The Two Causalities Of Western Individualism – Sexual Intimacy

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!

The Fundamental Concept

People in America, and for that matter, many around the world, who perceive themselves as Christians, have, of late, been confronted with a term, heretofore, unknown or unheard of – ‘Organic Church’ or, ‘An Organic Expression of Church Life’. The ‘web’ has a few sites addressing the topic, but, by and large, there is precious little information explaining what these kinds of churches are, and what they believe. Consequently, it seems prudent to put as much understanding together that is available, in order to paint a clear enough picture, that one might structure a mental image sufficient enough to make an informed decision, whether or not to pursue such an expression of church life. What follows is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject by any means, but more of a ‘framework’ from which one might use to further his/her own understanding. There appears to be less than one hundred churches in America that meet the criterion of what it truly means to be an ‘organic church’. This translates into the fact that a small percentage of Christians are presently, or have ever participated in this kind of Body life. What is encouraging, however, is that the New Testament seems to paint the same portrait of what church is supposed to look like as these ‘organic churches’ are endeavoring to be.

First, let’s define the word ‘organic’. Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of American English defines organic as: “Pertaining to an organ or to organs; consisting of organs or containing them; as the organic structure of the human body or of plants.” Using this definition, we can deduce that an organic church, fundamentally, constitutes a body, similar to that of a human, which is made up of various organs, each contributing to the overall well being of the organism. With this, the New Testament most definitely agrees: 1Cor.12:12 “For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” 1Cor.12:14 “For the body is not one member, but many. ” 1Cor.14:26 “Then how is it, brothers? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be for building up.” Eph.4:15,16 “But that you, speaking the truth in love, may in all things grow up to Him who is the Head, even Christ; from whom the whole body, fitted together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of each part, producing the growth of the body to the edifying of itself in love.” For many American Christians, this is not a new concept by any means. However, the practical functioning and outworking of it would be quite novel indeed.

With this first piece of understanding in place, we need to explore the fundamental concept upon which an organic church is built: to truly be organic, the church’s organs (members) draw deeply from the well of the indwelling Holy Spirit’s life for their own life’s expression; this ‘communion’ is then shared, daily, with the other members as a natural expression of their fellowship in the Spirit; this ‘expression’, over time, matures into the very life expression of the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, through this Body of believers to all the world around them. Consider this statement by the late T. Austin Sparks as it relates to the primary principle of organic church life: “… In the Divine order, life produces its own organism, whether it be vegetable, animal, human, or spiritual. This means that everything comes from the inside. Function, order, and fruit issue from this law of life within. It was solely on this principle that what we have in the New Testament came into being. Organized Christianity has entirely reversed this order.”

Up to this point you might be thinking, “So, what’s new… I’ve believed in the ‘body-life model’ of church most of my Christian life!” My answer to you would be, “Yes, but have you seen it done? Have you been able to experience it on a day by day basis?” You must understand that this ‘expression’ of Body life cannot, nor will not, work on a ‘once a week’ gathering of the believers. Those participating in such a church as this, would not even consider meeting just once a week! They want, no, they need, to be together as much as possible; it’s their life, their sustenance. It’s not a, ‘how much participation is necessary’ mentality for these brethren, but, ‘how much fellowship can we participate in this week’, that separates them from the average American Christian. Their commitment goes so far as to, literally, sell homes and move to within walking distance of each other to facilitate fellowship! How else could vital organs function together in a healthy body? The question that cries for an answer in light of such a stark contrast between those who desire to be together all of the time and those who find it difficult to meet once a week is, “WHY”? Why would anyone want to be ‘in church’ all of the time? Therein is the answer… these believers are not ‘in church’, nor do they ‘go to church’… they perceive themselves as ‘the church’! This ‘difference’ makes all of the difference. Please don’t misunderstand this as mere ‘semantics’! The difference rests in their understanding of, and participation in God’s ‘eternal purpose’; not an intellectual understanding, but a deep revelation of it! The greater the revelation, the greater the expression of Christ’s life through that Body.

Again, you might be thinking, “Isn’t God’s Eternal Purpose redemption of fallen humanity… The cross of Christ?” If you were thinking this, you might be surprised to learn that your conclusion does not correlate with the Biblical record. As with most of us, you were probably taught this explicitly or by implication, but whichever it was, this is what the greater community of believers understands, but not so for those in organic churches!

What it Isn’t and What it Really Is

The word “church” in our current day society is literally tied to a physical structure in which the persons who frequent the occupancy of that building on a regular basis are referred to as “church goers” or a “parishioners”. “Churches” can represent any religious affiliation and spans all societies and belief structures. The word modern day word “church” is derived from and synonymous with words like “temple”, “synagogue”, “mosque”, “cathedral”, “chapel”, “tabernacle”, “pagoda”, “joss house”, “pantheon”, “shrine”, “minister”, “monastery” “abbey”, “friary”, “convent” and many others, too many to mention.

