Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Lone Rangers and Go Along Gangs

I’VE MET MY share of Lone Ranger Christians through the years who, like that old Western character, are a strange mix. They want people to notice them (white clothes and silver guns can make you stand out in a crowd) but don’t want people to know them (hence the black mask). They like riding into town and being the hero, but they don’t want to hang around and be like ordinary folk.

More often than not they will say they aren’t part of a church, because they don’t need anyone but Jesus. There’s a quiet sense of judgmentalism about them; everyone else’s spirituality is inferior to theirs and they don’t want to be somehow contaminated.

In one sense they are not entirely wrong, of course. There are no group passes into the kingdom of heaven; it’s on an individual-basis entry. But once you’re in, you become part of something bigger. It’s a bit like going to a concert. You may go on your own, but the richness of your experience depends in part on everyone else’s participation. Something transcendent happens through connection.

So I never want to downplay the importance of being part of a Christian community. Like Bono sang, “We get to carry each other.” It’s not always comfortable or easy, but it’s simply part of the package. If God is in eternal community (with Himself), how can we hope to represent Him to the world without a similar dimension to our lives?

Having said that, if Lone Ranger Christians are out of balance on one side, some Go Along Gang Christians swing too far the other way. It’s actually possible to be so wrapped up in other people that we lose sight of God for ourselves—just like Mary and Joseph did.

Remember how they were heading back to Nazareth from their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Luke 2, traveling in convoy with a bunch of others? They must have been fun road trips. But look what happened this time. They traveled for a day “supposing him [Jesus] to be in the group” (verse 44). Pretty embarrassing to lose the incarnate Son of God, no? Only He wasn’t there; He was back in Jerusalem, confounding the elders in the temple with His wisdom.

There’s a gentle caution for us in this incident. It’s good to be part of a community of believers, but it’s not to replace our own relationship with Jesus; it’s to enrich it. We may suppose Him to be with the others, but we can’t rely on them to bring Jesus to us. We need to search Him out for ourselves.

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