Raising Paine in the Church

 In this great book on the fellowship or communion of the saints, Philip Ryken explains one major hindrance to solid fellowship.

“Another obstacle to the communion of the saints is the pride of individualism.  This is especially a problem in the American church.  When the French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) visited the United States in the 1830s he observed that Americans ‘owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man, they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their hands… [This attitude] throws [the American] back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.'”

“The pride of individualism has infected the American church.  Thomas Jefferson liked to observe, ‘I am a sect myself.’  Thomas Paine said, ‘My mind is my church.’  Now many Americans are raising Paine in the contemporary church.  They doubt the necessity of active involvement in a living church.  They rely on Christian radio, worship at home with a televangelist, or treat churches like leased automobiles, trading the old one in for a new one every five years” (p. 11).

Ryken is right.  Hard core individualism is a huge barrier to true Christian fellowship.  And this is one major reason why Ryken wrote and edited this book, The Communion of SaintsHere’s how he said it himself on page 13: “The purpose of this book is to help us rediscover the lost communion of the saints.”   I do believe the book is a great help towards that end.  There’s even a study guide at the end which makes this a perfect resource for a Bible study or book group.  These are the kind of “churchly” books we need to be reading and studying!  You won’t find any trendy jargon like “enacted community,” or “Jesus the partier,”  but you will find a solid, biblical, and practical discussion of what the church is, says, and does in her pilgrimage.

Here’s the info: Philip Ryken (ed.) The Communion of the Saints (Philipsburg: P&R, 2001).

shane lems


4 comments on “Raising Paine in the Church

  1. Ryken brings up a good point. I’ve had trouble connecting with others in my churches in the past. My husband who enjoyed close Christian fellowship overseas in Japan while he was in the navy found it difficult to have fellowship that was anything like what he had before. We long for “the communion of the saints”.


    • Thanks for that note. Good Christian fellowship is sometimes hard to find for a few reasons. One of them is noted by Ryken in the quote above.

      On the other hand, we have to realize fellowship takes time, patience, and prayer. Since it has to do with relationships, we have to cultivate trust and care – those things take time! Its like any friendship: good ones aren’t superficial but neither do they happen over night! Thankfully Christian fellowship is grounded and rooted in Christ.

      On another similar note, I once knew a man who became a Christian in prison and enjoyed very close fellowship there with other mature Christians. He’d joke that he wanted to go back just for the fellowship (I told him that he better not go back there! ha!).



  2. Since I am new to my current church I look forward to taking the time to get involved and get to know the other Christians there. Even the short time I have been there has been encouraging since the people are friendly and the pastor a big people person. Praise the Lord for that!


  3. Tom Lassiter says:

    Sounds like a book that should be in the hands of and read by every American Christian! I’m sold! This book by Paine is going on my list of “must haves.” Your review is greatly appreciated.


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