“You just gotta have a personal relationship with Jesus.”
And that’s it. You’re finished. That’s all you need to do, according to Americanism. Sure, good works are nice. Throw a Mr. Five in the plate at church if you’re feeling extra lucky that day. But as long as you’ve got that personal connection down deep in your soul, you’ve punched your ticket to heaven.
I’m sure everyone has at least heard of this kind of religion, and many of us have experienced it firsthand. What’s wrong with it? Isn’t it true? After all, one of the defining characteristics of our Holy God is that He is in fact personal, and not an impersonal force. Christ came for sinners, individual sinners; He knows everyone of us intimately and, yes, personally. We are all different and glorious and God knows each of us and what is best for us.
So why is this personalism bad theology?
Because it is only the first half of the truth.
You were not made for you. Your purpose is not to fulfill your own desires. You were made to glorify God and bless other people. You are not defined by who you are deep down. You are defined by those around you.
If I really want to understand you, I can’t look at just you. That doesn’t even cross my mind. I want to know the music you listen to, the friends you have, the family who raised you, the church you attend, who others think you are, the books you read, the movies you watch. That is what defines you: the people you are in community with.
Christ does know us on an intimate level: this is what makes our God so great. No pagan even claims that their false god is capable of this.
But what purpose does this intimate knowledge serve? Remember what the Church is: an Army, a unified Body. An army must fight as one entity to gain any ground, yet must retain the individuality of the soldiers.
We are One Body yet many members, as Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 12 (the whole chapter). We must hold tight to unity while rejoicing in diversity.
And that brings me to my point: I’ve stated before that there are two errors, two ditches to fall into regarding God. You can either say that He is One, or He is Many. The pagan mind cannot accept the Incomprehensible Glorious Mystery that is the Trinity, the Three-in-One, the ultimate marriage of plurality and singularity.
And this is how Americanism has failed: they have become far too enamored with the One aspect. They have become, in effect, Unitarians. The Trinity, while affirmed in Word, is no longer affirmed in deed. Our churches have become caterers to the whims of individuals instead of shepherds of the whole flock.
I say again, why does our God know us personally? To what end? So that we may be strong in the Body. He raises us from dust, knows our frailty, forgives our sins, and sends us out to be warriors in the great Army of the Lord. The saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Even large armies must be made of small parts.
So while we do and should acknowledge our God’s infinite personal relationship with us, it is only the beginning of the story. If what Americanism says is true, then we could all become hermits, living alone and out of community. This is false teaching. The Christian life is about one of community. Christ died so that we might have communion with Him and the Father and the Spirit.
Do not bemean His sacrifice by only going as far as you need to for yourself. It’s not about you. It’s about others. It always has been. Do not live for yourself, live for them, as Christ does.