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In this column, Ben Witherington III answers questions about:

  • Keeping business out of church
  • Salvation for non-Christians
  • Names of the two crucified criminals
  • "Mystery" of the word
  • "Jesus" vs. "Joshua"
  • Simon carrying the cross
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Babies going to Heaven
  • Marriage without a ceremony?
  • Jews & the Son of God
  • "Seeing" God

    I would appreciate any input regarding a situation our church board is facing. A proposal has been made to allow a Christian music studio (instructors giving lessons, mostly to children) to operate from our church. The music instructors are to give a double tithe in return for the use of the church facility. I see many possible conflicts with using the church for this purpose, but my first and compelling objection to approval for this is based on my interpretation of the scripture regarding the use of the church for a business. It has been argued that this is a ministry because many of the children and/or parents who come into the building for music lessons may be drawn to attend the church as well.

    Some of the board members have the opinion that Jesus' anger at the time of the cleansing of the temple was due to the excessive charges and unfair money exchange rates involved with the sale of sacrificial animals. However, while I believe he was most likely angered by such practices, I believe first and foremost he was angered by the use of the temple for commerce or business of any kind. Jesus viewed such use as irreverence for the House of God, which is to be a House of Prayer. The temple or church is to be a place "set aside," a holy place. It is my feeling that allowing businesses to function in the church building, whether they may have some value as a ministry or not, compromises the sanctity of the church. --J. Kersey

    You seem to have misunderstood the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, which has nothing to do with what you are concerned about. Jesus is concerned about activities that interrupt or prevent people from worshipping in the outer courts of the temple, and he is concerned about unethical profiteering in the temple precincts by those who ran the place. If you look carefully at a story like Mark 12:41-43 you will discover Jesus has no problems with holy places taking in money when it is done in the appropriate manner. The church should be engaged in any and all forms of legitimate ministry including musical instruction, and the Bible is perfectly clear that a "workman is worthy of his hire"-in other words there is no reason why such instructors should not be paid-1 Corinthians 10:10 in fact says they should be.

    In all my reading of the Bible, I can't seem to find any consensus about what is necessary to attain salvation. The 'Judgment of Nations' makes it sound like where we spend eternity is how we treat the "least of these." Paul, in Romans, says that we are justified by faith alone. James seems to disagree, saying that "faith is dead without works." Jesus says that if we don't forgive others, we will not be forgiven. And what happens to one who hasn't accepted Christ, such as Gandhi--one who has forgiven, turned the other cheek, and helped the "least of these"? It just seems like a cosmic injustice to eternally punish someone who is doing their very best to improve themselves, their neighbor, and this world, but who hasn't accepted Christ as their savior. God is love, so to love one's neighbor seems like the ultimate Christian act. Isn't this what ultimately matters? --Kevin M.

    This is an excellent question, and the answer is somewhat complex. In the first place, initial salvation is by grace and through faith. This is what you called justification. But conversion is not all there is to salvation, and so Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 that we must work out the salvation which God is working into us, by both our willing and our doing. In other words, our behavior as believers affects our progress in salvation.

    Salvation actually has three tenses in the New Testament -I have been saved (conversion), I am being saved (progressive sanctification), and I shall be saved (final salvation). Our deeds do affect both of the latter two stages of salvation, but not because we are saved by the deeds. Instead, it's because they are necessary expressions of salvation if we have time and opportunity to do them (i.e. they are not optional-faith without works is dead, as James says).

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