As strange as this may sound, I believe that Jesus is not simply our “personal” Savior. Why? Because we can’t have Him to ourselves, or have Him by Himself. We either have Him together or we can’t have Him at all.

Christian living is a team sport. In golf or tennis, you can play for yourself if you obey all the rules. Not with baseball or football. If you’re not willing to commit to a team, you’ll never toss a touchdown for the National Football League, no matter how far you can throw the ball.

So with Christianity. But somehow it’s always been hard for Christ’s followers to embrace togetherness as a fact of life—way back to the days of the desert hermits. They imagined themselves as God’s holy loners, purifying for His presence.

A legend of loneliness in early Christianity was Simeon Stylites. As a teenage shepherd, he left his flock to join a monastery.  His pilgrimage toward God drew him into total solitude. In a sand-swept wasteland he mounted a nine-foot pillar and made himself at home up there. He lived isolated and insulated from the world the rest of his life, finally dying atop a pillar 50 feet high.

Christianity in confusion put Stylites on a pedestal, sending delegations to seek his out-of-touch counsel. After his death, a church council pronounced him a saint. The cities of Antioch and Constantinople competed for possession of his emaciated carcass.  For six centuries ascetics known as “pillar saints” followed the example of Stylites by living away from the world and the community of the saved.

Stylites had mastered the spiritual discipline of solitude, which I fear is still more important today than loving interaction, for some. But if you want to do business with Jesus, you can’t escape a comprehensive connection with His body, the church. When rescuing us from the ravages of this doomed world, God’s Spirit puts us in relationship—not just with Himself but with each another. This community we share is the substance of life in the Spirit. “The basic human unit is not the independent individual before God but the individual-in-community before God.”[1]

We pass or fail heaven’s judgment by whether or not we embrace the body of Christ, His new humanity, in place of which Adam’s fallen fraternity and selfish sorority. Christ’s parable of the final judgment warns that we must be inclusive enough within His body to reach out for others to share the blessings of our common salvation. (See Matthew 25:31-46.)

So God calls us together, but not for making church life a perpetual picnic among good people who don’t curse in front of our kids, suffer hangovers or fornicate. Socializing can’t be selfish. The church is not a luxury cruise ship but a lifeboat, with crew members on deck. We are the body of Christ, His hands and His heart. As it is written, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:10).

[1] C. Norman Kraus, The Community of the Spirit (Scottsdale, PA: Herald, 1993), 28.