Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, during a time long since forgotten, stood Church. Church was rather small; they would gather in the center of town on Main Street, across the street from City Hall, around the City fountain. Each Sunday, as they woke the people of the town would gather and come to Church to hear what was being said, and to share in the fun and excitement of the community. During the week, the people of Church would gather for weekly meetings, gatherings and other social events; they would encourage others and gave birth to new voices. As a community, Church would celebrate births, weddings, and together they would mourn the passing of a loved one. Their lives were connected to each other, and to the Divine. Each week, Church asked people to give what they could to help those in the community who had a need. There was no record kept of what was given, but all that was given went to care for those who were hungry, homeless, elderly or orphans. No one cared, as long as the people in the community had their needs met, everyone was happy.
As time passed, Church became a very important part of the community and was very active in the lives of the people. As people spoke of Church, they would share how wonderful it was and how blessed they were to be part of Church. They would share their experiences at Church with others, and others started to gather and share in this amazing love filled community. Soon, Church was larger than anyone could have dreamed and the joy of it all filled the air. The people of the town were happy being part of Church.
One day, as the clouds grew gray, darkness fell upon Church and the people of the town; it was the day something happened, something so hideous, so destructive, so corrosive no one could have ever dreamed of such an event. One day, as people were sitting around talking of Church, a stranger slid into town and started to listen to all the voices at Church. As were the customs of the people at Church and the people of the town, welcomed the stranger with open arms and they invited the stranger to share his voice at Church. As the stranger spoke, people noticed he spoke a language no one truly understood. His words were confusing, his ideas seems to not quite fit. But the kind people of the community and Church listened, and the stranger continued to share his voice and ideas.
This stranger spoke of things like, Ours, Me, My and Mine and They. The people of the town did not understand this way of thinking, yet they welcomed him with open arms and the love of Christ. As time passed, and the stranger kept talking, people started to notice a change taking place in others. Soon they saw the hurt and pain caused by the way the stranger talked and acted. The stranger was speaking of My Church and Our Church. Over time, the stranger was speaking louder, and louder, and louder, and louder, and louder and always against another; soon others were speaking the same way. As time went on, this stranger soon found he had developed a large following and they soon formed Our Church on the other side of the street.
It wasn’t long before the peaceful people of the town found itself in the middle of a Me, Mine, Ours, Their and They debate. Where at one time people would eat together and have conversations about Church, they soon found themselves arguing over My Church and speaking of the other church as Their Church – soon, what was Church became the The Right, True and Holy Church of The Personal Pronoun. From that day to this, Church lost all connection with the people. Many in Their Church did not welcome those who came from My Church to Their Church. As years went by, people found little reasons to form new Right, True and Holy Church of The Personal Pronoun and justified their actions by claiming to be the only ones who got it right. Soon, what was collected to help feed and care for the hurting was used to build bigger and better buildings to house the people of Our Church.
How many of us use the term my church? or our church? or their church? How many of us think in terms of church in a personal pronoun? How many of us ask others, How is your church doing? How many of us think in terms of ownership when we say, How many people go to your church? Why is it that we have “your church” and “my church?” The reality is that the terms my church or their church are found no place in scripture, so why do we do it? What makes a church yours or mine? If it is mine can it be another’s as well? Can I claim ownership of a church, while allowing others to hold an equal ownership in the same church? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing, or just a thing, to connect personal pronouns to the idea of church? Should we think of church they say way we think of our car, our house, our boat, our tools? Is it wise to see the church as my church or their church? I will admit to using those terms, like so many others do, but my using them does not change the reality that it is not my church – it just so happens to be the church I attend.
Is the idea of ownership a good idea? Is it a scriptural idea? The term my church appears only once in scripture. It is in Matthew’s recording of events when Jesus is speaking to peter and says, “On this I will build my church” – at no other place does anyone use the term my church. in fact, the terms our church and their church or your church don’t appear in scripture either; in Paul’s second known letter to the Corinthians he does refer to the church as God’s church, which is so far from the idea of the church of the personal pronoun we strive to hold to today. The term used the most is the church.
The idea of using personal pronouns in connection to the church is based more on a western idea of ownership then on scripture; after all, you help pay the bills you must own part of it, right? It is, if you will, a consumer based hold over from the modern consumer driven church; which in my heart should end. When we define things as mine, or yours, or theirs, or any other personal pronoun we assign ownership to either ourselves, we are telling others that this cannot possibly be yours, it’s mine. In so doing, we automatically determine who has the right to make changes, make alterations, determine direction of decide the use of church property. After all, only those who are in our church should determine the color of our carpet.
Now, I am not advocating that you change the name of the church you are attending, though in some case (alright, in many cases) changing the name is not a bad idea. What I am saying is that we need to rid ourselves of this idea of ownership. We need to realize that the church belongs to God, and in that we are, at best, keepers of the keys for this generation. When we hold true to the idea of ownership, change becomes almost impossible, if not downright impossible. If we own the church, if we claim the church with personal pronouns, when others come and desire to see change, it becomes impossible because “You can’t change MY church.”
I think this idea of my church is the most destructive force placed upon the followers of Christ.