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Selling in church: Acceptable or not?

by Gaby Agbulos

IN THE Bible, there is the story of Jesus cleansing the temple.

Here, while visiting the temple courts in Jerusalem, Jesus was appalled to find men selling cattle, sheep, doves, as well as money changers. 

Enraged, He fashioned a whip out of cords and started to overturn tables, pouring the coins out of money changers, then shouted, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s House into a marketplace!”

In another part of the Bible, He did not allow people to carry anything through the temple, saying, “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?  But you have made it a den of robbers.”

From these lines alone, Jesus’s views on whether or not He allowed people to sell within the temple grounds were very clear. However, this Holy Week, most probably every church you went to had merchants either inside or outside the church. 

They could be associated with the church itself, selling religious items, or working independently, selling food and drinks for those who have worked up an appetite after mass.

Any time I would see these vendors as a child – even until now – I would find myself starting to grow confused. Even though I wasn’t a very religious person then, and still am not now, I find myself asking: “Is this not disrespectful? Is it moral to set up shop in the house of God, as well as to buy from these vendors? Does this not feel blasphemous, even in the slightest?”

If you’ve found yourself asking this question before, here’s the short answer to whether or not it’s allowed: it depends on who you ask. 

Varying views

Some members of the church believe that the context in which Jesus did what He did can’t be compared to how churches operate now. 

Mandy De Guzman, the Lay Minister and Head of Evangelization at St. James Parish, explained: “Jesus became passionately agitated when sellers of animals and the money changers occupied the Temple of the Gentiles which is inside the temple but reserved for non-Jews.”

Furthermore, he stated that these merchants had discussed beforehand with the priests that they would be taking advantage of the poor by selling their goods at extremely high prices. The priests, in turn, also had a share of the proceeds, hence Jesus’s anger.

“These days, vendors are allowed outside the church, but not inside,” he continued.

“[And] I would like to think that our priests do not have a cut from the vendors’ profits.”

The same idea is explained by Femi Osunnuyi, the lead Pastor of the City Church in Lagos. On their website, they write that the problem was not that there were money changers there, but rather that they were charging interest to the people there. 

“They were making money, they were going beyond; greed set in, that’s why it says ‘you have made it a den of robbers,’” Osunnuyi states.

“It wasn’t their presence that was the problem, it was what they were doing.”

At the time, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to have merchants in temples, but at the rates that people were selling, and with the amount of space that had been taken up, to the point that it was starting to obstruct the ability of the Gentiles to worship, it was obvious that a line had been crossed.

Osunnuyi explains that allowing vendors to sell outside the church means helping members of their community, but there are still boundaries that have to be respected.

At the time, it was also a requirement to buy from these vendors, hence why the poor were being taken advantage of. These vendors knew that these people needed their services since the things they were selling were to be given as offerings. 

Now, though, it’s completely your choice if you wish to get a drink after mass or grab a quick bite. 

As per the words of author Tim from the organization Truth Saves, “Ultimately, the issue is not about whether a church sells or does not sell merchandise; the issue is whether the church leads people to be Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus Christ.” 

While many church leaders believe that it is  acceptable to buy or sell goods on church property, other people still disagree.

“The church is not a place to make or exchange money; [it] is a place to praise God,” comments Justin in Tim’s article.

“Nothing should ever be sold in God’s house.”

How you interpret the Bible is up to you, just like any of Christ’s teachings. 

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