Photo Courtesy of Ben Gosden
It seems it’s becoming passe to hate the Church and claim to love Jesus.
“The Church is an institution that Jesus never intended.”
“Following Jesus is about more than the Church”
“Being Christian can lead us to leave the Church”
These are just a few of the responses I’ve heard to the recent Newsweek article by Andrew Sullivan called Christianity is Crisis. Sullivan touches on a similar chord that Jeff Bethke struck a few months back with his YouTube viral hit Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus. It’s becoming more and more popular for people to construct this sort of false dichotomy where we reject the Church but still follow Jesus. But why is this so popular?
A Bad Case of MTD
In her book, Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean argues that American Christianity has in large part evolved into what she calls MTD (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). My friend, John Meunier, has an excellent introduction to MTD in his latest blog post. But let’s encapsulate it by looking at the 3 terms that make up the concept:
- Moralistic: The object of Christian faith is to be nice to others in accordance with moral lessons in the Bible as well as natural law observed through reason.
- Therapeutic: The main purpose of life is to find happiness.
- Deism: God created the world and holds ultimate power, but is very uninterested in human life and will not intervene except when someone needs an answer to a problem.
We’re taught that Christians are at least supposed to be decent people who pay their taxes and try to follow the laws. Getting along with one another is among the highest ideals of our MTD.
All of this makes me wonder whether we create this idea of following Jesus without the Church out of a self-centered, individualistic approach to faith. Does personal faith trump the community of faith? Can we be followers of Jesus without the Body of Christ? To these questions and others like them, I say absolutely not.
Faith is a personal idea that is absolutely dependent on a communal experience. One cannot hold one’s faith as a private possession and still call it Christian. To be Christian means we must have a community through which we learn how to live out our faith in the world. A common misconception is that we can read the gospel accounts of Jesus only to gain personal insight on what it means to be a follower. While that’s partially true, it’s not the whole story. The gospels were, in fact, written for communities struggling to figure out what it meant to be people of The Way (and then later Christians). They were a people formed by a communal narrative much like the Jewish people. Greek words like “oikos” (family), “soma” (body), and “ekklesia” (gathering) are the focal points of the New Testament. You see, there’s no “I” in the Body of Christ that doesn’t form a “we” — you simply cannot separate the two.