Pastor's Blog

Evangelicalism tends to call people to “a personal relationship with Jesus”.
The main concern of the gospel presentation is personal:  your eternal destiny.  Are you going to heaven or hell?  Are you going to ask Jesus to rescue you?
When you pray and ask Jesus to rescue you, the resulting relationship is personal.
So is the resulting “religion”.  Everything is highly individualized.
You have “personal devotions”.  Private Bible reading.  Private prayer.  You can worship Jesus if you want, when you want, and however you want.
Connection with others might be desirable, but it’s optional.  Your relationship with Jesus is personal.  Others aren’t in on it and don’t need to be.  Connection with others, accountability to others, working toward a goal with others – that’s all optional.  If you find it fulfilling – connect with others.  If not – you still have your personal relationship with Jesus and that’s what REALLY matters.

That’s very American because individualism is very American.  But I don’t think these ideas represent at all what Christianity was intended to be.

God always builds a covenant relationship with a group of people.
It is difficult for spiritual growth to take place in isolation from others.
It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.  (And God said this when he and Adam had a “personal relationship”;  Adam was still seen as being alone and in need of others.)
The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all that you are – but Jesus insisted on connecting a second commandment to it and said that commandment was “like” the first: love your neighbor as you love yourself.
By this will all men know that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.

Love, by default, requires interaction with other people.

When God created the nation of Israel, He gave them the law – governing how they were to be a good and godly society amidst ancient near eastern culture;  governing not only how they lived toward God but how they lived with respect to one another.  And God wanted to dwell in the midst of them.  He was the center and the core, the hub of life, that directed all other relationships.  It wasn’t optional.  The entire design was oriented to that purpose.

When God created the church, He gave us the new covenant and writes the law on our hearts – not so we can feel spiritual, but so that we can obey and do what is right and be a "right society".  God dwells in OUR midst – not just in MY heart.  It is when the church is gathered that there He is in the midst of US.

The church is not merely a philanthropic organization that raises money for the poor or an institutionalized corporation that produces self-help and child-care products that you purchase and use at your leisure -- a "spirituality mall".  The church, each church, is supposed to be a society in and of itself, a sort of counter-culture standing for the things of God even when the surrounding culture doesn’t.  The church is supposed to be a society bound together by a common commitment to Jesus Christ.  We Christians are related to one another by what we believe.  We are related by commitment to the same truths that come from the one true God.

The church is supposed to be a society that wants God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, and it is supposed to be the society that strives to do that now – in preparation for the society that heaven will one day be.

We are supposed to be committed to Christ – and to the group.  God works on the individuals in the group through the interactions and functions of the group.  Luncheons and picnics and Sunday school programs and AWANA and worship teams aren’t just functions and events in themselves.  Each one is an opportunity for differing people to work together – and more importantly, to learn how to work together – to learn how to be patient with and put up with people who are different from you, who do things differently than you do, who have different expectations and understandings.  The interaction is supposed to broaden us if we are too narrow and focus us if we are too broad.  We influence and build each other -- and we are open to being influenced and built as well as building and influencing.

This is what love does and it is how the "believing society", the Bride, is formed.  The Spirit of the loving husband, Jesus, flows from Him and through the connections of the body of the Bride.  As her members grow in love, he is “sanctifying her” – teaching her, showing her, making her holy – “so that he might [eventually] present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, so that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5.26-27).  This is why He gave himself for her (Ephesians 5.25)!

When you remove yourself from this connection to others – when you refuse to connect, when you disconnect, when you quit, when you give up – thinking that’s acceptable because all that matters is your personal relationship with Jesus – you remove yourself from the locus where He does all of his work.

If you cut your finger off, it doesn’t grow.  It dies.  For me, that illustrates the importance of covenant relationship.  For thirty-plus years of ministry I have been trying to convey this concept.  I have found it an almost insurmountable task to overcome the idea of personal relationship with Jesus.  Evangelical is thoroughly American, and American culture is thoroughly individualized – and just seems to struggle with the idea of being a church rather than going to a church. 

Many of my other ideals I have abandoned or altered for the sake of connection with other people.  But this ideal – covenant relationship -- is so much the core of the biblical message that I cannot bring myself to let it go.  We won’t reach it in this life, but I will fight to see as much of it as possible realized until my dying day.

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