Monday, August 20, 2012

Personal and Social


...Lion and Lamb continued

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Acts 2:40

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Mat 1:21

Discerning where the individual ends and the community begins is no easy task. Kennedy likens it to looking at the ocean on a hazy day -- you just can't be quite certain where the sea and the sky begins. What is certain is that there is a sea and a sky. To suggest that only one is real is obviously absurd. As Kennedy puts it, "wrongness is so often not the lie but partial truth." He wrote about this tension over fifty years ago. Neither the truth nor the errors of half-truths are new.  Some still advocate a privatized piety that leaves undone many of the responsibilities of Christian witness and service. While others are insisting that Christian living is only about being part of a community.

Particularly interesting to me is Kennedy's reaction to the idea that children should be raised within the Christian community in such a way that they are gently brought to faith and never need a crisis experience of conversion. I really don't know how new the idea was in his day, though I suspect that it had been around for quite a while in the RCC. I've seen this soteriology presented to young evangelicals in a few recent books. I'm sympathetic to the view. At the least, I believe that it can happen. My mother is one example. She was raised in church and cannot tell you when she was converted. She's been a Christian as long as she can remember. I think leading others into that sort of experience is a lovely goal. It's no wonder that it sells to young people. We're rather inclined to adopt utopian visions. Kennedy, however, was not a fan of that collective soteriology. He contended that we all need to go through a crisis confrontation with God.

He also points out that forced mass conversions do not work. And being a part of the right church will not save you. It reminds me of Ezekiel 18. No one is saved because of the righteousness of his or her parents. Neither is anyone condemned for the actions of someone else. Each of us are individually responsible to God.

The Bible teaches that each individual Christian is a priest to God. Every one of us has been given the right to personal access to God, with no mediator but the man Christ Jesus.

Christianity recognizes the dignity of each individual. Each of us is of inestimable worth. We are not means -- we are ends. None of us are pawns. We are all kings. Our lives are sacred. We are each bearers of the image of God.

Yet, as much as it centers on the individual, Christianity is not an individualistic religion. As Kennedy puts it, there is "no solitary Christianity." Christianity is about a God who is a community of Father, Son, and Spirit who created humans in community -- male and female. "Persons are created and maintained by their relationships, which is to say that society is necessary for personality."

And he created a church. We are "parts of one another" (Romans 12:5). Much of what it is to be a Christian can only be practiced in community. The essence of Christian ethics is summed up in one word -- love. It's only as we live with one another and for one another that we truly follow Christ. He gave himself for his people. He gave himself for the world. He is our example.

So is Christianity personal or social? Yes. Always.