Individualism is about as Western as an ideal can get. And with individualism often comes capitalism. Shortly after individualism and capitalism, imperialism usually follows. I don’t know when this transition towards individualism (and thus capitalism. Yes, I believe capitalism is a symptom of individualism, or at least that they’re closely related.) started. Maybe we have the Protestant Reformation to blame for individualism (and thus maybe the real culprit is corruption in the church which drove Luther to look for a different way) and maybe the heresy of Christian individualism goes back earlier than that. I’m not sure. I’m not here to talk about history. I’m here to tell you that now, in 2013, missional living will be one of the hardest things for your church to do because the modern church has accepted the heresies of Christian Individualism, Christian Capitalism and Christian Imperialism.
Christian Individualism borrows from the culture to say that Christianity is all about “me” and not “us”. It ignores the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel is not about personal salvation (that can be disputed), but even if there were portions of Scripture that seemed to perpetuate that idea, there are countless others which talk about the well-being of all of creation. Jesus’ message was about radical and inclusive grace that brings positive change, not only in our personal lives but in the lives of our communities.
Individualism fuels “Christian Capitalism” which takes the ideas of capitalism and puts Jesus’ name on them. Christian Capitalism says, “God want ts me to be successful, wealthy and healthy. God wants me to manage my finances and other resources to maintain my health and wealth. God wants me to invest in profitable ministry ideas that have a low risk factor.”
The next logical step is “Christian Imperialism”. Christian Imperialism, not much different from political imperialism (what we see with the original British colonies or Britain and India in the early 1900’s) at best says something like, “If those folks who are poor and ragged just had what he have (a relationship with Jesus Christ), their life would be better. They would know the “truth” (that God loves them too much for them to stay poor/fat/uneducated.). They would suddenly have better habits and they would suddenly be freed from whatever bondage they’re under. All they need to do is follow these steps.” And at its worst, Christian Imperialism says, “Those folks have something we need. Let’s go share Christ with them and convince them that God wants them to give it to us.” or “If I spend time with these poor/indigenous people and have some good stories, I can go back to my home church and they’ll be really proud of me.”
These three ideas (individualism, capitalism and imperialism) are ingrained into the minds of Americans and it takes work to give them a new hermeneutic (way of understanding the Bible) that doesn’t include these three ideas. But if we read the Bible, we don’t see these three ideas represented. These are ideas of our culture. We see collectivism (the well-being of the whole society/shalom if you will) in the Bible. Read the Prophets. Read the Gospels. Read Acts and the Epistles (especially the Epistle of James). They don’t talk about PERSONAL salvation (that statement can be contested). If there is talk about personal salvation, it is drowned out by the hundreds of mentions of salvation or shalom for ALL. God has had a plan for this world since creation and God’s plan is redemption/salvation/shalom. That plan was put in to place well before your church was founded and will still be getting worked out long after your church has closed its doors for the final time.
It’s easy to work in opposition to that plan. Our (Americans) default setting is to individualism, capitalism and imperialism. Missional living takes work. We have to be reeducated. We have to read the Bible without cultural bias. The Bible is a story about people moving towards liberation. Is your church on task with that plan? What is your church doing to liberate folks in your community? Liberate them from addiction? Liberate them from hunger? Liberate them from poverty?
These Western ideals are killing our church because a generation is coming up (thanks to the internet) that is less interested in Individualism. The internet has reminded folks that we are all one people, no matter the political or social boundaries that have been created. If your church can’t get with the idea that your salvation is linked up with the salvation/shalom of your community, your church will die. Young people are not interested in your church building if your church isn’t doing something for the community it sits in, plain and simple.
Missional living is the hardest thing your church will ever do. It takes hard work. We have to turn auto pilot off and be intentional in our communities. But it’s worth it.