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No "Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ” Until 1800’s

A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ?

Within various forms of Evangelical Christianity in the Western world the catchphrase “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is heard over and over again. In sermons, in books and among various conversations overheard between ‘born-again’ Christians it is heard again and again about this ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ and at what point in their life that that momentous event began. “What a Friend I have in Jesus” is a popular hymn sung in Churches across the country Sunday after Sunday.

Now I’m not going to say that I don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, because I do. Jesus Christ is as real to me as my wife and children are. I believe that He is with me always and I talk with Him regularly in prayer. Jesus told His disciples in John 15:15 that He would no longer call them servants, but that He considered them friends. I pretty much think that applies to me as well. I sometimes think of Christ as my Heavenly Big Brother who is looking out for me and is interceding with the Father on my behalf night and day.

However, I think that sometimes we as Christians may take the personal relationship with Jesus a little too far. We sometimes tend to forget that, although each of us is of infinite importance to God, we are after all only bit players in the cosmic drama that is God’s plan for the entire universe. We sometimes allow ourselves to become too important in our own eyes and may tend to forget that there are millions of other Christians within the 6 billion people in the world and that God has plans for all of us; interrelating plans that involve His Kingdom and His overall plan for mankind. As N.T. Wright puts it in his book on Justification;

“…sometimes worldviews have to be shaken. They have become idolatrous and self-serving…The earth goes around the sun. Jesus is the hero of the play, and we are the bit-part players, the Fifth Servant and Seventh Footman who come on for a moment, say one word, and disappear again, proud to have shared His stage and, for a moment, been a tiny part of His action.”

I think that Wright and others are correct in the assessment that many of us within Western Christianity have too high a view of ourselves within the body of Christ. We sometimes tend to neglect service within the Church or may not even attend Church at all, content that we are saved by Christ’s shed blood and focus on our own ‘personal’ relationship with Jesus rather than being a useful part of His Kingdom. We sometimes neglect finding ways and means to perform our Christian duties within that Kingdom, however small those parts may be.

We revolve around Jesus, not the other way around. For most of the Christian Church’s history up until the late 1800’s there was no mention of having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” (as near as I can tell). Christianity was meant to be corporate, not individualist. Christianity was originally more about ‘ask not what your Church can do for you, but what you can do for your Church.’ It seems to me that in our consumerist ‘it’s all about me’ society Ecclesiology (the theology of the Church) has taken a back seat. I don’t think that was what Christ intended. Jesus came to take away the sin of the whole world, not just for me and me alone. And it seems obvious to me from just a cursory examination of the New Testament that He means for each of us to take an active part in the building of His Church.

On a post out of Jollybloggers archives he writes on the subject; ‘In modern evangelicalism there are really only two significant beings in the universe – me and Jesus. All of the other things and people of the world are tools that will either pull me toward Jesus or push me away from Him.” He goes on to write how much of an error that this kind of thinking is and the results of it within the Christian Church.

Although piety and a constant seeking after the deepening my faith in Christ and improving my walk with God are of great importance to me, doing whatever bit part God has for me is also a vast importance. I don’t think that Christianity is nearly as much about ‘my personal relationship with Jesus’ as it is about serving God, trying to be obedient to His will and participating in the Kingdom work of His Church.

Filed Under: Christian Living, Jesus Christ
John Valade says:
March 26, 2010 at 3:58 am
I agree. We are just bit players in God's plans and purposes. Christianity isn't about who you are, but about Who you serve. Thanks for this post, Randy.

randy olds says:
March 26, 2010 at 10:18 am
Hi John,

Thanks for commenting. Curiously enough, in Wrights book on Justification he espouses almost the exact same sentiments that Trevin Wax did in Th post that James linked to a couple of comments up. Toward the end of the book, he says that if the Reformers had focused on exegeting Romans with more of Ephesians in mind that this concept of person relationship being overemphasized at the cost of ecclesiology might not have happened.

Catholics don’t have a personalized relationship with Christ.

Personal Jesus
November 16, 2009

My grandma’s funeral was yesterday. My uncle, who is a pastor, ran the service, and my dad gave the eulogy. Although the two of them are different as “chalk and cheese”, they both did a nice job remembering my grandma. But both of them made me feel ragingly and compulsively Catholic. At every prayer I wanted to cross myself. When my dad spoke of my grandma praying for us all “right up to the end”, I wanted to add “why not now?”, especially since we all hope and believe she is a part of the great cloud of witnesses. Why would the witnesses be limited to only viewing? Why not hearing and praying for us? Why would souls who have gone to be with God not be able to speak to Him?

Please don’t think I was just sitting and criticizing the Protestant run funeral. I’ve had my time of mourning, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the spontaneous Catholic feelings that sharing time with my Protestant family has brought on, and me trying to sort them out afterward.

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in Protestant prayer and preaching and it brought on some reactions that were kind of hard to pinpoint. The way my uncle was talking about Jesus and praying to God was familiar to me. It was warm and personal, and I like it and have missed it. There’s also something about it that makes me uncomfortable and feels a little off. Last night I was asking Chris what this difference I was noticing might be, and I think maybe we’ve figured it out.

My uncle quoted a song by Misty Edwards called “See the Way”, which says “God is a lover, looking for a lover, and so he fashioned me”. This is such a lovely, personal view of our relationship with God. It’s attractive, but it’s not quite right. Maybe the reason there are so many evangelicals who believe Catholics don’t have a personal relationship with Christ is because Catholics don’t have a personalized relationship with Christ. This song, and the prayers I was listening to yesterday are very individual. They’re about me and Jesus.

In the Catholic Faith, it’s not about me and Jesus, it’s about us and Jesus. It’s always, always about the corporate Body of Christ and God’s loving relationship with them. Our prayers are said together, our confession is made in unison. Like Chris says, the Catholic view of the universal Church has a way of beating down the “ego” and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

While Catholics are prevented from saying “me” instead of “us”, they are also prevented from viewing Jesus in whatever way they want to. Although Jesus is personal, He is not personalized. The Church reveals to us who Christ is in a non-negotiable way. Then we must change, with God’s grace, and conform to His image. As a Protestant, my view of God changed as I grew and got to know Him better. Of course, that’s always true to some extent, even for Catholics. At least for me, the difference is that as a Protestant my image of God changed. As a Catholic, the image remains the same but my understanding changes, because it’s not just me trying to figure out who God is.

It’s hard to explain, but that’s the best I can do. It’s strange experiencing this world I used to belong in, feel a draw to it, but at the same time feel completely separated from it. There’s no going back, even for the things I enjoyed, because I see everything differently now. It’ll be nice when I officially join and belong in the corporate Body of Christ.


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