Monday, February 25, 2013

Radical Individualism and the Church as Family

Joe Hellerman:
Mental health professionals are now recognizing a truth taught throughout the Scriptures—emotional healing and spiritual growth occur primarily in the context of interpersonal relationships. People who run away from uncomfortable or downright painful relationships almost invariably repeat the cycle of dysfunction with the next person or the next generation (or the next church) down the line. Those, on the other hand, who stay and courageously engage with others are the ones who grow in their self-understanding and in their abilities to relate to God and to their fellow human beings. Community is, in a word, redemptive.

None of this is terribly novel. We all know it to be the case. Why, then, do we constantly sabotage our most intimate relationships, seek help from others only after the damage is irreversible, and continue to try to find our way through life as isolated individuals, convinced somehow that God will be with us to lead us and bless us wherever we go? Why are we increasingly unable to stay in relationship, stay in community, and grow in those interpersonal contexts which God has specifically provided for our eternal well-being?

Some might attribute the relational crises characterizing our churches solely to individual sin and selfishness. Sin and selfishness, however, have been around since Adam. Why the radical increase in relational breakdown in our society and in our churches today? Something bigger is in the works, and it has to do with the unique orientation of modern Western culture, especially contemporary American society. Ours is a culture which insists to its own destruction that the dreams, goals, and personal fulfillment of the individual deserve a higher priority than the well-being of any group (natural family or church body) or relationship (friendship or marriage) in an individual’s life.

The incessant failures of marriage after marriage, along with the repeated unwillingness of persons to stay in the local church in order to grow through relational conflict, are only superficially due to individual sin and selfishness. Our culture has powerfully socialized us to believe that our individual happiness and fulfillment must take precedence over our relationships with others in our families and in our churches. And it is precisely the influence that this radically individualist worldview exerts upon American evangelical Christians which best explains our struggle to keep relationships together in the body of Christ. The tune of radical individualism has been playing in our ears at full volume for decades. We are dancing to the music with gusto. And it is costing us dearly.
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