Summary: Current Christian preaching and practice focuses almost exclusively on the individual. But the gospel is more than that. It’s the creation of one new man. For the church to be effective, it must reverse the dominant cultural mindset and behave like one new man.
In the last post, we learned that the spread of Christianity hinges on behavior. The current American lifestyle and the institutions that serve it don’t provide Christians with the opportunity to truly behave like Christians. In order to change this, Christians have to be trained to live like healthy families.
Unfortunately, this is pretty much absent from the average American church. For the most part, what is preached when it comes to entering the Christian life focuses on only part of the truth. It focuses on the individual. I am not saying that salvation is not an individual decision or experience. It is. But, it’s not only that. It’s more than that.
We preach individual salvation
We’ve fallen for…
an American Christian paradigm that understands salvation to have everything to do with how the individual relates to God and nothing to do with how we relate to one another…in our typical gospel presentations, we introduce God’s family only as sort of a utilitarian afterthought – church is there to help us grow in our newfound faith in Christ. (When the Church Was a Family)
This is odd given the fact that when a person becomes a Christian, they are transferring their allegiance from the world to the Kingdom. They are inheriting a new spiritual family of brothers and sisters who are to be first priority in their lives. Only once in the New Testament is the word “savior” connected to an individual (Luke 1:47).
Why do we emphasize the personal side of salvation and neglect the corporate side? It’s what happens when you filter the world through the lens of individualism. It’s what interprets the meaning of things for you. It’s what tells you what’s important. And we’re drinking that water.
The one new man
What’s the Old Testament about? A group. What’s the New Testament about? A new group. Check out Ephesians 2:14-18:
For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He did away with the law of the commandments in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When Christ came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him, we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
That’s about two groups who were at odds with each other becoming one new group.
God’s group is absent
There are some circles within the Christian faith where all that’s talked about is how to get to heaven when you die. When it comes to salvation, it’s a totally individual experience. The Church isn’t involved at all in the event. The Church is simply there to help individuals grow in their individual faith in Christ. What it means for the individual’s relationship with God’s group is essentially absent.
As the American culture has become more and more individualistic over time, the Church has simply followed along. It’s become more of a corporation whose marketing divisions (aka church buildings) look to pull people in who are jumping around from gathering to gathering looking for a place where they’ll feel most comfortable. As Hellerman puts it in the When the Church Was a Family book…
We have removed from the gospel what the Bible views as central to the sanctification process, namely, commitment to God’s group…I can leave my church – or my marriage – and my personal Savior will happily accompany me wherever I go.
The Church has become the ultimate enabler. It enables its members to just do whatever they want, as long as they’ll stick around. To really be effective, the church must reverse this mindset. It started with the breakdown of the family in our culture and the church has simply followed along. Our family experiences are leaving people without the skills and experience to fight through the inevitable conflict that’s required for growth and community building in a group.
The solution is for the Church to step up and show what it means to live like a healthy family. Instead of preaching at people, expose them to the reconciled group – the one new man. You’ll start to see less individual get-me-to-heaven conversions accompanied by lack of commitment and slow-to-no growth, and more conversions to the family of God where growth is required of you. That’s evangelism.