Monday, July 5, 2010

Individualism: Godly or Selfish?

Frank doesn't want to attend church this Sunday. He is tired, so he sleeps in. Although he is a member church, he doesn't see a need to push himself. Its all about me and my comfort. Suzette doesn't visit her aged parents because it is depressing. She would rather go to the beach with her friends. So, she ignores her parents.

When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian CommunityFrank and Suzette are expressing their individualism, however it is a radical departure from the individualism promoted in the Bible.

Biblical individualism is a strength."God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). This text is foundational to Western Culture. From it we get good individualism, the idea that all  human life is sacred. Neither State nor individual can destroy it at whim. Protecting the individual is one important function of the law. The U.S. constitution and bill of rights exist, amongst other things, to protect the rights of the individual.

However, the individualism championed by the Bible is "unselfish" individualism.Whether family, church, or state, it lives and dies for the success of the larger social unit. The best example of unselfish individualism occurs in sports. We honor the athlete who subordinates his glory and success for the good of the team.If it is best for the team that a talented quarterback play in the offensive line, then the quarterback takes the demotion. It is all about the team. This is the individualism championed by the Bible.It is unselfish. It puts the welfare of the group before its own interests. 

But there is a new individualism. Its roots are the 18th century Enlightenment, specifically the philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau. It is selfish to the core. It subordinates the success of the group to the selfish claims of the solitary individual. This is the air 21st century Americans breath. It is North America summed up, and it is the enemy of all that God wants to accomplish in and through his people. In a recent Christianity Today article, Joseph Hellerman summed up the contents of his new book, When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian Community with these words. “Jesus’ early followers were convinced that the group comes first—that I as an individual will become all God wants me to be only when I begin to view my goals, desires, and relational needs as secondary to what God is doing through his people, the local church. The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer’s life in the early church.”[1]

This "selfish individualism" is what motivates the Franks and Suzettes of our churches. They join blind to their  "me first" attitude, an attitude that is deadly to life in the local church. Lets ask God for grace to repent, for unless we do, church and family will suffer profoundly.


[1] Joseph H. Hellerman, ”A Family Affair,” Christianity Today, May 2010, pg 44

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