Individualism and The Church

In our Thursday morning Bible Study for a while at least we are going to be looking at the non-gospel readings for the following Sunday. For the season after Easter that means instead of an old testament lesson we have a reading from Acts, and the epistle lesson comes from Revelation. This week is the introduction to the letters to the church in Revelation 1:4-18. We strayed a little past there is look at the letters themselves. One of the points that gets brought out is that the letters are written to the churches. They are actually written to the angel (messenger) of the church at _____, but what I would assert that means is that they are addressed as a collective. A congregation or a church is a communion. The strengths and problems of an individual are shared by all. The only place in those letters where I see an individual appeal is in Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). The call to repent for the church that is being spit out is to individuals to hear Christ knocking at the door. Otherwise the call is to the collective.

That is a hard message for American individuals. We are so used to me and my personal Jesus, or me and Jesus in my heart. But as I was walking through this something became clearer to me. What I would call it would be the “guru-ification of Christianity”. Rob Bell is out on the speaking trail with a new book and he now runs small gatherings of people who will pay interact with him and spend some time surfing. He has freed himself of the responsibilities and accountability of a church. Likewise John Spong has another book and is available for speaking. He will come an pitch heresy to whoever pays the bills. Both of their tacts are toward helping you become all you can be. Jesus is important because he is the prop as the ultimate “true man”. If you follow Jesus then you too will emerge into being a truly enlightened human being. And now I get it. In that stuffy church you are forced to deal with left feet and little fingers. In the guru-church it is just you and finding your inner Jesus. And of course that inner Jesus can look like almost anything, but probably not left feet or little fingers.

When I noted yesterday in my not all together coherent thought on what to expect because of the changing picture of marriage, one of the things I mentioned a Hindu thought of Brahman and Atman. When you look at the various Christian-Gurus running around, that is what they are pushing for – a Christianity freed of the church. Free yourself from the tangible and the grubby and head toward enlightenment. Cut yourself free from that body that is holding you back. And the church, poor church, just kinda takes it. You know, like Jesus. The church isn’t hip enough for the emergents. The church isn’t pure enough for the schismatics of various stripes. The church isn’t radical enough for the super-christians. You name it there is some group of guru’s whipping the church. And they think they want the church to change in their direction, but I now wonder. If it did change why would you need their brand of guru anymore? It is easier having the church as whipping boy. All the while, suffering the abuse hurled at it, the church week in and week out calls left feet and little fingers to gather. It calls the glory parts – the right hands, the eyes – to take care and look at the rest. She gathers and instructs and points not to some Jesus inside but to the Jesus outside. The one on a cross. To the gritty reality of sin and blood and crosses. Instead of cutting off parts and freeing yourself, she invites you to join the body, to incarnate, to pick up the cross and join the pilgrim band.

Yes, I know, joining stuff isn’t popular. Bodies are messy. Especially a place full of left feet and little fingers. (And even the occasional middle finger.) But here is the thing. Christ didn’t found a philosophy, he’s building a church or a people. The Kingdom is not a celestial realm of the mind to which we ascend. The new heavens and the new earth come down. We get resurrected bodies. The gurus are leading you away from the gritty reality. The reality that the church resides in. The reality that the church incarnates as the body of Christ in this dark realm.