The Narcissism of ‘Solitary Religion’

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In an age of self-centered everything, it is not surprising that a lot of self-centered religion, and in particular self-centered Christianity has emerged. Pastors seeking to minister to people’s felt needs, because of course they are the center of their own universe, rather than God being the center, has led to all sorts of slogans like ‘I’m spiritual not religious’ which translates as— I don’t attend religious services, I can be spiritual all by myself. C.K. Barrett and John Wesley in a powerful sermon on Ephes. 3 have something to say to such folks….

‘Saints’ means Christians, and the life which consciously begins with the exercise of conscious personal faith is lived in fellowship with other Christians. There is, I suppose, a sort of paradox here, but it is a very natural one. Faith is something that no one else can do for you. It must be your own faith, or it isn’t faith at all in the proper sense. You can no more have faith by proxy than you can be born by proxy. You can take a degree in absentia, but you cannot take part in faith that way. But when you are born you are normally born into a family. It is like that with faith. The faith is your own, but it immediately admits you to the household of faith. So the Church is not patting itself on the back, or trying to keep itself going, when it says to anyone who professes faith in Christ: you must be a member of a Church and take advantage of the fellowship and the means of grace that the Church affords.
Augustine tells the story of Victorinus, professor of rhetoric at Rome. Victorinus had a lot of sympathy with Christianity, and used to read the Bible and Christian books. He would say to Simplician ‘You know I really am a Christian already.’ Simplician would reply ‘I will not believe it, nor will I rank you among Christians, until I see you in the Church of Christ.’ Victorinus would reply ‘Do walls make Christians?’ He kept the jest up for a long time, but in the end the professor came where he knew he belonged, and joined the mixed company of the Church of Rome.
It has always been so. It was at the beginnings of Methodism when a ‘serious man’, we do not know his name, said to John Wesley, ‘Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven? Remember that you cannot serve him alone. You therefore must find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.’

No indeed, the Bible knows nothing of it, nor should any Christian group or Church. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 12 ‘by one Spirit we are all baptized into the one body of Christ, and all are given the same Spirit from which to drink.’ That is— you cannot be a Christian in isolation, when you were saved you were inextricably joined to the body of Christ, and should commit yourself to full participation in it.