Local Church Community & Individualism

Individualism seems to be an essential aspect or feature of being an American. Americans are independent if they are anything, or at least they want to feel that way. However, individualism is something that causes Christian Americans to be conflicted. One could certainly argue the merits of acting with personal responsibility, but I would like to take a closer look at the idea of Christian community as it opposes a purely individualistic posture.

The Bible commands Christians to have a perspective of community and not individualism. This command is directly focused on the relationships enjoyed among Christians connected with one another in a local church family.

*For a discussion about what a local church is, please see my article “Do Christians Need the Local Church?” 

The command towards a communal attitude is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 11, when the Apostle Paul says, “when you come together as a church, wait for one another” (v18, cf. v33). There is much to be considered here, but let’s consider 3 things regarding “come together” and “wait for one another.

1. Christians are Communal

The “coming together” in this passage makes note of the universal example we have in the Old Testament and New Testament of the people of God. God’s people are never encouraged to be isolated from the larger community or family of God. Just think about the first example we have of someone separating himself from the community of faith… Lot left Abram/Abraham (Gen. 13). Immediately Lot ran into trouble (Gen. 14), and things never got better for him (Gen. 19).

The simple and far-reaching point is: there is no such thing as a ‘lone-ranger’ Christian who is not also in direct defiance of God’s clear design. While many in our culture today are rightly noticing problems with the structure and direction of American Evangelicalism, the solution is not isolation. Christians “come together,” and that union should be defined by Scripture and not personal preference.

2. Christians are Servants

Paul assumes that when Christians “come together” it should be for mutual good (v17). This way of thinking shines a light on what has become a consumeristic perspective of the local church. Often, when guests attend a church service, the overarching question they are asking is “What am I getting out of this?”

In my opinion, guests are not to blame for thinking this way. Why would anyone expect anything other than a consumeristic perspective from an unchurched non-Christian? The blame for perpetuating this way of thinking lies directly on the shoulders of many in the so-called “church growth” movement.

Many people inside of the Christian subculture in America have come to define success by numbers (attendance, financial budgets, square feet, etc.). This is a mistake. This is how for-profit businesses measure success, not the Church. But when Christians emphasize the same measurements of success as the local shopping center, it is no wonder that the local churches start to adopt the same consumeristic perspective as well.

The local church is not a shopping center. It is not for consumers. The local church is a body of believers who are meant to give themselves to one another. Rather than thinking like a consumer, each church member should have the mind of a servant. The question is not “What am I getting out of this?” it is “How has God gifted me to serve my Christian brothers and sisters?”

3. Christians Patiently Wait

Paul commands Christians (in the context of a local church) to “wait for one another.” The word translated “wait” connotes patient expectation, and there is no small amount of meaning here. Christians are to patiently expect to participate in a community of believers, to lay down an individual agenda, and to set aside personal preferences.

Additionally, the command to “wait for one another” is merely one of about fifty of these kinds of commands in the New Testament. Often called “one anothers,” these commands collectively detail the things Christians in a local church family ought to be doing and saying with regard for one another.

Church members are to “care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25), “comfort one another” (2 Cor. 13:11), “live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16), “serve one another” (Gal. 5:13), “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), and “forgive one another” (Eph. 4:2). There is much more, but you get the idea.

What is your posture or perspective of the local church? Does it align with the biblical instruction?

May God grant us the wisdom to know His design and the courage to live accordingly.

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