Lessons learned from the life of Jesus – Jesus Clears the Temple
In the previous two months we have been looking at a few problems being faced by the church today from the perspective of Jesus clearing the temple – see Cleaning Up the Business of the Church #1, Part 1 and Cleaning Up the Business of the Church#1, Part 2.
We have looked at some of the lessons we can learn from that Bible story and today we start to apply those lessons to the problem of people leaving, or never coming into, the church. We are looking at one question, “Why do so many people avoid or leave the church and instead seek either their own brand of “spirituality” or none at all? These are the “none”s in the twenty-first century polls about their faith, a rapidly growing number. There are as many answers as there are former or non-church goers, but the responses can fall into relatively few categories.
This is Part 3 of the first in a series of articles on financial and other issues facing the American church in this no longer very new millennium. These articles represent the personal thoughts and reflections of the author and are not necessarily a statement of The Idlewild Foundation. These articles are based upon parables told by Jesus and stories from the gospels on events in His life, applying His life and teachings to the lives of believers and to the church as a whole and not to any one church in particular.
Reason one, many people do not see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. Instead, they view themselves as able to make it on their own. See Why Most People Stay Away From Christ where Dr. Richard Krejcir writes:
“most people will place their trust in anything that is not God, such as their money, their career, and the high standard of living we enjoy in the United States. Overseas, trust is placed in clans, tribes, idols, religion, and various beliefs systems. People do not see the peril that is right in front of them.”
The money changers and sellers of livestock were accepted by the religious leaders in the Temple – but their practices should have been barred and they should never have been a primary focus for salvation. They didn’t see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior, merely as business people looking to fill a perceived need (and make money at the same time).
In Survey: Reasons Why People Leave the Church, we see that most formerly churched people are people without a strong faith in God who grew disenchanted with the church or Pastor for a variety of reasons. That lack of strong faith lays a foundation for walking away from the church and even God. Likely some of the things these weaker church members disliked were the tolerance of some activities that would have Jesus remaking that whip. John 2:15.
Reason two, the church has become just another organization competing for people’s sense of community. See Why do people stay away from the church? Author John Armstrong sees people who say the church is like a judgmental members-only club. To make matters worse, it is a club that offers no visible benefit or value to the outsider, or so 60% of Americans believe.
In the time of Jesus, social pressure virtually forced people to engage with the priests in the Temple. The church in America today has the opposite situation, the visible social pressure is to disengage from the church and to engage with more welcoming organizations and activities. There has never been so much competition for Sunday morning; the church has to respond. That response has to be something other than commercial marketing and bells and whistles; it has to respond with meaningful truth.
The church also needs to be less like the world and more like the welcoming, sharing and loving fellowship it was intended to be. See Acts 4:32-37. The church is not a “safe space” where anything goes, but it is a safe space where past sins can be overcome by true repentance and life-change. It is, or should be, a fellowship of loving, caring people.
Reason three, the church doesn’t walk its talk, or at least doesn’t visibly walk its talk. Not all of that is the church’s fault, but certainly some is. The media always trumpets about the fallen preacher, the greedy televangelist, or the sinning and the fallen church member. At the same time, neither the media nor the church says much about the many changed lives, social help given and even lives saved by the church. All that is ever heard is negative, in part because bad news sells better that good news.
That brings us back to, among many other things, the church members attending with apparent wrong motives. It is time for the church to address this more directly but still without harsh judgment. Those self-focused members, like the moneychangers and sellers of livestock are there for business, not the Word of God. The issue is church members who are one way on Sunday and anything but Christian in appearance the rest of the week. Those professing Christians drive far more people away than they draw to God and damage the church in the public eye. The moral of this part of the story may be that the church needs to focus on quality and not quantity. Perhaps losing a few members who won’t grow and learn and cause harm would be beneficial in the long run.
It also brings us to those preachers, televangelists and fallen members. The individual churches need greater oversight. It is not that they need less trust, but no man is incapable of falling into temptation. The church needs to oversee the business of the church and do it well.
People need to see that church members don’t believe in their own or their church’s sinlessness/perfection and the church needs to stop pretending otherwise.
2,000 years ago the established religion of the area was Judaism. But their leaders didn’t walk their talk either. See Matthew 23:13-36. Jesus spoke up and acted when His Father’s house was being hurt by the actions of the priests, the money changers, and the sellers of livestock. Perhaps we must as well; certainly the American church must speak up as well.
Reason four, people wrongfully get the impression that they must clean up their lives before coming to Christ. When they fail, they don’t realize that it is only with the Spirit of God that we can make progress. The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. Natural pride has most members looking and appearing at their best on Sunday morning. However, calling it “natural” does not make it “good” pride. A good example was apparent on a recent Sunday morning at my church. After a truly inspired sermon on prayer, the preaching Pastor opened the steps to our platform for prayer. At this time in our nation when prayer is desperately needed, far too few people came forward. I can’t know the true reason why more did not go forward, but I can take note that prayer for problems in marriages was one reason the preaching Pastor gave for coming forward in prayer. But most would never do anything to display a problem in their marriage before hundreds of people. My wife and I went forward to pray for many things about our nation and family – and to pray for our marriage and all others as well!
Far too often the first words out of church members mouths are not “Peace be with you” as Jesus said, but, instead, we offer a harsh evaluation: “I can see what is wrong with you. You need to change ____.”
Judaism was much the same way in the time of Jesus.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
We need an environment of discipleship, sharing and caring to support those in need.
Reason five, the church hasn’t made it clear that it is more than a building with Sunday and a few other activities a week. Instead of a building or an activity center, the church is God’s family, Ephesians 3:14-15 and God’s household, Ephesians 2:19, made up of imperfect people. The church is the Bride of Christ, not just a date. See Ephesians 5:25-27 and Revelation 19:7-9.
That is at least part of why Jesus reacted with such outrage at the abuses in the Temple. His Father’s house, a place for prayer and worship, was no longer the welcoming household of the Father but instead a commercial zone for overpriced animals and bad exchange rates. All churches have to be cautious about “profit centers,” segments of church operations that charge for products or services. The main thing – making much of Jesus – must remain the main thing. The church does its real “business” best when it is a welcoming household and not a business operation.
Perhaps if we behave more like Jesus when His Father’s house was being harmed, we would have more of the same reaction Jesus did. People came to Jesus for teaching, healing and for the message of His truth. Many were saved and many came to see this very different man, a man who wasn’t afraid to speak and be the truth.
That opportunity remains today for the church to have a spiritual revival and for people to come meet this curiously unconventional preacher, Jesus.
I welcome your comments to this article and the ones that follow.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.