deity.

When we get to the New Testament, we zero in on the church, the bride of Christ, one people of one Spirit with one destiny. It’s amazing when you think of it. The epistles are, by and large, written to churches—not individuals. In fact, the New Testament barely addresses individuals.

Obviously my entrance into this community comes as I personally respond to God’s invitation. And this community is healthiest when I, as an individual, am respectful, sensitive, and giving. So, I do have a personal responsibility and calling, but it’s to community and not isolated from it.

We talk a lot about accepting Jesus as our personal savior. We focus on whether we as individuals are “getting fed,” and whether we are having our personal devotions. Instead of wondering what God would say to us corporately, we have an unhealthy interest in what God is saying to us individually.

The church is not a place where I go to get my needs met. It’s something else entirely. It’s the place where I, like a drop of water, go to join other droplets. When we’re gathered, we become bigger than ourselves. You don’t think of a raging sea as untold billions of water molecules, you think of it for what it is—a force of nature. Christ came to create, empower, and release this flood on the world. It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than you. It’s us.

We have been raised to think of ourselves, and our personal potential. We can be whatever we want to be. We can have the dream: 2.5 kids, a house in the suburbs, and a dish on the roof for the soaps. Not many want to think of themselves as some small part of something greater. The Western mindset doesn’t elevate the collective over the individual. Maybe that’s where we’re wrong? Maybe that what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Jayson Bradley

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. You’ve touched on something vital here, Jayson. Whilst our invitation is individual, our purpose is collective community as all together we function as the body of Christ. If we persist in acting as if it’s mostly about us then it can lead to greater insistence on our rights, needs and interests. That is not the way to live surrendered Christ-like lives. Jesus didn’t die so we could live selfishly. His focus is on others and we would do well to follow His example within our areas of fellowship and influence in the wider community.

    November 10, 2012
    • I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the comment Joy (and the retweet)!

      November 10, 2012
  2. Interesting, and a good reminder about the particular Western worldview we live in! I think ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ can also bring a picture of community; seeing yourself as you see the whole, as equal and all deserving of love.

    November 10, 2012
  3. Jan Moyer #

    Our life group recently discussed this as it related to Micah 6:8 – thank you for the post and reinforcing this important truth.

    November 10, 2012
  4. I went to a conference at church last night and this subject is exactly what was being discussed. Your points hit dead on to what our speaker was saying. The timing of this post and how it coincides with the conference topic is astounding. I am going to have to make sure Kevin reads this.

    November 10, 2012
    • Wow. It’s no surprise that this message would come out in multiple ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spirit was trying to move the church back towards true, unadulterated community. Thanks for reading Glenda!

      November 10, 2012
  5. The balance between the individual and corporate is always a tricky one. In the UCC we talk about it in terms of autonomy and covenant. The problem is that autonomy is often the starting point. That stinks cause it wasn’t so in Jesus time, it started the other way. It’s not Descartes “I think therefore I am.” It was more like, “The group is therefore I am.”

    Lillian Daniels, a UCC minister caused a stir about her “Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me” devotional. She spoke about those people who are spiritual and not religious because they “see God in a sunset” and don’t need church/religion/synagogue/whatever. Daniels states that is a cop out. Like religious people don’t see God in a sunset too?! Give me a break! It’s easy to see God alone, but to find God in the company of others?!

    That’s hard man. But that’s where the kingdom starts and ends. Great post, lots to consider. And it parallels a lot of what i’m already thinking.

    November 13, 2012
    • You’re completely right, Luke. The communal aspect of Christianity doesn’t denigrate the important individual aspects. The problem is that there’s (particularly in American Christianity) such an individualistic bent that any movement back to the middle requires, what feels like, a over-reactive response in the other direction.

      I always appreciate your thoughtful responses.

      November 13, 2012
    • Also, that “Spiritual but Not Religious” devotional was divine (if not a little catty).

      November 13, 2012
      • I think our savior is also divine and a little catty (Luke 12:27-28). She’s in good company. 😉

        Glad you enjoyed. Can’t wait to read the next post!

        November 14, 2012
  6. Luke, you don’t need to proof text that Jesus could be catty. He definitely had his moments!

    November 14, 2012
    • Just wanted to provide my favorite.
      (cue idyllic music)
      Consider the birds (tweet tweet). Consider the flowers (a friendly bumble bee buzzes into frame) .

      If God takes care of these (cut idyllic music) , then God’ll take care of you too, you of little faith.

      Just love that stuff. That’s what goes through my head when i read that passage.

      November 14, 2012
      • No, I hear you. Every time I hear Jesus say to the Pharisees, “Have you not read . . .” I kind of chuckle at the dripping sarcasm.

        November 14, 2012

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