Kathleen Norris is a Christian writer who devotes her life to writing about the Benedictine disciplines she follows. She is not actually a Catholic, but she admires the life she finds in Benedictine communities.
In her book, The Cloister Walk, she wrote about individualism as a contrast to the communal nature of monastic communities. She says that “one of the biggest problems that religious communities face is having people come to them that have no sense of what it means to live communally……they find it extremely difficult to adjust to monastic life, [and] they want to be alone all the time…..I have to force them to do things as a group.”
Individualism is one of the great enemies of the work of Christ in the modern church. Here are some ways it manifests itself.
- Individualism makes it extremely difficult to help people see the value of participating fully in a community. Very sporadic involvement is the rule of the day. There is no sense of obligation to others in the church.
- Participation, when present is shallow. You cannot depend on them for anything, and they often have to be cajoled into taking part.
- Individualism promotes a “my truth–your truth” kind of culture in which there is no shared doctrine, communal life, or vision. So “going to the lake” or “having a cookout with friends” is as high as or higher than any participation with a faith community.
- Individualism erodes the quality of interpersonal relationships. Having meaningful relationships with fellow worshipers becomes second or third behind all other distractions. You cannot depend on the individualist. They don’t “have your back.”
Individualism is oxymoronic to the teaching of Scripture. The writer of Hebrews told his faith community to ” do not neglect to meet together as some people do…” Hebrews 10:25. And this, “…you must warn each other every day…so that none of you will be deceived….” Hebrews 3:14.
Luke commented that the earliest Christians “devoted themselves to fellowship.” Acts 2:42. In other words, they were intentional about spending time together, especially as it pertained to living discipled lives.
As much as many people would like to think it’s possible, it is impossible to live the life of a disciple of Jesus as a solo act. In is in that community that we learn how to live as Christ-like people.