Would Jesus drive the bookstores and cafes out of today’s churches the way He drove the moneychangers out of the temple?

Q. What bearing do you think Jesus clearing the temple of money changers and people selling animals for sacrifice has on modern megachurches that have cafes and/or bookstores in them?

Carl Heinrich Bloch, Jesus Cleansing the Temple

As I understand it, the main problems in the Jerusalem temple in the time of Jesus were that (1) commerce was displacing worship as a central activity and (2) sellers were actually cheating buyers. So today, if commercial activities are supporting the worship and outreach of a church instead of displacing it, and if the prices are honest, I think these activities can be legitimately conducted on the premises.  Bookstores can make useful resources easily available, and cafes can provide a great gathering space.

As I observe in my study guide to the gospel of John, “A certain amount of commerce was necessary to support the operations of the temple in Jerusalem.  Worshipers needed to buy animals to offer in sacrifice.” (Many of these animals would then supply food for shared meals).  “They also needed to exchange their Roman coins for other coins that would not be offensive within the temple (since Roman coins called the emperor a god).  In the time of Jesus, all of this commerce had been moved right into the temple court, which should have been reserved for worship.”

The equivalent today would be a church selling books, videos, and other paraphernalia right in its sanctuary, or running a cafe in the same space where worship took place, while the worship was happening.  Under those circumstances, we could see how commercial activities, even if pursued in support of the church’s overall mission, could be crowding out worship.  So these activities need to be kept in their own appropriate places and times.  And of course the pricing should always be honest and fair.

I think we also need to be very careful of other kinds of supporting activities.  A while back I visited a church and saw something like this in the bulletin.  “Notice to visitors:  Your presence on our property today constitutes your permission for your image to be used in photos and videos promoting our church.”  As important as it is to let the surrounding community know about the church and its activities, I wondered whether someone who was visiting the church because they were sincerely interested in finding out more about what it means to follow Jesus would be getting the right message from a notice like that.

Because it’s so important to conduct supporting commercial and promotional activities in a way that doesn’t impinge on the church’s mission and message, in my study guide to the gospel of Mark, when groups discuss the temple cleansing episode, I invite them to consider this question together:

“Changing money and selling doves were necessary for the ongoing operation of the temple. . . . But these commercial activities had now overtaken the temple area to such an extent that prayer and worship were being crowded out.  If you’re part of a community of Jesus’ followers, share with the group how it handles the necessary commercial side of its existence and what measures it takes to keep this from crowding out spiritual activities.”

I think that’s the question you’d like all of us to consider.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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