Faith: “Personal” Or “Private?”

The words “personal” and “private” may cause confusion at times.  Not everything that is personal needs to be private, although some things are.  In fact, some personal things are actually supposed to be quite public.

For example, a marriage is a very personal, intimate relationship, and spouses keep certain aspects of the relationship very private.  The marriage relationship itself, however, is quit public.  Even so called “private weddings” still require public licenses and witnesses to be valid.  Christian spouses are supposed to be public witnesses to the relationship between Christ and his Church.  So, a very personal relationship is also meant to be a very public one.

One’s annual income is generally considered to be personal information that is also private.  It comes across as rude to inquire about someone’s income.  When asked, “How much do you make?” one might respond, “I’m sorry, that’s personal.”  What is really meant, however, is, “That’s private.”  One’s name is also “personal” information, but we tend to freely divulge it when asked, so it becomes both personal and public.

Privatized religion is a strange phenomenon, especially where Christianity is concerned.  It makes complete sense that one’s religious beliefs are personal, for if one’s faith in God does not impact one’s person, there is little point to it.  This, I believe, is at the heart of why many try to make a distinction between “religion” and “relationship.”  Religion is often branded as impersonal while a relationship is assumed to be personal.  The reality, however, is that religion can and must be quite personal.  The whole point of the Christian religion is to be personally transformed by God.  Yet, the Christian religion is not meant to be “private.”

Christianity is meant to be lived in full view of the public.  The Christian is to be a “city on a hill” not a “light hidden under a bushel.”  Certainly, Christianity is personal.  It should transform a person.  But, if one’s Christian faith is always private, that is a problem.  At some point, many Christians bought into the idea that being open about one’s faith is taboo.  Somehow, the very public proclamation of the Gospel became a “private” matter not to be broached in public.  “Go and spread the Gospel” became “Don’t offend anyone or draw any attention.”  This happened despite the fact that Christians were told from the beginning that their faith would offend many people and that it was supposed to draw attention from the world.  Political correctness has overruled the Great Commission for many Christians.

Now, I can certainly understand why some Christians in certain times and places might keep their faith somewhat private, at least from the powers that be.  For two thousand years many Christians have had to face death and torture for being Christian.  Nevertheless, many of them gave (and still give) their lives rather than recant their belief.  That which is deeply personal need not be private.

I have heard people say things such as, “I don’t go to any church and I don’t want to talk about religion.  My God and I do just fine together.”  My reaction is, “If your faith is such a wonderful thing, why horde it for yourself?  Why keep all of that great stuff hidden from everyone?  That seems like a selfish thing to do, especially if you claim to be a Christian.  Why not tell people about your wonderful God?  Why not proclaim what you believe, why you believe it and what difference it makes to you and to the world?  What are you so afraid of?”

Finally, the Christian faith is about community.  In a community, people give, share and exchange things and ideas.  Christianity is not about isolation.  The idea is to have a relationship with Christ and then share the benefits of that relationship with others.  Christianity is not a private “security blanket” to be clung to like the Peanuts character Linus.  Christianity is a treasure to be freely distributed to others in word and in action.

So, by all means, have a deeply personal, Christian faith.  Just don’t keep it private.  Share the joy.

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