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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The House Jesus Built

Home ownership is a great thing.

If you don’t like the color of your walls, you can repaint any time you have the energy. If your living room is too small, you can tear down the wall that separates it from the dining room and go open concept. If you don’t like the tarmac driveway, you can redo it with cobblestone. After all, it’s yours.

Sure, city ordinances will probably prevent you from doing off-the-wall things like adding a sub-sub-basement or a swimming pool in the kitchen, but the variety of family homes in my neighbourhood is evidence that it’s the owner’s budget and imagination that are the most common limitations on their creativity.

In most societies this freedom to reorder things as you please follows logically from the rights of ownership. When something belongs to you, you can do with it whatever you want. Living in somebody else’s house doesn’t usually give you this freedom.

Ownership and Occupancy

If that sounds horribly restrictive, bear in mind that there are real benefits to NOT owning something. For instance:
  • When something goes wrong that is not your fault, you are not expected to solve it with your own (possibly limited) skills and ingenuity. That’s the owner’s job.
  • When two occupants of a house owned by someone else disagree about changes they would like to make to it, there exists an external source of authority to settle the question once and for all.
On the downside, those who are using property that doesn’t belong to them need to remember that:
  • If you damage it, you will be held to account.
  • Violate the terms of occupancy enough times and you will probably be looking for somewhere else to live.
So there are clearly defined differences in rights and responsibilities when you own something and when you only occupy it.

Kids and Adults

Now, adults are usually well aware of these differences, but children are not born into the world knowing such things. They rampage through a house exactly the same way regardless of who owns it and regardless of who bears the cost of repairing the things they may damage in their childish enthusiasm.

You know where this is going, right? Some Christians feel their church homes belong to them to do with as they please.

Michael Palin’s ‘50 Things to do in a Church’ (no, not THAT Michael Palin) includes stuff like “give blood”, “discover a rood screen”, “find the church cat” and “research your family history”. To say that these (and the other 46 things) miss the point by a spectacular margin will (and should not) surprise any of us.

We laugh just a little bit at least. But the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of Toronto misses the point of the Church by an even more spectacular margin in issuing its “Pastoral guidelines for same-sex marriages”, as does any church or denomination, no matter how venerable or sizable, that presumes to modify the faith once for all delivered to the saints in order to bring it into lockstep with modern cultural norms.

They may wear robes and have titles, but they are children run amuck in someone else’s domicile.

Who Does It Belong To?

The fact is, the Church belongs to Jesus Christ, not to you and not to me. He is the owner of this property. When it gets renovated and expands its influence, it is not because of an advertising campaign, a series of special meetings or the efforts of those in it. God does it. And he is not an absentee landlord. We live in the “household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth”, a dwelling place that Jesus bought and paid for with his own precious blood.

We dwell in the house Jesus built. It ain’t ours, folks. I like to think that on our best days, our many internal disputes are only really over how to most accurately interpret the terms of our lease.

Because if they’re about ownership, we are nothing more than a bunch of senseless infants. That fact is established beyond any argument.

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