I know that in the current religious, political and sociological culture of the United States it might seem shocking to posit the thesis: there is no such thing as individual salvation amongst followers of Christ. Radical individualism is so engrained in our mutual psyche that we fall prone to the mistakes of individual free will and a lack of ekklesia (gathering in) involved in our salvation experience as humans.
Am I suggesting that there is not an individual element to salvation? Of course not. That would not only be counterintuitive, but contrary to the Holy Writ. Yet, there is a nefarious strain of popular religion in the US that furthers the dangerous notion that spiritual transformation is done in isolation and is characterized by acts of individual and not communal salvation. This is simple not the case according to our holy writings and from the experience of building the peaceable kingdom here on earth.
In the 20th century the models of “church” were dominated culturally by evangelistic crusades to convert individuals to Jesus Christ. By “asking Jesus into your heart” a person was assured eternal life. Eternal life often equated with the most fantastic visions of paradise and the certainty that one would not encounter the scorching, eternity of pain that the fires of hell provide. Sometimes this functioned as an insurance policy for the future, while leaving the present derelict and unattended. This worldview can cause a degenerate craving for destruction and a desperation for those perceived as “lost” on the planet. A simple prayer, ascent or check on a paper card would assure one of salvation. This is not the small gate and narrow road that we are told in the book of Matthew.
I do not entend to delve too deeply into the most superficial elements of Evangelical views of salvation, just to note that I find them to be deficient as a lasting practice of working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)
I am very interested in how this cultural of easy faith has permeated both left, middle and right in the church itself. This can be attributed to massive amounts of money, technology, communications, power and leadership focusing on transforming Christianity by the evangelical church in the United States moving out into the world. A general observation of the faithful gathering and it’s “programming” shows that there is a predilection toward providing individual problems over and against addressing systemic sin within our communities and world.
With the massive cultural attack by monied evangelicals through music, publishing, conferences, press, political engagement and institution building make no surprises that these views have spread into many Protestant groups independent of the Evangelical movement. Yet, it has corrosively shallowed the faith worldview sufficiently that no one even questions an individualistic nature of salvation.
It is far too easy to forget that these epistles and gospels were written to communities and for communities. They are liturgically meant to be solace, challenge and strength to entire communities of disciples (plural). The challenge to the incorrect notion that salvation only brings us individual paradise is to push back at such shallow ideas of transformation. The idea of liberation being separated from the interconnected web of humanity of which we participate is unthinkable to our community’s salvation. We must eschew the cheap grace giving fleeting futuristic hope instead of the concrete here and now.
This is a first of a few posts that I hope to illustrate how I struggle with as a view of corporate salvation in the our community of faith. Corporate is not meant to be the dominant understanding of a capitalistic corporation, but as a gathering. In the next few posts I hope to move from definitions to holy texts that inform my views of faith.