When I was a child I learned the little rhyme, “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.” while folding my hands with fingers inward and then opening my hands to view fingers wiggling inside. It helped to solidify that the “church” was the building and the people were… well the parishioners. Later I learned words like “church laity”, “laymen” and “lay-persons”.

When I gave my life to Jesus and started learning about Him and His ways, I discovered that many of the things I had once learned as a child were still being taught to adults. The expressions were not just childish representations of a greater truth but had become the truth themselves. I discovered that I was then in opposition to the organized religious structure and organization we call “the church”. I wondered how I could be so far apart in my understanding of what was suppose to be at the root of my life in Christ.

I soon discovered that the root of my life in Christ was not what we commonly refer to as “the church” but in a living person, the deity of God come in the flesh, the creator of me and all around me, Jesus Christ himself. I also discovered that the world would rather do things it’s own way than to give up it’s tainted and misguided understandings of what “church” really is. I also discovered that Jesus was in opposition to the same “church” structure in his life as well, even from the beginning of the world, until now.

So, I guess I wasn’t too far off on my ponderings and feelings of despair when I announced to the people around me that I was not just a parishioner or layman in a religious structure called “the church”. I had been taught for years how to think and now my mind was being renewed. No wonder! I was starting to see the truth of the matter and learning to think as Jesus thinks, to see as He sees and to hear as He hears.

In reading the New Testament, especially the letters to “the church” in the different cities that Paul and other Apostles visited, I discovered that the word “church” was used in a completely different way than today’s definition. It was never even thought of to “go to church” for that word meaning never really existed among those that met together and were learning to love one another. They were the church!

If we look at the history of Christianity from the time of Christ until apx. 300AD we see a unique unstructured but very efficient view of believers who loved the Lord and loved to serve one another because the Lord was everything to them and their lives reflected that disposition. Then from 300AD until the late 1500’s we see a different structure emerge and it takes the form of inflexible religious and ritualistic servitude to the structure.

After such time until now we see a new form of servitude to the structure and those that empower it. It is as though the reformation of the first religious structure was reinvented to be more palatable to the masses. It underwent a remodeling but never lost it’s rigid dogmatic demands for adherence to the structure. It was just easier to do what was required because it fit better with the new age of social justice.

All through history we see that there was a faction of those who opposed the structure and were cast into fire, torn in half, cut into pieces and hung from crosses for their opposition to the “church”. Such are those who have been written about and continue to exist among the structured environment. (Read Foxes, “Book of Martyrs”)

So we have an opinion about the church and what is is. We believe that the church is, in it’s purest form, the culmination of individuals who have laid down their lives for Christ Jesus and wish for nothing less than the true expression of His life through them and those who join them in what we call “The Bride of Christ”.

The church is a living, breathing, functioning vessel for God to pour himself into and take upon him the appearance of a human being. This human presence was started with his physical appearance in history as Jesus Christ and now that life has been planted inside those who have given up their lives in exchange for his life. It is the power and presence of God Almighty walking around in our skin as we surrender our very lives, preferences and every thought to him alone.

This church (his bride) is the vessel of healing, love and power for demonstrating his great grace and mercy to the earth again and again. Year after year the world has tortured and murdered his people, tried to destroy his body, but it cannot. His church, his body on earth, is eternal and cannot be contained in just one place. It cannot be dealt a blow of destruction because it is invincible. It has real life and power to be eternal through the life and power of God himself living in it.

Open the doors of your heart and let your eyes see the spiritual truth of who the church really is. It is God’s living demonstration of his kingdom on the earth. It is living out the life given it and will be the pillar and truth of God with Christ as its head as He is in heaven.

Discovering Organic Church Life: God’s Eternal Purpose

At this juncture, we want to give consideration to the following questions, “What is God’s eternal purpose? Does the Bible reveal such a concept?” As a matter of fact it does, but when one’s ‘doctrinal perception’ is in a different place, it’s easy to simply ‘read over the top of it’ without really taking note of what’s being communicated. Let’s examine two texts that are ‘case-in-point’:

This grace is given to me (who am less than the least of all saints) to preach the gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ among the nations, and to bring to light what is the fellowship of the mystery which from eternity has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; so that now to the rulers and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord;… Eph.3:8-11 [Modern King James Version] Emphasis Mine “Therefore you should not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner. But be partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the eternal times.” 2Tim.1:8,9 [Modern King James Version] Emphasis Mine

God’s eternal purpose is rarely, if ever, a sermon topic, much less a doctrine taught in Seminaries and Bible Colleges. The reason for such gross oversight can be explained as a matter of perception – most Bible scholars, and people in general, when looking at the Scriptures, see them from a sin-point-of-view. That is, everything recorded in Holy Writ is viewed from the perspective of man’s sin, and God’s redemptive remedy: Initially, God created a wonderful garden for humanity to ‘tend and keep’. Man, for his part, committed high treason against his Creator by obeying God’s archenemy rather than God, incurring eternal separation from God as a consequence. This set Him on a course to ‘buy back’ Adam’s race through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anyone placing their faith in Messiah’s vicarious sacrifice would experience salvation from the penalty of eternal damnation, and recover their fellowship with God. From our point of view, this became God’s eternal purpose by default, so to speak. However, that is not what the Bible actually teaches.

