The March 10, 2014 devotional for Our Daily Bread had a profound statement: “The faith of others encourages; the faith of our own transforms.” It told the story of King Joash in II Chronicles 24. King Joash was encouraged by Jehoiada to honor God, but Joash would depart from that path after Jehoiada died. The implication of the devotional is that Joash did not make his faith his own.
I was thinking about this issue a few days before I read that devotional. There is a lot of talk within evangelicalism about the importance of Christian community, perhaps as a reaction against the individualism of American evangelicalism, or American culture in general. Such a communitarian focus has long been a turn-off to me, of course, on account of my difficulty fitting into Christian communities, or any community, for that matter. My relationship with God has largely been individualistic: I pray, I read the Bible, and I have a personal relationship with God.
But then I thought some more: Granted, I have my own ax to grind when it comes to all the emphasis on community within evangelicalism, but should not Christians in general support the concept of an individual relationship with God, whether they be introverted or extroverted, plugged into a community or on the margins? Is it not important that Christians have their own relationship with God, their own faith in God, their own Christian walk, something that touches them deeply on a personal level? Is not faith a personal commitment or decision, something that no one else can do for a person? I would say so.
I think that Christian community and a personal relationship with God are supposed to reinforce one another. From Christian community, we can learn thoughts, insights, and support that can help us in our own personal Christian walk, which nobody else can walk for us. From our own personal Christian walk, we can learn how to interact within Christian community and to put into practice the values that we are learning.