Stewards or squatters?

Number 596 • December 22, 2020


Disclaimer: Before you read the rest of this essay you should know how I am using the term ‘squatter.’ I recognize and sympathize with displaced and homeless persons and do not refer to them with a categorical pejorative epithet. I have in mind here those who, without proper authority or permission, invade, occupy, and attempt to take possession of something that does not belong to them but is the rightful proper and possession of others. That would not include those who accept an invitation to stake a claim to a bit of open ground and abiding by authorized rules and procedures by which they can take actual possession of it, as in the land rush . I think of those who chose to occupy property or space or business enterprises belonging to others and to dispossess and displace the rightful owners and proprietors — as has happened in the “occupy” movements of the recent past in our country and continue in various places (as in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington) today. These occupiers or squatters are not different at all from vagrants who find a house or building vacant, perhaps even securely locked, but force their way in and squat in it or occupy it — sometimes claiming that occupancy is equivalent to ownership, “possession is nine tenths of the law” or some other absurdity. Almost invariably the property is damaged, sometimes irreparably, but the struggle to evict the usurping occupying squatting invaders. In some places I know of, local authorities will not evict or hold accountable those who enter and occupy an unlocked or unsecured property, considering an unlocked door as an open invitation to enter. Imagine leaving your door unlocked and coming back to find the place occupied by others who refuse to allow you to enter what used to be your own property. Imagine your house being trashed and damaged, perhaps destroyed, and having no way to recover the loss or punish the destroyers. Some try to make a case for “squatters rights” and bemoan the fact that the squatters are not better cared for and catered to. Imagine the invading occupiers of your property telling you that the plumbing or heating is malfunctioning and insisting that you have it repaired to make things more comfortable for them, perhaps threatening to sue you in a court of law for not tending to their needs and desires. If this kind of anarchy is allowed to continue and flourish, the end result will be the loss of all rights for everybody except the squatters. Is their comfort and well being really your responsibility? The fact is, in most cases the squatters do not have any rights, not even the right to survival. Remember that we are not speaking here of persons invited into your home, or even of persons who rent or lease and pay you for the use of your home and property. Renters do not become part of the family of the owner. How much less do squatters become part of the family? The principle applies on several levels, not just to a physical personal property or location. Squatters’ rights, migrants’ rights, or invaders’ rights is an illogical concept as concerning physical property but applies figuratively as well. Does a caravan of uninvited migrants have rights to citizenship and all rights and privileges of current citizens of a nation? Certainly not. But if those rights are conveyed to the invaders how can they be rescinded or taken away?
Does the concept of squatter’s rights apply in the church? The concept of “church” and “church member” is so nebulous and flexible in some minds that they would be hard put to answer the question. The Lord’s church is not a place and is not confined to a physical building or property. The church is composed of members who are under contract to God, not necessarily to practitioners and overseers or managers but to the Lord Himself. If God has a right to define His church and the terms of entry, membership, and activities in it, as well as benefits accruing to the members of it, then “squatters” cannot be tolerated. Here’s a provocative thought: some who consider themselves “members of God’s church in good standing” may only be squatters with no rights at all so far as God is concerned.

The Lord’s vision, design, and plan is for one church. under one binding covenant law and contract, with Christ Jesus as its one and only head. Its nature is unchangeable, its terms of entry and membership and activity are the same for all members with no discrimination, division or difference for race or ethnicity or nationality, no separation according to gender, social status, economic status, or theological preference. The church of God and of Christ is one under God, undivided and indivisible with the same privileges and the same obligations and requirements for all. That is what the church was at its beginning. If it had been maintained as God intended it could have been considered a kind of utopian paradise on earth. But look at the mutant perversion of God’s plan that exists and proliferates on the earth. Rather than “one church” it has morphed into a nebulous conglomeration with multiplied thousands of disparate groups, many of them hostile others and holding themselves to be the only “right” ones. How did such a travesty occur and root itself on God’s earth? It started, as most such aberrations do, with selfish preferences and thirst for dominance of others. The ugly head of diversification showed itself in Corinth. See the first chapter of 1st Corinthians where apostle urges them to stop the practice of what would eventually be called denominationalism.

Changing the requirements for admission or addition to the church and the standards for maintaining membership and fellowship in it — or, if you will, allowing invaders, and squatters in usurped roles as pastors, priest, and prelates within a self-styled accommodative hierarchy to co-opt the gospel and reshape the church to suit themselves has resulted in a Pandora’s box of bewildering deviants from the truth. Once out of the box it has become impossible to gather them and put them back in. So, there you have it: squatters have defiled and defaced the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. But they have not thwarted or changed God’s initial purpose and plan. Can the deviants be rooted out so that only the true church remains? Perhaps here is a proper application of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares — the genuine and the counterfeits — in the Lord’s kingdom (from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). Though we mere mortal humans might destroy everything in an effort to purge and purify it, the Lord is not limited. He will evict and punish appropriately all the squatters, vagrants, variants, and usurpers no matter how deeply entrenched and rooted they have become in His house. False doctrines and practices will not get anyone into God’s eternal house, His heaven. The aberrant movements of Satan’s squatters will be aborted and brought to the fire.

What then is the obligation and action to be undertaken by the Lord’s true disciples, the rightful occupants of the Lord’s house? To be stewards of the gospel of God. To continue His truth. To purge themselves of any errant inclinations and actions. To deny fellowship with the deviants while still trying to convert them to the truth and help them become part of the family of God that they may have the right to share in its blessings and its heritage.
Two basic attitudes become apparent, with regard to personal resources and goods that will determine whether a person is a steward or a squatter. The squatter thinks possession is everything. The wealth of the world belongs to the first person who gets it. So he grabs up everything he can lay claim to, squats on it and says, “This is mine.” He has no sense of obligation to any other. He assumes that what is his is his, and everyone else can look out for himself. Worse than that, the squatter commonly takes it for granted that everybody in the world shares that same attitude. So, you have to get as much of everything as you can as soon as you can, because if you don’t grab it somebody else will.

Some people consider themselves stewards of all they possess. They recognize God’s ultimate ownership of all this world and His right to direct us in the use of His goods in the world. “The earth is the Lord, and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). We brought nothing into the world (1 Tim. 6:7). It was all here when we arrived. All the resources, all the wealth, the sun and moon stars, the rain, the land, even time itself – all were here when we came. More than that, all these things will still be here when we leave. We brought nothing in with us and we will take nothing out with us. It is God’s world. He put it here for man’s use. But man doesn’t really own anything. God owns it, and man simply occupies it and uses it. To put it in the context of our present essay, it is God’s church, brought into the world for man, but it belongs to the Lord, not to the members of it.

The steward recognizes an accountability to God which the squatter ignores. He knows that failure to give God first place in everything is really an attempt to rob God and usurp His divine prerogatives. He does not abuse or misappropriate what belongs to God but shows by his attitudes and actions that he is an honest steward, putting God first in everything.

#geraldcowan #church