Consider the poetry of John Donne.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
We might not be familiar with this work in it’s entirety, but we’ve all certainly heard and used the phrase “no man is an island”. In general, we use it positively to mean that people are designed to thrive in community, not alone.
We also use it in a negative sense to say that our actions have consequences that not only affect us, but also affect others around us. The narrative of Achan’s sin in Joshua 8:10-ff. often serves as an adequate illustration of this principle. Because of Achan’s sin, the entire nation was affected. Women became widows, children became fatherless. The people of God were handed an embarrassing defeat at the battle of Ai. People began to struggle with their faith. Achan’s own family and belongings were punished in the process.
We understand the truth and principles taught through the phrase “no man is an island”. In many ways, we’ve witnessed, for good and bad, the ramifications of other’s actions on their personal relationships and surrounding community. I would venture to say that we all recognize that we are pebbles thrown into a pond and that our words and actions have ripple affects on those around us.
However, I see a great irony within the church. Many try to live their lives severed from the body of Christ. Francis Chan relayed a personal story a few years ago at the Passion Conference where he admitted in his own personal testimony to have the tendency to isolate himself from others within the church. His thought was that he didn’t need the interaction with others for his personal fulfilment. He became convicted of this behavior and his conclusion was that he could indeed live out American Christianity in isolation, but he could not, in fact, live out biblical Christianity disconnected from a local church. I read a blog article the other day, here’s a few things highlighted within:
1. American Christianity focuses on individual destiny. The Bible focuses on corporate vision and destiny.
2. American Christianity focuses on individual prosperity. The Bible focuses on stewardship.
3. American Christianity focuses on self-fulfillment and happiness. The Bible focuses on glorifying God and serving humanity.
4. American Christianity appeals to using faith to attain stability and comfort. The Bible encourages believers to risk life and limb to advance the Kingdom.
5. American Christianity usually focuses on individual salvation. The Bible deals with individual and systemic redemption.
7. American believers have a consumerist mentality regarding a home church. The biblical emphasis is being equipped for the ministry.
8. American Christianity promotes a culture of entertainment. The Bible promotes the pursuit of God.
12. In American Christianity the individual interprets the Bible. In the New Testament the hermeneutical community interprets the Bible.
13. American Christianity trains its leaders in Bible colleges. Biblical Christianity nurtures leaders through personal mentoring.*
We often say that the Bible is counter-cultural. Most of the time we mean that in comparison to a non-Christian worldview. Sometimes the Bible is counter-cultural for us.
Chan was absolutely right in his assessment. We can live our a version of American Christianity disconnected from other believers, but we can’t live out Jesus’ idea of Christianity in that fashion.**
The recent musical “The Greatest Showman” gives us a glance into this individualistic mentality. Take note of the following words from one of it’s songs. (You may sing along if you like.)
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
In America, we find ourselves with the genuine temptation to worship concept of individualism. A quick look into Revelation 5 tells us that God has plans that involve us, but are much larger than just us. He’s redeeming people from across the globe, to join together and sing one song. And the song isn’t about us. It’s about Jesus.
“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9,10).
One of the clearest places in scripture where we have a warning not to separate from community is in Hebrews 10:25. The writer warns us,
“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some”
This brief mention almost makes it seem unimportant. It almost seems to be a side note in the midst of a larger conversation. The word “neglecting” means to quit doing something you’ve been doing for some time. So at some point, gathering together with other believers became unimportnat. However, it’s what he says around these short, but important words that make us realize the importance of what he’s saying. So, why does it become important for us to “meet together”.
- “Let US draw near” (v. 22) – Together we pursue intimacy with God.
- “Let US hold fast” (v. 23) – Together we strengthen our resolve to remain faithful to gospel.
- “And let US consider how to stir up one another” (v. 24) – Together we encourage one another to continue walking with Christ.
As simple as it sounds, we can attempt to accomplish the first two alone, but were never meant to. The third implies community.
Embrace your church. Embrace the people within and let’s help one another grow in the gospel.
*The blog in it’s entirety can be found at: https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/44947-13-contrasts-between-american-and-biblical-christianity
**I would also argue that our commitment to meet together as the church also suffers from our current culture’s commitment issues, but we’ll have to discuss that at another time.