Friday, July 14, 2006

Zeal For Your House

I've been reflecting on the implications of Jesus' actions in the temple.

(Just in case someone cares: I think that there are two cleansings, not one. John describes the one at the beginning of his ministry, the Synoptics referring to one 2 or three years later.)

There are, I think, two aspects to Jesus' actions, at least one of which doesn't get enough attention.

The first aspect is the implication for what is becoming a common church practice. We make a habit of inviting people, usually musicians and/or singers, and we allow them to set up a promotional table somewhere and sell their wares.

Is this really allowable given the temple cleansings?

The excuse is usually something like this: Jesus problem was with the exorbitant prices being charged, which amounted to practical barrier to people coming into the presence of God. That's why Jesus wanted them out; they were gouging.

Is that true? Not in the first cleansing. In John, Jesus says nothing about the particulars of their business practice; he just says they don't belong in the temple courts at all. In John it seems clear that Jesus does not think commerce is appropriate in the outer courts, regardless of whether they are honest businessmen or not. It seems more that Jesus is saying that business is for the market and the temple is for worship, and we ought not mix the two.

It isn't even true in the second cleansing. People et the idea about dishonest business practices from Jesus' words about turning the temple into a den of thieves. But this misses the fact that the Greek expression implies zealotry and not robbery. As D.A. Carson notes, "by setting up in the court of the Gentiles, they have excluded the Gentiles who might have come to pray...". In that case, it really doesn't matter whether they were using fair business practices or not; they didn't belong there.

So there seems no good reason to permit these vendor tables in our churches.

What reinforces this is the fact that Jesus actions and words probably allude to passages like Zech. 14:21 and Mal. 3:1,3. The whole thing has to do with purity of worship. With that in mind we can see that having vendors is not conducive to worshipping with an undivided and undistracted heart.

That's the first aspect. The second I will deal with tomorrow.


Kim said...

This certainly gets the wheels turning. I have never had a huge problem with the selling of wares after from visiting musicians, etc. but I see the point you are making. This brings me to think about "free will" offerings for visiting speakers and musicians. I understand tithing is an act of worship but are these free will offerings actually tithings or a way to raise money for a ministry as is the selling of CD's after a service?
Also, what about collecting money for the cost of a meal? Do we just want to cover the cost or are we looking to make money? Look at the Mother's Day breakfast that the Youth put on to raise money for their activities. That is the exchange of money that is not considered to be worship, right?

Oddball Pastor said...

Hi Kim,

Your thinking mirrors my own. I am starting to think that we should make some things line items in the budget that we haven't previously, take money for some other things out of missions maybe that we don't usually, or ask for people to give over and above and designate.

M. Pease said...

Better late than never I suppose. I never thought about there being more than one cleansing, but it certainly appears to be the case. :)

I can appreciate the concern about the possibility of turning our church halls into places of business, particularly crooked business, but I am even more concerned about making more rules with which to measure each other.

How does taking a free-will offering constitute "business"? How would musicians and speakers be supported by the churches they minister to? Our little church has nothing left in the budget to re-allocate, and any kind of speaker from elsewhere will draw people from around the area. How should they contribute? Do we build separate gift shops on our premises? Sorry for these questions, but I really have to ask them.

There is also this:
The temple in Jerusalem was unique and it was God's official place on earth according to His own dictates. The physical temple's purpose was fulfilled in Jesus and for that reason I do not see a real comparison, our church halls are more like the synagogues. Scripture says where two or three are gathered in his name He is also, but that does not require a specific location. In fact, we are His temple; full-time, anywhere, everywhere.

Jesus changed everything!