Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can the Church Be More than a Purveyor of Personal Salvation?

“The fact that Christian faith becomes increasingly a matter of personal decision can be misunderstood to mean that Christianity is concerned only with the narrow range of personal moral problems. When this happens, there is a grave danger that the Gospel may be mistaken for a mere offer of individual and private salvation, like the mystery religions which were its rivals during the first centuries of its mission. … The Gospel is concerned with something greater, with the redemption of the world, including precisely those realms of human life which are being so drastically secularized in our day. (Newbigin, Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission, 60).

This sounds good. It resembles things we have heard in the Bible. But if truth be told, it is hard for most Western Christians to even begin to think about the Gospel and salvation in these terms. Salvation is most often seen as a personal experience that we have so that we have a personal relationship with Jesus, deal with our moral problems (because we have been told that we are powerless to change them on our own) and go to heaven when we die. When we take this approach to the Gospel and salvation, we have a good private relationship with Jesus, line up with an upstanding moral code while still living the rest of our lives according to the standards of the broader culture.

Jesus came to set us free from the –isms of our culture not to place church on top of them and call our lives holy. He came to introduce us to a new way of life that challenges the life patterns of individualism, sexism, racism, isolationism, consumersism, workaholism and others that shape our lives in ways that we don’t even recognize. We most often overlook such life patterns because we assume that public issues like these belong to the realm of the secular. When we only see the Gospel as applying to our private lives it hard to imagine how it can apply to matters like abuse of the environment, how people of color are neglected by the governmental systems or how immigrants have trouble integrating into the local culture. We fail to see how the idol of success is destroying families and the drive for power and prestige is crushing our souls.

Has the church simply become a purveyor of personal salvation? Is it primarily a provider of events so people can hear a message that will empower then to become all they can be in their “real” lives?

Is community, whether in a small group, mid-size group or a house church, just another spiritual option for people who have that felt need?

If the Gospel is really about the redemption of the world, then we must tear down the artificial divide between the secular and the spiritual. Church then becomes something much different. It becomes a venue for salvation formation, a means for shaping our lives to flow with the salvation of the world in all its parts. It becomes a pod of redemption where salvation life is demonstrated in the midst of all that is controlled by non-salvation. This means that our lives will be shaped by a set of salvation practices instead of secular practices. We need not attack the secular to change our lives. We just need to establish an alternative way of living in the midst of the secular.

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