In our discussion of yesterday’s post The Problem with Crowds, Stefan Stackhouse linked to an essay by Søren Kierkegaard, The Crowd is Untruth. That essay is shockingly profound,, with great resonance for today.
The Danish Lutheran/proto-existentialist takes a theological, as well as ethical, view of crowds. He points out that the Bible says, “Love thy neighbor”; not “love the crowd.” He deals with “the daily press” and its creation of an abstract “public” that assumes an authority over what we are supposed to consider true. He critiques those whose profession it is to lead a crowd and how they often ignore an individual in need because of their obsession with big numbers. He addresses preaching. (Yes, one can legitimately preach to a hundred thousand, as well as to ten. But don’t let the desire to attract a hundred thousand determine what you are going to preach.) He warns against the “numerical”–attending to numbers as your main criterion.
Pastors of big churches and of small churches should read this essay, excerpted after the jump. So should church growth consultants, who often give the direct contrary advice. (Large congregations don’t have to be “crowds” in this sense. And small congregations should be appreciated, though they too can turn into smaller “crowds.”)
You don’t have to agree with Kierkegaard on everything to appreciate the force of his argument here. But let me raise a question: How can we avoid the danger of the crowd being untruth while acknowledging the corporate nature of the Christian faith? Some Christians do have a completely individualistic understanding of Christianity–as in Tom T. Hall’s song “Me and Jesus”–with no need, as in that song, for the Church.
I suspect Kierkegaard’s answer would be in terms of how Christianity is for “the one,” yet “everyone can become that one.” And in what he says about the love of neighbor. Does this solve the dilemma, or is he taking individualism too far?