Sunday, July 12, 2009

Can a relationship with God be egotistical?

I posted a link on another site recently that referred to an Episcopal leader calling a focus on personal salvation a "heresy" and encouraging more of a focus on collective harmony. It is not my intent to make her into a scape-goat, but it left me fairly confused as to how this fit into Christianity.

A few commenters agreed that her statements were off-base; others thought she had a point.

Evangelicals do focus on a person's decision to accept Christ as his "personal Lord and Savior." If a person were not convinced of his own faith, what reason would he have to invest his life in serving the Lord and others? Many people can perform acts of kindness without having repented, but God knows the true content of our hearts, and in the end these deeds will not be fruitful if they are not coming out of a heart devoted to God (Matt.7:17-20).

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Humaneness and a life of harmony, if they can be tied to Christ, are fruits of salvation, not salvation itself. After all, Christ commands us to love.

While the importance of personal salvation is clear, is it possible to focus too much on it at the expense of other teachings? Can worship be "me-centered"? If we sing about Jesus dying "just for me" or "thinking about me" while on the cross, is it narcissism or thankfulness?

There are ways that one's striving to have a "personal relationship" with God plays a role in how we choose priorities. Take, for example, the idea of having a "personal quiet time." We were planning to spend the next 30 min in prayer, when the phone rings. It's important. What do we do?

Or we have the choice between attending a Bible study (personal edification) or volunteering at a soup kitchen (service to others/possibility for evangelism). Again, a decision has to be made. A book I reviewed recently had a section on priorities. The author lists "God" as her #1 priority, and "Spiritual growth" as #5, after her spouse, children, and home (George, 270).* I wondered what situations she placed in the "God" category, that were separate from spiritual growth. Is it just that the "God" card trumps all the others? Is it possible to do something for the Lord without thinking "this is my calling, this is what God wants me personally to do"? It seems that the "me" is always in there.

While grappling with these questions, I don't necessarily feel a conflict. Within Christianity there are paradoxes. But they aren't mysteries of the Emergent "I'm still looking for the answer" sort. Christ said, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matt. 16:25)

If there is a narcissism in the Church, particularly among American Christians, I don't think the problem is too much of a focus on personal salvation. Yes, we may be lacking in service to others, but it has to begin in our own hearts. If our repentance is genuine, shouldn't that lead to us wanting to serve others? I think I could argue in circles with this, but I'll stop here.

*George, Elizabeth. A Woman After God's Own Heart. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.

4 comments:

  1. Gee! It sounds weird that the author makes difference in her priorities between 'GOD' and 'spiritual growth'. :o
    I reckon when somebody puts God as his #1, it also means that he's also taking care of his spiritual growth at the same time.
    Yes, you're right, Liz..it's just like a person can't love another if he/she still has bitterness in his/her heart, it also goes the same way when we serve others.

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  2. Gee, you guys live in the last century or something. These things have been discussed for ages now and lo and behold they are new again! Hooray!

    As I said, 90% of American churches are apostate. The way you can easily discern what is real and what is not goes like this: Take the financial security, that you're enjoying, away from you and the church you go, and if after that you and your church (which by that time is not going to have a building, a notion of tithing, youth program, missionary program, supported pastor, etc. those things are not going to even be mentioned) are still going to praise the Lord in prayers, privately and collectively, but particularly privately, I would say you are somewhat on the right track.

    Now, can a church and Christians be blessed in the time when things are going well for them? Of course they can, but... they shouldn't become arrogant and forget that they are nothing but meat, bones and spittle.

    Today, at least 90% of American churches have forgotten that they are meat, bones and spittle. Once they wake up and remember it, they will be hated by the people who do not believe in Jesus and the devil with a passion.

    Does the devil hate you? He hates me.

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  3. Vasily - your comment is very thought-provoking, and expressed as briskly as only you can express things. So often I feel as though our church only gathers to support itself. I get sick of it....though somehow the church down the street that is so into "service" seems to even do the service because it is self-defining, not out of love. I'm not sure that makes sense. Yet, I really do believe that if everything fell apart - building, staff, organization and all....that our church - the core of it would gather to pray and help one another cope. Just realizing that gives me hope and confidence.

    Sorry, Elizabeth, that was not exactly on your topic. I want to read that article again before commenting.

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  4. No, that's good, Annie. That is the kind of thing I was talking about with priorities. Sometimes I focus so much on personal relationships that I'm not able to support church "programs." Sometimes it's the opposite.

    I am still wondering about the theology of the "personal salvation" remark, though. Is there such thing as focusing too much on one's personal relationship with God?

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