The primacy of the individual–the encouragement to “climb every mountain,” pursue every dream and create every identity as we see fit–is unmistakable in modern western culture. And the church has bought into it too.
This is one of the reasons why evangelical Christianity in the west is finding itself so confused, so weak and so easily defeated in LGBTQ discussions, for instance. We’re a fundamentally communal entity whose existence relies upon an authority beyond the individual, but you wouldn’t know it from the way we’ve preached, worshipped and lived. We’ve been complicit in a culture of individualism and have perpetuated the very worldview that has led to our present problem of DIY spirituality.
We need to resist the iChurch model of tailoring church to its members’ lives and desires and instead condition members to tailor their lives, collectively, to the desires of Christ. We need to recognize the “personal relationship” language as a western individualist distortion and resist its manifestation in everything from the pronouns we use in our praise songs (“I” rather than “we”), the ways we label ourselves (individualist “Jesus follower” rather than communally associated “Christian”) to the way we structure our small-group discussions (“What does this passage mean to YOU?”). We need to resist the idolatry of “personal preference” religion, challenging ourselves to commit to a church even when it’s messy, uncomfortable, awkward and costly. We need to quit pitting Jesus against religion, as if we if can ever live without a head (Jesus) AND a body (the church). We need to resist building our identities on the American dream (an insatiable pursuit of self-justification) and instead accept our new identity of being justified in Christ to be God’s people (collective), a holy nation (collective), “living stones being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5)
Perhaps most importantly as it relates to the credibility of our witness, we need to call out the sin of going-it-my-own-way individualism wherever we see it. We need to call out the people who argue that following Jesus can happen in isolation from other believers. We need to call out the people who believe their marriages, families and financial decisions are private matters to be kept completely separate from a church community. We need to call out hypocrisy among those in our churches who insist on celibacy for gay Christians but are unwilling to welcome those same gay Christians into a tight-knit community where intimacy and family are offered. We need to call out sin consistently and not only where it suits us, calling on all members to embrace sacrifice and the denial of desires that conflict with the gospel.
Because only together will any of us grow into the people God calls us to be, to build the “spiritual house” the world needs to see.
Photo by (Flickr CC): Daniel Montemayor