Community as the New High Priest, Or In Defense of Indvidualism

Interesting thoughts and warning on commuity and individual by Gerald Hiestand at SAET blog as he considers Boenhoffer.

Bonhoeffer has, of course, given us much to think about when it comes to the importance of living in community. In this respect he counters the radical individualism of modernity and post-modernity. Yet in emphasizing community, Bonhoeffer provides a needed reminder about the priority of the individual:

“Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called” (Life Together, 77).

Beware the man who cannot be alone, Bonhoeffer warns us.  An emphasis on community — when done in a way that absorbs and neutralizes the importance of the individual — presents an unbiblical picture of community and compromises the integrity of the very community being emphasized.

I have three children, and I love each of them as individuals — not simply as a collective whole. And I do not love them because they are part of my family in some generic sense, but because they are part of me. And their participation in my ontology (if I can use that term) is independent of their relation to each other.  The love they have for each other is a based on their love of the me that they see in each other. It is the me in them that ties them to each other. What’s more, they are not tied to me via their relationship with each other. Even in the case of adoption, a child is welcomed into the family via it’s relationship with the parents, and only by that relation does the adopted child have a relationship with the other children of the family. In the same way, Christ is the one that ties us to himself via our spiritual union with him, and it is our spiritual union with him that ties us to others, in as much as those others are also tied to Christ.

Or to say it again another way, we as individuals are baptized into Christ, and only thus are baptized into Christ’s body. It’s not the other way around.

Thus the evangelical impulse that causes us to prioritize one’s “personal relationship” with God as antecedent to an emphasis on community is proper and good. Certainly there is a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the community; the one who is baptized into Christ is indeed baptized into his body. But it is more proper to say that I am a part of the Church because I am a part of Christ, than to say I am a part of Christ because I am a part of the Church.

Emphasize community, but don’t make community a new (and illicit) High Priest.


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