Recently I read an interesting link from which I found a paper comparing C. S. Lewis with J. R. R. Tolkien. And it got me thinking some more on the place of community (or lack of it) in our tradition and practice of the faith.
What I find shocking looking back on my life, is just how optional many believers in Christ make church to be. Okay, it is a bit more than just a nice addition to them. But it is too often not an essential. What is essential to them is personal faith in Jesus, the salvation that comes to them individually through that. According to Ralph Wood, Baylor University Professor of Theology and Literature, his evangelical students- the majority of those he teaches, hardly have a clue when it comes to community and its importance.
I’m sure without a doubt that I more or less share in that ignorance. Our context in life trumps anything we might gather in intellectually, or from the “ivory tower.” I find that insights and understanding seem to come out of life more than from anywhere else, guided by the text of scripture. I may catch a glimpse of community here or there in a way that can inform me toward a better scriptural understanding and practice of community in Jesus (such as in a Roman Catholic mass/worship service). And get some suggestions concerning it from a paper, as in the interview of Ralph Wood from the link above, or in his paper cited. Again, thoughts that need to be considered in terms of real life, in faith and practice.
I believe in personal devotions, even though I hardly practice them at all as many Christians in my tradition do. We must have a relationship with God through Christ- living and growing, on a personal level. But we don’t get that on our own, not even with us and Jesus. I like the way Ralph Wood puts it, from the interview:
In teaching my wonderfully receptive and overwhelmingly evangelical students here at Baylor, I have great difficulty convincing them that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian, that our faith does not depend on a primarily private relation to Jesus, and thus that we cannot be Christians apart from our baptismal participation in his Church. Their blindness in this regard is not their fault: this is what their churches and our individualist culture have taught them.
I find too often that I exist among other Christians who have been raised in this kind of tradition. We live and move even around each other oftentimes in isolation. As if we were separate islands. And that whatever impact we might have on each other does nothing more than to shore up those islands, i.e., our personal walk and life in Christ.
Yes, our individual life and walk and experience in Christ is vitally important. But that needs to be understood in terms of the whole which includes participation in Christ and Christ’s body, the church. One can’t have participation in Christ apart from participation in his body. Somehow in ways that are beyond us for sure, we need to live as those who are part of the whole. Belonging to Christ means belonging to his members. There is no such thing, really, as an isolated, individual faith. At least not in terms of God’s will and where he will bring us, his children.
Now by this, I’m not suggesting we have to become Catholic or Orthodox or Anglican, something either in or more attune to the Great Tradition, though in some ways that would help. Joining a church of the Great Tradition does not seem to be an option for me. But we most certainly can learn from each other across different traditions, and that is what I would be suggesting here. Even as they can learn something from us in and through Christ.
This post is simply shared as food for thought. How can we better be what we are in Christ? Not just individuals, but those who together are Christ’s body in the world. How might this help us see not only our sheer dependence on God through Christ, but our utter interdependence on each other in Christ? I am groping, myself.