Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is Individualism a Heresy?

I'll admit that the church has been guilty of a certain amount of over emphasis on what's been termed "individualism" but the recent comment by the newly elected presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (United States), Katharine Jefferts Schori, that this focus on the individual is the "great Western heresy" and is "a form of idolatry" is over the top.

Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, has responded to this charge in an article in Christianity Today. He says, "There is good news and bad news here. The good news is that the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop is not afraid to denounce heresy. The bad news is that we evangelicals turn out to be the heretics she is denouncing."

Mouw's article is well worth reading. I gave a hearty amen when he wrote "We never say that an individual's very personal relationship to God is not important. What we do say is that individual salvation is not enough."

The now tired mantra of "down with the individual up with community" and let's all save the earth unnecessarily bifurcates the issues. The less attention we give to the individual the easier it is for us to ignore our own personal responsibility to our Creator, Lord, and Savior. We pride ourselves on our deep concern for global matters which clearly are more important than any one person. But Christ died for individuals and there is a personal call to each individual to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. These words are emptied of all meaning if we abandon all concern for individuals. To turn a phrase "what will it gain a person to save the earth but lose their soul?" I'm not denying that Christ's death has global implications (Romans 8) but these global matters were never intended to eclipse those who populate the planet. I think what lies underneath this is a growing disbelief that people need to be saved. God loves us and we are all basically good so let's stop worrying about how we're going to get to heaven and focus on something that really needs saving--mother Earth. The shift is subtle as more and more Christians find themselves wrapped up in these "noble causes" and are discouraged from focusing on their neighbor's need for Christ. If there is a heresy involved here it is not one of individualism but of universal salvation.

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