Argo of the blog unreformingtheology has put out a post called Part Eight of: Collectivist Philosophy Masquerading as the Christian Orthodox Ideal. (There is some profanity in his post, BTW.)
He’s been harping on this point for 8 posts from his (somewhat strange) philosophical position. His point being that modern Christianity makes the collective (the institutional church) the only thing important and the individual of no value whatsoever, and that this should not be the case. But let’s dispense with philosophy and approach it purely from the perspective of a disciple of Christ but not of Paul. Let’s approach it from the perspective of the four gospels.
Ultimately, like pretty much everything else, this problem goes back to Jesus vs Paul because collectivism comes from Paul’s doctrine that we are the body of Christ. Paul says we are all “members of the body”—or for a more modern phrase “cogs in the machine.” We don’t exist as full people: we’re just a hand, a foot, an eye, or a nose.
Now did Jesus ever teach that? No. Of course not. Let that truth soak in for a minute.
To Jesus, Jesus’ body was, well, his actual body. But Paul, who barely thinks of Jesus in historical terms as an actual man, and who makes Christ a mystical/mythical figure, Christ has no body but us, as that modern poem says “Christ has no hands but your hands,” etc. Because Paul and his followers don’t seem to believe Jesus was real; they’re functional Docetists if not outright Docetists. And their Docetism extends beyond disbelieving that Jesus has a real body of flesh and blood, to disbelieving that we are real (essentially).
Paul makes the argument (as anyone who has ever studied the Lord’s Supper as it is taught in Paul will know) that when we partake of the bread “we being many are that one bread, for we are all one body.” (That was from memory, and I accidentally combined Romans 12:5 and 1st Corinthians 10:17, but that sums up Paul’s thought on this point.)
Well, Paul, that’s not true. We are not the body and our eating from that one bread does not represent us being the body. It represents us partaking in the benefits that come from Jesus having given his body (his actual flesh and blood body) for us on the cross. But it doesn’t mean we are the body. Jesus’ physical body is his body; we are not. And Jesus views us not merely as a collective, as a “body,” but as individuals, as is so obvious from everything he says in the gospels.
To Paul, salvation is a corporate affair.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. (Ephesians 5:23)
We’re a toenail or hair follicle or whatever, and Christ, who is only the head of his body, saves us along with all the other non-sentient body parts, according to Paul. So salvation = being in the body. This isn’t how Jesus puts it. Its always on an individual level in the gospels.