Modernity makes the happiness and self-actualization of the individual into an absolute…
The expressive individualism of modern culture has deeply eroded loyalty to institutions and communities. Individuals are now “spiritual consumers” who will go to church only if (and as long as) its worship and public speaking are immediately riveting and attractive…
We see this problem when church members refuse to respond to church discipline and claim that no one – not even church leaders – has the right to tell anyone else how to live their Christian life. [Tim Keller, Center Church]
It is a sad irony that on a continent know for treasuring community, that individualism could have such a strong influence, even here, on our church culture. In Chester and Timmis’ book Total Church there is the testimony of a Kenyan Christian who spent some time abroad. She talks about the differences between her Nairobi church background (a big church of thousands of people and multiple services) and her experience at a small church on another continent:
“At first I’d squirm. When we were so close together my sins seemed so much more apparent to others. Back home if you fell out with someone you could always sit on the other side of the auditorium and never had to see them again.” (p. 33)
Where has this Christian individualism come from? There are many possibilities:
- Missionaries and revivalists bringing a pietistic message of ‘me and my salvation’ focused on a commitment to Jesus as my ‘personal saviour’ followed by a privatised ‘relationship with Jesus’ and an expectation of personalised specific guidance by the Holy Spirit.
- Western consumer culture (as Keller suggests) changing the way that we approach everything, even church.
- Online streaming (“everything now”) and social media creating a me-focused, instant availability couch culture where I can listen to the ‘greatest preaching’ and ‘greatest worship songs’ in the comfort of my home.
- The prosperity gospel and the Word of Faith movement – a very individualistic, transactional form of religion where it is all about my personal ‘faith’ (positive thinking) and my personal advancement.
- A worship and prayer style which emphasises personal ‘connection with God’ rather than corporate singing (to and with one another) and corporate prayer.
Whatever the cause the antidote will probably involve at least three things:
- A rediscovery of the gospel of the Son of God who walks among the churches (Rev. 1:13), who judges churches (Rev. 2-3), who was slain to purchase a people (Rev. 5:9-10), who is coming back for his Bride (Rev. 19:9). We need a gospel that not only (rightly) emphasises individual justification before God but also simultaneously preaches the corporate scope of that gospel.
- The renewal and planting of healthy churches marked by a love for that gospel of Jesus and modelling genuine (loving, diverse) community, seriousness about membership, a rich culture of corporate prayer, corporate devotion to the Word, corporate worship and a willingness to exhort, encourage, urge and graciously rebuke one another. We need churches that display the beauty of fellowship that is ‘glad and sincere’ (Acts 2:46).
- Searching the Scriptures together to see all the many many things that the Bible says about the church, what it is, why it matters, how it should function, what it should look like and feel like. We need a rediscovery of the NT letters as written (most of them) in the plural to churches (not to individuals). We need to dust off the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) and find all the marvelous things they say about gospel community.
So, as a contribution towards that rediscovery, iServe Africa has recently published another volume in our Watumishi wa Yesu series of accessible Bible study guides, looking this time at First Timothy. Nine straightforward studies to get a small group into the text and exploring what it means to be church, the household of God, the pillar and buttress of the truth.