“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” ~John 2:16
If Jesus were to walk into your church building tonight would he praise God for what is happening there or would he start flipping over pews? If Jesus walked into my church building on Sunday would he see empty ritual and dead tradition or would he recognize a living and vibrant people being transformed by a genuine relationship with God? What if he wandered into your elders’ meeting? What if he showed up to watch you prepare a sermon? Would Jesus be pleased to go through all the church policies in the secretary’s file cabinet? Or would that cause him to wince in pain?
When Jesus disturbs things in the Jerusalem temple, he is acting out his prophetic message. It’s not the power of the whip that makes his message succeed. It is his moral power, the power of the truth, that strikes the hearts of the people and so captures Christian readers today. Those who confront Jesus after the episode appear to know that Jesus is right and that the temple has become something other than what God had always intended. The purpose of the holy temple has been compromised. Maybe they sense something of God’s divine and righteous anger at work in Jesus.
Jesus is pointing out the problems with the institution of the temple. He is confronting its misdirection and its brokenness. In the process, he points out very clearly that the real activity of God, the real temple, is Christ Jesus himself. In other words, the focal point of the people’s religion has to be replaced by something — no, someone! — new.
The local church — my local church, your local church — is a fallen institution. It’s filled with sinners, filled with people just like you and me. Yes, the church aspires to goodness. But, admittedly, sometimes we succomb to programs and agendas that have very little to do with the Kingdom of God. Sometimes life in our churches can be driven by petty financial interests or social comforts and desires. We sometimes play religious politics, church leaders acting as representatives of their particular constituents, when deciding church policy. We may give in to pressures to be more modern and contemporary. We may bow to petitions to defend empty traditions and dead habits.
If Jesus walked in for a visit would he be outraged over the things we argue about? Would he be appalled at the ways we sing? Or don’t sing? Would he question some of the lines we draw or challenge some of the rules we keep? Honestly, we have plenty of religious customs and practices — even doctrines — that have everything to do with tradition and habit but may have little to do with our risen Lord. We must be willing to allow Jesus to step into our church worlds and openly critique the things we do and the ways we do them. Could the things we cherish and defend stand up to Jesus’ prophetic viewpoint?
I truly believe that everything we do in our churches and in our individual lives as disciples of Christ must have as its foundation the very Gospel we preach and teach. The root of our words and deeds must be connected to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our traditions and rituals must be born out of and give expression to the Lord who welcomes and forgives and loves and sacrifices. The One who invites all to his wedding feast, the One who gives in abundance the riches of heaven must be the informing and driving force behind every single thing that happens in church.
It’s OK to review and evaluate our habits. It’s allright to challenge our traditions. If they stand up to Christ’s critique, then affirm them. Teach them and practice them in all holiness and sincerity. But by all means be able to explain to your people and your community the hows and whys. If they can’t meet the Gospel standard, then discard them. Destroy them and abolish them in faith and trust in God. And be able to explain the hows and whys based on a true understanding of what Jesus came to this earth to do. And what he came to this earth to change.
You’ve got to watch this 90-second video they’re showing at American Airlines Center to pump up the Mavs fans during these NBA Finals. The video features the most accomplished athletes in the history of DFW talking to Mavericks fans about what it means to win it all. An intense Emmitt Smith. A relaxed Daryl Johnston sitting in front of a couple of Super Bowl trophies. A no-nonsense Troy Aikman. An overly-animated Tony Dorsett with his Heisman Trophy. A blank-stare, monotone, can-we-just-get-this-over-with Nolan Ryan with the A.L. Championship hardware. Mike Modano. Gary Patterson with TCU’s Rose Bowl trophy. Roger Staubach in front of a portrait of downtown Dallas. And Ron Washington from the Rangers dugout in Arlington.
You must watch the video all the way through, all the way to the end.