Thursday, November 09, 2006

individual versus corporate spirituality

When in seminary, I recall a professor who made the statement that all spirituality in the Bible is corporate in nature, and never individual. In context I may have considered him correct, if I could have heard or read his view explained. And it made a point, in bringing out the needed (maybe especially at that time) Biblical emphasis on community.

However, I must say that Scripture seems to indicate something that needs nuancing here. I would want to say that God created each individual as special. And as a special part of the whole of corporate humanity. And that, in the new creation, God recreates each individual in Christ as a special part of the whole of this new humanity, no longer "in Adam", but now "in Christ".

This means that we can never separate our individuality from the corporate whole God is making. As in a New Age kind of self-help spirituality. But neither can we discount at all, the powerful, and I believe, Biblical message that "Jesus loves me", yes, me. And even in a special way. Just as he loves each human, I believe, in a special way.

So we're left, if what I'm saying is getting at the truth, with the importance of seeing each of us as special. But each as a special part of the whole of humanity, that in Christ God would be bringing into his community of perichoresis, in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a true sense we should not separate our individuality from the whole of human community. "No one lives unto themselves." (Paul) But at the same time, we must take seriously the special place in this community that each and everyone of us has, potentially- in Christ. So that we need not be ashamed of talking about our own experience, or God's grace in our own life. "...who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Paul)


kent said...

How do you have individual spirituality without the corporate? We are called into the family of God, the Body of Christ, and the kingdom of God. In our hyper-individualistic culture we consider this a "me and Jesus" faith. Which leades to consumerism and a shallow faith. While I am special, that only has meaning in connection with the whole kingdom of God.

Ted Gossard said...

"This means that we can never separate our individuality from the corporate whole God is making."

Kent, From that quote you can see that I included that in what I was trying to say.

At the same time, all I'm asserting, rightly or wrongly, is that Scripture does speak of individual experience and the individual before God (look at the psalms). Such as Paul and his Damascus Road experience- and all what was happening there, in reference to his unique calling from God.

It is important for us to see ourselves in relation to God and to each other, both in the new humanity in Christ, as well as all humanity. But it is also important for each one, I think, to see themselves as unique parts of the whole, having their own special call and place before God.

Individuality is differentiated here, in what I'm saying from the individualism you speak about. Individualism is wrapped up in self. Whereas we're made as individuals to each have our place in the whole.

So I'm guessing we're on the same page. Though maybe you think I'm not nuancing things correctly?


Erika Carney Haub said...

You are absolutely right that scripture speaks to the individual experience, and I feel that this is less popular to talk about in many circles right now. I, too, had a profesor in seminary who shared with us about telling a man who was not in a church who was struggling with some things that Paul wrote in his letters. My prof said to him: "Don't worry. Those things don't apply to you." The guy was shocked and even offended, but my prof said to him: "Paul wrote those things to the church."

Anyway, in all of the attempts right now to restore community as central to kingdom life (and I am totally supportive of this corrective), you are right that we are communities of individuals, created and loved by God. I believe that God saves us as individuals (as opposed to nations or families), but that what we are saved FOR is life together; for lives that are given away for the sake of others; for a corporate witness to God's mission in the world.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ted Gossard said...

The professor actually did not teach me. And I heard it second-hand from another professor (very good one) who seemed to have the same take I did as to what the prof meant, though not necessarily with my same evaluation of it.

That prof may have been simply saying that all spirituality is corporal in nature, though, of course, individuals are experiencing that, in the togetherness of God and the community of God. Something like that.

Thanks for challenging my post. And making me think. I love that! It can help me find a better position or learn a better way to express my position.

Ted Gossard said...


Thanks much for your thoughts.

Yes. God deals with, and takes us seriously as individuals. Just as we are to take each other seriously as individuals.

We certainly never live unto ourselves. Yet each of us has our own special place in the community of God, for sure.


Allan R. Bevere said...


Good comments. I have become quite concerned that so much spiritual formation is simply contemplating our own individual spiritual navels.

There is an indispensable corporate dimension to our spritual formation

Ted Gossard said...


That is so true, and a good way of expressing it.

The individual and consideration about that has its place I think. But individualism does not. We find our individual significance and identity as part of the corporate whole of the new humanity in Christ, as well as humanity in general.