Identifying the moneychangers
Matthew 21:12 describes an event when Christ drove the moneychangers out of the Jewish Temple of worship in Jerusalem. What motivated Jesus to do this or to display this more intense side of His personality? Why did He do this when it seemed obvious that the moneychangers and sellers of animals were meeting a need of the people coming into the Temple to worship as part of their religious celebration?
The prevailing religious law gave the Jewish worshipers the right to sell animals designated for sacrifice if they had to travel a long distance to get to Jerusalem; then they could use the money to buy another animal to be sacrificed once they got to the Temple compound in Jerusalem. The moneychangers served this need, and most of the people seemed to be satisfied with the arrangements.
So, why was Jesus so upset if both sides benefited? Because He knew that the motive of the moneychangers was to get rich off of the needs, or presumed needs, of the people. They bought low and sold high with the blessing of the Temple. In our Christian society today, who are the Temple moneychangers and how can they be recognized?
Present day moneychangers
The moneychangers in Jesus’ day most likely did not set out to deceive the people. They probably originally wanted to provide an inexpensive service for the people and at the same time provide funds for the Temple. It was good for all parties involved. Somewhere along the way, however, things seemed to get out of control and the moneychangers began to take more and more profit for the benefit of themselves, at the expense of the people who were obliged to purchase “blessed” sacrifice animals.
Even so, the moneychangers in today’s church world are probably not interested in hurting people; nor do they set out intentionally to deceive. They generally just want to sell a product that will most likely help people and make a profit while doing so. Unfortunately many use the church, the pastor, or the integrity of the church and its members to accomplish those goals by using Christian catch words to get their “foot in the church door” (James 3:16) and appealing to the customary character of Christianity: helping people.
Recognizing and identifying moneychangers
There are a number of marketing tools that seem to be consistent with most present day church moneychangers. Recognizing these marketing tools and responding with caution can save Christians much financial heartache, emotional frustration, and spiritual indignation.
1. High prices. Most products or services sold to Christians and church members by “Christian” organizations are generally more expensive than comparable products and/or services offered by organizations or businesses who don’t use the “Christian” catchword.
2. Helpful. Almost without exception, the primary clincher used by “Christian” catchword marketers is the idea that the product and/or service can be sold to friends and relatives because it is helpful to people. If companies feel that their products can actually help people, they should be willing to forgo any profit and offer the product or service to those “who need help” in the church at cost with no profit margin.
3. Assumed credibility. This is when sales groups assume that the church’s, pastor’s, or church member’s credibility are such that they can influence and persuade others to purchase the product or service.
4. Claim to be ministries. Although any business can be used to minister and can employ Christians, there is a difference between businesses and ministries. Businesses sell a product and/or service in order to make a profit. Ministries serve functions that can’t (legally) or shouldn’t (ethically) be done for profit. If the “ministry” generates the majority of its funds through the sale of products and/or services, it is a business. So, businesses that try to present themselves to churches as ministries should be viewed with caution.
5. Orients its sales pitch to pastors. When the sales group or organization orients its sales pitch to pastors, be cautious. If it’s a product or service for pastors or for the benefit of the local church, pastors should be approached first. However, if it’s a product or service to be sold to the congregation, using the credibility of the pastor to legitimize sales, the approach should be evaluated with caution.
Christians doing business with Christians
If Christians are to do business with each other, they need to follow two fundamental biblical principles to avoid becoming present day church moneychangers.
1. Don’t develop a sales program exclusively for the church. Obviously this would not include teaching materials, devotionals, or materials specifically created for a Christian market to enhance spiritual growth. Other products—insurance, wills, trusts, stocks and bonds, nutritional supplements, and so on—that can’t be identified as discipleship and/or spiritual nourishment materials should not be marketed exclusively to a church audience.
2. Don’t practice deception. If Christians have products to sell that they honestly believe will benefit other Christians, let it be known. However, don’t promote it as a ministry and don’t make claims that border on truth. Let the people know the name of the company, what the company has to offer, what the product is, and how much it costs. Do not use the local church as a springboard to gain or enhance a profit.
Solomon said, “That which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The moneychangers of Jesus’ day were probably not ruthless deceivers whose intent was to hurt the common Jewish worshiper. They just wanted to make a profit. However, they chose to make that profit by attaching themselves to the Temple, thus seeking to legitimatize their merchandising efforts by relying upon the integrity of the Temple and the dictates of the Temple leaders. Jesus did not condone this at that time, and He does not condone it in today’s Christian world.
Originally posted 8/19/2011.