From the 2011 ForeWords archive:
Much of what passes for Christianity these days, at least here in North America, appears to begin and end with the same assumption: “It’s really all about ‘me and Jesus.'” What I mean by that is that the practice of Christianity is something an individual does, and it’s not only a personal affair but in large part a private one, as well.
A basic tenet of evangelical, born-again Christians is the requirement that an individual accepts Jesus as his or her personal savior. Sometimes this is expressed as “accepting Jesus into my heart,” or similar statement. But it all boils down to the same baseline that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is a two-way street. There may be some discussion as to how the relationship is initiated, although I think for most evangelicals it would amount to Jesus doggedly tracking them down and not letting them go until they acquiesce. Yet that misses the point in at least two of this week’s familiar lectionary scripture passages:
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. –Romans 13:8-10
Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” –Matthew 18:19-20
What baffles me, in particular, is how the “me and Jesus” crowd can continue to emphasize that two-way street approach in the face of “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. By much the same token, it takes two (separate human beings) for God in Christ to become an active presence in their midst–to be there among them. Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not discounting personal spiritual practices and disciplines by any means–they’re essential for a balanced Christian life.
This two-way street thing is one of the reasons why I don’t refer to myself as born-again or evangelical. Yes, I know, there’s a whole bunch of people in my own denomination, the Community of Christ, who would and do describe themselves in those terms. It’s my personal opinion that they’re mistaking this church for another one. I understand how this has happened: when a denomination ignores its responsibilities in developing a sound, well-structured, and sensible curriculum for a generation or two (or three or more?), people quite understandably start going somewhere else to get their theological ideas. This is the harvest we’ve reaped.
The worship theme suggested by my denomination’s headquarters for this week [ed. note: this was originally written in 2011] is “Love one another.” Please note: it’s not “Love God” or “Love yourself” (and, of course, both of those sentiments/commands are worthwhile on their own separate merits). This is, in fact, a “three-way intersection,” not a two-way street; perhaps its more akin to a highway roundabout, a traffic circle–or “rotary” for those of you who are reading this in New England. I like that imagery better than the more traditional “horizontal/vertical dimensions” explanation that gets tied to this week’s Romans and Matthew passages. Another one I like is “You can’t be a Christian all by yourself.”
It’s interesting that the phrase “where two or three are gathered” does not read “where two or three are gathered in agreement.” That gives me some hope for the church–both the larger Christian body and the small denomination (and congregation) I love and in which I participate.