What do the following have in common? (And the answer, "They are all frequently seen in the American church" does not count.)
A. A new church is launching in town, and they mail oversized postcards that read something like this: "Finally—a church where the sermons aren't boring. Where you can come as you are …"
B. We preach a sermon in which we argue, "It's not religion but relationship," or make the point, "Some Christians may have let you down, but Jesus isn't like that."
C. We say to ourselves, especially on adrenaline-depleted Mondays, If things get really hard here, I can take my gifts elsewhere.
What's in common?
In each case, the needs of the individual are being elevated above the needs of the church. Sometimes it's the individual person above the local congregation (B & C), sometimes it's the individual congregation above the wider church (A), but the individual has gotten too big, and the church too small.
In America, individualism, like fluoride, flows in the drinking water. So it's not easy for us to discern what's necessarily wrong with the opening scenarios. They're just business as usual. But they fall meters short of the biblical picture of the church, that grand and awesome unity.
Take, for example, the new-church postcards. I live in a town that, according to the lofty authority Trivial Pursuit, boasts more churches per capita than any other town in America. Therefore, such cards arrive frequently, and most new churches follow the marketing dictum, "Differentiate yourself from other product offerings." But implied in their copy is this belief: "Whatever God may have been doing in those other congregations, He has finally shown up, right here, in our new church." Individual church wins, wider church loses.
Or consider when we all preach, "It's not religion [corporate, negative] but ...