A variation on this story appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.
So last weekend our friend Brenda — the one who wrote the short poem that’s been in the sidebar of this blog for the past three weeks — took us church hopping. It was a storefront church in the central business area of a smallish town.
There, we participated in a most unusual communion service. The elements — the bread and juice — were placed on a table in a self-serve style. Nothing unusual so far, right? But to get to them you walked behind a curtain, single file, one at a time. Suddenly, you were in there, all alone, just you and God.
Others were waiting and they joked ahead of time that they’d ‘tie a rope to your feet and pull you out if you stay too long,’ but you had these brief seconds to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’ and express to God in a whispered prayer whatever you would say to Him, or listen to whatever He would say to you. But you did have those few seconds, and I found it rather awe-inspiring.
It’s a communion or Eucharist that I will never forget.
It brought home the idea that although we worship corporately at weekend services, ultimately, our relationship with God is individual. We’re not saved, or counted among God’s people because of what our church does collectively, but because of our personal response to God. Consider the difference between these two phrases:
- ‘We had communion at church this Sunday’ or
- ‘While in the service today, I communed with God’
That got me thinking about the broader aspects of making our experience(s) with God more individual.
I think that sometimes people are critical of the phrases “accepted Christ” and “personal Savior,” when the problem can be solved with a rearrangement of one or two words. Consider the difference between:
- ‘I accepted Christ as my personal Savior’ and
- ‘I personally acknowledged Christ as Savior’
But then, the personal has to go beyond the initial conversion experience. It’s got to stay personal. Consider phrases like:
- ‘We’re now part of local congregation’
- ‘I’ve joined a weekly small group Bible study’
Each implies the idea of assimilating into the larger body, and that’s right and good, but total assimilation would mean the loss of personal identity. (We once visited a church that had someone listed among the staff as ‘Minister of Assimilation’ or maybe it was ‘Pastor of Assimilation. Seriously.)
Your relationship to Christ cannot be expressed in terms of a relationship to a Church or study group; neither can it be defined in terms of your place in a biological family.
Rather than concentrating on the body you are part of, these more personal statements on for size; say them out loud if necessary; and see if they fit you:
- ‘I am growing in my understanding of the ways of God’
- ‘I am more fully aware of God’s presence in my life’
- ‘I am increasingly making decisions subject to God’s desires’
- ‘My appreciation for what Jesus did is a daily factor in my life’
- ‘I am so thankful for God’s grace’
These I/My statements — and others like them you can add in the comments — should be at the core of our spiritual identity, not statements like:
- ‘I’m really enjoying the church I’m attending’ or
- ‘My pastor is absolutely amazing’ or
- ‘Our lives changed when we joined this church’
Maybe your pastor is amazing, but he will have to give his own account to God, and you will have to give yours. Maybe all your life you’ve wanted to be part of something larger, but again, your spiritual life can’t be defined in terms of membership in a group.
Or maybe you need your own personal ‘Holy of Holies’ experience to remind you that it’s God that’s amazing.
II Cor. 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)
For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (NLT)
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (NIV)