Christianity: Universal or Personal?

There’s been a lot written about the individualization of Christianity since the Postmodern era, and a lot of it is worth thinking about. There are some real plusses to individualization: Christians who capitulate on dogma but don’t have a sense of personal need, and who don’t know the Personal God of the Trinity are not living a Christian life. On the other hand, Christ isn’t about me; it’s Kingdom business that the point. It’s Kingdom business that should be my point.

To the end of understanding this dynamic, here’s a lengthy bit from Alexander Schmemann from his book The Eucharist, and his chapter called “The Sacrament of the Faithful.”

…the entire life of the Church, is constructed on the conjoining of what at first glance appear to be two mutually contradictory affirmations. On the one hand the Church, like Christ, and because She is Christ’s, is directed to the whole world, to all of creation, to all humanity. Christ sacrificed himself “on behalf of all and for all”, and he sent his disciples, and therefore the Church, “into all the world [to] preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). He is the Savior of the world. On the other hand, the Church affirms that through his saving love Christ is turned to each human being, for each human being, unique and unrepeatable, is not only an object of this love of Christ’s but is also linked with Christ by the uniqueness of God’s design for each human being. From here stems the antimony that lies at the foundation of Christian life. The Christian is called to deny himself, to “lay down his life for his friends”; and the same Christian is summoned to “despise the flesh, for it passes away, but to care instead for the soul, for it is immortal.” In order to save “one of the least of these”, the shepherd left the ninety-nine, but the same Church – for the sake of her purity and fullness – cuts off sinners from herself.

We find this same polarization in religious thought. There are always those in the Church who experience the cosmic, universal calling of the Church with special force, but there are also those who are, as it were, blind and deaf to all this and see in Christianity above all a religion of “personal salvation”. The same holds true in piety, in the prayers and intercessions of the Church. On the one hand they call man to the unity of love and faith, in order to fulfill the Church as the body of Christ. On the other, they are open to my needs, to my sorrows, to my joy. While not rejecting the “liturgy”, i.e., the Church as the common task, afterward the believer requests that his prayer service, his memorial service, be served. And here, whatever the possible distortions are contained in both experiences of Christianity consists in the fact that it is simultaneously directed to the whole – to the entire creation, the whole world, all mankind – and to each unique and unrepeatable human person. And if the fulfillment of the human personality lies in “keeping council with all”, then the fulfillment of the world lies in its becoming life for everyone to whom God has given this world as life. The Christian faith can say that the world was created for each individual, and it can say that each person was created for the world, to surrender himself for “the life of the world”.


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