Look at that little thing. Isn't she funny looking?
Yes, that is me. I am about eighteen months old there. My mother took that picture to remember the occasion when I tried to put on my own socks. I was frustrated and my mother wanted to help me, but I responsed with:
"No! Self do it!"
So, clearly, an issue of self-reliance and bad sentence structure.
I'm afraid that this tendency to want to do things myself has never really gone away, although it never really manifested itself in a wish to have a career outside of my family, or a burning desire to have my own income. No, I continue to throw myself upon the mercy of my husband for financial support, thus shaming me among the feministas of the world. However, I am afraid that it has crept into other facets of my life, to occasions when I have displayed pride, thinking I can do things on my own. I don't ask for help easily, and it's generally not because I am selfless and don't want to bother others. It's usually because a) I think I can do a better job, and b) I want people to think I'm Wonder Woman. This is something I continue to work on.
As new believers, we are not cast out into the world on our own. While we may live in an area where there are relatively few believers, we are all part of the church. Whether or not we are formally affiliated to a local church (and I think we all should have that as our goal), all Christians belong to the universal church. There is no place for individualism in the church. Just think of some of the metaphors used for the church.
The church is likened to a family. In I Tim. 5:1-2, Paul encourages Timothy to encourage others as family members. Our fellow Christians are brothers and sisters in the Lord. The church is also compared to a vine and branches (John 15:5), where the health and growth depends on remaining in the vine. Apart from the vine, the branches can do nothing. That's actually a rather powerful metaphor for someone who feels like she can be a Christian apart from the vine; she will not flourish. The image of the body is also used. In I Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul describes the dependence the body parts have on each other and collectively on the Father. It's a beautiful picture. Every part is necessary, even the smallest one, and all rely on each other.
And of course, the image that I think often gets abused, the image of the Bride of Christ. In Ephesians, Paul commands men to love their wives, their brides, as Christ loved the church. In 5:32, he calls the marital union of one flesh a "mystery," and that it also refers to Christ and the church. In Revelation 19, we read of the marriage supper of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, as he finally becomes one with his bride, the church. Now, I, as an individual, am not the bride of Christ. Collectively, we are the bride of Christ. I am the bride of Neil, and no other. If individuals are brides, then what does that make my husband? A male bride?
The church is the place where we are fed spiritual food. Yes, we can study on our own, but pastors and teachers are legitimate church positions, and God gave us those things. Church is a place to fellowship, to edify one another, to serve one another. We can serve outside the local church, but the church provides one of the first venues where that happens. The church provides accountability. It's easy to label myself Jane Christian to my neighbours and to my online friends, but there is accountability in a local church. That may be scary, but it's ultimately a good thing because if I'm falling into sin and I don't see it, I need to have it pointed it out to me.
I love my online friends. I have met many of them face to face, and I hope to meet more. These individuals are part of the church, and I am expected to treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ. I try to do that. I am thankful daily for their encouragement and likemindedness. That doesn't excuse me from participating in my local church, even if there are some doctrinal issues that occasionally frustrate me. I need to be part of a body so that I can serve, be encouraged, encourage others, and hear the Word of God proclaimed. It's part of recognizing that I am a dependent being; dependent on God, and dependent on the body. To fellowship with others is a foretaste of what is to come when we are eternally united with Christ.
I get frustrated with people who say they have no problem with Christ, but they have big issues with the church. I understand that sentiment, but I don't think a few bad apples need to turn someone away from it entirely. Christ loves the church. He's coming for her. That should dictate our attitude toward her. It can be a difficult journey if we insist on spending our whole Christian life with the "self do it" mentality.
If you're interested in reading some really articulate guys on this subject, check out Why We Love the Church, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.