I have been doing a lot of pondering lately. I have been in a number of conversations with people in the last few months and have begun to notice a theme, a tugging on my heart if you will. As we go on this adventurous journey we call life it is completely natural to ask questions. The challenge is when the questions were asked one of two things happened. Either they were made to feel bad about asking the question or there was a quaint, knee jerk response type answer that didn’t satisfy the questioner.
Many that I have spoken with said these answers were from when they were children and a few have commented that they were not allowed to continue the Sunday School program. This blows my mind. One person asked me to respond to two questions. I asked for a little time to give the best possible answer I could give. I pray for the heart of God to be revealed in the answer and if I am wrong, respond with a comment as I am most often open for good conversations.
Here are the questions: Well the questions were if Jesus kicked the money lenders out of the temple why do we have to give you money? And then if he said do not worship me (in) the temple why are we in this big church? (I added the word in parenthesis)
To answer the first question I began by reviewing the “cleansing of the Temple” stories found in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark did not mention the event, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-19. The Luke and Matthew versions are virtually the same. Jesus goes into the Temple and knocks over the money changers tables, throws out all who were buying and selling, and makes the claim that the Temple is to be a house of prayer. Johns is a bit more detailed where Jesus makes a whip to drive out the animals, turns over the tables of the money changers. If Jesus drove the money changers out why do we donate to the church? From my understanding here is how I break that down. Why were people gathered there? They had gathered for the passover. A time when people would bring the required sacrifices, usually a year old lamb without blemish or pigeons, also to be without blemish. Depending on where they were coming from to celebrate the passover, which is a celebration of God freeing them from slavery in Egypt, this could be a rather lengthy journey. If you had lambs, the journey itself was a risk. If something happened on the way the priests would not accept the offering. What began to happen was a little like a certified pre-owned lamb sales event. The ones that were being sold at the temple were certified to be acceptable for the sacrifice. In order to purchase your certified lamb you had to exchange the money from the Roman currency to temple currency. As you might well imagine this was a lucrative business. The exchange rate was inflated (depending on what side you were on) and the sheep prices skyrocketed. So Jesus comes in and calls them on the practice. All three of the stories indicate that because of who Jesus was, a well-known teacher and healer, the Temple leaders feared the reaction of the people. So as you can see this is very different from the idea of giving tithes or alms. So why do we give tithes, alms, or offerings (money) to the temple or church? When Israel came into the ‘promised land’ there were twelve tribes. Of these tribes, one did not inherit any land. These people were known as the Levites. The work of the Levites was upkeep of the temple, caring for widows and orphans, and to serve as the priests. The offerings (grain, money, meat, etc.) were the source of the Levites to be able to do the work they needed to do. The offerings to the church on Sunday mornings are what allow the church to do the ministry to their community and around the world. It is also what pays the electric bill, pastor’s salary, insurance, and in the United Methodist Church a portion of those funds go to the global (worldwide) ministry and mission of the worldwide Methodist church.
This bring me to the second question. And then if he said do not worship me (in) the temple why are we in this big church? Another great question. I have heard many people tell me they can worship God on the golf course or the lake. This is true. I am also assuming that the reference is John 4:4-42, specifically verses 23-24 where Jesus says, “But the time is coming – and is here! – when worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. So why do we need the buildings? When the church, which the Greek word used actually means a gathering of people, was born people began gathering in the Temple and in homes. The Temple and homes became a central location where fellow believers or “Followers of The Way” as they were called in the beginning, could gather to encourage one another, lift each other up, share in the burdens of life, meet other people’s needs, and get their own needs met. In Hebrews 10:24-25 the author writes, “Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing, instead encourage each other, especially as you see the day draw near.” So we meet in buildings to do two things. First is to fellowship with other believers and second is to encourage one another.
The sad reality in too many churches is they never moved from the first stage of the spiritual journey beyond creating a container to hold their spiritual stuff in. The first stage is really more head knowledge. What do we believe? How do we pass on our faith to the next generation? Basically what are the rules or boundaries. It is a time of either or thinking. Either you are in or your out. You are going to heaven or going to hell. Very black or white thinking. This has caused many challenges to developing deep spirituality. Many stories I have heard from wonderful folks I have met over time speak of pain from not being accepted for what ever reason. I know of churches that built buildings for other ethnic groups to have a church, which sounds generous until you see the underlying theme of ‘you worship over there, you are not like us’.
So let me close this with these thoughts. If you have been hurt by a church, maybe you have been shamed in some way. I am sorry. If you were molested by a church leader, protestant, Catholic, or whatever group. I am so sorry that you were not shown the love of Christ. I wish I could have been there to stop it as no one should have to go through that. A Catholic Priest that is such a wonderful, loving person was molested by the deacons and leaders of the Parish he grew up in. It took a lot of time for healing from those wounds. I pray that you could know my heart when I say I am truly sorry for that and know that my heart goes out to you. For the Native Americans that were told they had to leave the sweats and native dancing to join the Christians. I am sorry, I do not believe that is true. Many were way ahead of us (White Anglo Saxons) in true spirituality and were told to leave that behind. I believe Christ wants you to experience life to its fullest which, to me, means being the best you can be. Jesus was pretty clear when asked about the most important law. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And a second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.
Go and do likewise…