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A House of Merchandise

This past Thursday (11/15/12), I noticed a story about a megachurch in the online edition of The Tennessean. This Nashville area church was in a state appellate court to dispute property taxes assessed on their facilities. The particular facilities in question were a gymnasium, which charges membership fees, a bookstore, which sells books, pictures, and gifts, and a café. Because these places were operating like businesses, they were taxed as businesses instead of being tax-exempt as part of the church. The church has attempted to defend its business ventures, saying that its properties "fit the spiritual needs of the congregation." The church's attorney said that these facilities were necessary for the church's mission of "evangelizing and building up its members." The church tried to justify the profits from these ventures by claiming that the money is reinvested into the church to expand its mission.

As I read this story, I thought of Jesus purging the temple of men who were conducting business there. He did this twice -- once at the beginning of His ministry, and again at the end. Notice the account of the first time Jesus cleansed the temple of these profiteers in John 2:13-16:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise."

These moneychangers and businessmen were no different than those who now operate businesses under the guise of a church on a mission. They easily could have made the defense that their services "fit the spiritual needs of the congregation" because they were accommodating Jews who had traveled to Jerusalem to worship and sacrifice. These travelling Jews needed to exchange their currency and buy livestock for their sacrifices, so these businessmen could claim that they were there to help with these spiritual needs. Even so, Jesus knew exactly what they were doing, and He accepted no such excuses. In Matthew 21:13, He told them they were turning His Father's house into a "robber's den."

Today, the temple in Jerusalem is gone, and it is the church that is the house of God (1Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:19-22; 1Tim. 3:15). However, there are many who feign to be conducting the work of God's house when in fact they are operating houses of merchandise. Let us remember that the true church, the household of God, is to be "the pillar and support of the truth" (1Tim. 3:15). What have gymnasiums, bookstores, and cafés to do with this God-given purpose and mission? Certainly, the churches of the New Testament had no such things, and nothing in the New Testament suggests that any church should ever have them.

There is no doubt that facilities such as gymnasiums, bookstores, and cafés draw masses of people, but Jesus devised another plan for attracting them. He said, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (John 12:32). Truly, the appeal of the gospel is the power of a crucified and risen Savior (1Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 1:18-23). The gospel of Christ is the singular power of God for salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 1:16), and it needs no worldly packaging. Megachurches may claim that their recreational facilities are necessary for the church's mission of "evangelizing and building up its members," but the Scriptures say that the Lord equipped "the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-16). Evangelizing and building up members of the church does not require fun, food, and folly, but rather it requires the pure milk of the word of God (1Pet. 2: 1-3).

The truth is that there are many churches today that are wildly popular but are nothing more than houses of merchandise. Some who operate these ventures may do so in sincere ignorance, not realizing how they have perverted the house of God. However, there certainly are others who know they are truly operating for-profit businesses. Granted, we know that "the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel" (1Cor. 9:14), but this does not authorize any man to convert the church of God into a house of merchandise. The Scriptures warn us about those who corrupt the gospel for profit, for "in their greed they will exploit you with false words" (2Pet. 2:3). True preachers of Christ "are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, [they] speak in Christ in the sight of God" (2Cor. 2:17). Therefore, let us be careful to preserve "the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1Tim. 3:15), and never to turn it into a robbers' den.

Stacey E. Durham




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