I can’t quite connect the dots with Paul as a bi-vocational “pastor”/tentmaker with the accompanying shipwrecks, scourgings, near death experiences and jail, with PP’s “Your Best Life”, conference junkets and Splat Pens.
Of course we are not bound by law as to what we do in a church, so we can do all kinds of things. There is no law against selling merchandise in a church. Many churches now have some form of church shop set up for this purpose. These might range from a table at the back of a room, to a well designed shop interior with all the latest books and paraphalia.
We do on the other hand, have the example of Jesus cleansing the temple:
John 2:13-16 (New American Standard Bible)
13(A)The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus (B)went up to Jerusalem.
14(C)And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
15And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;
16and to those who were selling (D)the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making (E)My Father’s house a place of business.”
If a church shop is a place designed to serve the needs of the congregation, supplying bibles, books or other items designed to help them in their walk, it doesn’t seem to be in the same category as a shop selling all kinds of irrelevant things. Most of these shops would raise only a small amount of money which would be contributed to the church organisation.
It’s fairly common in my experience to hear preachers refer to their church building as ‘The House of the Lord’ or the equivalent to ‘My Father’s House’. When does a shop become ‘a place of business’ in the Father’s house? At what point is the line crossed?
The right to earn a living
The second question involves the right of people to earn a living. We all have the right, and in fact are expected, to earn a living and support our family. We have liberty in how we choose to do this – we can do anything we like but would choose not to do things which aren’t in keeping with the Christian life. This involves dilemmas for all of us at some point. Ethical issues arise in our places of business where we sometimes have to choose between following Christ and loving our neighbour, doing the ‘right’ or ethical thing, and the best interest of our work place, or even the direct instruction of our superiors. Hopefully those dilemmas don’t arise too often.
Is there an ethical dilemma for leaders in churches, who sell books and CD’s or DVD’s of their preaching or teaching? Often these people may not have high salaries, and income from books and teaching recordings is welcome. If a teacher or preacher has no other form of regular income, the income from these things is even more necessary.
We know that Paul made tents to support himself at times, and at other times would have relied upon supporters to aid him in meeting his material needs. At all times he was keen not to do anything which would bring the church into disrepute.
At what point does selling a preacher’s merchandise begin to bring the church into disrepute? Is this even relevant today? Where should a church or individual – or even a ‘Christian book shop’ – draw a line? Is the kind of merchandise an issue? There are those who believe that teaching should never be sold as merchandise, let alone Splat pens monogrammed with a preacher’s signature. Or is this just being legalistic and wowserish?