The Problem of Collectivism in the Church: finding the balance

collectivism

This post is a response to a previous post in which I talked about the Problem of Individualism in the Church. I claimed that Individualism has hurt the church, and I stand by that position. This post is a warning of the dangers of collectivism in the church.

Collectivism is the practice of giving priority to the group over the individual. In our society, a great example is collecting taxes to provide services for the group. A hot topic still today is universal healthcare. Universal healthcare is practiced in many countries where heavy taxes are collected by the population to pay for health care available to everyone. It is a collectivist idealogy because there are people who pay these heavy taxes, but never have to go to the doctor because they are healthy. Here, everyone is paying into a system in which the group benefits, but not necessarily the individual. An individualistic healthcare system would allow each individual to pay for their own health bills; therefore, those who are healthy pay very little and those who are not healthy pay more, or even a whole lot more.

Collectivism seems like a very biblical position to take, especially when the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:12-14:

12 For if there be first a willing mind,it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened:
14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:

However, like most things, we must not become solely collectivist and deny the individual. For example, the Anglican church recites creeds and prayers together during services. Some of these are in the plural “We confess” and others are in the singular “I believe.” Why the duplicity?

The Apostles’ Creed is declared in the first-person singular “I believe” because this is a statement that must be believed personally. It is not possible for someone to deny the statements in the Apostles’ Creed yet continue belonging to the church. It does, however, express the individualistic idea that the Church is unnecessary in one’s walk with God. This kind of thinking leads people to stop going to church altogether. There are people I know that think church is a terrible place to go, and that all one needs to be with God is “me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit (the unholy trinity).” This is why the Nicene Creed is written in the first-person plural “we believe.” It counteracts the individualistic expression by stating as a group, the collective statement that points to the fact that being Christian is social. However, the downfall to this collectivist prayer is that it gives room for people to belong to the church but not personally accept and believe the statement of faith. This is like the statement on each American dollar bill “In God We Trust,” stating that as a nation, we trust God, but it does not mean that each person in America trusts God. Do you see the problem in this collectivist expression?

A purely collectivist view of Christianity leaves individual responsibility behind. A collectivist take on worship services could ultimately lead to pandering to the wants and desires of the lowest common denominator (replacing hymnals and the Book of Common Prayer with powerpoint slides is a crude example), and just trying to please everybody by bending the words of the Bible to fit what the people want. A collectivist view can result in “God is love” sermons that don’t convict us of our sin, but rather makes us feel good about our good deeds. A purely collectivist view can even pardon individual sins as long as the whole is doing well. It can overlook the holiness and righteousness of the individual and focus on what the congregation looks like to outsiders.

Therefore, this post is a warning that we must hold in balance two extremes: individualism and collectivism. In the Anglican church, we rotate through both creeds: The Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. This is a good balance of stating our faith personally and collectively. We are collective in chanting prayers together, but we leave time for individual self-reflection leading up to communion. We have classes for individuals to be catechized and times of personal confession for individuals to receive counsel. I think it is the best in balancing the two extremes of individualism and collectivism.

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