Is Christianity a personal relationship? And/ or a community thing? How do these aspects relate?
As I write a few days before Pentecost, an important question comes to mind, not only of theological importance, but also of very practical relevance.
On the route to the upcoming Lausanne World Congress of Evangelism, the topic has been introduced of partnership versus single ownership within the Kingdom of God. As we serve our Lord, do we ‘own’ the projects we undertake as a group or an organisation? Or is it mandatory on us to share - as much as possible and as much as it would be fruitful - things that the Lord has put into our hands?
Partnership is the key word here, taken up by many, argued for by most. The alternative, framed in an expression like ‘single ownership’, is hardly being defended. A lot more could be said about ways and measures in which to implement partnership, but that is secondary.
Partnership, however, is a word about working together. The biblical reasons for it are mostly taken from ecclesiology, the Body of Christ, and that is being together, which is deeper and more.
As we are working within our various organisations, the practical, missiological question arises how we can stand together and work together, which does involve a lot of practicality. But we need to dig deeper. To what extent is Christianity a personal relationship? Or is it a community thing? Or both?
I put this before my readers as a question, on which a few things can already be observed. A rightful correction on the staunch Enlightenment individualism has already been put forward by people like the Canadian Christian Charles Taylor (Sources of the Self, and A Secular Age), and many other have taken up similar approaches. Christian faith is not less, but much more than a personal, salvific relationship with Jesus. Actually, in Ephesians the phrase ‘the new man’ is a corporate expression (2:10,15; 4:24; cf. Col.3:10), pointing towards the generic hanging together of believers unified in the Body of Christ. It is ho Christos, the expression that refers not just to the divine Person, the anointed One, but to his companionship with us.
The interesting and important question, though, is how this matches with the equally vital personal aspects of our faith. Let us here not use the catchword ‘individualism’, which is like any –ism an overemphasis on a particular aspect. Let’s take up the word ‘individuation’, a phrase from Jungian psychology, without necessary buying the whole content that goes with it. Individuation would, in my word, describe a proces in which you become what you are. Here the Holy Spirit comes in, quite literally indwelling me, filling my individual self (my physical and spiritual DNA) with Christ. Is there any way to skip this part of faith>
On the other hand, there is the corporate Christ-life. Let me quote Hopkins about the positive part of this: For Christ plays in ten thousand places / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men's face (Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889, As Kingfishers Catch Fire). Here is Christ indwelling His people corporately: love, joy, peace, and much more. But there is also the danger of enforcing such collective faith, for example through psychological manipulation.
Here is a very deep, but perhaps necessary tension. I would welcome any comment that could help me (and us) thinking about this.