Is there any such thing as individual salvation?
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-18
For Sunday, April 29, 2012—Easter 4
Jesus really talks a lot in John. And he repeats himself a lot. And um, he can be kind of confusing sometimes.
One would assume that the Word would have a miraculous command of, you know, words—like putting them together to form clear and concise sentences, communicating powerful and transcendent meaning. Instead they often seem clumsy and obtuse.
For this week’s reading Jesus has already been confusing me about the sheep and the shepherd for ten verses. Is he the gatekeeper or the gate or the shepherd or what?
With verse eleven through eighteen it seems like he is trying again, taking another stab at the Shepherd/sheep metaphor. This time Jesus is for sure the Shepherd, the good shepherd—he repeats it several times. And he lays down his life for his sheep. Which he also repeats. He protects his sheep from the wolves.
OK. But, what I am trying to make sense of this week is this: is it the lost sheep or the sheep that Jesus lays down his life for?
Yes, the plural for a sheep is sheep. John’s gospel is infamously been pressed into the service of converting or saving individuals—for God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son….
Well, you know how it goes. It is the verse that induces the sinner’s prayer, which results in personal salvation—the salvation of one of the lost sheep. The story of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to find the one, however, is not in the book of John.
Focusing on the Flock
John’s Jesus seems concerned with the flock, even stating that there are others that are not of this fold, they are in another fold, but he will bring all the folds together to form one flock.
Jesus in John is all about saving the flock, protecting the flock—not the lone sheep. Jesus is about bringing every sheep into the one true flock.
The Hardest Question
Is there any such thing as individual salvation? So that’s my THQ, but hear me out: Can you say you like Jesus but you don’t like the church? Can you be into spirituality but not religion? I don’t go to church but I am a Christian—really? I don’t think so.
In my evangelical days a popular retort when someone responded to being hounded by an individual salvation sales pitch with, “Of course I am a Christian, I go to church,” was, “Just because you are in a garage that doesn’t make you a car!” Zing! Got ya! While zippy, I think the analogy is lacking.
Going to church, being part of the Church, being in the community of Christ followers is exactly what makes you a Christian. Being in the Beloved Community is what salvation looks like. Right?