Individualistic Christianity

Posted: January 31, 2009 by Josiah Batten in Christian living, Emerging Church, The Church
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One thing that undeniably contributes to the popularity of the Emerging Church is individualism.  For the most part, our society is very individualistic.  However, we as Christians have to be careful and draw a very clear line.  As the Body of Christ we can not function completely individually. We are interconnected as members of the family of God.

To help make this concrete we can think of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.  Dunkin’ Donuts did a study where they paid some of their faithful customers to visit Starbucks, and some of Starbucks’ faithful customers to visit Dunkin’.  The results of the study were astounding.  Dunkin’ customers despised the very things that made Starbucks’ customers loyal to Starbucks, and vice-versa.  The two groups were ultimately described as opposite “tribes”.

The Dunkin’ tribe hated the fact that things were too fancy, they prefer “melts” to “paninis”.  They were collectivist; they liked identifying with a group.  They couldn’t stand the very atmosphere of Starbucks and said if they wanted to sit on a couch they would stay home.

Likewise, the Starbucks tribe couldn’t believe that they weren’t “special” anymore.  They were individualist.  They thought Dunkin’s was too bland an atmosphere.  It wasn’t sophisticated and modern enough.

In the Emerging Church we are seeing the Starbucks mentality. In more traditional Churches we are seeing the Dunkin’ mentality. (These are broad generalizations, not definitive descriptions).

This presents some problems.  For example, Emergents often say “my relationship with Christ is personal. I’ll do what’s right for me.”  This statement is often used to the extent that it justifies sin.  “If [insert sin here] is right for me you can’t judge me.”  Such a statement reveals a complete misunderstanding of judgment and Christian community.  If we see a brother or sister doing something that is obviously sinful we need to confront them. We must do it lovingly according to the patterns we find in the New Testament, but we must do it.  In fact, it would require a great deal of hate for someone to let them do something we know would be harmful to them.

As a result of this mentality many people are scared to take a hard stand on hard issues.  It’s inconvenient for me to have to say the American Church is materialistic and obsessed with entertainment.  Many pastors will not say that.  In fact we have entire theological systems based on materialism (e.g.- Prosperity Gospel).  And God forbid we question the amount of time we spend entertaining ourselves. Television and theater are Christianity’s most sacred cows. “But we find God in the entertainment,” says the Emergent.  I would say that omnipresence is not equivalent to pantheism.  God is not in everything. God is not in sin.  The idea that we “find” God in entertainment can only apply to Churches in the world’s riches nations.  It’s a societal Gospel.  We can’t tell people in Ethiopia to “find” God in entertainment like television.  This idea is an attempt to justify doing whatever pleases us no matter how much it may cause us to neglect prayer, or preaching the Gospel, or giving what we spend on cable to the suffering people of Darfur.  And pastors today are buying into this.  To quote Albert Mohler, this “is an abdication of Christian responsibility… it is an abdication of Christian conviction, and it is a cave-in of Christian courage.”

We need to get over the idea that we can justify anything in the name of our individualism.  There are objective standards set that apply to all Christians, in all societies, for all times.  We won’t justify rape by saying “I’ll do what’s right for me,” but we will justify a thousand other sins by that statement.  This is a very bad thing.

Another aspect of this individualistic Christianity is the attempt to make our services sensitive to non-believers.  Of course, as R.C. Sproul points out, this assumes first that man kind is desperately looking for God; secondly, it assumes that the purpose of corporate worship is evangelism.  The purpose of corporate worship is the gathering of the saints in fellowship to respond to God.  And man kind is not looking for God. We don’t “find” God – God finds us.  Sproul says that man kind is looking for the benefits of God while running as far and as fast as we can from God.

At this point don’t think that the Dunkin’ mentality in the Church is leaving this blog unscathed.  If we become too collectivist, we neglect personal responsibility.  The height of our Christianity becomes a 90 minute service every week, and the only time we do anything remotely Biblical is when we are gathered in corporate worship.  Christianity becomes a spectator sport in which we want all the action to take place in the pulpit.

What we need is a both/and approach in our walk with God.  We are both collectivist and individualist.  We are collectivist in that we realize our interconnectedness with other believers, but we are individualist in that we recognize we as individuals must follow God in our day to day living.  We are collectivist in realizing Scripture is of no private interpretation, but at times the application of Biblical principle in our daily life will be very individualistic.  We are collectivist in agreeing that there is one God, one Bible, and one Body; but we are individualist in realizing that we  must each do our part in order to make the entire Body function as a cohesive whole.

God bless!


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