Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Death of the Rugged Individualist

As Christians we need to check our rugged individualism at the door. This is hard for those who have grown up in the United States. Our individualism is something we are proud of. Often even if we recognize the need to work together, we can do it in an individualistic way. We can see church as something we do on Sunday, and perhaps on other days of the week, and then put it aside to live our own life. We can think of our ministry as something we do, that belongs to us and where others may help out incidentally. It is easy to become ships passing in the night, our spiritual masks firmly in place. But one of the key things Scripture says about the spiritual life is that we do not do it alone.

The Scripture pictures a church as a body made up of different parts to build one another up (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-5; Ephesians 4:15,16). The idea of a body is significant because it speaks against individualism; one part cannot exist without the other but would die on its own. It also speaks against conformity; each part is different and it is through each carrying out their own different purposes that they build one another up. The result of this should be a community that helps and encourages one another (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; James 5:13-20).

But there is a problem that we do not necessarily see this kind of community in our congregations. While some of this may be due to unrealistic expectations, another part is the very individualism we are trying to escape. Instead of a body working together, we become a group of individuals, each wanting their own way. But we should not try to fix it simply by turning our backs on other Christians. I am not saying a person should not use some care in choosing a congregation to be part of. But I believe we need to work to help make our congregation into the thing it should be, rather than complaining because it is not there yet. And that means being willing to put aside our own individualism and reaching out to others. God wants to put to death the individualist inside each of us, but it is often a difficult thing to accomplish. But the one thing that is clear is that the Christian life is not meant to be lived alone.  

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