And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
– Acts 2:42
Just Jesus and me.
It sounds correct, even noble, on the surface. At least that’s what I thought when I first heard it in my initial years of spiritual formation. The idea is that followers of Jesus should be disicpled to such a degree they can be independent in their growth. In other words, when they are trained in areas like interpreting the Bible, praying, and having a “Quiet Time,” then, like a kid turning 18, they can fly the spiritual coop. They don’t have to have others’ help to grow spiritually. With a Bible in hand and knowing how to feed themselves, they have all they need. They’re independent.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I believe young (and old) Christians should learn to individually use their Bibles in order to grow spiritually. What I’m against is leading budding Christians to think independence equates to spiritual maturity. It doesn’t. There is no picture in the New Testament showing mature Christians living independently from the local church. Not one. On the contrary, it seems mature (and immature) Christians are not only connected by fellowship within the community found in the local church but growing spiritually with them as well. Put another way, the aim of maturity isn’t independence but interdependence.
Believers should be trained not only to use the Bible individually but communally as a part of, and in fellowship with, the local church. In other words, we read, interpret, and apply the Bible not only in community but as a community. Far too often Christians read the New Testament’s “you’s” as individual appeals when many of those “you’s” are plural. As we would say in Texas, the “you’s” are “y’all’s.” That’s why the goal of helping people grow spiritually isn’t independence but interdependence. It’s to fly the coop knowing that the “y’all” will always be a part of spiritual growth.
Please note this isn’t a call for abandoning individual reading of the Bible, prayer, etc. Conversely, if spiritual disciplines can only be done in community then one has moved from biblical independence to ungodly co-dependence. The call to interdependence isn’t a mandate to abdicate the personal but to embrace the communal. It’s to live as you were redeemed – not merely as a person but as a people (cf. Dt. 7:6, Jer. 24:7, Rev. 21:3). Thus, while I want to train converts how to feed themselves, I don’t want them merely to eat by themselves. 1
The goal in discipling is interdependence not independence, because the truth is, it isn’t just Jesus and me but Jesus and us.
- I think it worth noting Peter’s call by Christ was not to teach people to feed themselves but to feed them (Jn. 21:15-17). I don’t think it too much a stretch to deduce that church leadership likely has some role with using the Bible in the spiritual formation of God’s people. ↩