Trading in the House of the Lord
( note: This letter may be difficult for some to hear, as it challenges a practice that many ministries engage in . Please open your heart and hear all of what is said before making a judgment .)
Recently I've been examining the whole issue of Christian merchandising and asking the question: Why does practically every ministry sell things to other believers ( biblical teachings through books, tapes, seminars etc.) ? These are things sold within the body of believers aimed at believers . How are we to view this in light of what our Lord spoke, " In the temple he found those who where selling oxen, sheep, and pigeons, and the moneychangers at their business. ... And he told those who sold ... , 'Take these things away ; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade.' " (John 2:14-16) ?
I believe most of us have been marketed to and have literally bought into a whole system that has its pattern from the world. Few have ever questioned the initial premise and asked " What is the basis for all of this ?"
Before I go any further, let me first say this isn't a personal attack on anyone who is involved in this practice. I don't question anyone's sincerity. I have to believe and hope it is a case of most people never having truly examined the whole issue. Or perhaps they simply thought, "Oh well , that's how its done these days ".
Yet , where is this practice in Scripture ? Did Jesus or any of the Apostles ever do this or sell anything related to teaching or the scrolls ? To the contrary you can read Isa. 45:13; 55:1, and 2 Cor.11:7. There is no precedent for this in Scripture and there are actually prohibitions against this ( see 1Tim.6:5 ; Jude 11). Of course there is also the admonition not to "peddle Gods word for profit (2Cor. 2:17 ). When Jesus sent the disciples out he said "give without pay " (Matt.10:8).
Obligation verses Gift/love
If a Christian leader came to you and bluntly said " you give me $29 and I'll show you how to bring God's principles into your marriage, wouldn't you be taken aback ? That is not far from what happens in a merchandise exchange . It isn't said like this, but isn't it the same bottom line ? Your giving $29 isn't a gift on these terms. It's by cost . You gave by compulsion , an obligation to use the biblical term . I'm afraid on the day of judgment the Lord will say to many, " you have already received your reward " (REF.) I.E.(you got paid on earth ) .
Let me also say I'm not trying to present some categorical rule. I don't believe just because any book or tape or music CD mentions God it can't be sold . Each person must examine their own practices in regard to this . A good question is , "What is the essence of what is being sold ." If it came from Jesus, and is His message, and was given by him without cost ("freely you have received") then why is it being sold ? The Apostle's goal was to make the gospel "free of charge ." I'm also not suggesting a Christian can't sell other products or services to other members of a church. I just don't believe it is God's plan to turn ministry into a business.
There is a contrast here, one of merchandise and one of a mutual giving . The essence of Christianity is love and sacrifice. Giving expecting nothing in return . When we set up a monetary exchange (by obligation) we tamper with God's whole plan .
Merchandising is also a system that rewards those who practice slick advertising. It is the hype of the worldly advertisers .
Another factor is that the line between business and church has been blurred to indistinction . Some leaders, teachers, evangelists live an extravagant , prosperous life (far beyond that of the flock ) paid for by the sales and proceeds of their ministry.
How then should we support those who labor?
Now many will say "but didn't the Lord say those should make a living preaching the gospel ? " . Yes, but the ISSUE is how it's OUTWORKED . Some should be supported . Jesus also said the laborer deserves his food (Mt 10.10) and Paul said," don't mussel the ox" (1Cor .9:4-18 ) .
We are instructed to give and support those who labor at preaching and teaching .I also believe leaders are commanded not to resort to setting up trade in the church by mechandising , but to simply trust the Chief shepherd to supply support from those in the flock.
Let me say the church has to bear some responsibility in that it hasn't been supporting those who have labored by giving freely.Therefore, there has been some temptation to resort to the latter method.
Support should be by means of receiving gifts, not by salary or for hire. The problem with this method should be recognized by anyone familiar with Jesus' words about shepherds ( John.10 ).
In the church at Corinth we read of gifts given to the Apostles. They gave a donation as a GIFT by grace (1Cor. 8:6-8; 8:20; 2Cor. 9:5). Remember it is by love . Paul also spoke to the Corinthians about taking up a collection for the poor.
In summary , please don't deceive yourself. None of God's people in Scripture made merchandise out of His teachings, prophesies or messages .
I hope this whole issue can be truly examined and tested for what it is. Please pray about these things.
In His grace,