Community versus Individuality

Then how is it, brothers? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be for building up. 1Co 14:26

In the medieval ages, belonging to the church was what it needed to be saved. To this day the catholic church defines belonging to its community and following its rules as necessary and sufficient to be saved.

The art and philosophy at the time saw a person as a personification of its character traits with no possibility of change and process. Becoming a better person was not possible, so one had to confess regularly to be right with God – which was only possible if you belong to the church of the day – the catholic, i.e. universal church.

The protestant reformation, long before literature and art, rediscovered the individual. This was true for literature during the period of Storm and Stress with writers like Goethe and Schiller and musicians like Mozart and Hayden, that is the notion of development and the ability to learn and change. It all lies within the “sola fide”, only by faith of Luther: a personal relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ by faith and grace.

Soon, the church became a gathering of individuals. A misunderstanding of Calvin’s principle of “faith is private” was taken so far that one could not ask another whether he was saved or not – that was private. This was all due to the development of the word private. At first private was almost a synonym to personal – personal and private instead of collective and corporate – but soon became the opposite of public.

This of course is an example of throwing out the baby with the bath water. It was all community, and now it became all personal and individual. And as most time is the case, the truth lies in between somewhere.

So what have we made of this tension?

Most Christians today come to church on Sunday to work on their relationship with God. They want their relationship to be fixed by the forgiving of sins, they want to draw closer to God through prayer and worship, they want to learn how to behave as a Christian, or how to get by as a Christian and survive during the week. And they get angry at the church if it can’t provide what they are looking for.

My relationship with God is individual in the first place. I am responsible for it to grow and mature. My personal prayer and worship, my dedication, my reading time will do that for me. My investment of faith during the week, my experiences of prayer answers and wonders, my hearing the word will build my faith.

And yes, this is helped by hearing of the faith adventures and victories of others when we gather. Yes, this is helped by the preaching of the Word on Sundays.

If I hear a testimony and can relate to it by having enough faith to expect the same or similar to be possible in my life, or if I have already experienced something alike, that is likely to grow my faith. If I have not invested myself, it is more than likely that the enemy will have an entry point: this is for them only, you will never experience anything like this, all this won’t work for you.

If I am read up in my bible and have a living relationship with the Spirit, the Spirit will give evidence for the word preached and I will profit by either being reinforced or having new revelation. I will learn that I can hear from God as my thoughts during the week concur with what I am hearing on Sunday. Sometimes I will get corrected and kept from going astray and wild, and this will sharpen my ability to hear.

Coming to church without being prepared I can profit from what is taught. But more likely than not, challenging words bring up thoughts like the serpent expressed towards Eve: has God really said.

I am well aware that discipleship is a developing relationship, starting with getting fed like a baby, feeding yourself from the table of others like a youngster, more and more providing your own food like a grown up, and then feeding others like a father. Spoon feeding a baby is OK, but if the child is in school and still spoon fed, there is a problem.

So community is more about equipping me based on my own personal faith walk than providing for my needs. And it certainly cannot be a replacement of building a personal relationship with God. It is a place of training to become the army of God, the body of Christ, his hands and feet in the earth in unity, the corporate expression of His Kingdom in the earth.

And how about individuality? Most people use it the Calvinist way: I decide personally on how far I want to go with all this faith and dedication. Though this is true, it can only do one thing. It can keep you from the fullness of God, as you keep holding back.

As I have established above, the individual part of faith is building this relationship with God. Let Him teach you, prosper you, keep you, provide for you, set you, heal you, fight for you by letting go of privacy. Letting go of your own will. Feed this relationship, invest in it personally and individually. And then feed from and nourish the corporate, out of this well of provision built through your personal time with the father.

So is faith individual? Yes. And is it corporate? Yes.

What are the consequences? Can I live a godly life without a church? Yes, but it will lack. Lack growth, development, fulness, and most likely will grow cold or go wild. Can I live a life with God only in church? Yes, but it will also lack. Interestingly enough it will too lack growth, development, and fullness. Most likely I will stay a spoon fed baby or leave in anger and disappointment.

Both ways there is one more thing happening. I do not only deprive myself from what I can have in Christ, but also deprive the church from what God wants to provide through me.

I chose the word Christ deliberately here: Christ is the body and the head, Christ is the anointing that Jesus walked in, Christ stayed here on earth when Jesus left for heaven. You and I and Jesus together are Christ. It is the corporate son of God, expressed through the church on earth. You are placed by God in an expression of His body in your area to be a lively part of His body, of the Christ. So Christ is not complete without you. And you are not placed coincidentally, nor do you place yourself. God knows where others need you, where you can grow and help grow others, in completion, not competition.

Something is lacking from the church if you do not belong and grow. Belong individually to God and corporately to His body within a church, grow individually through a personal relationship, and corporately by the exchange of the outflow of the gifts in the church. Just as the opening verse puts it:

When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be for building up. 1Co 14:26

And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. He 10:24-25

What does the Spirit of God tell you? How do you grow personally, and even grow into providing for others? Let me hear your stories.