Home » The Church’s Sin of Hyper-Individualism: Examining the Consequences of a Me-Centered Faith

The Church’s Sin of Hyper-Individualism: Examining the Consequences of a Me-Centered Faith

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

In the 21st century, much of Christianity became about “me before God” instead of “us before God.” Christian lingo reflects this very well: “What is God telling YOU today?”, “Do YOU have a personal relationship with God?”, “Did YOU seek God’s voice on this matter?”, “What a great encounter I had with God last night.” This modern lingo and concepts were foreign to the apostles.

This even affects how we read our Bibles. Let me give you an example. Jeremiah 29:11 says:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This verse is often seen in people’s homes, framed and marked with bold colors in Christian Bibles. It is a source of comfort and encouragement for individuals as it suggests that God has a plan for your future. However, it is important to consider the context in which the verse was written. The prophet Jeremiah sent this message to the nation of Israel, who were exiled in Babylon. God instructed the Israelites, through Jeremiah, to settle down in Babylon, build homes and families, and pray for the peace and prosperity of the city.

While it is perfectly fine to find comfort in this verse, it is essential to remember that Jeremiah wrote this message for a specific group of people — the chosen nation of God — and for a specific reason, thousands of years ago.

In those days, faith was not an individualistic thing. There is nothing wrong with reading the Bible on your own or disappearing for a few days to pray and fast on your own (Jesus did that), but practicing faith alone is a modern cultural innovation. The Bible, however, emphasizes the communal aspect of faith, which in our days is often reduced to a weekly meeting lasting only an hour or two.

In most modern church meetings, believers have mostly no interaction with their fellow believers, which goes against the essence of community. The dynamic is usually unidirectional, with the message/worship coming solely from the pulpit. We sit quietly, passively, like spectators at a lecture or concert. But community involves living life cooperatively, not just sitting in the same room for an hour. This has been a trend of the last century. In the past, the weekly meetings were only the cherry on top of the cake, a supplement to the cake that was the communal aspect of living together. Today, we have held onto the cherry of weekly meetings but lost the cake of community living.

In Israel, because Jews are not allowed to drive on the day of worship (Saturday), they must pick a synagogue in their neighborhood. Every Shabbat, you would see large groups of people — families who walk together with other families in the neighborhood — walking together to the local synagogue. They all know one another because they all see each other daily at the shop, playground, gym, kindergarten, etc.

But in Western Christianity, people have the freedom to pick any church they want and drive outside their neighborhood or village. However, this can also mean getting farther away from the community where they live and do life. In the past, people were forced to attend church with the same people they lived with. They would worship with the same people they bought eggs from, sold milk to, and whose kids played with theirs on a daily basis. They grew up together, lived together, and formed a spiritual community together. They were there for each other, for better or worse. This is rarely the case today as we don’t do life together anymore. Today, “going to church” often means just sitting by one another for an hour, without knowing the names of the people next to us, let alone their struggles.

So, like the rest of the Western world, Christianity became individualistic, and our theology formed accordingly. Of course, faith has a strong individualistic element. Our faith is why God saves us as individuals. Yet, in biblical times, the individual was always a piece of the greater collective.

When we read statements in the 21st century like those in the book of Acts, such as “he was saved, and all his household too,” it sounds a bit strange to us. We might wonder, “What? His family just accepted it right away without questioning?” But back then, faith was very communal. In fact, the phrase “the people of God” is based on that communal worldview. For example, in Exodus 24:7, it says, “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.‘” It wasn’t “I will,” but “We will.” This implies that people were responsible for one another’s well-being in their faith communities. They were spiritually interdependent. And this hasn’t changed in the New Testament, as we see in Acts 2. I am not trying to teach how Christians should or shouldn’t do church. I don’t even know if I have a solution to offer. My point, however, is that today we tend to see faith like we do faith — very individualistically. Therefore, we also view theological doctrines, such as sin, as something very individualistic. And so, when individuals sin, we wrongly think, “It’s their problem before God, not ours.” But if we understand how everything is connected in the spiritual realm, then we know it’s not “I sinned before God” but “we sinned before God.” If my neighbor’s children were caught stealing bread while I eat cakes, I might be at fault for not realizing it soon enough and reaching out for a helping hand. So, instead of pointing fingers at sinners, we should consider them family, and family should be there for you when you are at your lowest. I mean, it’s not really “family” if they are only there if you are perfect enough in their eyes.  

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
free sample is available here.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist