What you can’t do for me

Here is one description of a Methodist society:

a company of people associating together, to help each other to work out their own salvation. (John Wesley)

A Methodist society was not a church, but the early Methodist societies did fulfill the mission that the United Methodist Church has set for itself. They were places where disciples grew. To the extent God changed lives through the society, the world was transformed little by little as well.

As I read Wesley’s description against the backdrop of conversations I hear and ideas I read these days, the thing that strikes me is the individualism that is at its core. The society is a place where people help each other work out their own salvation. At its core, salvation is between each individual person and God.

I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s similar counsel in his book Life Together, a book that is about groups of Christians but begins by asserting that the group only exists as a collection of individuals who each have their own relationship to Jesus Christ.  It is only as individuals in Christ that they have any common or shared identity at all.

Wesley and Bonhoeffer both remind us that Christ calls us each by name. We live together. We form the body. But you cannot work out my salvation for me. You cannot answer my call. I cannot answer yours.