Speaking of harmful rituals, it seems that some practices never die. One industrious church thought it was a great idea to auction off parking spaces to the highest bidder. This way the richest people could get the best parking spots and the church could make money.
This practice of showing favoritism to the rich is not a new thing in the church. In the mid-1800′s the practice of renting pews to the richest congregants inspired Benjamin Roberts to make a positive change.
During the 1850s, all hell—or heaven, depending on perspective—broke loose in the Genesee Conference (western New York) of the Methodist Episcopal Church. A party labelled by its opponents “the Nazarites” arose to take their respectable denomination to task for condoning secret societies, renting out pews for as much as $100 a year, and becoming—as they saw it—stiff and formal in their worship practices.
Leading the dissent was Benjamin Titus Roberts, a man who, like Charles G. Finney, had put aside a promising legal career to plead the cause of Jesus. Roberts saw “the Bible standard of Christianity” John Wesley had upheld going into eclipse and Methodism becoming a rich man’s preserve. Particularly odious to Roberts were pew rentals. By auctioning pews to the highest bidder, he charged, Methodist churches were saying, “We want none in our congregation but those who are able to move in fashionable circles.”
In 1858, the Genesee Conference expelled Roberts. Two years later, he and his supporters organized a new church committed to free pews and freedom in worship. They called themselves Free Methodists.
Christian History Magazine-Issue 82: Phoebe Palmer: Mother of the Holiness Movement (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2004).
Sad how some things never change. I wish I could have heard the discussions among the Blind Foxes leading this congregation…
Pastor “Gee, I already preached a 12 week series on the importance of giving lots of money, what else can we do?”
Deacon “Well, we could just pray and trust the Lord to provide?”
Elder, “That is no good.”
Pastor “That is a horrible idea. We need to be more proactive in raising money to pay my salary.”
Elder “I know, lets sell indulgences and religious relics.”
Pastor “No… too Roman Catholic.. we are Evangelicals.”
Elder “I know, lets sell our best parking spots to the highest bidder.”
Deacon “That sure would raise a lot of cash, but shouldn’t we teach our people to serve one another and save the best spots for guests and those who may be older and can’t walk as far?”
Elder “According to the Con$umer $tudy Bible©, “Waste Not; Want Not!” Why waste all these great spots when they could be earning us some big money.”
Pastor “Done! Lets start selling off the parking spots on Sunday and when the money runs dry from that, we can start selling pew space!”
Thinking about this practice of selling church to the highest bidder, I am reminded of something James wrote to the early followers of The Way.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. ” (James 2:1–13, ESV)