Individualism is taking a toll on Americans. American culture has confined us to our solitary bubbles through the emphasis on individualism, self-sufficiency, and, in more recent years, rampant social media use. We’re all imprisoned in tiny solitary confinement bubbles that can wreak havoc on our relationships and our health. There’s a reason solitary confinement is a punishment. Author Janice Shaw Crouse writes in her article “The Loneliness of American Society,”
The secular humanist view that human existence is disconnected from any higher power and from responsibility for anyone other than ourselves gives a certain freedom to make one’s own rules, but there is a price to pay for this freedom. Gone is human dignity. Gone is mankind’s special connection to the Author of beauty, truth, or goodness. Ultimately, we are “free,” but autonomy is just another way of being alone.
The devil loves this. He loves to see people isolated from one another because someone alone is always weaker than people together. This is especially true for Christians. He loves to see people isolated because it is directly opposed to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It means his original temptation to Eve to be “like God” is still working. The devil seeks to pull apart, to separate, to convince us that autonomy is the secret to flourishing. In reality, it simply confines us in a prison of self-definement that, rather ironically, we build ourselves. We’re miserable because we can’t imagine what true intimacy, deep connection, and real friendship are like anymore. What are we to do?
The Holy Spirit Creates Something Different
The gospel creates a place of companionship, hospitality, and belonging. The gospel of Christ is inherently communal because it brings sinners from all over the world into a new humanity, making them citizens of a new kingdom. The gospel brings people together into a community that is connected by so much more than things like common interest, nationality, or political ideology. The head of the church is Christ; the body of Christ is his church, and all members are connected to him and to one another(Eph. 5:23). This can be understood in two aspects: companionship with Christ and companionship with others.
Companionship with God
The Son of God brings God and human together through his very own body. He was forsaken so that his people would not be forsaken (Matt. 27:46). In the aloneness of Christ on the cross, what was estranged became united. Our soul’s longing to be re-connected in the embrace of God can be satisfied in the temple of Jesus’ body (Jn. 2:20-22). When God saves you, he brings you into intimacy with himself, participants through union with Christ in fellowship with the divine (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:1-17; Ps. 139).
In Christ, God says to us, “I have known you before time began”(Eph. 1:4). He lays a place for us at his table, welcoming us home. In the Lord’s house, there is always a place for you to find comfort, companionship, and intimacy. As Christ told his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn. 14:1-3).
There is a place for everyone who comes to Christ.
Companionship with Others
It’s easy to think that the events of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are only that—events without consequences. But from that transformative event flows a new reality, one of love and graciousness, of hospitality and hope. A new kingdom has been started, one where the governing principle is cruciform love, service, friendship, connection, support, and companionship with others, many of whom are radically different from us. Where these things are not present, we must ask whether the gospel is really being understood and applied (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:11-12; 1 Jn. 3:11-18).
This is not an argument that we should never be alone or have alone-time. However, participating in community in some way and knowing you belong in a community is a lot different than being alone while surrounded by people. Consider this passage from the book of Hebrews:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. (Heb. 22-24)
Notice all of the communal words present in this picture of the new reality Jesus brought about: a city, innumerable angels in festal gathering, assembly of the firstborn, spirits of the righteous.
The creative work of the Holy Spirit brings people to walk alongside one another. People who were once enemies are now family. There is no hierarchy. No one is better than another because all have been washed in the blood of one Savior and baptized in one Spirit.
We surely cannot face the battle of this life alone. Just as in war, an army is made up of a multitude of individuals; so, too, the church should be an army of spiritual warriors who fight alongside each other, grieve with each other, support each other, and keep the devil from separating us and so overcoming us.
Christian Hospitality and the Church
We, as a church body entrusted with this gospel of hope, have the freedom to include people because our identity doesn’t rely on other people. Christians have all been chosen to share citizenship in the same city, in the same home. Hospitality to fellow assembly members and beyond is born out of this connection. It manifests itself in the safety provided by grace and love to be open with one another about the dark sides of ourselves and of life. This kind of love casts out fear and instead opens arms to those outcast and oppressed by society.
But to do this, we must work hard to create a space where people feel safe to talk about their needs, their struggles, their loneliness, their isolation. It’s not just doing our God-given duty, but it is the springing forth of joy and love that flows out of our new-creation identity as children of love. This takes hard work, but it’s worth it, and we’re not alone, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). The joy and companionship that comes is just a small taste of the “festal gathering” which will one day last forever on Mount Zion in the heavenly kingdom.