Being liberated from myself, and the myth of solitary religion

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

Invitation to Theology, A Guide to Study, Conversation and Practice
, by Michael Jinkins, with Foreward by Alan Torrance (2001, InterVarsity Press) includes a discussion of God’s calling us out of isolation into community, along with the related issues of the myth of solitary religion and the dangers of being shut up in the solitude of our own hearts. (Dr. Jinkins is a trinitarian theologian and Academic Dean and Professor of Pastoral Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.)

We recently quoted Dr. Julie Canlis [see 03.22.10 post] as saying that things done in the community of church – praying together, taking Holy Communion, and listening to scriptures (which were addressed to whole communities in the first place) – are things that “liberate me from myself.” Michael Jinkins provides additional detail to that picture in Invitation to Theology. Here are some quotes.
“…the Holy Spirit creates community among us as a refection of the communal life of the holy Trinity….that God has always been creating this community of faith and worship among us. The doctrine of the church reminds us that God’s original intention and ultimate design is to call us out of isolation into communion” (p. 212).

“Salvation is itself the integration of persons into communion with God and other persons, and, as such, this integration of persons in communion is the fulfillment of God’s original intention and ultimate purpose for all humanity. Wherever redemptive community of faith in God is called into being, it is the result of God’s Word and Spirit, which are never restricted to our cultural or sectarian expressions.

“Isolation, biblically speaking, corresponds to chaos and destruction, the ultimate disintegration of persons, from which God seeks to save humanity by sharing with us a genuine participation in the communion of the triune God in whose image we are created. God draws us to participate in this strong communion by integrating us into the human community of faith in the crucified Christ” (pp. 214-215).

Jinkins (pictured left) warns against the dangers of self-reliance and rugged individualism, and what he calls “the myth of solitary religion” that Christians can easily fall into. He speaks of the danger of being “shut up in the solitude of our own hearts.” People say they…
“just can’t stand to go to church because of all the hypocrites….much better to worship God by myself….where I can concentrate on God and listen to his voice alone, than to pray in a room cluttered with disagreeable old sinners.” Of course, the problem with this way of thinking is that it fails to see that when we are left to worship by ourselves, what we usually worship is ourselves.

"Solitary religion tends toward idolatry, the worship of false gods made in our own image. The great scandal of the church according to Christian faith is not that it is full of hypocrites and sinners but that God actually reveals himself in the midst of and through the lives of these hypocrites and sinners” (pp. 221-222).

“God works through Christian community….using the contrasting personalities, stereotypes and peculiarities; local customs….histories; cultural viewpoints and interests of others in the larger community to break through and beak down our most cherished stereotypes and mythologies, our images of ourselves and our false images of God.

“God frequently uses the rituals of others to relativize our own. God often uses the unholy foolishness of others to call our own into question. God even uses the interpretations and conceptions of God held by others to call into question and correct our own interpretations and conceptions that, left to themselves, become idolatrous. And often we see that our theological reflections are greatly improved when hammered out on the anvil of someone else’s theological perspective.

“This is why—as we have known for years in the field of practical theology—those churches in communication with a larger community of churches are healthiest in themselves” (p. 222).