I bet you’ve never heard ole Marshall Dillon say
Miss Kitty have you ever thought of running away
Settling down will you marry me
If I asked you twice and begged you pretty please
She’d of said, “Yes in a New York minute”
They never tied the knot
His heart wasn’t in it
Stole a kiss as he rode away
He never hung his hat up at Kitty’s place
(From “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith)
Do you like old westerns? Growing up, I always thought my grandpa was just like John Wayne, and he looked like him too. We love it when the loner rides into town, cleans up the mess, and leaves like he came – independent and alone.
We like other kinds of hero movies for similar reasons. When the hero, against all odds, saves the day without the help of anyone else, we cheer! There are no stereotypical heroes. Men, women, children, dogs. We root for the underdog and love to see him or her win.
They are the savior of the moment. They didn’t need anyone. Everyone needed them.
We have adopted quite a liking to this loner mentality. Our culture today is as individualistic as it has ever been. We know more about our friends than ever through social media, but we are statistically more lonely and depressed than ever. We pride ourselves on our independence and ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Even the “American dream” encourages this idealism that pits a person or family against the world to succeed in wealth, prestige and power.
But is individualism best?
My own personal savior, Jesus Christ.
The individualistic ideal of today that is standard thinking for many in America is foreign to so many others around the world, and it is a relatively new concept associated with the rise of industrialism, capitalism, and urbanization.
In days gone by, a family would need the entire community to survive. Older generations weren’t carted off to homes for senior care. They were incorporated into the everyday life of the family. The nuclear family wasn’t separate from the collective. People didn’t seek to be alone.
When you read the scriptures through the lens of individualism, then it would seem fitting that Jesus is our own personal savior. One for each of us. But Jesus didn’t just come to die for you alone. His plan was for the world. The language of the scriptures isn’t that of individualism; it exudes collectivism.
Yet, when we read stories like the gathering of the first church in Acts 2, we immediately think of terms like socialism or communism or utopian societies or cults. They thought of community. They were using what they were blessed with to help those they considered family. To seek independent wealth would be to show disdain for the collective need.
This collectivist mindset was the norm for those in the Middle East in the first century. Yet, today, we are far removed from such thinking. If we could refocus to see the collective view, the scriptures would open up to us in new ways, the church would mobilize again to look like she began, and we would find new purpose in our faith in Jesus.
When you read the word “you” in the New Testament, more often than not the word is plural – speaking to the whole church – not just the individual reading.
As it is, our individualistic mindsets convince us to hoard our wealth and give leftover to the church. We hide in buildings to see one another once a week or less, and we convince ourselves that we can seek this personal relationship with Jesus without attending services with other hypocritical Christians.
These ideas are entirely foreign to the church of the New Testament – the church of Jesus.
Jesus is your savior, but he’s the savior of the whole world, and you’re a part of it. He’s the savior of the church, and you’re a part of it. YOU (singular) aren’t the church. WE (collectively) are the church.