I have a friend who teaches in a Lutheran high school. When she asked me about my past church experiences, I told her about the several churches I have been a part of. She looked at me and said, “You’re Heinz 57”. At first, I was offended by this. I didn’t want to be categorized as a fickle Christian.
Looking back, she was right. I was baptized and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. My first reference to what defined church was Liturgy. I never experienced anything else until I went away to University.
There, I encountered people from Campus Crusade for Christ. One of them took me aside and asked if I had a personal relationship with Jesus. He then shared the Four Spiritual Laws with me. From this point, I became detached from anything remotely Liturgical.
After going through a few other Evangelical/Protestant denominations, I have landed in a Lutheran church as a pastor. I have changed, morphed and moved on from who I used to be. But the question that Modern American Evangelical Christians ask the liturgical-types is still the same, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
What they are getting at is; have you made a commitment to Jesus (by praying a “sinner’s prayer”), and do you spend time alone with God by reading your Bible and praying? Now, there’s nothing wrong with praying and reading God’s Word. In fact, God breathes life into us through His Holy Word. As for the sinner’s prayer, it isn’t found in Scripture and therefore isn’t what gives you a “personal relationship” with Jesus.
The question leads to a couple of thoughts, though. Liturgical Christians can respond with the power of the word of God. First, we were buried with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:4). That’s a pretty intimate personal relationship. Second, we received His Spirit who lives in us (John 3:5). He lives in us. Thirdly, we eat His body and blood (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) at the communion table.
You can’t possibly have a more personal relationship than being buried with, having the spirit of, and eating and drinking the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is as intimate as it gets!
Yet that answer will not convince your modern American evangelical friends. So, after you give that answer, you can ask them a more interesting question, “Do you have a corporate relationship with Jesus?”
That is, are you a member of a church that proclaims Christ and Him crucified? Does the church you attend give you both word and sacrament? Does your “personal relationship” with Jesus preclude you from attending church regularly?
These are all important questions because the New Testament letters were written largely to churches. Some letters were written to individuals (i.e., Timothy, which was written to a pastor), but these were not people who existed as autonomous from the church body. And that is the corporation I am referring to.
A quick glance at the book of Revelation also reveals the importance of corporate affiliation. Read through Chapters 2 and 3. Individuals are not addressed. The body of believers in regions is addressed. They identified as part of a church body. Their character was a corporate character. They weren’t individuals who saw themselves as churches within themselves.
That’s critical. In order to be attached to the head, who is Jesus Christ, you must be and live as part of His body. And that’s a messy business. It isn’t relating to God in a private prayer closet. It’s relating to one another. It’s relating to people who are sinners like we are. It is hearing the Word of God together. It is sharing in the meal of Christ together. It is confessing sin together. It is being forgiven together.
As Jesus said in John 6,
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day …”
There is nothing private about this. It was always designed to be a corporate meal. That is, it is a corporate fellowship with one another and with Jesus. And in that corporate fellowship, the person is both fed and strengthened in their relationship to Jesus Christ, the head of the church.
So, the next time you are asked if you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you can turn that question around and ask the surprisingly biblical question, “Do you have a corporate relationship with Jesus?”
To God be the glory,