On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”. Mark 11:15-17
What is church to you? What makes it church? You will have to answer those for yourself, but I have found myself asking these very same questions, and I’m not sure I like what I think. Theologians may differ in the fine thoughts of these verses, but everyone will agree that Jesus took the workings of His Temple seriously, both in the courtyard and the sanctuary.
Since Jesus, our example and Saviour, took His church so seriously, how should that make us think and act about our church? Or do we care? Do I care? Does it really matter as long as we make our building a welcoming space for visitors? Or sell tickets to promote special secular attractions in the belief that we are doing it for the Lord? Or hold special nights to bring in the unchurched to make them feel comfortable so that they might come back to the ‘real church’? And there lies the crux of the matter.
Jesus described His temple as ‘a house of prayer for all nations”. Shouldn’t we do the same, or is that considered outdated? I wonder what reasons and excuses the merchants made to salve their consciences to allow them not to feel guilty? After all, they were providing a much needed service. They made the courtyard look busy and some traders might do a special offer to entice customers back? Onlookers might even think the synagogue itself would be every bit as inviting and busy. Is it possible we do the same things today, after all human nature hasn’t changed since the days of Adam. We know that Jesus wasn’t impressed, and He hasn’t changed either, because “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Church attendance in general is falling across every denomination. Some do better than others, so what’s the secret? Is it possible that the ones truest to the Gospel message are trusted to be the ones more Spiritually sound? The heart of any church is Jesus, and if the heart is lost, replaced or overtaken, the church loses out. Sure there are mega churches who play fast and loose with the Gospel, but we can’t seriously compare our growth with those who will preach a prosperity message which is not the true Gospel. My worry is that the church could become a sideshow instead of the main message. Paul warns Timothy very clearly that the Church can be changed from within, by trusted Godly preachers and teachers. I can’t ignore these verses and I admit they catch my attention:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:1-3