Posted on Oct 1, 2014 | 0 comments

A Personal Savior?

by Skip Moen, D. Phil.

Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do:” Exodus 35:1 NASB

Congregation – In this verse, Moses uses both Hebrew words associated with the Apostolic Writings’ use of the Greek ekklesia. In other words, Moses employs qahal (to assemble) and ‘edah (congregation) in order to call together the entire group of YHVH’s chosen. But Moses is not gathering a church, in spite of the fact that the Greek ekklesia is usually translated that way. Why is the assembly called by Moses not an Old Testament version of the “Church”? Because the philosophical basis of the Greek idea of “church” is radically different than the Hebrew idea of ‘edah.

In Hebrew thought, ‘edah and qahal’ are collective. The words describe the whole group of the people as one unified community. “Judaism is a collective faith. Despite its principled attachment to the dignity of the individual, its central experiences are not private but communal. We pray together . . . we mourn together . . . we confess together. There are moments when the fate of the individual is expressly separated from the group but they are rare. . . But for the most part the assumption of biblical thought is that the people prosper together and suffer together, because ‘All Israel are responsible for one another.’”[1]

The Church, especially Evangelical Protestants, is precisely the opposite. Faith is personal, individual and private. “Jesus saves me,” and unless I make a personal confession, I am not one of His own. The philosophy behind this change is thoroughly Greek. “Man is the measure of all things” is not a communal statement. It is a declaration of the supremacy of the unique individual. God’s word is all about me, to save and bless me. In Hebrew thought, I exist in the relationships I share with others. I am you (plural). In Greek thought, I exist apart from others. I am me (singular). This also affects the way I think about God. In Hebrew, God is the God of the collective. He is for Israel on behalf of Israel committed to Israel. In Hebrew thought, it is God and His ‘edah. In Greek thought, the reason God exists is to help me. In a nutshell, evangelical Protestant Christianity is religiously rationalized selfishness.

The idea of a “personal” Savior was invented in the early 20th century by famous evangelists. They caused a shift in perspective that has affected the Church in dramatic ways. But they didn’t arrive at this invention without historical precedent. They merely articulated in practice what was present in theory as soon as the early Church abandoned its Jewish collective consciousness. And we won’t recover what was lost without deconstructing the theology and the philosophy behind it. When we stop being about me entirely, we just might be able to return to the experience of the fist century followers. That won’t happen as long as we serve a “personal” God.

Sacks offers a crucial insight. “World Jewry is small, painfully so. But the invisible strands of mutual responsibility mean that even the smallest Jewish community can turn to the Jewish people worldwide for help and achieve things that would be exceptional for a nation many times its size. When a people join hands, becoming even momentarily ‘like one body with one soul’, they are a formidable force for good.”[2]

That is the point of it all, isn’t it? We are thousands of fractured souls in denominational caves and theological cells. Every one of us alone. What must happen is holding hands, across the divide we have created, so that we are no longer by ourselves. “It is not good for man to be alone,” means you and I must refuse the philosophy of individualism and accept divine responsibility for the other person. There is no “me” in ‘edah.

Topical Index: ‘edah, assembly, qahal, Exodus 35:1, personal, collective

[1] Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World, p. 87.

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