Chad Bird of 1517.org: "Christianity Is Not About a Personal Relationship with Jesus"
"Christianity is not a solo endeavor. Not a private relationship between Jesus and me."
I think Rev. Bird may be overstating this somewhat to make a point – there is, I believe, a personal aspect to our relationship with Jesus the Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – but I also think that his point is valid, accurate, and needs to be heard and indeed proclaimed, in a world where our choices seem to be either no faith at all, or a mushy-gushy, subjective, individualistic, “me-and-Jesus” faith.
“Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus. The phrase is never found in the Bible. And the whole biblical witness runs contrary to it. Our life with Christ is communal, not personal or private or individual. When the Scriptures speak of believers, they are part of a community, a fellowship of other believers.
“Christianity is about a church relationship with Jesus.
“I know this runs contrary to what many modern believers think. And even desire. In an age when we are more isolated than ever, when our worlds often shrink to the size of a phone screen, talk of community sounds like a radical departure from the norm. It is. But the norm of the Christian faith is not isolated believers, little islands of spirituality, but a continent of Christians banded together by the Spirit.”
As he further notes,
“Thank God it is this way. Heaven forbid that I should have a personal relationship with Jesus. For I know what would happen: I would end up, in my mind, reshaping my personal Jesus into a strikingly familiar image: the image of me.”
Creating God, as it were, in our own image. And isn’t that what we frequently see, in today’s “progressive” Christianity? A God who does not so much forgive us our sins, if we repent and confess them in true contrition – as in the traditional understanding – but who instead “affirms” and blesses them? Is that not creating God in our own image?
In marked contrast, our faith, traditionally understood – like culture, traditionally understood – is rooted in community. We are baptized into the Body of Christ which is His Church: we are Christians because we are part of that Body. That is indeed counter to our contemporary, atomized / alienated / radically-individualistic way of living and thinking; but it is what the Scriptures and the Church’s own tradition both teach us.
And indeed, the Church is a community, not only of the presently living, but of all those who have lived and died in the faith over the last two thousand years. I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote:
“Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
In other words, our relationship with Jesus Christ as members of His Body, the Church, includes not only the Church of today, the immediate community of which we are a part, but the Church through the ages. The Body of Christ includes both the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the Church militant, and the Church triumphant – and these comprise one Church, one Body.
And that, in turn, means that through our baptism, we are joined to that mystical Church which C.S. Lewis described as “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”
Opinions may differ, but to me, that is a much more awesome – in the literal sense of that word – and glorious relationship, and destiny, than just “me and Jesus.”