In a world gone quite mad, it has never been more apparent that we need each other to get through the insanity. The divisions of race, color, creed, gender, economic and/or social standing, and the like are being violently exploited by those who profit from their repercussions. These profiteers will use the insane actions of one they oppose as a bloody brush to paint all they oppose as being in solidarity with the one, yet immediately dismiss and explain away the actions of (i.e., murders committed by) one with whom they are ideologically aligned as those of an irrational individual with no connection to their causes; one for whom there can be no possible explanation regardless of how the individual him or herself clearly identifies the cause in which name they kill.
It may seem like the height of irrelevance to discuss the ‘lone wolf Christian’ at the present time. Not so. Unity in the face of dividers is our strength as believers; a refusal to allow the enemy any opportunity to pick, freeze, personalize, and polarize the one who stands for Christ. With that I defer to Kemper Crabb, author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, and our ongoing interview.
In the book you strongly counsel against the lone wolf mindset among Christians; going it alone as a believer rather than being an active member of the church. Why do we see so much of the lone wolf mentality? Also, is the plethora of individual, independent churches part of this phenomenon?
Hmmm. Well, this is a problem concerning the One and the Many, a question of, I guess you’d say, imbalance. What I mean by this is that, since we’re created in the Image of God, we’re intended to reflect Who God is (on the creaturely level, of course). God is Triune, One God in Three Persons, Unified in His Essence or Substance, and Diverse in His Persons. The Lord is not more One than He is Three, and He’s not more Three than He is One, which is to say, God’s not more Diverse than He is Unified. He is Both Equally, and always has been. God is the Foundation of Balance, the Paradigm for human society (family, state, business, etc.), since God’s Image is revealed in humanity in two genders, multiple relations, and so forth, not just in individuals alone.
God has always dealt with men in terms of the Covenant, and the Covenant is modeled on the Relationships between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, adjusted to the Fallen creaturely level. This is important because every Christian is a member of the New Covenant, which is what defines the Church. And both the Model of the Holy Trinity Himself, and the Covenant predicated by that Model, present and demand a balance between the One and the Many, the corporate and the individual, as the most helpful and most revelatory state of being for human society, which includes the way the Church is supposed to work.
Now, the Church has very frequently been deformed in an imbalance toward either the institutional/corporate or the individual member. For instance, the State Churches that arose after the Reformation in places like Germany and England eventually hardened into moralistic, formal institutions which emphasized a doctrinal standard in terms of mental assent and outward action, but did not value (or urge) the necessity of personal inward affective experience, seeking only a similar conformity to external standards.
In response to such institutional corporate aridity, movements like Pietism and the Great Awakenings arose which emphasized the value and necessity of personal rebirth and relationship to Christ resulting in affective individual experience. This was a needful corrective for the singular over-emphasis on the corporate aspect of the Church of the time.
However, the balancing emphasis on personal relational experience with Christ, in its justifiable central emphasis in the First Great Awakening had become, by the Second Great Awakening, itself an overemphasis on personal experience (as seen in things like Charles Finney’s systemization of techniques to induce an emotional experience of “conversion”) which actually gradually overwhelmed and displaced the desire and perceived need for doctrinal boundaries and ordered corporate worship in American consciousness.
It was this new imbalance which spawned American hyper-individualism and individual orientation (a great book on this is Michael Horton’s Made In America, by the way), and this same imbalance was strengthened by (and conversely strengthened) the Romantic Movement’s subjective self-orientation which had come about as a reaction to Enlightenment rationalism.
The assumption that it was the realm of interior subjective experience which was the only absolutely vital and meaningful part of life tended to downplay the life of the mind and corporate scholarship among Evangelicals by the early years of the 20th Century, and slogans like “no creed but Christ; no law but love; no book but the Bible” began to define the attitudes and worldviews of huge numbers of Evangelicals.
Self-reliance of this sort flies in the face of the fact that Scripture teaches that we desperately need each other in terms of the varied Gifts of the Spirit given for the building up of the whole Body of Christ, of others, as 1 Corinthians 12 plainly teaches (the gifts of teaching and discernment of spirits both examples of vital gifts), or in evangelism, as when Jesus sent the 12 Disciples off two by two in Mark 6:7-13 (or the 70 disciples in Luke 10:1-20), or in worship, since Jesus is present in a way different from His Normal Presence with us when two or more gather in His Name, as Matthew 18:20 tells us. In fact, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that believers are a holy nation, not just gathered individuals who have similar religious beliefs. No, we are actually, through Jesus, members of one another, as Romans 12:5 lays out.
It is much easier in some ways to ignore all this and still think we can accomplish the same things by ourselves that we would in a corporate setting, and there’s no question that disregarding Jesus’ Command that we be servants in Galatians 5:13 as Jesus was revealed to be in Matthew 20:28. If our spiritual quest is defined by a search for quick-fix solutions and a feel-good experience, we won’t feel the need to obey the Bible’s urging toward responsibility to and for one another: we’ll simply serve ourselves individually without much regard for others.
The definition of Christian life as primarily experiential and self-driven has moved many churches to begin to model themselves on a consumerist philosophy, and become driven by parishioner/consumer desire rather than by the preaching of the Word. It is true that there have been numbers of colossal failures by churches to discipline the rebellious, help the fallen/spiritually wounded (rather than simply whisk them away quietly to avoid dealing with the hassle and pretend things like that don’t happen in those congregations.
There’s also been beaucoup abuse, emotional, sexual, and financial of people by church leaders (which leaders tend to try to avoid accountability to denominational leaders or committees so as to continue to easily perpetrate their wickedness). As a result, many people tend to withdraw from church membership/attendance altogether, and many congregations, fearing unjust denominational manipulation from corrupt or ungodly Church officers, simply withdraw from greater accountability, giving rise to a bushel of independent congregations (further fueled, of course, by the rampant individualist drive to self-sufficiency in most of their congregants).
All these abuses are real, and in this age of increasing centralization and control over so many areas of our lives, it’s easy to want smaller expressions of corporate life, Church included. But what is truly needed is a return to Biblical balance in our churches and everywhere. That alone will fulfill God’s multiple-faceted calling to us all.