Friday, February 16, 2007

Moneychangers in the Temple

Doing three posts in one day is unusual for me, but the thought that came to me this afternoon struck me so forcefully that I wanted to share it here before something else drives it out of my mind. I will begin by reviewing a couple of well known Scripture passages.

In Mark 11, the Lord Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple. The text says He would not allow them to bring merchandise into the house of worship. Afterward . . . He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”

The Apostle John uses different wording to describe the incident . . . and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” (John 2:16).

Now, I am sure some of you know where I am going with this. But hear me out (or read me out, more accurately). I fully realize that the Jewish Temple is not the church building, and I know full well that the moneychangers were selling things for sacrifice along with other things. I know that we are not under the Law of Moses. Having said all that, I want to look at the heart of the matter. Please do not charge me with legalism. Read what I am going to say and consider it carefully. I am not a legalist, and I am not hung up on contemporary music, dramas, and other means used sometimes to communicate the Gospel. However, Scripture does impose some regulation on our worship, not to mention the attitude we should have toward the Lord Himself.

I have been increasingly concerned about our attitude toward God, and toward worship of God, when we are all gathered together in assembly. We have exchanged the God who is the Consuming Fire of Hebrews for a jocular God whom we can backslap like a bosum buddy and then slouch in the pew like the best of the slackers. We see all manners of dress and lack thereof. I am not exaggerating on the lack, either. I've seen some on church worship teams dressed so immodestly that it takes the breath away. I've seen jeans cut so low you can see the top half of the gluteus maximus as well as the large tattoo above it. Add to it tops that that barely (no pun intended) cover the breasts. I was horrified, and I am not making any of this up. Worse yet, I have heard the whining of some of these "leaders" after they've been challenged over their mode of dress and manner of conducting themselves on the platform. The usual "they're judging me," Or, "I am free in Christ and I need to be me." Yeah. Right. So the lines in the Bible about modesty are simply put there for entertainment value? I don't think so.

We hear pastors and other church leaders use crude language and even profanity from the pulpits, and then try to defend it when you challenge them on it. I could go on, but you get the idea. Quite frankly, things have gotten out of hand and I'd be embarrassed to invite an unbeliever to some of these so-called churches that resemble Mardi Gras more than the house of the Lord.

If our God is anything, He is consistent. In the Old Testament, He struck people dead for not conducting themselves in the Holy of Holies properly. He refused to allow Moses to enter the promised land because Moses did not . . . treat Me as holy . . . (Deuteronomy 32:51). And contrary to the opinion of some, the same God who is in the New Testament has been known to use a heavy hand when necessary to discipline His people. Remember the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? They were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit and to the church. The whole church was in fear after this event. Who in the church of today is afraid of God? Some ought to be.

When we gather together to worship these days, we can expect outrageous stunts being pulled during worship (ostensibly to illustrate sermons). Today, you can have coffee bars, cafes, trinket stores, even full blown shopping centers doing business while you worship. And this all goes on without anyone batting an eye. For a brief period, I even warmed to the coffee bit and carried a cup with me into the service. Afterward, when I thought about it for a while, I was saddened by my own complacency. I can have coffee after church. I don't need to slurp it while waiting for the communion tray to get to me.

All of this makes me very sad. While some churches and church leaders advocate this stuff out of sheer rebellion against what they perceive as the status quo and hidebound tradition, other churches are doing these things with the best of intentions. They genuinely want to make the church a warm and welcoming place for unbelievers, in hopes they can draw some to Christ. But that is not the purpose of the assembly. That is not the purpose of the Body of Christ gathering together to worship. That is not how the Gospel works. If anything, sinners are supposed to feel UNCOMFORTABLE in their sin and see their need for repentance. Until we recover a biblical understanding of what the church is - as well as what the assembly is supposed to be - we will keep falling for the trendy and becoming effete in the process.

I have read about the church of Laodicea all my life. I never dreamed that I'd be in the middle of it. Father God, please intervene and protect Your remnant.


Phil Perkins said...

Huummm....yes, fear and respect God. Amen! We should be on our bellies before Him. Those that call you "legalist" will say nothing to God when He rejects them.


Palm boy said...

Coffe... Bah.
Shouldn't be selling stuff like that in church just to make money.

chuckbri said...

Per Joel's request, copy/pasting to the blog:


As promised/threatened, some rambling comments, related to this:

I am seeing, in the various reading that I'm doing, a fair bit of disquiet on the worship issue.

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that in evangelicalism there seems to be no explicit theory or theology of what worship should be or consist of. Nothing that I've seen or heard or read, anyway, from being in these circles for over thirty years. Worship seems to be just "out there", with nothing other than good sense and good taste to restrain a church from doing wild and wacky things.

Good taste and good sense are, anymore, not reliable.

What order of worship that is there, seems to be a traditional hand-me-down, subject to "bit-rot". We know we should sing, have a sermon, take an offering. Prayer's a good idea. We find a "traditional service" that's basically identical to the "contemporary service", except it's more sedate and the songs are (a little) older. (Only a little. Give me some Louis Bourgeois, please. I miss it badly.) Beyond that, what and why?

It is possible to

1) worship the wrong god (Baal, Asherah, Moloch, Cybelle, ad infinitum),

2) worship the right god and the wrong god (the people the Assyrians settled in place of the deported northern kingdom. For a possible modern example, see or do a search on Google Video for "Ebeneezer Lutheran Church"),

3) worship the right god, the wrong way (Cain, Nadab & Abihu, Korah's rebellion -- boy, those ended badly, didn't they? Corinth had some problems with practice too, and Paul says some got sick or died as a consequence.)

and 4) the right god, the right way.

But what is the right way? How do we know?

To try to give myself some framework for thinking about this I'm currently reading Michael Horton's A Better Way, subtitled "rediscovering the drama of Christ-centered worship" (Baker, 2002). I'm about 2/3 through, and so far it's well worth the read. He comes at the question from a classical Reformed perspective, ie. "regulative principle of worship" (though that phrase hasn't come up yet). This might turn some people off. I want to hear the arguments. And would it kill us to try it?

> If anything, sinners are supposed to feel UNCOMFORTABLE in their sin and see their need for repentance.

Horton also makes this point -- preach law and gospel constantly. Believers need to be constantly reminded.

If these thoughts are useful, feel free to pass them on.