T. PIERCE BROWN
In John 2:13-22 we have a picture of Christ that shows Him in a different light than He is often shown. “He made a scourge of cords, and cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew their tables; and to them that sold doves He said, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.” Modernists and others who think they know more about Jesus than the Bible reveals say this is not a true picture of Jesus. This is just as true as any. None of them are complete by themselves.
As we think about Jesus cleansing the temple, we can get some lessons that should be valuable to us. Jesus called it, “My father’s house.” It was not His house in the sense that God dwells in temples made with hands. It was a special place where God revealed Himself to man and man performed specified acts of worship. This does not mean man could not worship at other places and other times. It does mean that when God specified certain acts of worship to be done there in specific ways, no substitute, addition or subtraction was permitted.
It is important for us to recognize those principles, for the temple typifies the church. There are two extremes to which people go in this respect. First, there are those who think of the church as a sort of glorified institution by which one is saved. In some cases, it appears that the person may think it is an automatic process. They think they heard the preacher say that when a person was baptized, he was automatically added to the church. They heard him say that the church is “the saved people.” They heard him say, “Baptism doth also now save you” (1 Peter3:21). Their conclusion is that baptism is a sacramental act by which they were saved, and they are in a “blood bought institution” which must mean that the whole church is saved, as a church. They do nor realize that it is each individual who is saved, not simply a corporate institution, even a “blood bought one.” They think, “If the ark can’t sink, and I am in the ark, I am saved.” They have heard that the ark represents the church, and they are in the church, so that saves them.
That wrong attitude needs to be exposed. We have heard it ridiculed in such a way as to cast aspersions on the Lord’s church. We would expect that from members of some man made religious institution, but it still shocks us to hear it from one who claims membership in the Lord’s church.
Regardless of the immature attitude of some who think that the church is a “blood bought institution” into which you come to get salvation, without any real commitment to Christ, we have no right to ridicule the church. It is a God ordained living organism. Ephesians 3:10, 11 says, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That, of itself, would make the church a glorious church (Ephesians5:27). The glory belongs to God, but Ephesians3:21says, “Unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever.”
Paul said in 1 Timothy3:15, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The temple was called the house of God under the Old Covenant. The church is called the house of God in the New. It is a building of God, composed of living stones. It can be defiled, and may need to be cleansed.
It is well to note how it was defiled on the occasions when Jesus cleansed it. The Law of Moses required that many animals be sacrificed to God. It seemed convenient (and a good money making scheme) to have the necessary animals in the temple, ready for the people. No doubt they would have argued that it was expedient. A thing is never expedient until it is first lawful and right. Millions have gone astray and defiled the house of God on the presumed grounds of convenience and expediency. These arguments may sound familiar: “The congregation is not singing well. It would be expedient to aid the singing by using an instrument of music.” “The church is not sending the gospel properly into all the world as Jesus commanded. It is more expedient that we form a missionary society to do the job.” We have not heard the “aid” argument for some time, but it was frequently used in past years.
Second, the temple was defiled by those who most strongly professed its friendship. Always there are persons who want to use the church for the advancement of their personal welfare. The basis of their defiling the temple as they did was covetousness. They made merchandise of the house of God because they could make more money that way. There is no doubt in my mind that there are preachers connected with the Lord’s church who are more interested in doing things that will line their purse than they are in presenting the pure gospel of Christ to a lost world. There are elders who are more interested in their “office” (which they think is an official position of power or prestige) than they are in sacrificially shepherding the flock of God so that souls may be won for Christ. There are members who check out a congregation to see where most of the affluent are before they place membership there, for they are more interested in having a base where they can sell their insurance, cars, real estate or whatever else they may have than they are in working for the Lord. All such defile the church of the Lord.
Those Jews were in the temple to minister to the things of the temple, but they had no place for Christ in their lives. It is possible to get so engrossed with things, whether it be the building of the fellowship hall, setting up a program of visitation, or organizing an interesting youth or senior citizen’s program that we forget or disregard Christ. The temple is always defiled by such activity which fails to put Christ and His purposes central, no matter how good the program or purpose may be.
The temple needed to be cleansed then, and the church needs to be cleansed now of all the things that defile it. False doctrine or ungodly living defiles it. When a person says, “The church needs to be changed” you need to inquire “Does he mean the church as God ordained it?” He may merely mean the local congregations as he sees them failing to be what God wants them to be.