The eternal purpose of God is like a fine jewel with distinct facets that contributed to His motivation behind creation in general, and man’s creation in particular. This ‘intention’ of the Triune God has not been evolving over the ages, but was conceived before there was an earth, before there was a universe, or even before there was time and space. One might say, at some point in eternity past, our God had a dream – a desire. All of His subsequent creative work was woven around this dream, this eternal purpose. Insight into the Godhead’s plan can be gleaned from Jesus’ prayer to His Father recorded in John’s gospel, chapter seventeen, verse ten: “And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” [NKJV] Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, in Vincent’s Word Studies, makes the observation that ‘all Mine’, in this verse, should be translated ‘all things that are Mine’. Many Bibles make this their translation as well, such as the Amplified Bible, 1901 American Standard Version; 1899 Douay Rheims Bible; Hebrew Names Version; Literal Translation of the Holy Bible; The Message Bible; The World English Bible; 1912 Weymouth New Testament, to name a few. That takes the interpretation of ‘all Mine’ from being strictly that of persons, (namely the disciples in this text) to all things (meaning everything). This ‘nugget of truth’ isn’t that hidden in the original language, but became somewhat obscured when translated into the English language. The 1615 King James Version became the benchmark, the Authorized Version, for all subsequent translations for centuries, and it’s rendering has, only of late, been challenged, and in some cases, such as the above, overruled by later translations.

John Wesley, in his Commentary of the Gospel of John, wrote concerning this verse, “These are very high and strong expressions, too grand for any mere creature to use; as implying that all things whatsoever, inclusive of the Divine nature, perfections, and operations, are the common property of the Father and the Son… ” Jesus’ remark, in the verse above, infers that at some point in eternity past, before creation of time and space, the Father heart of God wanted to give everything of Himself through the Spirit to His Son, which He did. The Son, upon receiving such an endowment, did not keep it for Himself, but reciprocated His Father’s love by giving it all back to Him by the same Spirit. It is the nature of the Triune God to continually be giving all they are and have to each other. John 16:15 gives further testimony to John 17:10’s interpretation: “All things that the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes of Mine and will announce it to you.”

The Son was, and is, the Father’s Beloved; the One upon whom He lavishes all the passion and love within His heart. The Son loves His Father and reciprocates all of His love, but He, Himself, had no beloved upon whom He could pour out the overflowing passion and love that beat within His heart. This was known and understood by the Father which became the impetus of His dream – His great desire and ‘eternal purpose’ – which was to: provide a ‘beloved’ wife for His Son; find a resting place, a home for Himself; and have a family that ‘looked just like Himself’, through whom He could be seen and understood by the universe that would yet be created. This is what the Apostle Paul called “a great mystery” in Ephesians 5:32. Next, we will be exploring this ‘great mystery’: A wife for the Son!

Christian Belief and the Church

People these days believe lots of things, some good some bad. When it comes to the question about the existence of God there are lots of different takes on that. Even if you believe in God there are many different shapes and forms for that belief. The fact that there are so many different religions in the world that all believe in God but have different ways of expressing that belief would testify to that.

Christians believe in God and this God is the God of the Bible and many speak from personal experiences when they say that they know this God to be real. He certainly has been in the lives of millions of people. Of course, to anyone who does not believe, this seems very much a tall order. You have to allow for people not believing, but that does not stop those that do from enjoying their life with the beliefs that they have.

Living life as a Christian contains many challenges and it is important to be firmly established in your faith to be able to survive the things that life can throw at you. Knowing that your faith can sustain you through these periods is a great help and many have overcome severe trials because of this. That is not to say that people of no particular faith will fare any worse, just that it has been noted on many occasions that it has been the faith that people have that has helped them get through difficult circumstances.

There would seem to be a special bonding that prevails amongst those that call themselves Christians and meeting and having fellowship together are some of the more specific areas where friendships and relationships are easily cultivated. This is notable when people feel that they belong and are happy to meet from week to week in what many would call church life. This is usually because they are from a specific locality and the groupings that form within that is what they call their local church.

The Church per se, has come in for a lot of criticism over the years and sadly a lot of that is justified. But that should not and will not stop people meeting together in the local expression of church. The work that is done by churches in both urban and rural settings has been a great help to local communities and a large number of people have been helped by that work. It is essential that there is that kind of reaching out and helping from any church in any area in which it is to be found. The local church should be able to be relied upon to deliver love, mercy and compassion and if it is not doing that then there needs to be some investigation into why not. The church should exist to serve the communities in which they are placed.