Individual vs. Group - who are we?

As a wrap-up on the Christian Exodus discussion, I thought I would include a little portion of something John Nugent wrote me. He summed it up by summing up an article written by John Howard Yoder.

"What follows is simply a summary of John Howard Yoder’s article “Original Revolution” published in a book that bears that title.) The Sadducees represent one strategy. They got in with the Roman power brokers located in Jerusalem and through strategic alliance with them sought to carve space for Jews in Palestine on Rome’s terms. Then there are the Pharisees who gave up on political leverage. Instead they created Judaism to be something mostly concerned with individual piety. Regardless of who is in charge, if everyone just focuses on personal piety, they will be right with God and will share in the resurrection. Then there were the Zealots. They would not tolerate Roman occupation of “their land” without a fight. So they employed violence, subterfuge, and revolt in order to topple the enemy. These three strategies are employed in various ways by various groups and religions in America today. I leave it to you to connect the dots. But a fourth strategy seems most analogous to the Exodus movement. These are the Essenes or Dead Sea community. Their strategy was to quarantine themselves off from the contamination of wider society, to do things right on a strictly in-house basis, and to patiently await God’s call to take the next step whatever it may be."

Significantly, Jesus rejected all of these strategies. If either of them were basically right, it seems that Jesus would have allied with them and taken control of their already gathered ranks. Instead he begins a movement that is genuinely new and draws adherents from various of these camps. His strategy was to form a people who would exist among the people but would not live according to their ways. Instead they would order their life together to bear witness to God’s kingdom. His strategy should not, however, be confused with the Pharisees. Jesus did not ask them to focus primarily on their individual spiritual lives. He gathered them into a people whose corporate life together was a large part of their witness (e.g., light of the world, city on a hill, salt of the earth, etc). It was crucial that they be a visible-political body, ordered according to the politics of God’s kingdom, and it was crucial that this people would exist in and among the other peoples of the world—not off in relative isolation as with the Essenes. If the Essene strategy was right, all Jesus would have had to do was join them and tweak their teaching to align with God’s kingdom. Interestingly, however, John the Baptist seems to have left this group to be used by God to prepare the way for Jesus among the people of Palestine. Anyway, you know how the story goes. Jesus gathers this people, dies, rises, re-gathers them, and commissions them to await the HS who would empower them and send them out on their worldwide mission. The HS comes and Jesus’ followers decide to huddle in Jerusalem (re-Babel-ification). Then the HS sends persecutions that scatter the Jerusalem Christians out into worldwide mission to people of all ethnic groups. But this dispersion, according to the letters of the NT, had to take a certain kind of shape. In keeping with Jesus’ vision, they were to form messianic communities ordered according to God’s kingdom and located among the nations as a witness to them. Their status was that of aliens, strangers, exiles, and ambassadors. They were resident aliens—residing among the people but of alien citizenship. A great online article that highlights these themes in 1 Peter can be found here."

So we really have the option of being five types of people.

1. People trying to change the political structure for God.
2. People focused only on individual spirituality.
3. People focused on removing the "sinners" from their land by force.
4. People focused on isolating ourselves from the world.
5. People who live together in such a way that their life together is a witness to the world.

I can see the possibility of Groups 1, 2, and 5 working together. Then I am reminded that the blunt end of Jesus' criticism landed on groups 1 and 2, the Sadducees and Pharisees.

Now, if you're new to my beliefs on individual spirituality, let me have a little go at explaining them. The main verse we hear on a "personal relationship" with Christ is John 17:3, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Jesus requests in that same prayer that we are to "be one" three times (John 17:11, 17:21-22). God wants his people to be one. As Ephesians 4:4-7 states: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift."

A brief summary of my stance is this. It is important for each individual to make a commitment to follow Christ - that is the entry into the Kingdom; however, that commitment does not lead them into personal spirtual ecstasy land. That individual commitment leads them to the body of Christ. Romans 12:5 says, "We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." When you become a Christian, you begin to share your life with others.

It is tough to believe in the importance of being a collective group in a society that worships the individual. But we need to be careful. When our beliefs parrallel that which the pagan culture around us strongly adheres to to, we need to make sure that we carefully scrutinize those beliefs.

Tomorrow, I will post the lesson that was handed down to me by John Nugent and then revised each time that I have taught it. It has been taught a total of three times in all since the night that John showed me Scripture to put a foundation on what was stirring in my heart. It explains the importance of the concept of the Kindgom of God against the concept of individual spirtuality.

Watch out for the potholes.