Within my first blog on Isaiah, I posted that individualism is often one of the major forces behind our lackluster response to injustice.
After posting that blog, as well as after many conversations with others about this topic, some good questions arose. For example: “Why is individualism so bad?” “Isn’t salvation, ultimately, between an individual and Jesus?” And “what practical ways can we fight against individualism within a system that’s so focused on the individual?”
Again, these are excellent questions. And I think that they should be addressed in a place that’s separate from the current study on Isaiah.
Should We View Salvation Individually or Corporately?
Salvation is between Jesus and the individual (John 3:16, Romans 10:13). That is clear in scripture. There are times when entire households come to the Lord at once (Acts 16:31), but each individual had to have made a decision to accept Jesus as Lord in order for them to receive salvation.
So, yes, salvation is, ultimately, between you and Christ. No one else can make that decision for you. You aren’t saved merely because you associate with a particular group.
However, once an individual pledges their allegiance to Christ, they immediately become engrafted into a group of individuals within which they are meant to live out their gratitude for their salvation together. So, while it is the case that we will one day stand before the Lord in judgement for our own individual actions and decisions, Christ calls us in the present to primarily represent Him within the church collective.
This reality is evident all throughout scripture. For example, none of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) can be applied to the individual alone. They’re “fruits” only when in contact with others. None of the gifts given to the Church by the Spirit are for the individual alone. They’re only gifts when used for the betterment and encouragement of all (1 Corinthians 14:12, 14:26). The metaphor most used for the church in Paul’s writings is that of a body. He often reminds us that individual body parts cannot function apart from one another (1 Corinthians 12:21-26, Romans 12:3-8). And we’re often reminded to think of others before ourselves (1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:3-4, Matthew 7:12).
The Christian life is primarily meant to be lived out in community. Christianity is not an individualistic faith.
We have been trained to think of our faith in individualistic terms, in part, because of both Enlightenment philosophy and the classical liberalism that’s the basis for all of the Western word’s political and economic framework. In many ways, these have taken captive our imaginations and narrowed our understanding of how the Christian faith is meant to be lived out. And it’s surely very difficult to begin to think differently about our faith expression within these individualistic systems. But if we want to be biblical Christians, we need retrain our imaginations.
Practical Ways to Fight Individualism
With all of that being said, what can we do to unlearn individualism? How might become better community-oriented Christians? As promised, here are some practical ways we could fight individualism.
While singing, alter the pronouns to reflect a corporate application:
Most of the songs we sing in church reflect only a vertical relationship between God and the individual singing. This is likely because many modern worship songs are made for the radio, or to be sung at home, and not primarily for a corporate church setting. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, singing them in this way can subtly train us to think of our faith in only individualistic terms.
This can be easily fixed by singing plural pronouns in the place of singular ones. Take the song God, You’re So Good as an example. Instead of singing the chorus, “God you’re so good…Your so good to me,” sing “You’re so good to us.”
Think about your “quiet time,” your scripture reading, and your solitude as that which refuels you to become a better body part:
We have been called to individually cultivate our relationship with God through self-reflection, meditation, scripture reading, solitude, and so forth (Joshua 1:8, John 14:23, John 15:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
But we should not think of these quiet times as ends in and of themselves. They’re only a means to an end.
If God’s desire for us is to represent Him primarily as a collective whole (Ephesians 2:22), our personal quiet time must function in a way which help us become better body parts within our local church. They’re opportunities for God to reveal to us how we might better serve Him alongside our brothers and sisters. They’re moments that help clarify how we might be unintentionally sinning against another believer and creating a rift in fellowship. And they’re moments in which God might teach us something meant for the rest of His church.
Learn to recognize the plural “you’s” within the scripture:
Speaking of spending time reading scripture, know that most of the “you’s” in the New Testament are plural. That is, they refer to the collective church and not just to individual Christians. This is hard to spot in English, but it’s important to notice.
When you come across a “you” that you aren’t sure if it’s plural in the original language or not (sometimes “you” is rendered singular in English when it isn’t in Greek or Hebrew), search that particular verse in https://biblehub.com/. You’ll have to type the verse in the search bar, then click on the “Greek” or “Hebrew” tab, and then hover your mouse over the blue highlighted code within the morphology section. This will tell you if it’s plural or not in the original language.
When possible, partake in Communion more corporately:
1 Corinthians 11:23-28 has become the traditional passage that’s read before a typical Communion service. But if we were to read 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 in its wider context (11:17-34), it would become clear that our highly individualized Communion practices would be very unusual to Paul.
The Lord’s Supper was an entire meal that the church ate together. The sins confessed as a part of this tradition were corporate sins that had everything to do with the rich members of the Corinthian church not waiting for the poor members to arrive before they began eating. This is the “unworthy” manner that Paul’s talking about. And the “examining” that he mentions isn’t a brief moment of silence between them and God where they secretly confess sins. No, it’s an examining of their community dynamics with the purpose of making sure that everyone was being treated equally.
This does not mean that we should refuse to participate in Communion as it’s commonly done in church currently. Instead, we should seek out additional ways to bring back the communal aspect to Communion. If you’re in a Baptist tradition, incorporate the Lord’s Supper into a Sunday afternoon potluck. Pause your church’s group eating and break bread together within that setting. If you’re a part of a small group, think about incorporating Communion within your meetings every once in a while. You might even consider pausing, reflecting intentionally on Christ’s sacrifice, and confessing sins out loud to one another before eating and drinking the elements.
Stop explaining your salvation using “personal savior” language:
It’s common to hear Christians today claim that Jesus is their “personal savior.” This would have sounded really strange to first century believers.
In fact, the idea of Jesus being a “personal” savior is relatively new. It seems to have it’s origin in the American revivalism movements of the 1800’s, and was popularized by Charles Fuller’s Old Fashioned Revival Hour Radio Show, Billy Graham’s crusades, and the invention of the “sinner’s prayer” in the early 20th century. While it does have noble origins, it isn’t the most helpful way to express our salvation in Christ.
As I mentioned above, salvation does have an individual dynamic. Ultimately, we will be judged by our own personal decision to accept or reject Jesus’ lordship. But that does not mean that Jesus becomes our “personal” savior once we pledge such an allegiance. That’s to minimize both Jesus’ role as cosmic king over the universe and the far-reaching effects of His gospel which heals far more than the individual.
Instead of saying “I’ve accepted Christ as my personal savior,” we might think to substitute “I’ve pledged allegiance to Christ as Lord. And as a Christian, I’m committed to living out my allegiance to him within my life now knit together with His church.”
 The sinner’s prayer, or that incantation-like prayer that many are trained to lead prospective Christian through so that they might attain salvation, is not found in scripture. In fact, it seems to be a very recent evangelistic tool used by Evangelical revivalists. See: “The Sinner’s Prayer: A Historical and Theological Analysis, Paul Harrison Chitwood. (Ph. D. Diss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001).