Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Individual in the Jesus Community

A blogger friend, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, who has a fine blog, Emergent Voyageurs, recently pointed out in a blog conversation that losing sight of the importance of the individual is just as destructive as losing sight of the importance of the community. This is certainly true.

Community is a needed emphasis in our time, when individualism still has its hold on much of our culture. And community is thoroughly biblical, from the time God said it was not good for the man, Adam, to be alone, to the time when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth. People are meant to live in communion with each other, as well as in union with God.

However we must not lose sight of the fact that each individual human is special in God's sight, and therefore should be in our sight as well. We see this all throughout Scripture. Each human is an Eikon (image-bearer) of God. Each individual person then is sacred. And we as Christ's followers should especially be aware of this, and live as if it were so.

This means we affirm each other as humans, taking seriously the God-given person each is and the God-given free will each has. That means I can take seriously those who differ with me in what I believe to be essential matters. Those who reject God in one way or another. As well as those in the community of Jesus that I don't see eye to eye with, those who- like me can even be annoying.

We take the other seriously by accepting them. Accepting them for who they are, and where they're at. No matter how broken. And we with them in that. Hopefully they can reciprocate in doing the same towards us. Then hopefully out from that, through love and prayer we can, over time see God's kingdom and love break through to them along with us, in Jesus.

We do that by proclaiming the good news in Jesus, and performing that good news of Jesus (to borrow again from Scot McKnight). We don't accept and befriend others just to get them to God. But we want to get them to God because we've accepted and befriended them. And we do so as those with them in this dynamic on the journey of life.

Again though, before we would talk about sharing the great good news of Jesus, we must settle the fact, once and for all, that every person in our faith community, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our world and the world beyond us, along with us is important, and of inestimable value to God as well as to us.


Scot McKnight said...

Thanks for this. It is more difficult to live than we think.
It is easy to love those we like; it is difficult to love those we don't like; Jesus calls us to both.

Ted Gossard said...

Scot, thanks for your words. How true.


Brad Boydston said...

I don't think we're in much danger of having our individualism swallowed up by an emphasis on community. One of the few things which really defines postmodernism is individualism. In a postmodern culture it is all about individual choice and preference. In this sense it is really just a form of hypermodernism.

One of the great things about the emerging church movement is that they are talking a lot about community. But at this point I suspect that they are having about as much success at reshifting the focus as the previous generation. The power of the force (of individualism) is strong.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks so much for your thoughts and perspective. Much appreciated. I need to further reflect on what you're saying.

Another blogger friend, Rusty Peterman talks about the need for "immersion learning" to see change in people.

I think the book I'm working on, "No Perfect People Allowed", by Burke, I believe, is helpful in showing how a church is experiencing a kind of community on a level that is making a difference in people's lives. In people who would ordinarily never darken the door of a church... An interesting book.