Posts tagged individualism
So starts the Nicene Creed. Or at least the version from the Council of Nicaea. Some ancient liturgical versions instead began in the first-person singular: “I believe.” Modern recitations of the creed vary, not only by denomination, but even by specific prayer book edition. And I think I like that.
I like it because I believe emphasizing the we and the I both matter to the Christian faith. John’s Gospel recounts Jesus praying that we would all be one, just as he is one with the God the Father. Together we are called the body of Christ, reconciled through the cross not only to God but to each other, built up into a new temple for God.
At the same time, each individual part of the body is considered significant for what it brings to the whole. Jesus also emphasized, like John the Baptist before him, that merely being born into a Jewish family and following Jewish law was not enough. Instead, one’s own personal repentance from sin and humility before God was what counted, and on this basis, Gentiles, too, could be included in the community of God.
Today I think we tend to err on one side or the other. Sometimes we over-emphasize the we. We rest of the knowledge that we are decent people who grew up going to church rather than owning our faith for ourselves and committing our lives to God. We consider ourselves part of the Christian group without experiencing the spiritual growth that leads to a meaningful, active faith. We forget that we are held accountable for our actions and neglect to include Christian teaching as a meaningful part of our decision-making processes. It is easy sometimes to take our identity as Christians for granted because of the people around us—to resist becoming true followers of Jesus because it’s easier to stand on the fringes of the flock, hoping that will be enough.
On the other hand, we sometimes over-emphasize the I. We think it possible to remain independent Christians apart from the community of the church. We surrender to the individualism of Western (esp. American) culture, deciding that your problems have little to do with me and that my life is none of your business. At best, our privatized religion makes us feel an obligation to people close by, such as our family and friends. But to see ourselves as part of the larger church or society? That’s difficult. Without this sense of connection, we don’t love our neighbors so well, don’t value commitments to others, and don’t appreciate the legacy of church history. We also miss out on a powerful sense of unity that comes from worshiping in a truly “together” way—rather than worshipping alone, even when surrounded by others.
I like saying the creed as an “I,” and I like saying it as a “we.” I think we need both—our own faith commitment and a meaningful faith community. With only one or the other, I think we’re missing out on a crucial part of Christianity.
This post is part of a series on the Nicene Creed.