One of our human idiosyncrasies is the fact that we are very territorial. This tendency is quite obvious to me as a parent of young children. Children 6 and under have a very specific and complicated set of unwritten rules about possession and ownership. Nowhere are these rules more evident than in the quintessential cry of the toddler, "THAT'S MINE!"
As we grow older, we leave many of the tendencies of childhood behind. Our possessiveness, however, is not one of them. Comedian Brian Regan touches on this in his routine about a child losing his balloon. (Look for it on YouTube if you haven't seen it.) Adults have their own set of rules about possession and ownership. We just have the tactfulness to refrain from saying "THAT'S MINE!" out loud--most of the time.
Christians are no exception to the previous comments. I was thinking today about how possessive believers (including the one typing this) can be at times. Here are a few examples for you to chew on:
1. The United States of America - as election season heats up, you can almost hear the Christians of our country chanting, "THAT'S MINE!" Any candidate who includes ideas about reclaiming America for God or restoring America to her Christian heritage is bound to receive enthusiastic support from the Religious Right. There appears to be an underlying assumption in American Evangelicalism that this country is ours and that we need to win it back from the Left. This assumption is most often predicated upon the idea that our nation was founded upon the Bible and Christian principles. Even if this notion is granted (which I don't think it should be categorically), the fact is, our nation was constituted in such a way that we don't really have the basis for claiming the US for Christianity at the expense of other religions and beliefs. Like it or not, the atheist has just as much a right to believe and share his faith as the Baptist. The same could be said for a variety of lifestyles and religious persuasions. I understand the desire to promote righteousness and absolute truth. I just don't feel that the courtroom, the legislative chamber, or the public school classroom is the appropriate venue for doing so. Even if the Religious Right is somehow able to reclaim this nation the way they want to (which is doubtful), I think they may find it in the long run to be a Pyrrhic victory.
2. Churches - I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the most detrimental developments in the ongoing saga of the church is the idea of dedicated church facilities. Whereas the earliest Christians probably met in homes, the ensuing centuries have brought about the idea of sanctuaries and church property. Many a congregation has been guilty of shouting, "THAT'S MINE!" with regard to these facilities. It's kind of funny if you think about it. Most church buildings sit empty and idle for all but maybe 9 or 10 hours out of the 168 in a week. Isn't there a more efficient approach to the stewardship of our buildings and possessions to be found? Could many of our churches find ways to put their facilities to use outside of the grid of the traditional ideas? I think the answer here is, "Yes!" Personally, I like the idea of churches having a Gymnatorium or Multi-Purpose Room over the idea of a Sanctuary. I think it helps us keep the right perspective about our facilities (and it's more doctrinally accurate--I Peter 2:5). I remember a friend of mine from seminary talking about starting a church in a building that could be used as a restaurant during the week. He would pastor the church and run the restaurant. Although many believers might scoff at such an idea, I think he just might be onto something.
3. God - Believing in a Higher Being is something inherent to our human nature. Cultures and people groups throughout history have developed their individual ideas about God and religion. These ideas about the Divine are as diverse as those who hold to them. Over the last several years, I have come to recognize that many Christians are very possessive about God and will vehemently proclaim, "THAT'S MINE!" when confronted with ideas outside of the scope of their beliefs about Him. This possessiveness manifests itself in two ways. It comes out in the way we relate to people of other religions and beliefs. I feel compelled to say that I am not advocating a relativistic, "all-roads-lead-to-heaven," "it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere" approach. I do believe there to be only one way, one truth, and one life. Anything outside the scope of this truth is not valid, no matter how heartily it is believed. This, however, does not mean we as Christians have the prerogative to take the beliefs of others lightly or dismiss them with a cavalier attitude. Many Christians do not understand the beliefs of others or the comfort others take from their beliefs about God. We are very possessive and even arrogant about "our God." Handling this idea with balance is a tricky proposition, to be sure. The other way our possessiveness about God reveals itself is in how we relate to others who live under the big umbrella of Christendom. By this, I am simply referring to those who believe in the God of the Bible, but hold differing views about some of the specifics of His workings and His word. Again, I am not saying that any belief or teaching that comes down the pike is valid. Some ideas about God are non-negotiable and mutually exclusive to other opposing ideas. Yet, the fact remains that so much of the disagreement between denominations and segments in Christianity relates to the non-essentials of the faith. The territorial immaturity that comes out in these debates is, for the most part, useless and unhealthy. The longer I live, the more I am coming to see that God is so much bigger than the boxes we have created for Him.
To conclude, I think believers would do well to loosen their grip and evaluate how their possessiveness may be hindering their ability to shine in the darkness. When all is said and done, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it!" (Psalm 24:1)