Buying a Church

The Associated Press reported May 18 the story of Dwyane Wade and his mother. Wade plays for the NBA’s Miami Heat and has recently used his large paychecks to purchase a few things for his mom. Most people wouldn’t think this worthy of national press coverage, until they find out that one of the items Wade purchased was a church.

Now, there is a whole host of things wrong with this picture, but first, in fairness, let’s notice the good thing. The reason he purchased a church for Jolinda Wade is to support her in her new life. Ms. Wade did not raise her son. She was the stereotypical junkie, using and selling drugs, hiding from the law and not fulfilling her responsibility to her family. But she was converted to a religious life and got herself turned around, even to the point of ministering to other inmates. She continued her ministry after jail, hosting church meetings of her group, mostly ex-cons, in a small rented room.

Her son had not felt it proper to give gifts to his mother until her new life. He then gave her transportation, a roof over her head, and a place for her ministry to expand. As the news report puts it, he bought her a church. It’s a great human interest story. I’m not at all surprised it made several sports pages (e.g., ESPN, NBC Sports, Fox Sports).

But the idea that someone can buy a church is just wrong. It’s an example of improperly using language. Of course, words are used improperly everywhere. But we need to be sure we are not falling into the trap of believing that the church is a building that sits at the corner of Balfour and Walnut. It isn’t. That would be using the term church incorrectly. The church is not established by someone putting up a building. This can be easily understood by looking at what happens when another entity buys what was once church property. I know of several that have become office buildings, some homes, etc.

Another problem with this scene is the idea that a group is not really a church until it owns a building. The AP article is worded in this way. It shows a worldly misunderstanding of a Biblical idea. A church may be looking for a place that will make its work easier or more profitable. But the place isn’t the church. The people who are following Christ are the church.

But even if one knows that it’s the people that are the church, some think a person can own that church. It’s “Pastor So-and-So’s” church. When you read of influential preachers of the past, it is often reported that “his church” was at some certain place. Often this identity becomes so strong that it is called his church long after the person has passed on.

But sometimes, it actually is true. “The Crystal Cathedral” houses a church that was founded by Robert Schuller. It may be run by a board of trustees, but most people consider him the owner and director. I was acquainted with such a group in Illinois. The “founding pastor” made all the decisions and set the direction for the group. He passed ownership of the pastorate on to his son. It truly is his church just as “Praise Temple” truly is Jolinda Wade’s church. She (and an associate pastor) sets the rules as to what that church shall be.

And that last sentence really gets to the heart of the matter. The church belongs to the one that establishes its doctrine. The true church belongs to Christ. He sets her doctrine. You can tell if a particular church is Christ’s church by looking at who sets its doctrine. If it is not fully led by him, it is not his church.

Now, it’s true; some person or group has to make the decisions for a church here on earth. But that doesn’t mean Christ can’t establish that church’s doctrine. He has spoken to all the doctrinal matters with which a church needs to be concerned. One simply needs to study his Bible to see what Christ planned. The inspired writers of scripture were led by the Holy Spirit to give us precisely what we need. Let’s all turn there and make all of our churches truly belong to him.

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