Yesterday I made a statement that narcissism was an social virus infecting America in staggering numbers. The Church in America is suffering as a result of this in dramatic ways. Personality cults that follow popular religious speakers is just one aspect of this phenomenon. Expressions like, “my faith,” or “what feeds me,” or “my relationship with the Lord,” are popularized in praise songs and pulpits. One study indicated that 81% of Americans identified themselves as Christians but only 21% believed that belonging to a faith community was needed for spiritual maturity.
Within much of American protestantism the Apostle’s Creed is used as the confession of faith. We say, “I believe…” and the Nicene Creed is left out of services because of its length even though in it we confess, “We believe…” Where do we hear the message that faith community is vital to our expression of discipleship. Have we seen worship become a performance that is primarily about the individual where worshipers are fed a diet of songs and messages that create a world where it is primarily about the feelings of the worshiper and not really about God?
While a disciple’s personal relationship to God is very important (78% of Christians polled indicate spirituality is very important to them), yet, one out of five see spirituality as an individualistic behavior and not connected to a community of faith. Are we motivated together to leave worship in order to serve, evangelize, study, and live as disciples remembering the gathered community during our week apart? Do we long for the gathering of the community six days from now or is it another thing on the long individual “to-do kist” of the week? The Word and Sacrament are not served at a table for one.
Some have turned the “personal relationship with Jesus,” as the key to wealth and well-being. They are selling a narcissistic Christianity that does not resemble the Church that Jesus died for. While some stress the individualism others focus all their energy on social justice and people are judged by labels of liberal and conservative. We are neither, as Paul suggests in Galatians 3:28,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Re-formation is something that disciples can bring about within communities of faith. Denominations have tended not to encourage a culture of discipleship, commitment, and loyalty. They are worried too much about preservation and religious political correctness, income, and programs. Addressing social issues becomes the way of defining the identity of the church body. Helping the congregations is relegated to putting out fires, propping up decline, and celebrating closures.
Discipleship is a transformational way of living. WE the Church, made up of ordinary people, need practical guidelines for daily living in the world. As Christians in America, we need to reinforce with each other that these practical ways of living that are often counter-cultural. Discipleship demands “the called out ones” participate in the process of life transformation according to the Gospel.
Pray for the Church, her pastors, and other leaders. Pray that WE will be Church together. Pray for a rebirth of discipleship that sees the Community of Faith as the expression of God’s work and will to spread the Good News of Jesus for all people. Pray about how your individual gifts can benefit the Community of Faith and enhance communal discipleship.