Growing up, I learned the ABCs (Admit, Believe, Confess) of FAITH (Forsaking All, I Trust Him). So long as I admit that Jesus is my savior, believe that Jesus is my savior, confess that Jesus is my savior and forsake all others as I trust Him alone, then my salvation is assured. It’s a pretty individualistic message; usually individualistic given that it’s not uncommon for stories in the Bible to report the conversion of one person to Christianity usually meant the rest of his or her household also converted into Christianity. Faith was a collective experience. Not only you and your family shared the same faith, but with any luck, so did everyone else around you; same faith and same values.
We’re an individualistic society – that’s how we read and apply the Bible. God’s promise to captive Israelites being marched to Babylon is interpreted as God’s promise to each and every one of us to give us a good life, to protect us, to provide for us no matter what happens – he has our backs. So we would view the promise of salvation as saving ourselves – whereas the ancient believers would have turned down any concept of salvation where their entire family couldn’t be saved as well.
This tendency creates a sort of righteous isolation – I’m being saved, I have the truth, I will go to heaven; who cares about the unsaved, who don’t have the truth and who won’t go to heaven? Something of this thinking gives people permission to cut out from their lives anyone that could jeopardize their salvation – an inconvenient relative or friend who just doesn’t share their values or makes them question their own faith or doesn’t get how important faith is. Such thinking would never have been possible in the ancient world – where families were strongly connected, where communities were closely bound, where friends were as family, where clients where as family, where relationships were at the core of everything.
Walking away from those relationships was to lose one’s identity, one’s security, one’s future, one’s past, one’s hope – yet Jesus promised new relationships to replace the ones that had been lost for those who would believe in him; for giving up a flesh-and-blood family, they would be part of a greater spiritual family with one father – God himself. Our culture doesn’t give us many parallels – perhaps during the Civil War when brother fought brother, or during the Civil Rights era when one marched on one side and the other fought to hold down traditions. Perhaps it’s the cutting off of a LGBTQ teenager to show him or her tough love to snap them back to their senses and return home as the prodigal children that they are. For some reason, many Christians feel justified in sacrificing some relationships for the church. Forsaking all others indeed.
I wish that shared faith wasn’t a non-negotiable prerequisite to be associated with them for these people – because it’s so strange to stand across the table from somebody I used to know from church and from somebody who used to know me from church knowing that I haven’t changed and they haven’t changed, but the relationship we had isn’t the same. Trying to talk politely around the church issue without broaching the subject. Perhaps this spiritual family is too much like a flesh-and-blood family and when relatives are on opposite sides – you know the saying, a house divided falls.