I understand that several in the congregation were disturbed by my sermon this past Sunday. The theme was the criticality of our corporate and communal relationship with God vis a vis our personal relationship with God. If you missed the sermon and would like to listen, you can find it here.
I think that some of the disagreement may be because that I neither defined what I meant by a “personal relationship” nor was I clear enough in affirming that, depending on how the expression is used, such a relationship is actually a good thing. So let me try to clarify a bit.
In Western, and, I suspect especially in white American Christianity there is a strong cultural bias toward the individual as distinct and independent from the community. This value has carried over into faith until in much of evangelical and cultural Christianity, there is a stress on the belief that Christ died for me, personally and especially and therefore my salvation results from my special, particular, and personal relationship with Jesus. Most who hold this belief may also believe that Jesus also died for you as an individual too, but your salvation is completely independent from mine and depends on your own personal relationship with Jesus. This idea of independent salvation is what I was hoping to steer us away from. Not only is it counter to scripture, it leads into the pernicious pattern of believing that, because I see more depth in my personal relationship with Jesus than I see in yours, my salvation must be more assured than yours. In New Testament Greek the word “idiot” means “one who stands alone.”
Instead, our salvation is fundamentally communal. We cannot hang out with Jesus without hanging out with all Jesus’ friends. The mission of the church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Prayer, as Jesus pointed out in last Sunday’s lesson, is fundamentally corporate. When we gather, we say, “We believe…” and “We confess…” never “I.” As our service ends, the priest often pronounces a blessing, not on each of us but on the gathered body. Even in solitary prayer, I hope we are conscious that we are praying together with the whole Communion of Saints past, present, and yet to come. The church teaches that there is no “special revelation” of the Holy Spirit, but that the Spirit descended on the Body of the Church and any spiritual revelation given to an individual should be confirmed by the body of the faithful. Jesus prayed that he, his Father, and his people might be completely one, each in the other. This means that Christ who dwells within me brings along all who similarly dwell in Christ.
All this said, because I am part of the community of Christ, Christ does dwell in me and I in him, and, on my good days, I feel that closeness at a personal level. On my best days, I feel you, my community as integral in that closeness too. Because I am part of the community of the Holy Spirit, on my good days I can hear her whispers to my own heart and on my best days I can feel her breath in your words too. Because I am baptized into the Body of Christ and part of the new people of water and Spirit, I also have the gift of an interpersonal relationship with Christ. Because I have the gift of an interpersonal relationship with Christ, I also have the gift of a corporate relationship with you and with all the saints. The two cannot be separated.
The Holy Spirit truly does speak through your words. I love it when you come to me with questions or concerns about my sermons. You make me think more deeply, question my thoughts and my words, preach more skillfully, and ultimately bring me closer to God and to you. Thank you!