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.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. Mark 11:15-18
A haunting question I recently asked my church was: If Jesus were alive today, would he applaud how we worship him or would he start turning over tables? I know the immediate answer is that Jesus would automatically applaud how we worship him, I mean it’s all for him, right? But remember, the temple in Jerusalem was the very epicenter of God worship in ancient Israel. It was the place to go to worship God. And Jesus (God’s son) trashed the place. In a previous post I shared just what made Jesus so angry about the first century temple. The temple was designed for people to encounter God but instead it became a cash cow that fleeced the people and enriched the chief priest and his family. Even though we don’t have a temple in Christianity that we center our religion around, temple thinking still infects today’s churches:
1. Do we tend to associate God or the worship of God with a building or an address? In ancient Israel, if you wanted to find God, you found Him at the temple, because that’s where He lived, and whoever controlled the real estate controlled access to God. When Jesus came, he declared that the worship of God would be centered around a person (himself), not a place. His church is his movement of people that follow him and believe in him. But isn’t it true that when we think of church we think of a building, of a location? How often do we say, “I’m going to church,” as if God lived inside a building? That’s temple thinking! Paul declared that our bodies are the temple and that God’s spirit lives within us!
2. Is our religion centered more around repetitive rituals than a life-giving relationship? In ancient Israel, the worship of God was highly scripted. There were rules, there were sacrifices, there were things you had to do in a proper order to properly worship God. When Jesus came, he simply told his disciples to follow him, and the work God requires us is to simply believe in the one God sent. More than mindless rituals, Christianity should be defined by a life-giving relationship. Yet if our idea of Christianity centers around rituals, that’s temple thinking!
3. Has Christianity been reduced to a money-making enterprise? Being the chief priest in ancient Israel was good living. You controlled the intake of money at the biggest cash cow in that corner of the world, and you could certainly feel entitled to skim a little off the top, or honestly a lot off the top. After all, you were doing God’s work, weren’t you? How often do you see preachers on tv asking for more money for “God’s work?” How often is money raised solely for more and more elaborate building projects? Ministry will always take money, but when religion becomes driven by money, that’s temple thinking!