Last night I had the privilege to attend an event called Fields of Faith with the youth group I help on Wednesday nights. The music was great, beautiful thoughts were shared, and God was certainly present. But a few things popped up that made me tilt my head and raise my eyebrow. The one that sticks out most in my mind was the frequent repetition of the phrase "your personal savior." Invite Jesus into your life, and he will become "your personal savior." At a surface level, and to the ears of the dominantly teenage crowd, it sounds pretty good. There is a sense that in such a phrase Jesus is interested in me. This is a powerful thought, considering how many teenagers have no one who is interested in them. With the rise of social abandonment, the rushing from one activity to another, and the general busyness that clouds their lives, it's great to hear about a personal savior.
At the same time, however, this language has embedded in it certain cultural values that are counter-intuitive to the reign of God (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ). When a stateside teen hears of Jesus as propelling the same values as her nation, is she really hearing Jesus? The individualistic habits of the States are obvious enough (as I have pointed out here and here) to those who recognize them for what they are. But a further danger of individualistic Christianity is that it robs the message of Christ of one of its most important elements: community.
When one's relationship with God is treated the same way as a doctor-patient relationship, problems crop up. If my walk with God is private, then I needn't share it with anyone else. If my secrets are his secrets, I have no need of you. But this isn't how God's reign works. It is not built upon individuals, though they are important, but upon communities. God did not call Abraham to be alone, but he called him to create a family, a people, a nation, a community. The synagogue is not a place to come and pray by yourself; it is specifically for the act of gathering together (which is what "synagogue" means in the first place)! The same is true of the church. Its power is not expressed at its greatest in persons, but in people.
If Jesus can be understood to have worked alone somehow, there would be no problem. But he didn't. He chose people to come after him, worked with them for two years (give or take), built them into a community, and left with them a Helper who would further form that community into the image of Christ so that it could better become his bride.
Is Jesus a personal savior? Absolutely. But we ought not forget that he is also a communal savior. Without the community, we are lone pieces of driftwood riding the sea of religion and attempted righteousness. Within the community, those pieces come together to make a raft with plenty of room, that place of safety that is still quite dangerous, but invites tired swimmers in and offers them rest from the waters they attempt to surmount on their own.