the church of the personal pronoun:

the story:
once upon a time, in a land far, far away, during a time long since forgotten, stood the church. the church was rather small and would gather in the center of town on main street, around the city fountain. each sunday, as they woke the people of the town would gather and come to the church to here what was being said, and to share in the fun and community. during the week, the people of the church would gather for weekly meetings, gatherings and other social events; they would hear others and give birth to their voice. as a community, the church would celebrate births and weddings and together they would morn the passing of a loved one. their lives were connected. as time passed, the church became a very important part of the community and was very active in the lives of the people. as people spoke of the church, they would share how wonderful it was and how blessed they were to be part of the church. they would share their experiences at the church with others, and others started to come to share in that community. soon, the church was larger then anyone could have dreamed and the joy of it all filled the air. the people of the town were happy being part of the church.

but darkness soon fell upon the 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 the church, a stranger slid into town and started to get active in the church. as was the custom of the church and the people of the town, they welcomed the stranger with open arms and encouraged the stranger to share voice at the church. the stranger spoke a language no one truly understood. this stranger spoke of "me, my and mine and they." the people of the town did not understand this way of thinking, yet they welcomed the stranger with open arms and the love of christ. soon they saw the hurt and pain caused by the way the stranger talked and acted. soon, the stranger was speaking in terms of "my church" and "they do not have it right." soon, the stranger was speaking 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 "their own 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, they." where at one time people would eat together and have conversations about the church, they soon found themselves arguing over "my church," "our church," "their church" and "your church" - soon, what was "the church" became the "the church of the personal pronoun." from that day to this, "the church" lost all connection with the people. many in "our church" did not welcome those who came from "their church" to "my church." people found little reasons to form new "churches of the personal pronoun" and justified their actions by claiming to be the only ones who got it right.

the case:
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 idea of it being "my church" or "their church" is 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 the 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?"

the scripture:
the idea of using personal pronouns in connection to the church is based more on a western idea of ownership then on scripture. 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, or another. 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 the carpet. but 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" do not appear in scripture; 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" - one of the things i find most interesting is that when john is writing to the churches in his revelation, he never says "their church" - he writes to "the church" which happens to be in a certain location. the implied reality is that it is "the church" just in a different town.

i think this idea of "my church" is the most destructive force placed upon the followers of christ. while, some have used this idea that "the body" means all churches and denominations have a different function, and they make up "the body of christ" [the church], but that is stretching the use of that scripture to far for me to find comfort. some denominations use the scripture as a way of implying they are right in what they are doing. but what paul is writing about in his first known letter to the corinthians is that "in the body" - the church, the church in a location - people in that body have different gifts and talents and need to use those gifts for the church [local]. that scripture does not "give approval" for dominations as many strive hard to imply. scripture speaks in terms of unity, unity of the church, unity of the followers, unity of the leadership and not in terms of a "church of the personal pronoun." the idea of "the body of christ" is that as a the church local we are given certain gifts that should be used to help the church grow and reach the hurts of others. it is when we start thinking in terms of "me and mine" that we lose the reality that everything we have is ours in christ.

the good, the bad and the emerging:
being emerging, i have a hard time drawing the "black and white" line of good and bad. pros and cons are simply a personal point of view; if i lose 50 bucks and you find it, it depends on which side you are on to see it as either a pro or a con; so it is hard for me to think in those terms - but i can share with you how i view this situation and how i believe it is formed and controlled.

when i see the "church of the personal pronoun" in action, i see a church that forms around plaques, dedicated stain glass windows. this ownership pollutes the idea of change and forces us to hold fast the the past without regard for the future. i remember once pastoring a church that wanted to expand and put in a handicap entrance. while the idea was great, and the addition was needed, there was a problem. you see, a tree had been planted some 150 years ago un the name of a person who had long been dead. so, because the tree was planted in "memory" of a person some 150 years ago, the plans for the addition were put on hold until we got permission from a relative of the person. after six months of searching the only person who could be found was a fifth-cousin who lived over 1,000 miles away - and they were in their 80's. the church board asked if we could cut the tree down and the women, who admitted not having any connection with us, or the town, said "no." so, we did not proceed with the addition. when we place "ownership" we place others in control of who we are as a community.

when we think in terms of the "church of the personal pronoun" we lose the reality that we do not own the church. we start to see our offerings as ways "we pay the bills and keep the church alive." we believe we own the church and that if we stop giving the church will close. we then fight over what will and will not happen. one church i was given the opportunity to visit [the "ds" wanted me to serve their] was a rather interesting community. as i was being shown around i was brought into the sanctuary of the church - which was painted in the most disgusting shades of purple, multiple shades i might add. when i mentioned that the sanctuary might need a fresh coat of paint, the "chairman of the board" informed me that he had just paid people to come in and paint his church for his daughters wedding. the colors matched the theme of her wedding and they were not going to be changed, now or in the future. it was right after this i left the united methodist church, in fact the very next day.

while some believe that "ownership" is a good thing, i have never seen it as such. people strive to think, speak and act in terms of "ownership." "owning" the church is no different. people think, because they either "joined" the local church, or they give money to the local church, or their past relatives have been active in "building" the church building that they "own" the church. one of the absolute signs of ownership is the church that are called things like, "judson memorial baptist church" [i have seen, pullen, broadus, dawson, sisk, judson, snyder, heartford, fergeson, and so many more] - a church in the memory of judson, biblical? the idea that "this person was a great christian figure" does not mean we name churches after them - that is the ultimate in "church of the personal pronoun [noun]." what the name tells me, even if it is not what they desire, is that the judson family is the people in control and i would have no voice in any part of the church.

so, do we change?
i hope so. i hope we start thinking in terms of "the church" and "God's church" and we stop thinking in terms of "mine, ours and theirs." to do this we need to have a fundamental shift in thinking, a fundamental shift in the way we speak, act and think. we will need to move from cultural to biblical in the way we see church. we will need to see and express the idea of community in some very different ways. we will need to shift our thinking from "giving to the church" to "giving to God" - and mean it. we will need to think in terms of community and holding things in common, and allowing new people into that common bond. if we continue to view church as "mine, ours and theirs" we will miss the wonders of being in "God's church" because to be honest, i would rather be in God's church then your church, any day of the week.

1 comment:

Brent said...

I've always seen the church as a family. In that sense personal pronouns are not necessarily inappropriate - our family, my family. We are God's family, but his family is ours also.

A local expression of church is family, yet also part of the larger family of God. In the same way our earthly families have individual identites as well as being part of a larger family - ultimately encompassing everyone back to Adam and Eve.

One of the problems you are describing occurs because a personal pronoun can be used to signify not only belonging as in a family, but also ownership as in a business. One of the major disallusionments that I experienced in this walk was the realization that "our" church where I had loved and grown and served for years was actually less of a family and more of a business owned and operated by its sole proprietor ("his" church). Still, the family of God does meet there. There's just an odd overlapping of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of man. The family of God does function, even if the kingdom of man at times hinders more than helps.

The far more insideous problem you are describing is normal human group behavior - though not always helpful. If you take any group of people and break them into smaller groups, those smaller groups will automatically develop their own identity and will view "outside" groups with suspicion and competition. That suspicion will only grow if genuine communication doesn't take place between the groups. The only solution I know of is open communication and an acknowledgement that all groups are part of a larger identity. So competing teams are all part of the same company, Democrats and Republicans are all Americans, and Christians and Muslims are all humans and decendants of Adam and Eve.