When it comes to rugged American individualism, some say it has been a virtue. I disagree. In my opinion, it has been a major vice in regards to two of the most important realities that the Lord has given us as a statement about Himself. Both sexual intimacy, in the marriage relationship, and church life are beautiful pictures of the reality of Christ and His church. Both have also been severely damaged as a result of individualism.
We have perfected the culture of independence and individualism here in the West. Many have prided themselves in the American work ethic of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and taking care of business when things need to get done. Americans simply have learned to take care of themselves. Families have learned to depend on themselves as stand alone units. While the culture of independence may have had some positive effects on our work ethic & economic vitality, it has also caused us to become impoverished when it comes to our ability to relate to one another.
American individualism has taught us to think of ourselves and our own needs first. This is why Americans are such good consumers. A consumer mentality, however, is a death blow to healthy relationships. When we approach relationships from the vantage point of a consumer, the dynamic of our relationships are radically altered. Simply put, as a culture, we have lost the ability to have healthy relationships. Since all of life centers around relationships, (relationship with God and one another), it is a devastating thing to fail in our relationships. So, why is the consumer mentality so devastating for relationships? More specifically, why is a consumer mentality fatal for sexual intimacy and church life? Let me explain these two casualties of American Individualism further…
Causality # 1- Sexual Intimacy
A consumer is taught one thing; look out for yourself and your own needs. As a consumer, you are on a quest to take. A self focus lies at the heart of a consumer mindset. If there is something you need, you find the best place or person to meet your needs. When people enter into relationships with this kind of a mindset, a co-dependent relationship quickly ensues. Co-dependent relationships are never good, and very rarely end well. When it comes to sexual intimacy within the marriage relationship, consumerism and a self focused mindset can destroy the satisfying and fulfilling reality that sexual intimacy was meant to be.
The Lord created sexual intimacy to be a beautiful picture of several things. For example, healthy sexual intimacy was meant to demonstrate what it is like for one spouse to serve another spouse out of a fullness of love and life. It is not out of our lack of life and love that we give, but out of our fullness. Adam, before the fall, is a great picture of this. He lacked nothing. He walked with God with no separation from Him. He had everything He needed in the garden. Before Eve came on the scene, one thing that Adam didn’t have, however, was one who was like him whom he could share the fullness of his life and love with. When Eve was finally taken out of Adam, he could now share the very essence of his life with her. He could give her everything of Himself and hold nothing back.
Adam was simply reflecting his creator. If something was good and true in Adam, it was first good and true in God. Adam was made in God’s image. We can see from scripture that God also wants a bride to share His life and love with as well. Jesus, as the second Adam, shares this same desire for a bride. This is the very reason for the creation of the bride of Christ, which is the church! This does not come from a place of lack in the Son of God, but from His fullness and a desire to share His life and love with us. Don’t take my word for it, this picture of intimacy & oneness in marriage is actually all about Christ and His church. This mystery comes straight from the pages of scripture. Let me encourage you to read Ephesians 5:28-32.
In the sexual relationship in marriage, when one spouse seeks to bring their very own life and body to the other spouse out of love to serve them, the result is beautiful sexual intimacy. This is the complete opposite of the consumer mindset. All too often, however, many approach the sexual relationship in marriage the same way they approach life…as a consumer.
When the sexual relationship in marriage is approached with a consumer mentality, the result is a lack of fullness and satisfaction. Mistrust is usually a by-product of a consumer mentality in marriage as well. When one spouse feels that they are being taken from, and not served, walls go up. The spouse may feel they are not truly loved and that they are being used. This can result in a devastating lack of intimacy and trust. Again, whenever the sexual relationship in marriage is approached from a vantage point of taking from our spouse for the purpose of our own pleasure & satisfaction, the result is actually a loss of pleasure and satisfaction in the relationship for both spouses. When our goal is to give ourselves away to serve our spouse however, we find that we actually end up receiving more fullness and satisfaction than we could ever have given away. While this might seem embarrassing for some to think or talk about, there is a glorious truth here that reflects the reality that there is more fullness and satisfaction to be gained when we give out of our abundance of life and love to serve another.
