I was listening to Ron Dart yesterday, and he said that each Christian has the authority to interpret the law (Torah) for himself, meaning legal interpretation is between the individual believer and God. My understanding (which may be faulty) is that Dart has often been a champion of that kind of individualism. He said in one sermon (or so I’ve heard second-hand) that each Christian needs to make God his own personal king rather than rely on a church organization. He referred to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:27ff. as someone who worshipped God apart from an organized community, at least for a while (since he may have started Coptic Christianity).
I’ve encountered this sort of thinking in other ex-WCG circles. I recall Pam Dewey saying in the Journal that each believer has personal access to God 24-7, so Christians don’t go to the Feast of Tabernacles specifically to encounter God. And, under my post Experiencing a Higher Power, Part II, Byker Bob affirms that “We have our relationship with God, that relationship is totally individualistic…”
I don’t think any of these believers devalue the Christian church, per se. I recall Ron Dart saying in a sermon that Christians cannot minister to each other (as the Bible commands) if they do not know one another. But ex-WCG individualism stands in marked contrast to things I’ve heard in evangelical settings: “Don’t be a lone-ranger Christian.” “You can’t be a Christian alone.” “The Gospel is not about each believer entering heaven as individuals, for God called us into a community.” I guess that individualism was necessary to help ex-WCG people to cope: when they were kicked out of “God’s one true church,” they needed assurance that they weren’t kicked out of God’s favor as well. They concluded that God loved them, even though they were alienated from a church community.
As far as individualism and communitarianism is concerned, I see both in the New Testament. Romans 14 gives individual believers latitude in their relationship with God–in terms of eating and drinking and their observance or non-observance of days. At the same time, Paul, Matthew, John, et al. wrote to churches, meaning they were exhorting believers in specific communities about how they should interact with one another. They weren’t just telling individuals how to conduct themselves in the world. They assumed that the Christians knew each other enough to have interaction.
Since I have a hard time getting to know people, I tend to shy away from communalism. But it does appear to be in the New Testament, in some form.