Christ Didn't Die for Our Individuality
In our hyper-individualistic, modern culture, we've got groups for every possible interest. We divide ourselves into micro-subcultures because they provide affirmation and a sense of belonging. Plus, research shows that people average only about nine close friends anyway, so a small group of three or four families and some immediate family members is generally more than sufficient to meet our friend quota.
Due to our ability to connect instantly worldwide and get social affirmation at the drop of a hat, our relationships have become increasingly specialized and on-demand. Why put up with people who are different than us when we can so easily invest in a group that perfectly aligns with who we want to be?
As we've emerged from tribal societies to digital civilizations, our commitments to our churches continues to decline. The trend of "church hopping" continues to gain momentum. Recent data shows that 40% of church members have only been in their current congregation for less than four years and only 26% have been with their current church for more than two decades (and those are largely senior citizens). Obviously, there's not a great degree of continuity or commitment within our churches.
In short, many Christians' lack the experience of longterm commitment to their local churches. This stands in sharp contrast to the social dynamics evident in the tribal culture of the Bible. The Israelites lived in villages, farms, and cities with very minimal movement throughout their generations. From what we read in the New Testament, the first century church seems to have maintained fairly close relationships throughout their lifetimes. Even to this day, a Jewish congregation is required to have a minimum of 10 men to operate, which prevents the possibility of small splits and spiritual Lone Rangers.
Whether in history or developing nations, people in more tribal societies often rely on their churches for their very existence. There, being in a community of believers generates literal safety and provision. And more people means more security.
But we're not in a tribal society. For the most part, we no longer rely on our congregations to meet our basic needs. Our physical and safety needs are now met in other ways. Generally, we're able to also meet our psychological needs (our nine friends, for instance) outside of a traditional church. And we've got our careers, our politics, Farmville, Pinterest, Instagram, and our school programs to keep us feeling accomplished.
So what does that leave us with?
Why do most modern believers go to church?
Sadly, I believe it's often just to meet our "need" for self-actualization. We pick our churches (or eliminate our church options) largely because we're trying to design and express whatever type of person we think we ought to be. Our churches are no longer necessary for our survival — instead they're a fashion accessory. We try on new ones all the time. We want churches that flatter us. We want enough room to be comfortable but also enough support, compression, and lift to aid our less sightly angles. And we want everything tailored to our individual interests and notions.
But is that as it should be?
Is our participation in the Body of believers supposed to be an avenue for our self-expression? Are we supposed to be surrounded solely by people who affirm us? Should we be using it just so we can get our nine friends? Is it even supposed to be about us?
I don't think so.
This is uncomfortable to write, because it makes me feel hypocritical. I know that I have used churches for my own self-actualization. I know that I've selfishly enjoyed having my needs fulfilled. I'm ashamed to admit that I've judged churches based on how they aligned with my views. At times, I've had my nine friends and ceased reaching out to those needing a friend. Too often, I've made it about me.
In the Gospels, Yeshua (Jesus) tells us that we must take up our crosses daily. We're supposed to follow His example and lay down our lives. It's no longer supposed to be about us — what we want or what's going to earn us affirmation. In Romans 5:8, Paul says that Christ died for those who were "still sinners." He died for people who thought He was wrong.
In Christ's crucifixion, He died for people who thought He was a heretic. He was willing to be flogged for those who hated Him (and those who would hate Him). He was lacerated, spit on, mocked, bruised, and stabbed for people who didn't agree with His beliefs or share His convictions. And Yeshua endured it all so that they and we could be reconciled to God. And by doing so, Christ gave us the example that we should follow.
Our discipleship to Christ should compel us to give endlessly of ourselves in the pursuit of reconciliation. We should endure whatever hardships are necessary to see His people reconciled — in unity with both God and men. Our participation within His Body should never be about our own affirmation and value. We shouldn't view our churches as an avenue for the fulfillment of our own desires.
Instead of drawing close to our nine friends and excluding everyone else, we should pour out our lives for those who will be reconciled to God — especially when they may not share our beliefs. If we are truly the Body of Christ, we have to be willing to endure pain, discomfort, and disappointments. Self-preservation, whether it be of body, reputation, or ideas, should never be a deciding factor. As the Church, we must lay down our lives.
The value of our churches should never be determined by their ability to meet our needs or to provide our personal fulfillment and affirmation. That attitude is the very root of true covetousness (see chapter 10 of The Marriage Commandments). Instead, we should participate because of the opportunities to sacrifice for others. That's a perspective that reconciles our differences and connects us to one another.
The kingdom of God is filled with extraordinary diversity. Everyone from the Mennonite farmer to the urban industrialist is an invaluable part of the Body. Instead of dividing into our self-actualizing denominations or groups of nine friends, we should manifest the reconciliation for which Christ died. What (or rather, Who) we have in common is infinitely greater than any differences we may obsess about within the Church. Let's cast down the idolatry of our own interests and endure togetherness. It may not be comfortable, but I believe it'll be worth it. And I need your help to hold myself accountable.