Monday, July 10, 2006
Just Me and Jesus
I remember as a young Christian hearing people say things such as, “Me and God make a majority,” or “you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” There were always plenty of references to a “personal relationship with Jesus.” (And then there’s “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” But that is a whole other blog post.) I learned pretty quickly that Christianity was about me and my relationship with God – everything else was simply a tool to help me grow closer to Him. The purpose of camp was to achieve a “mountain-top experience” and we commonly discussed whether or not we “got anything” out of the worship service.
In fairness, the emotional aspect of relationship with God is not a bad thing. It is a gift from God, an aspect of our creation that reminds us that we were made to want closeness with God and other people. I don’t believe that these things, in and of themselves, are a development of selfish materialism. There are sub-cultures of Christianity which have lost contact with the truth that God did come near. There are those who have forgotten the truth spoken by Paul in Acts 17, that He is the God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” Some of these people have fallen into traps of seeing God as a distant, non-personal being who lacks interest in His creation, other than to smite folks from time to time.
However, I do believe that the greedy materialistic culture that we’re surrounded by has had maintained some level of creative control. When Christianity is seen as only a personal relationship with Jesus; when the community of believers is an afterthought, an elective, a tool for personal gain or a hindrance to my personal monopoly on God’s time then we’ve messed something up terribly.
I don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian
There was a time when I believed this statement. Eventually it began to seem “off” somehow. I began to nuance it by saying that you can be a Christian without going to church, but why would you want to? But this logic had holes in it as well.
Soon I became convinced that you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian, but it’s hard to be healthy that way. Then I decided that perhaps it was better to say that you don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian, but something will be missing from your life. And the more I’ve wrestled and tried to allow that statement to make sense, the more ridiculous it has become.
Christianity is not meant to be lived in isolation. It is communal because God is a community. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a community – and we are created in God’s image. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” Notice that the plural “you yourselves” are the singular “God’s temple.”
This does not take away from the truth that God is a personal God, interested in you specifically – later in 1 Corinthians, Paul will refer to our individual bodies as “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (6:19). We rejoice in knowing that God knows our names and we should also rejoice that God has called us and given us access to a community which is larger than ourselves and designed to bring glory to God. It goes against everything in our American upbringing to admit that there is value in community which goes beyond the individual. I do not want to admit that there is a body of which I am a part and don’t really have the right to separate myself from. How ridiculous would it be for my left leg to decide that it could just leave and be a leg without the rest of me? Or, to use an analogy that Nate applied to another issue recently, what about a laptop which is not plugged in to an outlet? For a while it will operate with little to no difficulty. My laptop automatically begins functioning at a less intense level when I unplug it. The software designers realized that operating on “all cylinders” drains the battery life too quickly – so when I unplug my computer slows down and its light dims slightly. This allows it to function autonomously for a little while longer, but sooner or later I have to either turn it off or plug it in.
We were created for times of aloneness with God – Jesus set a strong example of that – but this was never intended to be long term. Even if the church seems dysfunctional we are called by God to return. Consider the absolute lack of “get it” exhibited by the disciples of Jesus, yet he kept returning to them.
So perhaps you feel that you’ve exhausted your resources looking for a “good church.” No doubt you have! It has been said that if you do find a perfect Church you better not join because you’ll mess it up!
But that does not mean that you should give up and stay home on Sunday. Maybe you live in an area where there is not a church where you can belong – I’m sorry to hear that. Find someone who feels the same way, find a few others who are longing for community, and meet together with them at Denny’s, or McDonald’s, or the Lake, or their house. Pray together, encourage one another, break bread and remember the Lord Jesus who conquered death. Ask about each other’s children; weep over the years of inability to have children or the recent loss of a beloved son and laugh about the 2 year-old grandkid’s most recent one-liner. Find people with whom you can rejoice in job promotions or degrees completed. Look for people who ask you what you’ve been looking at on the internet. Meet with people who want to look and think and act like Jesus…even if they have no idea how to do it.
Can’t find anyone like this? Then ask yourself why that is. Have you shared with your friends the joy of looking and thinking and acting like Jesus? Have you ever asked them about their relationship with God? Have you considered the state of your own?
I once complained to a good friend about a lack of adult leadership and support for youth ministry. He looked me in the eye and said, “This is not a congregation problem, this is a Bret problem.” It was time for me to stop waiting for these individuals to reveal themselves and to instead go find them or raise them up.
If you’ve been using the excuse of not needing a church because you're just fine with your personal relationship with Jesus, I challenge you to spend time in prayer asking God if you were really created to do this alone. There aren’t many things that I really know the answer to, but I’m confident that the answer to this is one is “No, you weren’t.” If you discern that such is the case, I challenge you to pray that God will open your eyes to the community that he has been preparing for you.