Friday, May 11, 2012

Musings on John Chapter Two: IX

“And He told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.”

In my previous post I asked: Do you think they [the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals] thought they were doing anything wrong? Do you think they understood why Jesus was driving them out of the temple?

I don’t know how long these practices had been going on, but I suspect they weren’t new, I suspect they represented life in the temple as usual for that period of history. The practices represented a service to worshippers; surely there could be nothing wrong with providing a needed service, even if it resulted in a profit?

How many ways of thinking about money have infiltrated the Kingdom that are opposed to the Spirit of Christ? How often do we engage in ministry and worship as a business? I’m not sure that these questions can be easily answered anymore than a fish in an ocean, which has never lived anywhere else, has a perspective on any other living environment. If something is all we know then that is all we know. Maybe the sellers of animals and the money exchangers had a twinge of conscience now and then, maybe some had more of a twinge than others, maybe some never questioned the propriety of doing business in a House of Prayer – we don’t know. Whether they did or didn’t wrestle with their practices Jesus was unambiguous, “Don’t make My Father’s house a house of business.”

It is easy for some of us to look at ostentatious “ministries” whose leaders lead opulent lifestyles and see heretical thinking and living; we wonder how anymore can keep sending “those people” money. But do we examine ourselves, our educational institutions, our churches, and our para-church ministries with respect to money? Even if we want to examine ourselves do we have the capacity to do so or is our way of monetary life so ingrained that we can’t see the ocean we live in? Do we experience tension with respect to money and ministry? Do we have a healthy fear that money can be a monster that once unleashed will devour all in its path?

Having served in churches, in para-church ministries, and in a seminary, I have wrestled with the issue of money and ministry. Perhaps my biggest question is why I haven’t see self-examination regarding money as a way of collective ministerial life. Why haven’t I seen the potential conflict of interest between ministerial decision making and money put out on the table to be discussed and prayed about? I write this as one who does not have the answers to the tension but rather as one who would have appreciated it if the tension (at least for me) and conflict of interest had been acknowledged, discussed, and prayed about.

I have been in more than one leadership meeting in which a new educational or outreach program has been considered and which the questions have been: Will this pay for itself? How much will it make? It is as if we were a business considering launching a new product and were considering the financial viability and profitability of the venture. There was no acknowledgement of a potential conflict of interest between doing what God wanted us to do and trusting Him to support our obedience to His direction, and us doing ministry that we could sustain through marketing and which would also, by the way, provide a living.

These issues are not easily resolved, and at one level I don’t know that resolution is possible. I think they are a tension that one hopefully lives with throughout life – resolution is not important to me on this issue, acknowledgment and prayerful wrestling are important.

Jesus, by His actions in cleaning out the temple at the beginning and end of His ministry, made a statement regarding the relationship of money and worship – it is a statement that we should not ignore.

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