Every political philosophy, everything either party does or proposes is either moving a society toward individualism or collectivism. A “progressive” tax code, income redistribution, larger government, a broader social safety net, are all hallmarks of collectivism. A reduced size and scope of government, a market based system of risk and reward, more emphasis on self-responsibility and “winners and losers” are some of the tenets of individualism. Every major political, economic and social issue in America and elsewhere is in some way a move toward or a reaction against these two apparent polar opposites.
For all of their seeming incompatibility, both philosophies share a common trait in that they are inherently “self” focused. You might think that collectivism is the antithesis of being “self” focused but history has demonstrated over and over that collectivism is merely a different way to either ensure security for self (primarily economic) or to obtain and retain power by exercising control over others. Whether a state is primarily individualistic (like the United States) or primarily collectivist (the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, etc.), someone is benefitting from the system and that someone is often benefitting at the expense of someone else.
So many conversations in the church are focused on a struggle between these two philosophies, between individualism which is often associated with political conservatism and therefore evangelical Christianity and conservative Roman Catholicism and collectivism, associated with political liberalism and what is often called “mainline Protestantism” and some liberal elements within Catholicism. Without even realizing it, Christians have become embroiled in this struggle between two political philosophies, serving as reliable foot soldiers in the struggle for dominance. One needs look no further than the current political climate. On one hand we have the more overt example of Republican candidates invoking a “call” from God to run for President, trying in essence to transform their candidacy beyond a mere political issue and into a holy calling. If God really is calling Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry or Hermann Cain to run for President, isn’t it incumbent upon Christians to support them? Which one is really called? On the other we have politicians on the left frequently speaking from the pulpit of “social justice” churches focused on themes of income redistribution and social welfare. Both sides seek to claim Him as their own when it is obvious that neither philosophy embodies what Christ taught.
So it is quite clear that neither individualism or collectivism is the “right” way to advance the Kingdom of God because both are at their core self-centered philosophies. So where does the believer turn? We turn to Jesus of course!
Jesus models and commands a third way, a radically different way that transcends individualism and collectivism alike. What makes the Kingdom way of Jesus different from both collectivism and individualism is that it is “other focused”. This is embodied in “The Great Commandment”, which is the foundation of all of the Law, that as followers of Christ we are to “love your neighbor as yourself”. That makes no sense within the framework of individualism or collectivism. It only makes sense when viewed within the framework of the cross by a believer who has been born again. Without that renewed and recreated heart, the cross and all subsequent actions that are the hallmarks of the way of the cross for His followers are nothing but foolishness (1 Cor 1:18), foolishness that invites the mockery and hatred of the world. Foolishness aside, there is great joy in this third way of Christ because in it is found true freedom. True freedom cannot be found in individualism and collectivism is anathema to true freedom. True freedom does not result in wealth or health or the approval of the world. True freedom is found in service, in knees calloused from prayer and washing feet, in giving away more and more of one’s self until all that remains is Christ.
This truth and freedom found in the third way of Christ, the downward path of the Kingdom, brings joy to the believer but also caution because the well worn paths of the world are hard to abandon. We cannot operate as Kingdom agents within the framework of either individualism or collectivism. We must constantly be on guard against our tendency to help God along, to employ means and methods that are inherently at odds with the downward path of Christ. Jesus doesn’t need our help and He really doesn’t need our advice! Jesus paid the price for our sins before we were born. He instituted a church as His Body two thousand years ago. He knows what He is doing, we must simply bow the knee to Him and keep His commandments. Just being faithful in that will keep a believer occupied for a lifetime.