In high school, my government class was assigned to compose our own “Declarations of Independence,” a clever assignment on the teacher’s part that both taught us about the original Declaration and tapped into our natural teenage rebellion.
I took this opportunity to declare independence from church, crafting a sort of spiritual-but-not-religious manifesto that maintained allegiance to Jesus but eschewed church (like the phenomenon this good book describes).
Following the model of the original Declaration, I listed specific reasons for desiring independence. The grievances against church included telling people what to believe (and what to do, wear, read, listen to on the radio, and vote for in the next election), judging us when we didn’t do those things, and even causing atrocious persecutions and murders throughout history.
It was a happy document indeed.
Years later, the teenage rebellion has faded and I wonder: What role does independence actually play in a mature Christian faith?
To answer that, I use the image of a smoothie versus a fruit salad. A smoothie puts its ingredients together and makes them ditch their individuality completely. This is how I used to experience church — as though it was a blender trying to make me stop being myself. But, a fruit salad brings ingredients together and maintains their individuality. This is how I’ve come to experience church now — a bowl trying to help me find myself in God, His Word, and His people.
When I read the gospels, I see independent thought happening. The disciples asked Jesus questions and sincerely disagreed with one another. For instance, in one of my favorite scenes, the disciples tell Thomas that Jesus has risen from the dead, and Thomas doesn’t believe them (John 20:24-31).
That being said, when I read the gospels, I don’t see isolated thought happening. In that story of Thomas, he doesn’t just hole up and have an existential crisis (which is probably what I would do). Rather, “after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them” (v. 26). An emphasis on community runs throughout the narrative of Scripture, and the first 2 chapters of Genesis alone affirm that God believes in community (Genesis 2:18) and God is Himself community (Genesis 1:26).
So, perhaps Christians are called to be independent together. Perhaps that’s why the New Testament uses the phrase “one another” so many times, as in “love one another,” “honor one another,” and “serve one another.” We have our own needs, thoughts, perspectives, and experiences…and we share them with one another.
If your perception of religion is that, like a smoothie, it won’t let you be the unique strawberry or banana or whatever other individual ingredient you are, rest assured that’s not the only way for religion to be. But don’t just jump out of the blender and go it alone either! I’m confident that it’s possible, albeit challenging sometimes, for us to be independent together with one another.