By Wayne S. Walker
(Author’s note: In the meeting house of the congregation with which I labor, there is a question box. It is not used very much, except as a depository for lost items, but recently there was a question in it. I thought that the question and my response to it might be of general interest since it is a topic that I have heard discussed at various times and places. Yet I have seen very little written on it.)
“I believe something should be done about the selling of Avon, Tupperware, House of Lloyd, and Home Interiors (to name a few) in the church during services. Is there a lesson that can be brought concerning this situation?”
Such a subject probably could not be worked up into a full-fledged sermon, but I believe that perhaps an article might be appropriate. The Bible does not deal with this issue specifically, so it must be handled by the application of general principles. Furthermore, some judgment must be involved, so no one answer is going to satisfy everyone. Some are rabidly opposed to any private commercial transactions between individuals on church property whatever, while others make their living by discreetly providing products and/or services to other members when seeing them at the church building.
First of all, I seriously doubt that there is “the selling of” anything “in the church during services.” If I saw buying and selling going on while the congregation was singing, praying, listening to the sermon, taking the Lord’s supper, or giving, I would be among the first to oppose it. I have an idea that the question concerns “the selling of” things at the church building before or after services.
We all recognize that the meeting house of a church is an expediency. It is authorized by general authority under the command to assemble (Heb. 10:25). The church is commanded to assemble. Thus, a place to assemble is necessarily authorized. The church building itself is not “sacred” in the denominational sense. It is not a shrine or a sanctuary. Rather, the church itself, made up of saved people, is God’s temple or sanctuary (Eph. 2:19-22).
At the same time, the building should not be used as a public auditorium for just any and every purpose. It exists as a place for the church to do what God has authorized it to do. Therefore, whatever activities are planned and promoted within the church building must be authorized by God for the church to do. This, of course, prohibits the church from using its facilities for that which pertains to social affairs, recreation, and entertainment (cf. Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 11:22,34).
However, we also recognize that there are incidental uses of the building. It is not a highway rest stop, but we do have restroom and drinking facilities. Their use is incidental to our assembling for study and worship. Also, the church building is not a lounge, but we do take the opportunity to visit with one another before and after the services (and in between, too), to talk about our children or grandchildren, the weather, sports, and many other subjects. Again, such is incidental to our coming together as God commanded.
Normally, in the instances contemplated by the question, very little actual selling goes on at the building, although sometimes this is the case. Usually, orders are taken at a party in someone’s home or over the phone. Then members use the opportunity of seeing one another at the building before or after services to deliver the merchandise. Even if orders are taken at the building, these are private transactions between individuals and really have nothing what ever to do with the planned activities of the church in the building. They are simply incidental to what we have come together for.
The only passage which I can imagine that someone might use to condemn this kind of thing is John 2:13-17 where Jesus drove the money changers from the temple. But remember that this was done while the old law was still in effect, in the temple which was indeed a sacred or holy place under that law. The situation then is simply not comparable to individual transactions before or after services today. The lesson in this passage for us is not to take that which is spiritual and make it into something which is purely physical or material.
Certainly, anything can be carried to an extreme and thus become wrong. It may be that some brothers and sisters have been over zealous in promoting some product before or after services. But the same can be said for some of the visiting that we do at the church building before, after, or between services. For the life of me, I cannot see how a group of people can be standing around at one minute before worship time talking and even arguing about football, business, politics, or whatever, then run to their seats and a minute later be ready to praise God.
But such abuses do not make the visiting wrong in and of itself. And the fact that some may not have been as discreet as we might like in taking orders or delivering merchandise at the building does not necessarily make all such private transactions sinful. On the one hand, let us remember that we are coming together for a spiritual purpose and not let any incidental business that we end up doing get out of control. On the other hand, let us exercise love and tolerance for our brethren in such obviously individual matters.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI ;7, p. 211
April 2, 1992