Whilst the Bible illustrates the church as the Bride of Christ, we must recognise the metaphor and not put too many ‘person’ characteristics on the church. The church is not a person, we are not hive!
I keep hearing about:
- The will of God for a local church.
- The specific mission of a local church.
- The purpose of a local church.
Whilst I cannot knock these things absolutely, I do wonder if they illustrate our institutionalisation of the church. Hand in hand with institutionalisation come many characteristics that would normally only be applied to a person – the institute begins to have a character, a vision, a purpose, not enough time, not enough resources…
My concern is that we aren’t individualistic enough!!! OK – cringe in horror BUT:
- We have to ‘work out our own salvation’.
- Each of us has the Holy Spirit.
- We are each a priest.
- We each have to take our own responsibility to be obedient to God.
If we institutionalise the church and treat it as an autonomous entity then:
- It is easy to ignore our personal responsibility.
- We end up putting expectations on the church – which actually means putting the individuals under pressure, and because ultimately we don’t treat the entity that is church with the same loving care and attention that we would give an individual – we are insensitive to the entity that is church and therefore insensitive to the people in it.
- We form structures to pass the ‘will of the church’ down through to the people who we expect to do the work. These structures enable distance to open up and can negate the need for intimate relationships.
So, let’s assume that there is a need to de-anthropomorphise the church, to deconstruct it’s structs and to de-metaphor our over literalism!
Isn’t individualism a crime?!
Sure, individualism that is self seeking is – sure it is. But what about taking our individual responsibilities seriously, not putting too much pressure on others, not making the excuse that something is ‘their’ responsibility.
We see throughout the New Testament plenty of teaching. This teaching is aimed at the individual, it is talking about our responsibility as individuals, our relationship as individuals with a God who loves each of us, as individuals. New Testament teaching isn’t full of stuff about how to control others, it’s about how to control oneself… and submit to others.
The individualism that we see envisioned in the Bible is a personal love. A love that we gain as individuals from God’s action on our individual hearts. Out of that love we sacrifice ourselves, as individuals, on the cross of love. Love for others. We are united as church, not by control, but by love, love for God and love for others.
Let’s stop palming off our individual responsibilities on the church, let’s stop trying to control each other through the structure that church has become. Let’s look to the fundamental property of church, that it is a network of individuals, concerned for each other and having varying depths of relationship with each other, ranging from the intimate to an awareness of our brothers and sisters around the globe, whom we have never met.