Casualty #2- Church Life
Not only is there ‘fullness and satisfaction’ to be gained or lost in sexual intimacy, there is also fullness and satisfaction to be gained or lost when it comes to church life as well. Let me state clearly that there should only be one goal for us when it comes to church life. That goal is to consume and enjoy Christ Himself. He is the bread of life that we were meant to live on and consume. We desire and need the fullness of Christ for the sustenance of our very lives. Contrary to what many individualistic Westerners may think, it is not possible to for us to experience the fullness of Christ solely as an individual who walks with Christ on an individual basis. The fullness of Christ is only revealed through the church. The church, as His body, is the very essence of Jesus Himself. Consider this passage of scripture:
“And He put all things under subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)
The church is the sum of its members, and is not the members individually that exist separately as individuals. In order to behold the fullness of Christ Himself, we must function in a corporate body of people who are in Christ. This is where His fullness lies. The fullness of Christ does not reside completely in any one member, nor does His fullness simply reside in a collection of individuals gathered in a room. The fullness of Christ resides in the sum of the members of the body of Christ who exist together in community. I cannot stress this more emphatically!
Again, Western individualism & consumerism is a very devastating mentality to have when approaching church life. A love for Christ and one another is the fabric that should hold relationships together within a local church community. Consumerism literally chips away at the very fabric of what the church is in its essence. Unfortunately, most western believers ‘go to church’ as good consumers. They are looking for something they are lacking. Some want to experience God in the music. Others want to be ‘fed’ from the Bible. Some even want their kids to be educated and are looking to receive what they may be lacking in the children’s program that the institution offers.
All of this kind of thinking comes as an individual consumer is looking to receive what he or she may be lacking. There may be little or no interaction with other people, and there is certainly no intention for the average American church consumer to serve another person during their time in the church service. The fact that most institutional church services are geared to keep people as passive spectators ensures the fact that there is only room for consumers in these services. There is no room for the members to add any contribution.
The average institutional church attendee can only take what the people on the stage give them. The unfortunate reality is that most people never actually function together with one another in church gatherings, or in community life the way they were designed to. As a result, the fullness of Christ is never expressed or realized. It truly is a tragic reality that many institutional church attending Christians live their whole lives attempting to serve the Lord they love, yet never really experience the fullness of Christ that can only be expressed in the church body as the church correctly functions and exists TOGETHER.
Just like in the sexual relationship in marriage, when people come together to serve one another out of their fullness of life and love that they have to offer because of their connection to the vine (John 15), something beautiful happens. Scripture pictures the church as a community of people who come together bringing something of Christ that is a product of the divine life that is living within them. When the church body gathers biblically, each person comes with a contribution of Christ to offer. Can you imagine attending church meetings bringing something vital to contribute? This is much different than what consumers are taught to do. I would challenge you to read 1 Cor. 14:24-31 to get a glimpse of what a Biblical church gathering could look like. Pay attention to words like “all” and “each one”. Those with a consumer mentality are not able to function or grasp a church gathering like the one described in 1 Cor. 14:24-31.
Those with a “feed me” mentality who come to church gatherings to take never seem to get satisfied. When a community of people who have abandoned the consumer mindset come together to give the life that is in them away to serve one another, it is a whole different result. The fullness of Christ that can be experienced by those who are gathered is absolutely astounding. It is in the giving that we receive the most. When we all give out of our abundance of the life of Christ within us, we end up receiving the most. As each part of the body offers its contribution, the others receive these contributions of Christ. As a result, the other members are built up unto the fullness of Christ. Each member offers their divine ingredients, and mixed together, the ingredients form the loaf (Christ) who is brought forth and consumed. Isn’t that beautiful?
While many of us may be in different places and have different views when it comes to our understanding of the church, we can all agree that a radical change in mindset (repentance) is needed when it comes to rugged American individualism and a consumer mindset. I would like to leave you with a couple of liberating truths:
1. Like Adam in the garden of Eden, for those of us in Christ, we have access to the very vine of divine life! Jesus Himself is our vine of life (John 15). He is our tree of life! We can eat freely from this tree with no guilt! Let your mind sink into this glorious truth.
2. We NEVER have to approach relationships from a place of lack anymore. We never have to be consumers when it comes to relationships. As those who have access to the very source of life, we can approach others with the mindset of serving one another out our place of fullness. We can treat every relationship as a ‘potluck’ so to speak. When we each come bringing a dish, the result can be a feast. Experiencing the fullness of Christ can become a way of life!