Monday, April 19, 2010

Who Let You In?!

Today’s One Year Bible reading (Luke 19) tells the famous story about Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple. The money changers made a good living exchanging Roman money for temple shekels. Roman money was too nasty for the temple, so they created their own currency. If a person wanted to give an offering – buy a lamb to sacrifice for example – he had to first acquire temple currency. During special religious seasons, pilgrims came from all over the empire to worship in Jerusalem. They were moved, had more money than sense, and were often gullible. Local people could clean up on the tourists, pocketing the percentage points they made on the financial exchange.

Jesus was outraged and we know why.

It wasn’t just because the temple was making money from worshippers; it was because the money exchangers were filling up the only place in the temple where unbelievers could pray.
Much of the temple was off limits to unbelievers. The “court of the gentiles” was the only place the heathen could worship.

But that was where the money changers were – in the court of the gentiles.

We know this because of what Jesus said: “It is written that my house should be called the house of prayer for all nations but you have transformed it into a den of thieves.”

Well, he did just say that! He whipped the holy entrepreneurs on the back with a whip as he said it.

It would go over about as well today if someone were to get nasty with all the merchandising that goes on in our churches, but I’ll leave that for another blog.

The point for today is the Lord’s passion about his house being a place for all nations.

“Catholicity,” the quality we say of something that consists of all ethnicities, was one of the most striking features of early Christianity. In fact, the reason the word “catholic” is included in the Apostles Creed is that early Christians believed that this was an essential element of the faith, no less than baptism, repentance, a final judgment and the resurrection from the dead. In the first century, no religion was “catholic.” Religions were deeply related to ethnicity. Jews were no different. However, the Lord never intended for the Jews to be a spiritually gated community.
God’s promise to Abraham was “in you all families of the earth will be blessed.”

The reason God had instructed Moses to build a court of the gentiles was so that unbelievers could come close to the God of Israel and accept Him.

Alas, like so many Christians today, the Jews didn’t want “those people” in their church. In fact, many scholars believe that the reason Muslims became bitter toward Judaism was because of the treatment they received in the early days of Islam from Jews when Mohamed actually wanted to learn more about the faith. Evidently, when Mohamed and his band of Arabs went to the synagogue to learn, they felt ridiculed by the Jews who attended there. Up to that time, they had turned toward Jerusalem to pray. After that, they began turning toward Mecca.

It is said that while living in South Africa, Gandhi read the New Testament. He was so impressed after reading it that he went looking for a church. When he got there however, the sign over the door said, Whites Only.

He never went in.

So it was not just the merchandising that made Jesus angry. It was the fact that believers had made it impossible for unbelievers – at least the wrong sort of unbelievers -- to get in.
The Christian church began without a deep natural loyalty to ethnicity. Everyone was welcome. After the conversion of Cornelius, the Counsel of Circumcision, and the revival in Antioch, the church leapt out of its Hebrew womb. Since then, we have been stuck with anyone from anywhere who wants to join!

That impacts the way any specific Christian group expresses its faith.

Many believers get perplexed about this great diversity in the worship, teaching, and culture of the various kinds of Christian expressions.

Didn’t the Lord pray that we would be “One, even as He and the Father were One?”

“When and how will that happen,” such believers ask?

Perhaps I’ll shock you by saying that it already happened!

When we realize that the church is an organism and not an organization, we immediately understand that Christians are already members of a single body. As for the fact that we do things differently from one another, who cares?

Should we waste time and energy grieving over our diversity when in fact, that diversity is, in more cases than not, a sign of the strength?

What did we say the word “catholic” meant?

We said that it meant ‘consisting of all people of all cultures, all times and in all places.”
The peoples of the earth are culturally diverse. They like different music. They organize themselves in various ways. They build various styles of buildings.

If the Church was going to reach the different cultures of the world it had to be willing to allow for different music, organize itself in various ways, and build different kinds of buildings in which to worship.

The churches of the world hold to an essential core, to what Lewis called “Mere Christianity” are we not already one, at least in the most important sense? Jesus said, "by this shall all men will know that you are my disciples because you love one another" (John 13:34, 35). Isn’t the quality of that love all the more impressive to a non-believing world when it exists between people who differ in culture, race and customs?

How far can this diversity go?

That is another question, a very important one.

The message of Jesus and His apostles is the same for all eras and cultures. That cannot change. The “faith once delivered to the saints” must be maintained. However, the way that message is communicated does change, from nation to nation and from generation to generation. Whether we use incense, an organ or a guitar to prepare our hearts for worship, whether we dance or make the sign of the cross to express our piety, whether we place the pulpit on the side or in the center, whether we use Sunday School or home groups to disciple our converts – customs such as these are the reactions of God’s people are related to time and circumstance.

The important thing is to keep that court of the gentiles free for the heathen – to not fill it up doing all the stuff we like to do.

Otherwise, if one Sunday morning someone tells you that there is a guy with a whip running across the parking lot toward the church, don’t blame me!


mlh said...

God is color blind and every-other-difference blind. He uses the labels that men use to distinguish themselves from one another to disavow those differences. "Gentile" and "heathen" come in all ethnicities, even caucasian. He doesn't care if the person who is saved is red, yellow, green, blue, doctor, lawyer or Indian. It's all the same to Him. We are the ones who make those distinctions. The only distinction He makes is "saved" and "lost".

mlh said...

Many things happen within a church -- worship, discipleship, evangelism, etc. But, they don't all happen at the exact same moment and place.

mlh said...

Even Paul said that he was not called to the Jew, but to the non-Jew. And, he made no apology for that.